Many do not realize where the concept of a future 7 year “Great Tribulation” comes from. It is assumed by most that it is somewhere in Revelation (though there is no reference to a 7 year anything in Revelation), when in fact it is derived from a passage in Daniel (although the Great Tribulation is not mentioned).
“Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, 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.“So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. “Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. “And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”
Much has been made of the prophecy of the 70th week of Daniel, especially in recent times. Prior to the 1800’s this prophecy was seen in a different light than it is much of the time today in the system of thought that now dominates the eschatological landscape of today’s prophecy teachings. The following is an comparison of the two major views.
Two Schools of Thought
The two schools of thought, Futurism and Preterism, could not be more divided. One sees this verse as referring to the coming of Christ, the other anti-Christ! Preterism says that this is a prophecy predicting the coming of Christ, His establishing the New Covenant by His crucifixion 3 1/2 years into His ministry, and the subsequent judgment on Jerusalem – its destruction in 70 AD by the Romans. Futurism says that this is a prophecy predicting the coming of Christ and His crucifixion, then proceeding to some unknown time in the future where the Antichrist comes and makes a 7 year agreement with Israel to let them rebuild their temple and start sacrificing animals again, only to put a stop to it after 3 1/2 years so that he can set himself up in the temple demanding worship as a god, thus beginning the great tribulation (some would say that the whole seven year period is the great tribulation, others that the first half is only “tribulation” and the second half “great tribulation”). The following chart shows the prophecy of the 70 weeks with some key words and pronouns replaced to highlight each view’s interpretation:
|Preterism: A Prophecy of Christ “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Jesus there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. “Then after the sixty-two weeks Jesus will be cut off and have nothing, and the Roman army under Titus will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. “And Jesus will make a firm covenant with Israel for one week, but in the middle of the week Jesus will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come the Roman army under Titus, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the Roman army under Titus.”||Futurism: A Prophecy of Antichrist “So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Jesus there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. “Then after the sixty-two weeks Jesus will be cut off and have nothing, and the Antichrist and his people will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. “And the Antichrist will make a firm covenant Israel for one week, but in the middle of the week the Antichrist will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come the Antichrist, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the Antichrist.”|
Below are some considerations that both views must deal with in support of their interpretation.
9:24 – The Requirements
An interesting problem for either interpretation is how the 5 major prophecies regarding “your people and your holy city” were to be fulfilled. Do they refer to national Israel and Jerusalem? If so, how could they have fulfilled them? Was the result of their failure the calamity of9:27? Or was this a prophecy of what the One who would come out of Israel, thus fulfilling the prophecy? The futurist view says Israel did not fulfill these, but will in the future. Preterism says Christ took care of these and that even if Israel was given the charge to accomplish such things they obviously failed to do so within in the allotted time. Due to their failure and rejection and execution of Messiah, the judgments prophesied in the verses following seem only fitting:
“to finish the transgression,” (Matt 23:32; Luke 21:28-31; 1 Thess. 2:15-16)
“to make an end of sin,” (Heb. 1:3, 9:12-14, 26 10:12;Acts 13:27)
“to make atonement for iniquity,” (Romans 5:8-10; Colossians 1:12-22; etc.)
“to bring in everlasting righteousness,” (Jeremiah 23:5-6; Romans 3:21-26; 1 Cor . 1:30)
“to seal up vision and prophecy,” (Isaiah 6:9-10, 28:16 cf. 29:1-11; Matt. 13:14-15; Luke 21:24; John 12:39-41; Acts 13:27, 28:25-27)
“to anoint the most holy place.” (Hebrews 9:23-24; 2 Cor. 1:21, 6:16)
9:25 – The first 69 weeks (483 Years)
Both views basically agree on the first 69 weeks of this prophecy. (The Hebrew word translated “week” in many versions is literally a “group of seven.” This is similar to our English word “dozen” which means “group of twelve.” In this case it is sevens of years). The prophecy gives details concerning the first seven weeks as a time of trouble while the city and its walls were being made, and then simply a period of silence from the last prophet to the coming of Messiah, “the anointed prince,” Jesus Christ. We can ascertain from Scripture that counting from the decree of Cyrus (Isa 44:28, 45:1-4; 2 Chron. 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-8, 3:7, 4:3-5; 6:3-14) – and subsequent decrees and affirmations following shortly thereafter to the time of Christ we arrive at 483 years (Mark 1:15 – note that various secular timelines have been produced throughout history as to when exactly these decrees were made, but an acceptable time would be from Artaxerxes’ final decree around 444BC).
9:26 – After the 69th Week (after the 483rd year)
483rd year—(no time frame)—>Messiah cut off—(no time frame)—>Destruction
Verse 26 brings us past the 69th week to the time of Christ’s crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70. A key fact that needs to be noted here is that the prophecy does not say how long after the 483rd year these things would take place. In other words, neither event is specifically said to be within the total 490 year period. History tells us that Christ was crucified sometime between AD 30-33, and the army of Titus destroyed the city and the temple in 70 AD.
9:27 – The 70th Week (7 years)
One’s view of the last week of the prophecy will be decided by whether or not one thinks the pronoun “he” in this verse refers back to Messiah, or back to “the prince who is to come” (note: the anointed prince of verse 25 is not to be confused with the coming prince of verse 26). It is here that these two radically different schools of thought completely depart ways. Remember that the futurist teaching is that it refers back to “the prince” of verse 26 while the preterist view identifies this “he” as the Messiah. Quite a difference! Is this a continuance of the Messianic prophecies of verses 25-26, or are we being launched thousands of years into the future to another Roman prince, people, rebuilt Jerusalem, rebuilt temple, and sacrificial system?
Grammatically it is usually argued by both sides that the pronoun “he” refers to the last single male mentioned. The futurist view states that this is referring to “the coming prince” (the antichrist) and not “the anointed prince” (the Messiah) of the previous verses. Futurists identify the “he” of verse 27 as a future world leader who will make a seven year agreement with Israel to allow them to begin their sacrifices again in a rebuilt temple. Further, this world leader will break the agreement at the halfway point, and introduce some sort of idol worship – setting himself up in the temple as a god (the 3 1/2 year time frames in Revelation are seen as occurring within one or the other half of this seven year period).
The preterist view says that the coming prince is not the subject of verse 26 – rather it is “the people” (“of the Prince who is to come” is only a phrase describing the people). In this case the last mention of a single male would be the anointed prince (Christ) of verse 25. Preterists assert that Christ did in fact confirm a covenant with many (the New Covenant: Mt. 26:27-28 cf. Jer. 31:31; Heb. 9:15 and 10:14-17). Christ’s cutting off (His death on the cross) was in the middle of the last seven years. That, plus the tearing of the temple curtain, did put a stop to (acceptable) sacrifices and offerings (Heb. 8:12-15; 9:25-10:29). Thus, they claim, there is no need to look to our future for fulfillment.
Two Views of the 70 Weeks
The preterist view claims that the 490 years passed consecutively. The last week encompassed the ministry of Christ and ended with the stoning of Stephen when the gospel left Judea. They claim that to take it any other way would be to obscure the prophecy (suppose someone told you that they were going to pick you up in 4 hours for a meeting, and they did not show up until the next day, what would you conclude if they claimed they were on time because they were counting the first three hours in a row, but counted the fourth as a separate hour that was to come only after some undetermined interval?) The preterist theory concludes that:
1. Daniel’s 70th week has already passed (coming right after the 69th).
2. “The great tribulation” is in our past, having nothing to do with this seven year period.
3. The predicted events of these seven years revolved around Jesus Christ.
4. The requirements listed in 9:24 were referring to, and met by, Christ – not national Israel.
X———483 years———>???—2000 years (so far)—???<—7 years—X
The futurist view suggests that only 483 of the 490 years were fulfilled consecutively in history, and that we have yet to see the last seven. At the coming of the Church Age the last of Israel’s weeks got pushed into the future – so far into the future in fact, that they remain part of our future. The futurist theory concludes that:
1. Daniel’s 70th week remains in our future.
2. “The great tribulation” is in our future and takes place within this seven year period.
3. The predicted events of the last seven years revolve around a future antichrist.
4. The requirements listed in 9:24 have not been met by national Israel – but must be.
The most important part of this issue concerns the coming of Messiah which all Christians agree took place exactly when Daniel said it would: the decree was made around 444 BC and 483 years later Christ was revealed. The interpretation of the last seven years of the prophecy do not affect this in any way. However, when coupled with Christ’s prophecy in Matthew 24 (see especially v.15) and its parallels in Revelation, one’s interpretation has far reaching consequences for how one views our future.