In Daniel 9:24-27 Gabriel gave him the prophecy of seventy weeks:
“Seventy weeks are decreed on your people and on your holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity. To bring in everlasting righteousness, and seal up the vision and prophecy. And to anoint the most Holy.
Know therefore and understand, that from the giving of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, shall be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be rebuilt, and the wall, even in troublesome times.
And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for himself. And the people of the prince who shall come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.
The end thereof will be with a flood.
And until the end of the war desolations are decreed. And he will confirm a covenant with many for one week; and in the middle of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and offering to be stopped. And on the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate. Until the destruction that is decreed is poured out on the one that caused the desolation.”
Those are not weeks, as meaning seven days. They are weeks of years. (70 x 7 = 490 years)
The Hebrew word for week (Shabuwa) literally means seven. It is the context that determines whether it is referring to seven weeks, or seven years. In this context it is used to denote groups of seven years, similar to the English use of the word decade to denote a group of ten years.
Gabriel indicated to Daniel by the way he divided the seventy weeks of years into seven weeks, and three score and two weeks, leaving one more to make the seventy; that they were not going to run consecutively. They would be divided into three separate periods:
1. 7 weeks of years = 49 years.
2. 62 weeks of years = 434 years.
3. 1 week of years = 7 years.
In his seminal work – The Coming Prince, published in 1895, Sir Robert Anderson made an interpretation of this prophecy that became written in stone for many eschatologists. In his book, he joins the 7 and 62 weeks of years together, making them one period of 483 years. Then by using the 360-day lunar year (that he calls a prophetic year) starting from the decree of Artaxerxes I Longimanus in 445BC, he comes up with the date 32AD. He wrote:
The Julian date of that 10th Nisan was Sunday the 6th April, A.D. 32. What then was the length of the period intervening between the issuing of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the public advent of ‘Messiah the Prince,’ — between the 14th March, B.C. 445, and the 6th April, A.D. 32? THE INTERVAL CONTAINED EXACTLY AND TO THE VERY DAY 173,880 DAYS, OR SEVEN TIMES SIXTY-NINE PROPHETIC YEARS OF 360 DAYS, the first sixty-nine weeks of Gabriel’s prophecy.”
By “public advent of Messiah the Prince,” Sir Robert is referring to Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. The day celebrated as Palm Sunday.
Sir Robert ignores the separation of the first two periods, but acknowledges that of the third. He also misses the fact that God said it would be Cyrus, not Artaxerxes, who would enact his command to rebuild.
Decrees made by kings of the Medo-Persian Empire were irrevocable, even by the king who made them. Recall how Darius could find no way of cancelling his own decree that condemned Daniel to the lion’s den (Daniel 6:14-15). Artaxerxes decree of 445BC was merely a reiteration of Cyrus’ original. He was seeing to it that his predecessor’s wishes were fulfilled. If we are to correctly understand this prophecy we must find an explanation that takes these facts into account.
The first seven weeks of years began with the destruction of Solomon’s temple and Jerusalem in 587BC, as prophesied by Isaiah and Jeremiah.
In 2 Kings 25:8 and Jeremiah 52:12-14, both give an account of Jerusalem and the Temple being destroyed during a period of four days, from the 7th through the 10th day of the month of Av, the 5th month on the Hebrew calendar. The commonly agreed date of the Temple’s destruction is 9th Av. That date in 587BC falls during early August on the Gregorian calendar.
In the first year of the reign of Cyrus king of Persia, so that the word of the Lord from the mouth of Jeremiah would be fulfilled, the Lord moved the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, to make a written proclamation throughout his kingdom declaring: “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia. The Lord God of heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth. And he has commanded me to build his house in Jerusalem that is in Judah. Who among you are his people? Let them go there. And may the Lord God be with them” (2 Chronicles 36:22-23).
The command mentioned in Daniel 9:25, was given by God through his prophets, Isaiah and Jeremiah. Some commentators insist that the command to rebuild Jerusalem was not given until Artaxerxes I Longimanus declared it in 445BC. But Isaiah clearly said that God decreed that Cyrus would be the man who would say, “Let it be rebuilt.”
“Who says of Cyrus, “he is my shepherd, he shall accomplish that which I desire.” Saying to Jerusalem, “let it be rebuilt,” And to the temple, “let its foundation be laid” (Isaiah 44:28, emphasis added).
There is no contradiction in the various statements as to who said what. The fact that one of the witnesses only records Cyrus commanding that the temple be rebuilt doesn’t mean that witness is saying Cyrus didn’t also give the command for Jerusalem to be rebuilt. It only means that witness didn’t mention Jerusalem in their record of events.
The seven weeks of years ended with Cyrus’ decree, passed during 538 BC. That decree completed the maximum 49 lunar years the land could be out of the possession of its owners, and although it may not have been the beginning of an official jubilee year, the timing conforms to the jubilee law. We also see from the 2 Chronicles account above that Cyrus acknowledged that the command originally came from God.
“You shall consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim a release from debt for all the inhabitants of the land. It shall be a jubilee for you, and each of you shall return to your property, and to your family” (Leviticus 25:10).
So by the time they arrived back at Jerusalem during 537BC, they had completed seventy lunar years in exile, and it was the fiftieth year since the temple was destroyed.
At that point in time the prophetic clock stopped.
“The street shall be rebuilt, and the wall, even in troublesome times.”
Those “troublesome times” began soon after the Jews reached home. Chapter four of the book of Ezra records that opposition to building Jerusalem and the temple started during the reign of Cyrus and continued through the reign of Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), to whom those in opposition wrote accusations against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem. And the same during the days of Artaxerxes, who ordered the work stopped. Ezra recorded in chapter 4:24 that the building work on the temple and the city was stopped. And it didn’t start again until the second year of Darius, king of Persia.
“Give the command to make these men cease work on this city so that it may not be built until the order to do so is given by me. Hear me now; do not fail to do this. Why should this be allowed to damage the king’s interests? When a copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read out to Rehum, Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they rushed up to Jerusalem, and used force of arms to make the Jews cease work. 24 So the work on the house of God in Jerusalem ceased, and it remained that way until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia” (Ezra 4:21-24).
That has to be Darius I Hystaspes who ruled from 522 to 485 BC. The reason I say this has to be because it is recorded in Zechariah 4:9, that God declared that Zerubbabel laid the foundation of the temple, and would finish it. This is the same Zerubbabel who is recorded in Ezra chapter three, leaving for Jerusalem after the decree of Cyrus with the first group to return home. He is mentioned again in Ezra chapter five, resuming work on the temple. In Haggai 1:1-2 he is still involved in the building of the temple during the second year of the reign of Darius. He finished building it on 3rd Adar/February during the sixth year of Darius’ reign – 517BC (Ezra 6:15).
The reason I want to establish these facts is because some commentators point to Artaxerxes I Longimanus as being the king who ordered the building work on the temple stopped. This is not possible because it would mean the work resumed during the time of Darius II who reigned after Artaxerxes I Longimanus from 423 to 404 BC. That would make Zerubbabel around one hundred and fifty years old on the date of the temple’s completion.
I believe King Bardiya (or the usurper, depending on whose account is correct) who reigned for a few months between Cambyses II and Darius I Hystaspes, was this king Ezra chapter four, refers to as Artaxerxes. I am supported in this belief by Adam Clarke:
In the days of Artaxerxes – After the death of Cambyses, one of the Magi named Oropaestus by Trogus Pompeius, Smerdis by Herodotus, Mardus by Aeschylus, and Sphendatates by Ctesias, usurped the empire, feigning himself to be Smerdis, the brother of Cambyses, who had been put to death. This is the person named Artaxerxes in the text: or, following the Hebrew, Artachshasta. It is generally believed, that from the time of Cyrus the great, Xerxes and Artaxerxes were names assumed by the Persian sovereigns, whatever their names had been before. (Adam Clarke’s Bible Commentary)
Some modern-day secular historians favor Bardiya as being his throne name, and Tanyoxarces as his original name. It was this king, whom Ezra calls Artaxerxes; who ordered the building work stopped.
Darius I Hystaspes died in 485BC and Xerxes I ascended the throne. This is the king referred to as Ahasuerus in Ezra 4:6 and the book of Esther. It was during his reign that the “troublesome times” reached a critical stage, and a massacre of Jews planned by Haman was narrowly avoided.
“ The street shall be rebuilt, and the wall…”
I believe Gabriel’s reference to the rebuilding of the wall last in that sentence was significant. It was the last major project in the building work. But more important, the date of its dedication ceremony marks the time to start counting off the next period of sixty-two weeks of years.
Artaxerxes I Longimanus ascended the throne in 465 BC. Ezra chapter seven, records that during his seventh year on the throne he ordered the decoration of the temple and donated a great wealth of gifts. Thirteen years later in 445 BC Nehemiah chapter two, records him ordering the wall of Jerusalem rebuilt. As I have already explained, this wasn’t a new command. This was Artaxerxes seeing to it that Cyrus’ orders were carried out. It is recorded in Nehemiah 6:15 that the building work, was completed in fifty-two days, on the 25th Elul. That’s the Hebrew calendar’s sixth month, equivalent to September. However, it does not say the date it was started.
According to the historian: Titus Flavius Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews. XI, V, 6-7) Nehemiah travelled from Susa (Iran) to Babylon (Iraq), to find volunteers who would return with him. They would have needed time to set their affairs in order. (Sell property, complete work contracts and any other obligations.) Nehemiah also had to procure equipment and building materials. On his journey to Jerusalem he stopped over in Syria, Phoenicia, and Samaria. All this could reasonably have taken a few years.
Josephus puts his arrival in Jerusalem during the twenty-fifth year of Artaxerxes I Longimanus (440 BC). So the date they finished rebuilding the wall, recorded in Nehemiah 6:15 as 25th Elul (September) was probably 440 BC. That date isn’t vital to understanding the seventy weeks prophecy. I’ve included it purely to give an idea of the time period over which events unfolded. The rest of the book records a period during which the people rededicated themselves to the Lord, and repopulated Jerusalem. But it also records a date that is vital.
In Nehemiah 13:6 it is recorded that he wasn’t in Jerusalem when they dedicated the wall. He said, during that 32nd year of Artaxerxes reign (433 BC) that he had returned to the king of Babylon. Chapter nine records the people rededicating themselves on the twenty-fourth day of the seventh month that year. It was some time after that date, during the latter months of 433 BC that the people held the dedication ceremony for the wall.
The timing of that final act was what the angel Gabriel was bringing to our attention by describing a period of building during troublesome times that finished with the wall. “The street shall be rebuilt, and the wall, even in troublesome times.”
At that point the prophetic clock restarted: Counting down the second period of sixty-two weeks (434 lunar years).
434 x 360 = 156240 ÷ 365.25 = 427.7618 solar years
433 BC – 427 = 6 BC
0.7618 x 365.25 = 278 ÷ 30 = 9.26 months (Bringing us to September 6 BC.)
Recall that the wall’s dedication was done some time after the end of the Hebrew seventh month of 433 BC (October). Putting the 434-year fulfilment date around July 5 BC (solar calendar).
There are many scholars who believe that Jesus Christ was actually born somewhere between 4-6 BC. This belief is based on records that indicate King Herod, who had tried to kill Jesus as a child, died in 4 BC. The prophecy says he will be cut off (killed) after 62 weeks.
“And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself.”
Whilst in his thirties He was crucified and died as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind (John 3:16). Then he rose from the dead and was taken up to heaven from where he will return at the end of the 70th week.
Another fact that supports my interpretation of this prophecy is found in the story of the Magi, who travelled from the region that was formerly part of the Babylonian Empire, (today’s Iraq/Iran) to Bethlehem, looking for the prophesied king. These Magi understood Daniel’s prophecy. In fact I think it a virtual certainty they were a later generation of the Chaldeans whom Daniel had been made chief over by Nebuchadnezzar. They new it was about the birth of the Messiah, not his entry into Jerusalem.
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea during the days of Herod the king, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “where is he who has been born King of the Jews? We have seen his star in the East, and we have travelled here to worship him.” When King Herod heard about this, he became worried, and all Jerusalem with him” (Mathew 2:1-3).
If they had interpreted the prophecy as Sir Robert did, they would have been looking for a grown man in Jerusalem, not a child in Bethlehem.
There are a number of Jewish scholars who have criticized Sir Robert’s work for ignoring the separation of the first seven-week period from the second sixty-two weeks. I hope this sets the record straight. And I hope they can now see that Jesus Christ is indeed their Messiah.