Sunday, February 5, 2017

Living Lives Of Purpose: Lessons From The Book Of Daniel. Day 29, The Seventy Sevens

Living Lives Of Purpose:
Lessons From The Book Of Daniel
Day 29
The Seventy Sevens

The second half of Chapter 9 contains one of the most mysterious, and most debated, prophecies of the book of Daniel. When we concluded yesterday we found Daniel engaged in prolonged prayer for the return of his people to Jerusalem. Before Daniel gets to the end of his prayer and says "amen", the answer comes. The Lord answers not only Daniel's questions for Jerusalem's immediate future, but for Israel's eternal future. 

"While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people and making my request to the Lord my God for His holy hill---while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice." (Daniel 9:20-21) The Lord sent the answer while Daniel was still praying. In Isaiah 65:24 the Lord predicted a day in which those who are called by His name will receive the answer to their prayers while they are still praying, "Before they call, I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear." Daniel gets a little foretaste of this type of divine intervention in today's passage. We also get a little foretaste of this in our own lives. There have been a few instances in my life of having my prayers answered before I ever got to the "amen". This must mean that God prepared the answers in advance, long before I started praying. If we ever needed any proof that God knew all things before He ever created mankind, the fact that He has our answers prepared before the need even arises should comfort us. As the Lord Jesus Christ assures us, "Your heavenly Father knows what you need before you ask Him." (Matthew 6:8b)

The angel Gabriel appears to Daniel while he is praying and he recognizes Gabriel as the man he saw in a previous vision. The word used here for "man" is the Hebrew "ish" which can also mean "servant". This servant of God comes so quickly to Daniel that it seems he must have flown to him. 

Daniel has spent nearly his entire life in Babylon and is about eighty years old by this time, but his heart is still in Jerusalem. We were told in Daniel 6:10 that he prayed three times a day with his window open toward that city, and now we see that he is still aware every day of the times of the proscribed sacrifices that were to take place at the temple, which now lies in ruins. Daniel takes note in his mind that Gabriel appears at the time of the evening sacrifice. Though long in exile, Daniel has never stopped thinking about God's laws and commandments. 

Now we take a look at what Gabriel has to say, "He instructed me and said to me, 'Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. As soon as you began to pray, a word went out, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed. Therefore, consider the word and understand the vision." (Daniel 9:23) In Isaiah 66:2 we learn who it is that God esteems, "These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at My word." The Lord is able to say, "You are highly esteemed," to all who have this attitude. Daniel was a man humble and contrite in spirit, and especially so in the first half of Chapter 9 when he fasted and prayed while confessing his sins and he sins of the people.

"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 Place." (Daniel 9:24) Daniel has been praying to the Lord because he knows the seventy years of captivity are almost up. He asked the Lord to keep His promise of the return of the exiles to Jerusalem. Gabriel appears to reassure him that the return will happen, but he also takes Daniel much farther into the future than that. We must keep in mind that the prophecy of Chapter 9 is exclusively intended for Israel; the church is not in view here. Daniel has been praying about the future of his people and Gabriel has come to show him the future of Israel. 

Many opinions abound on the meaning of the seventy sevens. The most generally accepted theory is that these sevens represent literal years: seventy sets of seven years, though not occurring consecutively all the way through. When this time period is completed, sin and transgression will be no more, an everlasting kingdom of righteousness will be set up, and there will be no more need for vision and prophecy because the Messiah and King will reign on the earth and be with mankind. 

Gabriel goes on to say, "Know and understand this: From the time the word goes out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven 'sevens' and sixty-two 'sevens'. It will be rebuilt with streets and a trench, but in times of trouble." (Daniel 9:25) In the book of Nehemiah we find King Artaxerxes of Persia giving him permission to return and rebuild Jerusalem. This happened in 445 BC during the Passover month of Nisan during the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, so the date for the decree is firmly fixed in history. This decree started the clock ticking on the seventy 'sevens' of Daniel. The rebuilding corresponds to the first unit of seven 'sevens' (forty-nine years). Nehemiah and his men rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem in only fifty-two days but the rebuilding of the city continued on and off for many more years. This was accomplished "in times of trouble", as we learn in Nehemiah 4. The enemies of the Jews were determined that the wall should not be rebuilt, so the men working on the wall had to work with a tool in one hand and a weapon in the other. Though the wall was completed in a short time, even late in Nehemiah's life the work in the interior of the city was not finished. It may well have taken around forty-nine years for the city to be fully functional and for its people to establish political sovereignty from the Medo-Persian Empire.

At the end of that time, the next period of sixty-two 'sevens' began. If we add these 434 years to the first period of 49 years we come up with a total of 483. The Jews had a 360 day calendar year, so by adding 483 to the year of 445 BC when Artaxerxes gave permission to restore Jerusalem we end up at the year of 30 AD, at Passover week in the probable year of Christ's crucifixion. Because of errors in the ancient calendar system, Jesus was likely not born in 1 AD, (which does not stand for "after death" but the Latin "anno domini": year of our Lord). Jesus was born in about 3 BC, making Him thirty-three years old in 30 AD, the generally accepted age He was at the time of the crucifixion. The total of 483 years lines up with what Gabriel says next, "After the sixty-two 'sevens', the Anointed One will be put to death and will have nothing." (Daniel 9:26a) Some ancient manuscripts present this verse as saying, "the Anointed One will be put to death, but not for Himself". Isaiah foretold Christ's death this way, "He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of My people He was punished". (Isaiah 53:8b) 

Gabriel predicts another destruction of Jerusalem, "The people of the ruler who will come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end will come like a flood: War will continue until the end, and desolations have been decreed." (Daniel 9:26b) This destruction comes after the cutting off of the Anointed One, when Rome destroyed Jerusalem and the temple in 70 AD. At this point the prophetic clock stops for Israel, with the final remaining 'seven' left unfulfilled. The church age began with the death and resurrection of Christ and the times of the Gentiles began. Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem and told the people, "Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." (Luke 21:24b) 

The final 'seven' will be fulfilled in the days of the Great Tribulation. I believe this will begin when Christ removes His bride from the world, when we are "caught up together" to meet the Lord in the air. (1 Thessalonians 4:17) This is the passage from which we get the doctrine of the rapture of the church, from the Latin "rapio" which means to be "caught up, seized, carried away". When the Lord removes the church from the earth, Israel's clock begins ticking again. The final 'seven' begins to be fulfilled, the time of the darkest seven-year period the world has ever known, when Antichrist comes to power for a season. "He will confirm a covenant with many for one 'seven'. In the middle of the 'seven' he will put an end to sacrifice and offering. And at the temple he will set up an abomination that causes desolation, until the end that is decreed is poured out on him." (Daniel 9:27) The Antichrist will broker a seven-year peace treaty, probably between Israel and the Palestinians, which will allow Israel to rebuild the temple and resume sacrifice and offering. But in the middle of the seven years he will put a stop to the worship of God and desecrate the temple, insisting he alone be worshiped. This is the fulfillment of the words of the Apostle Paul, when Antichrist will set himself up in God's temple and proclaim himself to be God. (2 Thessalonians 2:4) 

But there is good news. A very specific time period is set for the Great Tribulation and then Antichrist himself will be cut off. An end is decreed for him. We find this end described in Revelation 19, when Antichrist and the kings allied with him attempt to make war against Christ and His army. The Lord accomplishes an immediate and decisive victory over him (after all, He has already conquered the world by rising from the dead with the keys of death and hell in His hand) and casts the Antichrist and all who followed him into the lake of fire. 

As Daniel has been learning in the revelations given to him through dreams and visions, perilous times will come upon the earth. Kings will reign and kings will be deposed. Nations will rise and fall. Wars and rumors of wars will abound. But God and His people win in the end. Evil will be banished forever. The enemy known as death will be destroyed. Christ will rule the world forever and we who love Him will reign with Him. He will "bring in everlasting righteousness". (v24) And we who are highly esteemed by our Savior will forever look upon His face. 

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