Daniel’s Prophecy of the Seventy Weeks

Of all the Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, those recorded in the book of Daniel are perhaps the most detailed and panoramic. The crown jewel of Daniel’s prophetic utterances must surely be that of the Seventy Weeks, found at the end of chapter nine. This fascinating oracle lays out a detailed chronology of divinely determined events that lead to the end of this age and to the ultimate destiny of God’s people.

Humans have always been fascinated with knowing the future. Millions of dollars are wasted consulting so-called psychics, and those of us who are smart enough to avoid such obvious fraud can get sucked in by more subtle deceptions. In the last couple of decades a lot of attention has been given to Nostradamus, a supposed French prophet from the 14th century. The History Channel, for instance, loves to run Nostradamus programs where his supposed prophecies are expounded upon with great fanfare. And yet, when one actually reads these “prophecies” it becomes evident that it takes a great deal of imagination (and some occasional mistranslation of words) to make any sense of them. Scripture tells us that the essence of all true prophecy is the testimony of Jesus. We must therefore conclude that Nostradamus is a false prophet, for he makes no declaration of Christ.

How is it that in this culture of fascination with future events, one of the most amazingly accurate true prophets of all history remains hidden? The Hebrew man Daniel, taken captive by the Babylonians when he was a teenager, has given us a book of prophetic visions that are so sweeping and so accurate that they demand attention, and yet the vast majority of American are more familiar with Nostradamus than they are with Daniel. Perhaps this is to be expected of unbelievers, who are easily taken in by deception since they do not have any standard for discerning truth from falsehood; but what a shame it is that the majority of modern church members are more familiar with the quatrains of a false prophet than they are with Daniel’s prophecy of the Seventy Weeks!

This generation of pastors will stand before God and give an answer as to why they did not prepare their sheep for the cataclysmic events that will come upon the earth in these last days. When one considers that the Seventy Weeks prophecy predicts to the very day the revealing of Jesus as the Messiah, an event already past and stark proof of the accuracy of the prophecy, then there can be absolutely no excuse for casual indifference. Just as the religious leaders at the time of Jesus’ first coming will be judged for failing to give heed to the timeline of the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, so will modern pastors be held even more accountable because they are witnesses to the failure of the Pharisees. Let us now examine carefully this short passage of scripture and ask the Holy Spirit to enlighten us about its message.

The Context of the Prophecy

Daniel has been a captive in Babylon for most of his life, having been taken there as a teenager in the first group of captives when the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in 606 BC. He is now over 80 years old and has spent his life in service to Babylonian kings and yet he has remained faithful to the God of Israel. Daniel has discovered from his study of the prophecies of Jeremiah that seventy years of captivity of his people are coming to an end, and so he goes before God to confess his nation’s sin and wickedness. He is seeking God about what is to happen next. In the middle of his prayer, the angel Gabriel appears to him and delivers the words of the prophecy. The prophecy in its entirety is as follows:

“Seventy weeks are determined upon your people and upon the 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 sixty and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times.

And after sixty 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 desolator.” (Daniel 9: 24-27)

The Interpretation

There is a tremendous amount of spiritual warfare taking place over this passage. Few verses of scripture are as twisted, misinterpreted, and argued over as are these. The satanic powers do not want this message to be made known to God’s people! The angel commanded Daniel to “consider the matter” and “understand the vision.” We must not draw back from seeking to know the meaning of this prophecy! While it may seem confusing to the casual reader, this passage is not difficult to understand for those who approach it with an open heart and listening ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church. In this first of two articles, I will focus on the first part of the prophecy that has already been fulfilled with startling accuracy. In Part 2 we will consider the interpretation for the timeline yet to be fulfilled, and why there is a gap of time involved between the past part and the future part.

In order to understand the Seventy Weeks prophecy we must break it down into its basic elements. The prophecy predicts several important events along with a timeline for these events. We now have the luxury of determining from history if any of these events and timelines have come to pass as predicted. If so, then we may be certain that the predicted future events will be fulfilled with the same precision and dependability.

As we seek to unravel this passage, it must be stated that this author takes no credit for discovering the calculations needed to correctly understand the prophecy. For this we are indebted to Sir Robert Anderson, an Inspector with Scotland Yard in the 1800′s and an avid student of the scriptures. Anderson published his work on the Seventy Weeks prophecy in a famous book, The Coming Prince. It was Anderson who first discovered the secret to unraveling the timeline of the prophecy and who correctly identified the events that began and ended the first 69 weeks. He then determined the corresponding dates on the Julian calendar, and demonstrated the stunning accuracy of the first part of the prophecy. He was not the first scholar to attempt this; Sir Isaac Newton struggled for years to correctly interpret the passage but failed. The calculations presented in this article are based on Anderson’s, and are the culmination of my own studies of this passage.

Some mathematical calculations are unavoidable when we seek to understand the Seventy Weeks prophecy. I am not naturally given to solving math problems, so if I can do it then anyone can! I will present these calculations in a clear and concise manner, and I encourage the reader to use a calculator and do the math for yourself. I have yet to have anyone demonstrate to me that these calculations are in error. There are several popular interpretations of the Seventy Weeks prophecy that come to different conclusions that those presented here, but to my knowledge no one has laid out a precise timeline to show why their interpretation is correct.

Let us now break down the prophecy into its basic elements and then gain wisdom from the scriptures to understand the message. Like Daniel, let us consider the matter and understand the vision.

Seventy Weeks

The first issue is to determine what is meant by the length of time, “Seventy Weeks.” Westerners only relate to the term “week” as pertaining to seven calendar days. Seven days = one week. So to our Western mind, seventy weeks means seventy weeks of days, or 1.3 years.

70 weeks x 7 days = 490 days ÷ 365 days per year = 1.34 years

However, the scriptures were written by Eastern authors, specifically Hebrew writers writing for Hebrew readers. The Jewish mind is just as accustomed to think in terms of seven years as it is days. In fact, sevens of years and multiples of sevens of years is a very important concept to orthodox Jews because of the Sabbatical Year and the Jubilee Year. God had commanded the Jewish people to work for six years and then to observe a Sabbatical Year on the 7th. The land was not to be planted and was allowed to rest. Then, after every seven Sabbatical years (7 x 7 = 49) they were to celebrate a Jubilee Year on the 50th year. In the Jubilee year, all slaves were freed, all debts were cancelled, and everything was restored. When the King James translators produced the first English edition of the bible, they translated the original Hebrew “seventy sevens” as “seventy weeks” because a week of days was the only set of seven they were familiar with.

So the angel tells Daniel that seventy sevens are determined upon his people. How long is this time period? We have already seen that a seven (or “week”) of days projects out to 1.3 years. This is obviously incorrect, a much too short a time period for the events of verses 24 and 25 to have taken place. These “seventy sevens” refers to sevens (or “weeks”) of years, a familiar length of time to the Jewish mind as has been pointed out.

70 x 7 of years = 490 years

So the length of the seventy “weeks” is a time period consisting of 490 years.

Length of a Biblical Year

Next we must determine the length of a year. Why not just use the familiar Julian year of 365 days? There are several reasons for looking at a different measure when examining the prophecy, not the least of which is that our year is not actually 365 days! It is more accurately stated as 365.2422 days. We compensate for this anomaly by adding what we call a leap year every four years to correct our calendars to the solar year. If we did not, we would eventually end up with the seasons all out of whack with our calendars. But this aside, we must determine what God considers the length of a year to be if we are going to accurately establish a timeline for understanding the events of the prophecy.

Fortunately we can know of a certainty just how long God considers a Divine year to be, because He has told us in the scriptures. The first place this is recorded is in Genesis chapters 7 and 8, when the timeline of the flood is being given. Notice carefully the following description of days and months:

In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened. And the waters prevailed upon the earth an hundred and fifty days. (Genesis 7:11, 24)

And the waters returned from off the earth continually: and after the end of the hundred and fifty days the waters were abated. And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat. (Genesis 8: 3-4)

Here we have a period of exactly 5 months referred to as 150 days. From the second month, 17th day to the seventh month, 17th day = exactly 5 months.

150 days ÷ 5 months = 30 days per month x 12 months per year = 360 day year

So Genesis fixes the original length of a year at 360 days, a year made up of twelve 30-day months. What changed? Why do we now see a solar year of 365.2422 days? Perhaps the orbit of the earth was affected by the cataclysmic geological events connected with the flood. A careful study shows that the flood involved far more than just a long period of rain. Apparently these events affected the orbit of the earth, causing it to deviate from its created perfect solar year of 360 days. Regardless of the cause, it becomes clear from studying the scriptures that God uses His perfect year of 360 days when giving prophetic timelines.

In the book of Revelation we find further proof that God’s prophetic year is exactly 360 days. Consider these passages:

And the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and sixty days. (Revelation 12:6)

And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent. (Revelation 12:14)

But the court which is without the temple leave out, and measure it not; for it is given unto the Gentiles: and the holy city shall they tread under foot forty and two months. And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth. (Revelation 11: 2-3)

So here we find that the same period of time is referred to as 1260 days, 3.5 years, and 42 months. (The phrase,” time, times, and half a time” also appears in the book of Daniel and is understood by most conservative bible scholars to equal 3.5 years.)

360 days per year x 3.5 years = 1260 days ÷ 30-day month = 42 months.

Secular humanism arrogantly rejects this possibility. In fact, it was Sir Isaac Newton’s failure to recognize the biblical year of 360 days that resulted in his failure to solve the timeline of the prophecy. His use of the 365.2422 solar year resulted in confusion, just as it does today for those who try to apply it. In light of the very clear use of a 360-day year in Revelation for the final seven years of Daniel’s prophecy, it seems misguided to attempt to resolve the first part of the prophecy using a solar year of 365 days. He that has an ear, let him hear.

Converting the Length of the Prophecy From Total Number of Years to Total Number of Days

Having ascertained from scripture that the biblical year = 360 days, we can now determine the exact length of the 490 years expressed in days. Why do we want to convert the 490 years to days? Because doing so will allow us to create a precise timeline that can be used to determine the exact dates of events foretold in the prophecy. It is sort of like a photograph; more detail can be seen in a high-resolution photo than in a low-resolution photo. Think of it this way: 490 years is a low resolution snapshot of the length of the prophecy, converting it to days is a high-resolution view.

70 x 7 years = 490 years x 360 (days in a biblical year) = 176,400 days

So we now know that the total length of the Seventy Weeks can be expressed as 176,400 days.

The First 69 Weeks

Let us turn our attention to the events of the first 69 weeks of the prophecy. Two momentous predictions are given to Daniel in verse 9: A command will be given that Jerusalem shall be rebuilt; and Israel’s long-awaited Messiah shall appear! There could not be two more important events on the mind of a captive Jew. Notice that two time periods are specified in verse 25, seven “weeks” and 62 “weeks.”

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 sixty and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times.

Armed with our previous information, we can now calculate the exact number of days specified between this commandment and the revealing of Messiah:

7 weeks + 60 and 2 weeks = 69 weeks
69 weeks x 7 weeks = 483 years
483 years x 360 = 173,880 days

So out of the total of 70 weeks, one event (the going forth of the command to rebuild Jerusalem)  begins the timeline, and a second event (the revealing of Messiah the Prince) ends the first 69 weeks, leaving one “week” of seven years left in the prophecy. The total number of days in this first 69 weeks is 173,880 days. This is our timeline for the first 69 weeks of the prophecy. A period of exactly 173,880 days must fall between these two events. Let us look next at the possible dates for the start of the prophecy.

The Commandment

Notice carefully that the event that starts the prophetic clock running is the commandment to “restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” Keep in mind that at the time of the prophecy, Babylon had been conquered by Persia and the Jews were now under the political control of Persian kings. Modern Persia is Iran; consider how shocking it would be for the president of Iran to issue an edict authorizing the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem! And yet, this event took place because God’s purposes for Israel will always come to pass.

There are four decrees to consider when determining the correct starting point of the Seventy Weeks: King Cyrus’ decree to Zerubabbel in 538 BC; King Darius’ decree to Tattenai in 518 BC; King Artaxerxes’ decree to Ezra in 458 BC; and King Artaxerxes’ decree to Nehemiah in 445 BC. Without exception the first three decrees involve the rebuilding of the temple, not the city of Jerusalem. In fact, chapter four of the book of Ezra records that the construction of the temple ceased temporarily because enemies of the Jews were accusing them of attempting to rebuild the city without authorization. Gabriel told Daniel that the command to “restore and rebuild Jerusalem” would start the Seventy Weeks timeline, not the command to build the temple!

This is important, because rebuilding the city meant much more to the Jewish people than just having a place to live. Authorization to rebuild the city was tantamount to authorizing Jewish political autonomy. The temple was just a place to worship; rebuilding the city with the wall and streets, along with the gates, meant that the Jews would have their political identity restored as a functioning city-state. One, and only one, of the four decrees cited above meets these criteria and that is the decree issued to Nehemiah in 445 BC. Notice that Nehemiah specifically mentions the gates of the city, which is the ancient equivalent of city governmental offices, when he addresses King Artaxerxes in Nehemiah chapter two. Nehemiah was the king’s cupbearer, and the king asks him why he is sad. Nehemiah has just learned from eyewitness reports that Jerusalem’s walls and gaits are still in ruins.

And I said unto the king, Let the king live forever: why should not my countenance be sad, when the city, the place of my fathers’ sepulchres, lies waste, and the gates thereof are consumed with fire? (Neh. 2:3)

Nehemiah is filled with fear because he knows the weight of his request. Three Persian kings have already granted that the Jews may return to Jerusalem for the rebuilding of the temple, so this is not simply another request for that. He is asking the king to restore Jerusalem’s political autonomy and governmental identity and he knows this may well result in his death! But the king grants his request, and notice that Nehemiah writing by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit gives us the date of this decree:

And it came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king… (Neh. 2:1)

It just so happens that the twentieth year of Artaxerxes is a well-known date that secular historians and scholars all agree with: 445 BC. Nehemiah gives us the month Nisan, which is the first month of the Jewish New Year and the month of Passover. The Jews always establish the 1st of Nisan by the sighting of the new moon. The first new moon that will reach fullness following the Spring Equinox on March 20 is declared the Nisan moon by the Jewish High Priest. Using data from the Naval Observatory web site, we can determine the Julian date and time of any new moon going back to 1999 BC. Using this information, we can match up the Jewish Nisan 1 date with the Julian date for any year.

The Julian date for the new moon of the month Nisan, 445 BC is March 13, 445 BC. The naval observatory tells us that the new moon must be around 24 hours old before it is visible to the naked eye as a thin sliver in the evening sky. Also, the Jewish day begins at sunset while the Julian day begins at midnight, so the two days don’t align perfectly. Because of these factors, Nisan 1 (when the priest first observes the new moon) is usually 1-3 days after the astronomical date for the new moon on the Julian calendar. In 445 BC, this works out to March 15 as the most likely Julian date for Nisan 1, 445 BC. Because we do not know the exact day the priest saw the new moon, there is a 24-48 hour margin of error.

So we now have a reasonably accurate target date for the beginning of the Seventy Weeks: March 15, 445 BC. Keep in mind that Nehemiah did not state that the edict was given on Nisan 1; he simply recorded the year and month. It is customary for the Jews to state the month alone when referring to the 1st, so “the month Nisan” could reasonably be expected to indicate Nisan 1. Also, it was traditional for Kings to issue edicts on the new moon, another factor that points toward Nisan 1. However, any date within the month of Nisan, 445 BC could be the potential date of Nehemiah’s edict.

The Calculation

The stage is now set to calculate the timeline of the first 69 weeks (or 483 years or 173,880 days) of the prophecy. If our edict date is correct, then we should be able to project 173,880 days into the future and land on a date corresponding with the revealing of Messiah. To make this easier, we can convert the 173,880 days to solar years and then plot the solar years on the Julian calendar. Don’t be confused by this; we used the biblical year of 360 days to determine the total number of days (173,880) and now we are going to see many solar years this number of days works out to.

173,880 days ÷ 365.2422 (actual length of solar year) = 476.0676614 solar years
173,880 days is 476 solar years plus a fraction of a year. To convert the fraction to days, we calculate:
.0676614 x 365.2422 = 24.7128 days, or we can just round up to 25 days.

We can now begin at March 15, 445 BC and project 476 years and 25 days into the future. This future date should mark the momentous event when Messiah the Prince is revealed. At this point, ask yourself what event in the life of Christ would best be characterized as Him being revealed as Messiah the Prince. There are several possibilities, but one stands out above all the others when we consider the title, “Messiah The Prince.” This is a title of royalty and political power. Jesus avoided using political power, instead relying on the Holy Spirit to accomplish gain for the Kingdom of God. There is only one event in his life that could be described as having an obvious political overtone. Can you guess which event in Jesus’ life this may be? Let’s do the calculation:

March 15, 445 BC + 476 solar years = March 15, 31 AD.

We need to correct this calculation by one year because from 1 BC to 1 AD is one year, there was no zero year. So when we correct for this we come to March 15, 32 AD. When we add the fraction of the year which we discovered was 25 days, we arrive at April 9, 32 AD.

From March 15, 445 BC to April 9, 32 AD = EXACTLY 476 solar years and 25 days, or 173,880 days.

Now let’s find the corresponding Jewish calendar date for April 9, 32 AD. Using the same process as we did for finding Nisan 1, 445 BC on our Julian calendar (the Naval Observatory web site data for new moon dates), we conclude that Nisan 1, 32 AD fell on March 31. So, April 9 (March 31 + 9 days) corresponds to Nisan 10, 32 AD.

What event took place on Nisan 10, 32 AD just 4 days before Passover on Nisan 14? John’s Gospel tells us that Jesus went to Bethany six days before the Passover on the 8th of Nisan. This would have been Friday, April 7. He spent the Sabbath (Saturday) at Martha and Mary’s house and ate supper there with His disciples. Then, on Sunday morning we pick up the story in Luke’s Gospel:

And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, Saying, Go into the village over against you; which at your entering you shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him here. And if any man asks you, Why do you loose him? You shall say unto him, Because the Lord has need of him. And they that were sent went their way, and found even as he had said unto them.

And as they were loosing the colt, the owners thereof said unto them, Why loose the colt? And they said, The Lord has need of him. And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon. And as he went, they spread their clothes in the way. And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; Saying, Blessed be the King that comes in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.

And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples. And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out. (Luke 19: 29-40)

I would suggest that there is one single event which stands alone as the day that Jesus was revealed as “Messiah the Prince”: Palm Sunday, Nisan 10, 32 AD. The staggering reality is that Daniel predicted this event over 500 years before to the very day!

There can be no mistaking that Palm Sunday is the terminus for the first 69 weeks. Jesus’ birth, baptism, trial, crucifixion, and resurrection have all been suggested. Not only does the timeline not work out for these events, but none of them revealed him as The Prince of Israel. Jesus knowingly and intentionally fulfilled the famous Messianic prophecy from Zechariah when he rode the colt into Jerusalem that day; the prophecy declares that, “Your king comes unto you, riding on the foal of an ass.” It must be noted that throughout his ministry, Jesus would not allow anyone to tell others who he was. He even rebuked demons who cried out identifying him as the Son of God. Why? Because He knew the day had not arrived for the termination of the first 69 weeks of Daniel’s prophecy! And yet on this day, he openly receives worship as their king. His words as he enters the city confirm the awesome importance of this unique day and should serve to end any speculation about whether Palm Sunday is in fact the event foretold to Daniel by the angel:

And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou had known, even you, at least in this thy day , the things which belong unto thy peace! But now they are hid from your eyes. For the days shall come upon you, that your enemies shall cast a trench about you, and compass you round, and keep you in on every side, and shall lay you even with the ground, and your children within you; and they shall not leave in you one stone upon another; because you knew not the time of your visitation . (Luke 19: 41-44)

The Pharisees had everything they needed to know the time of the visitation of Messiah; they had the biblical year of 360 days from Genesis, they had the prophecy from Daniel, and they had the date of the Nisan new moon in 445 BC, the year and month of the edict in Nehemiah to rebuild the Temple. Since Jews use the lunar calendar, they would have done the same calculations we did, using the lunar rather than the solar calendar. The calculation, not detailed here for the sake of brevity, works out to 5,888 new moons plus 8 days. This lunar timeline works out, to the day, the same precise measurement between Nisan 1, 445 BC and Nisan 10, 32 AD as the solar timeline . God tells us in Genesis that the sun and the moon are two witnesses given for “signs and for seasons.” The pharisees were without excuse! Either they didn’t care enough about the prophecy to do the work, or they may have in fact done the calculations and didn’t like the Man who arrived at the appointed time.

Compare this to the Magi from the East who sought out the Christ when he was a young child. These wise men were from the area of Daniel’s captivity and would have had access to his writings. It is quite possible that these wise men had calculated the general time of the birth of the Messiah and were watching for a sign. They sought and were rewarded; the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did not seek and ended up making a disastrous fatal error. Not fatal for Christ, nor for us… fatal for themselves.

Fellow believers, we would do well to give the more earnest heed to all the end time prophecies of scripture. There is no word of prophesy that carries more eternal weight of importance for this generation than that the prophecy of the Seventy Weeks, which identifies an ancient command from a heathen king and then projects with pinpoint accuracy 173,880 days into the future and marks the day of the revealing of Messiah the Prince. We can know with absolute certainty that the final week of seven years yet remaining will be fulfilled with exactly the same precision. This knowledge must change the way we live and the decisions we make. We will look in detail at this final seven year period in the second part of this article.