The Purpose of the Seventy Weeks
Daniel 9:24 says that “seventy weeks have been decreed.” The Hebrew word for “decreed” is chathak, which means “to decree, to determine, to mark out, cut or divide.” This is the only place where this Hebrew word occurs, so it is unique with Daniel. It is plain that God had made this decree from the divine court. By His sovereign will, He had determined this time cycle and had thus marked it on His calendar and had set the parameters for various events to take place on earth. Of course, any such decree cuts or divides time in some way.
The purposes of this particular division of time were: (1) to finish the transgression, (2) to make an end of sin, (3) to make atonement for iniquity, (4) to bring in everlasting righteousness, (5) to seal up vision and prophecy, and (6) to anoint the most holy place.
Finish the Transgression
“Finish” is from the Hebrew word kala, which means “to shut up, to close up and restrict.” The word is used in Gen. 8:2,
2 Also the fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were closed, and the rain from the sky was restrained [kala].
So Daniel was told that it would take seven weeks to restrain or stop the transgression. Transgression (pesha) means “to cross a line.” Its root word pasha has to do with expansion, which in a morally negative sense means to expand one’s actions beyond the borders set by the Law of God. In other words, “to rebel.”
Insofar as the divine court is concerned, pesha has to do with overstepping the moral boundaries of God’s law. And so David says in Psalm 32:1, 2,
1 How blessed is he whose transgression [pesha] is forgiven, whose sin is covered! 2 How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!
Here David gives the divine solution to pesha. In fact, it is how transgression is restrained in the way prescribed by the divine court. The Apostle Paul saw this and explained to the saints in Rome the principle of imputation. Romans 4:7 quotes Psalm 32:1, 2 directly in his great chapter on the principle of imputed sin and imputed righteousness.
Paul says that Adam’s sin was imputed to us, thereby making us pay for his sin. The penalty was death, and so we all became mortal. However, the last Adam (that is, Christ) came to do a work of righteousness, whereby the reward was life (immortality). His righteous work was imputed to us as well, and so we all obtained immortality.
In both cases, the work of the two “Adams” was imputed to us from the outside, because each man’s work was done apart from our will and without our consent. Paul then defines “impute” by illustration, showing that God had made Abraham a father of many nations before he had any children at all (Rom. 4:17). In effect, God imputed “many nations” to Abraham, calling what is not as though it were.
Using that definition, we see the difference between imputed righteousness and actual righteousness. (Theologians use the term “infused” or “transfused” righteousness.) Paul shows us that the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us legally, even though we are not yet actually righteous. We are declared righteous because we are in Christ, the Righteous One, not because we are sinless.
And so, getting back to Dan. 9:24, the first purpose of the seventy weeks was to restrain transgression, or to mark an end of transgression, in the sense that Christ’s death on the cross made it legally possible for God to impute righteousness to us, calling what is not as though it were.
Christ’s death on the cross was the fulfillment of the New Covenant promises of God, as well as the oath that He took to make us His people and to be our God (Deut. 29:12, 13). The manner in which God would do this was unclear to most people until He actually accomplished it on the cross.
So Paul says that this imputed righteousness resulted in immortality, which is our inheritance. He says that it did not come by the Law—that is, by man’s Old Covenant vow of obedience—but by the promise or vow that God made with them. Rom. 4:13-16 says,
13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified… 16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.
When Paul refers to “those who are of the law,” he was speaking of the Jews and those who remained in Judaism under the Old Covenant. Those under the Old Covenant were trying to obtain the promise by fulfilling their fathers’ vow in Exodus 19:8. But Paul says if they could become heirs through the Old Covenant, then “the promise is nullified.” In other words, there would be no need for God to make an oath through a second covenant.
Our role is simply to believe the promise of God and to have faith that He can accomplish what He has vowed to do. Paul also notes that this promise was given “not only to those who are of the Law,” that is, the Jews (or Israelites in general), “but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” God’s vow (covenant) with Abraham was to bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3).
Likewise, the second covenant made under Moses was given to both Israelites and aliens (Deut. 29:10, 11), whether they were present or not. Deut. 29:14, 15 gives the scope of God’s oath:
14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.
Hence, the scope of God’s vow was universal. Paul, then, includes all those who have the faith of Abraham, saying that he “is the father of us all.” This, then, is the meaning of Gal. 3:29, “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
We see, then, that when God decreed seventy weeks to “finish the transgression,” it was a direct reference to Christ’s death on the cross, by which God’s vow was to be fulfilled in making us His people. We are His people by virtue of our faith in Christ’s work of righteousness and in the promises of God that brought about that work.
Making an End of Sin
The second purpose of the seventy weeks was “to make an end of sin.” The Hebrew word for “sin” is the usual word, kata, which literally means “to miss the mark.” Paul uses this word picture in Rom. 3:23, saying, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It is the picture of an archer trying to hit the mark, yet always falling short of the target. In this case the target is “the glory of God,” which is His nature and character as expressed in His word or law.
This Hebrew word kata also means “sin offering.” In the KJV, kata is translated “sin” 182 times and “sin offering” 116 times. Since kata has a double meaning, Daniel’s prophecy has a double fulfillment. First, he says, it will take seventy weeks “to make an end of sin” by Christ’s death on the cross. Second, it will take seventy weeks “to make an end of sin offerings,” because Christ’s great sacrificial offering of Himself was “once for all.” Heb. 10:11-14 says,
11 And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
So we see again that the seventy weeks points to the cross, where Christ not only dealt with sin by imputing righteousness to us, but also the entire sacrificial system ended with that final Sacrificial Offering of Himself.
Making Atonement for Iniquity
In Dan. 9:24 the Hebrew word translated “atonement” (NASB) is kaphar, “to atone, cover.” In Gen. 6:14, God told Noah,
14 Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover [kaphar] it inside and out with pitch.
When kaphar is used in a legal sense in reference to covering sin, it means “atonement.” The KJV of Dan. 9:24 is incorrect in translating the word “reconciliation.” Reconciliation is what happens when enemies become friends and are in agreement. Atonement merely covers sin to give the (legal) appearance of righteousness. Atonement is a temporary solution, whereas reconciliation is the ultimate solution.
Gabriel told Daniel that seventy weeks had been decreed by the divine court “to make atonement for iniquity.” This is closely related to the earlier purpose, “to finish the transgression.” The main difference is that transgression is a rebellious act, while iniquity is an inward condition of the heart from which sinful acts spring.
In both cases, however, the first work of Christ on the cross made atonement for both transgression and iniquity. As we showed earlier, the cross made it legally possible to cover sin and impute righteousness to us by faith. However, Christ’s first work did not actually remove the sin, nor did it bring “reconciliation.” In other words, we have not yet been made actually righteous, for that will require a second work of Christ at His second appearance.
All of this was prophesied in ceremonies performed on the Day of Atonement in Lev. 16. There it takes two goats to complete the work. The first goat, representing the first work of Christ, was killed, and its blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat, as we read in Lev. 16:15, 16,
15 Then he shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood inside the veil, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 And he shall make atonement for the holy place….
The first goat, then, provided atonement, which covered the sin of the people. The second goat actually removed sin. The priest laid hands on the second goat, imputed all of the sins of the people to it, and sent the goat into the wilderness. Lev. 16:22 says,
22 And the goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary [gezerah, “separate, cut off place, uninhabited”:] land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.
The work of this second goat is referenced in Heb. 10:4, saying,
4 For it impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
The point is that animal sacrifices themselves could not perfect people, and for this reason those ceremonies had to be performed continually, daily or yearly. The second goat, however, prophesied of the second work of Christ, whose coming would “take away sin.” The first goat, then, atones for sins, covering them temporarily and giving us right standing before God as if we were perfect. The second goat completes this work, removing sin from us and perfecting us in the absolute sense.
But Daniel was told that the seventy weeks was necessary to make atonement for iniquity, so this points directly to the cross, that is, the first work of Christ.
The goals listed in Dan. 9:24 are all related to each other, because all were accomplished by Christ’s death on the cross. There He dealt with the negatives such as transgression, sin, and iniquity. But He also brought in the positive side, “righteousness.”
We have already seen how righteousness came by faith, with Abraham as the great example. Rom. 4:3 says,
3 For what does the Scripture say? “And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned [logizomai, “reckon, impute, account”] to him as righteousness.”
Therefore, it is by faith, Paul says, that the righteousness of Christ is reckoned to us. We have faith in the New Covenant promises of God, and have no confidence in our ability to keep Old Covenant vows. Paul goes further to remind us in Rom. 3:25, 26 (speaking of Jesus),
25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation [hilaskomai, “expiation”] in His blood through faith. That was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteous-ness at the present time, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
In other words, Paul says, the crucifixion of Christ was the demonstration of God’s righteousness, because this was promised and prophesied throughout Scripture. The idea of righteousness has many applications, but in this case it means that God keeps His word. His New Covenant vows will be kept, even if men’s Old Covenant vows are continually broken.
The meaning of Dan. 9:24, “to bring in everlasting righteousness,” is obscure in itself without the enlightenment of Paul’s writings, but it is clear that the prophet linked it with the other accomplishments of the Messiah’s work on the cross. The cross expiated man’s transgression, sin, and iniquity, and also brought in everlasting righteousness, which is imputed to us by faith in His work on the cross.
Ferrar Fenton renders this phrase, “to bring forward eternal righteousness.” I believe this rendering is the closest to Paul’s interpretation, because “to bring forward” implies a historic and public demonstration of the righteousness of God.
The usual Hebrew word for “righteousness” is tsedeq (or Zadok). Another form of the same word is tsedeqah, which focuses on the outward works from a righteous heart. The word is often used of generosity that comes from a giving heart. No doubt Jesus used this word in Matthew 6:1, where He says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them.” He was talking about giving alms to be seen of men.
So when Daniel prophesied that it would take seventy weeks to accomplish the work of bringing forward righteousness, the promise showed the generosity of God. This is expressed also in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son.” The generosity and benevolence of God came from a heart of Love.
Sealing up the Vision and Prophecy
Dan. 9:24 also says, that it would take seventy weeks of years “to seal up vision and prophecy.” To seal up has a variety of meanings. To seal can mean to secure or protect something in the sense of keeping it hidden. It is used in this sense in Dan. 12:9, where the words of prophecy were “sealed up until the end of time.” In that same sense, the book of Revelation shows the breaking of the seals in order to give us “revelation” and understanding of the prophecy.
Another meaning of sealing is when a document was to be signed by the king. Normally, he signed it in wax with his signet ring. Paul applies this meaning to the Holy Spirit in Eph. 1:13, 14,
13 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory.
In this sense the Holy Spirit was the seal of God’s signet ring upon the written document promising us an inheritance. We were in need of this promise, because the (full) inheritance was being deferred until the time of the end. Hence, we received the Holy Spirit as a pledge, according to the law of pledges (Deut. 24:6, 10-13). In this case the Holy Spirit was given as a pledge (collateral, security) on a loan.
As I wrote in Speech 7 of the Deuteronomy series, God had stripped Adam of his spiritual garment after he sinned in the Garden. God then gave him earthly garments as a substitute, limiting him to the earth until his debt (sin) was paid. But when Jesus paid that debt on the cross, the situation was reversed, and God then “owed” men their spiritual garments. God, however, chose to retain their garments in heaven, as Paul says in 2 Cor. 5:1, 2, leaving us in our earthly garments, wherein we “groan.” Paul then tells us in verse 5 that God “gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.” It is the collateral on the garment that is now on loan to God.
Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the “pledge of our inheritance,” and the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the “seal” on the document wherein the promise is written.
So when we understand the purpose of a seal, we may see how Dan. 9:24 applies this term. This sealing was to be the final result of what Christ accomplished on the cross. Ferrar Fenton says, “to accomplish the vision and prophecy.” He understands the seal to be the end (or result) of the vision or prophecy of the cross. Seals, after all, were not applied to documents until the writing had been finished, or accomplished. So the Holy Spirit was to seal up that which Gabriel was prophesying in regard to the seventy weeks.
To Anoint the Most Holy Place
Dan. 9:24 reads, “and to anoint the most holy place” (NASB). The word “place” may be implied, but it does not appear in the text. The NASB translators believed that “the most holy” was a reference to the inner room of the temple, where the presence of God was to dwell.
However, Ferrar Fenton renders it, “and the Messiah—the Holiest of the Holy.” The Hebrew word for “anoint” is mashach, which is the root word (verb) for Messiah (noun), or “anointed one.” I do not know why Fenton turns the verb into a noun, or if he was justified in doing so. He obviously believes that the revelation was not about the room in the temple per se but about the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
In the richness of the Hebrew language, of course, the Most Holy Place could be seen as a metaphor for (or manifestation of) the Messiah. So I believe that both views have merit. Insofar as anointing the Most Holy Place is concerned, we know from Exodus 30:26 and Exodus 40:9 that the Ark of the Covenant was anointed, along with all the temple vessels, when the tabernacle of Moses was consecrated. This had to be done before “the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle” (Exodus 40:35).
If “the most holy place” in Dan. 9:24 represents the Ark of the Covenant that was anointed at the original consecration, then it appears that Gabriel was prophesying of the consecration and dedication of the New Temple made of “living stones” (1 Peter 2:5).
5 You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Anointing this New Temple was yet part of the preparation for the moment when the glory of God would fill it. Perhaps in the sense of one’s calling, we could view Christ’s crucifixion as His anointing, which was then followed by the glory of God filling His New Temple in Acts 2:4.
But can we view the cross as Christ’s anointing? Baptism was an anointing, since it was administered “from above” through sprinkling or pouring (Isaiah 32:15; Joel 2:28; Ezekiel 36:25; 39:29). There were many baptisms or “washings” (Heb. 6:2; 9:10), some of blood, some of water, and some of oil and even “fire.” All were pictured as coming down out of heaven upon the one being baptized.
So Jesus asked His disciples in Mark 10:38, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?” He was referring to His anointing, calling, or baptism, and it was a specific reference to the cross, where He was to pay the price for the sin of the world.
It appears, then, that Gabriel was revealing once again the anointing of the Messiah, both as a Man and as “the Most Holy Place.” It was a veiled reference to the calling of the Messiah. His work was revealed in the earlier part of Dan. 9:24, but the manner in which He was to do it (that is, the cross) was veiled. If Gabriel had revealed it so that men could easily understand it, then the chief priests might have acted differently. But God often hides His purposes and blinds men’s eyes, so that the divine plan will be fulfilled.
Christ's death on the cross was His anointing, or calling. One might say that He was anointed by blood at that time in order to prepare for the anointing of the Spirit that would come later. It took seventy weeks of years to bring this divine purpose to its climax.