What Is the “Seventy Weeks” Prophecy?

The amazing prophecy of Daniel 9 reveals the exact year that the Messiah would begin His ministry, and how long it would last. It points to one major event He would fulfill, as the beginning step in God’s Plan of Salvation. It further shows that the final segment of this prophecy is yet to be fulfilled!

CHRISTIANS are admonished to “Prove all things” (I Thes. 5:21)—yet few have pondered how we could prove, from Bible prophecy, that Christ was the Messiah. Of course, the sign of the prophet Jonah—that Christ would be in the tomb three days and three nights—is one definite proof.

But there is a particular prophecy that specifically designates the precise time that Christ would begin His ministry. Other scriptures and history, proving that this prophecy applies to Christ, thus further confirming His Messiah-ship.

True Christians are already convinced of Christ’s authenticity, but should still be aware of the prophecies that prove this, such as the “seventy weeks prophecy.” Many fail to understand that this prophecy pertains not only to Christ’s first coming—but also to His Return.

While somewhat technical, this series of events, when studied carefully, can be understood for the inspiring—and fascinating—fulfillment of prophecy that it is!

The Setting

Daniel 9 begins, “In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, which was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; In the first year of his reign I Daniel understood by books the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem” (vs. 1-2).

From studying the book of Jeremiah, Daniel knew that Judah and Jerusalem would be desolate for seventy years. He also knew that, with the defeat of the Babylonians by the Medo-Persian Empire, something favorable was due to happen for the Jews.

Before continuing, we should understand exactly what Daniel read pertaining to those seventy years of desolation: “And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. And it shall come to pass, when seventy years are accomplished, that I will punish the king of Babylon, and that nation, says the Lord, for their iniquity, and the land of the Chaldeans, and will make it perpetual desolations” (Jer. 25:11-12).

One final verse in Jeremiah sums this up: “For thus says the Lord, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform My good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place” (29:10).

Daniel saw that the Jews had almost fulfilled seventy years of servitude to the king of Babylon. When the Babylonians were defeated and in desolation, he saw that the Jews were to return to Jerusalem, as promised in Jeremiah 29:10.

Daniel’s approach to this issue was not to question whether God was fulfilling His promises on schedule. He humbled himself instead: “And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes: And I prayed unto the Lord my God, and made my confession, and said, O Lord, the great and dreadful God, keeping the covenant and mercy to them that love Him, and to them that keep His commandments; We have sinned, and have committed iniquity, and have done wickedly, and have rebelled, even by departing from Your precepts and from Your judgments: Neither have we hearkened unto Your servants the prophets, which spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, and to all the people of the land” (Dan. 9:3-6).

Daniel was close enough to God to realize that He deserved fear and awe. Daniel went to great lengths to acknowledge the sins of Israel and Judah, and God’s mercy and justice in dealing with His people. After they had “served their sentence,” Daniel felt it was appropriate to ask God’s mercy and forgiveness for the sins that had brought them into captivity: “Now therefore, O our God, hear the prayer of Your servant, and his supplications, and cause Your face to shine upon Your sanctuary that is desolate, for the Lord’s sake. O my God, incline Your ear, and hear; open Your eyes, and behold our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name: for we do not present our supplications before you for our righteousness, but for Your great mercies. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for Your own sake, O my God: for Your city and Your people are called by Your name” (vs. 17-19).

God heard Daniel’s plea. He sent the archangel Gabriel to reassure Daniel and inform him about Judah’s inevitable return to their homeland and another, even more important future event.

The very scriptures defining the seventy weeks prophecy are referred to by Gabriel as “skill and understanding.” Although the Jews would be restored to their homeland, fulfilling the seventy years prophecy, Gabriel presented to Daniel a prophecy that went far beyond the seventy-year issue. This prophecy pertained to seventy weeks of years, or 490 years (70 x 7 = 490)—and beyond.

The Prophecy in Closer Detail

Before turning to this prophecy, notice Gabriel’s greeting to Daniel. It is incredible that such a powerful archangel could speak so highly of a human being. This gives us some insight into how God views those who humble themselves before Him in sincere fasting and supplication: “At the beginning of your supplications the commandment came forth, and I am come to show you; for you are greatly beloved: therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision” (vs. 23).

We begin examining the seventy weeks prophecy in verse 24: “Seventy weeks are determined upon your people and upon your 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.”

First, we need to understand why the seventy-weeks timeframe is actually seventy weeks of years. The “day-for-a-year” principle in Bible prophecy is generally understood by most Bible students. This principle is acknowledged in Halley’s Bible Handbook (p. 349).

The day-for-a-year principle is first found in Numbers 14:34. This clearly shows that God punished Israel by withholding or delaying their inheritance of the Promised Land. This happened because they refused to believe God, choosing instead to believe the evil report of the ten spies who focused on their own doubts: “After the number of the days in which you searched the land, even forty days, each day for a year, shall you bear your iniquities, even forty years, and you shall know My breach of promise.”

The next example of this principle is found in Ezekiel 4:6: “And when you have accomplished them, lie again on your right side, and you shall bear the iniquity of the house of Judah forty days: I have appointed you each day for a year.” Ezekiel was required to lie on his left side for 390 days (to represent a siege against Israel) and forty days on his right side (to represent a siege against Judah). As verse 6 plainly shows, each day represented a year. Since seventy weeks equals 490 days, applying the day-for-a-year principle, we arrive at 490 years.

With this backdrop, we move on to the next crucial verse: “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” (Dan. 9:25). Here, we need to understand exactly which commandment or decree this verse refers to.

Ezra was a dedicated scribe and priest who returned from Babylon to Jerusalem. The Persian King Artaxerxes granted Ezra permission to return and to bring a whole company of Jews with him. He had made a decree pertaining to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and had given a copy of it to Ezra. This decree and Ezra’s return to Jerusalem occurred in the seventh year of Artaxerxes’ reign (Ezra 7:7).

Notice: “Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the Lord, and of His statutes to Israel.

“Artaxerxes, king of kings, unto Ezra the priest, a scribe of the law of the God of heaven, perfect peace, and at such a time. I make a decree, that all they of the people of Israel, and of his priests and Levites, in my realm, which are minded of their own freewill to go up to Jerusalem, go with you” (vs. 11-13).

Later in the decree, we read, “And I, even I Artaxerxes the king, do make a decree to all the treasurers which are beyond the river, that whatsoever Ezra the priest, the scribe of the law of the God of heaven, shall require of you, [let] it be done speedily…Whatsoever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be diligently done for the house of the God of heaven: for why should there be wrath against the realm of the king and his sons?” (vs. 21, 23).

This decree in the seventh year of Artaxerxes was to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. The former decree from Cyrus (Ezra 1:1-4) pertained primarily to the rebuilding of the temple at Jerusalem, rather than the overall city. Thus, the decree of the seventh year of Artaxerxes is the one that fits Daniel 9:25, in that it was “the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem.”

The year of this decree can easily be established.

Artaxerxes’ father, King Xerxes, died in December of 465 B.C. At that time, Artaxerxes came to the throne. Persians determined the year of their kings’ reign from spring to spring. The months preceding the first spring of their reign were considered to be the ascension year.

In contrast, the Jews of Judea most always determined kingly reigns according to the civil year—from fall to fall. They effectively postdated the reigns of kings from the benchmark in the fall (first day of Tishri) after the first year officially began.

Thus, according to the Jews, the first year of Artaxerxes’ reign was from September, 464 B.C., to the following September, 463 B.C. Yet, Artaxerxes actually ascended to the throne in late December, 465 B.C.

This means that the seventh year of Artaxerxes’ reign would have taken place from about September, 458 until September, 457 B.C. Since the trip of Ezra and his company took five months to complete and they arrived at Jerusalem during the fifth month (Ezra 7:8), this would still have fallen within the seventh year of Artaxerxes’ reign.

Thus, 457 B.C. was the official year of the decree to rebuild Jerusalem.

The Year of the Messiah

Again notice Daniel 9:25: “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.”

The sum of seven weeks and sixty-two weeks equals a total of sixty-nine weeks, from the time of the decree until the time of the Messiah. Applying the day-for-a-year principle, we find that sixty-nine weeks equals 483 days (69 X 7 = 483), which equates to 483 years.

If we count forward 483 years from the year 457 B.C. (the year of Artaxerxes’ decree), we arrive at the year A.D. 26. When counting from B.C to A.D., since there is no year “0,” astronomers correctly add one year. Historians and chronologists, on the other hand, generally neglect to do this. Adding one year brings us to A.D. 27—the prophesied year of the beginning of the Messiah’s ministry.

Another Confirmation

Bible chronology and history prove that Christ began His ministry in A.D. 27. Luke 3:23 reveals that Christ was thirty years old when He began His ministry in A.D. 27.

As a case in point, let’s employ a separate timeframe to reconfirm this date. This involves the chronology of the temple’s reconstruction, begun by Herod the Great.

This begins with an interesting scripture in which Christ gave a parallel account of the sign of the prophet Jonah. We find this in John 2:18-21: “Then answered the Jews and said unto Him, What sign show You unto us, seeing that You do these things? Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up. Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple in building, and will You rear it up in three days? But He spoke of the temple of His body.”

This occurred at the first Passover during Christ’s ministry, which would have been in A.D. 28. The Jews recorded that the temple had been under construction for forty-six years. This would put the beginning of the construction of Herod’s temple at the year of 19 B.C., by adding one year to compensate for no year “zero.” The year 19 B.C. would have been the eighteenth year of Herod’s reign.

The Jewish historian Josephus wrote, “And now Herod, in the eighteenth year of his reign…undertook a very great work, that is, to build of himself the temple of God…” (Antiquities, Bk. XV, ch. xi, sec. 1). This further confirms the chronology we are establishing. From 19 B.C., we advance forty-six years since the beginning of the reconstruction of the temple (originally built during the time of Ezra), arriving at A.D. 28—at the first Passover during Christ’s ministry. This Passover occurred about six months after Christ began His ministry in the fall of A.D. 27.

Cut Off From “the Land of the Living”

Daniel 9:26-27 continues this crucial prophecy: “And after threescore and two [62] 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…”

The term for sixty-two weeks presupposes that this timeframe was preceded by the seven weeks period as presented in verse 25. Here the reference means 483 years, just as established in verse 25.

Verse 27 speaks of one additional week in which the Messiah would confirm the covenant. It further shows that the Messiah would cause the sacrifice and oblations to cease in the midst of the week—after three and one-half years.

Some of the issues presented in Daniel 9:26-27 are answered in Isaiah 53:4-5: “Surely He has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows: yet we did esteem Him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities…” Isaiah 53:8 clinches the point: “He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare His generation? For He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of My people was He stricken.”

How clear! The Messiah was cut off from the “land of the living” by being crucified. His death was not for Himself, but for “the transgressions of My people.” This establishes Christ as the Messiah.

Before elaborating on the details of that final week, we need to complete a thought presented in verse 26: “…and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary…” This was to occur after the Messiah had been cut off—after the time of the crucifixion. The “people of the prince” (the prince of this world, Satan – John 12:31 and Ephesians 2:2) is a reference to the Roman armies under Vespasion, and later under his son, Titus. These Roman armies under Titus finally managed to destroy not only the city, but also the Temple and the people during and after the siege of A.D. 70.

Now notice the last part of verse 26: “…and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.” The last part of this verse looks well beyond the time of Jerusalem’s destruction in A.D. 70. The “flood” pertains to armies that will surround Jerusalem at the outset of the Great Tribulation and again upon Christ’s Return. The “end” pertains to the many turbulent events that will occur during the Tribulation and the Day of the Lord.

The Seventieth Week

We have already established that the Messiah did not appear until the completion of the first sixty-nine weeks or 483 years. Christ’s ministry began in the fall of A.D. 27, exactly on time according to the seventy weeks prophecy.

But what was to happen during the seventieth week?

We must again examine the first part of Daniel 9:27: “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…” This week that the Messiah was to confirm the covenant was the final (seventieth) week. This week was the equivalent of seven years. We have already covered how the Messiah was cut off in the midst of the week.

Another interesting aspect of “the midst of the week” is covered in our booklet CHRIST’S RESURRECTION was NOT on Sunday: “In this prophecy, the Messiah was foretold to be cut off ‘in the midst of the week.’ Wednesday is literally the fourth, or middle day, of a seven-day week. So then, it was in the ‘midst of the week’ that Christ was ‘cut off.’” In A.D. 31, Passover occurred on a Wednesday—the very day Christ was crucified—in the midst of the week.

Hebrews 10:12 adds to the overall picture: “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down on the right hand of God.”

Thus, the Messiah caused the sacrifices to cease by offering Himself. This was fulfilled in the midst of that final week, after confirming the covenant for three and one-half years. This first half of the prophetic week was completed in A.D. 31, thus ending Christ’s three-and-one-half-year ministry. The date of A.D. 31 is now well established.

The Abomination of Desolation

Daniel 9:27 reads, “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.”

The latter part of verse 27 closely resembles the later part of verse 26. Verse 26 ended with the words (in context to the prophetic events pertaining to Jerusalem), “desolations are determined.” Then we read, in verse 27, “the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate.” This is one of the three references in Daniel explicitly relating to the abomination of desolation. Daniel 12:11 and 11:31 are the other main references.

Daniel 11:31 reads, “And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that makes desolate.” This verse, taken out of context, does not give the full picture of the event described. After the death of Alexander the Great, in 331 B.C., the Grecian empire was divided into four regions, each ruled by one of his four generals.

One region, the Seleucid empire to the north of Judea (including Syria), eventually assimilated much additional territory. It was constantly in conflict with another of these regions, the Ptolemaic empire to the south (based in Egypt). The boundaries between these adversarial empires were originally in Syria, but moved continually during the ongoing confrontations for over two and a half centuries.

This placed the region of Judea in the middle of the disputed territories between the king of the north and the king of the south.

In about 176 B.C., Antiochus IV (king of the north) had acquired the kingdom from his older brother by flattery and deceit (A Manual of Ancient History, Rawlinson). After this, Antiochus Epiphanes removed the high priest in Jerusalem and installed someone who was loyal to him. Antiochus Epiphanes grew in power and influence. Although his father and grandfather had shown favor to the Jews, he took steps to alienate them at every opportunity.

Upon a triumphant return from Egypt, in 168 B.C., he sacked the temple at Jerusalem and took its golden vessels.

Shortly thereafter, following a less successful confrontation with Egypt, which had enlisted the help of Rome, Antiochus returned to vent his anger against the Jews as he was returning to his capitol at Antioch. He offered favor to any of the Jews who would renounce their beliefs and practices.

Then Antiochus dispatched troops to Judea in 167 B.C., destroying the temple and its sanctuary. (However, the basic structure of the temple remained intact and was later restored.) This act did away with the daily sacrifice. Antiochus then set up an image directly on the altar of the temple—thus defiling and making it desolate.

The image he set up was that of Jupiter Olympus (Rawlinson, p. 255). This is the same image that the historic counterfeit church has pawned off to the world as the image of Jesus Christ. As if this were not enough, Antiochus further alienated the Jews by offering swine’s blood upon the altacr.

These historical events constituted an unmistakable fulfillment of the prophecy in Daniel 11:31. This was one of the former fulfillments or types of the end-time “abomination of desolation.”

Remember that, in Matthew 24:16, Christ cited the event of the abomination of desolation, in which Jerusalem will be besieged by armies as a prelude to the setting up of an image in a future Temple or tabernacle in Jerusalem. This event will constitute a signal for the flight of His people.

This understanding is reinforced and confirmed by Luke 21:20-22: “And when you shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the DESOLATION thereof is near. Then let them which are in Judea flee to the mountains; and let them which are in the midst of it depart out; and let not them that are in the countries enter therein. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled.” Besides the fulfillment of other aspects of prophecy, the abomination of desolation also marks the beginning of the Great Tribulation.

The end of Daniel 9:27 reads, “…and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.” The context of the final word “desolate” refers to the one who perpetrated or the “causer of desolation” (JFB Commentary), hence, the “Desolator”—Satan. Thus, to paraphrase: “the abomination shall defile the sanctuary until the end when the appointed doom or judgment falls upon Satan.”

Final Fulfillment of the Seventieth Week

Thus far, in the seventieth and final week, we only covered up to the point where the Messiah was to be cut off in the midst of the week. Yet, it is clear that the final three and one-half years remain to be fulfilled.

When does this occur? The scriptures reveal such a time when Christ confirms the covenant after His Return.

Romans 15:8 states, “Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises [covenant] made unto the fathers.” This pertains to the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the covenant passed down through them. Tremendous promises to Abraham and other faithful servants will be fulfilled in the kingdom of God. At His Return, Christ also will make a new covenant with Israel, writing the laws of God in their hearts and minds.

Hebrews 8:6-10 recounts this landmark event: “But now has He obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also He is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second.

“For finding fault with them [Israel, not the covenant], He says, Behold, the days come, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in My covenant, and I regarded them not, says the Lord.

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord; I will put My laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to Me a people.”

It will be during the time of God’s kingdom that Daniel 9:24 is fully realized: “Seventy weeks are determined upon your people and upon your 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.”

The overall “seventy weeks prophecy” in Daniel 9:24-27 is one of the Bible’s most astonishing. It precisely foretold the time of Christ’s first coming and the exact year that He was to begin His ministry. It then shows the length of that ministry—three and one-half years. It shows that He was cut off in “the midst of the week” after causing sacrifices to cease, as His shed blood was to apply to all humanity: “…for He was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of My people was He stricken” (Isa. 53:8).

Christ will soon return and complete this amazing prophecy by confirming the covenant for three and one-half years.

Because of such powerful, convincing evidence, we should be more greatly resolved to fear and serve God with renewed dedication. We do not serve a God based on empty superstition, as do many in the world. We serve a God who tells us to “prove all things” (II Thes. 5:21) and then to live in obedience to Him—the real, living God whom we reverence and fear because He will deliver every promise and fulfill every prophecy.

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