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Daniel 9:24 says that “seventy weeks have been decreed.” The Hebrew word for “decreed” is chathak, which means “to decree, to determine, to mark out, cut or divide.” This is the only place where this Hebrew word occurs, so it is unique with Daniel. It is plain that God had made this decree from the divine court. By His sovereign will, He had determined this time cycle and had thus marked it on His calendar and had set the parameters for various events to take place on earth. Of course, any such decree cuts or divides time in some way.
The purposes of this particular division of time were: (1) to finish the transgression, (2) to make an end of sin, (3) to make atonement for iniquity, (4) to bring in everlasting righteousness, (5) to seal up vision and prophecy, and (6) to anoint the most holy place.
Finish the Transgression
“Finish” is from the Hebrew word kala, which means “to shut up, to close up and restrict.” The word is used in Genesis 8:2,
2 Also the fountains of the deep and the floodgates of the sky were closed, and the rain from the sky was restrained [kala].
So Daniel was told that it would take seventy weeks to restrain or stop the transgression. Transgression (pesha) means “to cross a line.” Its root word pasha has to do with expansion, which in a morally negative sense means to expand one’s actions beyond the borders set by the Law of God. In other words, “to rebel.”
Insofar as the divine court is concerned, it has to do with overstepping the moral boundaries of God’s law. And so David says in Psalm 32:1, 2,
1 How blessed is he whose transgression [pesha] is forgiven, whose sin is covered! 2 How blessed is the man to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit!
Here David gives the divine solution to pesha. In fact, it is how transgression is restrained in the way prescribed by the divine court. The Apostle Paul saw this and explained to the saints in Rome the principle of imputation. Romans 4:7 quotes Psalm 32:1, 2 directly in his great chapter on the principle of imputed sin and imputed righteousness.
Paul says that Adam’s sin was imputed to us, thereby making us pay for his sin. The penalty was death, and so we all became mortal. However, the last Adam (that is, Christ) came to do a work of righteousness, whereby the reward was life (immortality). His righteous work was imputed to us as well, and so we all obtained immortality.
In both cases, the work of the two “Adams” was imputed to us from the outside, because each man’s work was done apart from our will and without our consent. Paul then defines “impute” by illustration, showing that God had made Abraham a father of many nations before he had any children at all (Romans 4:17). In effect, God imputed “many nations” to Abraham, calling what is not as though it were.
Using that definition, we see the difference between imputed righteousness and actual righteousness. (Theologians use the term “infused” or “transfused” righteousness.) Paul shows us that the righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us legally, even though we are not yet actually righteous. We are declared righteous because we are in Christ, the Righteous One, not because we are sinless.
And so, getting back to Daniel 9:24, the first purpose of the seventy weeks was to restrain transgression, or to mark an end of transgression, in the sense that Christ’s death on the cross made it legally possible for God to impute righteousness to us, calling what is not as though it were.
Christ’s death on the cross was the fulfillment of the New Covenant promises of God, as well as the oath that He took to make us His people and to be our God (Deuteronomy 29:12, 13). The manner in which God would do this was unclear to most people until He actually accomplished it on the cross. So Paul says that this imputed righteousness resulted in immortality, which is our inheritance. He says that it did not come by the Law—that is, by the Old Covenant vow of obedience that the people made to God—but by the promise or vow that God made with them. Romans 4:13 and 16,
13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would be heir of the world was not through the Law, but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if those who are of the Law are heirs, faith is made void and the promise is nullified… 16 For this reason it is by faith, that it might be in accordance with grace, in order that the promise may be certain to all the descendants, not only to those who are of the Law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.
When Paul refers to “those who are of the law,” he was speaking of the Jews and those who remained in Judaism under the Old Covenant. Those under the Old Covenant were trying to obtain the promise by fulfilling their vow in Exodus 19:8. But Paul says if they could become heirs through the Old Covenant, then “the promise is nullified.” In other words, there would be no need for God to make an oath through a second covenant.
Our role is simply to believe the promise of God and to have faith that He can accomplish what He has vowed to do. Paul also notes that this promise was given “not only to those who are of the Law,” that is, the Jews (or Israelites in general), “but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all.” God’s vow (covenant) with Abraham was to bless all the families of the earth (Genesis 12:3). Likewise, the second covenant made under Moses in Deuteronomy 29 was given to both Israelites and aliens, whether they were present or not. Deuteronomy 29:14, 15 gives the scope of God’s oath:
14 Now not with you alone am I making this covenant and this oath, 15 but both with those who stand here with us today in the presence of the Lord our God and with those who are not with us here today.
Hence, the scope of God’s vow was universal. Paul, then, includes all those who have the faith of Abraham, saying that he “is the father of us all.” This, then, is the meaning of Galatians 3:29, “if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.”
We see, then, that when God decreed seventy weeks to “finish the transgression,” it was a direct reference to Christ’s death on the cross, by which God’s vow was to be fulfilled in making us His people. We are His people by virtue of our faith in Christ’s work of righteousness and in the promises of God that brought about that work.
Making an End of Sin
The second purpose of the seventy weeks was “to make an end of sin.” The Hebrew word for “sin” is the usual word, kata, which literally means “to miss the mark.” Paul uses this word picture in Romans 3:23, saying, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It is the picture of an archer trying to hit the mark, yet always falling short of the target. In this case the target is “the glory of God,” which is His nature and character as expressed in His word or law.
This Hebrew word kata also means “sin offering.” In the KJV, kata is translated “sin” 182 times and “sin offering” 116 times.
Since kata has a double meaning, Daniel’s prophecy has a double fulfillment. First, he says, it will take seventy weeks “to make an end of sin” by Christ’s death on the cross. Second, it will take seventy weeks “to make an end of sin offerings,” because Christ great sacrificial offering of Himself was “once for all.” Hebrews 10:11-14 says,
11 And every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; 12 but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made a footstool for His feet. 14 For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
So we see again that the seventy weeks points to the cross, where Christ not only dealt with sin by imputing righteousness to us, but also the entire sacrificial system ended with that final Sacrificial Offering of Himself.
Making Atonement for Iniquity
In Daniel 9:24 the Hebrew word translated “atonement” (NASB) is kaphar, “to atone, cover.” In Genesis 6:14, God told Noah,
14 Make for yourself an ark of gopher wood; you shall make the ark with rooms, and shall cover [kaphar] it inside and out with pitch.
When kaphar is used in a legal sense in reference to covering sin, it means atonement. The KJV is incorrect in translating the word “reconciliation.” Reconciliation is what happens when enemies become friends and are in agreement. Atonement merely covers sin to give the (legal) appearance of righteousness. Atonement is a temporary solution, whereas reconciliation is the ultimate solution.
Gabriel told Daniel that seventy weeks had been decreed by the divine court “to make atonement for iniquity.” This is closely related to the earlier purpose, “to finish the transgression.” The main difference is that transgression is a rebellious act, while iniquity is an inward condition of the heart from which sinful acts spring.
In both cases, however, the first work of Christ on the cross made atonement for both transgression and iniquity. As we showed earlier, the cross made it legally possible to cover sin and impute righteousness to us by faith. However, Christ’s first work did not actually remove the sin, nor did it bring “reconciliation.” In other words, we have not yet been made actually righteous, for that will require a second work of Christ at His second appearance.
All of this was prophesied in ceremonies performed on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16. There it takes two goats to complete the work. The first goat, representing the first work of Christ, was killed, and its blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat, as we read in Leviticus 16:15, 16,
15 Then he shall slaughter the goat of the sin offering which is for the people, and bring its blood inside the veil, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it on the mercy seat and in front of the mercy seat. 16 And he shall make atonement for the holy place….
The first goat, then, provided atonement, which covered the sin of the people. The second goat actually removed sin. The priest laid hands on the second goat, imputed all of the sins of the people to it, and sent the goat into the wilderness. Leviticus 16:22 says,
22 And the goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a solitary [gezerah, “separate, cut off place, uninhabited”:] land; and he shall release the goat in the wilderness.
The work of this second goat is referenced in Hebrews 10:4, saying,
4 For it impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
The point is that animal sacrifices themselves could not perfect people, and for this reason those ceremonies had to be performed continually, daily or yearly. The second goat, however, prophesied of the second work of Christ, whose coming would “take away sin.” The first goat, then, atones for sins, covering them temporarily and giving us right standing before God as if we were perfect. The second goat completes this work, removing sin from us and perfecting us in the absolute sense.
But Daniel was told that the seventy weeks was necessary to make atonement for iniquity, so this points directly to the cross, that is, the first work of Christ.