Daniel 9:20-27 Daniel Sermon #15 May 22, 2016
Sermon Series: “The Lord is King”
Sermon Title: “Understanding Biblical Prophecy”
Pastor Louis Prontnicki Maple Glen Bible Fellowship Church
Some verses and chapters in the Bible are straightforward and clear. Think of John 3:16, which is clear and concise. But other passages are difficult and cloudy. The Apostle Peter writes that some of what the Apostle Paul writes in his letters are “Hard to understand.” (2 Peter 3:16). Well, Daniel 9:24-27 is one of those passages that is hard to understand. Conservative commentators don’t agree on its interpretation or side-step the passage. But while this is a difficult passage, yet we are told that it was given to Daniel for his understanding and insight (vv. 22-23), and therefore (2 Tim. 3:16-17) for ours as well. So how can we understand it, and while we are at it, what principles should we use for understanding any prophecy?
We Need to Understand Biblical Prophecy in the Light of Sound Principles of Interpretation:
- Remember the Context.
2. Discern between the Literal and the Symbolic Meaning.
3. Look for a Progressive Fulfillment.
4. See Christ at the Center.
5. Trust and Obey.
- Remember the Context of the Prophecy
Biblical prophecies are not like Chinese fortune cookies. They always have a context, a background, which we must view them against. Never lift a prophecy out of its context. (See Jeremiah 29:11 in its full context). Therefore we must remember the context of Daniel 9:24-27 is Daniel’s prayer, in Dan. 9:1-19.
Daniel had prayed to God for mercy for God’s people (vv. 4-19), and here in vv. 20-27, God is answering Daniel’s prayer. In fact, while Daniel was still praying (20-21), God had already sent the answer through the angel Gabriel. Therefore we should expect that the meaning of the prophecy is related to the context of Daniel’s prayer. Now how does that help us to interpret the prophecy? Well, it means that the point of the prophecy should be God’s answer to Daniel’s prayer. So we ask: “What was Daniel praying for?” The answer: He was praying for God’s mercy and forgiveness, for His sinful and rebellious people. And what do we see in the prophecy that God responds with? That God will send an Anointed One (vv. 25-26), a Messiah, who will save His people and forgive their transgressions. Therefore the main point of the prayer and the main point of the prophecy go together, and that helps us understand the prophecy.
Principle #1: Remember the context of the prophecy.
2. Discern between the Literal and the Symbolic Meaning.
Someone who is not a Christian recently asked me: “Do you take the Bible literally?” While she didn’t mean it as a trick question, I knew I needed to answer carefully. For on one hand, I believe that every word of the Bible is true, and that is what people usually mean when they ask if we believe the Bible literally. But on the other hand, I went on to say that I read and understand the Bible as it was given by God and meant to be understood. That is, some parts are poetic or symbolic, others contain figures of speech or allegories, and those sections are not intended to be taken “literally.”
Let’s see how this principle applies to Daniel 9. We read of the city of Jerusalem, and given the historical context of Daniel’s time, it seems that it means the actual city. (Compare that with how Jerusalem is used in Rev. 21, as a picture of the church.) We could say the same about the mention of an Anointed One, that given the Messianic prophecies (Isa. 53) and their fulfillment in the Gospels, that this refers to an actual person who was to come.
But when we consider the numbers in this prophecy, such as 70. 7, 62, or “weeks” or “sevens,” things are a bit cloudy. We need to discern: Are these numbers to be taken literally or symbolically? If literally, how do we fit them into the history we now know? Where is our starting point? If symbolically, how much latitude should we allow?
The simple answer is that we should look at how these numbers are used in the rest of Scripture. We find that seven is a number of completion, perfection, or fulfillment, such as the seven days of creation or the seven churches of Revelation. The number ten often indicates the same thing, such as in the Ten Commandments and the ten plagues. (Just as we have our top ten lists). Therefore we can say that there is probably at least an element of symbolism in these numbers, as well as some actual time frame indicators. There’s a sort of elasticity in these numbers. For on the one hand, the seventy-sevens can refer to the 70 times 7, or the approximate 490 years between the prophecy and its fulfillment at the coming of the Anointed One, Jesus Christ. On the other hand, God is giving Daniel (and us) a much bigger time frame in which He will deliver His people. It’s as if God is telling Daniel, “Don’t sweat the fine details of these 70 years, for I have a plan of salvation that will encompass 70 times 7 years, and be more powerful and sweeping than simply rescuing a remnant out of Babylon.”
Principle #2 – discern between the literal and the symbolic meaning within the prophecy.
3. Look for a Progressive Fulfillment
If you were to win a $100 million lottery, you would need to decide if you wanted to receive the prize money in one lump sum, or receive it in smaller payments over 20 years. When God gives us His prophecies, there is both an immediate fulfillment as well as a progressive fulfillment over centuries, sometimes over millennia, and the longer it stretches out over time, the greater the fulfillment usually is.
From the vantage point of history, we can look back and see that there was a partial fulfillment of the prophecy in the time around and after Daniel. God indeed sent back the exiles to Jerusalem, the city and its temple were rebuilt, and therefore sacrifices for sins could once again be offered in the temple. This is part of the progressive fulfillment of the prophecy.
But imagine that Daniel is climbing a mountain, and as he approaches the summit, he realizes that there is another, more majestic, mountain peak to climb. What he thought was the top was merely a stage for seeing something much greater. For this prophecy given to Daniel progresses to something much greater than Daniel could have imagined, especially in the coming of the Messiah and the ultimate sacrifice for sin. Iain Duguid notes that “God’s timescale is far bigger then Daniel had imagined.” “It would not take a mere 70 years to accomplish a transformation in the hearts and lives of God’s people, but 70 times 7 to accomplish a complete and ultimate victory over sin and evil… (in the work of Christ.)” This is what Gabriel is sent to help him understand. (Perhaps we too are wrapped up in our prayers with small items, and the Lord wants us to see a much bigger and long-range picture of what He will do?)
Another aspect of looking for a progressive fulfillment is to ask the question: “How do the later Scriptures interpret this prophecy?” Since we believe in progressive revelation (that is, truth becomes clear and richer as God reveals more to us), then we should expect that the New Testament will add clarity and meaning to earlier prophecies, such as this one. Consider this time frame upon which the various aspects of Daniel 9:24-27 might be fulfilled:
Daniels’ time – Ezra/ Nehemiah – Jesus’ day – 70 AD – the end of time.
Principle #3 – Look for a Progressive Fulfillment
4. See Christ at the Center.
We know from passages such as Luke 24:25-27 and 24:44-45 that all scripture finds it fulfillment in the persona and work of Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One. And we also see that the main point of God’s answer to Daniels’ prayer in this prophecy is what the Messiah will do. Look at v. 24 and note the six things that are prophesied to take place:
- Transgressions will be finished
- Sins will be brought to an end
- Wickedness will be atoned for
- Everlasting righteousness will be established
- Vision and prophecy will be sealed up (that is, authenticated)
- The Most Holy will be anointed.
Therefore it is hard not to see that these six things are speaking of the person and work of Jesus Christ, and his salvation for us.
And this fits with the big picture of Daniel 9:
- Daniel acknowledged that God is holy and righteous
- Daniel confessed that God’s people were sinful, rebellious and wicked
- God is therefore just in punishing His people for their sins
- But God in His mercy will provide forgiveness and atonement for their sin!
(This is similar to the Good News that the Angel Gabriel brought to Mary, in Luke 1)
Principle #4 – See Christ at the Center of all prophecy.
5. Trust and Obey
All Scripture, including hard to understand prophecies, are given for God’s glory and for our growth in Christ. We must never leave a prophecy till we ask how to apply it.
A. Trust in Jesus as your Savior. We are pointed in a fresh way to Jesus Christ. This is a Christ-saturated passage, and we can see His abundant grace and mercy here. Are you relying fully upon all He is and all He has done for you?
B. Trust the Lord for your future. We are pointed in a fresh way to see our God as the Sovereign King of all history! Daniel asked for help in understanding these current 70 years, and God gave him an outline of the next 500 years. And we can look back and see that much of it has now been fulfilled. We serve a trustworthy God. Are you trusting Him for your future?
C. Believe God’s power. We are pointed in a fresh way to pray to God with greater fervor, for His wisdom and insight. (Just as Daniel did.) Too often our prayers are too small. But we serve an awesome God, so let’s bring large petitions to our King!
Summary: Consider the 3:16 passages:
Praise God for the clear passages of Scripture, such as John 3:16
Press on to understand the cloudy passages of Scripture, such as Peter tells us in 2 Peter 3:16.
Put into practice the Scripture you read, as it was given for our growth in Christ. 2 Tim. 3:16-17.