How will we know when the final week has begun?

Exactly what event begins the last seven years? With what certainty can this be recognized?

The usual teaching is that the Antichrist signs a peace treaty with Israel. This is based on Dan 9:27.

27 And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate. Daniel 9:27

“Which covenant is in view?” has been the question that has occupied interpreters. Is it the covenant that God made with Israel on Sinai? Is it God’s covenant to give Abraham’s descendants the Land as an everlasting possession?. Or is it referring to the New Covenant established in Christ’s blood? Commentators of different schools of thought are quite divided.

So, how this verse is translated and interpreted becomes a very delicate matter, in light of nearly identical terms found within the book (e.g. Dan 8:11-14; 11:31; 12:11) as well as other places, whether the reference is to the desecration of the sanctuary (Ps 74:3, 7-8; Isa 63:18; 64:10-11; Mt 24:15; 2 Thess 2:4; Rev 11:2), or to the half week that begins with this event (Dan 7:25; 9:27; 12:7, 11; Rev 11:2-3; 12:6, 14; 13:5).

Whether the last seven years of Daniel’s 70th week is understood as past or future will depend on which of the two princes mentioned in the preceding two verses puts an end to the sacrifice (Dan 9:25-27). If it is Messiah, then the final seven years will be seen to follow the preceding 69 weeks in unbroken sequence. If, on the other hand, the sacrifice is stopped by the future man of lawlessness, then one must recognize a gap between the 69th and 70th weeks.

A gap between the Roman kingdom and the final Antichrist must be observed in chapters 2 & 7 of Daniel. In chapters 8 & 11, the leap is made between the divided Grecian kingdom and the final Antichrist. Rome is passed over.

In many places throughout scripture there is often this mingling and overlapping of near and distant events with no clear distinction of the time that would lapse between them. Often, contemporary events on the near horizon would be portrayed against the background of the climactic completion of the final day of the Lord. This often observed phenomenon, unique to Hebrew prophecy, has been called ‘the near and far” view of prophecy.

This, and the pattern of partial, first-fruits fulfillment that anticipates further completion in the future, lies at the heart of what the NT reveals as the mystery of the kingdom of God, and the mystery of the gospel that reveals an unseen period between the advents. It’s all about the unseen gap! This pattern of a first-fruits, partial fulfillment is seen in the blending of the prophecies that envisioned Israel’s first return from captivity and the ultimate millennial end of exile.

All of this is in perfect keeping with the mystery of Christ’s twofold coming, and the two great mysteries of incarnation that circumscribe this age. The first is the “mystery of godliness” (1 Tim 3:16), fulfilled in Christ’s incarnation and atoning death at the end of the 69th week. The second is what Paul calls, “the mystery of iniquity” (2 Thess 2:7). This is fulfilled when the spirit of Satan is fully manifest in the flesh of the risen beast, in the middle of the final seven years.

Nothing else so well explains the mystery of the gap as these two mysteries, which perfectly incarnate the woman’s seed in Jesus, and the serpent’s seed in the now-fully empowered man of sin (“all power” …2 Thess. 2:9). The age is appropriately bounded by these two climactic mysteries embodying the great enmity originally put between the two seeds.

This is not the place to enter upon a defense for the view that the 70th week of Daniel is yet future and that the one who removes the regular sacrifice is not the Messiah, but the self-exalting “prince who shall come” (Dan 9:26 with Dan 8:11; 11:31, 36-37; 12:11; 2 Thess 2:4). My question is to those who already take our view: What is the nature of this covenant that begins the seven years?

Is the covenant of Dan 9:27 a newly formed peace agreement, or is it a covenant that already exists? Does the one who ends the sacrifice make ‘a’ firm covenant? Or, does he make firm ‘the’ covenant (in the sense of strengthen, recognize, endorse, or cause to prevail)? On a strictly linguistic, technical basis, either translation is equally legitimate, but what does the context indicate?

Our first interest should be to discover how the word is used in all other instances within the book. We should also be very reluctant to conclude that the reference to the covenant would be something entirely different than Daniel’s first readers would have understood.

The covenant with which they were familiar is the “holy covenant” mentioned in Dan 9:4; 11:28, 30, 32. As understood at the time, this would include more than God’s covenant oath to Abraham concerning the Land, or His new covenant promise to Jeremiah. It would also include all the holy assignments and ordinances connected to the temple and the law.

We see this in the use of the term in Dan 9:4, where Israel’s violation of the covenant receives all the penalties threatened in Lev 26, Deut 28-32, and Dan 9:7-14. Clearly, Daniel’s first readers would have made no such dissociation between the covenant of Dan. 9:27 and the holy covenant mentioned in Dan 11:28, 30.

What then has inclined interpreters to so completely dissociate the covenant of Dan 9:27 from the holy covenant of Dan 11:28, 30? Since Paul so clearly cites Dan 11:36-37 in 2 Thess 2:4, there is usually little disagreement that the Antichrist and the final events of the end are in view from Dan 11:36 to the end of chapter 12.

With only a few very notable exceptions, the consensus among most contemporary academic commentaries is nearly monolithic: Dan 11:21-35 was all fulfilled within the 2nd century B.C., between the rise of Antiochus IV in 175 B.C. and the end of his persecution of the Jews (167-165 B.C.). This means that conservative scholars of all schools will usually (but not always) put the gap between verses 35 and 36.

Those who see the covenant as confirmed by Jesus consider it to be the everlasting/new covenant promised in the prophets, not the ‘holy covenant’ that was attacked by Antiochus. Accordingly, they see the covenant as a peace treaty or alliance signed by a future Antichrist, but make no connection at all between this and anything that could be called holy.

Others, most often those of liberal leaning in their view of prophecy, see Antiochus Epiphanes as the one who removes the sacrifice in all four references in Daniel (Dan 8:11; 9:27; 11:31; 12:11). For them, the covenant in view is the same throughout, as most readily recognized by Daniel’s first readers.

The discussion is too involved to enter upon a defense of our position at this point, but all lines of evidence, both from within the text and a careful reading of the documented history of Antiochus IV, lead us to conclude that many commentators have been far too hasty to assume that all the events of Dan 11:21-35 were entirely fulfilled in the person of Antiochus. Other scholars (some highly acclaimed – Jerome, Tregelles, Watson, Keil, Lang, Emerson) argue that many of the details of the text were not sufficiently met in the history of Antiochus’ rise and fall. This, of course, demands that we look for a future fulfillment.

Futurists very reasonably infer that the covenant is related to a peace agreement, since a number of scriptures show that the Antichrist invasion of the Land takes place at a time when the fledgling new nation is dwelling securely (Eze 38:8, 11, 14; 39:26, with Isa 28:15, 18; Dan 8:25; 11:21, 24; 1Thess 5:3).

Ezekiel depicts Israel as dwelling securely, enjoying millennial-like conditions. However, this security is very clearly not millennial, but a false security, since the attack by Gog ends, not with the eternal state, but with the day of the Lord (Eze 39:8 with Rev 16:17), the burying of bodies and burning of weapons (Eze 39:9-16), but most importantly with Israel’s final and complete redemption (Eze 39:22-29). This tells us that the invasion of Gog takes place before Israel comes to faith on the day of the Lord (Eze 39:8, 22 with Rev 16:14-17).

Furthermore, some translations of Eze 39:26 show this interval of security to be a period during which Israel’s sins increase, placing it in marked contrast to the righteousness that attends the security that will be Israel’s in the millennium. This raises the question: is this peace the result of the Antichrist’s support for the “holy covenant” that implies recognition of Israel’s right to the Land and acceptance of Jewish worship on the forbidden Temple Mount?

Isaiah will show that the final desolation comes when Jerusalem’s rulers will lightly dismiss the prophetic warning of impending invasion because they have (evidently very recently) entered into a “covenant with death and hell” (Isa 28:15-18). Paul is doubtless referring to these OT prophecies when he speaks of those who will be “saying ‘peace and safety’” when sudden destruction comes upon them like birth pangs upon a woman (1 Thess 5:3 with Isa 13:8; 26:16-17; 66:8; Mic 5:3; Jer 30:6-7; Dan 12:1).

Daniel, however, will speak of one who comes in ‘peaceably’ (KJV), “in time of security” (ASV), “in a time of tranquility” (NASU), “when its people feel secure” (NIV), and obtain the kingdom ‘by flatteries”, variously translated as fair words, intrigue (Dan 11:21). Depending on which translation best captures the meaning, it appears there is already some measure of security already existing in the region  when he comes to power.

Can we imagine this? Our translations differ, but the question will depend on whether we understand the best reading as “at a time of peace”, or “peaceably”. The translation that seems most consistent in its use of similar language in Dan 8:25; 11:21, 24 appears to indicate that perhaps not peace itself, but the promise of peace is being extended, but as a strategy of deceit, to obtain political advantage.

And after the league made with him he shall work deceitfully: for he shall come up, and shall become strong with a small people. Daniel 11:23

It appears that immediately after the fateful “league” is made with him, he begins to work deceitfully, and from the larger context, this deceitful working takes the form of plotting against the conditions that were caused to prevail by his confirmation of the covenant centered at Jerusalem.

If we are correct to interpret Dan 11:21-45 of the future Antichrist as only prefigured by Antiochus, it appears that this alliance takes place at the same time that he, with many others, confirms “the holy covenant”. This would seem to suggest that the covenant of Dan 9:27 is being confirmed at the same time that the alliance of Dan 11:23 is being made between the Antichrist, Israel, and evidently many other nations.

Commentators have also taken different views of the identity of the “many” in Dan 9:27. Is the covenant being ratified between Israel and the Antichrist only, or is this something that the Antichrist does together with other participating nations? We think the latter.

In any event, the single most important question, decisive for all else, is whether or not the covenant of Dan 9:27 is the “holy covenant” of Dan 11:28, 30.  We note that in both places, there is the abolition of the sacrifice. This is often overlooked by the popular view. The covenant in Dan 9:27 stands in the same connection with the sacrifice as the holy covenant in Dan 11:28-32. This must not be missed!

Therefore, if the taking away of the sacrifice in Dan 11:31 is the same event described in Dan 12:11, then how can it be reasonably denied that this is the event that begins the half week of Dan 7:25; 9:27; 12:7, 11? From Dan 12:1-2, 7, 11, it becomes clear that the half week ends in nothing short of the deliverance of Israel and the resurrection of the dead.  By solid, irrefutable exegesis, it is the same covenant violated by the same act of desecration.

But this brings the supreme paradox. How does the AC “confirm” (in the sense of approve or strengthen) a covenant that is holy if this is indeed the same covenant that he so vehemently hates and conspires to destroy? (Dan 11:23-24, 28-31). We are about to see why this is such a mystery that has defied clear resolution until these end days (Dan 12:4, 9).

Whatever else recognition of the holy covenant might include (such as Jewish right to the Land), it must also include the presence of the “holy place” in Jerusalem (Mt 24:15-16; 2 Thess 2:4). The standing again of the “temple of God” (2Thes 2:4) is certainly required if there is to be a sacrifice that is taken away only 3 ½ years (the half week) before the end (Dan 9:27; 12:1-2, 7, 11).

A comparison of texts within Daniel will show the following: the Antichrist begins as a “little horn” (Dan 7:8; 8:9). Is this metaphor only to indicate that he will arise in a kingdom that is lesser in size and strength than any of the four divisions of Alexander’s kingdom? If we observe the language of Dan 11:23, it seems that the term ‘little horn’ signifies a “small people”. This may suggest a kingdom that is even lesser in size and strength in its beginning than the ten kingdoms he unites in common cause against the covenant.

He comes from the north of Israel. According to Dan 8:9; 11:20-21, this could be anywhere within the general region of the ancient Seleucid (Syrian) empire that ruled from Damascus to Babylon.

Judging from the use of the prepositions in Dan 7:8, 24, it appears that the kingdom that gives rise to the Antichrist is one that comes up “among” the ten, sometime “after” they have already been established as kingdoms. Taken together, the evidence suggests that the Antichrist takes his rise in a fledgling new power after a predecessor has ruled only a “few days” (Dan 11:20). Nothing in history has adequately fulfilled these details of Daniel’s prophecy. Antiochus, whom most commentaries credit with fulfilling vs. 20, ruled, not a “few days” (even if taken metaphorically), but a full twelve years!

From the text, we see that after rising to power an ill-fated alliance is struck by Israel with the AC (Dan 11:23-24) – the proverbial ‘deal with the Devil’. Is this human alliance the same as the holy covenant that the Antichrist does not make, but only confirms? There is an important difference.

It appears that there are two sides to the arrangement: as part of a treacherous human alliance, the Antichrist apparently agrees to confirm (support and endorse) what the Jews regard as holy. This is something he personally hates and begins very shortly to plot against (Dan 11:23-24, 28-30).

On one side, it is confirmation of the holy covenant that recognizes Jewish right to land and temple service. On the other side, Jewish obedience has been made to depend on the frailty of a human alliance, this time the Antichrist himself. This is what Isaiah is calling an ill-fated “covenant with death and hell” (Isa 28:15, 18).

This resolves the paradox of how it is that something can be at once a covenant with death and hell where the Jews are concerned, yet show the great desolator who will take away the sacrifice to be one among many who confirms the holy covenant (Dan 9:27; 11:23).

[Note: Contrary to popular opinion, the anger of God does not burn against the Jews because some want to rebuild the temple and offer sacrifice according to the law. Far from it, His deep umbrage with them will be on the basis of what it has always been: trust in the arm of the flesh. This longstanding misplaced trust will at last sell them into the hand of the final Antichrist. It is the deadly presumption that lasting peace can exist apart from lasting righteousness, that is, the “everlasting” righteousness” (Dan 9:24) that can come only through the Spirit of “the Lord our righteousness” (Jer 23:5-6).]

For these reasons we are led to expect a multinational peace agreement between many nations. This particular peace must include within its provisions a formal recognition of the holy covenant. This will necessarily include, not only recognition of safe borders, but rights of access to the presently forbidden Temple Mount, particularly to attend to the service of the temple according to the law of Moses.

Many nations will oppose and rage against what the Antichrist with many nations have agreed to confirm. We know this because it is with such nations that the Antichrist will have secret intelligence, plotting to overthrow the covenant and recapture Jerusalem (Dan 11:28-30). We can safely add the word, “secret” intelligence, because it is plain from scripture that Israel will not be expecting the invasion of the united forces under the Antichrist.

As noted, some translations imply that the alliance with the AC takes place at a time of security (Dan 8:25; 11:21, 24). Others indicate only trickery and surprise. Even now, as of the recent “Abraham Accords”, regional nations, some of longstanding antagonism, are beginning to pursue normalized relations with Israel. So it is entirely possible that there will be a comparative measure of peace before the many confirm the covenant. It appears that the Antichrist is one among many who “confirm the covenant” (holy covenant) at the same time the “league” is being made with him (Dan 9:27; 11:23).

In this way something holy is being confirmed (supported, endorsed) by one who secretly (or perhaps not so secretly) despises what he has so recently confirmed. This is the great paradox! Little wonder it has not been more recognized by the exegetical commentaries. What scenario of political expediency could possibly incline the Antichrist to enter into an agreement (alliance / league) that will evidently entail his support for something that he vehemently hates and begins almost immediately to plot against? (Dan 11:23-34; 11:28-30). Does his compliance owe to some political pressure?, or, is this a planned strategy intended to pretend compliance until the passionately pursued opportunity presents itself?

If we are correct to identify the covenant of Dan 9:27 with the holy covenant of Dan 11:28, 30, it would appear that the holy covenant is confirmed at the same time certainly Israel, evidently with other nations, enter into the deadly “league” with the man who will prove their greatest adversary. This is the dark side, the “human” side of the agreement that is rightly called, “a covenant with death and hell,” precisely because its basis is a naive trust in man. This is the very deep contention that God has always had with His covenant nation.

So all scriptural evidence, duly considered, contemplates a two sided phenomenon that takes place paradoxically at the same time. This is how something can be at once a covenant with death and hell, even while unholy nations unite to confirm an ancient covenant that is holy. Most apparently, this is a multi-national agreement to recognize Jewish right to the Land of promise and freedom to practice their commanded worship in the appointed place. This will likely take place in connection with a human peace arrangement that will be enforced by a multinational peace keeping force.

But note carefully:

The peace that will be in place when the AC confirms the covenant to start the last seven years must be one that is completely without precedent. We know this because scripture shows that Israel’s guard is relaxed, leaving the nation quite unsuspecting of what’s about to hit them (Isa 28:15-18; Eze 38:8, 11, 14; 39:26; Dan 11:23-24; 1Thess 5:3). And not only Israel, but I speculate that this shock and the fire that the ten will bring upon the harlot (Rev 17:16) will doubtless include, not only Jerusalem, but the west, with even some of the moderate Arab nations that were favorable toward  the peace. This would include the Gulf States of the Arabian Peninsula (ancient Sheba and Dedan; see Eze 38:13), and most certainly Egypt (see Isa 19).

If, with all of this, one could remain uncertain of the time, it will soon enough become very clear that the covenant so lately confirmed by the Antichrist is the one that begins the seven years. This will be known by the starting again of the daily sacrifice. According to Dan 8:11-14, the sacrifice does not start immediately after the covenant is confirmed. It starts 2300 days (6 1/3 years) before the end, and is stopped 3 1/2 years before the end (Dan 12:7, 11).

This means the sacrifice begins somewhere between the eighth and tenth months of the first year after the covenant has been confirmed. The reason the exact time is not easy to fix is because the 2300 days do not end with the return of Jesus (the precise day and hour unknown), but with the “cleansing of the sanctuary” (Dan 8:13).

Since this point has most likely to do with the “anointing of the most holy place” as one of the end goals of Dan 9:24, the reference to cleansing the sanctuary seems to be part of the dedication ceremony of the new temple. Precisely where this event will fall within the mysterious extension of days in Dan 12:11-12 is difficult to say.

In all other instances where the sacrificed was stopped (Nebuchadnezzar; Antiochus, Titus), it had been in session for centuries. Unlike any of these examples, the sacrifice is one that has not been only recently restarted. Our interpretation of Dan 8:11-14 as future is further confirmed by the observation that the temple that the Antichrist enters to desecrate is one that has only recently come back into Jewish possession (see Isa 63:18; 64:10-11).

By this we know that well before the Antichrist invades Israel and enters the temple, the saints will have opportunity to see many things that will confirm that they have entered the final seven. This will be a tremendous gift to the body and the world. But for those who persist in unbelief in the face of such massive evidence of fulfilled prophecy will become much more accountable and without excuse.

It is another discussion, but knowing the time when it is ‘time to know the time’ will be an unspeakably invaluable gift to the saints. This is because of all that God has invested in the use he intends to make of that complete certainty when the time comes.

“When this agreement shall have been confirmed, the wise will know that the final Seven of years has commenced, that the end days are present, that the consummation of the age has arrived. They will expect the violation of the covenant after three years and a half, and will not be overwhelmed with surprise, have been told beforehand by this prophecy. Then will it be seen in fullness that the knowledge of the prophetic Scripture is simply priceless.” (G.H. Lang, “The Histories and Prophecies of Daniel”; 1940)

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