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"Amillennialism 101" -- Audio and On-Line Resources
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"To the Lord Our God Belong Mercy and Forgiveness" -- Daniel 9:1-17

The Sixteenth in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Daniel

The ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel contains one of the most debated and difficult passages in all the Bible–the famous vision of the seventy weeks found in verses 24-27.  This vision, given to Daniel through the Angel Gabriel, is often taken to be a prophetic revelation focusing exclusively on the end times.  While the vision does extend to the time of the end, the focus is explaining how is it–if, as Israel’s prophets have foretold, the seventy years of exile in Babylon are about to come to an end–that God will extend this time of exile for seventy more weeks.  The news of an extension of Israel’s exile (a form of covenant curse) takes a surprising turn, as Gabriel now reveals to Daniel.  As promised, God’s people will return to Jerusalem and rebuild both the city and the temple.  How then can the people still be said to be in exile?  In Daniel 9, the root cause of this extended time of exile is revealed to be human sinfulness.  Because God is holy, human sin must be dealt with once and for all before the time of exile finally and ultimately comes to an end.  As Gabriel now reveals to Daniel, this is the work of the coming Messiah, who will truly restore Jerusalem, the temple, and the sacrifices, but will also put an end to sin, atone for wickedness and bring in an everlasting righteousness.  Although many take the prophecy of the seventy weeks to predict specific events at the time of the end, rather, Daniel 9 is better understood as one of the most important messianic prophecies in all the Bible.  It foretells of a coming Messiah, who will overcome all his enemies and ours, and who will once and for all put an end to the guilt and the power of human sin.  It is this covenant-making Messiah–not a future Antichrist–who is the key figure of the seventy weeks.

If such an understanding of Daniel 9 is correct, why do so many believe the passage to be a map to the end times?  The very nature of this passage–with its mysterious numbers of weeks, the important themes it addresses, and the historical and doctrinal questions it raises–has provided fertile soil for all kinds of bizarre interpretations and problematic doctrines.  What are the “weeks” and how long do they last?  When do the seventy-weeks begin and when do they end?  How do we calculate such things?  Because of such factors this is admittedly a difficult passage to interpret.  Much of the difficulty goes away, however, if we interpret the passage in the light of Daniel’s previous visions (especially those in chapters 2 and 7), and in light of Israel’s own history and covenantal dealings with YHWH.                  

For some of us, it will be hard to unlearn what we’ve been taught as orthodoxy.  Many of us are very well familiar with widely-held view in American evangelicalism that this passage teaches us to expect a future seven-year tribulation period and an end-times Antichrist, who makes a peace treaty with Israel before suddenly turning on God’s people, setting the stage for the final battle of Armageddon.  Sadly, this interpretation is based upon a serious misreading and misunderstanding of Gabriel’s message relayed through Daniel the prophet.  As I hope will become clear, this amazing prophecy is best interpreted in light of Daniel’s prayer (the first 19 verses of the chapter, our text this morning) as well as in the light of the two previous visionary dreams; Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a metallic statue Daniel 2, and Daniel’s vision of four mysterious beasts (chapter 7).  Both of these visions foretell of the rise of four great empires (Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome), and, as we will see, these visions define the time and the nature of the seventy sevens of exile decreed for God’s people, now revealed by Gabriel to Daniel.Once we realize that Gabriel is not speaking exclusively of events at the end of time–although the vision of the seventy weeks does extend to the end times, even to eternity–it quickly becomes clear that Gabriel’s revelation to Daniel is best understood as a messianic prophecy which predicts a glorious messianic age yet to come, an age which centers around the coming Messiah (especially his person and his work), who is also the same figure who was lead into the presence of the Ancient of Days in the vision recounted in Daniel 7.  In effect, the prophecy is given in response to Daniel’s prayer of repentance which opens the chapter and which will serve as our text.  The ninth chapter of Daniel is unique in that it opens with Daniel taking the initiative in offering a heart-felt prayer of repentance to YHWH on behalf of Israel (vv. 1-19).  This prayer, in turn, leads to one of the most important prophetic revelations in all the Bible (certainly in all the Old Testament)–a vision of “seventy weeks” decreed for the people of God (vv. 20-27).

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