An excerpt from Chapter 2 of his book, The Great Prophecy Of The Seventy Weeks
by H A Ironside
We have in the ninth chapter of the book of Daniel the most remarkable time prophecy of the Holy Scriptures. Sir Edward Denny was, I think, perhaps the first prophetic student to designate this chapter, “The Backbone of Prophecy.” He may, of course, have borrowed the term from someone else, but if so, the present writer has never found it used by anyone who wrote earlier than this particular teacher. The term is well given, for if we understand the outline indicated here, we shall find that all the prophetic Scriptures fall into place without forcing them, and that so simply as to make it evident that we have here the backbone of the entire prophetic system of the Bible.
Those who have given much study to the book of Daniel will remember that the chapter begins with an account of Daniel’s personal exercises. He tells us that he had been studying the books of some of the prophets who had gone before him. He refers to the book of Jeremiah for one (Chap. 29:10-14), and probably the second book of Chronicles (36:21), for another. In these books he learned that God would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem. It had been definitely foretold that following the destruction of the city and Temple and the enslavement of God’s earthly people in Babylon, a period of seventy years would elapse ere they would be restored to their own land and be permitted to rebuild the Temple, and eventually the city of Jerusalem itself.
Daniel had been carried away in one of the first of the campaigns against Palestine. He was then but a youth, and now had become an old man. He realized, therefore, that the seventy-year cycle must be nearly completed. This stirred his heart to prayer—which in itself is most suggestive. How often people take up the study of prophecy from a purely intellectual standpoint, and yet surely there is nothing to move our hearts toward God like occupation with His marvelous purpose in regard to the coming of His own blessed Son into the world again and the setting up of His glorious kingdom.
Daniel felt in his soul that the people were not in a fit state for restoration, and he took the place of confession before God. He himself was perhaps one of the holiest men living at that time, and yet, as he prostrates himself before the Lord, he identifies himself with the sins of his people as he cries, “I and my people have sinned.” As he pours out his heart in contrition, he counts on God to work deliverance, and in answer to his prayer, a messenger is sent from the Throne of God, even Gabriel himself, the same glorious being who appeared to him on a later occasion, and who at the beginning of New Testament times was chosen to convey to the blessed Virgin Mary the wondrous news that she was to be the destined mother of the promised Messiah.
There is something moving in the way the Spirit of God directs attention to the time when Gabriel first appeared to Daniel. We are told that he “touched him about the time of the evening oblation.” That is, it was the time when, if things had been right in Israel, the evening sacrifice would have been offered on the altar at Jerusalem; but that altar was cast down; the Temple was in ruins. No smoke of sacrifice ascended to God from that holy place. Yet Daniel never forgot the time when the oblation should have been placed upon the altar.
Of course, that offering spoke of the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus which was yet to take place. God Himself saw in every victim placed on Jewish altars a type of the Person and work of His own beloved Son; and everything that God will yet accomplish for Israel, for the Church, and for the nations, will be based upon the finished work of Calvary’s cross. Our Lord there “tasted death for every man.” Actually, the last word is in the neuter in the original. Our Lord tasted death for every thing. The blessing of the entire universe is contingent upon the work which He accomplished on the cross.
Now let us note the message or the prophecy that Gabriel brought to Daniel. We read in verses 24 to 27:
“Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”
There are a few items here which become a little clearer if we turn to other translations. For instance, in verse 25, the latter part, the Revised Version reads: “It shall be built again, with street and moat, even in troublous times.” Some versions read in place of “troublous times,” “the narrow times.” Then in verse 26, the marginal reading seems better than the received text: “After the sixty-two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, and shall have nothing.” The latter part of verse 26 is given in the Revised Version as: “Even unto the end shall be war; desolations are determined.” And in verse 27, the last half of the verse reads in the Revised Version: “Upon the wing of abominations shall one come that maketh desolate.” Other slight differences are found in various versions, but they need not occupy us now.
Let us weigh carefully just what is here revealed. Remember in the first place, Daniel had understood by books the number of the years in which God would accomplish the desolations of Jerusalem. His prayer of confession is with that in view. God meets him by informing him through His angel that not at the expiration of seventy years but at the close of seventy weeks will all Israel’s sorrows come to an end. The word translated week is recognized by scholars generally as a generic term simply meaning a seven. It could be used for a seven of days, a seven of months, or, as is undoubtedly the case here, a seven of years, since it was of years that Daniel was thinking. Seventy weeks of years, then, would be 490 years.
Now let us observe exactly what the angel says. “Seventy sevens are determined,” or “cut off” (that is, cut off from the entire period of time). These seventy seven’s, or 490 years, are set apart in the divine reckoning for what the angel calls, “Thy people and thy holy city,” that is, Daniel’s people, certainly the people of the Jews, and his holy city, Jerusalem, the literal capital of the land of Palestine.
Now, what will take place at the expiration of this period of 490 years? The angel adds: “To finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation [or atonement] for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.” Notice carefully each of these expressions. At the end of 490 years, Israel’s transgression will be finished, and their sins brought to an end, because their Messiah will have made reconciliation or atonement for iniquity. The long period of Israel’s sufferings under the heel of the Gentiles will be completed, and everlasting righteousness will be brought in. This refers clearly to the setting up of Messiah’s kingdom. Then the vision and prophecy will be sealed up. That is, all will be fulfilled so that vision and prophecy will no longer be needed; and last of all, the most Holy will be anointed. This must refer, I believe, to the Shekinah glory returning to Israel when the people are gathered back in their own land and Jehovah’s Temple is rebuilt. The glory has been missing ever since the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. It was not seen in the temple of Zerubbabel nor in the temple of Herod, but it will return when Israel’s mourning shall be ended and, as a repentant people, they will be brought back to God. Thus far, then, the promise of verse twenty-four.
Now, if we can find out just when the 490-year period was to begin, it ought to be an easy thing to count 490 years from that point and then to ask, “Have all these promises been fulfilled?” The starting point is given in the next verse. “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem”—let us stop there for a moment. This is clearly the time from which we are to begin to count. When did a commandment go forth to restore and to build Jerusalem? Right here there is a difference of opinion among sober teachers of prophecy. Some insist that the reference is to the commandment given in the seventh chapter of the book of Ezra, which was approximately 457 B.C.; but a careful examination of that decree will make it evident that it did not really have to do with restoring and building the city of Jerusalem at all, but was rather a confirmation of the earlier decree of Cyrus to rebuild the Temple and reinstate the worship of God in Israel. It seems far more likely that the commandment referred to is actually that given in the second chapter of the book of Nehemiah. There we have in very truth a commandment to restore and build Jerusalem, and that commandment was given about 445 B.C.
We are not told whether the sevens of years are to be counted according to sun time or lunar time, and for our present purpose it is not necessary that we should go into the problem here. Sir Robert Anderson, in his masterly work, The Coming Prince, has taken it up in great detail, and has presented a chronological system which seems fully satisfactory, though all are not prepared to accept it. Those who are interested may consult that work at their leisure. I shall not deal with chronology as such here. I only desire to emphasize that evidently we have in Nehemiah 2 the starting point for this time prophecy.
But now let us go on with the quotation of the rest of the verse: “From the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks.” Here, then, we have sixty-nine weeks—not seventy. In other words, 483 years—not 490. For some reason the angel separates the last week of seven years from the sixty-nine which were to be completed at the coming of Messiah the Prince. And these sixty-nine weeks are divided into two periods—seven weeks, or forty-nine years, and sixty-two weeks, or 434 years. Undoubtedly the division here is in order to prepare our minds for a further division between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth weeks.
We are told: “The street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times,” or, as other translations read, “in the narrow,” or “the straitened times.” The reference is evidently to the seven weeks as distinguished from the threescore and two weeks. The former period is called “the narrow times,” and during those forty-nine years the city of Jerusalem was rebuilt and the people gathered back to it. They were troublous times in measure, but the reference is evidently not so much to the distress of the people at that time as to the fact that the city was built in the narrow period.
The sixty-two weeks begin immediately after the expiration of the seven weeks, and we are told in verse 26: “And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off and have nothing.” If Sir Robert Anderson be correct in his system of chronology, this tremendous event occurred within a literal week after the exact close of the sixty-nine weeks of years. He points out that sixty-nine years of 360 days each, expired when our Lord was welcomed into Jerusalem by the children and others who cried, “Hosannah; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” However, we are not told that Messiah would be cut off at the exact time of the expiration of the sixty-two weeks, but “after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off.” This part of the prophecy has been fulfilled to the letter. “He came unto his own, and his own received him not.” He presented Himself to Israel as their promised King-Messiah. They said, “We will not have this man to reign over us,” and demanded that He be crucified. Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your King?” They exclaimed, “We have no king but Caesar.” And so the Messiah for whom the nation had waited so long was crucified. Following that, if we are to take the seventieth week as an immediate continuation of the period which ended at the cross, in seven years from the time of the Saviour’s crucifixion all the promises made to Israel should have been fulfilled!
The fact is, they were not fulfilled. Israel did not recognize their Messiah. They do not know Him yet as their Sinbearer. Their transgression has not been finished. An end of sins for them has not been made. They do not know anything yet of atonement for iniquity. Everlasting righteousness has not been brought in. Vision and prophecy have not been sealed up. The most Holy has not been anointed by the return of the Shekinah. What then? Has the prophecy failed? Has God’s Word been proved to be false? Impossible! We know that He cannot deny Himself. But it is right here that we find one of the great and important truths of the Word.
Between the sixty-ninth and the seventieth weeks we have a Great Parenthesis which has now lasted over nineteen hundred years. The seventieth week has been postponed by God Himself who changes the times and the seasons because of the transgression of the people. As I have put it elsewhere, though some have objected to the expression, the moment Messiah died on the cross, the prophetic clock stopped. There has not been a tick upon that clock for nineteen centuries. It will not begin to go again until the entire present age has come to an end, and Israel will once more be taken up by God.
Let us turn again to the prophecy and see definitely what is there predicted. After the declaration to Daniel that Messiah would be cut off and have nothing after the conclusion of the 483-year period, we read: “And the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end wars and desolations are determined.” Now what exactly is it that is here predicted? Messiah was cut off. He had nothing so far as the kingdom so long promised and expected was concerned. Shortly after His crucifixion, the Roman people came and destroyed the city and the Sanctuary. We are not told just when this would take place. Actually, it was forty years after. Also observe that it is not said here that the prince would come and destroy the city. A prince is in view who is yet to play a large part in prophecy. He, however, has not appeared yet, but his people, that is, the Roman people, were used as the scourge of God to punish Israel for their sins, and they destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple of Jehovah.
Then we have all the present age put into three lines: “The end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end wars and desolations are determined.” That is, as by an overflowing flood the people of Israel were to be destroyed by their enemies, scattered throughout the world, and until the end, that is, the seventieth week, which remains unfulfilled, there shall be wars and desolations. This is exactly what our Saviour Himself tells us, as recorded in Matthew 24. During all the present age, “ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet.” That end is again the seventieth week.
Throughout the book of Daniel we have the expression frequently, “the time of the end.” The same expression is found elsewhere in the prophetic Scriptures. The time of the end is the last seven years of the times which God has allotted to the people of the Jews, which has not yet begun to run its course. We shall see as we continue our studies what God is doing in this intervening period which we have designated, “The Great Parenthesis.”
When this time of waiting comes to an end, then the prince whose people have already appeared shall himself appear; that is, the great Roman leader of the last days, called in Revelation 13, “the Beast” because he is emphatically the embodiment of every evil principle in all the empires of the world. When he appears, he will pretend at first to be the friend of the Jews, and we read in verse 27: “He shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate,” or, as some read, “the desolator.” Strange is it that many have supposed it was Prince Messiah Himself who was to confirm a covenant for one week. But when did He ever make such a covenant? The blood of the covenant which He shed upon the cross is not to confirm a covenant for seven years, but it is the blood of the everlasting covenant.
In the last days when God takes Israel up again and is about to bring them into fullness of blessing, a Roman prince will arise who will make a covenant with the nation for seven years, promising them protection and liberty in religion as they return to their land. For three and one-half years he will permit this to go on, but in the midst of the week he will violate the covenant and demand that all worship to Jehovah cease, and the Antichrist will be manifested in his true character. This will result in what is known in Scripture as the time of Jacob’s trouble, or the Great Tribulation, and it will go on for three and one-half years until judgment is visited upon the desolator, and God’s earthly people are delivered. The greater part of the book of the Revelation, in fact virtually everything from chapter four to the end of chapter nineteen, has to do with events which will take place in heaven and on earth during this last unfulfilled seventieth week of Daniel. When this is seen, all is wonderful harmony, and the prophetic Scriptures are plain.