Double Meaning of Jerusalem
Another way of proving that our date for the Transfiguration is exactly correct comes from viewing the prophecy of the sixty-nine weeks as 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 to Daniel. It is a poem cast in the form known as step parallelism. We are therefore entitled to look 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 study Daniel 2. There we learn that Nebuchadnezzar dreamed of a great image showing the succession of earthly kingdoms, but it did not stand forever. The time came when a great stone fell upon it—specifically, upon the feet—and reduced it to powder. The stone 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).
If we discussed the dream at length, we could show that the feet struck by the stone represent the system of human government existing at the time of Christ’s return—specifically, the one-world government under the Antichrist. The great stone that would crush and supplant the king¬dom of the Antichrist is a kingdom that Christ Himself would establish (v. 44). The violent event that would demolish the old order and introduce a new one is Christ’s future return in glory, when He would overthrow the Antichrist at the Battle of Armageddon.
But what does the mountain refer to? It represents Mt. Zion, or Jerusalem. We base this interpretation on Daniel’s use of the term “mountain” in his prayer some years after Nebuchadnezzar's dream, when He entreated God's favor upon his people and God responded by sending Gabriel with the prophecy of the seventy weeks. Twice in that prayer, Daniel refers to Jerusalem as the holy mountain of God (Dan. 9:16, 20).
In a veiled manner Daniel suggests 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.
The same double sense in the term "mountain" stands out plainly in Daniel 2. As the source of the stone, the mountain is earthly Jerusalem, the physical place where God created a people for Himself. As the ultimate form of the stone, 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 Israel, the church sees Jerusalem as its home city. It was born there on the day of Pentecost. There Jesus carried out His redemptive work. Jerusalem was the spiritual home of 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 we must always limit ourselves to symbols that Scripture itself defines. For example, when used as a symbol, leaven is always evil, a star is always an angel, 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. Moreover, 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.” Yes, another prophecy is concealed beneath the obvious and well-known prophecy that we have already expounded. The oracle discloses that there would be sixty-nine weeks "from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build" not only the earthly city of Jerusalem, but also spiritual Jerusalem. "Commandment" can be translated simply as "word" and "restore" as "turn back" or "convert." Therefore, at the symbolic level of meaning, the initial event is 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 its future significance. 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 have the right character. The first was the Transfiguration. The second was 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 making 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 wear it openly, and He could not exercise kingly power so long as 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 exactly was Christ’s actual enthronement? It was on the same day as His resurrection. For several reasons, we believe that Easter Sunday was when Jesus broke the bonds of this world and rose into His Father’s presence for the first time since His incarnation.
- Why would He have waited any longer for a joyous reunion with the Father?
- On Sunday morning He forbade Mary Magdalene to touch Him because He had not yet ascended to the Father (John 20:17). Yet in the evening of the same day, He allowed other disciples to touch Him (Luke 24:39). Why the difference? In the meantime He must have traveled to the heavenly throne and completed whatever work demanded His body to be unspoiled by human touch. No doubt that work was to present His body and blood as the purchase price of His bride. Hints of this solemn transaction appear throughout the Book of Hebrews (Heb. 9:11-12, 24; 10:11-13).
- Soon after Jesus’ resurrection, perhaps at the same time He was meeting with Mary (John 20:11-18) or with the other women (Matt. 28:8-10), the supernatural intruded upon life in Jerusalem in an astounding way, although Matthew reports it 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’ redemptive work as sufficient grounds for justification of all who believe on Jesus, the Redeemer 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.
We conclude that the day of Jesus’ resurrection was also the day of His enthronement. Sitting down at the Father’s right hand brought His 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 Jesus’ promise of the church and Jesus’ enthronement as a logical sequence.
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 fell on Sunday, April 5, of the same year. 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 therefore 483 days, precisely the same as sixty-nine whole weeks.
A Pattern by Design
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 concerning the coming of Christ sixty-nine weeks after the rebuilding of the actual city—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 momentous 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 it is obvious that the probability must be infinitesimal. And the probability diminishes even further toward zero 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.