A Powerful Identification of the Messiah
FROM the very beginning, immediately after the fall of man in Eden, God spoke a prophecy of hope. He promised that there would be a seed that would crush the head of God’s enemy. (Gen. 3:15) He expanded on that promise and strengthened the faith of men of old by giving information concerning that Seed, eventually showing that the Seed would be this One who would be called in the Hebrew language the Messiah. It was in this Messiah that the nations would hope. Hoping and trusting in the right one, the true Messiah, was a matter of life or death. It would follow that we must be provided with unmistakable identification of the Messiah, so that our hope will not be misplaced, to our disillusionment and loss of salvation. For there would be false messiahs.
God through his Word the Bible provided this unmistakable identification. In the pre-Christian Hebrew Scriptures God had set down hundreds of details, qualifications the Messiah would have to meet and things he would be required to fulfill. All these things would be so dovetailed and interwoven that the probability of any impostor fulfilling all of them would be in the order of one out of billions, virtually an impossibility, in fact, truly an impossibility, since the Great Almighty God was directing matters so that there would be an unmistakable identification of his promised Messiah. There were many means of identification, including genealogy, place, event, manner of events, and time. There is one of these, time, which also ties in other factors such as place and event, to which we wish to call your attention in this article.
Those who do not believe the Bible to be inspired, if they sincerely consider this matter, cannot be but convinced at least to look further into God’s Word with greater respect. Persons of the Jewish faith who believe in God’s Word and who believe that God’s prophets could not and did not lie will be constrained to reexamine the position of their religion on the matter of Messiah’s coming.
The prophecy in question is one given by the prophet Daniel, who had a very favorable standing before God and who is mentioned in God’s Word as a man of highest integrity. In the ninth chapter of Daniel’s prophecy, Da 9 verses 24 to 27, he was inspired to say:
“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.”
From the reading of this prophecy it is evident that here is a real jewel in the matter of identifying the Messiah and that it is of utmost importance to determine the time of the beginning of the seventy weeks and also the length of these prophetic weeks. We might say at the outset that if these were literal weeks of seven days each, then Messiah came more than twenty-four centuries ago in the days of the Persian Empire and was not identified. Also, the other hundreds of qualifications in the Bible were therefore not fulfilled. So it follows that the seventy weeks were symbolic of a much longer time. When did this time begin and end?
In Daniel’s prophecy above quoted, Da 9 verse 25 shows us that, from the time that the commandment would take effect, a marked period of time would follow that would indicate the exact year in which the Promised Seed of God’s woman or the Messiah would make his appearance on earth. To determine when this commandment took place and when it went into effect it is necessary to determine who was the king who gave the commandment and to establish the year when this king began his reign, for it was in the twentieth year of this king that the command went forth. Nehemiah tells us: “And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him, and I as usual took up the wine and gave it to the king.” (Neh. 2:1) At this time Nehemiah brought to the king’s attention the sad state of Jerusalem and asked to be commissioned to go back to rebuild the city. The date of this conversation was 455 B.C.E. and the king was Artaxerxes of Persia, as shown by the following historical facts.
FOUR KINGS WHO PRECEDED ARTAXERXES
At Daniel 11:1 he mentions Darius the Mede and in Da 11 verse 2 he prophesies that there will yet be three kings standing up for Persia and a fourth one who will amass greater riches than all the others and who “will rouse up everything against the kingdom of Greece.” The third king was Darius I, who began ruling the Persian Empire in 522 B.C.E. He had been preceded since Darius the Mede by two kings, Cyrus the Persian and Cambyses, Cyrus’ son. In 490 B.C.E. King Darius ordered a second Persian invasion of Greece. The Persian forces far outnumbered the Athenians, but at Marathon, Greece, the Persians were defeated. King Darius intended to invade Greece a third time but died in 486 B.C.E. before he could finish preparations.
Then the fourth king mentioned by Daniel rose up to make further attempts to conquer Greece. In some modern Bible translations his name is mentioned as Xerxes. (Esther 1:1-3, AT, Mo) In other Bible translations he is called Ahasuerus, as rendered according to the Hebrew. If Ahasuerus is Xerxes, he began to reign in December, 486 B.C.E. The reason that King Xerxes I figures in a discussion of the seventy weeks of Daniel’s prophecy is that he was the father of King Artaxerxes, who issued the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. (Neh. 1:1; 2:1, 7, 8) King Xerxes I was the ruler who gave legal sanction to the Jews to defend themselves against being massacred by their enemies. Mordecai, the cousin of Xerxes’ Jewish wife Esther, was then acting as prime minister for Xerxes and he established for the Jews the memorial festival of Purim or Lots on the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the twelfth lunar month, Adar (February/ March). (Esther 9:20, 21) Xerxes was then ruling in his twelfth year (Esther 3:7) and his rule must have extended over into his thirteenth year, to some time in 474 B.C.E., for after the decree of Xerxes other things took place, as stated at Esther 9:32 to 10:3:
“The command of Esther also confirmed these matters of Purim; and it was written in a book. Now King Xerxes laid a tribute on the land and the coast-lands of the sea. All the acts of his power and of his might, and the full account of the greatness of Mordecai to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai, the Jew, was next in rank to King Xerxes, and great among the Jews, and a favorite with the mass of his fellow-countrymen; for he sought the good of his people and voiced the welfare of his entire race.”—AT.
The third invasion of Greece had taken place before Xerxes’ twelfth year. Crossing the Hellespont in 480 B.C.E., Xerxes’ invasion forces, greatly outnumbering the Greeks, were defeated through the tactics of the Athenian general Themistocles. There was a Greek delaying action at Thermopylae that inflicted great losses on the Persians and that was followed by the destruction of more than half of Xerxes’ fleet. The following year the Greeks defeated the Persian army that had been left behind under the command of one of its ablest generals. On the same day the remains of the Persian fleet were destroyed near the promontory of Mycale in Asia Minor. The Persians never invaded Greece again. Thus the efforts of the Fourth World Power to invade deeply into Europe were checked in 479 B.C.E., the eighth year of Xerxes’ reign. Nevertheless, the Persian Empire continued to hold world domination for a century and a half.
BEGINNING OF ARTAXERXES’ REIGN
Here we present historical evidence that the reign of Artaxerxes began in 474 B.C.E.: Even though Themistocles had accomplished these victories and had greatly strengthened the Grecian defenses, he later on began to lose the confidence of the people. He was finally accused of treasonable negotiations with the Persians. He fled to Asia Minor and was proclaimed a traitor and his property confiscated. We read, however, that he was well received by the Persians:
He . . . ultimately sought protection at the Persian court, where he gained high favor with the reigning monarch, Artaxerxes Longimanus. He was deeply engaged in plans for the subjugation of Greece by the Persians, which he had promised Artaxerxes to compass, when, . . . according to some accounts, he took poison; . . .—The Encyclopedia Americana, edition of 1929, Volume 26, page 507.
It was during Artaxerxes’ reign that the exiled Themistocles died in Asia Minor. According to the annals or chronology of Diodorus the Sicilian, a Greek historian of the first century B.C.E., the date of Themistocles’ death was 471 B.C.E. He must have arrived in Asia Minor in 473 B.C.E., according to the following information: Upon arriving in Asia Minor he sent a letter to King Artaxerxes and asked him for an audience, but he begged first for one year’s time in which to learn to speak Persian, after which he would come and lay before Artaxerxes some plans for subduing Greece. This request was granted by Artaxerxes, and Themistocles appeared at his court at the end of the year.
The Greek historian Thucydides of Athens lived during the reign of Artaxerxes the Persian, and tells us that General Themistocles fled from his home country to Asia (Persia) when Artaxerxes had but “lately come to the throne.”—See Thucydides in Book I, chapter 137.
Nepos, a Roman historian of the first century B.C.E., backs up Thucydides by saying: “I know that most historians have related that Themistocles went over into Asia in the reign of Xerxes, but I give credence to Thucydides in preference to others, because he, of all who have left records of that period, was nearest in point of time to Themistocles, and was of the same city. Thucydides says that he went to Artaxerxes.”—Nepos, Themistocles, chapter 9.*
Jerome’s Eusebius places Themistocles’ arrival in Asia in the fourth year of the 76th Olympiad (four-year periods beginning in 776 B.C.E.), that is, in 473 B.C.E. The German scholar Ernst Hengstenberg says that Artaxerxes’ reign commenced in 474 B.C.E.
On the basis of these historical records we can establish the very important date: the first year of Artaxerxes’ reign. For since he had “lately come to the throne” when Themistocles arrived in Asia in 473 B.C.E., this would support other sources that point to 474 B.C.E. as the beginning of Artaxerxes’ reign.
WHEN THE SEVENTY WEEKS BEGAN
Now, as to the start of Daniel’s time prophecy in Daniel 9:24-27, Nehemiah leaves no doubt. His calendar year began with the month Tishri (September/October, just as the Jews’ civil calendar today) and ended with the month Elul (August/ September) as the twelfth month. The month Chislev, in which Nehemiah got reports of the plight of the Jews and the bad physical state of Jerusalem, was the third month from Tishri and fell partly in November and partly in December. Nehemiah tells us (Neh. 1:1, 2):
“Now it came about in the month Chislev, in the twentieth year, that I myself happened to be in Shushan the castle. Then Hanani, one of my brothers, came in, he and other men from Judah, and I proceeded to ask about the Jews, those who had escaped, who had been left over of the captivity, and also about Jerusalem.”
What year in the currently used Gregorian calendar would be the twentieth year of Artaxerxes? We set forth here the chronological evidence: Xerxes began to reign in December, 486 B.C.E. Since the record in the book of Esther counts the year as beginning in the spring (Nisan, or March/April), Xerxes’ first year on that calendar would end February/March, 485 B.C.E. (Esther 9:1) Xerxes’ twelfth year ran from March/April of 475 through February/March of 474. It is possible that Xerxes lived beyond his twelfth year (that is, beyond Adar [February/March of 474] into his thirteenth year, as mentioned above). Artaxerxes succeeded him in the same year, 474. But Nehemiah’s calendar counted the year as beginning in the fall (Tishri, or September/October), so the calendar year running from Tishri 475 to Tishri 474 would be the year in which Artaxerxes’ rule began.* (Neh. 1:1; 2:1) Artaxerxes’ twentieth year ran, therefore, from September/October of 456 B.C.E. through August/September of 455 B.C.E.
Nehemiah, a zealous servant of Jehovah God, was vitally interested in true worship at the place where Jehovah had put his name, the city of Jerusalem. On hearing the bad news about Jerusalem, he prayed to Jehovah, desiring to be used to bring Jerusalem relief. In the seventh month of the lunar calendar year in this same twentieth year of Artaxerxes, which would be Nisan (March/April) according to Nehemiah’s reckoning, in the year 455 B.C.E., Nehemiah as cupbearer had opportunity to present the matter, to obtain the king’s approval, as he relates: “And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes the king, that wine was before him, and I as usual took up the wine and gave it to the king.” “So it seemed good before the king that he should send me, when I gave him the appointed time.” (Neh. 2:1, 6) Nehemiah acted promptly.
Just as the ending of the seventy years of desolation of Jerusalem took place when the decree of Cyrus went into effect at the arrival of the Jews in Jerusalem to lay the foundation of the temple, so there would be seventy weeks of years from the time the commandment of Artaxerxes took effect, that is, after the Jews with Nehemiah reached Jerusalem and when he gave the orders to build the city walls. Let us see next just when the command to build the city actually took effect.
It would take about four months to make the trip from Shushan, the king’s winter capital, to Jerusalem, placing Nehemiah’s arrival at about the beginning of the eleventh month Ab. Nehemiah rested and held conferences for three days, inspected the city walls by night, then gave orders for the building to begin. This would be about the third or fourth day of Ab, 455 B.C.E., or about July 26-27 or 27-28, 455 B.C.E., still in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes.* (Neh. 2:11-18) It marks our starting point for the count of time given by this important prophecy of Daniel. This is when the commandment to restore and rebuild Jerusalem took effect.*
LENGTH AND END OF THE SEVENTY WEEKS
As to the length of the prophetic weeks, An American Translation and Dr. James Moffatt’s translation render the expression at Daniel 9:24-27 “seventy weeks of years.” These, then, were seventy “weeks” of seven years each, or 490 (70 x 7) years. It would be after 69 (7 + 62) weeks of years that the Messiah would appear. Starting with 455 B.C.E., to what date does the prophecy bring us for the coming of Messiah the Leader?
455 B.C.E. to 1 B.C.E. = 454 years
1 B.C.E. to 1 C.E. = 1 year
1 C.E. to 29 C.E. = 28 years
69 weeks of years = 483 years
So 29 C.E. is the date the Messiah could be expected to appear. History proves that it was in that year that Jesus appeared, to be baptized by John in the Jordan, and the holy spirit descended from heaven to anoint him and make him the Messiah or the Christ, which means “Anointed” or “Anointed One.” Prior to this time he had been the man Jesus, but could not be called the Anointed One until the time of his anointing with holy spirit. John bore witness to his anointing, and Jehovah bore witness by the symbol of a dove and his own voice speaking from heaven. (Luke 3:1, 2, 21-23) An interesting fact in connection with the accuracy of this time count is that the year in which the 69 weeks had their start began, not in the month Nisan, but in the month Tishri, which is the month in which Jesus was baptized and anointed. The date of the beginning of the wall building is derived from the statement at Nehemiah 6:15, which reports: “At length the wall came to completion on the twenty-fifth day of Elul [the twelfth month], in fifty-two days.” The month Ab, which preceded Elul, had thirty days, so the building work must have begun on the fourth of Ab, 455 B.C.E., or July 27-28, and ended on September 16-17, 455 B.C.E., still within the twentieth year of Artaxerxes.
Certainly Daniel’s prophecy was true, that the year 455 B.C.E., which was the twentieth year of the Persian emperor, Artaxerxes Longimanus, was a marked year beginning a time of divine favor to Zion. It was one of the most prominent dates in history, for it was the start of the sixty-nine weeks of years leading up to the arrival of the long-promised Seed of God’s woman, the Messiah.—Dan. 9:25.
This remarkable prophecy of Daniel served for more than 400 years as a light. Not only that: it was one of the most powerful provisions for identifying the Messiah to the Jewish nation and to us today. Before the 483 years were up, the prophecy about the Messiah’s forerunner was fulfilled and the Jews heard John the Baptist announcing the Messiah’s appearance. As a matter of fact, the Jews were looking for the appearance of Messiah the Leader as they considered the prophecies, including Daniel’s time prophecy, and the work of John the Baptist. Luke 3:15 says: “Now as the people were in expectation and all were reasoning in their hearts about John: ‘May he perhaps be the Christ?’” As Daniel had foretold, in the middle of this final week of years, or after three and one half years of Jesus’ ministry, he was cut off. He died on the torture stake on Nisan 14, the middle of the lunar year that began in the fall with the month of Tishri. Three and a half years later the seventieth week of years came to an end with the anointing of Cornelius, the first Gentile to be brought into the body of Christ, to be among the body of anointed ones.—Isa. 40:3; Matt. 3:3; Dan. 9:24.
When a reasoning person thinks of the foresight and tremendous power involved to bring about the fulfillment of such a prophecy, which dealt not only with individuals but with whole nations, he cannot help but see or at least give the strongest consideration to the identity of Jesus Christ as the Messiah. Those who really desire life will do so, for the Messiah is the Seed of God’s woman and the Seed of Abraham by whom God’s enemies will be destroyed. Also, through him all the families of the earth will bless themselves by exercising faith in and following the commands of this Anointed King and Leader, the Son of the Almighty God Jehovah.—Gen. 22:17, 18.
Under “Themistocles,” the Greek biographer Plutarch, of the first century C.E., says: “Thucydides, and Charon of Lampsacus, say that Xerxes was dead, and that Themistocles had an interview with his son, Artaxerxes, but Ephorus, Dinon, Cltarchus, Heraclides and many others, write that he came to Xerxes. The chronological tables better agree with the account of Thucydides.”—c. 27.
For illustration: With our present (Gregorian) calendar (January through December), if a ruler died in December of 1964 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 1964, the year that began eleven months before, in January, although both events took place near the end of the calendar year.
With historical facts behind him the noted German scholar Ernst Wm. Hengstenberg (1802-1869) proves Dr. Henry Dodwell’s date of 445 B.C.E. to be wrong. In his work entitled “Christology of the Old Testament,” in volume 2 thereof, on page 394 (¶2), Hengstenberg says: “The difference [of opinion] concerns only the year of the commencement of the reign of Artaxerxes. Our problem is completely solved, when we have shown that this year falls in the year 474 before Christ. For then the twentieth year of Artaxerxes is the year 455 before Christ, according to the usual reckoning, . . . ”
When proving that Artaxerxes’ reign began in 474 B.C.E., Hengstenberg says, on page 395: “Krueger . . . places the death of Xerxes in the year 474 or 473, and the flight of Themistocles a year later.” On page 399 Hengstenberg speaks of “a fifty-one years’ reign of Artaxerxes,” whereas the Greek historian Ctesias, of the fifth century B.C.E., calculates that Artaxerxes reigned only 42 years.—See the English translation from the German by Reuel Keith, first edition, New York (1836-1839), in three volumes.
Hengstenberg gives as a possible reason for the evident mistake in Ptolemy’s Canon when assigning to Xerxes a reign of 21 years, that, when Ptolemy compiled his list of kings from the record of ancient chronologers he mistook the Greek ia for ka, which for the Greeks stand for the numerals 11 and 21 respectively.
Archbishop James Ussher, of Ireland, (1581-1656) as a chronologist, held (on page 131 of Annales Veteris et Novi Testamentorum, under “The Persian Empire,” as published in 1650,) that Artaxerxes Longimanus ascended the Persian throne in 474 B.C.E., but his date for this was not put in reference Bibles. The celebrated writers Vitringa (1659-1722) and Krueger (1838) agreed with Ussher in dating the accession of Artaxerxes to the Persian throne in 474 B.C.E.
Volume 9 of M’Clintock and Strong’s Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature deals with the “Seventy Weeks of Daniel’s Prophecy,” and on page 602, under the heading “1. The Date of the Edict,” it says: “We have supposed this to be from the time of its taking effect at Jerusalem rather than from that of its nominal issue at Babylon. The difference, however (being only four months), will not seriously affect the argument.”