THE TIME OF THE END (CONCLUSION)
R. J. FURULI, 8 FEBRUARY 2020
The words “time of the end” are found only in the book of Daniel. To understand the expression, we need to discuss several different words and the syntactical relationship between them. Hebrew clauses can be translated into English in slightly different ways, depending on whether the translation method is idiomatic or literal, and depending on the analysis of the meaning of the words and the syntax of the preposition lamed. I use the literal translation method, and I show why I have chosen particular renderings.
THE MEANING OF IMPORTANT WORDS
The word mō‘ēd
This word has the following references related to time, according to Koehler and Baumgartner: “agreed time, appointed time, time of festivity.” These references indicate that the word does not refer to an instantaneous point of time, but rather to a period of time. One example is Exodus 23:15 (NWT13), which speaks about “the Festival of Unleavened Bread,” which lasted seven days. The verse also says that this should occur “at the appointed time (mō‘ēd) in the month of Abib.” In Daniel 12:7, a time period is described as “an appointed time (mō‘ēd), appointed times (mō‘adim, plural of mō‘ēd), and half a time.” In this verse, it is clear that mō‘ēd refers to periods of time.
The word ēt
This word has the following references related to time, according to Koehler and Baumgartner: “point of time; occasion; time.” The definition “point of time” needs some comments because any event, except events that are clearly defined as instantaneous, take some time and are not just an instantaneous point. I think the lexicon uses “point of time” in contrast with “a period of time,” but not in the sense of an instantaneous event.
The quotations from Daniel below are from NWT13, and they show that ēt can include a short or a long time.
- 9:21, the time ēt of the evening sacrifice.
- 11:24, and against the fortified places he will plot his schemes, but only during a time ēt.
- 12:1, there will occur a time ēt of distress.
- 12:1, And during that time ēt your people will escape.
All four events above with the word “time” (ēt ) lasted more than a moment. So it is clear that ēt does not refer to instantaneous events.
The word qēsΩ
This word has the following references related to time, according to Koehler and Baumgartner: “end of a person, and collectively of a people; end as such.” The end of a person could occur rather quickly, or it could take some time. The end of a people would take some time. The use of qēsΩ in Daniel indicates that the word refers to time periods.
- 9:26, and its end (qēsΩ) will come by the flood.
- 12:6, How long will it take to end (qēsΩ) these marvelous things?
The end of Jerusalem took several months when it was “flooded” by the Roman army, and to end several things also will take some time. The basic meaning of mō‘ēd is a period of time, and while ēt refers to time in general and qēsΩ refers to the end of something in general, all words also include a period of time.
The syntactic function of the letter l (lamed)
Koehler and Baumgartner show that the letter lamed can be used in 27 different ways. Below I give examples of three of the functions that are relevant for the translation of passages in the book of Daniel.
One of the functions is to mark words in apposition, and in such cases, the adverbial “namely” can be used. One example of this is Ezra 1:5. In this verse, the lamed in lekol (“everyone”) shows that “everyone” stands in apposition to the groups that previously are mentioned (the heads of the fathers of Judah and of Benjamin and the priests and the Levites).
And the heads of the fathers of Judah and of Benjamin and the priests and the Levites were rising up—(namely) everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up and build the house of Yehowa, which was in Jerusalem.
The letter lamed can also function as the object mark and show that the word to which it is prefixed is the direct object. In the Aramaic part of the book, lamed is very often the object mark, and in some instances, this is the case in the Hebrew part as well. Genesis 2:7 (NWT13) says: “And the man became a living person.” The rendering “a living person” is literally “a living soul.” The word “soul” (næpæs∑) has a prefixed lamed indicating that “soul” is the direct object. One example from Daniel is the first clause in 11:33: “they will cause many to understand.” Because the verb is hifil, the agent, “they” (the subject), causes something for the patient “many” (object), and therefore, the patient “many” cannot have an adverbial function, as we see in several translations. Thus, the lamed in this clause signals the direct object.
The preposition lamed can also express that an object belongs to or refers to something or someone. Second Samuel 20:11 says, “whoever belongs to David” (ūmi and who, ’as∑ær that, to David ledāvid)
The meaning and references of the preposition ‘ad
In most cases, ad has the meaning “until.” But Koehler and Baumgartner show that it also has the meanings “as far as” and “during.” Some examples of the meaning “during; while” follow:
1) Judges 3:26 NIV: While (ad) they waited, Ehud got away.
2) 2 Kings 9:22, JB: “when all the while (ad) the prostitutions and countless sorceries of your mother Jezebel go on.”
3) Job 20:5 NAB: That the triumph of the wicked is short and the joy of the impious but for a moment (ad raga‘).
4) Jonah 4:2 NAB: “Is not this what I said while I was still (ad) in my own country?”
5) Daniel 11:24: and against the fortified places he will plot his schemes, but only for (“during”) a time (ad ēt).
The sound linguistic principle is that we use a word in its basic meaning when the context does not show that an alternative meaning is necessary. This means that the translation of ad will be “until” in most cases.
. The Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, Vol. IV, 483, lists 14 clauses where lamed points to the direct object.
THE TRANSLATION OF IMPORTANT VERSES
A basic semantic principle when we study and translate ancient texts is that the author of a text wanted to be understood. This means, for example, that we need to find a clear use of the preposition lamed. There are instances where an author wanted a text to be ambiguous, for example, with the use of a passive verb to hide the identity of the agent (subject). But such instances are the exception. I will now analyze some verses that are important for our understanding of “the time of the end” and events occurring in “the time of the end.
17 “Son of man, you must realize that the vision belongs to the time of the end (ki le‘æt qēsΩ hæœhāzōn).”
19 “Here I am causing you to know what will happen in the final part (’ahariœt≈ hazzā‘am) of the wrath for it is the appointed time of the end (lemō‘ēd qēsΩ).”
The last clause in verse 17 is a nominal clause without a verb. In this clause, lamed is prefixed to “the time of the end” (le‘æt kēsΩ). This suggests that something belongs to the time of the end, and the noun in the clause is “the vision.” Thus, the vision belongs to or refers to the time of the end.
The word mō‘ēd in verse 19 has a prefixed lamed, and I take this lamed as marking an apposition. This is the same function of lamed in Ezra 1:5 that is quoted above. If this interpretation is correct, it means that “the appointed time of the end” stands in apposition to “the final part of the wrath,” and the two expressions are identical and refer to the same time. The clause with the apposition is a nominal clause; ki (for) lemō‘ēd (“appointed time”) qēsΩ (“end”). In a nominal clause, the verb “to be” is understood and must be added in translation. Therefore, I have the words “it is.” Several translations imply that there is a relationship between “the final part of the wrath” and “the appointed time of the end.”
Because ‘æt (“time”) modifies qēsΩ in verse 17 (“time of the end”) and mō‘ēd modifies qēsΩ in verse 19 (“the appointed time of the end”), these must be two ways to refer to the same time. As we have seen, the word mō‘ēd refers to a time period, and because Daniel 11:40 shows that several things will happen during “the time of the end”(’æt qēsΩ), the word ‘æt /‘ēt must also refer to a time period. This corroborates the examples of ’ēt discussed above. Thus, there is one time period that is called “the time of the end” and “the appointed time of the end.” I will now analyze and translate some verses that refer to the time of the end.
This is a verse that is manipulated by many modern translations. Below I list the rendering of NRSV, then the rendering of NIV, and lastly, my own translation.
NRSV: By those who eat of the royal rations. They shall break him, his army shall be swept away, and many shall fall slain.
NIV: Those who eat of the king’s provisions will try to destroy him; his army will be swept away, and many will fall in battle.
RJF: And those who are eating his choice food will be destroying him. His army will be overflowing, and many wounded ones will fall.
The crucial word in the Hebrew text is the verb s∑aœtΩap (“to overflow”). The Masoretic text, only in very few cases, uses a consonant to express a vowel (a plene vowel). However, in Daniel 11:26, the last vowel in the mentioned verb is expressed by the consonant waw. This shows without any doubt that the verb s∑aœtΩap is qal imperfect, which means that the verb is active and not passive. Renderings such as NRSV, “his army shall be swept away” are wrong because they represent a violation of Hebrew grammar. An active verb cannot be given a passive rendering. Therefore, the text does not say that the army of the king, who will be broken (“killed”), will be swept away. But the text says that the army of this king will overflow (“become victorious”). The verb s∑aœtΩap in qal perfect is found in 11:40. And NRSV has the active translation of this word together with the verb ‘ābar (“pass through”) “and pass through like a flood.”
Why do so many translations manipulate the text of 11: 26? The reason is that the translators believe that a great part of Daniel chapter 11 describes the life of the Syrian king Antiochus IV Epiphanes. And the king referred to in 11:26 is the Egyptian king Ptolemy VI Philometor, who was a boy when Antiochus IV Epiphanes invaded Egypt. The army of this king was swept away, and in order to fit the prophecy to this king, a passive rendering is used. However, the text unambiguously says that the army of the king referred to in 11:26 would be victorious. Ptolemy was not killed, and therefore the NIV, without any linguistic backing, uses the conative rendering, “will try to destroy him” (my italics).
As for these two kings, their hearts will be bent to evil, and at the same table falsehood is what they will be speaking. But nothing will be succeeding, because (ki) the end (qēsΩ) is still (‘ōd) the time appointed (lemō‘ēd).
I take the lamed before mō‘ēd in 11:27 as signaling the direct object. The last clause is a nominal clause (ki “because,” ‘ōd “still” qēsΩ “end,” lemō‘ēd “the time appointed”). Therefore, I add “is,” and my translation is: “the end (subject) is still the time appointed (nominative predicate).” This means that the end (‘ēt) is identical with the appointed time (mō‘ēd ), and not that the end will come at the appointed time.
The words of 8:19 support my translation. In this verse, we find the words “the end’s appointed time,” or better, “the appointed time of the end (mō‘ēd qēsΩ).” The word “appointed time” is in the construct and “end” is in the absolute. Thus, there is a genitive relationship between the two words. In 11:27, the word “end” comes before the word “appointed time,” and both are in the absolute. The letter lamed that is prefixed to “appointed time” could signal a genitive relationship. But in that case, the translations would be “the appointed time’s end,” which is unnatural in this context.
The NIV has the following rendering: “because the end will still come at the appointed time.” As 8:19 shows, the words “appointed time” and “end” are a tight-knit unit because there is a genitive relationship. The rendering of NIV splits this unit and makes an adverbial relationship between the two—the end is the subject and “at the appointed time” is the adverbial. Because of the mentioned tight-knit unit, this is not natural, and to achieve this adverbial relationship, the words “will come” are added to the text in the NIV. In contrast, my translation, “the end is still the appointed time,” both preserves the tight-knit unit and uses the verb “is” that is implied in nominal clauses. And no words are added.
We note that the last clause is a subordinate clause showing the reason why “nothing will be succeeding.” The reason is that “the end is still the appointed time.” One explanation may be that the appointed time of the end has not yet started, and because wars have been prophesied at the beginning of the appointed time (of the end), any negotiations in good or bad faith, such as peace negotiations, will not be succeeding. The Collins Dictionary has the following example of the use of “still” as an adverb: “If something that has not yet happened could still happen, it is possible that it will happen. If something that has not yet happened is still to happen, it will happen at a later time.” This example parallels the use of the word “still” in the clause, “the end is still the appointed time.”
And some of those who are wise will be brought to stumble, for a refining among them, for a cleansing and for a whitening during the time of the end because it is still the appointed time.
My translation of this verse is different from most other translations, and therefore some explanation is necessary. The crucial point is the phrase is ‘ad ‘ēt qēsΩ. In 12:4, 9, the same expression is translated as “until the time of the end” (‘ad until, ‘ēt time, qēsΩ end). But in 11:35, my translation is “during the time of the end.” What is the reason for this?
The difference between 12:4, 9 and 11:35 is that the expression ‘ad ‘ēt qēsΩ in 11:35 is followed by a nominal clause with the words “le + appointed time” (lemō‘ēd), which is not the case in 12:4, 9. As in 11:27, I take the lamed that is prefixed to mō‘ēd as the object mark. Therefore, my translation of the nominal clause is “because it is still the appointed time” (ki “because,” ‘ōd “still,” lemō‘ēd “the appointed time”). The rendering “until the time of the end” will contradict this rendering. If “it is still the appointed time,” the mentioned events cannot occur before the appointed time, expressed by the clause “until the appointed time.”
In most cases, the preposition ad has the meaning “until.” But the five examples above show that ad can also have the meaning “during.” One of the examples is taken from Daniel 11:24, where it is said that the mentioned king will do his work “during a time” (ad ēt). A basic principle of lexical semantics is that we use the basic meaning of a word in all cases, except when the context shows that the word must have an alternative meaning. So because the text of Daniel 9:35 says, “it is still the appointed time,” the rendering “during the time of the end” fits perfectly.
|The difference between the last clauses of 11:27 and 11:35.
The clauses are quite similar, but there is one important difference.
11:27: ‘ki because, ‘ōd still, qēsΩ the end, lemō‘ēd the appointed time.
11:35: ki because, ‘ōd still, lemō‘ēd the appointed time.
11:27: “because the end is still the appointed time.”
11:35: “because it is still the appointed time.”
The difference is that “end” (qēsΩ) in 11:27 is the subject and “appointed time” (mō‘ēd) is the nominative predicate, but in 11:35, the implied subject of the nominal clause is “it,” and “is” is the copula in the nominative predicate “is the appointed time.”
40 And in the time of the end (‘et≈ qeœsΩ), the king of the south will be joining in combat with him. And the king of the north will be storming against him with chariots and horsemen and many ships. And he will go into the lands, and he will overflow and pass through. 41 And he will go into the land of beauty, and many will be brought down. But these will be escaping from his hand: Edom, and Moab, and the main part of the Ammonites. 42 And he will continue to stretch out his hand against the lands, and the land of Egypt will not have a deliverance. 43 He will be the ruler of hidden treasures of gold and silver and of all the desirable things of Egypt. And Libyans and Ethiopians will be at his steps. 44 But reports from the east and the north will be terrifying him. And he will go out in a great rage to exterminate and devote many to destruction. 45 And he will be planting his palace tents between the sea and the holy mountain of beauty. Then he will come up to his end. And no one is a helper for him.
The first important point is the expression “be joining in combat” in 11:40. The basic meaning of the verb nāgahΩ is “to gore.” One example is Daniel 8:4, where we read that the ram “gored” (nāgahΩ). In this verse, the verb is in the piel stem. But the verb in 11:40 is in the hithpael stem, which often has a reflexive or a reciprocal force. This means that there was one actor who gored against the other actor and the other actor gored back. The rendering of NWT13 “engage with him in a pushing” is, in my view, too weak. When two animals gore against each other, they are not pushing each other, but they engage in an active fight with their horns. Because of this, Koehler and Baumgartner have the rendering “join in combat” for the hithpael stem of nāgahΩ. The next clause supports the view that nāgah refers to a military conflict. Its first word “and” must refer to “will be joining in combat with him,” and the following clause describes the nature of the military conflict: “(he) will be storming against him (the king of the south) with chariots and horsemen and many ships.”
The account in 11:40–45 includes a number of prophetic types that need to be identified. These are the king of the north, the king of the south, Edom, Moab, Ammon, Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia. Because the actions of the king of the north are related to each of these nations, both the fulfillments of the actions and the antitypical identity of these nations must be found.
Most important is the antitypical identity of Egypt. In the first part of the drama about the kings of the north and the kings of the south, Egypt was the land of the kings of the south, and Syria was the land of the kings of the north. It is not likely that Egypt in this prophecy refers to the king of the south because “Egypt” is used in addition to “the king of the south.” If Egypt represented the king of the south, the prophecy shows that the king of the north would conquer the king of the south. But Revelation shows that the big nations in the time of the end will exist until the great tribulation. The alternative interpretation is that Egypt refers to the entire world, as it does in Revelation 11:8. In that case, the nations that are mentioned must refer to particular nations of this world.
The events that are described in 11:40–45 occur “in” the time of the end (be‘et≈ qeœsΩ). At which part of the time of the end the different events will occur is not directly stated. However, the last part of verse 45 describes the end of the king of the north, and this must occur at the end of the time of the end. When we study the details of verses 40–45, it seems clear that after the king of the south has joined in combat with the king of the south, one single campaign of the king of the north is described. If this is correct, the whole prophecy refers to the last stage of the time of the end, and therefore the whole prophecy is future.
Let us follow the campaign of the king of the north, starting in typical Syria in the north, which was the home base of the king of the north. First, he will be storming against the king of the south. Second, he will go into many lands, which shows that he will be victorious. Third, he will move south and enter the land of beauty, which must represent Israel, which is a type of the present people of God. Some nations around the land of beauty will escape. Fourth, he will move further south and attack other lands, and that includes the land of Egypt. Fifth, he will get his hands on the hidden treasures of Egypt, and some countries will support him. Sixth, while the king of the north stands in Egypt in the south, he will get reports from the east and the north of this position in Egypt. This is the direction of the land of beauty and the lands of Edom, Moab, and Ammon. Seventh, these reports will make him terrified, and he will march northward from his position in Egypt in order to exterminate many. Eighth, he will place his troops in front of the typical Jerusalem. Ninth, before he is ready to attack Jerusalem, he himself will meet his end. I cannot see how it is possible to split up the campaign I have described into different campaigns that would happen at different times during the time of the end.
4 “And you, Daniel, conceal the words, and seal the scroll until the time of the end (‘ad ‘et≈ qeœsΩ).”
9 And he said: “Go, Daniel because the words are concealed and sealed until the time of the end (‘ad ‘et≈ qeœsΩ).”
In these two verses, we must take the preposition ‘ad in its basic sense of “until.” This is so because there is nothing in the context indicating a different meaning.
. Furuli, When Was the Book of Daniel Written? A Philological, Linguistic, and Historical Approach, chapter 6, shows that Antiochus IV Epiphanes is not mentioned anywhere in the book of Daniel.
THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE BOOK OF DANIEL
Do the verses 12:4, 9 show that no part of the book of Daniel would be understood before the time of the end? The basis for the answer in 12:9 is the question in 12:8. NWT13 and many other translations have the rendering, “What will be the outcome of these things?” NWT84 has the rendering, “What will be the final part of these things?” This is a better rendering. The basic meaning of the word ’ahΩariœt is “final part.” But it can also refer to the result of something. In Daniel 8:19, it refers to “the final part of the wrath”; in 8:23, it refers to “the final part of their kingdom”; in 10:14 it refers to “the final part of the days”; and in 11:4 it refers to “his posterity.” In construct (a genitive relationship), ’ahΩariœt refers to the final part.
|1||8:19||Here I am causing you to know what will happen in the final part of the wrath (’ahariœt≈ hazzā‘am; ’ahariœt≈; “final part” hazzā‘am “the wrath) for it is the appointed time of the end (lemō‘ēd qēsΩ; le “preposition,” mō‘ēd “appointed time,” qēsΩ “end”).|
|2||10:1||In the third year of Cyrus, the king of Persia, a word was revealed to Daniel, who was called by the name Belteshazzar. The word was true—and there was a great army. And Daniel understood the word, and he got an understanding of what he was seeing.|
|3||10:14||I have come to cause you to discern what will befall your people in the final part of the days (be’ahΩariœt hayyāmim; be “in,” ’ahΩariœt “final part,” hayyāmim “the days”).|
|4||12:4||Conceal (sātam “seal; close”) the words (haddebārim “the words”) and seal (hΩātam “seal with a signet ring”) the scroll (hassæpær “the scroll”) until the time of the end (‘et≈ qeœsΩ “time of end”).|
|5||12:7||And I was listening to the man clothed in linen, who was above the water of the river. And he was rising his right hand and his left hand to heaven. And he was swearing by the one who lives to time indefinite: “It will be for an appointed time, appointed times, and half a time. And when the smashing of the hand of the holy people will reach its end, all these things (kol ’ellæ; kol “all,” ’ellæ “these”) will come to their end.”|
|6||12:8||And I heard, but I did not understand. And I said: “Lord, what will be the final part (’ahΩariœt; “final part”) of these things (’ellæœ “these”)?”|
|7||12:9||And he was saying: “Go, Daniel, because the words (haddebārim “the words”) will be concealed (sātam “seal; close”) and sealed (hΩātam “seal with a signet ring”) until the time of the end.”|
A comparison between 8:19 and 10:14 indicates that the angel will show Daniel what will happen with his people “in the final part of the wrath” (8:19) and “the final part of the days” (10:14). Because both periods are mentioned in the same context, they must signify the same period. According to 8:19, “the final part of the wrath” is identical to “the appointed time of the end.” What will happen with the people of Daniel is described in 11:27–12:9, and these events are associated with the time of the end in 11:27, 35, 40, and 12:4, 9. This shows that the four periods with different designations refer to one single period: “the final part of the wrath” = “the final part of the days” = “the appointed time of the end” = “the time of the end.”
On the basis of the points above, we can understand the words about the secret and the sealing. There is a wordplay in connection with the two words (sātam “seal; close”) and (hΩātam “seal with a signet ring”) because they are similar except for one letter. The wordplay and the fact that both words are used in these verses (4 and 9) indicate stress and emphasis—the sealing is definite and final.
Actually, what is the subject of the sealing? Verse 9 tells that “the words” are sealed, and verse 4 refers to “the words of the scroll.” What is this scroll? The only place where “scroll” (sæpær) is mentioned in chapters 10–12 is in 12:1. But this cannot be the antecedent of “scroll” in verse 9 because the scroll in 12:1 is the place where the names of God’s servants are written. In a scroll, there are words, and because “the words” both in verses 4 and 9 have the definite article, they must have an antecedent. If we find this antecedent, we can also find “the scroll.”
In verse 1 of chapter 10, the expression “word” is used three times. In the third year of Cyrus, “a word” was revealed to Daniel. The verse says the “the word is true” and that Daniel “understood the word.” The word that was revealed to Daniel was connected with “a great army.” According to Koehlenberger and Mounce the word sΩāba has the meaning “army, host.” Apart from 10:1, the word occurs five times in 8:10–13 with the meaning “army.” Nothing is said about the great army that is connected with the revelation of Daniel. It can refer to “the army of the heavens” (8:10), which evidently refers to angels, or it can refer to the army of the king of the north (11:40–45) or to another army.
Daniel’s revelation of “the word” that is mentioned in 10:1 is elucidated later in the chapter. Verse 7 tells that Daniel had a vision, and in this vision, according to verse 9, Daniel heard “the sound of his [the angel’s] words.” The important words of the angel are expressed in verse 14:
And I have come to cause you to discern what will happen to your people in the final part of the days (’ahΩariœt hayyāmim). Because this is still a vision for the days (hayyāmim).
What would Daniel do with the words of the angel? He would write them down in a scroll, and the book of Daniel is based on several such scrolls dealing with his different visions. So, the reference to the “the scroll” in 12:4 (point 4 in table 1.2) must be to the scroll written by Daniel, which contained 10:1 to 12:13. But would the whole scroll be sealed, and what are “the words” that would be sealed? There are good reasons to conclude that “the words” that would be sealed include only a part of the words in the scroll.
In 10:1, the expression “word” in the singular is used three times. Because “the word” was given to Daniel as a revelation, the singular form evidently is used in the collective sense of a message containing many words. The verse says that Daniel understood the message he had seen (point 2 in table 1.2).
In 11:1–12:13, the angel gave Daniel a detailed message about kings that would come and go until the time of the great tribulation. In 12:7, the angel tells that “the hand of the holy people will be smashed. After that, “all these things will come to their end.” (point 5, table 1.2) To what does “all these things” refer? They cannot refer to all events in the prophecy from 11:1 to 12:13 because the time reference in 12:7 is to the late stage in the prophecy—after the mentioned smashing. In contrast with his understanding of “the word” (10:1; point 2 in table 1.2), Daniel did not understand the words of the angel in 12:7 (point 5 in table 1.2). Therefore, he asked: “Lord, what will be the final part of these things? (12:8; point 6 in table 1.2).
Instead of answering Daniel, the angel said: “the words will be concealed and sealed until the time of the end.” The expression “these words” must refer to the words of the angel that described “all these things” (verse 7) and “the final part of these things. This means that the whole prophecy from 11:1–12:13 would not be sealed, but only the final part of the prophecy. This accords with 10:14, where the angel says that the focus of the prophecy is “what will happen to your people in the final part of the days.” The final part of the days is identical with the time of the end. The conclusion must be that only the events that are connected in the time of the end must be sealed—the account from 11:27 where the end and the appointed time are first mentioned. This conclusion is logical because prophecies can first be understood after their fulfillment. And the prophecies from 11:27–12:13 will be fulfilled in the time of the end.
THE PROPHECY ABOUT THE 70 WEEKS
In contrast with Daniel 11:4, 9 where it is said that the words and the scroll should be sealed, 9:23 says, “therefore, discern the word and be certain to understand the vision.” This is not a prophecy about the time of the end but a prophecy about the coming of the Messiah in the first century CE. Therefore, this part of Daniel cannot be sealed until the time of the end.
We have good reasons to believe that this prophecy was understood by God-fearing persons in the first century CE.
The 70 weeks started with “the word to restore and build Jerusalem” in 455 BCE. Could persons in the first century calculate the time back to this date? Yes! The Dead Sea Scroll Zadokite says:
And at the end of the wrath of 390 years from [the time when] he punished them by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babel. . . . For 20 years, they had been blind, like those who are groping for the way. . . . Then he caused a teacher of righteousness to guide them in the way of his heart.
The mentioned time started when Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 607 BCE. If we count 390 years from this year, we come to 217 BCE. By adding 20 years more, we come to the year 197 BCE. Then the teacher of righteousness came into the scene, and the Qumran community was established. The quoted words show that the Qumran community could calculate the correct time, year by year, back to the days of Nebuchadnezzar II. And other people could, of course, do the same.
Time could be calculated into the past in two ways, 1) by the use of the Seleucid calendar, which started in 312 BCE, when Seleucus Nicator conquered Babylon, and 2) by counting sabbath years. In 1 Maccabees 4:52, for example, we read about the one hundred and forty-eighth year of the Seleucid calendar.
The word of Nehemiah to restore and build Jerusalem was uttered in year 20 of Artaxerxes I when Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem. (Nehemiah 2:1–8) The actions of Nehemiah of reading the whole law (8:18), which should be done on the Festival of Booths in the sabbath year, suggest that this year was a sabbath year. The releasing events mentioned in 5:7–12 support this conclusion. If this is correct, the Jews could simply count the sabbath years, and including the Jubilee years, back to Nehemiah’s arrival in Jerusalem, and find the beginning of the 483 years (69 weeks).
Josephus wrote his books at the end of the first century CE. He mentions several sabbatical years in BCE, and this indicates that he must have had lists of sabbatical years.
A prophecy is given to illuminate the people of God and give them hope. (Romans 15:4) If the prophecy about 69 weeks until the arrival of the Messiah was not understood in the first century CE, there was no purpose with the prophecy because there was no illumination and no hope. However, Luke 3:15 says: “The people were waiting expectantly and were carefully considering in their hearts regarding John: “May he perhaps be the Christ?” This statement shows that the people, in general, waited for the Messiah when John the Baptist came on the scene. This was a few months before Jesus began to preach about the Kingdom of God. And as far as chronology is concerned, Jesus started his mission at the beginning of the 69th week, 483 years after 455 BCE. Luke’s words strongly suggest that the people understood Daniel’s prophecy about the 69 weeks.
The words of Jesus also confirm that the prophecy about the 70 weeks in Daniel chapter 9 was not sealed. In Matthew 24:15–16, Jesus says that when his followers saw the abomination causing desolation standing in a holy place, they should flee to the mountains. Luke 21:20–21 shows that the abomination was the Roman armies. This shows that Daniel 9:27, where the abomination was mentioned, would be understood. Moreover, Luke 21:20–24 shows that Jerusalem would be destroyed, and Jesus says that “these are the days of punishment in order to fulfill all the things that have been written” (verse 22). These words particularly refer to Daniel 9:26, 27, and the words of Jesus that these verses should be understood.
The conclusion is that the real focus of Daniel’s prophecies is the time of the end, and what will happen to God’s people during this time. The prophecies about the time of the end would be sealed and would not be understood before the time of the end. But the other prophecies in the book of Daniel were not sealed.
. The word bin with the basic meaning “understand; discern” is used two times in the clause. The first time it is imperative qal, and I render it “discern.” The second time, the word is imperative hifil, which indicates some stress: Literally the meaning is, “you cause you to understand,” and I render it, “be certain to understand.”
. The Damascus Document (CD) 1:4–11. Translated by R. J. Furuli.
. Sabbath years mentioned by Josephus: Year 134 BCE, Antiquities 13.8.1 (13.2.30); 43 BCE(?), 14.10.6 (14.206); 36 BCE, 14.15.2 (14.470, 475).