Matthew 18:21-22 Seventy Times Seven

When Peter asked the Lord how many times he should forgive a brother, he thought that 7 times would be enough. However, the Lord told him to forgive his brother seventy times seven times. What’s the significance of 490 times? Well, by studying the Old Testament we can find the answer to this question. The Lord’s answer has its basis in something that the Lord had done for Israel in the past.

In Lev 25:1-7, the Lord instructed Israel to give their land a Sabbath of rest every 7 years. In that year they couldn’t sow their fields, prune their vineyards, reap their harvests, or gather their grapes. The land had to rest.

Israel was warned that if they did not hearken unto this commandment (Lev 26:21), they would be scattered into their enemies’ lands until the land enjoyed the Sabbaths of rest that God had commanded (Lev 26:33-35). God promised that they would be punished 7 times more for their sins (Lev 26:18).

Beginning with the reign of Saul, Israel began disobeying this commandment. Saul put the people and the land under such a tribute that the people could no longer afford to quit producing off of their land for one year out of seven (1 Sam 8:9-18). Even in the reign of Solomon, the king’s provision was very high, forcing the people to keep producing through the 7th year to compensate for his high provision (1 Ki 4:22-24).

Israel’s disregard for the seven year sabbaths continued through the reign of every king thereafter. By the time of Jeremiah’s ministry, Israel had skipped 70 sabbaths. These 70 sabbaths amounted to a total of 490 years of disobedience against the Lord’s commandment (Jer 25:9-12; 2 Chr 36:20-21; Dan 9:2). Thus, the Lord had forgiven Israel “seventy times seven” before he allowed Nebuchadnezzar to attack Israel. Saul began his reign in 1096 BC and Nebuchadnezzar attacked in 606 BC. The difference is 490 years.

It is this period of 70 weeks x 7 that Daniel uses to calculate the time to the 2nd Coming of Jesus Christ in Dan 9:24-27. Each day in the week stands for a year and there is a separation between the 69th week and the 70th week. The end of the 69th week takes you to the crucifixion of Jesus (Dan 9:26, “shall Messiah be cut off”). The 70th week is the tribulation. The separation between the last two weeks accounts for the intervening period of the church age. The total period to the restoration of Israel is, therefore, 490 years, at which time God “shall take away their sins,” (Rom 11:25-27).