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Luther and Daniel’s 70th week

August 16, 2011

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.

One of the reasons that many prophecies remain obscure, is that they are often treated as if each one stands alone. But the prophet Isaiah warned about assuming that any single prophecy stands by itself. Isaiah said the word of God is given “precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line.” [Isaiah 28:9-13]

Standing by itself, Daniel 9:24-27 is rather obscure, and several different scenarios have been supported from it, with the widest possible variety of meanings. Some claim that the one week-covenant refers to a covenant between Jews and the Antichrist; others believe that it is Jesus Christ who confirms the covenant, opinions which are as opposite as can be! The temporal extent of this covenant is also a topic of dispute.

Luther’s views

In a sermon on Matthew 24:15-18, Martin Luther referred to Daniel’s prophecy of the 70 weeks when he came to the reference that Jesus made in those verses to the abomination of desolation. Luther wrote:  [1]

5. Among the various passages which treat of the end of Judaism there is especially one that is introduced by Christ, namely: the prophet Daniel, 9, 25f., speaks of the terrible abomination, standing where he ought not, when he says concerning the Jewish nation, “Know therefore and discern, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the anointed one the Prince, shall be seven weeks, and three-score and two weeks,” that makes together seventy weeks or 490 years, “And after the three-score and two weeks, shall the anointed one be cut off, and shall have nothing: 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 even unto the end shall be war; desolations are determined. And he shall make a firm covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one that maketh desolate; and even unto the full end, and that determined, shall wrath be poured out upon the desolate.”

6. The Prophet Daniel desired to know the definite time when this should come to pass, but he could not learn it, and although the angel pointed out a definite time, it was nevertheless too dark for the prophet to understand, hence he said before: But at last, at the last time, you shall see everything, that is, your prophecy, that is to be revealed to you, shall transpire at the end of time. For when Christ sent out the Gospel through the ministry of himself and of the Apostles, it lasted three or three and a half years, that it almost amounts to the calculation of Daniel, namely the 490 years. Hence he also says, Christ shall take a half a week, in which the daily offerings shall cease; that is, the priesthood and reign of the Jews shall have an end; which all took place in the three and a half years in which Christ preached, and was almost completed in four years after Christ, in which the Gospel prospered the most, especially in Palestine through the Apostles (that when they opened their mouth, the Holy Ghost fell as it were, from heaven, as we see in the Acts of the Apostles), so that a whole week, or seven years, established the covenant, as Daniel says; that is, the Gospel was preached to the Jews, of which we spoke before. Now, when the time came that a new message or sermon began, there must also begin a new kingdom, that is, where Christ rules spiritually in our hearts through the Word and faith. If this is now to continue, then the other must be set aside and has no more authority and must cease. This is the part of the prophecy of the prophets, which Christ is explaining.

In Luther’s view the final week was seven literal years, and he connected these to “the end of Judaism.” He stated that Daniel wrote “concerning the Jewish nation.” Luther correctly identified the covenant with the gospel, but his thinking was constrained and bound to the idea that the 70th week in Daniel’s prophecy must mean seven literal years. Luther identified the covenant which Christ confirms for one week as the preaching of Jesus, which was for three and a half years, together with that of the apostles, in the three and a half years after the crucifixion. He identified the end of the 70th week as the termination of the Old Covenant.

Luther’s interpretation might be called a preterist view of the 70th week, one that says it was completely fulfilled in the past.

Which Jerusalem is in view?

Luther applied the 70th week to the Jews. He thought that Jesus mentioned the prophecies of Daniel in connection with the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies in 70 AD. He viewed the fulfillment of the 70 weeks prophecy as bringing woe to the Jews. His interpretation views the judgment of the Jews in the first century is the focus of the prophecy.

But the temple in Daniel 9:27 cannot mean the earthly one, which has already destroyed in the previous verse. I suggest that the temple that becomes desolate refers to church, which is the true temple of God, of which the one at Jerusalem was a type and figure.

This is supported by Daniel’s reference to “the holy mountain of my God” in Daniel 9:20. This is the same holy mountain that Isaiah said would be raised up, [Isaiah 2:1-3] and in the NT, Jerusalem is in heaven. It was raised up, when Jesus ascended to heaven and received the throne of David.

What covenant is confirmed for one week?

Daniel said, “he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week,” referring to the covenant mentioned in Daniel 9:4. Daniel says, “And I prayed unto the LORD my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love him, and to them that keep his commandments;” referring to God’s covenant, the promises to the fathers, and his mercy.

In Malachi 3:1, Christ is referred to as “the messenger of the covenant.” Jesus applied this prophecy to himself in Matthew 11:10.

Paul said, “Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the fathers.” [Romans 15:8] By “the circumcision,” Paul alludes to the saints, who are circumcised “without hands.” [Colossians 2:11, Philippians 3:3] The New Covenant is confirmed not just for seven years, but until the end of the age. Daniel calls it a “week” or a “seven,” as it corresponds to the last of four periods of seven times in Leviticus 26, when God promises to “remember” his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

When Jesus ascended to heaven, Jerusalem was also raised up, in a spiritual sense. John refers to Jerusalem as the “bride of the Lamb.” The new covenant is one that Jesus confirms with his disciples. Paul said, “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” [1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NIV]

Notice that this sacrament was to continue “until he comes.” John refers to the heavenly Jerusalem as the “bride of the Lamb.” The church is being prepared for a future marriage. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “I have espoused you to one husband,” and said that he was concerned lest their minds had been “corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.” His objective was to present them “as a chaste virgin to Christ.” [2 Corinthians 11:2-3]

The new covenant corresponds to the betrothal of a spouse. It is like a commitment to a future marriage. The seven years that Jacob served his uncle for Rachel foreshadowed the seventieth week of Daniel’s prophecy.

All of the 70 weeks, except the last half-week, are fulfilled in terms of earthly units, of years, seven year cycles, and weeks of leap years. But since the last half-week applies to the heavenly city, its units of time and of space are not earthly units. The times are figurative, and symbolic, rather than literal, earthly units.

The final “time, times and a half” represents the entire age of the church in which Christ continues to confirm the covenant with many.

What happens in the midst of  the week?

In Luther’s account, “the daily offerings shall cease; that is, the priesthood and reign of the Jews shall have an end; which all took place in the three and a half years in which Christ preached, and was almost completed in four years after Christ,” but that is not confirmed by the New Testament.

Daniel said “and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease.” The most obvious interpretation of this would be to say it occurred when the temple sacrifices ceased, and when Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.

Luther’s interpretation of the last week of Daniel’s 70 weeks does not fit the facts; temple sacrifices and oblations ceased in 70 AD, or shortly before. But if the last half-week of the 70th week is symbolic and represents the whole age of the church, and the 70th week spans the period from the start of the ministry of Jesus to the end of the age, the destruction of Jerusalem  could be said to have occurred “in the midst of the week.”

The statement in Daniel 9:27 that the sacrifices and oblations were to cease “in the midst of the week” discredits other interpretations. Only when the last half week is identified with the remaining time, after the crucifixion, extending to the end of the age, can the end of sacrifices fall “in the midst” of the 70th week.

What is made desolate in the 70th week?

Luther’s comments about the abomination of desolation refer to the events of 70 AD. He even included a reference to “wrath” being “poured out,” which is not found in the KJV, and other versions.

There is no evidence that people fled to the mountains, during the Roman war. Daniel does not connect the abomination of desolation with fleeing to the mountains; it was Jesus who said that. But people have misunderstood Jesus. Clearly, he was not telling people to flee to save their own lives, as he warned against seeking to save your own life; instead, he encouraged people to flee to the mountains which represent the promises of God. Gifts of the Spirit are to be “poured out” upon the church which is desolate.

The apostle Peter taught that prophecy is intended for the benefit of the church, rather than the Jewish nation. Its purpose is spiritual and related to the gospel, rather than worldly politics. Peter said the object or the goal of faith is attaining to the “salvation of your souls.” [1 Peter 1:9] That is what the prophets inquired about. He said the writings of the prophets were for the benefit of the church.

The church is the holy city that has become desolate. The desolation, which is limited to “a time, times and a half,” is accomplished by the little horn of the beast in Daniel 7; its eyes like the eyes of a man picture a human viewpoint, that contrasts with the divine one. Its influence was present early in the church’s history, in the lifetime of John, as he said that the spirit of antichrist was prevalent, and that this was evidence of the “last time.” [1 John 2:18] Daniel’s prophecy says, at “the consummation,” at the end of the age, something will be “poured upon the desolate.” When the Spirit is “poured” on the saints, delusions and flawed interpretations are discredited.

What is poured out?

In Daniel 9:24 the angel says one of the things to be accomplished in the 70 weeks was “to anoint the most Holy.” This alludes to the holy place in the tabernacle, or in the temple, and so alludes to the church. The holy city described in Revelation 21 has the dimensions of a cube. This is the shape of the holy place in the tabernacle. The city in John’s prophecy alludes to the holy of holies, suggesting that the church is to be anointed with the Spirit of God.

The apostle Peter said, speaking of the gospel, “Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you.” [1 Peter 1:10]

In the next verse, he said the prophets searched and wondered about “what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.”

There is probably no better example of a prophecy to which Peter’s comments apply, than Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy. It is a prophecy that foretells the precise time of the appearance of Christ, who is the one who brought the gospel to light. And it also specifies the events that followed his crucifixion and resurrection, all of which are included in the last half-week.

One of the most significant of the events included in the 70 weeks is “to anoint the most Holy.” [Daniel 9:24] This may refer to the Spirit coming upon Jesus at his baptism, and to the Spirit coming to the church at Pentecost after Jesus ascended to heaven. But it also alludes, I believe, to the holy place in the tabernacle in the wilderness, or in the temple, which were types of the church. In the vision of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21, the dimensions are given as if the city were in the form of a huge cube, similar in shape to the holy of holies. And John says “I saw no temple therein: for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.” [Revelation 21:22] Christ is the temple of the holy city, which is the bride of the Lamb.

There are various readings of the last part of Daniel 9:27, some suggesting there is something poured on one being made desolate, and others suggesting that a destruction is poured out on the one who causes the desolation. The NASB says, “and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” An alternate reading is: “and upon a wing of abominations is one bringing desolation and until an end and what is decided gushes out on the one being desolated.” [2]

The latter reading would indicate the anointing of the Spirit of God will be poured upon the church, which has been made desolate.

References

1. Martin Luther. Sermon for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Trinity; Matthew 24:15-28.  The Sermons of Martin Luther, published by Baker Book House (Grand Rapids, MI, 1983). Volume V., pp. 365-366.

2. Peter J. Gentry. Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and the New Exodus. SBJT 14.1 (2010): 26-44.

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