A Structure of Certainty
by Neatice Warner
“Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week, and for half of the week he shall put an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.”
The recent disastrous tornados in 6 states remind us of our vulnerability; all we can do in such storms is seek shelter in the most secure structure we can find and trust God for His protection.
In Daniel 9 we find the prophet’s prayer for God’s mercy and forgiveness after His people’s 70 years of captivity. God’s angel Gabriel came immediately in response, with one of the most profound and emphatic prophecies of future events in the Old Testament. Along with a reminder that he was “greatly loved,” Gabriel told Daniel to “understand the vision.” And now we wish we could fully understand it! How did Daniel interpret these lines? How are we to apply this schematic for the future?
God answered Daniel’s petitions within a mysterious and yet definite structure. It was a structure of 7s, 70s, and 62s, posing difficulty for us today. Yet there the phrases stand, with clear and structural precision. The Lord’s message to the prophet—and to all His people—is not merely a reassuring “it’s all going to work out, trust me,” but also revelation of an unfolding and certain pattern. Gabriel said, “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city,” the very subjects of Daniel’s prayer.
Daniel asked for forgiveness, and the angel said transgression would be finished, sin ended, iniquity atoned for, and everlasting righteousness brought in. A most holy place would be anointed, or consecrated, but in a much more transcendent way, perhaps, than Daniel could have imagined.
Scholars have labored, mostly in vain, to match dates of Persian decrees about Jerusalem with the arrival and the crucifixion of Jesus, who is certainly the “Anointed One” who came among His people: God Incarnate, the Word made flesh, the very presence of God Himself among human beings, born in an animal stall, and bringing the temple to walking, talking life. He would be “cut off,” put to a terrible death, suffer His people’s judgment on the cross, and bring for those who trust in Him the end of sin’s control. His own righteousness is credited to believers—and ultimately will be our full experience with Him eternally, when desolations and the desolater are ended, in His own perfect place.
What about the numbers? Perhaps, as if we are looking at a great cathedral, we should step back and see in Daniel 9 a majestic structure. Though we can’t work out the numbers or even all the identities within the vision, we can understand that in the heart of this massive edifice is the Redeemer and His saving work. In this structure is life and security, and so we bow before Him.
Ancient structures like the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul stand after many centuries, places of both fervent worship and defiant desecration. Here in Daniel 9 is a divinely drafted living structure, within which God’s will is progressively done, and within which His people find the peace of forgiveness and His renewing presence. As in those ancient cathedrals, enemies may still invade and wreak havoc—but even their evil devastation becomes the instrument of Christ’s triumph.
The details may elude us, but the great message does not. Sin will not prevail because of God’s redemption, won by Messiah the King with His life, death, and resurrection. Although even sudden “desolations” come, we are always secure with Him. We can be with Him in His holy city forever. His message assures us; because we, like Daniel, are greatly loved.