After rebuking some Pharisees and contradicting God's Law, Jesus took a side trip to the region of Tyre and Sidon. There, He reluctantly healed a woman's demon-possessed daughter after He called her, and her people, dogs. Soon Jesus left that region to go back to Galilee, where He fed 4000 with seven loaves of bread and few small fish.
The Signs of the Times
Mark is theorized to be the earliest Gospel, and Mark 8:11-13 is a good example of why. There, the Pharisees test Jesus, asking Him for a sign, to which He tells them no sign will be given to this generation. Of course that is dead wrong based on the Biblical accounts of Jesus working many miraculous signs, but at least Mark's message is simple and short.
Matthew 16:1-4 records the same confrontation, but Matthew added the Sadducees to the group, and said that only one sign would be given; the oh-so-problematic sign of Jonah. But Matthew did not stop there. Proving himself to be somewhat of an aggregator of knowledge, Matthew spliced in a condemnation of the Pharisees and Sadducees; that they could interpret the weather yet could not interpret the signs of the times.
Luke does not exactly cover this episode, but Luke does contain Matthew's same condemnation about knowing the weather yet not knowing the signs of the times. If we remember from a previous study, it appeared as though Luke had edited the "sign of Jonah" the first time Matthew had mentioned it. It may be that Luke edited this anecdote as well due to the reference to the "sign of Jonah" again, and so we see in Luke 12:54-56 that he skipped the Pharisees' request for a sign and instead directed the condemnation at the crowds following Jesus:
He said to the crowd: "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'It's going to rain,' and it does. And when the south wind blows, you say, 'It's going to be hot,' and it is. Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time?" NIVWrap your head around this: Jesus, speaking to a highly illiterate crowd (literacy rates were well below 10% back then), calls these people hypocrites for knowing how to interpret the weather signs (which they would have encountered every day of their lives) but not knowing how to "interpret this present time" (which is an implied reference to prophesies in the Scriptures). These people had to rely on the Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes to tell them what was in the Scriptures and to inform them what were the prophesied signs, if any, occurring in their times, but here we see Jesus berating them for not knowing something which they were obviously not taught. Luke made a major blunder here.
Now, we are in the meat of the text! I hope you are hungry, because there is a 24 ounce (0.68 kilogram) porterhouse steak of prophesy coming your way!
Going back to Matthew's version, where instead Jesus focuses His attack more rightfully on the Pharisees and Sadducees, it appears that Jesus had expected them to realize "the signs of the times," which implies a connection to prophesies not only about Jesus, but about the events which were then occurring at that time.
So which prophesies might this implied reference refer to? John Gill, one of the great Christian Bible scholars, suggested these signs in his exposition on this verse:
"the ending of Daniel's weeks, the various miracles wrought by Christ, the wickedness of the age in which they lived, the ministry of John the Baptist, and of Christ, the great flockings of the people, both to one and to the other, with divers other things which were easy to be observed by them"Working from the end to the beginning, we have already discussed the inaccuracies in the prophesies of people flocking to Jesus, some of the issues with Jesus' ministry, and the issues with John the Baptist leading and preparing the way and representing the foretold reappearance of Elijah. The charge that the times were wicked enough to warrant being a sign is the essence of subjectivity. The recorded miracles of Jesus, such as the feeding of the 5000 and walking on water, have proven to be highly questionable. That brings us to "Daniel's weeks."
The reference to "Daniel's weeks" comes from a prophesy in Daniel 9. The big picture is in Daniel 9:24:
"Seventy 'sevens' are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy." NIVThe word for "sevens" is literally the word for weeks, but the content which follows makes literal weeks an obviously wrong translation. Another interpretation of "sevens" is years, making this a prophesy about 70 years, but given the lack of everlasting righteousness being established so soon after the building of the Second Temple, this interpretation seems wrong. So in this case, the context makes it reasonably clear that these weeks are actually sets of seven years according to the day-year interpretation. All of these things are supposed to be accomplished by the end of seventy sevens, or 490 years.
The phrase "to put an end to sin" is literally just that, and is applied specifically to the Jews as the phrase "for your people" establishes. How can we be certain? Minus the "weeks" timeline, this concept is echoed in other prophesies, such as Ezekiel 36:24-36 and Ezekiel 37:21-28. These prophesies state that the Jews (Israelites) will never sin again after some certain point of time, among other things.
The phrase "to anoint the most holy" sure appears to be a reference to Jesus, right? There are a couple problems with that interpretation. The first is semantics based, because "most holy" comes from a pair of Hebrew words which refer to a holy place or a thing, more like a temple, a sanctuary, or even the city of Jerusalem itself, than a god-man. The word "place" should come after "most holy." Coincidentally, this couples well to the coming Third Temple which was prophesied in Ezekiel 40-46. The second problem is even bigger...timing.
Daniel 9:25 tells us specifically that the starting time of the 490 years began from when the decree was given to rebuild Jerusalem. The Persian leader Cyrus the Great made that decree. Being extra generous, we will use the date in which the Second Temple of Jerusalem was completed, 516 BCE, although the decree was probably around twenty years before that.
So add 490 years to 516 BCE and you get 26 BC, that "BC" stands for "Before Christ" in Christian lingo. According to Daniel's prophesy, it was before Jesus that transgressions and sins would end, atonement would be made, and there would be everlasting righteousness. This is an epic prophesy failure.
These dates come from secular historians, but Jewish history states that the decree to build Jerusalem came much later, around 370 BCE, and vehemently maintain that the Second Temple stood for 420 years. Add 490 years to that and you get 120 CE. If you subtract seven years, 113 CE is when a foreign power conquered Israel. And since 120 CE, the Jews have never sinned and have had everlasting righteousness. Wait, that is not right either. Is this the actual prophesy failure?
No. Strangely enough, Jewish scholars, apparently contradicting their own Scriptures, suggest that the timeline instead begins with the destruction of the First Temple, and that Cyrus the Great was the anointed leader to come after 49 years. This trick aligns that fateful last seven years of prophesy with the start of the reign of the tyrannical High Priest Alexander Yannai (103 BCE). The problem is that Yannai's reign lasted twenty seven years, not seven, and we are again lacking an everlasting righteousness.
You might think that with all of these mixed up dates, Biblical scholars would shy away from associating this prophesy with Jesus, but they cannot do that, given that Jesus Himself referenced this specific prophesy in Matthew 24:15-20, Mark 13:14-18, and (a slightly modified version in) Luke 21:20-24. Jesus uses it to point out signs yet to come...
That leads to one more timeline theory: According to Nehemiah 2, Artaxerxes gave a commission to rebuild Jerusalem in 444 BCE (Jehovah's Witnesses claim 455 BCE instead, while Seventh Day Adventists claim 457 BCE). Add 490 years to that and you get 46 CE (or 35 CE according to the Jehovah's Witnesses or 33 CE via Seventh Day Adventists). Despite this timeline being essentially useless to Daniel such that it hardly seems to be an answer to his prayer (Daniel 9:20-23), at least this is in the right range. So let us review the signs.
Daniel 9:25-27 is the rest of the prophesy; the events leading up to the perfection achieved at the end of those 490 years. These verses are written so haphazardly as to make it extremely difficult to assemble the proper meaning and timing, especially when translators throw in punctuations which are not in the original Hebrew. Here is how I would render it as clearly as possible:
From the time when the order is given to rebuild Jerusalem, in 49 years there will be an anointed leader (a.k.a. a messiah), and the city will continue on for another 434 years during turbulent times. After those 483 total years, the anointed ruler will be cut off. A foreign leader and his people will capture the city, and will rule it for 7 years until his per-ordained fate. He will make cooperative promises with many of the people during that time. Yet rebellions and blasphemes will be frequent during his reign. Approximately 3.5 years into his rule, he will stop the Temple sacrifices and set up an abomination in the Temple which will last until the end of his reign. At some point, he will destroy the city and the Temple, like a flood, in battle.Where did Daniel come up with these numbers? Of course, it is difficult to say. Some secular scholars and liberal Christian scholars have suggested that this is an ex eventuex prophesy written after the events sometime in the second century BCE, and that it (the last week of the prophesy in particular) aligns to the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the associated Maccabean Revolt (171 BCE), but this requires Daniel to be really bad with dates; off by around 70 years in his timeline even with the most-favorable timeline given above.
I think that there may be a better fitting, but completely overlooked explanation.
If the authorship of the prophesy is much older than the second century BCE, written closer to the time when Daniel supposedly lived, maybe even by Daniel himself, I would suggest instead that it could be an echo of the Old Testament history. The 49 years could represent the time from when David was anointed to become the future king (1 Samuel 16:13) up to the end of his forty-year reign (1 Kings 2:10-11), but there is no specific date given for his anointing to be certain. More precise, however, is that from Solomon's reign to the time when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem was approximately 433.5 years according to the chronology in 1 Kings and 2 Kings, which is pretty darn close to 434 years. It could be that Daniel was forecasting that history would repeat itself. However this time, after a seven year tribulation period instead of a seventy year exile, the cycle of repeated history would end, and everlasting righteousness would be established.
Now, onto the signs:
- An anointed one (a messiah, a.k.a. a ruler chosen by God and anointed with oil, reference Exodus 29:7, 1 Samuel 10:1, 1 Samuel 16:13) will rule in 49 years
- There are anointed rulers for the next 434 years
- The anointed ruler will be cut off, replaced by a foreign ruler (or at least a non-anointed ruler)
- That foreign ruler will rule for seven years (Romans ruled it for well over seven years)
- That foreign ruler will make promises to many
- That foreign ruler will put an end to sacrifices and offerings in 3.5 years (Sacrifices continued to the Temple destruction in 70 CE)
- That foreign ruler will set up an "abomination which causes desolation" in the Temple which will remain there until his preordained end.
- Jerusalem and the Temple will be destroyed at some point by this foreign ruler's people
- At the end of this seven-year rule, God will make atonement for the Jewish people, put an end to sin, and establish everlasting righteousness.
For example, one scholarly view is that Jesus was the ruler of the final seven years, where the anointed Jesus was cut off (killed) during that seven years, He had made a covenant with many people, His sacrifice put an end to sacrifices, He had made atonement, He had established an everlasting righteousness, and the Temple was destroyed...eventually (30+ years later).
Contrast this with another popular Christian scholarly view where the ruler during that final seven years is actually the Antichrist, who will rule after the Church is Raptured. It is the Antichrist who will make a covenant with many, will stop the sacrifices and offerings (even though Jesus had already made them unnecessary and somehow even the Rapture of the Church does not convince the Jews enough that the Christians were right to make them stop sacrificing on their own), and will attack Jerusalem and the Temple. This view holds that the first 483 years of Daniel's prophesy has already happened (culminating with Jesus) and did happen sequentially, but that this final set of seven years is (obviously) still yet to occur, which makes absolutely no sense other than making people feel better about a failed prophesy.
For Christian scholars to study the same four verses of prophesy and come up with both Jesus and the Antichrist being represented in the same words is simultaneously hilarious and sad. Yet this shows you the lengths that believers will go to in order to mold these Old Testament prophesies into what they want them to be instead of simply believing what they are actually saying.