A Puzzle Piece Falls in Place

Every once in a while some major piece of the Bible puzzle seems to come into place, and it is always exciting when it does. This is what had happened to me with Daniel 9. But please don’t mistake candor for bluster, as if my epiphany is your truth . Your mileage may vary. I am just explaining how I felt when these pieces came into place.

For a long time, although being clear on the sixfold Messianic fulfilment during the 1st century (see article below), and on the events of AD 70, what eluded me was the starting point of this prophetical time. I was led to unwarranted assumptions by a number of writers.

Most of these writers trained me – and maybe you? – to look in the wrong direction. The focus was on the temple, and who gets credit for initiating the temple decree that supposedly started the countdown of the 70 weeks. Moreover, adding to the confusion, I hadn’t stopped to really study the Daniel passage first of all. Daniel 9:25never mentions a temple, but the city, Jerusalem. The temple isn’t mentioned until verse 26. As far as the timing is concerned, the temple is actually irrelevant.

Here is Daniel 9:24 – 27, with emphasis and a few brief interspersed notes added:

24. Seventy weeks are determined upon your people and upon your 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.

The seventy weeks come out to 490 years, “seventy sevens”. This period of time is determined (“cut off” *) for Daniel’s people and the holy city. It is important to note that in this summary of the very purpose no mention of the temple. The anointing of the “Most Holy” is a reference to the Person of Messiah, not the temple (More on this later).

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.

Here we learn when the period starts; from the beginning of the command to restore and rebuild Jerusalem. But whose command, Cyrus (536 BC), Darius, or Artaxerxes (454 BC)? Later I will try to show why Artaxerxes is the only likely candidate, and why 454BC (with some “slop factor” either way) is the date that fits. The “troublous times” (tribulation) is sufficiently attested to in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah (and Esther, according to some). The builders of the holy city faced enemies both within and without; opposition, infiltration, accommodation, etc. Just like today for those who are part of the City of Zion.

This period totalling 69 weeks (483 years) brings us to AD 29, the very beginning of Messiah’s ministry!

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.

Christ is not cut off precisely at the end of the 69th week. We are only told that it is after it. More precise information comes in the following verse. What we do learn from this is that He will be cut off not for His own sins (“not for Himself”). And, once again, in the last part of the verse we have subsequent events foretold that are not fixed in relation to the end of this period, only that they come afterward. But all of these events are “determined”, just as the duration of the 490 years is “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.

This is perhaps the most misinterpreted prophetical verse in the Bible, the error being helped along by many modern translators who, by using distinguishing lowercase, or by footnotes, identify this confirmer and “breaker” of the covenant be Antichrist.

Actually, this passage is purely Christ.
He is the Confirmer of the Covenant, “This is the New Covenant in my blood”.
He causes the sacrifices to cease by His own righteous and God-satisfying once-for-all offering. When He said “It is finished” it was finished.

Since this article is mostly about the timing of the 490 years I will just keep myself to this summary of the other verses for now. I already mentioned that article (below, “Six Promises of Christ for His People”) that goes into much greater detail into these six blessings from Messiah.

Getting back to the timing issue:

First, a certain credibility issue for the prophecy as a whole needs to be dealt with. The interpretation has been raised that this whole prophecy has nothing to do with a time period, or that 490 years, at least are not meant, but an indefinite period. The best way to answer this is to consider the context. This very chapter begins with Daniel “understanding by the books the number of the years specified by the word of the LORD through Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish seventy years in the desolations of Jerusalem”. Jeremiah had written about the length of this captivity in Jer. 25:9-12. Was this a definite period? Of course it was.

Now why did Daniel just at that time begin to understand, to have a burden and to pray for his people? I believe it was partly from having just witnessed the Medes overcome the Chaldeans. Having read Isaiah’s prophecies (Isaiah 44:24-28:2) and putting together Jeremiah’s passage with that, he would have recognized Cyrus and the Medes as divinely appointed instruments of delivery. Cyrus, after all, was prophesied of by actual name, long before he ever existed. And Daniel’s recent adventure with Belshazzar on the last night of the Chaldean Empire was bound to have reminded him of as he read Jeremiah 25. That very passage that speaks of seventy actual years of captivity in Babylon (do we spiritualize these too?) then goes on to describe delivery from Babylon. Notice the details: After seventy years “I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation”, v. 12. God had said, moreover, to Jeremiah to take the wine cup from His hand and give it to the nations and make them drink, 15- 17. This was typified by Belshazzar at his wine party. He thought he was just drinking from Jewish cups, but He was actually drinking from the wine of God.

Daniel actually witnessed all this in very recent memory. So as all these pieces came together he knew that surely the time for, not only the Jew’s release, but their return to the land must be at hand. This motivated him to pray. Then Gabriel came to him with his answer and consolation. Now what kind of consolation would it have been to Daniel and for his people if the promised deliverance was not in definite years? They had suffered real shame and affliction, deserved though it was, for a definite period. Should not the consolation also be definite? Yes, much of what is promised is spiritual, but relief from this predicament has to also be physical, since that is the world we live in.

I didn’t meant to write this much on this, but I believe it is easy to fall into two traps. Either we make things too literal, or altogether literal; or we make things too spiritual (allegorical, actually) or altogether spiritual.

Artaxerxes the first is also called Longimanus, for supposedly having hands that touch his knees when he stands erect! (according to Adam Clarke. But Ussher maintains that he had one hand longer than the other.) But more importantly he was the one who issued the decree for those returning to the land to restore and rebuild the holy city.

Why then do so many Christian books make such a fanfare of the decree of Cyrus, as if he is the only one who could have fulfilled this? Honestly, I just don’t know, other than to say that no other options were being taught. Because if you read Cyrus’s proclamation, and then read Daniel 9:25 (see above), you should know that this can’t have been the decree spoken of. There was no mention of the temple. And Cyrus’s edict is all about building the temple. Eliminating Cyrus as the starting point of the 490 years shouldn’t even be hard **.

The second two decrees that are seriously considered are both from the same man, Artaxerxes Longimanus. the last one, the one we speaking of, being in 454 BC. This is the one that fits the chronology and the parameters.

More on Daniel 9:24-27
Here is the point where we should be somewhat wary of the surmises by people like Sir Andersen who, out of mathematical necessity, convert Jewish years into 360 days each in order to have the near-endpoint of the prophecy, the 69th week, end up in the years of Christ’s incarnate life. This gives him a credible endpoint, though using incredible means (as if the Jews of the day did not have their intercalary corrections). Once again, this is fallacious: Were the seventy years of captivity based on 360 days (Seventy years of 360 days each)? No, of course not. Neither are these 490 years.

Why does this fit? More to come later, as well as why 454 BC should be preferred over 444 BC.

* I am especially indebted to Kim Riddlebarger for cluing me in on the pervasive covenant terminology used in our passage. “Determined” translates the Hebrew term which is the same root used to describe “cut a covenant”. However I don’t see all the supposed covenantal details that Riddlebarger sees in other parts of the Old Testament.

** The version which I quoted left “prince” uncapitalized, as if it was not the Prince of the verse just previous. But this is unwarranted, as I have explained at length in the other article, Six Promises to His People.

*** Many modern Christians – on this point at least – have a common viewpoint with those Jews who disregard Jesus as being their Christ. Both groups – though for different reasons – make much of the physical temple, and are looking for a future temple. Looking for a future, physical temple slights the present, spiritual one; and the present reality of the city of Zion, “whose builder and maker is God”.  

Tom Riggle
Original article from 2005

About asterisktom

I breathe, therefore I blog.
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