Politics & Prophecy: A Lawyer’s View of the End Times
Part 3 – The Restoration of Israel
by Gerald R. Thompson
When the kingdom of Christ comes, the restoration of the nation of Israel will play a central role. What, you think it will all be about rewarding the Church? Again I say, the Christian hope is pinned to very Jewish prophecies.
- “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 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. 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.”
A fair number of commentators view this portion of Daniel 9 as providing a long-term view of end times prophecy from Daniel’s time (6th century B.C.) until the end of the Tribulation. For the reasons stated below, I do not think this is correct. Nor does it correlate with events in the first century A.D., or with the history of Israel past. Yes, the prophecy probably concerns the Tribulation period, but as I see it, only a very short period of 490 literal days, for reasons I will explain in a moment.
I have already suggested that Dan. 9:24 is a key to understanding the end times in general, in that it describes the overall purposes God will accomplish. But that does not mean the prophecy was intended to describe events occurring soon after Daniel’s lifetime, key events in the first century A.D., nor that the prophecy spans the entire Church age.
What Dan. 9 really tells us is that God will use the nation of Israel in a powerful way in the end times, and in particular, the events that will immediately precede (or inaugurate) the ultimate restoration of Israel. In fact, Dan. 9 gives us a crucial piece of information found nowhere else – the events that will get the Tribulation period started.
This is a very difficult text to understand, mainly because in many ways it seems to relate to past events (the crucifixion of Christ in 30 A.D., and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.), but those events neither fulfill the stated purposes of the text if taken at face value (i.e., “to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most holy place”), nor the stated chronology of 70 weeks (either 490 days or 490 years).
Yes, the death and resurrection of Christ made atonement for iniquity and inaugurated His spiritual kingdom. But while the ministry of Christ negated some of the effects of sin (eternal death), it did not actually end sin, because sin is still very much with us. Neither did it seal up vision and prophecy (the book of Revelation came after both the death of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem), nor anointed any place as being “most holy.” Those are things which clearly have not yet been fulfilled.
This leads many to adopt a “double fulfillment” theory, i.e., that this text applies both to the past and to the future. I believe “double fulfillment” is a fairly common theme in biblical prophecy, but it is hard to credit Dan. 9:24-27 with any kind of past fulfillment at all, since no one has ever explained an historical 490-day or 490-year sequence which tracks with the events described here.
At most, Christ’s death and Jerusalem’s destruction are a foreshadowing (or a type) of events yet to happen, insofar as Dan. 9:24-27 is concerned. There has most certainly never been a 7 year peace treaty with Israel which was broken halfway through that has ever occurred in the past. So the possibility of an actual past fulfillment is out of the question – a foreshadowing is the most we’re going to get from Christ’s death and Jerusalem’s destruction.
Virtually all Bible commentators assume that because this text uses a word for “weeks” which means “sevens,” therefore the 70 weeks are really 490 years (i.e., not literal weeks). Let me suggest that what is driving this interpretation is the assumption, not the text.
In Dan. 9, “weeks” is in fact the normal, regular word for weeks. It’s true, the word means a heptad, which is just a series or group of seven, but that’s what a week is. A week is a series of seven days. It always has been. There is absolutely no textual evidence that a week equals seven years.
There seem to be two basic factors driving this common assumption: 1) people are expecting an interpretation which has a past fulfillment; and/or 2) people cannot believe the events described could happen in so short a time as 490 literal days. I have finally unbounded myself from these expectations.
If years are assumed, these problems exist:
1) no past period of exactly 490 years can successfully be identified with these events;
2) the only way the past can relate to this prophecy is if the anointed one is Jesus Christ, and that is an assumption not clearly supported by the text;
3) it is highly unlikely the prophecy relates to a 490 year period in the future which hasn’t even begun yet (and I’ve never heard of anybody who thinks it does); and
4) since any continuous period of 490 years in either the past or the future is difficult or impossible to defend, most 490 year chronologies assume a gap between the 69th and 70th weeks, when the text does not suggest any gap.
The gap theory is popular with dispensationalists, because their whole viewpoint regards the present Church age as a form of unintended or parenthetical gap in God’s master timeline between the first and second comings of Christ. Sorry, but I just cannot postulate that God did not intend for the Church age to occur or that it is merely a parenthesis in His master plan, as though God was not fully aware of how events would play out. Everything God does has a specific purpose and He knows all things in advance.
Whenever scripture indicates a time period, I am not aware of any instances when a “gap” is included. Gaps are what you get when men can’t figure out how God did, or will do, things. Objectively, the text makes no mention of a gap – how can we presume one?
Granted, there are plenty of instances when prophetic scriptures jump from past or present to the future without so much as a textual whisper that many years are being lept from one phrase to the next. I have covered many of those scriptures in this book, such as the visions of Daniel 7 and 8, and essentially all of the visions of past world empires (usually described as beasts of one sort or another) which are given to us as a means of describing the future Antichrist.
However, none of these leaps of many years – what may be called a “gap” – occur within the confines of a stated period of time. Thus, for example, the vision of Daniel 7 refers to a time period of three and a half times, but the entire stated period occurs after the implied gap between the third and fourth beasts. There is no gap within the three and a half times. Similarly, Daniel 8 refers to 2300 days, but again this entire time period occurs after any implied gap and there is no gap within the 2300 days.
So if there is a gap within the 70 weeks of Daniel 9, it would be a unique instance in scripture which is out of character with all other prophetic time periods in the Bible.
Also, there are instances in the Bible when a prophetic day equals a year, but when these occur, God specifically says, “one day equals one year.” For example, in Num. 14:34 God tells Israel they will spend 40 years in the wilderness according to the number of days they spied out the land of Canaan, “a year for each day.”
In Ezek. 4:5-6, God tells Ezekiel He will punish Israel the same number of years, as the number of days He has Ezekiel lie on his side. “For I assign to you a number of days, 390 days, equal to the number of the years of their punishment.”
So God is perfectly capable of telling us when a prophetic day equals a year if He wants to. What reason is there for assuming a day-year theory when God has not said so? Nothing in the text of either Num. 14 or Ezek. 4 suggests an intention to state a general rule that a prophetic day always equals a literal year. Rather, the fact that these are the only two instances of day/year equivalence in all the Bible suggests they are in fact the exception to the rule that a day means a literal day.
There is exactly one place in the Bible which makes an explicit reference to weeks of years – Lev. 25:8. This text defines the year of Jubilee as seven weeks of years, or 49 years. Is there some parallel to Dan. 9? Doubtful. God could have said weeks of years in Dan. 9, but didn’t. Besides, neither the context nor the subject matter of Lev. 25 is similar to Dan. 9.
You might as well draw a parallel between Dan. 9 and Mat. 18:22 (“seventy times seven”), which also has no similarity of context or subject matter, simply because both texts can be multiplied to get 490 of something. Nothing in the text of Dan. 9 suggests a weeks of years interpretation, or that a prophetic day equals a literal year.
Dan. 9:26 suggests that the anointed one will be cut off and Jerusalem destroyed at the same time – “And after the sixty-two weeks [i.e., the 69th week], 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.” All of this happens before the 70th week begins. But in history (if Jesus is the anointed one), these were 40 years apart (Messiah cut off – 30 A.D. vs. temple destroyed – 70 A.D.). It’s one thing to suggest a gap between the 69th week and 70th week in Daniel 9. But to suggest a 40 year gap is built into the consummation of the 69th week in its own right is not even remotely plausible.
Nothing in the text or any standard method of textual interpretation can support such a reading. To do so completely destroys the meaning of a week. Indeed, such a reading suggests that while all the other 69 weeks of Daniel 9 are literally seven years long, the 69th week is 7 + 40 = 47 years long. That, my friend, is a fatal inconsistency.
Further, working backwards 483 years (69 x 7 years) from 30 A.D. (when Jesus was supposedly “cut off”) does not lead to any recognizable decree to rebuild Jerusalem which fits all the facts. So no past chronology fits the prophecy.
Not that people haven’t tried – hard – to make such a chronology work. One of the more common approaches is to date the granting of authority to Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem by king Artaxerxes of Medo-Persia to 454 B.C., which is 483 years prior to 30 A.D. But the devil really is in the details. For the sake of argument, let’s assume the authority granted to Nehemiah was in fact given in 454 B.C. Let’s also assume arguendo that Nehemiah was “an anointed one, a prince” as described in Dan. 9:26, even though Nehemiah was under no circumstance an actual prince.
Even with those assumptions, to make the chronology work, you have to ignore the plain text of Dan. 9:25 that “from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of [Nehemiah] there shall be seven weeks.” In other words, if each week is seven years long, then from the time Artaxerxes granted authority to Nehemiah, Nehemiah had to wait 49 years (seven weeks) before acting on it. You are also left with an inexplicable 69th week which is 47 years long. Neither of these is either likely or a reasonable construction of the text.
Plus, I find it strange that the moment of Jesus’ greatest triumph (his death and resurrection) should be referred to prophetically as being cut off, as though He was prevented from accomplishing His goal. Nothing could be further from the truth. Dan. 9:26 even goes so far as to say the anointed one “shall have nothing.” In what possible sense could this statement ever be applied to Jesus?
The text does not use the actual word for Messiah in Dan. 9:25 either, although some Bible versions (such as the KJV) translate it that way. The literal word used means anointed one, and if the assumption that it refers to Jesus is wrong (and I believe it is wrong), all past fulfillment scenarios fail. Commentators tend to be snobby here, holding that a Christological interpretation (i.e., that the anointed one must be Jesus) is best, as if all prophecy must relate to Jesus and such interpretations are automatically preferred over any non-Christological approach.
However, nothing in the text demands that the anointed one must be Jesus. Certainly, there are other people in the Bible who are anointed ones (such as Saul and David, and in prophecy, the two witnesses of Rev. 11). The evidence suggests this text does not refer to Jesus, but to someone else yet in the future.
Indeed, a natural reading of Dan. 9:25 (the anointed one will rebuild Jerusalem) and Dan. 9:26 (the anointed one will be cut off) is that these both refer to the same person. Yet all past fulfillment scenarios assume these are two different anointed ones, because Jesus never rebuilt Jerusalem and in any event he was not around in either 454 B.C. or 405 B.C. (49 years later). All of which is complicated by the fact the KJV translates both Dan. 9:25 and 26 as referring to the Messiah, i.e., they both refer to Jesus. So if Jesus is the one who was cut off, then he must also be the one who rebuilt Jerusalem in 405 B.C. – except that he wasn’t.
So, like I said, no past chronology fits the prophecy. Unless you simply ignore all the verses that prove inconvenient to the theory.
The Dan. 9 text goes on to say that a holy place, or sanctuary, will exist in Jerusalem, that daily sacrifices (presumed to be in progress) will be stopped, and the Antichrist will desecrate (make desolate) and destroy the sanctuary and the city. Yes, the temple was rebuilt after Daniel’s lifetime, which temple was desecrated by Antiochus IV Epiphanes and destroyed by Emperor Titus. But these two events were separated by 237 years (167 B.C. vs. 70 A.D.).
Also, there was no 7 year peace treaty which was stopped halfway through, and no prior 483 year period or 490 day period that anyone can correlate with past events. [Yes, some people have actually tried to show the prophecy of the 70 weeks was fulfilled in 490 literal days preceding the crucifixion of Christ. But as I have already shown, this prophecy isn’t about Christ.] All of which strongly implies that the Jewish temple will be rebuilt in the future because no past fulfillment scenario fits the prophecy.
The other scripture most closely aligned with Daniel’s reference to the temple is Ezekiel chaps. 40-48, where he is given the measurements of a new temple and indeed, the entire holy land. However, historians all agree this temple was never built (it was not Herod’s temple in the time of Christ), and the allocation of real estate given to Ezekiel has never materialized as coming under the control of the nation of Israel to date. Which corroborates the idea that this entire prophecy is yet future, and not any part in the past.
For many Christians and Muslims alike, tradition holds that the Antichrist will make a seven year peace treaty with Israel that will be broken mid-way through, thus identifying a Tribulation (first 3½ years) and a Great Tribulation (second 3½ years). Nonetheless: 1) tradition does not constrain the text; and 2) we must recognize that nowhere else in the Bible is a seven-year Tribulation period or a seven-year peace treaty mentioned – if in fact it is even mentioned here in Daniel 9.
If, in fact, there is to be any 7 year peace treaty, Dan. 9:27 is the sole scriptural basis for such a thing, and it requires making a lot of assumptions without any firm foundation, i.e., the anointed one is Jesus, a prophetic day equals a literal year, and there’s a gap of 2,000 years between the 69th and 70th weeks. Yikes! And people actually anchor their view of the end times on this belief!? For my part, I will not distinguish between a Tribulation and a Great Tribulation in these discussions because I believe the 7 year peace treaty to be a sham.
Revelation only ever refers to 42 months, 1260 days, or 3½ times. There are no seven year periods in Revelation. Further, there are exactly three mentions of “seven years” in all of biblical prophecy:
1) Gen. 41, concerning Pharaoh’s dream of the seven good years followed by the seven years of famine;
2) Elisha’s prophecy of seven years of famine in 2Ki. 8; and
3) Ezek. 39:9, to the effect that people will burn the weapons of the defeated armies of the Antichrist for seven years after Armageddon.
The Bible never explicitly mentions a seven year Tribulation or a seven year peace treaty. Ever. When people talk about these things as though they are facts, it is based purely on fabrications, er, I mean, assumptions. In the world of hermeneutics (textual interpretation), this is referred to as eisegesis, i.e., reading something into the text that isn’t there. Not a good thing.
Notice also that v. 27 only mentions “a strong covenant with many,” not a “peace treaty.” Now, it could be a peace treaty, or it could be a mere cessation of hostilities. In the context of seven years, a peace treaty might make sense, but there is no basis for a seven year period. If the period is actually one week (seven days), a peace treaty is less likely. Also, the text only says sacrifices will be stopped for half a week. Everyone assumes it will be the second half, not the first. But the text doesn’t actually say “second half.”
Complicating the matter is the fact that Dan. 12:11 says, “from the time that the regular sacrifice is abolished, and the abomination of desolation is set up, there will be 1290 days.” 1290 days is longer than 3½ years. If this refers to the events of Dan. 9:27 (i.e., the last half of a seven-year “week”), how are they to be reconciled? Answer: they cannot. Unless the 70th week is literally seven days and there is no seven-year period for Dan. 12:11 to correlate with.
I suggest that Dan. 9:24-27 may actually refer to 490 literal days. They clearly tie into the Tribulation because of the Abomination of Desolation (see also Mat. 24:15), but the 490 days mentioned here most likely immediately precede the Tribulation or consist of the first part of that period. As stated, I am not convinced by any of the evidence that:
1) these events were fulfilled in the past;
2) the anointed one is Jesus;
3) there is a gap of 2,000 years between the 69th and 70th weeks; or that
4) this prophecy necessarily relates to 490 years.
I see no textual basis for rejecting a 490 day chronology (70 literal weeks). Practically, if the Empire State Building could be built in 410 days, why couldn’t the groundwork for the rebuilding of Jerusalem (literally, just the “squares and moat”) be substantially in progress in 434 days? I take squares and moat to essentially mean that excavations have been made and perhaps that foundations have been poured, but that’s all. (Apparently, Jerusalem does have a moat near the Jaffa gate.)
The text never says rebuilding will be complete or that anything more than the excavations will have been made when the prince who is to come destroys the city. In fact, the text says the effort to rebuild will come to nothing, which suggests that no structures will actually be erected. So what is it exactly about a 434 day excavation project that makes it an unreasonable interpretation?
A close look at v. 27 also reveals that the last sentence is not directly stated to be completed within the 70th week. That is, the “wing of abominations” and the “one who makes desolate” are not said to be consummated in the 70th week. The use of the word “wing” suggests being carried away, and with speed. Thus, the “wing of abominations” infers it will follow the 70th week quickly, or perhaps begin in the 70th week, but nothing says it will be completed in that week. Stopping the sacrifices after 486½ days could simply start the running of the 1290 day period of Dan. 12:11. See Appendix B in this regard.
So I see Dan. 9:24-27 being interpreted something like this:
70 weeks are given to Israel and Jerusalem to wrap up some big things in God’s plan. 7 weeks after an order is given to rebuild Jerusalem, a righteous leader will appear. He will work to rebuild the city in troubled times (either at the beginning, or immediately before, the Tribulation period) for 62 weeks, only digging the moat and the city foundations, but in the end his efforts will come to nothing. The followers of the Antichrist will destroy Jerusalem and the temple at that time. War will come suddenly, and the invaders will desecrate the city. The Antichrist will make a multilateral pact to cease hostilities for a week, and for half that time Jewish sacrifices and offerings will be stopped. Then, hating the holy things of God and acting quickly, the Antichrist will desecrate Jerusalem and set up the Abomination of Desolation until he is finally conquered.
Many people look for the inauguration of a seven year peace treaty with Israel as the reference point by which they will know the end times have begun – others think the Rapture will be the sign. For me, I look for two things as the key indicators that the end times have begun: 1) an event which triggers an order to rebuild Jerusalem (such as a destruction of the mosques currently on the temple mount, or a military attack on the city); and 2) the formation of the beast kingdom of ten nations (see the discussion of the beast kingdom later on).
The mere fact the events in Dan. 9 are so clearly made prominent in prophecy leads me to believe the issuance of an order to rebuild Jerusalem is when people will be able to look each other in the eye and say, “The end times are here.”
The beast kingdom will likely take a while to fully develop, and its arrival will precede the arrival of the Antichrist, as he will come up afterwards and replace three of the initial rulers. So this may be in progress well in advance of the rebuilding project and may be the first thing we will see. But at the time, when this occurs, people are likely to chalk it up to politics as usual and shrug off its importance. Nonetheless, from God’s perspective, and to those who are perceptive, such events will be obvious birth pangs. Mat. 24:8.
To continue the analogy, the order to rebuild Jerusalem will be the actual delivery of the baby – the inauguration of the end times. The event triggering a rebuilding is likely to come quite suddenly, and when it comes it will be unmistakable. It will also start the running of the end times clock in a way the gradual formation of the beast kingdom will not, because it is attached to a specific time period.