Guests: Dave Thomas and Paul Dybdahl
Since Lesson 6 focuses on Daniel 9 as a whole and Lesson 7 on the 70 weeks prophecy which is part of Daniel 9, the potential for overlap is considerable. It might be advisable for those actually teaching the lesson for these two weeks to work out a plan for both weeks in advance.
Questions and Issues to Discuss
If one takes the position that the interpretation of Daniel 9 itself is very important, these are the issues which should be addressed:
- The link between Daniel 8 and 9. Virtually all commentators agree that Daniel 9 is in some sense a further illumination of the content of Daniel 8. The official study guide does a good job of addressing this issue. The most obvious points are these: (1) the same angel (Gabriel) appears in both chapters (8:16; 9:21); (2) in chapter 9, Gabriel describes his explanation with reference to the “vision” (9:23).
- Daniel’s penitential prayer: Daniel 9:4-19. Quite aside from any historical interpretation of the events described in the chapter, Daniel’s prayer stands out as one of the best examples of intercessory prayer on behalf of God’s people. The record of Daniel’s life in Scripture is exemplary; yet he fully identifies with his sinful people and pleads with God on their behalf: Questions: Is it possible that Daniel’s prayer is more important for our day than the detailed interpretation of the prophecy? For the some one million Adventists around the world who cannot read, would the prayer be more likely to give them help for the day than an understanding of times and seasons? Acts 1:7 records Jesus’ last conversation with his disciples. When they asked him about the timing of future events, he told them: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” Is that a crucial question for believers today? If our Adventist forebears had taken that verse seriously, how would it have affected their lives and ours?
- The interpretation of the 70 weeks. Questions relating to the 70 weeks will be the focus of the next lesson. But here one might ask questions of “relevance.” Given the changes in our world, how should we deal with the time prophecies of Daniel? The following article by the author of the Study Guide (Thompson), could be a springboard for discussion.
Daniel 9: Putting the Focus on Jesus
By Alden Thompson
[Cf. Spectrum On-line (May 3, 2002); Adventist Today, July/August 2002, 20-21]
For those who worry about the loss of traditional “Adventist” interpretations, Daniel 9 is at least as scary as Daniel 8. The 1844 movement was born out of the conviction that the time for the cleansing or renewal of the sanctuary (October 22, 1844) is established by linking the 70-weeks prophecy (Daniel 9:24-27) with the 2300-day prophecy of Daniel 8:14. While we have always stood alone in our interpretation of Daniel 8, we once had lots of good company in our interpretation of Daniel 9. Now most of those friends have vanished.
While the interpretation of Daniel 8 and 9 presents numerous puzzling challenges, Adventists have never been alone in linking the two chapters together. And the linkage is based on solid arguments from the text. In both chapters Gabriel is the angelic interpreter; 9:21 and 9:23 refer to an antecedent “vision,” logically the vision of chapter 8; the sanctuary is the focal point of both chapters; and finally, the time period in 8:14, the 2300 days, is the only feature left unexplained in chapter 8.
But if scholars from every school of interpretation agree in linking the two chapters together, they quickly part company when interpreting the 70-week prophecy itself. And that diversity is even reflected in modern translations of the Bible. In so-called “mainstream” Protestant communities, that is, in the more “liberal” churches that are less inclined to talk about the return of Jesus and the end of the world, Daniel 9:24-27 is interpreted as focusing on Antiochus Epiphanes and his desecration of the Jerusalem temple (168/67 BCE). On such a view, the text has no application whatsoever to Jesus Christ. That is the interpretation suggested (dictated?) by the New Revised Standard Version.
Dispensationalist evangelical communities take quite a different approach, typically interpreting the first 69 weeks as extending to Christ’s triumphal entry, but moving the 70th week to the end of time where it is marked off at the beginning by the secret coming of Christ (rapture) and at the end by Jesus’ public return. During that 70th week, Palestine is the focal point of the political and religious turmoil described in 9:24-27.
Meanwhile, supporters of the traditional Reformation view (our fellow-travelers in Daniel 9) are becoming ever more scarce. Sir Isaac Newton, in his commentary on Daniel, described the prophecy of Daniel 9:24-47 as “the foundation stone of the Christian religion.” Very few Christians would now agree with him on that point; at least very few would see any reference to the death of Christ in Daniel 9. In the standard dispensationalist interpretation, the classic KJV phrase, “in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease,” is no longer applied to the death of Christ, but to the cessation of sacrifice in the restored Jerusalem temple.
Even if one holds to the traditional Reformation interpretation of Daniel 9, the complications multiply. Adventists begin the 70 weeks in 458/57 BCE and end them in 34 CE. But those particular dates were first proposed (apparently) by Johann Funck (d. 1566) in the Reformation era. Today, commentators are far from unanimous in their choice of starting dates. There are at least three popular alternatives for the restoration “decree” of Daniel 9:25: 538 (Cyrus), 458/57 (Artaxerxes), and 445 (Artaxerxes). What may be even more troubling for traditionalists is the fact that it is virtually impossible to find a modern reference work which dates the crucifixion at 31 CE. Most scholars, regardless of their theological assumptions, place it somewhere between 27 and 32 CE and leave it at that.
So now let’s be “practical” in the light of all those “technical” challenges to the traditional interpretation. What is likely to happen in Adventist churches around the world? What is already happening? Here are some “facts of life”:
1. Lack of Interest. The detailed study of the prophecy of Daniel 9 is virtually ignored by the vast majority of Adventists and interest in the traditional interpretation will continue to wane. Every week thousands join the church with only the barest knowledge of Daniel 9 if they know anything at all.
2. Lack of Competence. A few years ago the US Department of Education literacy survey showed that 47% of all adults in the United States “cannot read dense, continuous text.” If half the adults in America can’t handle Romans or Matthew, what will they do with Daniel 9? William Miller took his Bible and concordance and immersed himself in the study of Scripture for two years. For his day, he developed admirable competence in Bible study, even if we might part company with him in some of his methods. But even if there were a comparable level of interest today combined with good reading skills, the question still remains: who has the ability to master the Hebrew of Daniel 9 and to mount a convincing argument for a particular interpretation? The Hebrew of Daniel 9 is some of the most difficult in all of the Old Testament. Any way you look at it, very few Adventists could study it out for themselves. Should the rest of us simply adopt the conclusions of the few and have the church mandate that all Adventists “believe” them? That might work for Roman Catholics, but that’s not the Adventist way.
So what is the Adventist way? First, it must be biblical, rooted in Scripture. Second, it must be simple, yet capable of sophisticated development. All that is there in our heritage, just waiting to be applied. And in that connection, I have two specific suggestions.
1. Focus on Jesus and His Ministry, Rather than on Dates. In the traditional Adventist interpretation of Daniel 8 and 9, the 2300-day prophecy directs our attention to the heavenly sanctuary and to Jesus’ ministry on our behalf; the 70-weeks prophecy points to Jesus’ sacrificial death. The reality of those events is now much more important than the dates themselves. While keeping our primary focus on Jesus’ sacrifice and ministry, we can also recognize that the prophecies of the 2300 days and 70 weeks lie at the heart of our birth story. And when telling our story, we should use the Bible of our pioneers (KJV) and show how they came to their conclusions. We would use their texts, their dates, not moving a pin. It’s the story of our birth and we don’t need to be ashamed of it. But our primary focus must always be on what Jesus has done and continues to do for his people.
2. The Covenant. My second suggestion is just as important: a call for the rediscovery of the original covenant used when Adventists organized our first local conference (Michigan) in 1861. Apparently the covenant was also recommended for use in the formation of local churches. Normally I’m not keen on signed statements of belief. Adventists have always been opposed to any creed other than the Bible. But that first “covenant” is a statement I would gladly sign: “We, the undersigned, hereby associate ourselves together, as a church, taking the name, Seventh-day Adventists, covenanting to keep the commandments of God, and the faith of Jesus Christ
Throughout the world, the bond which holds Adventists together consists of God’s law which gives us structure, and Jesus who gives us hope. At the practical level of day-to-day living, dates and time prophecies are virtually irrelevant. When I first became seriously interested in messianic prophecy, I was startled to discover a similar reality in the New Testament era. Here are my conclusions:
A. The messianic hope in Jesus’ day apparently was not based on time prophecies. Given our interest in time prophecies, we have too readily assumed that they are implied in the New Testament by such phrases as “the time is fulfilled” (Mark 1:15) and “when the fullness of the time had come” (Gal. 4:4). But there is virtually no evidence in the New Testament itself or in early literature outside the Bible, that the time prophecies (including the 70 weeks of Daniel 9) were a key factor in the messianic hope.
B. Jesus exploded popular views of the Messiah – and was rejected as a result. The New Testament clearly shows that Jesus’ message flew in the face of popular messianic expectations. And Jesus’ opponents had good Scriptural support for their hopes of a conquering hero: Balaam’s “star” would crush every enemy in sight (Num. 24:17); Isaiah’s “shoot” from the stump of Jesse would “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth” and “kill the wicked” with the “breath of his lips” (Isa. 11:4). And there’s plenty more where those came from. When Jesus declared that he had come, not to kill his enemies, but to die, the people rejected him; even his own disciples deserted him. In short, Jesus’ first coming was a “Great Disappointment.” Everyone had expected the messiah; the real question was not if, whether, or when. No, the real question was: What kind of Messiah? Only after the resurrection did the truth of the Suffering One break through to their hearts. I suspect a truth is lurking there that we need to hear.
In conclusion, one more word about birthdays, anniversaries, and other such events. The first coming of Christ as God incarnate and the birth of our own Advent movement are both crucial events for those of us who call ourselves Adventists. As I suggested above, however, the reality of the events is now much more important than the dates. And I have an example close to home that helps me keep such priorities straight. You see, because the records in Buckley Washington are not clear, my Dad was never sure whether he was born in 1914 or 1915. I’m quite certain of the fact of my Dad’s birth. We celebrated his birthday regularly. But none of us ever knew for sure when it actually happened. I look at prophetic dates in somewhat the same way: the realities are clear even if the dates are not.
I now live in hope of another event, a future one, resting on the good promises of one who lived among us, died, rose from the dead, and said he would come back to take us home. That’s precious stuff. You can’t take it away from me.