“Can you explain Daniel 9:24-27 as it relates to the timing of Jesus’ birth? Thank you in advance.”
Of all prophecies to study in the Old Testament, modern scholarship may have made this one the messiest. There is so much difficulty and debate on this subject alone that I won’t be able to answer it completely, especially in this limited setting. So, consider this entry a way to get the ball rolling for future study.
First Things to Consider
When & Who. Daniel 9 is so alluring strictly due to its cryptic yet precise calculable timeframe of key eschatological events. It seems relatively self-evident that Daniel 2, 7, 8, 11 and 12 can provide greater detail into the sequence of these events laid out in Daniel 9:24-27. With that in mind, the first thing to reconsider is if the Daniel 9 timeline is even in relation to Jesus’ birth at all. There is also evidence that it’s in relation to the Maccabean Revolt, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, triumphal entry, death and resurrection, the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, or contrarily in relation to the Antichrist of future things to come; the sufficiency of which we’ll get into in just a moment. I will say that most people here at Bible Discovery hold to a futurist view of this prophecy.
Context. We cannot understand Daniel 9:24-27 in a vacuum nor can we understand the other visions of Daniel apart from the rest of the Bible, especially when Christological prophecy acts as the spinal cord of all Scripture (John 5:39-40). This is even made clear in Daniel 9 when he says, “I, Daniel, perceived in the books the number of years that, according to the word of the Lord to Jeremiah the prophet….” (v.2) Daniel was meditating on Scripture and repenting in supplication to God when Gabriel revealed a prophetic vision of the end times. In addition to this we also cannot read Scripture in isolation by excluding historical, cultural, and religious contexts, or even traditional understandings of the text, all of which provide tremendous insight to these prophecies. For example, the Ugaritic texts offer cultural and iconographical context of the Babylonian imagery used in Daniel 7.
Type of Prophecy. Prophecy itself can be a partial or double fulfillment of a single account, partial in the sense that it has yet to be fully completed and double in the sense that it happens twice sort of like history repeating itself. I believe, as does Pastor Rod, that this is the case for Daniel 9 and its subsequent chapters. That is to say, this prophecy is a double entendre of sorts, representing a “now, but not yet” theology of two distinct events at different points in time thereby fulfilling the historical first coming of Christ and also the futurist view of Christ’s return. As no one anticipated first and second coming of Christ, rather the traditional Messianic view collapsed the two comings into a single event, in the same manner Jesus reveals that there is an Antichrist who will deceive many before His second coming. To my understanding, the notion of an “anti-messiah” was never conceived nor is it present in Hebrew theology, even though he is, arguably, the central antagonist in the interpretation of Daniel 7-12; it is historically understood to be a Christian interpretation of prophecy. The ambiguity of particular words and cryptic conjunctions (i.e. “an anointed one, a prince”) seems agreeable with this double entendre view. Though, I don’t have enough space to dig deep into a futurist view here and now.
What is the 70-week period? (v.24)
All theories take into account that the word ‘sevens’ or ‘weeks’ (Hebrew, Shavuot) means weeks of years, not weeks of days, which is the same terminology used in Leviticus 25:8 lest it be an abstraction. That is to say, every seven years is one week, and thus a Sabbatical year. Therefore, the 7 weeks and 62 weeks add up to 483 years, with the final 1 week adding to a total sum of 70 ‘sevens’ or 490 years. Non-coincidentally, 490 years also makes it a special kind of Jubilee. A regular Jubilee is at the end of seven Sabbatical year cycles (49 years), in this case since its weeks of years, it marks the end of seven 70-year Sabbatical cycles or 10 Jubilees. According to Leviticus 25, the Jubilee year was a monumental event of liberty. On the tenth day of the seventh month, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), a trumpet blew: all debts were forgiven, servants and prisoners were set free, the land was to rest for a year or two, land ownership was restored to the original owners demarcated by God (since God owns the land, Leviticus 25:23-24); all to magnify the mercy of God and the eschatological significance of rest and new creation. In some respect, this special Jubilee does seem to mesh with the initial part of the vision and what Jesus Christ ultimately accomplished: “to finish [or restrain] the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy [place, thing or one].” (Daniel 9:24)
When did the 70-week period begin? (v.25)
In terms of historical fulfillment, some consider “from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem” (v.25) to be Nehemiah rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem with the decree of King Artaxerxes (c.444 BC) (Nehemiah 2:1-8, 17-18), others Ezra with the decree of Artaxerxes and his return to Jerusalem (c.457 BC) (Ezra 7:11-26) or King Darius I (c.512 BC) (Ezra 5:6-12), some with the word from Yahweh (c.520 BC) (Haggai 1:1-15), and yet most modern scholars trace it to the edict of Cyrus the Great (c.538 BC) (2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4, 5:13), all of which have significant ramifications for correct timing.
It seems to me that the most appropriate decrees come from Artaxerxes, whether Nehemiah’s account in 444 BC or Ezra’s in 457 BC, both of which are in direct reference to either to return or build “Jerusalem”, given that it’s the strongest correlation to verse 25. The other decrees record the reconstruction of the Temple only, and Ezra 1:1-4 states that Jeremiah’s prophecy to rebuild the Temple was fulfilled through Cyrus’ edict in 538 BC. So, the prophecy to “restore and build Jerusalem” is distinct in its own right.
End of the 69-weeks (v.26-27)
“And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing.” (v26). To reiterate, after the 69 weeks – the first 7 weeks (49 years) and the following 62 weeks (434 years) for a total of 483 years – an anointed one will be put to death, which presumably (and historically) means the Messiah despite there not being a definitive article before “anointed one”. Only the Messiah could fulfill the criterion in verse 24. The word anointed is usually reserved for high priests, kings, and prophets (1 Samuel 12:3, 24:6, 26:11; Psalms 20:7; Lamentations 4:20; Leviticus 4:3; 1 Kings 1:39; Isaiah 61:1; Exodus 40:9-11; Numbers 6:15; Isaiah 45:1) – and Messiah is all three. The word messiah literally means, “anointed” (Hebrew, mashiach) in respect toward Israel, and yet does not necessitate Godly character (consider King Saul, cf. 1 Samuel 26:23; 2 Samuel 1:14-16). This is still troubling for some since Cyrus the Great was considered an “anointed” (Isaiah 45:1) and the king of kings, too. That is why I am confident it’s Messianic, and yet I think the ambiguity here seems to indicate a double entendre: two similar yet different persons and events – the Christ and Antichrist – where the latter has the appearance of the former; where the spiritual new creation revealed in the NT precedes the physical new creation to come. I lack to space here to deal with this in detail but know that Jewish tradition held it to be Messianic, too (more on this soon).
From here, if we move forward in time 483 years with Nehemiah, we end up at the time of Christ’s death (444 BC – AD 33), and some even boldly claim it dates to the exact day of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but only if the Babylonian lunar calendar is used (a 360-day year, often called a “prophetic year”). Now, Daniel was writing in Babylon and the Hebrews did completely adopt the Babylonian calendar, the current Imperial calendar still uses the names of the Babylonian months, so this should not be considered ad hoc.
Second, if we use the standard solar calendar with Ezra, 483 years brings us to about the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry (457 BC – AD 26). Interestingly, many scholars actually date Christs’ birth between 6-4 BC and death at AD 30, which would help this view. If we calculate 10 Jubilees (490 years) from 457 BC, we end at AD 33. In order for Christ to be the “anointed one” in this view, he would have to be “cut off”, or crucified as it were, after the 69 weeks (483 years) and in the middle of the final 70th week (v.27b) between AD 26-33, placing his death in AD 30. As you can tell, this seems to fit – but it’s all guesswork. Dates are not set in stone; constructing a model for an historical timeline in antiquity is notoriously imprecise and probabilistic at best.
Historical Affirmation of Daniel 9
Regardless of our modern accuracy in detailing out the exact timeline of Daniel 9, the historical fact remains that 1st Century Jews were anticipating the Messiah based on their eschatological harmonization of various Scriptural passages and calculations of Daniel 9:24-27. The general consensus among New Testament historians and theologians is that the seventy ‘sevens’ (or weeks) listed in Daniel’s prophetic vision was expected to come to a climactic close during the time of Jesus Christ in which a religiopolitical ruler would rise up and take authority over the world, according to Jewish tradition. We see this anticipation throughout the NT with commoners such as with prophet Anna and the righteous man Simeon in Luke 2:25-35, where “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.” As well as the Pharisees pressing John the Baptist if he is “the Christ [Messiah]” or “the Prophet” like Moses (John 1:19-24), to mention a few examples. This also explains why Jesus reprimands the Pharisees and Sadducees so harshly for asking Him to show them a “sign from heaven” in Matthew 16:1-4. They can interpret the weather, but “cannot interpret the signs of the times” (v.3). In fewer words, it’s plain as day; there’s no excuse.
Rabbinical scholar Alan Segal also notes that an open theological dialogue about “two powers in heaven” continued from the time of the Maccabees (c.200 BC) and did not become heretical Jewish doctrine until the second century AD, presumably in response to Jesus Christ’s claim to Godhead (Mark 14:62). This ‘two power’ controversy is about two Yahweh’s throughout the Bible, one invisible Spirit (the Father) and the other who “looked like a man” synonymous with the Angel of the Lord (Daniel 7:9, 10:5-6, 18; Genesis 32:22-31; Exodus 23:20-23; Joshua 5:13). This theological dilemma paired with Messianic expectations biblically contributes to Jesus’ mass acceptance to be worshiped as the incarnation of the ‘second Yahweh’ among Jews. Additionally, rabbis even recorded a strange, albeit mistaken timeline in the Talmud as a way to pinpoint the 70-weeks of Daniel 9. Without getting into too much detail, it suggests that there would have been a Jubilee in 408 BC (by applying Ezekiel 40:1 to the misdating of the destruction of the First Temple in 423 BC), and even though it makes little sense to intersect dates from different timelines, it serendipitously corresponds exactly with Ezra’s timeline, making 457 BC a Jubilee year. While this is a pleasant coincidence, it’s more significant if it was taught by rabbis in the first and second century Jewish community regardless of accuracy; it tells you what they thought was important.
This anticipation was bigger than just the immediate Hebrew culture. In Matthew 2, the Magi from the East are traditionally believed to be Chaldean astrologers who, perhaps, held firmly to the prophecies of Balaam (Numbers 24:15-19) and Daniel since he was ranked the third highest ruler in the kingdom of Babylon (Daniel 5:29). Based on their reading of the stars they predicted that the birth of an “anointed one, a prince” (v.25) was imminent. Admittedly, this is conjecture, but the shoe seems to fit yet again. This, then, is the closest touch point to Jesus’ birth that I’m aware of, zeroing in on the turn of the century for Messiah.
How did the NT understand Daniel 9?
As a final remark, there are three things to keep in mind for future study about the book of Daniel in regard to the New Testament:
- Daniel 9 is one of the predominant prophetic backdrops of the NT;
- Daniel is one of the most referenced prophetic books in the NT;
- Daniel is usually referenced in the future tense in the NT.
In fact, Jesus himself puts the events of Daniel in the future (Matthew 24:15)! Jesus compares himself to the “Son of Man” in Daniel 7:13 (cf. Matthew 24:30, 26:64; Mark 13:26, 14:62; Luke 21:27) and compares His invisible kingdom (Luke 17:20-21) to the beginning of a “kingdom that will never be destroyed” (cf. Matthew 21:44; Daniel 2:34-35, 44-45); this is even evident in subtle expressions such as when Jesus famously spoke about ‘faith to move mountains’ (Matthew 17:20, 21:21; Mark 12:23; 1 Corinthians 13:2), it harkens back to the image of man in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream where an everlasting kingdom begins when a stone cut from a mountain by no human hand is thrown at the image and consequently spreads throughout the whole earth. All of which propels that “now, but not yet” theology.
Hope that gives some groundwork moving forward –– God bless!
Matlock Bobechko | August 21, 2020 – 12:53 PM EST
• N.T. Wright, Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (2012).
• Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (2009).
• David J. Hamstra, The Seventy-Weeks Prophecy of Daniel 9:24–27 and First-Century AD Jewish Messianic Expectation (Spring / Fall 2018).
• Robert J.M. Gurney, “The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9:24-27,” Evangelical Quarterly 53.1 (January / March 1981): 29-36.
• Arthur J. Ferch, The Book of Daniel and the “Maccabean Thesis” (Summer 1983).
• Frank W. Hardy, New Testament References to Daniel (September 2006-2010).
• George Athas, The Journal of the Hebrew Scriptures: In Search of the Seventy ‘Weeks’ of Daniel 9 (2009).
• J. Paul Tanner, Is Daniel’s Seventy-Weeks Prophecy Messianic? Part 1 (April-June 2009).
• Krys Peyton, Final Restoration in the Messiah: Daniel 9:24-27 (November 2011).
• James McGrath, Two Powers’ and Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism (2004).
• Michael Heiser, Two Powers of the Godhead. Video presentation (May 2013).
• Alan Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism (1977).