Is there any way a rationalist can be convinced that the Bible is not just another religious book but the God-breathed Word of truth? The path that impressed me most is its audacious prophetic power. In fact, the prophet Daniel was told by the angel Gabriel (Daniel 9) the exact date on which the Messiah would come to Israel the first time.
Gabriel, answering Daniel’s prayer in Babylonian captivity came to reveal to Daniel what God planned to do with His Jewish people from that time in Babylon over 400 years before Jesus, all the way up to the terrible events of the last days–those days which I’m convinced we have even now entered into.
The book of Daniel, chapter 9 :24, reads: “Seventy sevens have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to restrain the transgression, to seal off sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to close off visions and prophesies, and to anoint the most holy place,” Gabriel told him.
“So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven units of seven and sixty-two units of seven; it will be rebuilt again, with streets and moat, even during times of distress. Then, after sixty-two units of seven the Messiah will be cut off and have no one, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.”
First off, what does Gabriel mean by the term “seventy sevens” or “seventy units of seven?” Some Bibles cite “weeks” but the actual Hebrew word used in chapter 9 is shavu-onim, which literally means “units of seven,” akin to our use of the word “dozens” for units of twelve. There’s no question this signifies a period of time, and by just multiplying it out, seventy times seven, we get 490. But 490 what? Days, weeks, months, years?
The Jews then and even today use a LUNAR calendar based on 360 days to the year, and adjust it by adding an extra month every six years. But when the word “year” is used for prophecy; it strictly means a span of 360 days. When in Jeremiah’s prophecy of the seventy years, the Hebrew word he used is shabu-yim, which is also based on the Hebrew root word for seven. So Daniel understood that Gabriel’s seventy sevens signified 490 years.
Other Scriptures confirm this same way of expressing units of seven as years (for example, see Gen.29:27, and Lev.25:8). So in Daniel 9, the time span given by the angel Gabriel was to be clearly understood as a period of 490 years. This is a crucial number because it gives us today, and the Jewish students of the Bible back then, a precise measure for knowing when the Jews could expect the Messiah. Remember, this prophecy by Daniel was written down more than 500 years before the event!
Let’s look again at Daniel 9: 24-26; the time periods given in verses 24-26 are divided into two parts. First, there are seven sevens (49 years) given for rebuilding the city of Jerusalem. This is followed by a period of 62 sevens (or 434 years) from the time that the order is given to rebuild the holy city Jerusalem to the appearance of Messiah the Prince.
When was the commandment issued to rebuild the city of Jerusalem? We find that in the book of Nehemiah, chapter 2, verses 5-8:
“And I said unto the king, If it please the king, and if thy servant have found favour in thy sight, that thou wouldest send me unto Judah, unto the city of my fathers’ sepulchres, that I may build it. And the king said unto me, (the queen also sitting by him,) For how long shall thy journey be? and when wilt thou return? So it pleased the king to send me; and I set him a time.
Moreover I said unto the king, If it please the king, let letters be given me to the governors beyond the river, that they may convey me over till I come into Judah; and a letter unto Asaph the keeper of the king’s forest, that he may give me timber to make beams for the gates of the palace which appertained to the house, and for the wall of the city, and for the house that I shall enter into. And the king granted me, according to the good hand of my God upon me.”
According to Nehemiah, that written permission was granted in the 20th reigning year of the Persian king Artaxerxes I, in the Hebrew month Nisan. Now that happens to be one of the best known dates in ancient history. TheEnyclopedia Brittanica, which is not all that crazy about Bible prophecy, tells us that Artaxerxes took the throne in 465 B.C.
Therefore the 20th year of his reign would be 445 B.C. Since no day is given, according to Jewish reckoning the date would be given as the first day of the month of Nisan. When we translate that to the Gregorian calendar used today, we get the date of March 14, 445 B.C.
The book of Nehemiah describes a series of delays in rebuilding the Jerusalem wall, caused mostly by enemy sieges and attacks, along with the small number of volunteers working on the task. According to the late, John Walvoord, former Chancellor of Dallas Theological Seminary, the rebuilding required one in ten Israelites to construct their own house in the Holy City. So the first “seven units of seven” or forty-nine years prophesied for the “street and the wall to be built again,” were literally fulfilled in 396 B.C.
The Roman historian Josephus recorded the troubles they had in rebuilding the city of Jerusalem. He wrote, “When the Ammonites and Moabites and Samaritans heard that the building went on apace, they took it heinously, and proceeded to lay snares for them, and to hinder their intentions. They also slew many of the Jews, and sought how they might destroy Nehemiah himself by hiring foreigners to kill him. But none of these things could deter Nehemiah from being diligent about the work.”
Joshephus describes how the workmen wore armor and carried swords at all times, with their shields a few feet away. Then the historian concludes that after 49 troublesome and agonizing years, the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its walls were completed in the year 396 B.C., exactly as the angel Gabriel had told Daniel it would be!
The prophecy also said it would be 70 sevens or 490 Hebrew years, sets the time for the appearance of “Messiah the Prince.” Starting at 445 B.C., since a Jewish year was 360 days, we must multiply 360 times 483 years, which gives us 173,880 days. Our modern Gregorian calendar is based on 365 days per year, plus a leap-year day every four. So we need to divide– 173,880 divided by 365 = 476.384 years.
There were 116 leap-year days (116 divided by 365 =0.318 years) Subtracting 0.318 years from 476.384 years = 476 years, 24 days. Adding 476 years, 24 days to March 14, 445 B.C. brings us to 31 A.D. Since only one year expired between 1 B.C. and 1 A.D., we must add one year, which gives us April 6, 32 A.D.
The most recent biblical scholarship tells us that April 6, 32 A.D. is the very day Jesus of Nazareth entered Jerusalem riding on a donkey to be proclaimed King of the Jews as the people yelled “Hosanna” and threw palm fronds at his feet.
Soon afterward, of course, Jesus was arrested and crucified, fulfilling Daniel’s prophesy that after the “sixty-two sevens, Messiah shall be cut off, but not for himself” (that is, not for any crimes He himself committed), which also fulfills ISAIAH’s prophesy in 53:8 which reads, “And He (the Messiah) was cut off out of the land of the living, for the transgression of my people to whom the stroke was due.”