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. The angel's entire message is united by poetic structure, of the type known as step parallelism. Symbolism is a common feature of poetry both in the Bible and in all other literary traditions.
In our discussion of Daniel 2 we argued that the mountain in Nebuchadnezzar's dream represents Mt. Zion, or Jerusalem. We based this interpretation on Daniel's use of the term "mountain" in his prayer some years later recorded in Daniel 9. Twice, in verses 16 and 20, Daniel refers to Jerusalem as the holy mountain of God.
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 prominently in Daniel 2. 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 whole 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 Daniel's perspective, the people of God were the godly in Israel. 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 single spiritual body uniting these believers, both Israelite and gentile, is known as the church. It is therefore appropriate, upon recognizing Jerusalem in Daniel 9 as a symbol for the people of God, to identify them more particularly as the church. Indeed, 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.
Likewise 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.
Here, 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
If we come to Daniel 9:25 with eyes open to symbolism, we find another prophecy concealed beneath the obvious and well-known prophecy that we have already expounded. The oracle implies that there would be sixty-nine weeks "from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build" not only the actual 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 word obviously intended is Jesus' announcement in Matthew 16:18 that "upon this rock I will build my church." By our reckoning, the date was December 8/9, AD 31.
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 revealed Jesus as Messiah the Prince? The wording "unto the Messiah the Prince" is deliberately vague to allow more than one fulfillment. As we have seen, it aptly describes the Transfiguration. But just as aptly, it describes Jesus' no less significant appearing at the Resurrection.
According to the Old Testament, the Messiah was the man who would save us from sin. The work of salvation was finished when Jesus rose from the dead. Therefore, the Resurrection marked Jesus as the One whom the church could embrace as the Messiah—in other words, as the One who succeeded in rescuing the church from sin and hell.
At the Transfiguration, Jesus was first seen as King, but at the Resurrection, He was first seen exercising His kingly power (Rom. 1:14), especially His power to build the church as He promised. This work started when He ascended to the Father and presented His body as a sacrifice for sins. His body then became the invisible, universal church to which all believers are joined. As a result of union with His body, they will live forever, as He will live forever.
Some might object that it is improper to find double meaning in Daniel 9:25—the first a prophecy about the city Jerusalem, the second about the church. But let them remember that double meaning is a common feature of Bible prophecy. The prime example is Malachi 4:5, which refers both to John the Baptist and to one of the two witnesses who will appear during the seventieth week. Let them remember too that Daniel solved the riddle on the wall at Belshazzar's feast only by recognizing that the words had double meaning. "TEKEL," for example, meant either "weighed" or "found wanting." "PERES" meant either "divided" or "Persian." Since the prophecy of the sixty-nine weeks is manifestly another riddle, we must allow the possibility that it contains double meaning also.
Convergence of Prophecy and History
The second prophecy we have unearthed from Daniel 9:25 refers to a sixty-nine week interval that opens with Jesus' promise to build the church and closes with the Resurrection. Since both events lie within the lifetime of one man, we must assume that the weeks are ordinary weeks.
Was the prophecy fulfilled? From the date of Nehemiah's prayer, we deduced that the Messiah would come during the month following December 8/9, AD 31. Then we made an assumption—that this was the day when Jesus announced the Transfiguration. Since this assumption yields a solution of the prophecy that Scripture urges us to understand, it must be correct. We made also a second assumption, which now becomes critical—that on this same day came the other three momentous announcements recorded in Matthew 16, all connected with the completion of the sixty-nine weeks. That is, on December 8/9, AD 31, Jesus revealed four great truths: He was the Christ, He would build His church, He would undergo suffering and death, and He would soon come in His kingdom. We provided evidence from the other Synoptic Gospels that the second assumption is correct.
The opening date of the sixty-nine weeks pertaining to spiritual Jerusalem was therefore December 8/9, AD 31. If the Crucifixion fell on April 3, AD 33, the date of the Resurrection was April 5 of the same year. The lapse between the date in AD 31 and the date of the Resurrection is exactly 483 days, or sixty-nine ordinary 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 was the date of the momentous declarations recorded in Matthew 16, including Jesus' announcement that He would build His church. By recognizing the double meaning in Jerusalem, we discovered a second prophecy that sets the Resurrection 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 shows that the earlier date, December 8/9, 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. The two dates 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.
Significance of the Sixty-Nine Weeks
We have discovered that the prophecies combined in Daniel 9:25-26 yield specific dates for several key events in the ministry of Christ. The stunning verification of these dates by historical evidence wonderfully displays the truth of the Bible.
Let us summarize the case establishing that these prophecies were perfectly fulfilled. When interpreted carefully and in context, Daniel 9:25 predicts that the Messiah would come during the month following December 8/9, AD 31. Various clues in the Gospels link His coming with the Transfiguration and pinpoint the date as December 14/15, AD 31.
Daniel 9:26 predicts that He would be cut off after sixty-two weeks following His coming. The implication, given the last-mentioned date, is that He would be cut off on February 21/22, AD 33. The prophecy is evidently referring to His official condemnation by the Sanhedrin, an event recorded in the Gospel of John. The Talmud states that the interval between His condemnation and His death was forty days. A broad range of evidence in the Gospels and extra-Biblical sources confirms that Jesus died on April 3, AD 33, just forty days after February 21/22, AD 33.
Under the cloak of symbolism Daniel 9:25 presents a second prophecy, setting sixty-nine weeks between Jesus' promise to build His church and Jesus' resurrection. The evidence that leads us to date the Crucifixion as April 3, AD 33, implies that the Resurrection fell on April 5 of the same year. The date preceding it by sixty-nine ordinary weeks was December 8/9, AD 31—the very date that the main prophecy in Daniel 9:25 yields as the opening day of the month when the Messiah would appear. In dating the Transfiguration, we assumed that this was the day when Jesus announced His imminent coming. The Gospel narrative reveals that on the very same day, He also announced His intent to build the church.
The convergence we have found between prophecy and history cannot be dismissed as mere coincidence. The prophecy of the sixty-nine weeks is clearly supernatural in origin. In all of the world's literature apart from the Bible, there is no prophecy that correctly specifies the nature and timing of unusual events hundreds of years in the future. Yet this is exactly what Daniel 9:25 achieves—prediction of when something would happen centuries later. To find such a prediction, we have not departed from the rules of good exegesis. We have not tinkered with the meanings of any words or manufactured any clues or flubbed any calculations or distorted any data. Thus, the prophecy of the sixty-nine weeks is in itself enough to establish, first, that the Bible is the Word of God and, secondly, that the One who came at the appointed time was the promised Messiah.