The Prophet Daniel. Detail of a fresco by Michelangelo Buonarroti. Sistine Chapel.

The times and prophecies of Daniel

Let us take the prophecies of Daniel to see how the appointed times work. The prophecies of Daniel have been studied — and continue to be studied — by many devout Jewish and Christian scholars.

Daniel 9, 24 — Seventy weeks are decreed for 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 the Holy of Holies.

This brief but important prophecy has seven parts. The first part is the decree. A divine order has established a term of seventy weeks for “your people” that is the people of Daniel, the people of Israel, and the people of God. The decree also affects “your holy city” that is Jerusalem, the city of the Temple of God. The other six parts are the purpose, the aims of the divine decree. To end transgressions, to put an end to sin, to atone for iniquity, to bring eternal justice or righteous ness, to seal vision and prophet, and to anoint a Holy of Holies (a very holy place or person.) The first three have been already completed by Christ who came to fulfill the Law — putting an end to the Mosaic transgression, to the reign of sin over humanity, and also atoning for original sin. The last three are reserved for the end of times because they are the consequence of the first three when God brings a time of eternal justice, the era we sometimes refer to as “the world to come” or “the coming kingdom of God” or the return in glory of Jesus Christ. See Mathew 23, 63-64.

Daniel 9, 25 — Know therefore and understand: from the time that the word went out to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the time of an anointed prince, there shall be seven weeks; and for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with streets and moat, but in a troubled time.

These periods of sixty-nine weeks and seventy weeks were announced to Daniel when he was exiled in Babylon along with the rest of the Jews. Babylon was later conquered and absorbed by the Persian Empire. King Cyrus of Persia gave the order to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem on the first year of his reign. Now we have the starting time for the prophecy.

Ezra 1, 2-4 — ‘Thus says King Cyrus of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of those among you who are of his people—may their God be with them!—are now permitted to go up to Jerusalem in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let all survivors, in whatever place they reside, be assisted by the people of their place with silver and gold, with goods and with animals, besides freewill-offerings for the house of God in Jerusalem.’

The first period of sixty nine weeks ends with the first arrival of the Messiah. The appointed times, as revealed in the prophecy of the sixty-nine weeks, come to a precise fulfillment. From the fourth and final Persian decree to rebuild Jerusalem, given by Artaxerxes I in March 8 of 444 b. C. there are exactly 483 years ­— sixty nine weeks of years to the day — until the triumphant entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, March 29 of 33 a. D. There are many other prophetic terms in Holy Scripture that came to a perfect completion.

Pharaoh’s dream of the seven fat cows and the seven lean cows

Genesis 41, 28-31 —  It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. 30 After them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; the famine will consume the land. The plenty will no longer be known in the land because of the famine that will follow, for it will be very grievous years that are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.’

Israel’s forty years of wandering in the wilderness

Numbers 14, 33-35 — And your children shall be shepherds in the wilderness for forty years, and shall suffer for your faithlessness, until the last of your dead bodies lies in the wilderness. According to the number of the days in which you spied out the land, forty days, for every day a year, you shall bear your iniquity, forty years, and you shall know my displeasure.’ I the Lord have spoken; surely I will do thus to all this wicked congregation gathered together against me: in this wilderness they shall come to a full end, and there they shall die.

Seventy years of exile in Babylon

Jeremiah 25, 10-12 — And I will banish from them the sound of mirth and the sound of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. This whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon for seventy years. Then after seventy years are completed, I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity, says the Lord, making the land an everlasting waste.

2 Chronicles 36, 20-21 — He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had made up for its Sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept Sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.

Interpreting prophecy

Jesus Christ rebuked the people, and also the religious leaders of his time for not knowing the prophecies.

Luke 12, 54-56 — He also said to the crowds, ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, “It is going to rain”; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, “There will be scorching heat;” and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

The religious leaders of that time knew the prophecies of Daniel and they knew of his good example as recorded in the Scriptures. Daniel was diligent to study the prophecies of Jeremiah about the divine decree for a seventy year exile in Babylon.

Daniel 9, 1-3 — In the first year of Darius son of Ahasuerus, by birth a Mede, who became king over the realm of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to the prophet Jeremiah, must be fulfilled for the devastation of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years.

Daniel is an example of the right attitude to have while studying prophecy. He was not trying to presumptuously figure out God’s plans but he had rather a penitential approach to it. He wanted to learn from God what he needed to know to please him. Daniel humbly admitted that the people of Israel had failed to listen to the prophets of God.

Daniel 9, 4-6 —Then I turned to the Lord God, to seek an answer by prayer and supplication with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. I prayed to the Lord my God and made confession, saying, ‘Ah, Lord, great and awesome God, keeping covenant and steadfast love with those who love you and keep your commandments, we have sinned and done wrong, acted wickedly and rebelled, turning aside from your commandments and ordinances. We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes, and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

We should imitate Daniel, calling for the help of the Holy Spirit, seeking the wisdom to learn and the grace of obedience and appreciation of God’s prophetic word.

Wisdom 7, 25-26 — For she [wisdom] is a breath of the power of God, and a pure emanation of the glory of the Almighty; therefore nothing defiled gains entrance into her. For she is a reflection of eternal light, a spotless mirror of the working of God, and an image of his goodness.

Wisdom 8, 8 — And if anyone longs for wide experience, she knows the things of old, and infers the things to come; she understands turns of speech and the solutions of riddles; she has foreknowledge of signs and wonders and of the outcome of seasons and times.

The book of Wisdom is not critical of those interested in studying prophecy but it warns us that we need a respectful, penitential attitude to learn because we are approaching “the breath of the power of God” and so our hearts should be clean of any impure intention when we are interested in learning from him. The way Daniel prepared spiritually to study the ancient and contemporary prophecies is a great example for us all.

Continued in You know neither the day not the hour. 3