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The 70 Weeks: Figurative, Future, or Fulfilled?

The Scripture is full of prophecy, but probably the most intriguing is the prophecy of 70 weeks given to Daniel in Daniel 9:24-27.  Along with intriguing, it’s also rather contested as to what it all actually means.  Three basic noteworthy interpretations have been put forth in church history:  the Figurative View, the Futurist View, and the Fulfilled View.  In this article, I aim to describe the 3 major views and briefly defend my viewpoint.

What I’m about to share with you is really just a supplement to my two sermons on the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel.  If you want to fully understand my position, you must listen to my first message here and my second message here.  Those messages will contain my actual argument for my viewpoint.

The Figurative View
The Figurative View timeline would look something like this:

The primary characteristic of the Figurative View is that it doesn’t take the 70 weeks of years literally.

Therefore, the 7 weeks becomes a long period of time, the 62 weeks becomes a way longer period of time, and the 1 week becomes a short period of time.  Here’s how proponents would basically explain this chart:

  1. The 70 weeks is symbolic of redemptive history forward from Daniel 9, stretching from the decree to rebuild Jerusalem to the Jesus’ second coming.
  2. Phase 1, represented 7 weeks in the prophecy, stretches from Cyrus’ decree in 537 BC to AD 33, which is the year that Jesus was crucified and resurrected.
  3. Phase 2, represented 62 weeks in the prophecy, stretches from AD 33 forward into the future when the Antichrist comes on the scene, now spanning 1,978 years at this point.  Those who put forth this view believe that the rebuilding of Jerusalem is talking about “spiritual” Jerusalem, who is the New Testament church.
  4. Phase 3, represented by the 1 week in the prophecy, begins with the arrival of the Antichrist who begins to cause great tribulation for the saints of God, both Jew and Gentile alike, cutting off Christian worship.
  5. The prophecy culminates with Jesus’ 2nd coming at the end of the age.

This view just doesn’t do justice to the text.  By making the 70 weeks into symbolic periods, it misses the fact the context of Daniel is literal years.  It is the reading of Jeremiah’s prophecy that Israel would have a literal 70-year exile that served as Daniel’s catalyst to prayer.  Therefore, we should expect the 70 weeks of years to be a literal 490 years.  Furthermore, it puts the coming of the Messiah at the conclusion of the 70th week, while the text says that the coming of the Messiah will be recognized in the 69th week.

There is an alternate Figurative View out there that takes the 69 weeks more literally but symbolizes the 70th week to cover the period from Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection to His 2nd coming.  It would be represented by this timeline:

While this viewpoint does a better job with the text, it still does not take the 70 weeks of years to be literal, which I believe the context of Daniel 9 requires.

The Futurist View
The Futurist View is by far the most popular of the three views nowadays.  It has as its doctrinal back drop Dispensationalism, which teaches that God has two distinct peoples (namely, Israel and the Church) and two distinct plans for these peoples (an earthly plan for Israel and a heavenly plan for the church).  The Futurist View would be represented by the following chart:

The first characteristic of this view is that the 70 weeks prophecy has only to do with the nation of Israel and nothing to do with the Church.  The second characteristic of this view is that “the prince who is to come” in Daniel 9:26 is understood to be the Antichrist.  The third characteristic is that this view does not take the years to be years as we understand them.  Instead, this view utilizes what proponents call “prophetic years.”  Are you ready to get out your calculators?!

A prophetic year is 360 days based upon Revelation 11:2-3 equating 42 months to 1260 days and then is, in this case, applied to every other prophecy in the Bible.  So:

  • 42 months = 3.5 years
  • 1260 days ÷ 3.5 years = 360 day/year

Here’s how they apply it to Daniel 9:

  • 70 weeks are believed to be 490 prophetic years that must be converted to actual years
  • Here’s the equation:  (490 prophetic years x 360 actual days) ÷ 365.25 days in an actual year = 483 actual years
  • Therefore, 70 weeks is 490 prophetic years but only 483 actual years, and 69 weeks is 483 prophetic years but only 476 actual years.  It’s basically a difference of 7 years.

So, here’s how those who hold this position would explain the chart:

  1. The beginning of the 70 weeks is the commission to Nehemiah in 444 BC (Nehemiah 2:1-8).
  2. Phase 1 & 2, represented by 7 weeks and 62 weeks in the prophecy, last 476 years, bringing our prophetic timetable to the crucifixion/resurrection of Jesus in AD 33  (-444 + 476 + 1 = 33; you have to add 1 because there is no year zero).  So, in Daniel 9:26 when it says after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off, that means that Jesus dies at the end of the 69th week
  3. God then puts this prophetic timetable on pause.  It’s been on pause now for 1,978 years.  Why in the world would God do that?  The basic answer given is that these last almost 2,000 years is the Church Age or the Age of the Gentiles.  Proponents would say God hit the pause button because this prophecy only concerns the people of the nation of Israel, and since God is not dealing with the Jewish people at this time, the timetable has been paused.  Again, the doctrine behind this understanding is that God has two different peoples—one called Israel and the other called the Church—, and after Israel rejected and crucified the Messiah, God turned from Israel to His other people, the Church (ie, God turned from the Jews to the Gentiles).  So, from a futurist view, we now are in what is called by some “The Great Pause.”
  4. The 70th week will begin sometime in the future when the Antichrist is revealed, and Jesus partially returns to the earth to rapture the church.  At this point, God hits the play button and unpauses the prophetic timetable revealed here in Daniel 9.
  5. These events are the beginning of the 70th week, which is the 7-year tribulation that only the Jews and nonChristians will have to endure.
  6. At the end of those 7 years, Christ will fully return to earth and bring an end to the present age.

So, what’s wrong with this viewpoint?  While many God-loving, Bible-believing Christians understand the Scripture in this way, I do not believe this interpretation is the best way to understand Scripture.  Here’s why?

  • It ignores the Sabbatical/Jubilee framework intended to help us interpret the prophecy.
  • It does stuff with the numbers that it really has no textual warrant for doing.  I believe it’s doing things with the numbers that God never intended for us to do and presses the numbers too far.  If the 70-years-of-exile prophecy from Jeremiah that’s mentioned here in Daniel 9:2 is taken to be 70 literal, actual years, which it is, we should expect the 70 weeks to be 490 literal, actual years.
  • It understands “the prince who is to come” in Daniel 9:26 to be the Antichrist when the text proves that “the prince who is to come” is the Messiah.
  • It utilizes a Dispensational approach to Scripture that the Bible simply does not teach.  God does not have two different peoples and two different plans for these two peoples.  Instead, the Bible teaches that God has one people (all believers from the Garden of Eden to Jesus’ 2nd coming who put their hope in the Messiah) and one plan (grace by faith in Jesus Christ).  For further insight into this one-people/one-plan teaching, I would point you to this previous article of mine.

The Fulfilled View
We are now brought to our final viewpoint:  the Fulfilled View.  This view is the one I espouse because I believe it makes the best sense of the entirety of the scriptural data.  The chart looks like this:

The first characteristic of this view is that it utilizes the Sabbatical/Jubilee framework for interpretation that I believe was intended by God.  Second, it takes the years to be literal years, the way we understand years.  Third, it understands “the prince who is to come” in Daniel 9:26 to be the Messiah and not the Antichrist, meaning that the 70th week covenant mentioned in Daniel 9:27 is the New Covenant brought in by Jesus.  Finally, this view discards the Dispensational belief that God has two distinct peoples and is instead built around a one-people, one-plan theology.

The chart is explained in this way:

  1. 70 Sabbaticals were prophesied.
  2. The commission to Ezra in 457 BC begins the 1st Sabbatical.
  3. 69 Sabbaticals, which is 483 years, brings us to AD 27, which begins the 70th Sabbatical.
  4. During this 70th Sabbatical, Jesus performs his Messianic ministry on earth and subsequently dies and is resurrected in AD 33.
  5. AD 34, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, ushers in the Ultimate Jubilee for all who believe on the Messiah Jesus.
  6. The temple was destroyed in AD 70, completely fulfilling Daniel 9:24-27.

Therefore, the prophecy of 70 weeks given to Daniel has been completely fulfilled.  I will not take the time to argue for my position here.  Again, I want to direct you to my two sermons on the 70 weeks prophecy found here and here if you’re interested in really understanding why I believe this view to be the best understanding of Scripture.

A Call to Charity
Let me leave you with a call for charity.  The timing of these events is at least a tertiary or 3rd-order doctrine.  In other words, Christians even in the same church can agree to disagree on this topic and still consider one another an orthodox brother or sister.  This specific topic should divide no one.  Therefore, while I can be dogmatic about my stance, I must be dogmatic with grace because people who equally love God and love the Bible and are thorough-going Christians disagree.  I’m not saying it’s not important.  I’m just saying it shouldn’t be divisive.  However, if you agree to disagree, you’re disagreement had better be founded on the rock solid teaching of God’s Word and not on notions and teachings picked up from the popular Christianity.  Know what you believe and why you believe it!

May we enjoy the Word of God and all its wonders as we strive to better understand it to the best of our ability!  Above all, may we rejoice in the amazing provision God has given us in Jesus Christ!


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