Dr. Roderick C. Meredith wisely established a Council of Elders for the Living Church of God to discuss a variety of subjects that concern the Church. We often discuss how better to do the Work, how better to serve the members, and how to understand prophecy more clearly as we draw closer to the end of the age.
The tone of the council has always been the same. Dr. Meredith set an example of respecting the council members, and we respected him. I can happily report that the same mutual respect continues to the present. Does that mean that we all view every topic through the same eyes? The answer is found in a simple question: If everyone thought exactly the same on every topic, why would there be a need for a council? Or, as U.S. General George S. Patton put it, “If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking.”
Dr. Meredith was not the first to see the wisdom in having a council, as Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong had one before him. Gathering a multitude of counsel is a biblical admonition and an expression of God’s very character. “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). We also read that, “Without counsel, plans go awry, but in the multitude of counselors they are established” (Proverbs 15:22).
Our council is composed of members from different backgrounds with different talents. Some have greater technical knowledge, others have greater wisdom in how to use knowledge, and some are more familiar with ethnic customs that differ from those of Western culture. Concerning the importance of the last of those examples, if we discuss, say, proper attire for Sabbath services, it is critical to understand how “dressing up” is different in different cultures. “Anything goes” is not the mind of Christ, and Matthew 22:11–12 shows that certain standards are expected to be upheld. Appropriate attire in America or Britain is not the same today as it was in Jesus’ day, but every civilized culture has standards of decorum that must be maintained. Having men familiar with the different cultures within the Church today helps us communicate those standards with grace and clarity.
We discussed a wide range of topics during our May 2019 Council of Elders meetings, and there is one area of discussion that I particularly want to share with you. We talked with each other at length on the “70 Weeks Prophecy” of Daniel 9, a topic we have discussed numerous times over several years. We have traditionally understood the 70 weeks to begin with the decree of Artaxerxes in 457 B.C. From that time until the coming of the Messiah there would be a total of 69 weeks, meaning that Christ began His ministry in 27 A.D. (Each week has seven days, given the “day for a year” principle of prophecy—and remember that you must add one year when going from B.C. to A.D., as there is no year zero.)
The meaning of verse 27 is a bit more ambiguous. Is the subject here the Messiah or the Roman prince, both of whom are mentioned in verse 26? Or is this an example of prophetic duality?
One of the purposes of the 70th week was to fulfill the purposes stated in verse 24, including “mak[ing] reconciliation for iniquity.” This was accomplished during the first half of the 70th week by Christ’s sacrifice at the end of His three-and-a-half-year ministry, and this has been the teaching of God’s Church for decades. The last three purposes of verse 24 were not fulfilled in the first half of the 70th week, but will be fulfilled during the second half (three-and-a-half years) of the 70th week, which begins with the Second Coming (Revelation 11:15). The purposes of the 70th week are clearly stated in Daniel 9:24. We recognize that there will be a transition period, during which the ruling Jesus Christ puts down His enemies and establishes the New Covenant with Israel and Judah (Jeremiah 31:31–34; Hebrews 8:8–13; Hebrews 10:16–17). In the Millennium, the Messiah will anoint the “Most Holy,” or—as the Hebrew indicates—the “Most Holy Place.”
Verse 26 introduces a “prince who is to come.” This is not the Messiah, but one who destroys “the city and the sanctuary.” So when verse 27 says that “he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering,” it is not clear whether this refers to Christ, who was cut off in the middle of the week, ending the need for animal sacrifices, or whether it refers to a prince who makes a seven-year agreement with the Jews, which is broken after three-and-a-half years. Note that the capitalization of the pronouns—“he” and “He”—provide no clues; the original Hebrew did not possess capital letters, so those differences only reflect the interpretations of the translators.
A strong case can be made for either opinion, or for a combination of the two, which would be duality. The question has always been this: Is the Messiah or the prince the antecedent of “he” in verse 27? (An antecedent is an earlier word or phrase to which a pronoun refers.) Who is it that brings an end to sacrifice and offering?
We understand that Jesus’ ministry lasted about three-and-a-half years, half of a prophetic week. Jesus was cut off in the middle of the week—that is clear! However, the wording of Daniel 9:27 appears on the surface to refer to the prince, possibly referring to his cutting off of the sacrifices that are prophesied to be restarted and stopped before Christ’s return (Daniel 12:11; Mark 13:14). It is possible that both the prince and the Messiah are intended—a duality in prophecy—but this is far from certain.
Determining which understanding is correct is not as simple as it appears. There are numerous examples in Scripture where the antecedent of a pronoun is not always clear without investigation.
Take Exodus 34:28 as one example. “So he [Moses] was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he [Moses] neither ate bread nor drank water. And He [?] wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant.” Who wrote them—God or Moses? The immediate antecedent is clearly Moses, but the translators capitalized “He.” Why? Verse one of this chapter clarifies what otherwise would be an enigma. “And the Lord said to Moses, ‘Cut two tablets of stone like the first ones, and I [God] will write on [them]....’” Without this clarification, we could have a lively discussion about who wrote on the tablets!
Hebrews 12:17 contains a similar example: “For you know that afterward, when he [Esau] wanted to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no place for repentance, though he sought it diligently with tears.” Some think the antecedent of “it” is “repentance,” indicating that poor Esau diligently and tearfully sought repentance—but that is not correct. The antecedent for “it” in this case is the blessing. How do we know? Read Genesis 27:32–38.
A full discussion of Daniel 9:27 would require more attention than I can give here, but this is the point the Council and I want to convey: Many in both the Church and the world look for the countdown to the return of Christ to begin with a seven-year peace treaty (though the scripture does not say “peace treaty” but “a covenant”). Bible commentaries and many evangelicals are looking for this, but Daniel tells us that only the wise (those who keep God’s law) will understand (Daniel 12:10). Those looking specifically for a seven-year treaty may be wrong. Jesus instructed us to watch for the events He gave in the Olivet prophecy, and one of those events is the abomination of desolation being set up, as spoken of by Daniel (Matthew 24:15; Daniel 12:11).
It is evident that the full meaning of Daniel 9:26–27 is not completely clear at this time. We understand Jesus appeared at the end of 69 prophetic weeks, and that three-and-a-half years later—in the middle of a prophetic week—He was cut off and we no longer need to make animal sacrifices. Whether there is a duality to these verses, we do not know. If there is a duality, this means we have the seventieth week fulfilled by Christ and a totally separate week referring to what the Roman prince does.
To restate clearly, the Council of Elders upholds the traditional and longstanding teaching of the Church that Christ did fulfill the purposes of the first half of the seventieth week (see Daniel 9:24), and that the second half of the seventieth week begins with the Second Coming of Christ (Revelation 11:15). Concerning the question of a seven-year treaty (covenant) by a Roman prince, the Council feels it prudent to state we do not want to be dogmatic about it at this time.
Daniel points us to the fact that animal sacrifices will be stopped when the abomination of desolation occurs three years and seven months prior to the end of the age (Daniel 12:11). And Jesus tells us the abomination of desolation is a sign that it is time to flee. Therefore, we believe it is wise not to focus on a seven-year treaty, but on the clear statement of Scripture that the abomination of desolation and cessation of sacrifices begins the countdown of 1290 days to the end.