It’s About Time
August 6, 1999
II. The Vision of the Ram and He Goat (8)
This vision is actually an amplification of 7:6, explaining how Greece will conquer Medo-Persia. We are back to the Hebrew language in chapter 8 (to the end of the book; since 2:4, it has been in Chaldean). Chapter 8 takes place two years after chapter 7 and describes the kingdoms that will follow Babylon after it falls. God carried Daniel in a vision to the capital of Persia, the palace in Shushan (see Neh. 1:1). Why Shushan? Because Persia would be the next empire.
The ram (vv. 3-4) represents Medo-Persia in its conquests (v. 20); the emblem of Persia was a ram. Just about the time the ram was through “pushing,” the he goat appeared from the west (v. 5) and leaped swiftly to where the ram was standing. This ram had two horns, one higher than the other, symbolizing the Medes and the Persians, with the Persians the stronger. The he goat had one great horn—Alexander the Great. Now, the he goat attacked the ram, broke the two horns, and became very great (vv. 7-8). This represents Greece’s victory over Medo-Persia. But then we see the great horn broken (Alexander’s death) and four horns taking its place (the four generals who divided his kingdom and ruled over it).
But here comes a “little horn” again. We met a “little horn” back in 7:8, and now we have another one. The “little horn” in 7:8 represented the Antichrist, the world ruler of the final world empire before the return of Christ to earth. But this “little horn” in 8:9 comes out from one of the four horns; that is, he is a leader who comes out of one of the four divisions of Alexander’s kingdom. So, this “little horn” is not the Antichrist of the “latter days,” although he has a definite connection with him. This “little horn” conquers nations to the south and east (Egypt, Persia), and then invades Palestine (“the pleasant land”). He not only attacks the Jews politically, but also religiously; for he tries to destroy their faith (v. 10) by stopping the sacrifices in the temple (vv. 11-12). Verse 13 tells us that he will set up “the transgression of desolation” in the temple and defile the temple for 2,300 days.
Who was this man? History names him: Antiochus Epiphanes, a wicked leader who came out of Syria, one of the four divisions of Alexander’s empire. He invaded Palestine and set up a statue to Jupiter in the temple. He even went so far as to sacrifice a pig on the Jewish altar and sprinkle its blood around the courts. Imagine how the orthodox Jews felt about this. History tells us that the temple lay desolate until Dec. 25, 165 B.C., when the Jewish patriot, Judas Maccabeus, rededicated the temple and cleansed it. The total number of days between desecration and dedication was 2,300.
But this does not exhaust the vision’s meaning. In vv. 17-26, the interpreting angel makes it clear that the vision reaches to the time of the end, the closing years of Jewish history. Antiochus Epiphanes is but an illustration, a foretaste, of the Man of Sin, the Antichrist, the “little horn” of 7:8. Verse 23 calls him “a king of fierce countenance.” This man will make an agreement to protect the Jews for seven years (9:27), but in the middle of this period he will break his promise, invade Palestine, and set himself up as world dictator. See vv. 24-25, 2 Thes. 2:1-12, and Rev. 13. He will take away the daily sacrifices in the temple, set up his own image (this is “the abomination of desolation” of Matt. 24:15), and force the world to worship and obey him. Verse 25 tells us he will use craft and lies to accomplish his purposes. He will even stand up against Christ, the Prince of princes. But this will be a losing battle. He shall be broken “without hand” (see 2:34), defeated at the Battle of Armageddon (Rev. 19). No wonder Daniel was overwhelmed. And so ought we to be as we consider the amazing prophecies of the Word of God.
I. Seventy Years of Captivity (9:1-19)
These closing chapters contain some of the most detailed prophecies in the Bible, and most of them have already been fulfilled. We want to focus our attention in chapter 9, because an understanding of “Daniel’s seventy weeks” is basic to Bible prophecy. This chapter deals with two different periods of time as related to the Jews.
A. The prophecy (vv. 1-2)
Daniel was a student of the OT Scriptures, particularly those prophecies that related to the destiny of his people. He was now nearly ninety years old. He was reading Jer. 25:1-14, and the Lord caused him to see that his people would be in Babylon for seventy years. Note that God does not give people “visions and dreams” when He can teach them through His Word. Today His Spirit teaches us through the Word. Beware of “new revelations” that are supposed to come from dreams and visions. Daniel realized that the seventy years of captivity were about to close. Babylon invaded Palestine and began its siege in 606 B.C., and Daniel understood the prophecies in the year 539-38 B.C.; so there were but two years left in the seventy years promised by Jeremiah. What an exciting time Daniel had in his Bible study that day!
B. The prayer (vv. 3-19)
The Word of God and prayer go together (Acts 6:4). Daniel did not go out and boast about his insight into the Word; in fact, he did not even preach a sermon. He went to his knees in prayer. This is the true attitude of the humble Bible student. It is sad to see “prophetic truth” making boasters instead of prayer warriors out of people. How strange it was for the people to see the former prime minister wearing sackcloth. Daniel’s prayer is one of the greatest examples of intercession in the Bible. He confesses his own sins and the sins of his people. He reviews Bible history and confesses that the nation has been wicked and God has been righteous to judge them. He knew the warnings Moses had given (v. 13, see Lev. 26), and he knew that he and his people deserved far greater disaster than God had sent to them. It is wonderful to see Daniel identifying himself with his sinning nation, though he himself had not been guilty of these sins. After confessing his sins and the sins of the people, Daniel begins to pray for Jerusalem (vv. 16-19). No doubt he had often prayed for the holy city; in fact, this is one reason why God blessed him and made him to prosper (Ps. 122:6-9). But why pray for the prosperity of a desolate city? Because God had promised not only to end the captivity, but also to take the Jews back to their land that they might rebuild their temple. See Jer. 29:10-14 and 30:10-24. In Isa. 44:28, God promised that Cyrus would permit the Jews to rebuild the city of Jerusalem. So, Daniel was laying hold of these great promises and turning them into believing prayers. Now we will see how God answers his prayers. (Note how Daniel’s prayer in Dan. 9 is similar to those in Ezra 9 and Neh. 9.)
II. Seventy Weeks of Prophecy (9:20-27)
There was no evening sacrifice being offered in Jerusalem, but Daniel was offering himself and his prayers at the time of the evening offering (see Ps. 141:1-2), and the Angel Gabriel came to give him his answer. Daniel was concerned about Jerusalem and the holy mountain (v. 20). Would the city be restored? Would the temple be rebuilt? Would the nation ever be redeemed from sin and would righteousness ever dwell on the earth? Gabriel had all the answers for Daniel, and we find them in the famous prophecy of the “seventy weeks.”
The number seven has been stamped on Israel from the beginning. They had a Sabbath of days (Ex. 23:12), setting apart the seventh day for honoring God. They also had a sabbath of years (Lev. 25:1-7); they were to let the land lie fallow on the seventh year and give it rest. Because they broke this law, the Israelites went into captivity, one year for each sabbatical year they failed to obey God (2 Chron. 36:21; Lev. 26:33-34). They also had a “sabbath of sabbaths,” with every fiftieth year set apart as the Year of Jubilee (Lev. 25:8-17). But now Daniel was to be introduced to a new series of Sabbaths—seventy “weeks” (seven-year periods), making a total of 490 years of prophetic time for the Jews. (The word “weeks” in v. 24 is actually “sevens”—seventy sevens are determined, making 490 years.) Please note that this 490-year period of time has to do with Jerusalem and the Jews: “your people . . . your holy city . . . ” (v. 24, NKJV). And God has specific purposes to fulfill in this period: the removing of sin and the bringing in of righteousness. The result will be the anointing of the most holy place in the temple, that is, the return of Jesus Christ to the earth to reign in glory from His temple in Jerusalem.
Now for the outline of the 490 years. Verse 25 tells us that the event that will trigger the 490 years is a decree (see Neh. 2:5) permitting the Jews to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. (It is interesting that the event that will trigger the last seven years of this period will be the covenant of the Antichrist to protect the Jews. We find a decree at the beginning and at the end of the 490 years.) History tells us there were four different decrees relating to Jerusalem: Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes all made decrees concerning the rebuilding of the temple (Ezra 1, 6, and 7); and Artaxerxes decreed that Nehemiah could return to rebuild the walls (Neh. 2). This was in 445 B.C., and it is the decree Dan. 9:25 is talking about; it took place nearly 100 years after Daniel received the message from God. Gabriel said that there would be a total of sixty-nine weeks, seven and sixty-two, between the giving of the decree and the arrival of Messiah, the Prince, in Jerusalem (69 x 7 = 483 years). Keep in mind that “prophetic years” in the Bible are not 365 days, but 360 days long. It has been calculated by scholars that there were 483 prophetic years between the decree in 445 B.C. and the day that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (cf. The Coming Prince by Sir Robert Anderson, Kregel, 1967).
But Gabriel divided these 483 years into two parts—seven weeks (7 x 7 = 49 years), and sixty-two weeks (62 x 7 = 434 years). Why? Well, it took forty-nine years to rebuild Jerusalem, and this was done (as Gabriel said) “in troublesome times.” Read Nehemiah and see how difficult a task it was to restore the city. Then, 434 years later we come to Messiah, the Prince, who is “cut off” (His death on the cross) for the sins of the world. It was His death on the cross that accomplished the purposes given in v. 24. What followed His death? Did Israel accept Him and His message? No. They lied about Him, persecuted His messengers, stoned Stephen, and refused to acknowledge His kingship. What happened? Rome came and destroyed the city and wrecked the temple. The nation “cut off” Jesus Christ, so He cut them off from being a nation. Until May 14, 1948, Israel was not a free nation.
Rome is called “the people of the prince that shall come.” Who is this prince? Not “Messiah the Prince,” because that refers to Christ. “The prince that shall come” is Antichrist. He will be the leader of the restored Roman Empire. So, the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 was but an illustration of a future invasion and destruction to be led by Antichrist. This prince will make an agreement with the Jews to protect them from the other nations, and this agreement will be set for seven years. This final seven years is the completion of Daniel’s 490-year period. Between the death of Christ and the signing of this covenant you have the entire Age of the Church, a “great parenthesis” in God’s program. The 490 years are in operation only when Israel is in God’s will as God’s people. When Israel crucified Christ, she was set aside and the “prophetic clock” stopped ticking. But when the Antichrist signs his pact with Israel, then the last seven years of Daniel’s “seventy weeks” will start being fulfilled. This seven-year period is known as the Tribulation, or the time of Jacob’s trouble. It is described in Rev. 6-19.
After three and a half years, Gog and her allies will invade Palestine (see Ezek. 38-39), and God will judge them. Antichrist will invade the land, break his covenant, and set himself up as world dictator. He will stop all worship at the Jewish temple (see 2 Thes. 2) and force the world to worship him and his image. This is the abomination of desolation (see Matt. 24:15; John 5:43; Rev. 13). How will this period end? Jesus Christ will return to earth, meet the rebel armies at Armageddon, and defeat them (Rev. 19:11-21).