Tuesday, 5 May 2015

The final seven years: the different views

In this essay I focus on the prophecy in Daniel 9:27 which is often taken as referring to the final seven years of this era. I discuss the events mentioned in the prophecy as well as the various interpretations thereof. Although this prophecy is of special importance for those views that regard the rapture as a distinct event before the final appearance of Jesus Christ during the great battle of Armageddon, one does not have to believe in the rapture to appreciate this prophecy and its possible future fulfillment.

Bible prophecy is a fascinating topic. Although there are often different interpretations of Biblical prophecies (as with all texts), it is nonetheless interesting to not only carefully consider the different views, but also to establish whether and how such prophecy has been fulfilled. Prophecy is not considered a human ability to forecast events; rather, it is under divine inspiration that the prophets wrote: "For the prophecy came not [or: no prophecy came] in the old time by the will of man: the holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Pet. 1:21). This means that prophecy was not considered as mere predictions made from a human perspective; rather, old Israel and the Biblical authors that came from that tradition, considered such prophecy as divinely inspired (see [1] for a discussion).

From our current perspective, some prophecies relate to past events; others to future events. Some prophecies involve multiple fulfillment - comparable with multiple mountain peaks that align in such a manner that they give the impression to the climber that there is only one peak whereas in actuality a few peaks can be involved. This is called "mountain peaks of prophecy" or prophetic perspective. Some prophecies, for example those that tell about the destruction of Jerusalem, may have various fulfillments that are imbedded in each other. In this case most eschatologists accept that God's revelation is continuously unfolding which means that we may become aware of multiple fulfillments when later Biblical authors under divine inspiration rework or reinterpret prophecies that has been fulfilled. 

One remarkable prophecy is found in Daniel 9:27. This prophecy tells about the conquest of Jerusalem. It mentions some important things that will happen, namely that the offerings at the temple would cease, that an abomination would be erected in the temple and that the place would become desolate. Some interpreters place these things in the past, in the time when the Syrians ruled over Israel in 171-164 BC. Others observe that Jesus said that these things have a future fulfillment (Matt. 24:15). Some of these interpreters take this to mean that the prophecy refers to events in the time of Jesus - the temple was destroyed in 70 AD.

Other interpreters think that the prophecy has yet to be fulfillment in the time of the end. In this case the prophecy forms a center piece in eschatological reconstructions of end time events. It is the single most important prophecy that underlies all views of the rapture as a differentiable event before Jesus's coming during the great battle of Armageddon. I will now discuss the prophecy, the different views and also show how it fits into the overall picture of end time events in general when a future fulfillment is assumed. 

The seventy weeks of years

According to the Book of Daniel, the prophecy given in Daniel 9:21-27 was given as a revelation to Daniel in the first year of king Darius, "of the seed of the Medes" (Dan. 9:1-2; in about 538 BC). We are told that Daniel was at that time considering the fact that the 70 years that the prophet Jeremiah had earlier pronounced regarding the desolation of Jerusalem was coming to an end (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:1,10). Daniel saw in the "books" that the time of its fulfillment was drawing near and prayed for his people in anticipation of such fulfillment. This means that the author considered Jeremiah's 70 year period to have started in 605 BC when the Neo-Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar first conquered Jerusalem (the city was again taken in 597 BC and 587 BC) which was also when Daniel and his friends are said to have gone into exile to Babylon.

The Persians conquered Babylon in 539 BC from the Neo-Babylonians. According to the book, Daniel received this divine revelation in about 538 BC during the first year of the rule of Darius, the Median, over Babylon. Although the historicity of this Darius is disputed, there is no good reason to doubt that such a person lived (archaeological data has certain limits - see [2]). After him came the well-known Cyrus, who allowed Israel to return to their homeland in the first year of his reign in Babylon (Ezra 1:1). If we assume that Darius ruled for two years (Dan. 9:1-2 seems to imply more than one year), then Cyrus gave his command in about 536 BC. When we allow for prophetic reckoning (a prophetic year was considered to be 360 years; see below), then the prophecy of Jeremiah may be considered to have been remarkably fulfilled (605-536 BC is 70 prophetic years).

We read that the angel Gabriel appeared to Daniel after his prayer and announced to him another period that concerns the people of Israel and the holy city of Jerusalem, namely of seventy weeks of years (70x7=490 years in total). The period would start with a command to restore and build Jerusalem. It is divided into three parts, namely a first period of 7 weeks of years (7x7=49 years) when the streets and the wall of the city would be build, another period of 62 weeks of years (62x7=434 years) that would end when the Messiah (or: "anointed one") is "cut off, but not for himself", and a last period when a covenant would be confirmed for seven years. In the middle of this last period of 7 years the offerings at the temple would cease, an abomination would be erected (presumably in the temple) and the place would become desolate. Since this is not a technical discussion of all the details of the prophecy, we may for simplicity merely distinguish between the first 69 weeks (the first two parts of the period taken together; i.e. 483 years) and the last and final period of seven years.

Different interpretations of the prophecy

The first view to consider is the one that is generally accepted in Biblical Criticism circles, namely that the author wrote his narrative after the events actually took place (some time after 164 BC). In this case this is not considered to be a prophecy, but a form of history writing. These interpreters think that the period of seventy weeks of years starts with a "divine" command: this may have been when Jeremiah gave his prophecy just after Nebuchadnezzar came to the throne in 605 BC or when the city of Jerusalem was taken in 587 BC. The period ends with the events in the time of the Syrian (Seleucid) king Antiochus IV Epiphanus in the second century BC. According to this view the first 69 weeks of years came to an end in 171 BC with the assassination of the "anointed one", who is taken to be the Jewish high priest Onias III. He was earlier deposed and was an outspoken critic of Menelaus, the Seleucid king Antiochus IV's appointee.

These interpreters believe that the final seven years commenced when Menelaus became high priest in 171 BC after Antiochus IV sent an officer named Sostrates with a troop of Cyprian soldiers to install him and subdue the opposition. The events in the middle of the seven year period refer to those following Antiochus IV's capture of Jerusalem in 167 BC after a rebellion against Menelaus. The Jewish offerings at the temple were stopped, a statue of Zeus Olympus - of whom king Antiochus IV regarded himself as the physical manifestation ("epiphanus") - was placed in the temple and pig offering were brought there. The seven year period ended on 14 December 164 BC when Judas Maccabeus rededicated the temple. (Although there has been various views regarding the chronology of events, the one presented here agrees with the currently accepted reconstruction). Since the events discussed here are also mentioned elsewhere in the Book of Daniel (Dan. 8:9-27; 11:21-45) these interpreters believe that one has reason to think that all such references - including those regarding the last period of seven years - are to the same events.

There are some problems with this view. It seems a bit superficial, for example, to take the "command" with which the period commences as a divine command whereas some royal command seems more likely to have been intended. This point of departure immediately leads to another problem, namely that the lengths of the periods mentioned in Daniel 9 do not agree with the periods under consideration. The period from 605 BC (or 587 BC) to 164 BC is much shorter than 490 years. Furthermore, although these interpreters find some agreement between the historical events of 171-164 BC and those mentioned in Daniel 9:27, there was no known "covenant" concluded for seven years and the dates of the events also differ from the outline in this Biblical passage (especially when they are considered as periods of days). One should ask if such discrepancies are due to the author's miscalculations or whether it is due to a forced interpretation of the passage that takes all the events mentioned in the book as happening before 164 BC.

When the information in the passage, and especially the periods involved, are taken seriously, it would seem that the passage should in fact be understood as prophecy. As such the period of seventy weeks of years would commence with one of the royal commands concerning the Jews given by the Persian rulers and stretch at least to the time of Jesus Christ, which may imply that he is the Messiah referred to. In fact, this prophecy may be the reason why there was a general expectancy that the Messiah may appear in the time of Jesus (Luk. 2:25,26,38, Joh. 1:19-34). Jesus Himself understood this as a prophecy given by "Daniel the prophet" (Matt. 24:15).

According to Jesus the abomination and desolation spoken of by Daniel were still laying in the future which means that we should not read the text merely in historical context. Although some other passages in the Book of Daniel might refer to the events of 167-164 BC, it seems that the abomination and desolation mentioned in Dan. 9:27 refer to events that were still lying in the future during the time of Jesus (One might even consider the other passages in the Book of Daniel that refer to the events of 167-164 BC as having some further future fulfillment in this regard (Dan. 8 as well as Dan. 11-12)).

Other eschatological views take the period referred to in the prophecy as starting with one of the royal commands given by the Persian kings to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. One of the important views in this regard is that typically associated with the Historical School of thinking. Adherents to this view differ among each other as to which one of the four commands is applicable, namely the one by Cyrus in the first year of his reign (536 BC), that of Darius Hystapis in the second year of his reign (519 BC) or that of Artaxerxes Longimanus in the seventh and twentieth years of his reign (457 BC and 445 BC). These scholars think that the period of seventy weeks of years ends in the time of Jesus Christ and that no part thereof has any future fulfillment today.

These interpreters think that the "covenant" for seven years refers to the new covenant brought about by Jesus Christ's death, who is the "Messiah" that would be "cut off". The final seven years start when Jesus began his ministry and ended with the death of Stephanus who was the first Christian martyr, stoned to death. Jesus was crucified in the middle of this period - which is when the need for temple offerings ceased. According to this view the abomination in the temple and the destruction of Jerusalem are not included in the final period of seven years. It happened only in 70 AD when the Romans conquered the city.

The problem with this view is that the new covenant is not merely for seven years but is taken by Christians as an eternal covenant. Also, the removal of certain events that are intimately connected with the last seven years from that period - like the abomination in the temple and the desolation thereof  (see Dan. 7:27) - may seem like a forced attempt to read the prophecy in terms of those historical events. Jesus seems to place the fulfillment of the prophecy in the context of his Second Coming, especially in Matt. 24:15, where we read that the events spoken of by the prophet Daniel will be followed by the "great tribulation" which will end when the "Son of Man" comes with the clouds of heaven, that is, with the Second Coming of Jesus. This would mean that the final seven years has not yet occurred.

The last eschatological view that I consider is the Futuristic School which places the final seven years in future, in the period directly before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. As such the occurrence of the events mentioned in the prophecy might be an important signal that the Second Coming is at hand. According to this view the period of seventy weeks of years commenced with the final royal command, namely in the twentieth year of king Artaxerxes Longimanus in 445 BC. This command was the only one which focused not on the temple, but on the building of the city of Jerusalem as mentioned in the prophecy. The first 69 weeks of years ended days before Jesus, the "Messiah", was "cut off" in 32 AD. (There are very detailed calculations in this regard which I would like to discuss in future.)

According to the prophecy the death of the Messiah would be followed by the destruction of the city of Jerusalem and the sanctuary by "the people of the prince that shall come" (Dan. 9:26). This happened in 70 AD when the Romans captured the city. The last week is mentioned only after these events are referred to in the prophecy, which may imply that it follows sometime after that. These interpreters take this as implying that there is a gap [3] between the first 69 weeks of years and the last week which would only be realized in the end times.



The last half of the final seven years

The essential feature of the last seven years is obviously the period involved, namely seven years as well as the last half thereof. According to the prophecy it is in the middle of the final seven years that the sacrifices at the temple would stop, the abomination be erected and "desolation" would follow. This implies that the second half of the seven years is also of special importance. This period of three-and-a-half years and the events associated therewith are also referred to elsewhere in the Book of Daniel. In Daniel 7 this period, when the saints of the Most High shall be "worn out" (be prosecuted), is called "a time [one year], times [two years] and the dividing of time [a half year]" (i.e. 3 1/2 years; Dan. 7:25).

The prophecy in Daniel 7 is interesting because it tells about all the future empires that would rule over Israel until the time of judgment, when the kingdom of the "Son of man", who comes with the "clouds of heaven", would appear (Dan. 7:13, 14). In this prophecy the period of three-and-a-half years is mentioned in the context of the final worldly kingdom that would appear just before the time of judgment, when a ruler, depicted as an eleventh horn on a great and powerful beast, would rule with ten other "kings" (for a discussion of these ten rulers, see [4]). If we take the "Son of Man" coming with the "clouds of heaven" in this passage as referring to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, as he himself interpreted it (Matt. 24:15-30), then it seems that the events associated with this period would only happen at the end of days. 

The terminology used in Daniel 7 for the period of three-and-a-half years ("a time, times and a half") is also found elsewhere in the Book of Daniel where it refers to the period of the most severe persecution ever (Dan. 12:1, 7). This is obviously the same period that Jesus had in mind when he referred to it as the "great tribulation" which will happen shortly before his Second Coming. In both passages it is referred to as the time of the greatest persecution ever. In this passage in the Book of Daniel (Dan. 12) these events are placed at the time directly before the resurrection of the just, which obviously refers to the end of time. In fact, "the time of the end" is mentioned two times in this passage and the "end of days" once! (Dan. 12:4, 9, 13).

The period of three-and-a-half years is also accentuated in the Book of Revelation (the Apocalypse of St. John). In this case it is also called, just as in Daniel 7 and 12, "a time, and times, and half a time" (Rev. 12:14), which suggests that the same period is referred to (it seems like a deliberate effort to relate the period mentioned in the Book of Revelation with that in Daniel 7 and 12). It is also referred to as a period of 42 months or 1260 days (Rev. 11:2, 3; 12:6, 13:5). During this period a ruler, depicted similar to that in the Book of Daniel (Dan. 7), i.e. as a large beast with ten horns on its head, persecutes the saints (Rev. 13:7). Again, we read that ten kings, who are, as before, depicted by the beast's ten horns, will rule with him (Rev. 17:12). This ruler will eventually be conquered when Jesus rides out in battle in the end (Rev. 19:11-21).

These interpreters in general accept that the period of three-and-a-half years referred to in the Books of Daniel and Revelation, and the accompanying events, refer to the same things that will happen shortly before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. They take the ruler who will persecute the people of God in that time as the Antichrist. As such they think that the Antichrist will be responsible for the abomination in the temple. They refer to St. Paul's reworking of Daniel's prophecies in this regard (which would amount to a further fulfillment of those prophecies), where he writes: "that man of sin [shall] be revealed, the son of perdition; Who opposeth and exalted himself above all that is called God, or that is worshiped; so that he as God sitteth in the temple of God, shewing himself that he is God" (2 Th. 2:3, 4; see Dan. 11:37). In this regard the Antichrist would follow in the footsteps of Antiochus IV who regarded himself as the manifestation of the Greek supreme god. These interpreters believe that the Antichrist will reveal himself as god in the temple in Jerusalem which will be rebuild before that time.

The final seven years and the rapture

The most important aspect of the prophecy in Daniel 9:27 is that it does not concern the church but the people of Israel (see Dan. 9:24 where this is clearly stated). The prophecy is obviously about events in Israel. This has led some of these interpreters to the idea of a rapture, i.e. that the church would be raptured before the final events that concern Israel. There are three views in this regard, namely 1) that the rapture will occur before the commencement of the final seven years, 2) that the rapture will occur in the middle of this period and 3) that the rapture would be part of one Second Coming at the end of this period (there are also less known views that place a few days - say 50 days - between the rapture and the final coming of Jesus Christ).

The first group of interpreters of this school believe that the fact that the prophecy is about events in Israel implies that some special Jewish dispensation is referred to. They are of the opinion that the present dispensation of the church would give way to another Jewish dispensation during the final seven years before the end. For them this implies that the church cannot be around at that time - therefore the church will be raptured away before the start of this final period of seven years. This is where the view that the rapture will happen "seven years before the end" has its origin. This whole view is based on this particular interpretation of Daniel 9:27.

Other interpreters who also take the final seven years as referring to a period at the end of days, think that the fact that the prophecy is about Israel does not necessitate a dispensation of its own. There is no conflict therein that some prophecies about Israel are fulfilled in the present dispensation. In fact, it seems strange that God would revert to some previous (or similar) dispensation in the process of his progressive revelation. This means that there is no ground to think that the rapture would occur seven years before the end.

The second group of interpreters of the Futuristic School, however, think that the accentuation of the final three-and-a-half years is significant enough to justify a rapture after the Antichrist reveals himself as god in the temple (the most important Scripture used to support this view is 2 Th. 2:1-4). But, again, one would have to ask on what eschatological grounds would one account for the rapture of the church before the present dispensation of the church has come to an end. In this case that would be some kind of period without the church - how would such a period be justified? [5]

The last group of interpreters of this school believe that there is no reason to associate the final seven years of this era - in accordance with the prophecy about that time - with the rapture. In their view the events mentioned in the Books of Daniel and Revelation regarding the last half of the final seven years will happen directly before the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. The rapture - if one wants to use that expression - refers merely to the moment when the saints "who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them (who have already died) to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Th. 4:17). This would happen with Christ's return during the great battle of Armageddon.

Rebuilding the temple

The most important feature of the Futuristic view discussed in the previous section (irrespective of their view regarding the rapture), is that the prophecy refers to events in the land of Israel in the end times - which means that the presence of the people of Israel in that land is a requirement for this prophecy to be fulfilled. In fact, it requires that the temple be rebuild so that the events described can happen, namely that an abomination be erected in the temple. These interpreters therefore also interpret certain details given in the Book of Revelation regarding the three-and-a-half years in such terms. We, for example, read that the author tells how he was given a rod to measure the temple of God which may be interpreted as a prophetic reference to the rebuilding of the temple. We read that he had to measure only the temple and not the court outside, "for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months" (Rev. 11:2).

One may view current events in Israel from this perspective. In 2014 there was a dramatic increase in tension regarding the temple mount. Whereas the Jewish religious leaders previously forbid them from walking on the temple mount for fear that they may tread on the most holy area where the temple once stood, there is a growing opinion that Jews should take possession of that area which would allow them to rebuild the temple. To achieve this more and more Jews think that they should actually access that area. The possibility that the Jewish authorities would change the status of the temple mount to allow Jews to worship there, has upset the Jordanian authorities who are the present guardians of that area. If this prophecy is to be fulfilled in this manner, one may expect these tensions to rise even further in future. Would it ever happen that the temple is rebuild, this would serve as confirmation that the prophecy may indeed be fulfilled in this manner.

Conclusion

In this essay I discuss the prophecy of the final seven years given in Daniel 9:27. This is the only place in the Bible where such a period of seven years is mentioned. There are, however, various passages in the Books of Daniel and Revelation which seemingly refer to the last half of this period, namely of three-an-a-half years. I also discuss the three different views or schools of interpretation, namely those who see it solely in terms of the historical events of 171-164 BC, those who see it as being fulfilled in the time of Jesus and lastly, those who believe that the fulfillment of that period lies in the future. This last group can again be divided in three groups depending on their view of the rapture: it will happen before the final seven years, in the middle of that period or at the end.

The most important feature of this prophecy is that it concerns the Jewish temple in Jerusalem. According to the prophecy the sacrifices at the temple would cease in the middle of the final seven years (of the seventy weeks of years), an abomination would be erected in the temple (which may be when the Antichrist reveals himself as god there) and the place would become desolate. If the prophecy awaits fulfillment, the rebuilding of the temple would be the most important signal in this regard. Those interpreters who regard events in the EU and the Middle East in prophetic light [4], would take this as a sign that the end of times is near. 

[1] Bible Prophecy: predicting the distant future?
[2] Part 2: Can we still believe the Bible? An archaeological perspective
[3] The gap between the first 69 weeks and the last week reflects the fact that Israel went into exile for a very long period after their expulsion in the Roman period, that is, a few decades after the events of 70 AD. Since the prophecy is about events that concern the people of Israel, they would have to be restored in their land for the prophecy to be fulfilled. The first part of 69 weeks concerns the period after the return from the Babylonian exile, namely from the royal command to rebuild the city of Jerusalem to the moment when Jesus revealed Himself as Messianic King to Israel when he entered Jerusalem on the donkey (see Sag. 9:9). The destruction of the city is mentioned in the prophecy after the 69 weeks but before the last week (the final seven years). It happened in 70 AD. The last and final part of the seventy weeks would therefore concern events after the people of Israel has again returned to their land.
[4] The rise of the final world empire: the different views
[5] It is often argued that the church would not be in the period of God's wrath. The first of the views in the Futuristic School thinks that the whole seven years would be a period of wrath, the second group thinks that the wrath would only be for three-and-a-half years and the last group thinks that it pertains only to events during Armageddon. An important question would be: Is the "great tribulation" and the wrath of God the same? And: How can we speak of a "great tribulation", that involves Christians who are persecuted (as is generally acknowledged), if this is also a period of God's wrath from which the Church is indemnified? This implies that at least the persecuted Christians would be in the period of God's wrath. On what ecclesiastic and soteriological grounds can we exclude such Christians from the church?

Author: Dr Willie Mc Loud (Ref. wmcloud.blogspot.com)



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