One the most challenges apocalyptic passages from the Book of Daniel is Daniel 9:24-27. Here we have God’s vision to Daniel about a “70 week” period wherein particular events will take place. Commentators disagree how to best understand various elements of this passage—you can find my sermon outline here. But the difficulties of the passage should not hinder us from missing out from the main message: God is going to show a wonderful display of mercy to His people, a mercy even better than what Daniel—or we—could have imagined.
The context of Daniel 9 helps us understand the passage. Daniel has been in exile for over 60 years and remembers that God had promised in Jeremiah 25:11 for the exile to last for 70 years. Daniel prays a prayer of confession of sin and request for mercy (Daniel 9:3-19). His hope is for God to show a mercy to His people and deliver them from captivity.
God responds by sending his angel Gabriel, who has a message for Daniel to hear in response to his prayer (Daniel 9:20-23). We see that God has indeed heard Daniel’s prayer! But what is surprising is how God answers: The exile will end, but something even better to the end of exile will take place. God is going to bring an end to sin, which led to the exile in the first place!
We see this in the vision of the 70 weeks, which are best understood as a theological or symbolic way of speaking about a future period of time—for more a more detailed argument for this view see my sermon outline or Sam Storms book “Kingdom Come.” Over the 70 weeks we learn that God is going to “finish the transgression, put an end to sin, atone for iniquity, and bring in everlasting righteousness” (Daniel 9:24b). This will occur as the Messiah comes; he will be “cut off” (9:24b), which speaks of Jesus’ death on the cross, but he will make a “covenant” with his people, which speaks of the New Covenant. Evil will rage, but in the end, God will defeat Satan, sin, and those who are opposed to God’s people and God’s designs (9:27b).
For those of us who are Christians in a suburban setting, this passage has much to say to us. Here’s two points.
First, we are reoriented to put our hope in God’s mercy. When God revealed to Daniel that He was not only going to bring an end to the exile, but sin itself, we see how amazing and powerful God’s mercy is. This confronts any tendency we have to put our hopes in suburban comforts (new bathroom, career advancement, children’s achievements). It also leads us to marvel at God and adore Him.
Second, we are led to be shaped by God’s mercy in our hearts. This passage shows God’s rich mercy toward sinners; we need this mercy; our kids need this mercy; our neighbors need this mercy; understanding how merciful God is toward us leads us to be merciful toward others.
The apocalyptic portions of the Bible have much to speak to us today.