Daniel 8 opens with a view of the prophet serving as a prisoner of war in Babylon. Jerusalem has been left in ruins, and most of Israel has been carried into Babylonian captivity. Although Daniel was forced to serve as a physical slave in Belshazzar's palace, his thoughts are now especially fixed upon the desolated temple in Jerusalem. He recognizes that the prophesied seventy years of exile are almost ended, and his heart yearns to see a restoration of the beautiful temple and its services.
In this setting, Daniel had a vision in which a ram and he-goat were battling to the death. The ram with two horns came forth first and did "according to his will, and became great" (Daniel 8:4). Then a goat with a prominent horn between its eyes came rushing from the west and attacked the ram. In the skirmish the goat prevailed, thus breaking the ram's horns. As a result the he-goat became "very great." But "when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones" (Daniel 8:8).
Next in the vision, Daniel saw a little horn arise. To his amazement, this small horn "waxed exceeding great" and even set itself up against God, casting "down the truth to the ground"
Finally, in the vision, Daniel heard a conversation between two saints. One asked a question, and the other gave an answer that sent a thrill of hope through the captive prophet. The question apparently concerned the very thing Daniel was concerned over—the restoration of the Jerusalem temple. "How long shall be ... to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?" (Daniel 8:13). The answer was, "Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed" (Daniel 8:14).
When the vision ended, God sent the angel Gabriel to explain the meaning of what Daniel had seen. Concerning the animals he said, "The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia. And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king" (Daniel 8:20, 21).
The explanation of successive empires was not new to Daniel because of previous visions relating to world history. He was well-acquainted with both Medo-Persia and Alexander's kingdom of Greece, which were to follow Babylon. He had also been informed about the fourth kingdom of Rome and how the blasphemous little horn would come forth afterward to challenge God's law and government. Gabriel's explanation of those future developments were of vital interest to Daniel, the statesman, but his deepest concern was for the restoration of the temple. He wanted to hear more about the end of the desolation and the cleansing of the sanctuary. Anxiously he waited for the angel to explain the meaning of that cryptic conversation between the two saints. Imagine his disappointment when Gabriel dismissed the entire matter with these words: "And the vision of the evening and the morning which was told is true: wherefore shut thou up the vision; for it shall be for many days" (Daniel 8:26).
So great had been Daniel's expectation that he was devastated by the suggestion that this cleansing was in the far distant future and to be "shut up" from his understanding. He described his reaction thus: "I Daniel fainted, and was sick certain days; afterward I rose up, and did the king' s business; and I was astonished at the vision, but none understood it" (Daniel 8:27).
Please take note that the only part of the vision which had not been explained was the very last segment dealing with the sanctuary. It concerned the time period of 2,300 days and the implementing of temple worship which burdened his soul. So Daniel began to pray for God to satisfy his longing desire to understand that part of the vision. Much of chapter 9 is taken up with the prophet's earnest prayer for God to forgive his people of their apostasy and to restore the beloved city and temple. "Cause thy face to shine upon thy sanctuary that is desolate ... behold our desolation, and the city which is called by thy name" (Daniel 9:17, 18).
While he was praying, Gabriel, "whom he had seen in the vision at the beginning," touched him and said, "I am come forth to give thee skill and understanding . therefore understand the matter and consider the vision" (Daniel 9:22, 23). What vision was Daniel asked to consider? In which one had
Gabriel appeared to him earlier? And which part of the vision had been left unexplained? The answers to these questions are obvious. Gabriel was talking about the time element in the vision of Daniel 8. We can now expect him to finish the explanation about the 2,300 days, at the end of which the sanctuary will be cleansed.
Daniel was not disappointed this time. Gabriel immediately began to deal with that time prophecy. "Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city." Two important facts are revealed in these words of the angel. The word "determined" actually means "cut off" in the original Hebrew. But what were 70 weeks to be cut off of? Remember that this is the explanation of the mysterious conversation about the 2,300 days. So the 70 weeks is cut off of the beginning of that time table and is assigned to Daniel's people, the Jews, for a certain purpose. The next words of Gabriel reveal why this particular period was set up for them. "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" (Daniel 9:24).
We perceive immediately that all those phrases have to do with the Messiah. He was to come through the chosen people—Daniel's people—and the 70 weeks was a probation on the Jewish nation to see what they would do with the Messiah. In order to understand when this probation would begin and end, we must consider an important principle of prophetic interpretation. In symbolic prophecy, a day always represents a year. In Ezekiel 4:6 God said, "I have appointed thee each day for a year." The same principle is repeated again in Numbers 14:34.
This means that we are actually dealing with a time period of 2,300 years instead of that many literal days. No wonder the angel told Daniel that these things were for "many days." The fact is that this vision constitutes the longest time prophecy in the entire Bible.
But now we need to find out when this long span of years begins and ends. We already know what happens at the end—the sanctuary will be cleansed—and also that the first 70 weeks has been cut off for a Jewish probation.
The next words of Gabriel begin to untangle the puzzle: "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and three score and two weeks" (Daniel 9:25).
Now we have a specific event to mark the beginning of the prophecy. Gabriel explains that sixty-nine weeks will elapse from the restoration order to the appearance of the Messiah. Here the beginning of the 2,300 years is clearly pinned down. The starting point is tied to the command of Artaxerxes recorded in Ezra 7:12, 13: "I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with thee" The full context of this decree provided for the rebuilding of both the wall and the temple of old Jerusalem. The date of that commandment is historically established at 457 B.c.
A bit of arithmetic will now unveil the actual date for Jesus to begin His ministry. The angel had said the Messiah would appear sixty-nine weeks from the date of 457 B.c. By following the Bible rule of a day for a year, this figures to 483 years and brings us to the year a.d. 27. Did the Messiah appear at that exact time? The word Messiah means "the anointed one," and it was in that very year of a.d. 27 that Jesus received His heavenly anointing after being baptized in the Jordan. The Spirit of God descended upon Him, and He went forth to begin His ministry as the anointed of God. By studying this prophecy, the Jews could have known the very year their Savior would appear.
Now we notice a very interesting fact. Seventy weeks (or 490 years) had been cut off from the 2,300 days/years as a special assignment to the Jews, and sixty-nine weeks (or 483 years) had been predicted for the Messiah to come. The sixty-nine weeks ended in a.d. 27, and one week later (or seven years) the Jews' allotted time expired in a.d. 34. In that very year, probation ended for the nation of Israel. They had rejected the Messiah and stoned Stephen to death. From that scene of martyrdom, a converted Saul was sent forth as the apostle to the Gentiles. Declared he, "Seeing ye put it from you . lo, we turn to the Gentiles" (Acts 13:46).
Special attention should now be focused on that seventieth week, the seven-year span from the baptism of the Messiah to the rejection of the Jews. A very significant event was to mark the midpoint of the seventieth week. Gabriel continued his explanation to Daniel by describing when the Messiah would be cut off. He said, "In the midst of the week he shall cause the oblation to cease" (Daniel 9:27).
It is recognized by all that the veil of the temple was ripped from top to bottom the very moment Jesus died (Matthew 27:50, 51), thus indicating an end to the sacrificial system. Type had met antitype. The true Lamb had now been offered, and no more shadows were needed. So Jesus was to be cut off in the midst of the week to cause the sacrifices to cease. It is not hard to figure that the middle of these seven years would be three and one half years from either end. In other words, it would be exactly halfway between a.d. 27 and a.d. 34. Did Jesus die at that time? It is a fact of history that Christ lived to preach only three and one-half years after His baptism. In a.d. 31 He was crucified. What an amazing fulfillment of one of the most precise prophecies in the Scriptures! Just as the prophecy predicted, the anointed One appeared 483 years from the order to rebuild Jerusalem.
Some have tried to separate the seventieth week from the preceding sixty-nine weeks of the prophecy, pushing it into the future and claiming a 2,000-year gap between the sixty-nine weeks and the seventieth week. Not only is there no biblical basis for such wresting, but it would render almost meaningless the beautiful Messianic message of this Christ-centered prophecy. The seventieth week has nothing to do with any pre-rapture coming of Christ or the work of the Antichrist. As a part of the seventy weeks, it marked off a period of test for national Israel concerning their relation to the Messiah. The assigned years have long ago been fulfilled. The Savior was cut off in the middle of the seventieth week, and the Jews were rejected as a nation.
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