In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus the Mede, the prophet Daniel discerned from the prophecy of Jeremiah that the time for the release of the Jews from Babylon and their return to Jerusalem was near. Daniel then diligently sought Jehovah in prayer, in harmony with Jeremiah’s words: “‘And you will certainly call me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. And you will actually seek me and find me, for you will search for me with all your heart. And I will let myself be found by you,’ is the utterance of Jehovah. . . . ‘And I will bring you back to the place from which I caused you to go into exile.’”—Jer. 29:10-14; Dan. 9:1-4.
While Daniel was praying, Jehovah sent his angel Gabriel with a prophecy that nearly all Bible commentators accept as Messianic, though there are many variations in their understanding of it. Gabriel said:
“There are seventy weeks that have been determined upon your people and upon your holy city, in order to terminate the transgression, and to finish off sin, and to make atonement for error, and to bring in righteousness for times indefinite, and to imprint a seal upon vision and prophet, and to anoint the Holy of Holies. And you should know and have the insight that from the going forth of the word to restore and to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Leader, there will be seven weeks, also sixty-two weeks. She will return and be actually rebuilt, with a public square and moat, but in the straits of the times. And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah will be cut off, with nothing for himself. And the city and the holy place the people of a leader that is coming will bring to their ruin. And the end of it will be by the flood. And until the end there will be war; what is decided upon is desolations. And he must keep the covenant in force for the many for one week; and at the half of the week he will cause sacrifice and gift offering to cease. And upon the wing of disgusting things there will be the one causing desolation; and until an extermination, the very thing decided upon will go pouring out also upon the one lying desolate.”—Dan. 9:24-27.
A MESSIANIC PROPHECY
It is quite evident that this prophecy is a “jewel” in the matter of identifying the Messiah. It is of the utmost importance to determine the time of the beginning of the seventy weeks, as well as their length. If these were literal weeks of seven days each, either the prophecy failed to be fulfilled, which is an impossibility (Isa. 55:10, 11; Heb. 6:18), or else the Messiah came more than twenty-four centuries ago, in the days of the Persian Empire, and was not identified. In the latter case, the other scores of qualifications specified in the Bible for the Messiah were not met or fulfilled. So it is evident that the seventy weeks were symbolic of a much longer time. Certainly the events described in the prophecy were of such a nature that they could not have occurred in a literal seventy weeks or a little more than a year and four months. The majority of Bible scholars agree that the “weeks” of the prophecy are weeks of years. Some translations read “seventy weeks of years” (AT, Mo, RS); the German Jewish translation edited by Dr. Zunz also employs the expression.
BEGINNING OF THE ‘SEVENTY WEEKS’
As to the beginning of the seventy weeks, Nehemiah records a decree by King Artaxerxes of Persia, in the twentieth year of his rule, in the month Nisan, for rebuilding the wall and the city of Jerusalem. (Neh. 2:1, 5, 7, 8) In his calculations as to the reign of Artaxerxes, Nehemiah apparently used a calendar year beginning with the month Tishri (September–October, as does the Jews’ present civil calendar) and ended with the month Elul (August-September) as the twelfth month. Whether this was his own reckoning or the manner of reckoning employed by the Persian kings is not known.
Some may object to the above statement and may point to Nehemiah 7:73, where Nehemiah speaks of Israel as being gathered in their cities in the seventh month (the monthly order here being based on a Nisan-to-Nisan year). But Nehemiah was here copying from “the book of genealogical enrollment of those who came up at the first” with Zerubbabel, in 537 B.C.E. (Neh. 7:5) Again, Nehemiah describes the celebration of the Festival of Booths in his time as taking place in the seventh month. (Neh. 8:9, 13-18) This was only fitting because the account says that they found what Jehovah commanded “written in the law,” and in that law, at Leviticus 23:39-43, it says that the Festival of Booths was to be in the “seventh month” (that is, of the sacred calendar, running from Nisan to Nisan).
However, as evidence indicating that Nehemiah may have used the fall-to-fall reckoning for the king’s reign, we can compare Nehemiah 1:1-3 with 2:1-8. In the first passage he tells of receiving the bad news about Jerusalem’s condition, in Chislev (third month in the civil calendar and ninth in the sacred calendar) in Artaxerxes’ twentieth year. In the second, he presents his request to the king and receives his commission in the month Nisan (seventh in the civil calendar and first in the sacred), but still in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes. So Nehemiah was obviously not counting the years of Artaxerxes’ reign on a Nisan-to-Nisan basis.
Beginning of Artaxerxes’ reign
To establish the time (in Gregorian calendar reckoning) for the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, we go back to his father and predecessor Xerxes, who began to reign in December, 486 B.C.E. Xerxes’ twelfth year ran from sometime in 475 B.C.E. to sometime in 474 B.C.E. It is possible that Xerxes lived beyond his twelfth regnal year. If Xerxes is the Ahasuerus of the Bible, a comparison of Esther 3:7 and 9:1, 32–Es 10:3 may tend to show that he did. However, there is no absolute proof that Xerxes lived into a thirteenth regnal year. Artaxerxes succeeded him in 474 B.C.E., as other historical evidence indicates.—See ARTAXERXES No. 3.
The time of giving the decree for rebuilding Jerusalem in Artaxerxes’ twentieth year would accordingly be 455 B.C.E., that is, by Nehemiah’s apparent reckoning, running from Tishri (September-October) 456 B.C.E. to Elul (August-September), 455 B.C.E.
For an illustration of this method of reckoning: With our present (Gregorian) calendar (January through December), if a ruler died in December 1970, and his successor began to rule in the same month, we would say the first year of the successor and the last year of his predecessor was 1970, the year that began eleven months previously, in January, although both events took place near the end of the calendar year. In that way the entire year 1970 would be attributed to both rulers, whereas the latter man ruled for only one month of the year. Evidently this is the case in the rules of Xerxes and Artaxerxes, the year running from Tishri 475 to Elul 474 B.C.E. being counted as both the last year of Xerxes and the first year of Artaxerxes, according to the method of reckoning herein discussed. This method is what chronologers refer to as a “non-accession year” reckoning.
Time of year for beginning of ‘seventy weeks’
The time of the year in 455 B.C.E. that the ‘seventy weeks’ would begin to count would not be before Nehemiah and those with him arrived in Jerusalem. We find similar instances in the Scriptures. For example: The decree of Cyrus for the liberation of the Jews from Babylon was a signal that the seventy years’ desolation of Jerusalem was about to end. But the actual termination point of that seventy years was not before Zerubbabel and his entourage actually arrived in Jerusalem. In the seventh month of the year (Tishri) they were in their cities, and they set up an altar on the temple site and offered up sacrifices, and at the middle of the month they celebrated the Festival of Booths. (Ezra 3:1-6) It was at that time of year just seventy years previously when the remnant of Jews left by Nebuchadnezzar took Jeremiah the prophet with them and went down into Egypt, leaving the land desolate without inhabitant.—2 Ki. 25:25, 26; Jer. 29:10.
Likewise, the ‘seventy weeks’ would not begin to count at the time Artaxerxes commissioned Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem. They would not begin until after Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem. There was about a four-month trip from Shushan, Artaxerxes’ winter capital. Nehemiah’s arrival in Jerusalem was at the end of the month Tammuz. Then about the third or fourth day of the following month (Ab) Nehemiah gave the order to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. This was about July 26/27 or 27/28 of the year 455 B.C.E. On the twenty-fifth day of the next month (Elul) the walls were completed, that is, in just fifty-two days. (Neh. 6:15) That would be on September 17 of 455 B.C.E. At the beginning of those fifty-two days the going forth of the word or command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem took place, in that it then took effect. After that the repairing of the rest of Jerusalem went forward.—Dan. 9:25.
As to the first seven “weeks” (49 years), Nehemiah, with the help of Ezra and, afterward, others who may have succeeded them, worked, “in the straits of the times,” with difficulty from within, among the Jews themselves, and from without, on the part of the Samaritans and others. The book of Malachi, written after 443 B.C.E., decries the bad state into which the Jewish priesthood had by then fallen. Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem following a visit to Artaxerxes (compare Nehemiah 5:14; 13:6, 7) is thought to have been after this date. Just how long after 455 B.C.E. he personally continued his efforts in building Jerusalem the Bible does not reveal. However, the work was evidently completed within forty-nine years (seven weeks of years) to the extent necessary, “in the straits of the times,” and Jerusalem and its temple remained for the Messiah’s coming.—See MALACHI, Book of (Time of Composition).
MESSIAH’S ARRIVAL AFTER SIXTY-NINE “WEEKS”
As to the following sixty-two “weeks” (vs. 25), these, being part of the seventy, and named second in order, would continue from the conclusion of the “seven weeks.” This would make the time from Artaxerxes’ twentieth year to “Messiah the Leader” seven plus sixty-two “weeks,” or sixty-nine “weeks”—483 years—from 455 B.C.E. to 29 C.E. Secular history, along with the Bible, gives evidence that Jesus came to John and was baptized, thereby becoming the Anointed One, Messiah the Leader, in the autumn of that year, 29 C.E. Perhaps the Jews had calculated on the basis of Daniel’s prophecy and were therefore on the alert for Messiah’s appearance at this time. At any rate, the Bible reports: “the people were in expectation and all were reasoning in their hearts about John: ‘May he perhaps be the Christ?’”—Luke 3:15.
“Cut off” at the half of the week
Gabriel further said to Daniel: “After the sixty-two weeks Messiah will be cut off, with nothing for himself.” (Vs. 26) It was sometime after the end of the ‘seven plus sixty-two weeks,’ actually about three and a half years afterward, that Christ was cut off in death on a torture stake, giving up all that he had as a ransom for mankind. (Isa. 53:8) Evidence indicates that the first half of the “week” was spent by Jesus in the ministry. On one occasion, likely in the fall of 32 C.E., he gave an illustration, apparently speaking of the Jewish nation as a fig tree (compare Matthew 17:15-20; 21:18, 19, 43) that had borne no fruit for “three years.” The vinedresser said to the owner of the vineyard: “Master, let it alone also this year, until I dig around it and put on manure; and if then it produces fruit in the future, well and good; but if not, you shall cut it down.” (Luke 13:6-9) He may have referred here to the time period of his own ministry to that unresponsive nation, which ministry had continued at that point for about three years, and was to continue into a fourth year.—See JESUS CHRIST (Time of Birth, Length of Life and of Ministry).
Covenant in force “for one week”
Verse 27 of Daniel chapter nine states: “And he must keep the covenant in force for the many for one week [or seven years]; and at the half of the week he will cause sacrifice and gift offering to cease.” The “covenant” could not be the Law covenant, for Christ’s sacrifice, three and a half years after the seventieth “week” began, resulted in its removal by God: “He has taken it [the Law] out of the way by nailing it to the torture stake.” (Col. 2:14) Also, “Christ by purchase released us from the curse of the Law . . . The purpose was that the blessing of Abraham might come to be by means of Jesus Christ for the nations.” (Gal. 3:13, 14) God, through Christ, did extend the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant to the natural offspring of Abraham, excluding the Gentiles until the gospel was taken to them through Peter’s preaching to the Italian Cornelius. (Acts 3:25, 26; 10:1-48) This conversion of Cornelius and his household occurred after the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, which is generally considered to have taken place in 34 or 35 C.E.; after this the congregation enjoyed a period of peace, being built up. (Acts 9:1-16, 31) It appears, then, that the bringing of Cornelius into the Christian congregation took place in the autumn of 36 C.E., which would be the end of the seventieth “week,” 490 years from 455 B.C.E.
Sacrifices and offerings ‘caused to cease’
The expression ‘cause to cease,’ used with reference to sacrifice and gift offering, means, literally, ‘cause or make to sabbath, to rest, to desist from working.’ The “sacrifice and gift offering” that are ‘caused to cease,’ according to Daniel 9:27, could not be Jesus’ ransom sacrifice, nor would they logically be any spiritual sacrifice by his footstep followers. They must refer to the sacrifices and gift offerings that were offered by the Jews at the temple in Jerusalem according to Moses’ law.
The “half of the week” would be at the middle of seven years or after three and a half years within that “week” of years. Since the seventieth “week” began in the fall of 29 C.E. at Jesus’ baptism and anointing to be Christ, half of that week (three and a half years) would extend to the spring of 33 C.E., or at Passover time (Nisan 14) of that year. This day appears to have been April 1, 33 C.E., according to Gregorian calendar reckoning. (See LORD’S EVENING MEAL [Time of Its Institution].) The apostle Paul tells us that Jesus ‘came to do the will of God,’ which was to ‘do away with what is first [the sacrifices and offerings according to the Law] that he may establish what is second.’ This he did by offering as a sacrifice his own body.—Heb. 10:1-10.
Although the Jewish priests continued to offer sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem until its destruction in 70 C.E., the sacrifices for sin ceased as to having acceptance and validity with God. Just before Jesus’ death he said to Jerusalem: “Your house is abandoned to you.” (Matt. 23:38) Christ “offered one sacrifice for sins perpetually . . . For it is by one sacrificial offering that he has made those who are being sanctified perfect perpetually.” “Now where there is forgiveness [of sins and lawless deeds], there is no longer an offering for sin.” (Heb. 10:12-14, 18) The apostle Paul points out that Jeremiah’s prophecy spoke of a new covenant, the former [Law] covenant being thereby made obsolete and growing old, “near to vanishing away.”—Heb. 8:7-13.
Transgression and sin terminated
Jesus’ being cut off in death, his resurrection and appearance in heaven resulted in ‘terminating transgression and finishing off sin, and making atonement for error.’ (Dan. 9:24) The Law covenant had exposed the Jews as sinners and condemned them as such and brought upon them the curse as covenant breakers. But where sin “abounded” as exposed or made evident by the Mosaic law, God’s mercy and favor abounded much more through his Messiah. (Rom. 5:20) By Messiah’s sacrifice transgression and sin of the repentant sinners can be canceled and the penalty thereof be lifted.
Everlasting righteousness brought in
The value of Christ’s death on the tree provided a reconciliation of repentant believers. A propitiatory covering was drawn over their sins, and the way was opened for their being “declared righteous” by God. Such righteousness will be everlasting and will procure everlasting life for the ones declared righteous.—Rom. 3:21-25.
Anointing the Holy of Holies
Jesus was anointed with holy spirit at the time of baptism, the holy spirit coming down on him visibly represented in the form of a dove. But the anointing of the “Holy of Holies” refers to more than the anointing of the Messiah, because this expression does not refer to an individual person. “Holy of Holies” or “Most Holy” is the expression used to refer to the true sanctuary of Jehovah God. (Ex. 26:33, 34; 1 Ki. 6:16; 7:50) Some three and a half years after Jesus’ anointing, at Pentecost 33 C.E., the spirit made itself manifest by tongues as if of fire that “sat upon each one” of the gathered disciples, who numbered about 120, enabling them to speak in different tongues. (Acts 2:1-4) Here, then, was an anointing of the first of those who would have a heavenly inheritance with Christ. As a prophetic type of this, in old time “Moses now took the anointing oil and anointed the tabernacle and all that was in it and sanctified them,” on the day of installing and consecrating the priesthood. (Lev. 8:10) The sanctuary or Holy of Holies that God anointed with his spirit by the end of the seventy weeks is God’s building, his true temple made up of Jesus Christ as Foundation and Chief Cornerstone and of all his footstep followers as “living stones.” (Eph. 2:20-22; 1 Pet. 2:4-6) Then, at the close of the seventy weeks, the first anointing of Gentile members of the sanctuary class took place.—Acts chap. 10.
‘Imprinting a seal upon vision and prophet’
All this work accomplished by the Messiah, his sacrifice, his resurrection and appearance with the value of his sacrifice before the heavenly Father, and the other things occurring during the seventieth week, ‘imprint a seal upon vision and prophet,’ showing these to be true and from God. It stamps them with the seal of divine backing, as being from one divine source and not from erring man. It seals up the vision as being restricted to Messiah because of finding its fulfillment in him and God’s work through him. (Rev. 19:10) Its interpretation is found in him, and we cannot look to anyone else for its fulfillment. Nothing else will unseal its meaning.—Dan. 9:24.
Desolations to the city and the holy place
It was after the seventy “weeks,” but as a direct result of the Jews’ rejection of Christ during the seventieth “week,” that the events of the latter parts of Daniel 9:26 and 27 were fulfilled. History records that Titus the son of Emperor Vespasian of Rome was the leader of the Roman forces that came against Jerusalem. These armies actually entered into Jerusalem and the temple itself, like a flood, and desolated the city and its temple. This standing of pagan armies in the holy place made them a “disgusting thing.” (Matt. 24:15) All efforts made prior to Jerusalem’s end to quiet the situation failed because God’s decree was: “What is decided upon is desolations,” and “until an extermination, the very thing decided upon will go pouring out also upon the one lying desolate.”
A JEWISH VIEW
The Masoretic text, with its vowel pointings, was prepared in the latter half of the first millennium C.E. Evidently because of their rejection of Jesus Christ as the Messiah the Masoretes accented the Hebrew text at Daniel 9:25 with an ʼAth·nahhʹ or “stop” after “seven weeks,” thereby dividing it off from the “sixty-two weeks”; in this way the sixty-two weeks of the prophecy, namely, 434 years, appear to apply to the time of rebuilding ancient Jerusalem. The translation by Isaac Leeser reads: “Know therefore and comprehend, that from the going forth of the word to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the anointed the prince will be seven weeks: [the stop is represented here by a colon] and during sixty and two weeks will it be again built with streets and ditches (around it), even in the pressure of the times.” The translation of the Jewish Publication Society of America reads similarly: “shall be seven weeks; and for threescore and two weeks, it shall be built again.” In these two versions the words “during” and “for,” respectively, appear in the English translation, evidently to support the translators’ interpretation.
Professor E. B. Pusey, in a footnote on one of his lectures delivered at the University of Oxford (published 1885), remarks on the Masoretic accenting: “The Jews put the main stop of the verse under שִׁבְעָח [seven], meaning to separate the two numbers, 7 and 62. This they must have done dishonestly, למען חמינים (as Rashi [a prominent Jewish Rabbi of the twelfth century C.E.] says in rejecting literal expositions which favored the Christians) ‘on account of the heretics,’ i.e. Christians. For the latter clause, so divided off, could only mean, ‘and during three-score and two weeks street and wall shall be being restored and builded,’ i.e. that Jerusalem should be 434 years in rebuilding, which would be senseless.”
As to Daniel 9:26 (Le), which reads, in part, “And after the sixty and two weeks will an anointed one be cut off without a successor to follow him,” the Jewish commentators apply the sixty-two weeks to a period up to the Maccabean age, and the term “anointed one” to King Agrippa (II), who lived at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction, 70 C.E. Or some say this was a high priest, Onias, who was deposed by Antiochus Epiphanes in 175 B.C.E. Their applications of the prophecy to either of these men would rob it of any real significance or import, and the discrepancy in the dating would make the sixty-two weeks no accurate time prophecy at all.—See Soncino Books of the Bible, on Daniel 9:25, 26.
In an attempt to justify their view, these Jewish scholars say that the “seven weeks” are, not seven times seven, or forty-nine years, but seventy years (yet they count the sixty-two weeks as seven times sixty-two years). This, they claim, referred to the period of Babylonian exile. They make Cyrus, or Zerubbabel or High Priest Jeshua the “anointed one” in this verse (25), with the “anointed one” in verse 26 being another person.
It may be noted, in this connection, that the Septuagint translation, made by Jewish scholars in the first three centuries B.C.E., reads, at verse 25, “from the going forth of the command for the answer and for the building of Jerusalem until Christ the prince there shall be seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks: and then the time shall return, and the street shall be built, and the wall, . . . ” (Bagster) Thomson’s Septuagint reads, in part: “seven weeks, and sixty-two weeks. They shall indeed return and a street shall be built and a wall, . . . ”
Most English translations do not follow the Masoretic punctuation here, either having a comma after the expression “seven weeks,” or in the wording indicating that the sixty-two weeks follow the seven as part of the seventy, and not denoting that the sixty-two weeks apply to the period of rebuilding Jerusalem. (Compare Daniel 9:25 in AV, AT, Dy, NW, Ro, Yg.) An editorial note by Professor James Strong in A Commentary on the Holy Scriptures (The Book of the Prophet Daniel, by Dr. Otto Zöckler), page 198, says: “The only justification of this translation, which separates the two periods of seven weeks and sixty-two weeks, assigning the former as the terminus ad quem of the Anointed Prince, and the latter as the time of rebuilding, lies in the Masoretic interpunction, which places the Athnac [stop] between them. . . . and the rendering in question involves a harsh construction of the second member, being without a preposition. It is better, therefore, and simpler, to adhere to the Authorized Version, which follows all the older translations.”
Numerous other views, some Messianic and some non-Messianic, have been set forth as to the meaning of the prophecy, attempting to change the order of the time periods of the prophecy, to make some run simultaneously, or denying that they have any actual time fulfillment. Also many efforts have been made to fit the events mentioned into the Maccabean period or even to the final time of the end. But those presenting such views become hopelessly entangled and their attempts to extricate themselves result in absurdity or in outrightly denying the prophecy as inspired or true. Of the latter ones particularly, who raise more problems than they solve, the aforementioned scholar, E. B. Pusey, remarks: “These were the impossible problems for unbelief to solve; it had to solve them for itself, which was, so far, easier; for nothing is impossible for unbelief to believe, except what God reveals.”