Over the past two centuries, the book of Daniel has withstood more attacks on its authenticity than any other book in the Old Testament. Secular scholars and proponents of historical criticism not only collectively reject the traditional view that the book was written by the sixth century BC Judean exile and prophet Daniel, but even go so far as to claim that it was written in the mid-second century BC sometime after the Maccabean Revolt. By the end of this article, we will see that the desperate attempts of Satan’s ministers to discredit this precious book of prophecy are largely rooted in the fact that it is the only book in the entire Old Testament to have accurately foretold the exact year when the Messiah would arrive, centuries in advance. To the end that we might declare and make known this great truth, this article seeks to break down the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9 into small easily digestible bread crumbs.
What is the 70 Weeks prophecy of Daniel 9?
The book of Daniel contains many detailed prophetic visions which concern the end of the age and the second coming of Christ, making it what is essentially the Old Testament’s book of Revelation. Yet in addition to its many apocalyptic prophecies, it also contains an extremely detailed prophetic countdown to the Messiah’s first coming. The time frame given in this prophecy is so detailed that it literally predicts the precise year that the Messiah would arrive and then die, hundreds of years in advance. The prophecy I am referring to is the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9.
Context of the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9
Daniel prefaces the 70 weeks prophecy by stating that he received it after he had recently come to understand “by books” the number of the years in which God had said through the prophet Jeremiah that he would accomplish 70 years of desolation in Jerusalem (Dan. 9:2). Having just received understanding of this prophetic mystery, he kneels down and sets his face to seek the Lord in prayer (Dan. 9:3). It is while he is in the process of praying, confessing the sins of the nation, and interceding on behalf of his people–that the angel Gabriel suddenly appears to him to deliver the following prophetic word:
Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, 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. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined. And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.KJV, Daniel 9:25-27
Prophetic units of time
In order to decrypt the prophecy, it is necessary that we establish some very basic prophetic units of time that are consistent throughout the canon of Scripture. In the figurative language of prophecy, a day represents a year (Num. 14:34; Ezek. 4:6); while a week represents a period of seven years (Gen. 29:27-28). Having established this, we now have the ability to decode the units of time given in the prophetic declaration.
|Prophetic time unit||Literal time|
|7 weeks||49 years|
|62 weeks||434 years|
|1 week||7 years|
The angel Gabriel tells Daniel in the prophecy that a total of 70 weeks (490 years) are determined upon his people and upon Jerusalem. He states that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem, to “messiah the prince” will be a period of 7 weeks (49 years), followed by a period of 62 prophetic weeks (434 years). This comes out to a total of 69 weeks, or 483 years.
Which commandment to restore and build Jerusalem?
Thus Gabriel is declaring that there will be a 483 year countdown (49 years + 434 years = 483 years) to the arrival and death of the messiah, which will begin immediately when the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem is issued. Thus in theory all we need to do is identify what year the commandment to restore and rebuild Jerusalem went forth, and then we can simply tack on 483 years from that point to arrive at the exact year that the messiah would appear and “be cut off”. What seems like a simple solution is complicated by the fact that the Bible records a total of three different instances in which an official “commandment” was given with regard to the restoration and building of Jerusalem.
Cyrus’ decree (538/537 BC)
The first commandment appertaining to the restoration of Jerusalem came forth when Cyrus the Great issued a decree of liberation to the Jews after the fall of Babylon to the Medo-Persian Empire in 539 BC. This decree was issued in 538/7 BC, and it permitted and encouraged all Jews dwelling in the now Medo-Persian Empire to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. It was in response to this decree that the first wave of Jewish captives returned from Babylon to Jerusalem with Zerubbabel in 536 BC, and the foundation of the temple was laid. Various textual renderings of this decree (with only slight variation) can be found in 2 Chronicles 36, Ezra 1, and Jeremiah 52.
Darius’ decree (520 BC)
The work of rebuilding the temple following Cyrus’ initial decree was unfortunately frustrated by the Jews’ enemies (Ezra 4:4-16), which eventually resulted in the work being put on hold for a space of 16 years (Ezra 4:24). Finally, in 520 BC King Darius I searched the rolls of the archives, and found a copy of Cyrus’ decree which permitted and encouraged the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (Ezra 6:1-5). In response, he issued his own decree that year which essentially reaffirmed Cyrus’ initial decree from several years earlier (Ezra 6:6-12). Four years later in 516 BC, the temple was completed.
Artaxerxes’ decree (458/457 BC)
According to Ezra 7, in 458/7 BC King Artaxerxes issued a decree which permitted Ezra the scribe to lead another wave of Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem. This edict granted Ezra the authority: “. . . . to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem” according to the Law of Moses, and a close analysis of its wording reveals that it was geared toward the beautification of the Temple and the proper restoration of its worship (Ezra 7). The commands in this decree appertained strictly to the spiritual restoration of the community–a conclusion supported by the king’s appointment of Ezra, who was deemed to be “an expert” in the Law of Moses.
Why none of the above decrees fit the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9
Of the three edicts just described, the last one (of 458/7 BC) is the one that is most frequently identified as the one spoken of by the angel Gabriel in Daniel 9:25. Proponents of this view are quick to point out that when you add 483 years to 457 BC, it brings you to the year 26 AD–the year in which many scholars contend that Jesus would have begun his ministry.2 Secondly, it assumes that he was crucified in the year 30 AD rather than 33 AD.[/efn_note] In reality though, not one of the preceding three edicts fits with Gabriel’s prophetic description of “the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem,” because all three are concerned only with the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. They do not say a word about the physical reconstruction of the actual city of Jerusalem. This may seem like a trivial minute point, but the fact is that God is very specific with his word.
It is worth noting that the angel Gabriel never states that the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem will come by way of a decree of a secular king. He states only that a commandment (davar, literally: “a word”) to restore and build the city will go forth at some point in the future. We thus need not confine ourselves to the aforementioned three decrees when attempting to identify the issuing of this commandment. For indeed, the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem would not come in the form of a decree of a Persian monarch, as we are about to see.
Nehemiah gives the commandment to restore and rebuild Jerusalem
Over a decade after Artaxerxes’ issued his decree which permitted a band of exiles to return with Ezra to beautify the temple at Jerusalem, Nehemiah (who was serving as cup-bearer to the Persian king at this point) received word from certain Jewish exiles that the city of Jerusalem was still lying in ruins. Upon hearing this, Nehemiah is very grieved, and his depressed countenance catches the attention of King Artaxerxes, who asks him why he is sad. Nehemiah then informs the king of the news he has just received, in response to which he asks Nehemiah what he would request of him. To this Nehemiah replies that he might return to the city of his fathers to build it. The request is granted, a time is set, and Nehemiah sets out for Jerusalem.
In the following passage taken from the book which bears his name, Nehemiah provides a detailed record of his survey of the city of Jerusalem. Behold:
So I came to Jerusalem, and was there three days. And I arose in the night, I and some few men with me; neither told I any man what my God had put in my heart to do at Jerusalem: neither was there any beast with me, save the beast that I rode upon. And I went out by night by the gate of the valley, even before the dragon well, and to the dung port, and viewed the walls of Jerusalem, which were broken down, and the gates thereof were consumed with fire. Then I went on to the gate of the fountain, and to the king’s pool: but there was no place for the beast that was under me to pass. Then went I up in the night by the brook, and viewed the wall, and turned back, and entered by the gate of the valley, and so returned. And the rulers knew not whither I went, or what I did; neither had I as yet told it to the Jews, nor to the priests, nor to the nobles, nor to the rulers, nor to the rest that did the work. Then said I unto them, Ye see the distress that we are in, how Jerusalem lieth waste, and the gates thereof are burned with fire: come, and let us build up the wall of Jerusalem, that we be no more a reproach. Then I told them of the hand of my God which was good upon me; as also the king’s words that he had spoken unto me. And they said, Let us rise up and build. So they strengthened their hands for this good work.(KJV, Nehemiah 2:11-18)
As can be seen, the official commandment to restore and build Jerusalem came by the mouth of Nehemiah in 445/444 BC. One will recall that the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9 states that “the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.” (Dan. 9:25). Note that this very specific detail does not fit with any of the three edicts issued by the Persian kings. As previously stated, all of those decrees appertained exclusively to the restoration of the Temple at Jerusalem. Not one of them mentions anything about the restoration or reconstruction of the actual city of Jerusalem. On the other hand, Nehemiah’s exhortation to restore and build Jerusalem fits the prophetic description perfectly–as here the restoration and building appertains to the actual city of Jerusalem, as opposed to just the temple. Not only that, but the book of Nehemiah speaks specifically of the building of the wall, which was still in ruins in 445 BC.
Taken together, there is absolutely no doubt that the commandment “to restore and build Jerusalem” in the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9 refers to Nehemiah’s exhortation to rebuild the city–which is recorded in the book which bears his name. The certainty of this interpretation is even further affirmed by the fact that the rebuilding of the city under Nehemiah was vehemently opposed by the people of the land, who repeatedly troubled the Jews’ hands in rebuilding (Neh. 4:1-11). The situation was so intense that Nehemiah records that the builders had to stand by with a weapon in their hand while the construction was taking place (Neh. 4:13-21). Their determination and resilience would eventually pay off–and the city would be successfully rebuilt despite this constant barrage of fierce opposition. This is what the angel Gabriel was referring to in the 70 weeks prophecy when he stated that the street and wall would be rebuilt “even in troublous times” (Dan. 9:25).
Calculating the year of the Messiah’s arrival
Nehemiah’s mission dates to 445/444 BC. This is the year that “the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem” officially went forth. The Daniel 9 prophecy very clearly states that the messiah will appear and be cut off after a period of 7 weeks (49 years), and 62 weeks (434 years), from the time that the commandment is given to restore and build Jerusalem (Dan 9:25). The way the prophecy is worded infers that these two periods run consecutively, which gives us a grand total of 69 weeks, or 483 years, from the time that “the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem” goes forth, until the appearance and cutting off of the messiah. We will return to this question of why Gabriel subdivides the 69 weeks into two distinct periods of 7 and 62 weeks momentarily.
At first glance, it would appear that all we need to do to in order to calculate the year of the messiah’s arrival and death is simply add up 483 years from 445/444 BC. The only problem is that this is predicated on the assumption that a biblical year is equivalent to a 365.24219 day Gregorian year–which would be incorrect. Biblical prophecy always goes by a 360-day year.3 Thus, before we can make the calculation, we must first convert 483 biblical years to Gregorian years. This feat is easily accomplished with a some simple arithmetic:
483 biblical years x 360 days = 173,880 days
173,880 / 365.24209 = 476.067674 Gregorian calendar years
The math tells us that there are just over 476 Gregorian calendar years in 483 biblical years. Having made this crucial conversion, we are now ready to calculate the date of the messiah’s arrival and death according to the information supplied in the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9.
As you may have already noticed, there is some ambiguity about whether the commandment in Nehemiah dates to 445 BC or 444 BC. This uncertainty is based merely on how the twentieth year of Artaxerxes (Neh. 2:1) is counted. If we are to assume that it was 445 BC, then 476 years from that year takes us to the year 32 AD. If on the other hand we assume that it was given in 444 BC, then 476 years from that year takes us to the year 33 AD. Given this, it is very painfully obvious that the “messiah the prince” figure spoken of in the prophecy of Daniel 9 can only be referring to Jesus–who according to secular history was crucified sometime between 30 and 33 AD.4
But why the 7-62 division of the 69 weeks?
One will recall that the angel Gabriel divides the 70 weeks of the prophetic timeline into a period of 7 weeks, 62 weeks, and 1 week. This equates to a period of 49 years (48.2967206 Gregorian years), 434 years (427.770954 Gregorian years), and 7 years (6.89953151 Gregorian years). There is a chronological gap of unknown length between where the 69th week ends and the 70th one begins. This is because the crucifixion of Jesus extended salvation to the Gentiles, thus putting a temporary pause on God’s prophetic clock.5 However, the 7 weeks and 62 weeks which begin with the giving of the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem in 445/4 BC appear to run consecutively to one another. This raises the question as to why the angel even chooses to divide the 69 weeks into two distinct periods in the first place. Why not just say “after 69 weeks messiah will be cut off“?
The answer to this question is that some event of historical importance in the eyes of God obviously occurred 48 years after the commandment to restore and build Jerusalem went forth in 445/4 BC. However, 48.29 years from 445/444 BC takes one to the year 397/396 BC–neither of which particularly stands out as a year in which some extremely significant event occurred in Jerusalem or to the Jewish people. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that these years correspond with about the time that the last of the Old Testament literature (Chronicles and Malachi) are believed to have been written. Similarly, one will also recall how in the Daniel 9 prophecy, Gabriel explains to Daniel that the entire period of 70 weeks are determined for the fulfillment of a seven-fold list of objectives, one of which is: “to seal the vision and the prophecy” (Dan. 9:24). In light of both of these observations, it is probable that the year 397/396 BC signifies the official end of what is often referred to as “the Old Testament period.”
It is well known that what is often referred to as “the Old Testament period” ended around 400 BC. Obviously, we cannot be certain that the final book of the Old Testament was written in the year 400 BC, we just choose to say “about 400 BC” because its a nice round number. The roughly 430 year period between where the book of Malachi leaves off, and the ministry of John the Baptist picks back up is commonly referred to in Christian history as “the Intertestamental period”–which is believed to have been characterized by 430 years of prophetic silence. Indeed, the belief that the spirit of prophecy ceased in Israel after Malachi is found in both Jewish as well as Christian tradition.
In light of these observations, it is my own personal opinion that the year 397/396 BC marks the official close of the Old Testament period from heaven’s perspective. Whether this means that this was the year that Malachi actually penned the book of Malachi (and thereby unknowingly laid the capstone of the Old Testament canon), or whether this was the year that the Great Synagogue got together and officially defined the perimeters of the canon and standardized the Hebrew text of the Old Testament–I cannot say, as such specifics are not on record. But my own interpretation of the 7 weeks portion of the prophetic timeline is that something occurred in the year 397/396 BC, which caused this year to mark the official end of the Old Testament period from heaven’s perspective, and this is reflected in the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9. Here is an updated version of our timeline which charts the full prophetic timeline:
It is interesting to note that, just as there was a space of exactly 430 years between the time that Abraham received the divine promises, until the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai (Gal. 3:17; cf. Exod. 12:40-41), so too there was a space of exactly 430 years between the temporary cessation of prophecy in Israel in 396 AD, and the ministry of John the Baptist in 29 AD. The prophetic silence during the Intertestamental period appears to have lasted exactly 430 years!
Conclusion on the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9
As we have seen, the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9 very clearly and accurately foretold the appearing and death of the Messiah–nearly 600 years before it occurred. While the entire Bible is saturated with detailed messianic prophecies which could very clearly have only been fulfilled by Jesus, in no other book of the Old Testament will you find a detailed prophetic timeline which accurately foretells the exact year of the messiah’s arrival. This is something that is unique to the book of Daniel, and it is the reason why the book of Daniel has withstood more attacks on its authenticity over the past 200 years than any other book of the Old Testament. It is also why (at least in my opinion), the book was placed among the Ketuvim (“the Writings”) section of the Tanakh when the rabbinic establishment met and established the Jewish canon of the Hebrew Scriptures sometime near the close of the first century.6
The 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9 is the biggest reason that I reject the current prevailing consensus which says that the crucifixion occurred in the year 30 AD. I believe that God gave the prophecy of Daniel 9 for a reason, and I believe that the prophetic timeline it gives, when rightly divided and correctly interpreted, is very clear that the messiah would suddenly appear and then be cut off for the sins of the world in the year 33 AD.7 If this is correct, then this allows us to determine the exact date of the death of Jesus, as there is only one day that the crucifixion could have occurred in the year 33 AD, namely–Friday, April 3, 33 AD.
- This view is founded on two assumptions. First, it assumes that Jesus’ ministry was three and a half years in length1This particular assumption I agree with.
- The Bible tells us that the testimony of two or more is true (Deut. 19:15; Matt. 18:16; 2 Cor. 13:1; John 8:17). That the Bible goes by a 360-day year is attested first and foremost by a close comparison of the chronological information given in Genesis 7:11; 7:24; and 8:4. It is likewise also attested by the books of Daniel and Revelation, where a period of three and a half years (aka “time, times, and a half a time” (Dan. 7:25; 12:7; Rev. 12:14)) is indicated to be equal to 1,260 days, which would only be possible if a biblical year is 360 days (360 + 720 + 180 = 1,260).
- It is worth noting that the years 31 and 32 AD have been frequently ruled out as potential candidates for the year of crucifixion by various historians and scholars, based on the observation that the Passover did not fall on a Friday in those years. From this has arisen a general consensus that the Crucifixion could only have occurred in one of two years–either 30 or 33 AD, with most preferring the 30 AD crucifixion year.
- This pause of the prophetic clock was actually prophesied in the book of Micah (Mic. 5:3).
- After the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus–the 70 weeks prophecy of Daniel 9 became a big flashing prophetic arrow pointing directly at Jesus, thus threatening the agenda of the fathers of post-temple rabbinic Judaism. The only way to get around it was to entirely reject the notion that Daniel was a prophet, or that his book was a prophetic in nature.
- For even more convincing evidence that this interpretation is correct, read my article on the Daniel 9 Bible code.