Seventy times seven
Daniel 9.24. 'A period of seventy sets of seven has been decreed for your people and your holy city to finish their rebellion, to put an end to their sin, to atone for their guilt, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to confirm the prophetic vision, and to anoint the Most Holy Place.'
This is the end of exile. The chapter starts with Daniel praying because he had read in the book of Jeremiah that the people of God would be in exile for seventy years (verse 2). The seventy years were almost up and he was praying for God's mercy (vv. 3-19).
Then Gabriel appeared to Daniel and gave him some instruction concerning his dream (vv. 20-23). The beginning of this instruction is found in verse 24, which I quoted above. Again, the idea here is that, first, it won't be at the end of the seventy years, but at the end of seventy sets of seven years, or four hundred-ninety years. That is when the 'end of exile' would actually take place. During that time, people will be returning to the land and start rebuilding the temple and city (v. 25). However, the exile won't be over. It will still be continuing. That is to say, the true exile won't be over. What is that exile? It is what Daniel was praying about -- the forgiveness of the sins of Israel.
Also, during this time, the 'Anointed One' would come to Jerusalem. But the 'Anointed One' would be 'killed, appearing to have accomplished nothing' (vv. 25-26a).
This is obviously a reference to the Messiah, as most scholars note. But what I want to focus in on is this idea of 'seventy sets of seven' or 'seventy times seven'. Gabriel said at the end of that time the exile of Israel would be over -- that her sins would be forgiven. And that during that time, the 'Anointed One' -- the Messiah -- would come. And this Messiah would bring about the Kingdom of God.
Fast forward to the time of Jesus. The expectation of the end of exile was electric in the air. We can catch glimpses of this within the Gospels. When the angel of the Lord came to Joseph, the angel told him that Jesus would 'save his people from their sins' (Matthew 1.21). And after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph brought him to the temple according to the Law of Moses. At that time, there was a man in Jerusalem named Simeon. The Lord had promised him that he would not die until he saw the Lord's Messiah. So, he was eagerly waiting for 'the Messiah to come and rescue Israel'. At that moment, when Mary and Joseph arrived with Jesus, the Holy Spirit 'led him to the Temple' (Luke 2.25-27). Once he saw Jesus, he took him and said, 'Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. I have seen your salvation, which you have prepared for all people.' (Luke 2.29-31).
Likewise, the prophet Anna was in the Temple. 'She came along just as Simeon was talking with Mary and Joseph, and she began praising God. She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem' (Luke 2.38).
So, again, we see that the expectancy of Israel at the time of Jesus was one of salvation and rescue. People were 'expecting . . . God to rescue Jerusalem'. They were awaiting the return from exile -- the forgiveness of their sins.
Furthermore, according to this belief, in addition to this, they also believed that this would be when YHWH would come back to Israel. Not only would Israel 'return' from exile, but her God, YHWH would return to his people. But, as Malachi wrote, '[Who] will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears?' (Malachi 3.2).
This isn't really where I was heading with this post. I was leading toward some of these elements but have gotten a little of course. My point was going to be this: The seventy times seven, the end of exile and the return of YHWH to Zion would usher in the Kingdom of God, the New Creation. Jesus shows up 'when the fullness of time had come'. That is, at the 'right time', the 'appointed time'. The time that was part of the plan of God all along. The climax of the story of Israel. It was at that time that Jesus came.
. . . hmm . . . interesting. I find it interesting that I am thinking about this during advent.
Anyway, what was Jesus doing? He was announcing the arrival of the long awaited Kingdom of God! He announced it by actions and words. He even gave rules (if you will) for the people living in the New Creation. One particular example is where I am going with this. In Matthew 18, we have this conversation:
Then Peter came to him and asked, “Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?”
“No, not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven!
“Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date with servants who had borrowed money from him. In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him millions of dollars. He couldn’t pay, so his master ordered that he be sold—along with his wife, his children, and everything he owned—to pay the debt.
“But the man fell down before his master and begged him, ‘Please, be patient with me, and I will pay it all.’ Then his master was filled with pity for him, and he released him and forgave his debt.
“But when the man left the king, he went to a fellow servant who owed him a few thousand dollars. He grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment.
“His fellow servant fell down before him and begged for a little more time. ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it,’ he pleaded. But his creditor wouldn’t wait. He had the man arrested and put in prison until the debt could be paid in full.
“When some of the other servants saw this, they were very upset. They went to the king and told him everything that had happened. Then the king called in the man he had forgiven and said, ‘You evil servant! I forgave you that tremendous debt because you pleaded with me. Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?’ Then the angry king sent the man to prison to be tortured until he had paid his entire debt.
“That’s what my heavenly Father will do to you if you refuse to forgive your brothers and sisters from your heart.”
Look again at the first few verses: 'Lord, how often should I forgive someone who sins against me? Seven times?' 'No, not seven times,' Jesus said, 'but seventy times seven!' Why is this significant? Could it be that the reason we should always forgive is because we are now living in New Creation? That the return from exile has come and that Israel's sins (and, therefore the rest of the world's sins) have been forgiven? I think so. Furthermore I think that is why Jesus gave the story. Notice he said, 'Therefore, the Kingdom of Heaven (or of God) can be compared to a king . . .' In other words, the reason we should forgive people of theirs sins is because that is what the Kingdom of God is all about! The exile is over! All debts have been canceled. And since we have been forgiven, so we should forgive others. Period. I think this is a non-negotiable principle. This is why St Paul can write that if Jesus hasn't been raised from the dead we 'are still guilty of [our] sins'. With the resurrection of Jesus, the 'seventy times seven' of Daniel 9 has been fulfilled and the New Creation was inaugurated. If we are members of that kingdom, we must forgive 'seventy times seven'. In other words, we should be the people of forgiveness. That this is our vocation is hardly in question either. Jesus said, 'As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven' (John 20.21-23).
In summary: Daniel was told that the end of exile would not be at the end of 'seventy years' but at the end of 'seventy times seven' years. At that time, all sin would be forgiven. And the Messiah would come. One of the things the Messiah would do is inaugurate the Kingdom of God. We see in the New Testament, that Jesus was the Messiah of Israel. Through his ministry he was ushering in the Kingdom of God. He was forgiving the sins of the people. When asked specifically about forgiving someone, Jesus said that we, as the people of God, we are to forgive 'seventy times seven'. Why? Because the exile is over! Because the Kingdom of God is the fulfillment of the 'seventy times seven' of Daniel 9. If we are 'in the Messiah' then we are 'in' the Kingdom of God. Our vocation is to continue giving the same forgiveness that God gave when he began New Creation. God has forgiven the sins of the world. Therefore we should do likewise.