The 70 weeks prophecy: placing Christ in History
The 70 weeks prophecy is given in Daniel chapter 9. It places the Messiah (Christ) in history very precisely. The prophecy takes us to the time when sin would be overcome and mankind would be reconciled to God.
This prophecy refutes those who deny Christ and His role. Thus it is very important to understand it thoroughly.
2. Prophetic time
To understand the prophecy correctly, we must first understand prophetic time.
It is well established that biblical prophetic time is calculated using the year-day principle, in which one prophetic day equals one year of actual time. The principle is based on Nu 14:34 and Eze 4:6.
The year-day principle was established in 380 AD, and is accepted widely today.
Note. A Biblical year = 360 days (a biblical month = 30 days).
3. The 70 weeks prophecy
In Daniel chapter 9, we first see Daniel greatly troubled, lamenting the great disobedience and sin of Israel which led them into a 70 year captivity in Babylon.
Daniel knows that Israel’s 70 years of captivity is coming to an end, and is perplexed. He includes himself in Israel’s sin, and pleads that God will forgive Israel and have mercy upon them.
We then see that God hears Daniel’s prayer and sends the Archangel Gabriel to give him understanding. Gabriel gives Daniel a prophecy of the Messiah:
Da 9:24-27 Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression [Strong’s H6588, revolt], 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 [Strong’s H6944 H6944, qdsh, a holy place or thing x 2].
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.
26 And after threescore and two 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.
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 [Strong’s H4503, an offering] 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 prophecy covers 69 weeks (v25) and a final week (v27), giving 70 weeks of prophetic time. Applying the year-day principle, we have 490 years of actual time.
3.1 The start and end of the 70 weeks (490 actual years) prophecy
We are given the start event: the decree to restore and to build Jerusalem (v25). We need therefore to determine the decree and its date.
The setting - king Artaxerxes
During Israel’s 70-year captivity, Babylon was conquered by the Medo-Persian power. The Persians became dominant, and at the end of the 70 years of captivity the Persian king Artaxerxes had ascended the throne.
It is Artaxerxes who granted the decree to rebuild and restore Jerusalem (v25). Thus we need to know when Artaxerxes ascended the throne.
Historical records tell us that Artaxerxes ascended the throne soon after August of 465 BC (in that month his father Xerxes was murdered). However, the first year of a king’s reign (his first regnal year) was reckoned as the first whole calender year of his reign (the first part-year of a reign that does not cover a complete calendar year is called the accessional year).
The Persian year ran from spring to spring. Thus the first year of Artaxerxes’ reign was counted from the spring of 464 BC.
The decree to restore and rebuild
Previously, two decrees were granted by kings Cyrus and Darius respectively, but these did not grant permission for the full restoration of Israel.
The third decree, the one granted by Artaxerxes in his seventh year (Ezr 7:8), did give both permission and provision for the full restoration and rebuilding of Jerusalem; see Ezr 7:11-28.
The exiled Jews left Babylon, under the leadership of Ezra, in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, specifically the first month (spring), and arrived at Jerusalem in the fifth month of the seventh of Artaxerxes (Ezr 7:7-9), i.e. in the autumn.
Thus the decree was put into effect in the autumn of the seventh year of Artaxerxes, which is when the rebuilding began.
Now we need to date the seventh year of the reign of Artaxerxes. We calculate this by subtracting 7 from 464 BC, which gives us 457 BC, specifically the autumn of that year.
The prophecy dates
We now have the start of the 70 weeks prophecy: the autumn of 457 BC. To calculate the end date of the prophecy, we simply add 490 years to 457 BC, which gives us the autumn of 34 AD (there is no year 0).
The 70 weeks prophecy runs from autumn 457 BC to autumn 34 AD.
3.2 Understanding the 70 weeks (490 literal years) prophecy
General explanation (Da 9:24)
The prophecy takes us to the time when mankind’s rebellion would be finished, the power of sin would be broken, and mankind would be reconciled to God and restored to righteousness.
At the time of the prophecy’s future fulfillment the Most Holy would be anointed (v24) (based on Strong's H4886, the interlinear software ISA2basic gives the original Hebrew for Most Holy: [qdsh] holiness-of [qdshim] holinesses). This anointing cannot refer to the Most Holy on Earth, because at the Cross the earthly Sanctuary would be abolished.
It therefore refers to the Most Holy in Heaven, in which the true and final atonement for sin would be made (see section 4, and study: 'The Priesthood of Christ').
69 weeks (483 actual years) to Messiah the Prince, i.e. Christ, (Da 9:25)
483 years take us to the year 27 AD (457 BC + 483). In the autumn of 27 AD Christ was baptized, which marked the start of His ministry.
In the final week of the prophecy, the 70th week, (7 actual years, 27 AD - 34 AD) Christ would ‘confirm the covenant with many’ (Da 9:27). God’s saving Covenant with mankind (see study: ‘The Covenant of Grace’) culminates in Christ.
Christ is the whole point of the Covenant, which He would confirm by His sinless life and His death - He would ‘seal up the vision and the prophecy’ (Da 9:24).
The middle of the 70th (final) week of the prophecy
This takes us to spring 31 AD. The prophecy tells us that in the middle (Da 9:26,27) of the final week, Messiah would die (be cut off, v26), but not for Himself.
Christ was crucified in the spring of 31 AD. Christ, the innocent Lamb of God, who had no sin to cause Him to die, laid down His life for all mankind.
The end of animal sacrifices: At His death, Christ would cause the ‘sacrifice and oblation (sin offering)’ to cease (v27). After the Cross, the mediation in the earthly Sanctuary ceased. No more earthly sacrifices and offerings were needed to atone for sin - Christ is the sacrifice, He is the offering, whose ministry in the Heavenly Sanctuary takes away the sin of the world.
The end of the 70th (final) week of the prophecy
The 70 weeks prophecy ends in autumn 34 AD. In this year the martyr Stephen, one of the seven deacons chosen to oversee the church (Ac 6:1-5), died at the hands of the Jews (Ac 7:54-60).
From that moment, the Jewish nation, because of unbelief on the part of the Sanhedrin, were rejected as God’s chosen people, and the Gospel went to the Gentiles also. Individual believing Jews, however, were not rejected. In fact, many priests believed (Ac 6:7).
Note, Scripture does not date the stoning of Stephen, but most scholarship agrees on 34AD.
4. Anointing the Most Holy
In the Great Day of Atonement in the earthly Sanctuary (see study: ‘The Day of Atonement’) the blood of the sacrifice for the people anointed the Mercy Seat (by sprinkling) in the Most Holy in the Earthly Sanctuary. This was accepted, in figure for the time, as atonement for the whole congregation of Israel.
In Da 9:24-27 we see that, at the end of the seventy weeks, everlasting righteousness would be ‘brought in’ by the shedding of Christ’s blood, which anointed the Most Holy.
This must refer to the Mercy Seat in the Most Holy in Heaven because the Earthly Sanctuary, which was a copy of the Heavenly sanctuary (see study: ‘The Sanctuary in Heaven’), ceased with the sacrifice of Christ, leaving only the Sanctuary in Heaven.
Anointing the Heavenly Mercy Seat with Christ’s blood ushered in eternal atonement and salvation for all mankind (see study: ‘The Priesthood of Christ’).
The 70 weeks prophecy places Christ in History very precisely. It also tells us of His role and what He would accomplish.
It is God’s timetable for conquering sin and death, which was accomplished exactly in the time prophesied.
Because the 70 weeks prophecy can be dated accurately it proves the year-day principle, and thus it gives us confidence in the other time-dependent prophecy in Daniel, which is given in chapter 8 - see study: ‘The 2300 days prophecy’.