There has been an resurgence in interest in Bible prophecy lately with all the movies and TV shows coming out of Hollywood, books and magazine articles and just plain current events. Most of the interest seems to lie in prophecies about what's upcoming in the future.
However, in order to understand future prophecies, often it's important to understand prophecies that have already been fulfilled. Through the exercise of studying what's known historically and seeing how those events were heralded years in advance, we learn how to apply Biblical principles to future prophecies.
Many prophecies, though, are difficult to understand and have been given multiple interpretations. But who would intentionally turn you away from a prophecy to the point of putting a curse on it? A curse from a prominent Jewish Rabbi.
The prophecy in question predicts the very year that Jesus Christ (the Messiah) was to begin his ministry here on earth. It has been confounded over the years through confusing interpretations and outright attempts to obscure it. Once it's properly outlined though, the year our Lord began His ministry is revealed.
But first, the curse!
From The Talmudic Anthology, pg. 277
A Sage said: "May the curse of heaven fall upon those who calculate the date of the advent of the Messiah, and thus create political and social unrest among the people."
It has been quoted in other places as,
"Blasted be the bones of those who calculate the end."
And as, “Cursed be he who calculates the End Times.”
So, you've been warned! Now on to the prophecy!
(Daniel 9:24-27) Seventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, 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. (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 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 Hebrew word used here for "weeks" is Strongs H7620 - shâbûa‛ , Properly passive participle of H7650 as a denominative of H7651; literally sevened, that is, a week (specifically of years): - seven, week. So if we apply a Biblical principle, a day in prophecy equals a year in fulfillment, (Num 14:34; Eze 4:6) then we get the following:
"Seventy weeks" then, literally means, 70 times 7 years, or 490 years
"seven weeks" means, 7 times 7 years, or 49 years
A "score" equals 20 years so "threescore and two weeks" means 3 x 20 = 60 plus 2 = 62 weeks.
then "threescore and two weeks" means 62 times 7 years or 434 years
Now we just need to figure out what all this means and how to apply it. The prophecy says, "from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem" so we need to find when that decree was made.
King Nebuchadnezzar had invaded Jerusalem in 586BC and carried the Jews into captivity to Babylon for 70 years. You can read about this in 2Kings 24-25 and 2Chronicles 36 . I mention it only to set the stage as to why Jerusalem needed rebuilding, and for the decrees that were made to return the Jews to their homeland.
In 539 BC, Babylonian King Cyrus of Persia made the following decree:
"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 put it also in writing, saying, (2) 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." (Ezra 1:1-2; 2Chron 36:22-23)
A sacrificial altar was re-built in Jerusalem that year and the laying of the temple foundation began the following year. But then Cyrus' successor was not as sympathetic toward the Jews. The Magian Pseudo-Smerdis, Aartxerxes I, usurped the throne, pretending to be Cyrus' younger son. As he restored the Magian faith, effecting a religious as well as political revolution, he readily gave ear to the enemies of the Jews whose restorer Cyrus had been.
In 528 BC, Ahasuerus (Artaxerxes I) halted the building of the temple for 7 years:
Give ye now commandment to cause these men to cease, and that this city be not builded, until another commandment shall be given from me. (22) Take heed now that ye fail not to do this: why should damage grow to the hurt of the kings? (23) Now when the copy of king Artaxerxes' letter was read before Rehum, and Shimshai the scribe, and their companions, they went up in haste to Jerusalem unto the Jews, and made them to cease by force and power. (24) Then ceased the work of the house of God which is at Jerusalem. So it ceased unto the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia. (Ezra 4:21-24)
So all work on the rebuilding of the temple stopped. Then, Darius Hystaspes with six Persian chiefs overthrew the impostor (Artaxerxes I) and became king in 521 B.C. As soon as Darius was on the throne the Jews treated Smerdis' (Artaxerxes I) edict as null and void. This bold step is accounted for by Darius's own inscription at Behistun stating that in his zeal for Zoroastrianism he reversed Smerdis' policy, "rebuilding the temples which the Magian had destroyed and restoring the religious chants and worship which he had abolished."
After being reproached by the prophet Haggai (Haggai 1:1-10) on the 1st day of the month of Elul (6th month) Zerubbabel and Jeshua so counted on Darius' sympathy that they did not wait for his express edict and resumed building the temple. Their adversaries, Tatnai and Shetharbosnai, hoping that Smerdis had destroyed Cyrus' decree, informed the king of the Jews' proceeding and proposed that the archives at Babylon should be searched to see whether Cyrus had ever really given such a decree. Darius, found the original decree by Cyrus at Achmetha and further decreed the resumption of the building of the temple in 521 BC.
Then Darius the king made a decree, and search was made in the house of the rolls, where the treasures were laid up in Babylon. (2) And there was found at Achmetha, in the palace that is in the province of the Medes, a roll, and therein was a record thus written: (3) In the first year of Cyrus the king the same Cyrus the king made a decree concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, Let the house be builded, the place where they offered sacrifices, and let the foundations thereof be strongly laid; the height thereof threescore cubits, and the breadth thereof threescore cubits; (4) With three rows of great stones, and a row of new timber: and let the expenses be given out of the king's house: (5) And also let the golden and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took forth out of the temple which is at Jerusalem, and brought unto Babylon, be restored, and brought again unto the temple which is at Jerusalem, every one to his place, and place them in the house of God. (6) Now therefore, Tatnai, governor beyond the river, Shetharboznai, and your companions the Apharsachites, which are beyond the river, be ye far from thence: (7) Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God in his place. (8) Moreover I make a decree what ye shall do to the elders of these Jews for the building of this house of God: that of the king's goods, even of the tribute beyond the river, forthwith expenses be given unto these men, that they be not hindered. (9) And that which they have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for the burnt offerings of the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the appointment of the priests which are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail: (10) That they may offer sacrifices of sweet savours unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons. (11) Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let timber be pulled down from his house, and being set up, let him be hanged thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this. (12) And the God that hath caused his name to dwell there destroy all kings and people, that shall put to their hand to alter and to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with speed. (Ezra 6:1-12)
The temple building itself was rebuilt and completed 5 years later on the 3rd of Adar. The Passover was kept the following month on the 14th of Nisan (Ezra 6:15-19). The rest of the temple buildings and grounds were completed much later, along with the completion of the wall (Neh 6:15).
So, the two decrees in question are the original one made by Cyrus in 539 BC and the one made by Darius in 521 BC when he reinstated the original decree. But which decree is Daniel talking about - Cyrus or Darius?
We'll take the years the decrees were made and add the prophesied years from Daniel and see what year Messiah was to appear. Let's do the math. We'll take the weeks, translate them into years and add them to the years the decrees were made. Since the decrees were made in BC, future years count down, so we will actually subtract -
For example - 539BC - 434 years = 105BC; 539BC - 483 years = 56BC; and so on.
* The 69 weeks is derived by adding 7 weeks + 62 weeks (Dan 9:25)
Well, none of these work since they all result in years way before Jesus was even born! Now what?
Let's take another look at the prophecy again. If we read Daniel's prophecy carefully, we notice that it reads, "from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem", not the command to rebuild the temple. It's from the command to rebuild the whole city including the streets and the wall! The decrees of both Cyrus and Darius were about rebuilding the temple only.
There's another often overlooked decree that was made by Artaxerxes II also called Artaxerxes Longimanus, who reigned 464-425 B.C.
Now this is the copy of the letter that the king Artaxerxes gave unto Ezra the priest, the scribe, even a scribe of the words of the commandments of the LORD, and of his statutes to Israel. (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. (13) 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. (14) 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; (Ezra 7:11-14)
This decree, made in 458 BC, was to not only build and furnish the temple but to take all the people back and restore the city of Jerusalem, just like the prophecy said. Let's apply Daniel's math to this decree -
Note: When crossing over from BC to AD there is no "year zero".
Why was Daniel's prophecy divided into 7 weeks, 62 weeks and 70 weeks? It took 49 years to rebuild the temple and the city of Jerusalem. That's 7 weeks! The building of the temple itselfand out buildings may have taken 46 years. (See John 2:20) The additional 3 years may account for the time to put the finishing touches on the out buildings and to build the wall. If we take the 7 weeks (49 years) and add the additional 62 weeks (434 years) of the prophecy waiting for Messiah to come, we arrive at 69 weeks total or 483 years from the decree of Artaxerxes to the beginning of our Lord's ministry at the age of 30 in 26AD! It was likely then that He stood in the temple on the Day of Atonement (one of God's sabbath days), Wednesday, September 11, 26AD and read the Jubilee Year proclamation from Isaiah 61:1-2 -
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;
Afterward, Jesus stated, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears."
This account can be read in Luke 4:16-21, but notice He didn't read the entire verse. He stopped after, "To preach the acceptable year of the Lord". He left off the second half of verse 2 - "and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn;". Why? Because He did not come in vengeance the first time.
But the prophecy of Daniel was 70 weeks. From 458BC to 26AD is only 69 weeks. What about the last week, the 70th week?
That's another prophecy for another time!
Ref. - Chronologies taken from The Reese Chronological Bible
Historical references from Fausset's Bible Dictionary