The Messianic Time Table
Written by Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum
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Messiah would be present 483 years after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem.
Messiah would be legally executed.
Messiah’s death would result in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple
Messiah’s birth and death, therefore, must both have happened prior to 70 C.E.
More than any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures, the writings of the Prophet Daniel confront us with evidence of the time of Messiah’s coming – evidence that many people would rather not see. But it is there and cannot be ignored. That Daniel was indeed a prophet is well substantiated. He accurately prophesied the rise of the Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires, even at a time when the Babylonian Empire, which preceded them all, was at its height. He accurately predicted the fortunes, conflicts, wars and conspiracies of the two kingdoms of Syria and Egypt between the fracturing of the Greek Empire and the conquest by Rome. He prophesied the role of the Maccabees during this period. It is Daniel’s detailed accuracy in his prophecies that has caused many critics to try to give a late date to the Book of Daniel, although no evidence has been discovered that would negate the book’s composition at the time that it claims to have been written. At the very latest, the book was completed around 530 B.C.E.
The key prophecies which are of interest in our present study are contained in verses 24-27 of Daniel Nine. However, it will be wise to survey the entire chapter in order to see what engendered the prophecy of when Messiah would come.
The Background – 9:1-2
The date for Daniel’s prophecy is “the first year of Darius,” which means that it occurred in the year 539 B.C.E., about 66 or 67 years after the Jews initially went into exile to Babylonia.
It was on this occasion, Daniel stated, that he was studying the Scriptures, and from these Scriptures he came to understand that the number of years for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem was almost over, since the duration was to be 70 years. Daniel mentioned that he was studying “books,” and one of them was the writings of Jeremiah; the lives of Jeremiah and Daniel did overlap to some extent. On two occasions (25:10-14, 29:10-14) Jeremiah predicted that the captivity and desolation of Jerusalem would last 70 years. What other books Daniel may have been studying we cannot know with certainty. But there are some strong possibilities that he also studied the Book of Isaiah, because Isaiah actually named Cyrus as the one who would permit the Jews to return (Isaiah 44:28-45:1). Furthermore, there are other writings in Moses and the Prophets that spelled out some specific conditions for the establishment of the Messianic Kingdom, and Daniel may have looked at some of these as well (Leviticus 26:40-43; I Kings 8:46-53; Jeremiah 3:12-18; Hosea 5:15-6:3). These passages emphasize that Israel as a nation must repent and confess sin prior to the establishment of any Kingdom of the Messiah.
Reckoning the 70 years from the year 605 B.C.E., when the first of three deportations went into exile, would bring the end of the 70 years to 536 B.C.E. Daniel realized that the captivity had only about three years to go. The city and Temple were not destroyed until 586 B.C.E., and if the 70 years began then, it would mean the 70 years would not end until 515 B.C.E. But Daniel’s calculation began with 605 B.C.E., the first deportation - not 597 B.C.E, the second deportation, or 586 B.C.E., the destruction and final deportation.
Daniel not only expected the captivity to end after 70 years, he also expected a final termination of any possibility of future desolations for Jerusalem; he acts as if the Messianic Kingdom was about to occur. As the Word of God was to be established on the basis of prayer, he prayed; and realizing that the prerequisite was the confession of national sin, he confessed the sins of Israel.
The Arrival of Gabriel – 9:20-23
Then, while Daniel was presenting his supplications, he was interrupted; he apparently had intended to say more when Gabriel arrived. The interruption came “about the time of the evening offering.” This refers to the daily, regular evening sacrifice that was offered while the Temple stood. Although it had not been practiced for seven decades, Daniel showed his longing for the return from captivity and for the rebuilding of the Temple by remembering the sacrifice.
Gabriel told Daniel that the purpose of his visit was: first, to correct Daniel’s misunderstanding concerning when the Messianic Kingdom would be set up; and second, to present God’s revelation which contained a timetable for Messiah’s First Coming.
The Decree of the Seventy-Sevens – 9:24a
Gabriel’s prophecy to Daniel began with the words: “Seventy sevens have been decreed for your people and your holy city…”
Many English versions have translated the phrase to read seventy “weeks.” But this translation is not totally accurate and has caused some confusion about the meaning of the passage. Most Jews know the Hebrew for “weeks” because of the observance of the Feast of Weeks, and that Hebrew word is shavuot. However, the word that appears here in the Hebrew text is shavuim, which means “sevens.” This word refers to a “seven” of anything with the context determining the content of the “seven.” It is similar to the English word “dozen,” which means twelve of anything based upon context.
It is obvious here that Daniel had been thinking in terms of years – specifically the 70 years of captivity. He had assumed that both the captivity would end after 70 years and that the kingdom would be established after those 70 years. But here Gabriel was using a play on words in the Hebrew text, pointing out that, insofar as Messiah’s Kingdom was concerned, it was not 70 “years,” but 70 “sevens” of years, or a total of 490 years (70 X 7).
This period of 490 years had been “decreed” for the Jewish people and for the holy city of Jerusalem. The Hebrew word translated “decreed” literally means “to cut off” or “to determine.” In chapters 2, 7 and 8, God revealed to Daniel the course of future world history in which Gentiles would have a dominant role over the Jewish people. This lengthy period began with the Babylonian Empire and was to continue until the establishment of Messiah’s Kingdom. For that reason, it is often referred to as the Times of the Gentiles. Now the prophet was told that a total of 490 years was to be “cut out” of the Times of the Gentiles. This 490-year period had been “determined” or “decreed” for the accomplishment of the final restoration of Israel and the establishment of Messiah’s Kingdom.
The focus of the program of the Seventy Sevens was “your people and your holy city.” The “people” were Daniel’s people, the Jewish people; and “the city” was Daniel’s city, Jerusalem. Although he had spent the vast majority of his life in the city of Babylon, Jerusalem was still Daniel’s city. For Jews, whether they are in the Land or outside the Land, their city is always Jerusalem - not any other. It is important to note that the program of the Seventy Sevens does not concern the Gentiles or the Church; it concerns the Jewish people and the city of Jerusalem. The program of the Seventy Sevens concerns both the First Coming and the Second Coming of the Messiah, but it is primarily the First Coming that will be our concern here.