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The 70 week prophecy is one of the most amazing prophecies of the Bible because it pinpoints the exact years the Messiah would begin his ministry and be put to death.
The prophecy was written by Daniel, a Hebrew exile in Babylon, who lived over 500 years before Christ was born.
We know that the prophecy was written before the time of Christ because it is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls which date to the second century B.C.
Various ancient records can be used to accurately date the start of the prophecy. Historical data confirms when Christ's ministry began and his death in fulfilment of the prophecy.
According to Daniel 9:24-25 a period of seventy weeks were apportioned for the Jews to finish transgression and make an end of sins. This can be considered a period of probation for the nation of Israel. The exile to Babylon had been caused by idolatry, oppression of the poor and Sabbath breaking, but now the people were being given another chance, they would return to their homeland and the city would be rebuilt.
Before the people went into exile, Jeremiah said they would be in exile for seventy years (Jer. 25:11-12; 29:10). Daniel was aware of this prophecy and knew the time must be close for its fulfillment (Daniel 9:2), so he was fasting and praying that God would forgive the people and return them from exile as He had promised.
The prophecy indicates that in the last week of the prophecy the Messiah would come and be cut off in the midst of the final week.
Before going into details this chart helps to give a summary of the prophecy:
The period of seventy weeks begins with a decree to rebuild and restore Jerusalem (Daniel 9:24-25). The question is which decree is the prophecy referring to?
The initial decree of Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4; Isaiah 45:1) to allow the exiles to return allowed for the rebuilding of the temple but the city itself was not restored at this time. The city was all broken down and the people chose to live outside Jerusalem.
Another decree was made by Darius I (Ezra 6:1-5) but this only confirmed what Cyrus had ordered and allowed the construction of the temple to continue. Work on the temple had ceased because of opposition. It was completed in the reign of Darius I.
It was not until the time of Artaxerxes I that a decree was made that allowed a measure of independence for the city, with the appointing of magistrates, and the enforcing of Jewish law (Ezra 7:12-26). This led to the city being rebuilt, but again opposition hindered the work until the time of Nehemiah when it was completed (see the book of Nehemiah).
There were two stages to both the rebuilding of the temple and the city:
The rebuilding of the temple:
phase 1: first return of exiles, work begins but stops because of opposition (Ezra 1-4) (538 BC)
phase 2: temple completed (Ezra 5-6) (515 BC)
The rebuilding of the city:
phase 1: return of exiles under Ezra (Ezra 7-8) (457 BC)
phase 2: Nehemiah completes the rebuilding of the city (Nehemiah 1-6) (444 BC)
The secular kings were as follows:
Cyrus 539-530 BC [temple rebuilding started 538 BC]
Cambyses 530-522 BC
(False Smerdis - only ruled for about 6 months, slain by Darius I)
Darius I 522-486 BC [temple finished 515 BC]
Xerxes (Ahasuerus) 486-465 BC [time of Esther (1:1)]
Artaxerxes I 465-423 BC [Ezra returns, temple embellished and city legally established 457 BC; Nehemiah returns and finishes work on the city walls 444 BC]
Darius II 423-405 BC
Artaxerxes II 405-359 BC
From this data the decree which led to the restoration of the city was that made in the seventh year of Artaxerxes.
The date for his seventh year can be calculated using several ancient records including Olympiad dates, Ptolemy's cannon, Elephantine papyri and Babylonian cuneiform tablets. Some of these records contain astronomical observations so it is possible to pinpoint with accuracy the relevant dates.
Ptolemy's cannon contains records of eclipses which helps to establish the regnal years of the kings. Also there is a surviving Babylonian record of astronomical observations for the whole of Nebuchadnezzar's 37th year [April 568 - April 567], the sequence described would not be repeated for centuries, if ever.
It must also be taken into account that there was no universal calendar in ancient times; the calendar started at different times of the year (spring, autumn or December).
The Jewish calendar in the time of Artaxerxes used an autumn civil calendar which is shown from Nehemiah 1:1; 2:1 because Kislev [Nov/Dec] preceded Nisan [Mar/Apr] in the same year, which is impossible in a spring calendar as it begins with Nisan. The autumn calendar began with Tishri [Sep/Oct]. The spring calendar was used for religious festivals.
When taking this into account the 7th year of Artaxerxes would have been from the autumn 458-457 BC.
Ezra arrived in Jerusalem in the fifth month of 457 BC (July or August) (Ezra 7:8) and the decree would have been put into effect after he arrived. So we can start the prophecy from the autumn of 457 BC.
The seventy weeks are divided into 7 + 62 + 1 weeks. This way of describing time suggests that it is symbolic or prophetic time.
The longest time prophecy is that of the 2300 days in Daniel 8; a prophecy which spans kingdoms and therefore cannot be limited to literal days.
In Leviticus 25:1-8 the jubilee is called "seven sabbaths of years". Here each day of the week is used for a year, making 49 years.
In Numbers 14:34 for each day the prophets spied out the land, they spent a year in the wilderness.
Literally translated: "According to the number of the days which you spied out the land, forty days, day for the year, day for the year [yom lassanah yom lassanah], you shall bear your evil forty years."
In Ezekiel 4:4-6 the same expression "day for the year, day for the year" is used [yom lassanah yom lassanah].
From this we can derive what is known as the year/day principle where one prophetic day = one literal year.
The term "days" is often used for years in the Bible, e.g. Gen. 6:3 his days shall be one hundred and twenty years, or 1 Kings 1:1 David was advanced in days (= years).
The seventy years of exile in Babylon is linked to the seventy weeks because the seventy years was a period of ten sabbatical years when the land enjoyed her sabbaths (2 Chr. 36:21). The seventy weeks is a jubilee period; 10 jubilees = 490 years, which is sevenfold greater than the seventy years of exile.
From the second century BC Jewish writers understood that the seventy weeks referred to weeks of years or four hundred and ninety years. Sometimes this was expressed as ten jubilees of forty nine years. Even though these writings are not considered canonical or part of the Scriptures, it does show that they understood that the weeks of Daniel were weeks of years.
The Essenes at Qumran in the 1st century BC understood this principle, and some of them referred to Daniel's seventy weeks as ten jubilees.
In the Testaments of Levi he speaks of seventy weeks of priestly wickedness which equate to ten jubilees although he only goes up to the seventh. In the Qumran 11 Q Melchizedek seventy weeks are rearranged as ten jubilees. In 4 Q 384-390 Pseudo-Ezekiel we have ten jubilees. In 4 Q 180-181 The Ages of Creation we have seventy weeks when Azazel leads Israel into sin and to forget God's commandments, although the year day principle is not stated here, clearly he is not referring to a literal seventy weeks.
In summary, each week of the seventh weeks represents a period of seven years.
70 weeks = 490 literal years
According to the prophecy the Messiah would come after 7 + 62 weeks (Daniel 9:25-27).
The punctuation in the Masoeretic text puts the comma after 7, but in the Greek LXX after 62. In the original manuscripts there would have been no punctuation. However, there is a chiastic structure in the text which alternates between the city and the Messiah which suggests that both 7 and 62 weeks belong to the Messiah. Hence the Messiah would arrive after 69 weeks.
A1 the coming of the Messiah (7 weeks + 62 weeks from the decree to rebuild the city)
B1 the construction of the city
A2 the death of the Messiah (cut off after the 62 weeks)
B2 the destruction of the city
A3 the covenant with the Messiah (sacrifices and offerings cease in the midst of the final week)
B3 the destruction of the city
Unfortunately the exact date of Christ's death was lost in history, and astronomical calculations cannot be relied upon because of the ancient method of observing a crescent moon to start the month. Because this leaves an error margin of more than a day, top astronomers including Neugebauer have said one has to rely upon contemporary records.
The interval between the new moon and the crescent moon appearing can vary from 1-4 days, and poor visibility could delay the observance of the crescent moon.
However, we do know that Pilate was proconsul from 26-36 AD. And we also have a reference to the 15th year of Tiberius connected with the start of John the Baptist and Jesus' ministry (Luke 3:1-4:1).
There was no uniform calendar at this time, and the Jewish civil calendar began the year in the autumn, and by the time of Christ they were using the non-accession system which counted the first part of a kings reign until the new year as year one.
Using the ancient Jewish civil calendar the 15th year of Tiberius would begin in the autumn of AD 27. The Interpreters Dictionary of the Bible agrees with this (Harold W. Hoehner, "Chronology of the N.T., The,").
John records four feasts during the ministry of Jesus, three of which are Passovers (John 2:13; 5:1; 6:4; 12:1) which means his ministry lasted 3-4 years.
Jesus was crucified on a Friday, Nisan 14 when the Passover lamb was slain. Although astronomical data cannot be relied upon, they can give an approximation of possible years a Friday Nisan 14 would have occurred:
AD 30 crescent moon = approx. March 25, Nisan 14 = Friday April 7
AD 31 crescent moon = approx. April 14, Nisan 14 = Friday April 27
AD 33 crescent moon = approx. March 21, Nisan 14 = Friday April 3
Biblical Research Institute (www.adventistbiblicalresearch.org):
b) Daniel and Revelation Committee Series, Biblical Research Institute (Volumes 1-3)
Secrets of Daniel: Wisdom and Dreams of a Jewish Prince in Exile, Jacques B. Doukhan
Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Volume 4 and 5
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