Double Meaning of Jerusalem
Another way of validating our solution of Daniel's riddle recognizes that it is a poem employing symbolism. Scholars have demonstrated that much of the Book of Daniel has poetic structure, and nowhere is this more prominent than in Gabriel’s message recorded in Daniel 9:22–27. The message is a poem with an intricate design based on the device known as step parallelism. We are thus entitled to explore the message for symbols, in recognition that symbolism is a common feature of poetry both in the Bible and in all other literary traditions.
The first term that warrants a closer look is "Jerusalem." For background on the meaning of this term, we must recapitulate a portion of our discussion of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan. 2).
We argued that the mountain in his dream represents Mount Zion, or Jerusalem. We based this interpretation on Daniel’s use of the term "mountain" in his prayer recorded in the chapter we are now discussing, Daniel 9. Twice, in verses 16 and 20, Daniel refers to Jerusalem as the holy mountain of God. We argued, moreover, that Daniel suggests in a veiled manner that the holy mountain bears a double sense. Although he states that he has prayed on behalf of "the holy mountain of God" (v. 20), the actual closing words of his prayer seek divine aid for "thy city and thy people" (v. 19). It appears, then, that the holy mountain, Jerusalem, can represent either the actual city in Palestine or the spiritual body of people originating in that city.
Continuing, we pointed out that the same double sense in the term "mountain" stands out plainly in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. The stone that fell upon the feet of the image was cut out without hands from a mountain (v. 45). Then after it pulverized the image, it grew and became a great mountain filling the whole earth (v. 35). In the first sense, the mountain is earthly Jerusalem, the physical place where God created a people for Himself. In the second sense, the mountain is spiritual Jerusalem, the people of God when they have grown to full number and taken the whole earth as their possession.
In Daniel 9:25, we read of a "commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem." Having discovered a double meaning in Jerusalem elsewhere, we are entitled to wonder whether Jerusalem here might be a symbol as well as the name of an actual place. If it is a symbol, it has only one possible meaning, since Scripture is consistent in its use of symbols. It must refer to the people of God.
Jerusalem as the Church
From the standpoint of Old Testament Israel, the people of God were the godly in their own nation. But after the Cross, we have a better understanding of who belongs to this privileged group. We know now that the godly in Israel were merely the forerunners of a great body of believers who would be taken from all nations and tribes. The church is the single spiritual body uniting all these believers, both Israelite and gentile. It is therefore appropriate, if Jerusalem in Daniel 9 is indeed a symbol for the people of God, to identify them more particularly as the church. Like the godly in ancient Israel, the church sees Jerusalem as its home city. It was there that the church was born on the day of Pentecost. Jerusalem was the actual, or at least the spiritual, home of all the Jews who became the first Christians.
We should never foist symbolism on a text to avoid its literal meaning, if the literal meaning is possible, and should limit ourselves to symbols that Scripture itself defines. For example, when used as a symbol, leaven is always evil, a star is always a glorified being, and a fig tree is always Israel. But we violate neither rule if we suppose that Jerusalem in Daniel 9 is a symbol of the church. We are not denying its primary reference to an actual city. Also, we are adopting a usage found elsewhere in Scripture.
The writer of Hebrews uses Jerusalem and Zion as names for the heavenly city.
But ye are come unto mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels.
A city is not essentially the buildings or the location but the people who live there, and all the inhabitants of the heavenly city are members of Christ's body, the church. Thus, the imagery is treating the church as both Jerusalem and Zion.
The heavenly city appears again in Revelation.
2 And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. . . .
9 And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb's wife.
10 And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God.
Revelation 21:2, 9-10
In John's vision, the heavenly Jerusalem is called "the bride, the Lamb's wife," a familiar name for the church. Especially here, by naming the church as Jerusalem, Scripture itself provides strong support for finding a possible reference to the church in Daniel 9:25 when it foresees Jerusalem being restored and built.
In Galatians we read,
22 For it is written, that Abraham had two sons, the one by a bondmaid, the other by a freewoman.
23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born after the flesh; but he of the freewoman was by promise.
24 Which things are an allegory: for these are the two covenants; the one from the mount Sinai, which gendereth to bondage, which is Agar.
25 For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia, and answereth to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children.
26 But Jerusalem which is above is free, which is the mother of us all.
27 For it is written, Rejoice, thou barren that bearest not; break forth and cry, thou that travailest not: for the desolate hath many more children than she which hath an husband.
28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise.
29 But as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, even so it is now.
30 Nevertheless what saith the scripture? Cast out the bondwoman and her son: for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.
31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free.
As Paul seeks to sharpen the contrast between the covenant of law and the covenant of grace, he treats them as allegorically equivalent to the earthly and heavenly Jerusalems. Paul sees the heavenly Jerusalem as an appropriate figure for the covenant of grace doubtless because the covenant created the city. But it would be more precise to say that the covenant created the church. So, we detect in Paul's mind an assumed equivalence between the church and the city.
For Christians down through the centuries, Zion has been one of the most familiar and beloved of all Biblical symbols. Recognition that it stands for the church pervades older commentaries and older hymns. Among these hymns are "Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken, Zion, City of Our God" and "Hail to the Brightness of Zion's Glad Morning."
Some might object that in treating Jerusalem as a symbol for the church, we are imposing a New Testament idea on the Old Testament. But the Bible is the work of one author, God. If we can go to the New Testament to determine the length of a prophetic year, we can go there also to learn the larger significance of Jerusalem.
Opening and Closing Events
Now with eyes open to symbolism, we are ready to consider whether Daniel 9:25 contains another fulfilled prophecy. It says, "Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks." A better translation points instead to "a commandment," since the Hebrew text contains no definite article (1). The precise wording signals that the scope of reference is broader than one commandment. In fact, the oracle envisions two. The second is the subject of a prophecy concealed beneath the obvious and well-known prophecy that we have already expounded. This other prophecy, based on symbolism, discloses that there would be sixty-nine weeks "from the going forth of a commandment to restore and to build" not only the earthly city of Jerusalem, but also the spiritual city.
"Commandment" can be translated simply as "word" and "restore" as "turn back" or "convert." At the symbolic level of meaning, the initial event must therefore be a word to convert and build the church. The event that best fits the description is Jesus’ announcement a few days before the Transfiguration, "Upon this rock I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18). Here was God’s first declaration of intent to accomplish this objective. Here also was the first time in human history when the word "church" was used with the meaning it has now. By our reckoning, the date was December 9, AD 31, which we have called the Day of Announcements.
If this announcement is the opening event in a second interval of sixty-nine weeks, what is the terminal event? That is, in relation to God’s intention to build His church, what event marked Jesus’ coming as Messiah the Prince? The wording "unto the Messiah the Prince" is deliberately vague to allow more than one fulfillment. As we have argued before, it does not refer to when men acclaimed Jesus, as many did at the Triumphal Entry. Rather, it refers to when the Father acknowledged and honored Jesus as the rightful possessor of the exalted title accorded Him in Daniel’s prophecy. We said that two events fit the description. The first was the Transfiguration. The second was the occasion when the Father seated Christ at His right hand in fulfillment of prophecy.
1 The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.
2 The LORD shall send the rod of thy strength out of Zion: rule thou in the midst of thine enemies.
3 Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth.
4 The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent, Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.
5 The Lord at thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of his wrath.
6 He shall judge among the heathen, he shall fill the places with the dead bodies; he shall wound the heads over many countries.
7 He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head.
The Transfiguration was, as we proved earlier, Jesus’ coronation. Yet at that time He was not anywhere near the true seat of His authority. Rather, He was leading an incursion into hostile territory under the control of another prince, the prince of this world. So although the Father could confer upon Him a crown of glory and honor, Jesus could not, without provoking a final clash between good and evil, wear it openly or exercise kingly power while He remained upon the earth. Yet to stay was necessary for completion of His redemptive work. The time for Him to mount His throne was later, after He had demonstrated obedience "unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8).
When was Christ’s actual enthronement? It could not have preceded Jesus’ first visit to heaven after the Resurrection. For several reasons, we believe that His first visit, when He broke the bonds of this world and moved into His Father’s presence for the first time since His incarnation, took place on Easter Sunday.
- Why would He have waited any longer for a joyous reunion with the Father?
- On Sunday morning He forbade Mary Magdalene to touch Him (John 20:17), yet a short while later, when He met the other women as they were rushing away from the tomb, He allowed them to grasp His feet in worship (Matt. 28:8–10). As John Wenham has pointed out, the apparent inconsistency vanishes if we replace "touch" in Jesus’ words to Mary with the equally valid translation "cling," giving us the reading, "Do not cling to me, for I am not yet ascended to my Father" (2). He was telling her to release Him, because He was in a hurry to keep a heavenly appointment.
- In the same encounter with Mary, Jesus instructed her to tell the disciples, "I ascend" (John 20:17), apparently to be understood as the reason He was not coming to them directly.
- Soon after Jesus’ resurrection, perhaps at the same time He was meeting with Mary or with the other women, the supernatural world intruded upon life in Jerusalem in a marvelous way, although Matthew reports the incident offhandedly.
52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
As soon as the Father accepted Jesus’ blood as a sufficient sacrifice to recompense all sin forever, Jesus ascended His throne.
11 And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins:
12 But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God;
13 From henceforth expecting till his enemies be made his footstool.
Another text affirming this sequence of events is Hebrews 1:3. We conclude that the day of Jesus’ resurrection was also the day of His enthronement. Sitting down at the Father’s right hand brought Jesus' redemptive work to an end so that He could begin the work of building the church, the very work He announced in Matthew 16:18. For this reason, prophecy treats His promise of the church and His enthronement as related events.
Daniel 9:25 says that the enthronement would come sixty-nine weeks after the promise. The promise was on December 9, AD 31. If Jesus died on Friday, April 3, AD 33, His resurrection and enthronement transpired on the next Sunday, April 5. Thus, the interval between the two events we have drawn from the symbolism of Daniel 9:25—the word to build heavenly Jerusalem and the enthronement of Messiah the Prince—was 483 days, precisely the same as sixty-nine whole weeks.
Second Validation of the Solution
We have come to another amazing result, with profound significance in two respects.
- We have verified again that the main prophecy in Daniel 9:25 (the prophecy placing the coming of Christ sixty-nine weeks after the rebuilding of earthly Jerusalem) was fulfilled. It predicts that the Messiah would come during the month following December 8/9, AD 31. We argued that this December 9 was the date of the epic announcements recorded in Matthew 16, including Jesus’ promise to build His church. By recognizing the double meaning in Jerusalem, we discovered a second prophecy that sets Jesus’ enthronement 483 days later. By computation, the date was April 5, AD 33. The strong historical and chronological evidence confirming that this was indeed the date of the Resurrection, together with the Scriptural evidence that His enthronement took place on the same day, shows that the earlier date, December 9, AD 31, must be correct. Moreover, since the Transfiguration was indisputably six days after this earlier date, the same evidence shows that our date for the Transfiguration, December 14/15, must be correct also.
- We have discovered a scheme of intervals that must be supernatural. From the Book of Nehemiah, we learned that Nehemiah prayed during the month following November 17/18, 446 BC. From the study of New Testament chronology, we concluded that Jesus rose on April 5, AD 33. These two dates framing the historical period treated by the prophecy of the sixty-nine weeks are totally independent. Each rests on evidence and reasoning that in no way takes account of the other. Yet look at the relationship between them! From the first we obtain the second by moving forward in two simple steps: by sixty-nine prophetic weeks (coming to December 8/9, AD 31), then by sixty-nine ordinary weeks.
Could successive sixty-nine week intervals between the given date in 446 BC and the given date in AD 33 be mere coincidence? To calculate the probability that such a pattern could arise by chance would be impossible, since it would require unattainable information about all possible outcomes. Yet the calculation would also be unnecessary, for the probability is obviously minute, and it diminishes to infinitesimal if we attach the requirement that the events associated with the opening and terminal dates must fit the prophecy. We conclude that the scheme of intervals we have uncovered must not be accident, but design.