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Historical Background to the Prophecy The situation existing at the time of this prophecy is outlined in various scriptures. The Northern 10 tribes of Israel had been invaded by Assyria during a period of imperial conquest about 745 B.C. when Amos and Hosea were prophets. The Israelites were deported from their land and replaced by immigrants, (later known as Samaritans) from other parts of the Assyrian Empire. One hundred and fifty years later a similar fate awaited the two Southern tribes of Judah and Benjamin; together with Levites associated with the Temple worship, as well as faithful Israelites from the 10 Northern tribes who had joined themselves to Judah.i Judah’s captivity began with the invasion by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar. Jerusalem initially surrendered on 16 March 597 B.C., and Nebuchadnezzar subsequently deported the “cream of the population” to Babylon and environs. These were the times in which the prophets Ezekiel and Daniel lived. There were several deportations in the years that followed. Finally, a revolt against Babylon’s dominion over Judah by King Zedekiah brought the Babylonian armies in a siege against Jerusalem once more. This time the walls were breached in July 587 B.C. and finally on the 9 th Av. 586 B.C. the magnificent first Temple built by Solomon was burned down. This in turn, was followed by another punitive deportation to Babylon in 582 B.C. The period of exile for the people of Judah had been foretold by the prophet Jeremiah to be of 70 years duration. (Jer.29:10-14) The possibility of their return to Judah within this time frame did not look promising until Babylon fell to Cyrus, King of the Medes and Persians on 16 October 539 B.C., about 58 years after the first deportation, and 47 years after the destruction of the Temple. The next year, 538B.C. Cyrus issued a decree for the rebuilding of the Jerusalem Temple, (Ezra 6:3-5) and the emancipation of the Jews, (Ezra 1:2-4). Permission was given for the deportees and their descendants to return to Jerusalem, taking with them silver, gold and goods; as well as the Temple vessels. (Ezra 1:7-11) The book of Daniel covers the period of exile in Babylon, and subsequent events at the time of the fall of Babylon to Persia, almost 60 years after Jerusalem first surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel was an Israelite of royal or noble birth who was carried captive to Babylon as a child/youth with various companions who were to be trained for the King’s service, (Daniel 1:1-6). He eventually occupied leading governmental posts under the Babylonian Kings Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar; and Darius the Mede, a contemporary of Cyrus, King of Persia. In Daniel chapter nine his concerns are focused on the time in which he lived; on the approaching end of the period of exile, and on the future of his people, and the state of the Sanctuary in Jerusalem. In his anguished prayer, he asks God to hear and see the desolations suffered by his people, as well as the Sanctuary, and he implores God to give him an answer to his prayer. Reading Daniel’s prayer gives a background to the whole focus of the prophecy of 70 weeks. Even while Daniel was speaking, God answered and sent the Angel Gabriel. Gabriel talked with him and gave him understanding about God’s covenant relationship with the people of Judah via the Messiah; and informed him of future events regarding the Sanctuary in Jerusalem.
The 490 Year Time Period The time frame of this prophecy is 70 weeks – (i.e. 70 x 7 = 490 years in total). Although Judah’s 70 year Babylonian exile was coming to an end, the prophecy states that their complete “salvation” was yet at least 70 x 7 years in the future. The 490 years would start when a commandment was issued for Jerusalem to be both restored and rebuilt, and it would end in a second desolation. Such matters would not be finally resolved until an even more distant consummation, when God’s plans would be revealed. To suggest that Daniel’s prophecy did not cover the full 70 weeks of years, within the allocated 490 consecutive years time period would be discrediting him. He quite clearly covers 69 weeks after which Messiah will appear and confirm the covenant with the Jews for one final week, but that in the middle of the week (i.e. 70th week) something happens! He has already stated what it is – i.e. Messiah is “cut off” – and this is what eventually “causes” the temple sacrifices to cease. He does mention the “end” twice - i.e., Dan 9:26 “and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined.” I believe the reference to “the end thereof shall be with a flood” refers to the deluge of destruction which was meted out by the Romans, and the reference to “the end of the war” refers to the Jewish revolt 66 A.D. to 73 A.D. which caused the City and Sanctuary to be destroyed in 70 A.D. and finally ended at Masada with the mass suicide of the remaining Jews. It seems that “the end” and “end of the war” refers to the desolation of the Temple which was delayed by a generation. More on this later. I conclude therefore, that the prophecy covers the whole period of time – 70 weeks of years – i.e. 490 year time frame. Firstly it adequately covers the whole consecutive 70 weeks as it relates to the salvation of the Jews through the work of the Messiah; and secondly, it covers the period when Jerusalem and the Temple would be restored for that very purpose. However, as far as the Temple and Jerusalem are concerned history shows there is a gap of “a generation” before their final desolation and destruction. There is also a future consummation period which is not described, Dan.9:27 when “that determined shall be poured upon the desolate.”
The Commandment Beginning the Prophetic Time Period –
(See APPENDIX A for the various Commands) The actual period of time in which God will accomplish the things set out in the prophecy, would begin when the commandment to restore and to re-build Jerusalem was made. Bible scholars have differed as to which commandment this refers to, who made it and when; but most consider it relates to the City of Jerusalem and not to the Temple itself (Ezra 6:3 ff.).ii However, we could note in passing, that the scriptures place the initiative for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem with God himself. Ezra 6:14 “And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they
builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia.” Although earthly rulers may make decrees regarding the people of God and their institutions, the initiative must always remain with the will and purposes of Almighty God.
Restoring and Rebuilding the City – Ezra 7 –
Cyrus, King of Persia conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. and initiated the return of the first group of Jewish exiles to rebuild the Temple. As far as the rebuilding of Jerusalem is concerned, various decrees are seen as candidates for the beginning point of the 70 Weeks prophecy, and some were made by the Persian King Artaxerxes I Longimanus, (Grandson of Cyrus) who ruled from 464 – 424 B.C. It was during his reign that Ezra, a Levitical Jew, and Nehemiah (appointed governor of Judah) returned to Jerusalem (Ezra 7:1). However, as with the Temple rebuilding, it appears that the initiative was again with God, as prophesied by Jeremiah 29:10 “For thus saith 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.” It was therefore the “good word” of God which initiated the whole process of restoring and rebuilding the City of Jerusalem. Artaxerxes’ (464-424 B.C.) first decree, to restore Jerusalem was made in his 7th year. It is found in Ezra 7:13, 21 (and enlarged upon in Ezra 7:1-9). We learn that this particular group of exiles began to go up to Jerusalem from Babylon on the 1st of the first month (Nisan) 458/7 B.C., and arrived there on the 1 st of the fifth month (Av). This was 139 years after the first deportation to Babylon, 128 years after the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., 80 years after the first exiles returned to Judah, and 58 years after the Temple was completed in 516 B.C. Ezra appears to have concentrated on setting up an autonomous judicial system of government (Ezra 7:25), and was given sufficient funds by Artaxerxes to accomplish all that needed to be done. It was at this point (458 B.C.) that Government was reinstituted in Jerusalem, and the City was restored as Capital of Israel. Artaxerxes’ released a second group of exiles in his 20th year (445/4B.C.) when Nehemiah returned to the City, specifically to rebuild the walls and gates of Jerusalem, having heard of the sad state of affairs still existing there 93 years after the first exiles returned. The rebuilding of the shattered walls and burned gates of Jerusalem was eventually accomplished in just 52 days. However, although it appears this return was instigated in the month of Nisan, it only states in Nehemiah 2:6 that he “set a time” with the King who gave him letters of authenticity, and protection. No definite “date” is given for this permission to rebuild the walls and gates, nor is a specific decree mentioned. As we have seen, the 490 year period was to commence with “the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem...” I believe the first decree in the 1st year of the 1st month in the 7th year of Artaxerxes (458/7 B.C.) is the one most closely associated with the time frame of Daniel’s 70 weeks, and best fits the command to restore and build Jerusalem.
Taking 4 or 3 B.C iii. as the likely date of birth of Jesus Christ, and 27 A.D. as the likely date of his Baptism and commencement of ministry as the Messiah (at about 30 years of age); means that approximately 483/4 years had passed since Ezra was given the Artaxerxes’ decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. The general time frame of the 490 year prophecy therefore runs from 458/7 B.C. until 34 A.D. The “Covenant” 70th week was therefore to be completed between 27 – 34 A.D. (See appendix B for dating information.) Since I believe it is nigh on impossible to dogmatically determine a precise calendar of events that far back from our present “position” in history, it is not my intention to get involved in this process, or state that the 490 years began on such and such a day, and ended on another particular day. I believe if God had wanted to determine such a precise measurement, he would have done so in a measure of “days” and not “7-year periods” as has been done. Various scholars have tried to “work it out” but since there are several measurements of calendar “years” in which to operate, (i.e. “prophetic years”, oscillating Hebrew years, Julian and Gregorian calendars); no two “prophetic schools” seem to agree on a definite conclusion. I believe there are more important issues on which to concentrate our efforts in this prophecy than “dates”. A further matter that could be of significance in the 490 years, is that this period would cover 10 Jubilee cycles of 49 years, each of which also contained 7 Sabbatical cycles of 7 years, (referred to in this prophecy as “weeks”).
About 400 years earlier, Israel rebelled against the house of David (Judah), and Jeroboam became Israel’s 1 st King. At this time a number of faithful Israelites departed from the apostasy of the Northern tribes and joined themselves to Judah. 2 Chronicles 10:17-19 and 11:13-17.
The Temple rebuilding was started in the 2nd year of Cyrus, in 537 B.C under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Joshua the High Priest - (Ezra 1:1-3). The work on the Temple was stopped temporarily for about 16/17 years, during which time the book of Haggai was written. His main message was that they were living in fine houses, whilst the house of the Lord lay desolate. The rebuilding work eventually started again in 520 B.C in the 2 nd Year of Darius I The Great., (521-486 B.C. Grandson of Cyrus), and the temple was finally finished in 516 B.C. (Ezra 6:15), having taken 21 years to complete the building. If Daniel lived long enough, he would have noted that the 2 nd Temple was finished 70 years after the 1st Temple was destroyed in 586 B.C. Just as God had promised through Jeremiah, their exile from the Sanctuary had lasted for 70 years.
“The Star that Astonished the World” – Dr. Ernest L. Martin
APPENDIX A –
The various “commands” involving the Temple, and Jerusalem.
There were three commands (decrees) involved in the building of the 2 nd Temple and the restoration and re-building of Jerusalem. (Underlining mine)
The First Command only involved the Temple
Made by Cyrus I (Cyrus the Great) in 538 B.C. Ezra 1:1-4 “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The LORD God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.” This command is centred only on the building of the house of God, i.e. the Temple in Jerusalem in Judah. The building of the 2nd Temple was completed in 516 B.C. Counting forward 490 years from 538 when the command was given = 48 B.C. This date is not appropriate for either the coming of the Messiah or the ending of the 490 year period. A further passage of scripture mentions the multiple commandments by God and earthly rulers in relation to the building of the Temple – Ezra 6:14 “And the elders of the Jews builded, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet, and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia.” This passage indicates the prolonged process and complicated stages by which the people of Judah were finally able to complete the building of the 2 nd Temple. Although it was commenced in 537 it was not finally completed until 516 B.C.
The Second Command restored Jerusalem as Capital
Made by Artaxerxes King of Persia in his 7 th Year in 458 B.C. Ezra 7:12 “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 thee. Forasmuch as thou art sent of the king, and of his seven counsellors, to enquire concerning Judah and Jerusalem, according to the law of thy God which is in thine hand... (vs.15-24 relate to provisions and finance for the house of God) ...v.25 And thou, Ezra, after the wisdom of thy God, that is in thine hand, set magistrates and judges, which may judge all the people that are beyond the river,
all such as know the laws of thy God; and teach ye them that know them not. And whosoever will not do the law of they God, and the law of the king, let judgement be executed speedily upon him, whether it be unto death, or to banishment, or to confiscation of goods, or to imprisonment..” This command included provisions to beautify the house of the Lord, but its main focus was to restore Jerusalem as Capital of Judah, giving them autonomous Government as a Nation; whilst giving Ezra the authority to re-establish the theocratic judicial law of God in Judah. Ezra exercised this decree on the 1st Nisan 458 B.C. Counting forward from 458 B.C. for 490 years = 32 A.D. This is an appropriate date to include the coming of Messiah at the beginning of the 70 th week, until the end of the 490 year period. This is the only command given in relation to the restoration of Jerusalem.
The Third Command restored Jerusalem’s Walls
Made by Artaxerxes in his 20th Year in 444 B.C. This command, or rather permission, was exercised by Nehemiah in 444 B.C. No day date is given, but Nehemiah mentions the month of Nisan. He later returned to Jerusalem specifically to rebuild the walls of the City. The walls of the city were completed on the 25 th day of Elul, (Nehemiah 6:15) and it took them 52 days, therefore the work must have started about the 3rd Tammuz (4th month) 444 B.C. The details of Nehemiah’s request for permission to return to Jerusalem is contained in Nehemiah 2:110. The King sent a military escort and letters with Nehemiah to ascertain safe passage, and provide lumber for the gates, but there is no record of an actual decree being made, Nehemiah 2:7-8. Nehemiah became the Governor of Judah for twelve years from the 20 th year of Artaxerxes to the 32nd year – therefore from 444 B.C. until 432 B.C. Much has been made of this date in relation to a work by Sir Robert Anderson called “The Coming Prince” in which he calculates that a 483 year period of “prophetic 360 day” years was completed from 1st Nisan 444 B.C. to Palm Sunday in Passover week 32 A.D. when Jesus rode into Jerusalem as King. He postulates that there is a 2,000 year “Church Age” gap between the 69 th and 70th week of the prophecy and therefore there is still a 7 year period to be fulfilled for the Jews in relation to Daniel’s prophecy of 70 weeks. However, many scholars refute 32 A.D. as the year of Jesus’ death, which rather destroys his position. Historical data from the Gospels supports the view that Jesus was born about 4/3 B.C. We know from scripture that Jesus was about 30 years of age when he began his ministry (Luke 3:23). We also know from history that Herod’s Temple was commenced early in 19 B.C. and had been fortysix years in building at the time of Jesus’ first Passover in Jerusalem, (John 2:20). This calculation puts the commencement of Jesus’ ministry at 27 A.D. which makes his death no later than 30 A.D., depending on whether you ascribe one, two or three years to his ministry. Counting forward from 444 B.C. for 490 years = 46 A.D. This date is too late either for the coming of the Messiah, or for the completion of the 490 year period.
APPENDIX B –
Jesus’ Date of Birth and Death
Jesus’ date of birth and time of ministry can be placed in history from the internal evidence of scripture, and from the external historical evidence available to us today. We know from the Bible that Jesus was born sometime before the death of Herod the Great which is historically set at 4 B.C., and possibly (according to some sources) even earlier in 5 B.C. The story of Jesus’ birth in relation to Herod the cruel Edomite King is given in Matthew 2:1-22. When Herod heard about the Wise men from the East who had enquired about the whereabouts of the newborn King of the Jews, he summoned the chief priests and scribes to enquire where Christ (the anointed one) should be born. Having found the whereabouts to have been Bethlehem, and the timing of the appearance of the “star” he ordered the slaughter of all the children from two years old and under living in Bethlehem and surrounding areas. Since Herod was not dead yet at this point in time, we can only conclude that the children born between 6 B.C. and 4 B.C. were the ones killed. The fact that the wise men from the East (Matthew 2) turned up in Judea at this very time prior to Herod’s death also lends credence to “the story” that they understood the time and season, not only from the appearance of the star, but perhaps from the writings of Daniel, (Dan 5:11) and that they may have been members of the Magi, a religious cast from Persia. Meantime, Joseph, Mary and Jesus had fled into Egypt, and were not ordered by the Angel to return until after Herod had died (v. 19) and being wary of Herod’s heir Archelaus they avoided Judea and went to live in Nazareth. This automatically puts Jesus birth some time prior to Herod’s death in 4 B.C. and possibly as early as 6 B.C. In Luke 3:21-23 we are told that at the time of Jesus’ Baptism by John and after the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove had rested upon him, and after the voice from heaven had declared “Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.” The very next verse 23 states that “... Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age, being (as was supposed) the son of Joseph, the son of .....” After the long list of Jesus’ ancestry, Luke takes up the story again, showing that following Jesus’ return from Jordan (Luke 4:1-2) Jesus faced his temptation in the wilderness (Luke 4:3-13). Luke inserts Jesus proclamation of anointing in the Synagogue in Nazareth (Luke 4:14-16) immediately after his temptation. According to John’s chronology Jesus then began to gather his disciples, attended the Wedding in Canaan, after which he attended the first Passover visit to Jerusalem when he cleansed the Temple. Allowing for all that happened prior to his attendance in Jerusalem at Passover, we could say that it was probably between two and four months. From John’s chronology we can count at least three Passovers which Jesus attended – John 2:13-25 – John 5:1 – (Possibly John 6:1-4) – and finally the Passover of his death John 12 >. This therefore makes Jesus aged about 33 or 34 at the time of his death, which calculates to about 30 A.D. Jesus also ministered to his disciples for over a month after his resurrection - Acts 1:3. It therefore appears that Jesus “time of visitation” lasted for about 3 years 4
months, from his appearance with John the Baptist as “the Lamb of God” until his ascension into heaven 10 days prior to the Day of Pentecost. Supporting scriptures state that at the beginning of his ministry at his first Passover when Jesus spoke about his future death and resurrection, the Jews thought he was referring to the future demise of the Temple (John 2:19-20) and told him then that it had been 46 years in the building. Historical records show that it was begun by Herod in 20 B.C. This calculates the first Passover of Jesus ministry to have been about 26/27 A.D. therefore setting his death in 30 A.D. (using a period of 3 years ministry). The dating above referring to Jesus birth prior to 4 A.D. is therefore also supported by the dating of the Temple. Furthermore in Luke 3:1-2 the writer gives the dates for John the Baptist’s ministry commencing in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar. Tiberius assumed supreme power as co-ruler with Augustus in the year 12 A.D., therefore John the Baptist began preaching about 27 A.D. Together, this internal evidence from scripture and historic dating regarding the death of Herod, and the date for rebuilding the Temple, puts Jesus’ birth prior to Herod’s death in 4 B.C. and evidence for Jesus’ death about 30 A.D. Although these records do not give absolutely perfect synchronisation of the facts available to us, they do give conclusive evidence for the fulfilment of Daniel’s prophecy of 70 weeks within the period of 490 years, and for the Messiah’s appearance and death during the 70th week.
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