Many people gladly read and relate the stories found in the earl chapters of Daniel. Children grow up with the three friends in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lion’s den. These are, after all, rollicking good stories that have an obvious lesson. Most people shy away from the second half of the book, though, because it is not as easy to understand. Most of the book, even though listing among the Writings by Jewish scholars, consists of symbolic prophecy. Some of it is not even symbolic, but a blow-by-blow account of Middle-Eastern history from Alexander to Augustus. Some try to interpret the prophecy to fit their own preconceptions, and end up making it even more confusing.
They key to understanding Daniel is knowing it is a unity. What is true of Daniel 2 (Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of a statue) is true for chapter seven and the rest of the book. This idea of unity can be said to hold true to other books of prophecy, as well. When the Revelation says that it is about things that are soon to happen, there is no reason to believe that everything from chapters 4-21 apply to our time. When Daniel is told by God that his prophecy lasts from the Babylonian through the Roman empires, there is no reason to believe that part of it applies outside of those constraints.
In chapter 2, Daniel interprets Nebuchadnezzar’s vision as representing four empires, starting with Nebuchadnezzar’s own. In chapter 7, Daniel is shown four beasts. In chapter 8 he sees four animals, and the first three are specifically identified as Babylon, Medo-Persia, and Greece. It is not difficult to understand that the four items in each of the three chapters refer to the same thing, and that three of the four are identified by name, so the fourth must be the next historical empire, Rome.
The problem for many people comes with chapter 9. At the end of this chapter Daniel is told of seventy weeks “to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.” (Dan 9:24) God even told Daniel when the seventy weeks were to begin: “from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem.” This is generally held to be a decree issued in 538 or 539 BC., so whatever the seventy weeks symbolize, they begin at about this date.
The prophecy is broken into two periods: sixty-nine weeks, and one week divided in two halves. Almost everyone takes the weeks to be symbolic, and (for no better reason that somebody said it was so) they take each day of the week to be a year. This becomes problematic, though, because that would put the coming of the Messiah at about 57 BC. The real problem, though, is that some people put a gap between the sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. Weeks 1-69 begin with the rebuilding of Jerusalem, but week 70 (or in some cases only the second half of that week) either recently started or have yet to start. This goes against everything else in the book.
How do you explain why there might be a gap in the timeline? You can’t. Why would anyone try to put a gap in the timeline? Perhaps to try to fit Daniel’s seventy weeks into a preconceived notion. Perhaps because they cannot accept that there is such a thing as fulfilled prophecy. Maybe they don’t see “everlasting righteousness.” Whatever the reason, stopping the clock is unreasonable.