The Bible is one story. It has many parts but all the parts fit together.
The message of redemption is simple enough that a child can understand it. It goes like this. I am a sinner. Jesus died for my sins. If I accept Jesus as my Savior, He will forgive me of all my sins and make me part of His family.
As we get older, we fill in a lot more details, and we are also able to understand a lot more of the story. Details concerning creation, the fall, God’s promises to Abraham and many others all get added to our understanding. However, our basic understanding does not change.
In much the same way, our understanding of prophecy is built on the whole of Scripture. A child can understand Jesus is coming back. However, the Scriptures have a lot more to say about His return and the circumstances of His return.
While there are many reasons why it is important for us to understand Bible prophecy, let’s look at just a couple.
First, understanding prophecy is important to the believer to keep us from being deceived. Jesus warned:
“Don’t let anyone mislead you, 5for many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah.’ They will deceive many. 6And you will hear of wars and threats of wars, but don’t panic. (Not panicking or being upset is another reason to understand prophecy.) Yes, these things must take place, but the end won’t follow immediately. 7Nation will go to war against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in many parts of the world. 8But all this is only the first of the birth pains, with more to come. (Matthew 24:4-8, NLT)
Jesus clearly says, “Do not be deceived.” There are other passages that warn of the deception that is in the world, and as we see in these words of Jesus, many will be deceived. In the Bible, God has given us enough information that we need not be deceived.
Second, understanding Bible prophecy is important to give us hope. Titus 2:13 calls the return of our Lord our “blessed hope.” While there are many truths that give us hope, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 mentions just one:
13And now, dear brothers and sisters, we want you to know what will happen to the believers who have died so you will not grieve like people who have no hope. 14For since we believe that Jesus died and was raised to life again, we also believe that when Jesus returns, God will bring back with him the believers who have died.
The resurrection of the dead and the reign of Christ on earth are elements of Biblical prophecy that give us hope. However, not all Biblical prophecy was meant for us to fully understand.
Some elements of Bible prophecy are meant for the help of those who are living in the future times spoken of. In other words, some things will be clear to those going through the tribulation that may not be clear to us. These passages will give hope to those living in such times. In 1 Peter 1:10-11, Peter explains that the prophets did not always understand what they were given. Then in verse 12 he says:
It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (1 Peter 1:12, ESV)
We are to study diligently to understand, and pray that God will make the meaning clear to us. 2 Timothy 2:15 tells us:
Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.
It is important for us to apply ourselves to the Word of God, and understand what is given to us. However, we cannot go beyond what is written and fill in details that are not there in the text. For example, we will not know the name of the antichrist before the rapture. 2 Thessalonians 2:5-8 makes this clear. So, stop trying to guess who it might be. It is a waste of time. It is enough to know that the spirit of antichrist is already at work in the world.
When Daniel was praying for his nation and confessing his sins and the sins of his people in Daniel chapter 9, God sent Gabriel with a message to give Daniel insight and understanding. As I have said, the entire Bible fits together, and all of Bible prophecy fits together. When Gabriel gave his message to Daniel, he also gave us important information about God’s plans. Understanding the seventy weeks of Daniel 9 can keep us from being deceived. Understanding the seventy weeks of Daniel 9 can give us hope. Understanding the seventy weeks of Daniel 9 helps us understand some other prophecies, and particularly the book of Revelation.
Gabriel told Daniel:
A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city to finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place. (Daniel 9:24, NLT)
Most translations translate the “sets of seven” as weeks. It is clear from the context that Gabriel is referring to sets of seven years. It is not natural in the English language to refer to “weeks of years,” but this was the Hebrew way of thinking and speaking. Therefore, seventy weeks or seventy sets of seven are referring to 490 years not 490 days.
Next, and this is important, Gabriel said, “…has been decreed for your people and your holy city…”
Who are Daniel’s people? The Jews!
What holy city is Gabriel referring to? Jerusalem!
The Church is not Israel and Israel is not the Church. Failure to make this distinction leads to a lot of confusion and the necessity to “spiritualize” many of the prophecies. We are living in the times of the Gentiles. Jesus said, “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24, ESV) In order to understand Biblical prophecy, it is important to keep this distinction.
God states the purpose of the seventy weeks. He says these weeks are to “finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place.
So, God has a plan for His people to end their rebellion. The plan is not completed yet. We know that the atonement spoken of has taken place with Jesus on the cross, but bringing in everlasting righteousness and anointing the Most Holy are yet to be completed. It is worth noting that the word “Place” is added by the translators. The Hebrew is ambiguous. It could mean the Most Holy Place in the Temple, or it could mean a person. Literally, the passage just says, “and to anoint the Most Holy.”
Now let’s consider the rest of the prophecy. Gabriel says:
Now listen and understand! Seven sets of seven plus sixty-two sets of seven will pass from the time the command is given to rebuild Jerusalem until a ruler—the Anointed One—comes. Jerusalem will be rebuilt with streets and strong defenses, despite the perilous times.
After this period of sixty-two sets of seven, the Anointed One will be killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing… (Daniel 9:25-26, NLT)
Here again, it is important to notice the exact words of the prophecy. The decree is to rebuild Jerusalem, not the temple.
2 Chronicles 36:22-33 and Ezra 1 tell of a decree by King Cyrus of Persia commanding the rebuilding of the Temple. This decree was issued in 538 B.C. Ezra records two additional decrees issued in relation to the temple. (Ezra 6:1, 6-12 and 7:11-26) However, Nehemiah 2:1-8 records a decree issued by Artaxerxes Longimanus authorizing the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem. This decree was issued on March 4, 444 B.C. (Of course, this date will vary by which school of thought one subscribes to. The NLT note puts it in April of 445 B.C. I am going with the dates given by Dr. John Walvoord in his book, “End Times,” but after a few thousand years it may not be worth quibbling over a year or two.)
We know that when Nehemiah started to build the wall of Jerusalem, it only took 52 days. However, they completed the wall not the city. Nehemiah set up a system (Nehemiah 11:1) where one tenth of the population lived in Jerusalem and the other nine tenths lived in the surrounding area. By this means, at the end of 49 years, Jerusalem was rebuilt with streets and strong defenses just as was foretold of the first set of seven sevens.
The prophecy also foretold another sixty-two sets of seven for a total of sixty-nine sets of seven. At first glance, 444 B.C. plus 483 years (7 times 69) puts us at 39 A.D., but this is doing the math with our Gregorian calendar. The Gregorian is a solar calendar based on the sun and seasons. The Hebrews used a lunar calendar. Our years are calculated on the basis of a 365-day year. The Bible calculates on a 360-day year. For example, Revelations 11:2, 12:6 and 13:5 speak of 42 months or 3 ½ years as being 1,260 days. If we do the math: 1,260 divided by 3 ½ equals 360. When 483 years is multiplied by 360 days it equals 173,880 days, which corresponds to 33 A.D. As a matter of fact, March 5, 444 B.C. to March 30, 33 A.D., the day of Jesus’ Triumphal entry is 173,880 days. (Calculated using the true length of a year as being 365.2422 days.) The triumphal entry was followed a few days later with the crucifixion.[i] Again, this is consistent with Gabriel’s words, “…the Anointed One will be killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing…” (Daniel 9:26)
It is important to note that so far nothing has been said about the seventieth week. Christ was to be cut off after the sixty-ninth week. This introduces a gap. Verse 26 says:
And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. (ESV)
The city and the temple were destroyed 37 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. The prophecy says “the people of the prince who is to come” will be the ones who destroy the temple, which describes the Roman Empire. The text does not say “the prince who is to come.” This confirms that there is a gap intended here. Gabriel picks up the seventieth week with verse 27.
And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator. (ESV)
The “he” here refers to “the prince who is to come” not to Christ. We see the half of the week reflected in the 42 months prophesied in Revelation.
The gap is explained by what I mentioned earlier about the times of the Gentiles. Remember the seventy weeks of Daniel has to do with the Jews. Paul explained:
13Now I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry 14in order somehow to make my fellow Jews jealous, and thus save some of them. 15For if their rejection means the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance mean but life from the dead?
25Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26And in this way all Israel will be saved… (Romans 11:13-15, 25-26, ESV)
Notice it says, “…until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” God still has a plan for the Jews, but this is the Church age, the time when Jerusalem is trampled underfoot by the Gentiles. The seventieth week is the 7 years of the tribulation, when the prince who is to come will make a strong covenant with the people of Israel.
I want to encourage you with the certainty of these events. I will end with the words of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonian church:
1Now, dear brothers and sisters, let us clarify some things about the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and how we will be gathered to meet him. 2Don’t be so easily shaken or alarmed by those who say that the day of the Lord has already begun. Don’t believe them, even if they claim to have had a spiritual vision, a revelation, or a letter supposedly from us. 3Don’t be fooled by what they say. For that day will not come until there is a great rebellion against God and the man of lawlessness is revealed—the one who brings destruction. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-2, NLT)
From 2 Thessalonians 2:7 we know that the man of lawlessness will not be revealed until the restrainer is out of the way. Therefore, as in the passage above we can know for certain that the day of the Lord has not begun yet. As long as we, the Church, are still here, we can know for certain that the day of the Lord has not already begun.