Chapter 9 is a prayer by Daniel, followed by Gabriel making another visit to interpret an apocalyptic scenario for him. This chapter is a prophetic speculator’s delight, specifically the last four verses. But if we are determined not to lose the forest for the trees, it’s very clear what’s being referred to.
Daniel starts by telling us he’s familiar with Jeremiah’s prophecy that “the desolation of Jerusalem would last 70 years.” He’s telling us this in the first year of Darius’ reign, so Babylon had fallen and the year would be 539 BC. In other words it’s time to go back, for the exiles to be exiled no more. But the promise God made was always contingent on Israel’s repentance, and turning from their wicked ways. So Daniel prays, and he confesses Israel’s sin (and his own), which is why Jerusalem lies desolate. His familiarity with Scripture means he knows exactly why all this has happened. If God’s people are treated according to their works, there will never be hope for the exiles, so he prays thus:
17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
Daniel mentions Moses twice in the preceding verses, referencing the blessings and curses of the law. The problem with Israel, and us, is that we can never obey the law perfectly, and thus enjoy the promised blessings. If all we have is the covenant of works, we are doomed.
Daniel seems to get that because he’s pleading with God to not treat them as their sin deserves. The problem for Daniel, and any other saint prior to Christ, is on what basis would God be merciful? Why would he forgive one transgression, and not another? Without Christ all you are left with is something like the God of Islam. You hope he’s merciful if you jump through all the right hoops, but you have the sneaking suspicion he won’t be. To us what might be his justice or his mercy seems completely arbitrary.
Thus the elegant beauty of the plan of Almighty God to make Jesus Christ the chief cornerstone of our salvation. No guesswork here:
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
13 No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven—the Son of Man. 14 Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.
Of course I could go on, and on, and on. Our salvation, and thus peace with God, is not based on what we do or don’t do, but what God has done for us in Christ! Now that is good news! The peace Isaiah mentions above means God’s wrath has been fully satisfied for us in Christ. He is no longer our judge, jury, and executioner, but our Father who loved us so much he gave up the life of his Son. Nothing arbitrary about that!
When we get to Gabriel’s interpretation of the vision, there is little need to speculate because he tells us what it all means:
24 “Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the Most Holy Place.
This is exactly what Jesus came to do, so whatever else these verses mean, and whatever the time frame might be, this is the end game, and exactly what Jesus accomplished.