The Gospel according to Gabriel

The Gospel according to Gabriel Dan. 9:20-24 sermon notes I. Intro: Surprise! God Answers Prayer! Sometimes it surprises us when God answers our prayers, doesn’t it? Or maybe the surprise is really when he does exactly what we ask him to do. I am of the conviction that, for the child of God, for the Christian, there is no such thing as “unanswered prayer.” It’s a myth! At the same time, most of us know what it’s like to pray repeatedly, even for years, even for decades, perhaps for the salvation of a loved one, or for the healing of a friend, but nothing seems to change. Hold that common experience in tension with what the Bible teaches us. In the New Testament, at least 12 times we read promises that God will answer the prayers of his people. Especially in Jesus’s teaching, these promises are specifically in the context of recognizing God as our Father who is to be approached as a generous, loving Father who delights to dote on his kids. So, when we seem to be experiencing “the silence of God,” when God doesn’t seem to be responding to our requests, that can lead us to feel unloved, to question or doubt whether he really loves us. To increase the tension for just a moment, we should recognize that almost all of those promises have some kind of contextual limitation or condition attached to them. We have to pray “in faith” or “according to God’s will” or “in Jesus’s name,” for example. Also, it’s important to notice that there are about 30 verses in the Bible that speak of God not hearing or not answering prayer, or at least raise the question that one who prays might not be heard or answered. However, almost all of those verses are in the Old Testament, and almost all of them are in the context of God’s wrathful judgment against rebellious Israel. In Daniel 9, we find the prophet Daniel praying in exile under the judgment of God in Babylon. That doesn’t bode well for him to expect an answer! Yet, surprisingly, shockingly even, Daniel receives an immediate answer in the form of a visit from the angel Gabriel. Before we press into looking at the details of this angelic encounter, I want to resolve the tension I’ve maybe created for you. It’s important to remember that Israel’s covenant relationship with God reflected in the Old Testament included certain stipulations about how the people could pray and what kinds of responses they could expect from Yahweh their God. Yahweh’s refusal to hear or answer people’s prayers is an expression of his wrathful judgment against their sin. But Jesus endured God’s wrathful judgment against our sin in our place, so that God will never turn against us in wrathful judgment. Never. Thus, Christian prayer is different from Israelite prayer. Said differently, prayer for a person who relates to God on the basis of the Mosaic Covenant, the Old Covenant, “works” a certain way and has certain limitations, while prayer for a person who relates to God on the basis of the New Covenant, “works” differently. The prevalent threats that God will not listen to or hear the prayers of his people are gone. What about the tension in our experience? The old adage holds true: God may answer our prayers in one of three ways—yes, no, or wait. I would suggest a fourth that certainly rings true: “here’s something better instead.” For the Christian, our heavenly Father always responds to every prayer, to every request we make. He is eager to do good to us in every circumstance of our lives. He cares very much about his needy children. These are fundamental truths about God and about our relationship with God that we must believe as we approach him in prayer and wait for and seek to recognize his answers. But, for Daniel, there was no question about how God was answering his prayer. The angel came to instruct Daniel. As we read verses 20-23, Daniel will summarize what he’s been up to, so I’ll let him provide a review of what we looked at two weeks ago. But before we do that, let me summarize the message of Daniel 9: In response to Daniel’s prayer, God revealed the time when he would rescue his people from the exile of sin—completely by grace—by sending the Messiah to die for them, establishing the eternal New Covenant, and executing judgment against unbelieving Israel to fulfill the ultimate Jubilee. Now, let’s consider the arrival of Gabriel in verses 20-23. II. The Arrival of Gabriel (Dan. 9:20-23) While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my plea before Yahweh my God for the holy hill of my God, 21 while I was speaking in prayer, the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision at the first, came to me in swift flight at the time of the 20 evening sacrifice. 22 He made me understand, speaking with me and saying, “O Daniel, I have now come out to give you insight and understanding. 23 At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out, and I have come to tell it to you, for you are greatly loved. Therefore consider the word and understand the vision. The threefold subject of Daniel’s prayer is well-summarized here: Daniel’s own sin, Israel’s sin, and God’s holy hill. He had engaged in a kind of corporate confession, which he wrote down for us in verses 4-15. Even though the prophet Daniel remained faithful in exile, he recognizes his own genuine sinfulness, and he appropriately includes himself as part of the problem that caused the exile. Then, as we read in verses 16-19, he pleaded for grace from Yahweh. He acknowledges that neither he nor the people at large deserve for their God to act on their behalf. The Lord is rightly against them, as they have set themselves against him. Nevertheless, the prophet knows from his Bible that Yahweh the God of Israel is gracious and merciful, and so he appeals to God’s grace and mercy to bring the people back to Judah and Jerusalem, to enable them to rebuild the temple, and to bring blessing to the city of Jerusalem once again. And, we remember, Daniel was prompted to pray this way because he had been reading Jeremiah’s written records of the promises Yahweh had made indicating a 70-year time period that the Lord had set when he would bring judgment against Babylon and bring the Jewish people home from exile. Daniel knew that he had been in Babylon almost 70 years, and he watched with his own eyes as the Medo-Persian armies came in and conquered Babylon, and now Darius the Mede or Cyrus the Persian had established a new empire, the silver chest and arms seen in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream back in chapter 2, the lopsided bear in Daniel’s vision in chapter 7, and the mostrecently seen two-horned ram in his vision in chapter 8. Daniel was still praying—maybe he would’ve said more than what we have recorded in verses 4-19—when Gabriel suddenly arrived in Daniel’s presence. The prophet recognizes him from having seen him in one of his earlier visions. Gabriel was identified by name in the vision of chapter 8, but here Daniel may be indicating that he was the angel who spoke with him in the vision of chapter 7 as well. We need to address briefly the manner of Gabriel’s arrival, described in verse 21. The ESV has Gabriel “came to me in swift flight.” The NASB says Gabriel “came to me in my extreme weariness.” The NASB has probably got the better understanding here. The language of “swift flight” has led to unbiblical speculation about the possibility that angels have wings and that “flight” is their typical mode of transport. Daniel here describes him as a man, which probably implies that he didn’t perceive anything “inhuman” or “superhuman” about Gabriel’s appearance. Rather, Daniel is probably describing his own exhaustion. After all, he told us that he had been fasting, and the New Testament writers often use the language of laboring or struggling or agonizing in prayer, so it makes sense that he might be exhausted when Gabriel arrives to provide God’s answer. Gabriel doesn’t leave Daniel in suspense about why he’s come! At the end of Daniel’s prayer, he had pleaded with God to “delay not” or “hurry up”! Two weeks ago, I mentioned in passing that Daniel’s prayer takes about three minutes to read aloud; in verse 23, Gabriel says, “At the beginning of your pleas for mercy a word went out.” The Lord dispatched Gabriel with a message as Daniel began pleading for mercy, or pleading for grace! Thus, it took about three minutes for Gabriel to arrive from heaven to Daniel! He’s come both to encourage Daniel but also to help him understand. This suggests that Daniel lacks understanding, maybe even that he needs to be corrected in his misunderstanding. He had read Jeremiah’s words about 70 years, and he had concluded that the time for God to act in fulfillment of that prophecy and other prophecies having to do with the restoration of God’s people had almost arrived. Gabriel is going to tweak Daniel’s understanding. Could Daniel have been taking Jeremiah too literally? But first he encourages Daniel. Don’t you wish an angel would appear to you and tell you that you are greatly loved by God? No, don’t wish for that! That was a trick question! God has already proven how much he loves you. 1 John 4:9-10—“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” Romans 5:8—“but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Note the present tense there; God continues to show his love for us today through that event 2,000 years ago. Ephesians 2:4-7—“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” This is actually the only passage in all the Bible that uses the language of “great love,” and it is targeted to, directed at “us.” God feels and expresses a special, unique, covenant love for “us,” for believers, for his people that he does not feel and express for the world of unbelievers. Yes, God loves the world, and he sent his Son as a demonstration of that love for the world, but that demonstration of love culminates in the cross as a special act of love toward those who would believe in him. Can we fault him for loving his bride in a way that he doesn’t love other people? The phrase used in Daniel is different; the ESV, which says, “greatly loved,” is following the tradition of the King James Version. The NIV and NASB use the phrase “highly esteemed.” But the Christian Standard Bible has the clearest rendering: “you are treasured by God.” Daniel is like “a diamond in the rough,” to borrow a phrase from a Disney movie of my youth, a rare faithful person among the Jews in exile. Daniel might’ve questioned his own value or the value of his continued faithfulness as he and his people remained in exile. There is little evidence of God’s love for his people. And, on the flipside, there is little evidence of the people’s love for God either. But Daniel needs angelic encouragement at this point in a way that you and I should never need. If God never gave us another blessing in this life, if God allows us to suffer loss and to experience grief and to break under pressure and to face persecution, it would not be appropriate for us to call his love for us into question one little bit. Why not? Because of the cross, because of the gospel. Paul summarizes this gospel with four simple yet glorious words in Romans 8:31: “God is for us.” No matter what we experience in this life, Paul wants us to hold fast to this truth: God is for us. Suffering and loss is not an indication of God being against us. The rhetorical question Paul raises in Romans 8:32 presents the irrefutable and amazing logic of the gospel: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” God didn’t spare his own Son; God sacrificed, handed over his own eternally-beloved Son to be violently murdered, executed as a criminal in order to accomplish many things, six of which Gabriel reveals to Daniel in our passage, but one of the accomplishments was to prove a point, to prove to us believers that God is utterly committed to extending grace to us all the time, every moment of every day, in every circumstance we face, even the painful ones. Yes, Christian, you are greatly loved. When you need a reminder—and we all do need regular reminders, just not from an angel!—you only need to turn to the gospel, return to the cross, look at the cross. Before we dive into these difficult verses, I’d like to introduce a bit of lighthearted levity, for the good of my soul, as well as yours. When Alistair Begg came before his church preaching the book of Daniel and arrived at this passage, he had some important preliminary comments. I resonate very much with his sentiments, so let me quote him at length, though I won’t dare to imitate his Scottish accent: “I, having dealt with this for some considerable time now, have found to my great surprise and at times discouragement, that I am disagreeing with the interpretation of these verses done by my closest friends, whom I admire greatly. And then I’m encouraged by the fact that my closest friends disagree with each other. And then I realized that I actually disagree with myself!” He goes on, “Many people view these verses with such emphasis that as soon as you say what you believe about them, you will either be included in their will or removed from it immediately. In what follows, I reserve the right to change my mind…later this evening…and as often as necessary…for the rest of my life…until I finally settle the matter. What I’m now about to unfold for you will annoy some…disappoint others…confuse many…and perhaps encourage a few.” So now, without further ado, let us consider the seventy sevens and the sixfold solution as an answer to Daniel’s prayer. In Daniel 9:24, Gabriel provides a summary answer to Daniel’s prayer, which he will then elaborate in verses 2527. Let’s read verse 24 and then break it down into its parts. Our Bible translations may differ at a couple of important points. I’m reading from the ESV. III. Seventy Sevens and the Sixfold Solution (Dan. 9:24) “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place.” So, let’s begin by talking about the period of time Gabriel starts with. A. Seventy weeks = Seventy seven-year periods Seventy weeks, or, as the NIV more literally translates the phrase, “seventy sevens” is recognized by almost all students of Scripture to be indicating seventy seven-year periods. Many Bibles, even those that are not “study Bibles,” have some kind of footnote to explain this. The term translated “weeks” or “sevens” refers to “weeks of years.” Now, let’s not gloss over this point too quickly. Those who insist on literal interpretation of numbers and time periods in the book of Daniel should admit that we are not, in fact, taking this phrase literally when we understand it as referring to seventy seven-year periods. We are rightly recognizing that Gabriel is using a figure of speech. The reason we can confidently conclude that he means seventy seven-year periods is because there is one place in the Bible where the idea of a “week of years” appears. Leviticus 25, which we took time to look at last week, in the legislation regarding the Jubilee Year uses the extended phrase “weeks of years.” Leviticus 25:8 says, “You shall count seven weeks of years, seven times seven years, so that the time of the seven weeks of years shall give you forty-nine years.” This concept lies in the background of Gabriel’s statement here, and Daniel surely would’ve understood Gabriel to be referring to the idea of the Jubilee Year, even though the phrase used is not identical. Seventy seven-year periods, 490 years, would equal ten Jubilee Years, or a tenfold Jubilee, which could point toward the fulfillment of the purposes of the Jubilee Year, as we looked at last week. Regardless of their interpretation of the rest of the passage, most students of Scripture recognize this, though not all students of Scripture make much of it, whereas others, like myself, believe this is crucial for a proper understanding of the passage. Now, recall that Daniel had read in Jeremiah’s prophecies that seventy years were to pass “before the end of the desolations of Jerusalem.” That’s how he put it in verse 2 of this chapter. Seventy years has almost elapsed, but Gabriel here indicates that Daniel needs to push his gaze out further, much further. Not seventy years, but seventy seven-year periods, or 490 years. Daniel will see, sometime within the next few months after this encounter with Gabriel, King Cyrus of Persia grant permission for the Jews to return to Judah and Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. If Daniel didn’t receive this message from Gabriel, he would’ve continued to assume that all the rest of God’s promises associated with the return from exile in the messages of all the earlier prophets were about to come to pass as well. Gabriel corrects Daniel’s faulty expectations. A much longer period is going to be required. Even though God is going to fulfill his promises to bring the Jewish people back to the land and enable them to rebuild the temple, they will still be experiencing exile from God. They will still be under the rule of the pagan rulers of the Persian Empire and then later the Greek Empire and then the Roman Empire, despite almost a century of relative independence after the Maccabean Revolt in 164 BC. And, most importantly, throughout this entire period of time, they will still be under the judgment of God for their rebellion. That is the problem that Gabriel’s answer is intending to deal with, as we see in the sixfold solution that he supplies in the rest of the verse. As one writer puts it, “The physical return from exile gets the people out of Babylon, but the problem of getting Babylon out of the people must be dealt with by a second stage.” Before we look at those six goals or six aspects of God’s ultimate solution, much is often made about Gabriel’s statement that this answer has to do with “your people and your holy city.” These are the terms of Daniel’s concern in his prayer. He had confessed his own sin and the sin of his own people and pleaded for God’s blessing to return to the desolate city of Jerusalem. Often, folks want to emphasize that this must mean that what is announced in the rest of these verses must only deal with ethnic Jews, bloodline descendants of Abraham, Daniel’s “kinsmen according to the flesh,” to borrow a phrase from Paul. This insistence seems to be an attempt to prevent a reader from interpreting this passage as having its fulfillment within the confines of the church age. At this juncture, can I simply set this line of argumentation to the side by reminding us all that God’s people, the people of Israel, has never been a “bloodline people,” restricted to one ethnic line? If you need proof, consider Moses’s wife, Zipporah the Midianite, Rahab the Canaanite, Ruth the Moabite, and Uriah the Hittite, as well as all the legislation in the Mosaic Law that welcomes foreign sojourners to participate in Israel’s festivals, from Passover to the Day of Atonement, not to mention all the prophecies that envision other nations being joined to Israel in the context of the fulfillment of God’s restoration promises. With all that being said, Daniel’s concern is with his people, the Jewish people currently living in Babylon, under God’s judgment, and with the city of Jerusalem that lies empty and in ruins because of God’s judgment through the Babylonian armies, and Gabriel’s answer has immediate relevance for Daniel’s concern, but it pushes beyond Daniel’s immediate concern. After all, we can’t expect Daniel to still be around when the culmination of the seventy weeks arrives. So, let’s consider each of these six goals, six purposes, six outcomes of the seventy weeks period, one at a time. The way Gabriel sets this up, we are not to expect that these will be fulfilled gradually throughout the duration of the seventy weeks. Rather, the seventieth week is set up as the climax; during that week, God will accomplish these six things. B. To finish the transgression First, “to finish the transgression,” or, as the Christian Standard Bible has it, “to bring the rebellion to an end.” We saw this word for “transgression” or “rebellion” in chapter 8, where I argued it referred to the rebellion of the Jewish people during the Greek Empire that would result in God sending Antiochus IV Epiphanes to bring judgment against their rebellion. Their rebellion during that period reached its climactic point when they sought to fit in with the Greek culture, particularly when men among the Jewish leadership sought to surgically remove indications of their circumcision, expressing their embarrassment about the physical sign of their covenant relationship with God. The Lord mercifully and righteously brought judgment against Antiochus IV and allowed the Jews to rededicate the temple that he had desecrated and to gain a measured independence. But that was not the end of Jewish rebellion against God. We see it continuing during the Roman Empire, in the first century, and would it be too out of line to suggest that the climactic act of their rebellion against God, where they again crossed the line of no return, escalated even beyond where they had gone before, came to pass when they crucified the Messiah? Should we be surprised if we see the convergence of the fourth kingdom of the visions of this book with the seventieth week of the seventy weeks prophecy? The finishing of the rebellion—does that mean it’s over? Or does that mean that God deals with it climactically and finally? Or could it be similar to the language Jesus used against the Jewish leaders of his day, as recorded in Matthew 23:32-33, “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” The judgment to come against that generation of Jesus’s contemporaries was announced in Gabriel’s words, but, at the same time, right after Jesus chastises these Jewish leaders so harshly, he laments over the city, which will experience yet another desolation after Jesus is executed just outside that same rebellious city. Or, perhaps we should consider the flip side of this. To “finish the rebellion,” to stop rebelling, would be equivalent to repenting, would it not? So, could Gabriel be pointing to the day when God would grant repentance to the Jewish people? Isn’t that what’s needed for their alienation from God to end? And isn’t that what Jesus provides? The apostles said to some Jewish leaders in Acts 4:30-31, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” We’ll see the importance of that word “Leader” next week, where we’ll see that Peter was probably thinking of this passage in Daniel 9 as he addressed those rebellious Jewish leaders. Jesus granted repentance to Israel, to those within Israel who would receive that gift, through the preaching of the apostles, and he continues to do so through the church’s proclamation of the gospel today. The finishing of the transgression has already begun, and it began during the seventieth week of Gabriel’s message, but it is not yet complete. Let’s look at the second goal of this time span, “to end sin.” C. To end sin This is perhaps the one that most leads people to conclude that these purposes can’t yet have been fulfilled. Sin remains a problem for everybody on the planet, right? Christians still sin, Jews still sin, Gentiles still sin. Yet, the book of Hebrews seems to indicate that Jesus has indeed already “put an end to sin.” Consider Hebrews 9:24-28: 24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, [he’s talking about the Day of Atonement there] 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. The author is indicating that Jesus the Messiah has fulfilled the Day of Atonement for us who believe, Jew and Gentile alike. He dealt decisively and finally with sin, so that, when he returns, he won’t be dealing with sin. His first coming, particularly his death on the cross, “put away sin.” This is the significance of what we call “the scapegoat” from the Day of Atonement; the high priest would confess all the sins of all the people from the previous year—a quite generic confession, I’m sure—and he would place his hands on that goat’s head, symbolically transferring the guilt of the people onto that goat, and then he puts it away, sends it out of the camp into the wilderness, visually depicting the forgiveness of the people’s sins, separating the sin from the people “as far as the east is from the west,” as the psalmist would say. Jesus did that for you 2,000 years ago, and the author of Hebrews is indicating that that never has to be repeated. For Jewish people today, as well as for everyone else on the planet, if you want your sins forgiven by the one true God, you can only look to the crucified Messiah. You don’t have to look forward to his coming later; his arrival in the seventieth week has already taken place. For those of us who have received this forgiveness, we recognize and revel in (I hope!) the grandeur of God’s grace, but we also continue to wrestle with the continued presence of sin in our lives, what one writer many years ago referred to as “the impossible possibility.” If Jesus has put an end to sin, why is there still so much of it, not just in the world, but in my own life? The already-but-not-yet nature of the fulfillment of prophecy helps us understand that God really has put an end to the dominion of sin in the lives of all who trust in him. He really has forgiven us so that we are no longer and never will be guilty before God. Nevertheless, we are not yet free from the presence of sin; it is not yet true that we may relax the fight against sin in our own lives. The final transformation that totally removes sin from our experience will happen when he appears a second time to save us. The seventieth week is about salvation, and yet so many want to make it about judgment. There is, indeed, judgment related to the seventieth week, but it is not the main thing, as we’ll see next week. Let’s press on to the third goal to be accomplished at the culmination of this seventy-week period, “to atone for iniquity.” D. To atone for iniquity The word translated “iniquity” can refer to different aspects of our sinfulness, whether the actual commission of sins, or the guilt accrued before God because of our sin. But the fundamental meaning of the word seems to point to the twistedness of our very nature. Transgression, sin, iniquity—that trio of words certainly covers it all. But it’s the verbs in these phrases that are most important! What has to be done with regard to rebellion, sin, and iniquity? If this last one points to our fundamental twistedness, our basic brokenness, then surely the word “atone” is intended to provide the most comprehensive solution to the problem at hand. We’ve already pointed back to the Day of Atonement, and, as Daniel prays in exile, we must consider how much of a mess the people’s lives must’ve been not having had a Day of Atonement in at least 70 years. Think about it. For faithful Jews, at least, every year they would’ve looked forward to the tenth day of the seventh month as the divine reset day, where their relationship with God could start fresh. They could count on the gracious gift of animal sacrifices that God graciously instituted for the people, that God graciously chose to accept as payment for their sins—the hardly sufficient death of animals to stand in the place of the deserved death of sinful people—every year. Under the judgment of God, with no temple, no priests, no sacrifices, the people languished in exile, with the guilt of their sins just piling up, year after year. Even Daniel, among the tiny faithful remnant, still holding onto God’s promises, surely would’ve grieved the loss of the annual atonement sacrifices for his own sins. Now, Gabriel uses that wonderful word: atone! Oh, how bittersweet! Atonement is coming! Final, ultimate, wonderful, free atonement is coming! But not for seventy weeks of years. Could it possibly be retroactive? A discussion for another time, perhaps. Nevertheless, the promise is atonement for iniquity. We looked at Hebrews 9, which highlights Jesus’s fulfillment of the Day of Atonement sacrifices specifically. Consider also Paul’s words in Romans 3:23-25a: “23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” Paul states the universal problem of all humanity, Jew and Gentile alike, as plainly as anyone in the Bible: everybody sins and everybody lacks God’s glory. No one can see God’s glory; no one can affirm God’s glory; no one can celebrate God’s glory; no one can receive the benefits of or share in God’s glory. No Jew, no Gentile. Not Daniel, not Abraham, not Moses, not Paul, not you, and not me. How can that problem ever be remedied? Oh, thanks be to God through our Lord Jesus Christ! He solved the problem! He provided the solution in the seventieth week, as announced by the angel Gabriel to the prophet Daniel! He offers justification, a verdict of “righteous,” to sinners who deserve the verdict “guilty.” How can sinners, alienated from God’s glory, get that? Grace alone! God must give it as a gift! And he does give it as a gift! On what basis? How can he not be charged with being an unjust judge? If he’s handing out “righteous” verdicts to guilty sinners, how is he not the worst judge you ever heard of? Redemption! Jesus the Messiah paid the penalty due for my sins! How’d he do that? When did he do that? He did that 2,000 years ago, when God, the Judge, publicly presented him to the world—John said God sent his Son—as a propitiation. That’s not a word we use very much, and the Greek word Paul uses is not a word used very often either. He’s painting a very vivid picture for his audience with this word. So, here’s a picture to try to capture what Paul means. The Greek word Paul uses most normally refers to the lid of the ark of the covenant, what our English Bibles sometimes call “the mercy seat.” The ark of the covenant—and its lid, of course—located inside the Holy of Holies in the temple, would only be visible to one person once a year: the high priest on the Day of Atonement. In Leviticus 16, the high priest is instructed to take the blood from the sin offerings on the Day of Atonement and sprinkle some of it on the lid of the ark of the covenant, “the mercy seat.” Paul is saying that God has now, once and for all, presented Jesus publicly, for all to see—not just the high priest—as that lid with blood on it. Jesus is “the scapegoat,” carrying the guilt of our sin away; Jesus is the bull of the sin offering, dying to pay the penalty for our sins; Jesus is the lid of the ark of the covenant, the emblem of God’s presence in the temple, the very connecting point between God and his people. Recall from last week that the Jubilee Year begins with the Day of Atonement. Atonement then results in freedom for the people. Atonement is a complex idea in the Mosaic Law. It involves a substitutionary sacrifice that results in cleansing, forgiveness, and reconciliation. It also conveys the idea of the payment of a penalty and the turning away of God’s wrath. It is understandable why the NIV would go with a phrase like “sacrifice of atonement” in Romans 3:25, to try to broaden out the implications Paul is definitely wanting us to get. The English word “propitiation” focuses narrowly on the removal of God’s wrath, which is certainly a major aspect of atonement. However, both Gabriel and Paul intend to communicate the comprehensive understanding of atonement present in the Mosaic Law. In fact, it may be particularly significant to notice that the three words Gabriel uses for sin—transgression, sin, and iniquity—are featured in the Day of Atonement legislation in Leviticus 16 and in one other place: Isaiah’s prophecy about the Suffering Servant, which, of course, prophetically describes Jesus! So, then, “to atone for iniquity” is something accomplished by Jesus’s death 2,000 years ago, in the seventieth week of Gabriel’s time frame. Even here, we should recognize an already-but-not-yet fulfillment. To be sure, the sacrifice has already been made, once for all, never to be repeated. But the beneficiaries of that sacrifice remain; as Paul said, the “propitiation” must be “received by faith.” Thus, the ultimate Jubilee Year, the year of the Lord’s favor, the seventieth week, must continue until all the intended beneficiaries of the final Day of Atonement sacrifice have received its benefits by faith. Let’s move into the fourth goal presented for this seventy-week period, “to bring in everlasting righteousness.” E. To bring in everlasting righteousness Many students of Scripture see this one as standing as an impossible barrier to believing that all of these six goals could be accomplished prior to Jesus’s second coming and the inauguration of the Millennial Kingdom. However, the Bible speaks many times about people’s righteousness lasting forever, even from an Old Testament vantage point. Consider, for example, Psalm 112:9, referring to the man who fears the Lord: “He has distributed freely; he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever; his horn is exalted in honor.” Paul quotes this verse in 2 Corinthians 9:9 and applies it to Christians. Certainly, it is true that Gabriel is presenting this as an ultimate result of God’s work of grace in salvation. But isn’t it good and right to celebrate what we’ve seen already this morning regarding the verdict of righteousness offered to us as an everlasting gift of God’s grace? The reality that that “righteous” verdict will never, can never be appealed or overturned, forever, is good news indeed! When Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” I don’t think Paul wants us to envision becoming God’s righteousness at some point in the future; he seems, rather, to present this as a settled result of our trusting in Jesus, of having received God’s grace. Yes, like everything else we’ve looked at, of course there is an already-not-yet fulfillment of this “everlasting righteousness.” But God has certainly “brought it in” now! We, indeed, with the apostle Peter, “are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness [and righteousness alone] dwells.” Nevertheless, the Servant of Yahweh, the Servant of the Lord the prophet Isaiah sang and wrote about, the righteous one par excellence, has come, embodying God’s own everlasting righteousness in himself, enabling those who trust him to be counted righteous forever, and enabling those who trust him to live out true righteousness even now. Let’s press on to the fifth goal, “to seal both vision and prophet.” F. To seal both vision and prophet Gabriel utilizes a metaphor here, the image of “sealing.” What could it mean? Literally, the verb has to do with stamping a document to indicate authorship, the authority behind what is written. Sealing “vision” makes sense along these lines, as though God might stamp the written record of a prophetic vision, indicating that he sent the vision and the written description and explanation are validated as his own message. Sealing a document also has the sense of keeping it closed off so that only the intended recipients might read the contents. But it’s rare to find the object of this verb being a person. What would it mean to “seal a prophet”? And in the context of this prophetic word through the angel Gabriel, with its indications of finality, what could this imply? Could this refer to some final expression of prophecy that would come in the seventieth week? A final vision given to a final prophet to deliver God’s final word to his people, that would then be “sealed” in the sense of authorized somehow by God? Or, in a general extended application, could this “sealing” refer cryptically to the final fulfillment of all visionary and prophetic messages during the seventieth week? Or is this simply a way of communicating to the prophet that, when the seventieth week comes, there will be no more need for prophetic visions or prophetic words from God to his people? I remain uncertain and I dare not speculate further. Now, we come to the sixth and final goal, and it is perhaps the most uncertain of the six. G. To anoint the holiest The ESV has “to anoint a most holy place.” The 2011 NIV has “the Most Holy Place,” capitalized. The KJV has “the most Holy,” with just the word “holy” capitalized. Most of our English Bibles have a footnote at this point, indicating an alternative option. The ESV’s footnote indicates simply “or thing, or one.” The word “place” is not there in Hebrew. The phrase is literally “holy of holies,” which is the normal way Hebrew expresses the superlative, the greatest of something. So, Gabriel refers to anointing the holiest…place, the holiest…thing, or the holiest…person. Can we be sure about what he means? Most often, it is assumed that the temple in Jerusalem must be intended here. That would be connected to Daniel’s concern in his prayer for God’s “holy hill.” Certainly, rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem was something God promised to the exiles. But, as we’ve seen, Gabriel is pushing Daniel’s gaze way beyond the return to the land and the rebuilding of the temple. Thus, many believe this to be referring to the establishment and anointing of the socalled Millennial Temple. My question about that possibility is simply: if the Seventieth Week ends before the Millennium, how could Gabriel be referring to an event that won’t happen until after the seventy weeks period? In any case, I take it as an open question—and probably impossible to answer with any certainty—whether it would’ve made any sense to Daniel to think of anointing the holy of holies in the temple. The closest we get to even the possibility of anointing the temple or anointing the most holy place within the temple is with the instruction for constructing the tabernacle in the first place. In Exodus 40:9-11, we read of Yahweh commanding Moses to set up the tabernacle and anoint the whole tent structure, as well as anointing the altar and some of the other furniture that was to stand outside of the holy of holies. There is no instruction, however, to anoint the holy of holies itself. Now, perhaps I could be accused of splitting hairs. I’ll own it. But I believe the Spirit-inspired details matter, every jot and tittle and the lack thereof! Another detail in Hebrew remains important to me in this regard. There are eleven occasions in the Old Testament where the innermost room of the temple is referred to as “the holy of holies,” and in all eleven occasions the word “holies” has the Hebrew article. We could say it literally as “holy of the holies,” if that made any sense in English. Daniel has written the phrase as, literally and simply, “holy of holies,” no article, which is a phrase that appears, just like this, 20 other times in the Old Testament, and it never refers to the innermost room of the tabernacle or temple. This is not a slam-dunk case, okay? But, for me, it cautions against assuming, without any further evidence, that Gabriel intends to refer to a temple, and it opens the door wide enough to consider the alternative that has been a common understanding of this phrase throughout church history and even by some Jewish rabbis. That is: Gabriel is referring to the anointing of the most holiest (forgive the double superlative) person, the Anointed One par excellence, the Messiah, the Christ! This makes sense in this context because the Messiah becomes the main feature of the action described in the following verses. The accomplishments of the seventy weeks are centered around the coming and work of the Messiah! Consider the anointing of the Anointed One, as it’s presented in the New Testament. Peter addressed the Gentile Cornelius and his Gentile household, and we pick up his words in Acts 10:36: “As for the word that he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace through Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), 37 you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.” Oh, doesn’t this take us back to last week, where we considered Isaiah 61:1-2, and Jesus’s fulfillment of that prophecy, as indicated in Luke chapter 4? Peter was probably there for that synagogue-service in Nazareth, and he heard Jesus claim that the prophecy of Isaiah about the fulfillment of the ultimate proclamation of liberty to the captives, the fulfillment of the final and ultimate Jubilee was being fulfilled right then and there! Now, after months of preaching primarily to Jews, after months of seeing thousands upon thousands of Jews accept their Messiah, repent of their rebellion and sin, and experience the release of the Jubilee, Peter has to have a visionary experience to convince him that the Jubilee proclamation is for the Gentiles, too! IV. Conclusion: Gabriel’s Gospel is Paul’s Gospel Yes, Gabriel’s gospel is for Daniel’s people, and we’ll see next week what he has to say about Daniel’s “holy city” Jerusalem; the seventy weeks are for the Jews. But not for the Jews only, not for the Jews in exclusion of the Gentiles. No; Gabriel’s gospel, like Paul’s gospel—because they are the same gospel— “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Pastor Mitch Chase summarizes the point well: “The gospel message of Jesus’ person and work is a word of jubilee, of liberation from the power of sin and its wages. Through a new and greater exodus, Jesus led his people from the greatest captor and deepest exile. Because he conquered, we conquer. His victory and vindication become ours by grace through faith.” Daniel was concerned about the return of the Jews from their exile in Babylon, and he was right to pray his representative prayer of confession and to ask God to bring them back to the land. But the answer Gabriel provides points to the exile behind the exile, the larger exile that included and caused the exile of the Jews. Yahweh, the God of Israel, always intended to bring ultimate blessing to all nations through the one nation of Israel. Said differently: God intended to bring humanity back from its exile in connection with bringing Israel back from its exile. The return from exile Daniel was focused on was God’s means to a greater end. God’s plan to bring Adam’s descendants out of exile, to rescue humanity from slavery to Satan, sin, and death, included, as one necessary phase, bringing Abraham’s descendants out of exile, restoring them to their land in order to set the stage for the arrival of the Messiah, so that he would offer himself as the sacrifice to end all sacrifices, fulfilling the Day of Atonement, kicking off the final and eternal Jubilee, proclaiming permanent liberty to the captives, regardless of ethnicity. Next week, we’ll look at the way Gabriel divides up the seventy weeks, and we’ll zero in on the crucial event of the seventieth week, and we’ll see how everything else Gabriel says is connected to that crucial event.
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