The crucial message of Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks is about the coming of the promised Messiah, the king who inherits the throne of David in Jerusalem. Daniel’s prophecy specified the time when Christ would appear, after the first two sections, of seven weeks, and sixty two weeks. The first section was initiated by the decree of Cyrus, that allowed Jews to return from the exile in Babylon, given near the time of Daniel’s prophecy, in the first years of Darius, about 538 BC. Counting from this start date, seven weeks of leap years (with 13 months) spans 133 years; 7 x 62 is 434 years; the first two sections of the prophecy span 567 years, which would be fulfilled in 28 AD, during the ministry of Jesus.
In the quest for solution to the puzzles presented by Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks, many curious devices have been employed. Otto Zöckler quoted the following list of methods that scholars had devised for interpreting the 70 weeks, by Leonhard Bertholdt (1806). They are methods that various commentators on Daniel had “adopted in order to obviate, by means of exact calculation, the discrepancy between the termin. a quo and ad quem, which was either too large or too small.” 
Dispensationalists and others who insist that the 70 weeks can only mean 490 years look for the start date of the prophecy in the century following the time that the prophecy was given, because otherwise, they think, the prophecy terminates far too early, well before the time of Christ. But the decree of Cyrus in about 538 BC, allowing Jews to return to their land to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, and Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks are dated about the same time, “in the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus,” [Daniel 9:1] which suggests that the decree of Cyrus is really the proper start date.
The covenant that is confirmed for one week, in Daniel 9:27, is especially significant, since in one week, all of God’s creative work is accomplished. God worked six days, and rested the seventh, which is a pattern for the entire plan of creation. The seventh day represents the promised rest, for which the saints labor to enter. [Hebrews 4:11]
Preterism and dispensationalism insist that the covenant mentioned in Daniel 9:27, that is to be confirmed for one week, is one that is limited to seven literal years. Both theories deny that the prophecy that “he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week” could possibly refer to the covenant that Christ confirms with Christians throughout the church age, referring to the promises of the gospel.
When the writing appeared on the wall at Belshazzar’s feast, the wise men of Babylon failed to explain it. None of their theories were successful. Similarly attempts by dispensationalists to explain the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel are defective and unconvincing. Typically, their theories invoke major gaps in a time prophecy, which seems absurd. Time has no gaps! They invoke a gap between the end of the 70 years of exile in Babylon and the start of the 70 weeks, and another one between the 69th and the 70th week. A typical dispensationalist interpretation of the 70 weeks is illustrated in the timeline below.
A good understanding of the prophecy of the 70 weeks can greatly strengthen our faith in the gospel, as Daniel’s prophecy is demonstrably accurate, and when understood properly it helps us to understand other difficult topics, such as the significance of the time, times and a half, which in Daniel 12:7 refers to a period that extends to the end of the age, when all of Daniel’s prophecies will be fulfilled.
Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks does not stand alone; it is connected with Jeremiah’s prophecy of 70 years of exile, and one given by Isaiah, [Isaiah 44:28] which identifies Cyrus as the person who would give the word to build Jerusalem and the temple, and it expounds upon the terms of the Old Covenant in Leviticus 26, where four periods of seven times of punishment would befall Israel, if they did not keep the covenant. It is also related to Daniel chapter 12, and to various prophecies in the New Testament, including the Olivet Discourse of Jesus. All these have to be considered when interpreting the meaning of the 70 weeks.
The chart below combines the four periods of seven times in Leviticus 26, the 70 weeks of Daniel 9, the 2,300 days, and several other time periods mentioned in prophecy.
The 70 weeks prophecy has to do with building the holy city. The start date for the 70 weeks prophecy is the decree of Cyrus, in 538 BC, as that decree initiated the return of the Jews, and the rebuilding of the temple, and the settlement of Jews in Jerusalem again. Beginning the 70 weeks with the decree of Cyrus, leads to a plausible interpretation, and a remarkably accurate prediction of the appearance of Christ, as illustrated in the chart below.
According to most preachers who support preterism, the 70th week, in which Christ confirms his covenant with many, expired in the first century. Christ ceased to confirm his covenant, a short three and a half years after his resurrection from the grave. This contrasts with dispensationalism, which says there was a parenthesis, or a gap, between the 69th and 70th weeks, which is the present age of the church.
Jesus asked his disciples to remember his covenant by sharing a cup of wine. In the image below, the wine cup is a symbol for the period of time when he fulfills that covenant. The various numbers provided in the prophecies of Daniel and in Revelation, that represent the time remaining in the age of the church, are the labels on the four glasses in the image.
The prophecies of Daniel were sealed up, so they would not be understood until the end of the age, according to Daniel 8:17, and Daniel 12:4, 9.
In Daniel 8:17, an angel says to Daniel, “Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision.”
In verse 27, Daniel says of the vision described in that chapter, “I was astonished at the vision, but none understood it.”
In the prophecies of Revelation, Babylon is a symbol of the worldly religious system. The city of Babylon is called a harlot, while the New Jerusalem is the bride of the Lamb.
The feast made by Belshazzar for a thousand of his princes occurred in the night Babylon fell to the forces of Cyrus. During the feast, the king of Babylon, his wives, and princes, and concubines drank wine from the vessels taken from the temple of God.
Meredith G. Kline (1922-2007) was a Presbyterian minister who taught the Old Testament at several theological seminaries. He was professor emeritus at Westminster Seminary, California. He became an expert on ancient treaties, and their connections with the covenants found in the Bible.
Preterism and of dispensationalism are belief systems that struggle with the idea that Jesus Christ is confirming his covenant with his saints in the present age. The New Testament shows that in fact, that is what the New Covenant is all about. In the New Covenant, God promises, “their sins and iniquities will I remember no more.” [Hebrews 8:12] It means God forgives the sins of his people Israel, as the New Covenant is made with Israel and Judah.