Daniel's 70 Weeks Of
When did it start? Has it ended,
or is there a gap in it?
Dr. David R. Reagan
One of the most remarkable and important
prophecies in the Bible is found in Daniel 9:24-27. It is the
cornerstone of Messianic prophecy because it establishes the timing
of both the First and Second Advents of the Messiah.
The prophecy is usually referred
to as "The 70 Weeks of Years." This name derives from the opening
words of most English translations: "Seventy weeks have been decreed"
(Daniel 9:24). In the Hebrew, the word translated "weeks" is actually
the word "sevens." So, the text actually says, "Seventy sevens
have been decreed . . ."
Just as the English word "dozen"
can refer to a dozen of anything, the Hebrew word shavuim, meaning
"sevens," can refer to seven of anything. Its exact meaning is
dependent upon the context. In this key passage from Daniel, the
context makes it clear that he is speaking of years — seventy
sevens of years, which would be a total of 490 years. It is therefore
appropriate to refer to the prophecy as "The 70 Weeks of Years"
even though those exact words are not found in the passage itself.
Context and Goals
Another important thing to keep in
mind about the context of the passage is that it is directed to
the Jewish people. The opening words of the prophecy make this clear:
"Seventy weeks have been declared for your people and your holy
city . . ." (Daniel 9:24, emphasis added). The focus of the prophecy
is the nation of Israel and the city of Jerusalem.
The prophecy begins by stating that
six things will be accomplished regarding the Jewish people during
a period of 490 years:
• "Finish the transgression"
Let's take a moment to consider the
meaning of these six prophecies. The first, "finish the transgression,"
refers to the Jew's rejection of God. The Hebrew word translated
"transgression" connotes the idea of rebellion, and the rebellion
of the Jewish people is their rejection of Jesus as their Messiah.
Jesus said He would not return until the Jewish people are willing
to say, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord" (Matthew
23:37-39). The Jews will open their hearts to their Messiah before
Daniel's 490 year period ends.
• "Make an end of sin"
• "Make atonement for iniquity"
• "Bring in everlasting righteousness"
• "Seal up vision and prophecy"
• "Anoint the most holy place"
The period will also witness
an "end of sin" for the Jews. The word translated "sin" refers
to the sins of daily life — sins of dishonesty and immorality.
This end of sin will occur at the time the Jews accept their Messiah
and His earthly reign of righteousness begins.
An atonement for Israel's sins is
the third thing that will happen during Daniel's 70 weeks of years.
This atonement occurred, of course, when Jesus shed His blood
on the Cross for the sins of the world. But that atonement will
not actually be applied to the Jews until they appropriate it
by accepting Jesus as their Messiah.
The 490 year period will also 'bring
in everlasting righteousness." This undoubtedly refers to the
establishment of the Messiah's earthly reign when the earth will
be flooded with peace, righteousness and justice as the waters
cover the sea.
The fifth achievement will be the
fulfillment of all prophecy concerning the Messiah. The Apostle
Peter referred to two types of Messianic prophecy — those related
to "the sufferings of Christ" and those concerning "the glories
to follow" (1 Peter 1:11). The suffering
prophecies were all fulfilled at the Cross. The prophecies
concerning "the glories to follow" are yet to be fulfilled. Just
as Jesus was humiliated in history, He is going to be glorified
in history. This will occur when the Jews accept Him, and He returns
to reign over the world from Mt. Zion in Jerusalem.
The final goal to be achieved at
the end of the 70 weeks of years is "the anointing of the most
holy." Most English translations say "the most holy place." The
Hebrew simply says, "the most holy." Commentators therefore differ
as to whether this is a reference to the anointing of the Messiah
as King of kings or whether it is talking about the anointing
of the Millennial Temple described in Ezekiel 40-48. Either way
the anointing will not take place until the Lord returns in response
to the national repentance of the Jews.
Daniel says all these spiritual goals
will be accomplished within a special period of 490 years. When
did that period begin, and when did it end? It is when Daniel addresses
these questions that he begins to give clues as to the timing of
the First and Second Advents of the Messiah.
The prophecy says that the starting
point of the 70 weeks of years will be "the issuing of a decree
to restore and rebuild Jerusalem" (Daniel 9:25). Keep in mind
that this prophecy was given to Daniel by the angel Gabriel during
the time of Israel's exile in Babylon. The approximate date was
538 B.C., shortly before the first remnant of Jews were allowed
to return to Jerusalem in 536 B.C. under Zerubbabel. Jerusalem
was in ruins at this time, having been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar
70 years earlier in 586 B.C. (The captivity had begun in 605 B.C.,
before the destruction of Jerusalem, when Nebuchadnezzar took
Daniel and other "youths" to Babylon as hostages — Daniel 1:1-
The crucial question relates to
when the decree was issued "to restore and rebuild Jerusalem."
There are three possible dates:
• 538 B.C. — Cyrus, King of
Persia, issued a decree to Zerubbabel to rebuild the Temple in
Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-3; and Ezra 6:1-5).
• 457 B.C. — Artaxerxes, King of
Persia, issued a decree to Ezra authorizing him to reinstitute
the Temple services, appoint judges and magistrates, and teach
the Law (Ezra 7:11-26).
• 445 B.C. — Artaxerxes issued a
decree to Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Nehemiah
On the surface, the third decree,
the one issued to Nehemiah, seems to be the most obvious candidate
for the starting date of the prophecy, for it is the only one
that specifically relates to the rebuilding of the city. For that
reason, most commentators have selected it as the beginning of
the 70 weeks of years.
The Events of
the 70 Weeks of Years
Daniel's prophecy next states that
the 490 years will be divided into three periods as follows: seven
weeks (49 years) plus sixty-two weeks (434 years) plus one week
(7 years). He states that at the end of the first two periods (69
weeks or 483 years), the Messiah will be "cut off," a seemingly
clear reference to the crucifixion. He then states that both Jerusalem
and the Temple will be destroyed.
The prophecy concludes by focusing
on the last week of years. It says that following the death of
the Messiah and the destruction of Jerusalem, "the prince who
is to come" will make a covenant with the Jewish people that will
enable them to reinstitute their sacrificial system. This prince
will come from the same people who destroyed the Temple (the Romans).
We know from 2 Thessalonians 2 that
this ''prince who is to come" is the Antichrist, the "man of lawlessness"
who is "the son of destruction." The same passage makes it clear
that his covenant will enable the Jews to rebuild their Temple.
Both passages — Daniel 9 and 2 Thessalonians
2 — establish the fact that in the middle of this 70th week (3½
years into it) this "prince who is to come" will double cross
the Jewish people. He will march into the rebuilt Temple and declare
himself to be God. He will stop the sacrifices and he will erect
"an abomination of desolation," most likely an idol of himself.
The book of Revelation specifies that the Messiah will return
to earth 3½ years after this desolation of the Temple takes
Now we have the timing of
the two advents of the Messiah. He will come the first time at
the end of 483 years and will be "cut off" before the Temple is
destroyed. He will return the second time at the end of a seven
year period that will begin with a treaty that allows the Jews
to rebuild their Temple and reinstitute the Mosaic system of sacrifices.
The first person in modern history to calculate the 483 years to
the "cutting off" of the Messiah was Sir Robert Anderson in his
book, The Coming Prince (1894). Using the decree to Nehemiah issued
in 445 B.C. as his starting point, and using what he called "the
360 day prophetic year," Anderson calculated that it was exactly
173,880 days or 483 lunar years from the day the edict was issued
to the day Jesus made His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. His calculations
placed the crucifixion in the spring of 32 A.D.
These calculations have remained
almost sacred in Christian thinking for the past one hundred years.
But they need to be examined carefully because the fact of the
matter is that there are two serious problems with Anderson's
The first is his assumption that the
years in the prophecy are lunar years of 360 days. That assumption
is based upon the fact that the book of Revelation defines the 70th
week of Daniel as lasting a total of 2,520 days (Revelation 11:3
and 12:6). The only way that can translate into seven years is by
using lunar years of 360 days.
Now, on the surface, it seems logical
to apply this Revelation principle to Daniel. If the years of
the final week of Daniel's prophecy are lunar years, then surely
the first 483 years must also be lunar years.
But there is a flaw in this logic.
Daniel's prophecy was written to the people of his time to give
them, among other things, an insight as to when the Messiah would
come. And the fact of the matter is that Daniel does not even
so much as hint that he is speaking of anything other than regular
Some would counter by saying that
the Jews used a lunar calendar and therefore thought only in lunar
terms when calculating time. But that simply is not true. The
Jews have never relied on a pure lunar calendar, like the Muslims
do. The Jews have always used a lunar/solar calendar. Their months
are 30 days long, but they insert what is called an intercalary
month every so often to make adjustments for the true solar calendar.
For the Jews this is an absolute
necessity because their major festivals (Passover, Harvest and
Tabernacles) are all directly related to the agricultural cycle.
If they did not make the solar adjustments, their festivals would
migrate around the calendar, resulting in harvest festivals falling
during seed planting times! This is exactly the case with the
Muslim calendar which is a pure lunar calendar. And thus, the
sacred festival of Ramadan circulates around the year. One year
it will be in August, the next in September, and the next in October.
The point is that the Jews in Daniel's
time did not think in terms of 360 day years. Nor did Daniel.
If you will look at Daniel 9:1-2 you will see that shortly before
he was given the 70 Weeks of Years prophecy by Gabriel, he discovered
Jeremiah's prophecy that the Babylonian captivity would last 70
years. He realized immediately that he was very near the end of
those 70 years.
The indication of this passage
is that Daniel interpreted Jeremiah's prophecy of 70 years to
be 70 regular years as defined by the Jewish lunar/solar calendar.
And again, if his subsequent prophecy about the 70 weeks of years
was to have any meaning to the Jewish people, it had to be understood
in terms of regular years, not "prophetic years" of 360 days each.
Why then would there be a difference
between the first 483 years and the last seven? I suspect it may
relate to a statement made by Jesus in Matthew 24. He said the
70th week of Daniel will be "cut short" lest all life on earth
be destroyed during that terrible period of tribulation (Matthew
The second problem with Anderson's
calculations is their terminus date of 32 A.D. This just simply
is not an acceptable year for the death of Jesus since it would
place the crucifixion on either Sunday or Monday. Even Anderson
recognized this problem, and as one author has put it, Anderson
engaged in some "mathematical gymnastics" to arrive at a Friday
In his book, Chronological Aspects
of the Life of Christ, Harold Hoehner of Dallas Theological Seminary
shifts the date of Nehemiah's decree from 445 to 444 B.C. and
then calculates the 173,880 days to the spring of 33 A.D., when
the crucifixion would have fallen on a Friday. But this creates
more problems than it solves. The 444 B.C. date is suspect and
the 33 A.D. date is very late. Luke 3:23 says Jesus was "about
30 years of age" when He began His ministry. His ministry lasted
3½ years. Hoehner's chronology would make Jesus 32 years
old at the start of His ministry and 35 at the time of his death.
I believe a better solution is to interpret
Daniel's prophecy as speaking of lunar years adjusted periodically
and thus amounting to regular years. I also believe that the best
starting point for the prophecy is the decree issued to Ezra in
I have already explained why I believe
regular years should be used. Let me now explain why I think the
decree issued to Ezra should be used as the starting point for
the calculation of the first two periods totaling 483 years.
The decree given to Zerubbabel authorized
the rebuilding of the Temple. The decree issued to Nehemiah concerned
the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem. Ezra's decree was more
general in nature, covering a variety of subjects. But we know
from Scripture that he interpreted it to mean that the Jews were
authorized to launch a general rebuilding campaign that included
the temple, the city, and the walls. His interpretation is stated
in Ezra 9:9 — "God has not forsaken us, but has extended loving
kindness to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to give us
reviving to raise up the house of our God, to restore its ruins,
and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem" (Ezra 9:9).
Now, using Ezra's decree as
the staring point (457 B.C.), if we count forward 483 years we
will arrive at 27 A.D. (There is only one year between 1 B.C.
and 1 A.D.) According to the translator of Josephus, the Jewish
new year that began in the fall of 27 A.D. marked the beginning
of the last Jubilee Year that the Jews enjoyed in the land before
their worldwide dispersal by the Romans in 70 A.D. This is most
likely the year that Jesus began His public ministry. This is
hinted at in Luke 4 where it says that when Jesus launched His
ministry at the synagogue in Nazareth, He did so by reading a
passage from Isaiah 61 about the way in which the Messiah would
fulfill the spiritual essence of the Jubilee. After finishing
the reading, Jesus proclaimed, "Today this Scripture has been
fulfilled in your hearing" (Luke 4:21).
of the Resurrection
Further evidence that this date is
correct is the fact that it would place the end of Jesus' 3½
year ministry in the spring of 31 A.D. And that happens to be the
most likely year of the crucifixion.
Most scholars have tried to place
the crucifixion in either 30 or 33 A.D. because these are the
only two years in the time frame of Jesus' death when Passover
fell on Friday. The belief that Jesus was crucified on a Passover
that fell on Friday is based on a statement in Mark 15:22 which
says the crucifixion took place on "the day of preparation before
But this statement does not necessarily
mean that the crucifixion took place on a Friday. Such an assumption
is rooted in Gentile ignorance about Jewish feast days. What the
Gentile church has failed to recognize over the centuries is that
the first day after Passover is a feast day, or "High Sabbath,"
because it is the beginning of the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
It is considered to be a Sabbath regardless of what day of the
week it falls on (Numbers 28:16-18).
The Gospels make it clear that the
crucifixion week had two Sabbaths. Mark 16:1 says a group of
women bought spices to anoint the body of Jesus after the Sabbath
was over. But in Luke 23:56 it says they bought the spices before
the Sabbath and then rested on the Sabbath before proceeding to
In the year 31 A.D. Passover fell
on Wednesday. Jesus was crucified that morning and buried that
evening. The next day, Thursday, was a High Sabbath. On Friday,
after the High Sabbath, the women bought the spices and then rested
on the regular Sabbath (Saturday) before going to the tomb on
The time span I am proposing from 457
B.C. to 27 A.D. is also supported by another amazing piece of evidence.
Do you remember how Daniel divided the first 483 years into two
periods of time, first 49 years and then 434 years? Why did he do
that? Go back and re-read Daniel 9:25 and notice that he makes specific
reference to the rebuilding of the city of Jerusalem. Did he divide
the period into two parts to indicate that the rebuilding of the
city would occupy the first 49 years?
In a recent booklet entitled "The
Daniel Papers," a publication of the Radio Bible Class, the author,
Herb Vander Lugt, notes:
According to Barnes and several
other trustworthy Bible commentators, the historian Prideaux
declared Nehemiah's last action in rebuilding the city occurred
in the 15th year of the Persian ruler Darius Nothus (423 - 404
B.C.). His 15th year was the 49th year from the 457 B.C. decree.
Josephus seems to support this idea in his remarks about the
death of Nehemiah.
One puzzle remains about Daniel's prophecy.
What about the 70th week? Is it past or future? I believe there
is no doubt whatsoever that it is future. The reason for that conclusion
is simple. The prophecy begins by stating that the 490 years will
produce six consequences among the Jewish people.
I began this article by outlining
those six prophetic events in detail. If you will look back at
them, you will readily see that they are still unfulfilled. The
Jews are still in rebellion against God, they are still caught
up in their sins, they are still refusing to accept the atonement
for their iniquity, everlasting righteousness has not come to
the earth, all prophecy concerning the Messiah has not yet been
fulfilled, and "the most holy" has not been anointed.
There must, therefore, be a gap
in the prophecy. This may seem strange to the casual reader. But
students of prophecy are familiar with prophetic gaps. They are
very common in prophetic literature because of the peculiar nature
of the prophetic perspective. God would show His prophets great
future events and the prophets would present them as if they were
happening in rapid succession because that's the way they appeared.
The prophet was like a person looking down a mountain range seeing
one mountain top after another, seemingly pressed up against each
other, but in reality separated by great valleys which could not
Jesus Himself recognized this characteristic
of prophecy when He read a prophecy from Isaiah in the synagogue
in Nazareth. If you will check what He read (Luke 4:18- 19) against
what Isaiah wrote (Isaiah 61:1-3), you will see that Jesus stopped
reading in the middle of a sentence because the rest of the sentence
had to do with His Second Coming.
For Christians, Daniel's prophecy should
serve to underscore the supernatural origin of the Bible. It should
also serve as confirmation that Jesus of Nazareth was the promised
For Jews, the prophecy should be
deeply disturbing for two reasons. First, it clearly teaches that
the Messiah had to come before the Temple was destroyed in 70
A.D. That means that either God failed to keep His promise or
else the Jews missed recognizing their Messiah. Second, the prophecy
clearly teaches that a terrible time of tribulation for the Jews
still lies ahead.
Moses said it would be a time
of "distress" that would occur in "the latter days" (Deuteronomy
4:30). Jeremiah called it "the time of Jacob's distress" (Jeremiah
30:7). Daniel characterized it as "a time of distress such as
never occurred since there was a nation until that time" (Daniel
12:1). Zechariah says two-thirds of the Jews will "be cut off
and perish" during that terrible time (Zechariah 13:8).
The process will be horrible. But
the result will be glorious, for the remaining remnant will at
long last turn their hearts to God, accept their Messiah, and
cry out, "Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!"
Archer, Jr., Gleason
L., Daniel (Vol. 7 of The Expositor's Bible Commentary edited
by Frank E. Gaebelein, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1985)
Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ (Zondervan, Grand
Rapids, Michigan, 1977)
with C.C. Carlson, The Handwriting on the Wall (Word, Dallas,
Lugt, Herb Vander,
The Daniel Papers: Daniel's Prophecy of 70 Weeks (Radio Bible
Class, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1994)
McClain, Alva J.,
Daniel's Prophecy of the 70 Weeks (Zondervan, Grand Rapids,
The Most High God (The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry, West
Collingswood, NJ, 1982)
Wood, Leon, A Commentary
on Daniel (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1973)