Thursday, 17 April 2014

Mind The Gap!

What we call  Palm Sunday, or more properly the Triumphal Entry is one of those parts of the Bible that is so familiar we can lose the enormity of it…


To start to unpack this event properly we need to take a trip back into the Old Testament to Daniel 9 and Zechariah 9. I’ll pick up on the historical veracity of Daniel a little further on but before we get bogged down in the historicity of the texts, let’s see why it’s so exciting:

In chapter 9 we find Daniel reading the Book of Jeremiah, now Daniel knew that he’d been in captivity since he was a teenager which was nearly 70 years before and as he read Jeremiah 25 and 29, he started to ask God in prayer, “what’s next” and he began to pray for his people.

Daniel is just getting into his prayer when the Angel Gabriel interrupts him and in four verses gives him an incredible prophecy that is one of the most extraordinary passages in the Bible. You can find it in Daniel 9:24-27.

In these four verses we’ve got the prophecy broken down in four parts :

1.       9:24 – the span of the whole prophecy;

2.       9:25 – the first 69 Weeks;

3.       9:26 – a gap between the 69th and 70th Week;

4.       9:27 – the last or 70th Week.

 
The introduction

1.       9:24: “A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city to finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place."

The saying of a "week" of years was common in Israel as in a "Sabbath for the land," when the land was to be uncultivated every seven years (check out Leviticus 25:1-22; 26:3-35 or Deuteronomy 15).

In fact if we were to read 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 we’d see that it was the failure of God’s people to obey these, and other  laws that resulted in God sending the Babylonians to take them into bondage

So the focus of the prophecy is on the Jewish People (“your people” and “Most Holy Place”), and it includes a whole list of things which plainly haven’t been completed yet.


The First 69 Weeks

So that was all a bit broad brush, but then in the next verse it all gets a bit detailed:

2.       9:25: " Now listen and understand! Seven sets of seven plus sixty-two sets of seven will pass from the time the command is given to rebuild Jerusalem until a ruler—the Anointed One—comes. Jerusalem will be rebuilt with streets and strong defences, despite the perilous times."

Now if you’re like me at this point you’ll be thinking, oh no, maths and numbers, but don’t panic, just roll with it it’s worth it. So yes there’s a mathematical prophecy.

Both the Jewish and Babylonian calendars used a 360-day year (you’ll maybe find that understanding this will help put some other verses in perspective too: Genesis 7:24; 8:3; Revelation 11:2; 12:6; 13:3 for example). 

Anyway back to Daniel: 69 weeks of 360-day years adds up to 173,880 days.

Basically, Gabriel said to Daniel that the time between the instruction to rebuild Jerusalem and the appearance of the Messiah as King was going to be 173,880 days.

People with maths phobias bear with it, it’s worth it…

It was Artaxerxes Longimanus (his surname apparently came about because his right hand was longer than his left…) gave the order rebuild Jerusalem on 14th March 445 BC (Nehemiah 2).  We shouldn’t confuse this with other earlier commands  to rebuild the Temple.

But when did Messiah show Himself as The King? There were plenty of times during His ministry that Christ was invited by the people to show His hand, but every time He avoided it. Just read through John’s Gospel to see how many times He says, no, not yet ( check out John 6:15; John 7:30, 44; 8:59; 10:39)



The Big Day!

Then came the day. On a day already determined many years before Jesus makes exact arrangements (check out Luke 19:28-40 for the detail).

Deliberately fulfilling a prophecy given by Zechariah, a prophecy that was clear and exact, Messiah presented Himself as king:

Zechariah 9:9

"Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!
    Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!
Behold, your king is coming to you;
    righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
    on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
"

The Pharisees are often a good clue as to the importance of Jesus’ words and actions, and here is no exception, wow were they unhappy at this crowd proclaiming Jesus as Messiah and King, for them it was blasphemy (again check out Luke 19:39). But what was Jesus’ response, He said they get it you don’t, or more accurately: "I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out." Luke 19:40

If you check the whole of the rest of the bible and any other works of history, you’ll find that this day, April 6, 32AD (Luke gives us a clue about this date in Luke 3:1), was the only time that Jesus presented Himself as King.

 
The Prophecy then was like a precision tool, it was exact

I have not listed the many sources that provide us with the scientific and mathematical data, but if you want to read more, I’ll happily point you in the right direction. But the crux of it is, when we look at the time period between 14th March 445 BC and 6th April 32 AD, and then correct for leap years, we find that it is exactly 173,880 days. Accurate therefore to the day.

How could Daniel have known this in 100’s of years before? Well of course he couldn’t, but God did and through Gabriel, told him? But it doesn’t end there, there's more.

 
Mind The Gap

There seems to be an interval between week 69 and week 70:

 
3.       9:26: " After this period of sixty-two sets of seven, the Anointed One will be killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing, and a ruler will arise whose armies will destroy the city and the Temple. The end will come with a flood, and war and its miseries are decreed from that time to the very end. " The sixty-two "weeks" follow the initial seven, so verse 26 deals with events after 69th week, but before the 70th. These events include the Messiah being killed and the city and sanctuary being destroyed.

There is still  a seven-year period to be realised. In fact if we were to take a little more notice of “difficult books” like Revelation, we would see that Revelation 6-19 is basically a description of that time.


But back to that entry into Jerusalem by Jesus:

Luke 19:43-44 reminds us that as Jesus drew near the city on the donkey, He also prophesied the devastation of Jerusalem:

For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.
 
in 70AD, 38 years later, Jerusalem was destroyed when Roman Titus Vespasian and his troops razed the city, just as had been predicted by Daniel and Jesus. And if you look at that last part of Luke 19:44, it seems Jesus was holding them accountable for not understanding Daniels prophecy, just look, He says it’s because you did not know the time of your visitation.

Then after the gap – sometimes known as the church age, the time between Jesus ascension and return we come to that 70th week…

The last, the 70th, Week

4.        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

We’re still in that gap, that interval, the time between the 69th and 70th week, but it is more and more apparent that it could soon be over, which will bring us to that last seven-year period to be fulfilled. This period has the most detailed description of any period in the Bible and as mentioned earlier that description can be found in Revelation chapters 6 to 19.

 

There is more to be said on this of course and I’ll return to it in due course, but for now, how about you read those chapters, check out Daniel too and maybe Psalm 83…

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Note:

There are those who doubt Daniels authenticity, however according to secular history try  the Encyclopaedia Britannica (Volume 10, p. 642) the Book of Daniel was translated into Greek prior to 270 BC, some centuries before Christ was born.