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. 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 (Daniel 9:24,25).
When did the “seventy weeks” of years of Daniel 9:24 actually begin? Four “decrees” are often proposed as candidates to meet the description found in Daniel 9:24-26:
- The decree from Cyrus in 537 BC in which the Temple foundations were laid (Ezra 1:1-4).
- The decree from Darius the Great of Persia in 520 BC in which the Temple was to be completed and dedicated (Ezra 5:3-7).
- The decree from Artaxerxes to Ezra in 457 BC, when by his commandment Ezra began the work of completing the restoration of the Temple and rebuilding the city of Jerusalem. At this time, the Temple was to be refurbished with enough gold and silver to replace the furniture and instruments that the Babylonians had taken (Ezra 7:11-16). The sacrifices began according to all the requirements of the Law of Moses.
- The decree from Artaxerxes to Nehemiah in 444 BC, when the streets were finally cleaned of debris and the wall of Jerusalem rebuilt. Nehemiah took only a few months in that year to finish the job Ezra began (Nehemiah 2:1-8).
The simplest way of looking at “seventy weeks,” is to suggest that Daniel is just using an arbitrary big round number here, much like John does when he speaks of the “thousand years” in Revelation 20. In the postmillennial view, the kingdom of God will extend for a much longer time than 1000 years, beginning in the first century until the final consummation at the time of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Likewise, Daniel’s time period, 490 years, is roughly 500 years or about half of 1000 years. In this idealist/spiritualist view, Daniel simply means that it would be at least another 500 years until the coming of the Messiah.
While this is a plausible explanation, I am inclined to say that the 490 years here are more specific and are meant to be interpreted as actual years, not just a long period of time. Daniel 9:25 speaks of “seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks.” This is seven weeks plus 62 weeks, which equal 69 weeks of years. These 69 weeks of years are described as 49 years plus 434 years, which equal 483 years. This is not a generic round number so it should be interpreted to plainly mean 483 years.
The simplest way of determining the starting point would be to assume that Jesus arrived on the scene around AD 27 (cf. Luke 3:1,2) and go backwards 483 years (also subtracting a year for the year , which does not exist in the Gregorian calendar) to arrive at a starting date of 457 BC.
Why AD 27?
Jesus was born several months before Herod’s death according to Matthew 2:19. Josephus informs us that Herod died after a lunar eclipse and shortly before Passover (Antiquities XVII.9.3, Wars of the Jews II.1.3). According to these indicators, most scholars have held that Herod died shortly after the Passover in the spring of 4 BC. Thus Jesus was born in late 5 or early 4 BC. This would put Jesus at “about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23) in AD 27.
According to the best chronologies, 457 BC is the year that Artaxerxes’ decree was given for the restoration of the Temple to be completed and the city of Jerusalem to be rebuilt. Since this is exactly 483 years prior to AD 27, this is the most likely year that the “seventy sevens” of Daniel 9:24 began. The prophecy’s concern is the time period from which the “wall and the streets of Jerusalem” would be rebuilt until the time when Messiah would be “cut off” and the sacrifice would cease (Daniel 9:26,27).
What about Artaxerxes decree in 444 BC?
The second most popular date is 444 BC, which is calculated from the Jewish lunar calendar rather than the solar calendar. Julius Africanus, writing in the early third century, claimed that the 13 extra years in question from 457 to 444 BC are made up by the fact that a Jewish lunar year is only 360 days. (You are welcome to do the math yourself here. I have found it to be an unsatisfactory explanation.)
What about Cyrus’ decree in 537 BC or Darius’ decree in 520 BC?
Eusebius and others attempted to count from the date of Cyrus’ decree in 537 BC pointing to the arrival of Pompey and the Romans in the city of Jerusalem in 63 BC. (Yet the math here also does not work out well.) For that matter, attempts to count from Darius’ decree in 520 BC also leaves too much time prior to the coming of Jesus Christ.
When was the Messiah “cut off”?
The only year between AD 27 and 34 when the Passover Feast, or the 14th of Nisan, fell on a Thursday was in AD 30. This was the date of the Last Supper, which occurred during the feast of the paschal lamb. Therefore, Jesus was crucified the next day on Friday in AD 30. He was in the grave for two days and rose from the dead on Sunday morning, the third day.
After two days will he revive us: in the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight (Hosea 6:2).
For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:3,4).
If Jesus was baptized at the age of 30 in the latter part of AD 27, and we allow for the three Passovers mentioned in the Gospels, this would place His crucifixion on Passover on Friday, April 7th, AD 30. This harmonizes the time anchor we are given – when “Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23) – with the account of Matthew 2:19, which has Jesus’ birth taking place some months prior to Herod’s death in the spring of 4 BC. This would place Jesus’ birth in 5 or early 4 BC (again subtracting the year 0).
The vast consensus of scholars is that the crucifixion of Jesus occurred on Passover in AD 30. The only question here is how to reconcile “the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar” (Luke 3:1) as AD 27. Tiberius’ “regnal year” began on September 18th, AD 14 when he acceded to the throne. This is only 13 years. Therefore, other scholars have advocated AD 29 for the beginning of the ministry of Jesus and AD 33 as the date of His crucifixion. However, there are two ways of counting 15 years that makes the date of AD 27 possible.
1. Luke’s primary audience would have understood the Syro-Macedonian system of counting regnal years. To record the years of a king or emperor, they counted from the first day of accession, which is called the first regnal year. The second year was then counted from the New Year, which was in October. Tiberius’ years were reckoned from his accession on September 18th, AD 14, but the regnal year was counted twice due to the New Year falling in late September/October in all the provinces in the eastern part of the Roman Empire. Then each subsequent year was counted once. In this way of counting, AD 14 would be both year 1 and 2. If Jesus was baptized after October of AD 27, this would have been “in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar” (Luke 3:1).
2. Luke counted Tiberius’ years as emperor using the Roman method of actual years or total sum years. Tiberius acted as emperor two years prior to the first regnal year, beginning with his co-regency with Augustus in AD 12. This was the first actual year. This is a historical fact supported by Roman historians, inscriptions and coins. In AD 12 and 13, the Roman Senate granted imperial powers to Tiberius. Augustus had the Senate specify that Tiberius’ powers were to be equal to his own as emperor in order to smooth the process of succession. If we count total sum years from AD 12 to 27, this would be 15 years.
Either method of counting Tiberius’ years is a possibility, but the second method of actual years is more likely for the following reason. When Luke recorded Jesus’ age, he used total sum years as the anchor date. In support of the second method of counting, we should notice Luke’s description.
Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age (Luke 3:23).
It is a common interpretation to count from the first year of the co-regency of Tiberius in AD 12. This places Jesus’ first ministry year in about AD 27 shortly after John the Baptist began to preach.
Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, Pontius Pilate being governor of Judea, and Herod being tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip tetrarch of Ituraea and of the region of Trachonitis, and Lysanias the tetrarch of Abilene, Annas and Caiaphas being the high priests, the word of God came unto John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness…. (Luke 3:1,2).
Now in the fifteenth year — This was the “thirteenth” year of his being sole emperor. He was “two” years joint emperor with Augustus, and Luke reckons from the time when he was admitted to share the empire with Augustus Caesar (Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible).
We should also consider that word “about” probably means within a few months rather than His exact birthday, or sometime around AD 27 – probably in November or December, since this was 483 years after the Temple was cleansed of the impurities among the priests in 457 BC (Ezra 9,10).
A Roman coin of Tiberius minted between AD 12 to 13, the front showing a portrait of Tiberius as emperor during his co-regency with Augustus. The reverse shows the altar of Roma and Augustus at Lugdunum (modern Lyons, France). The inscription reads,
TI CAESAR DIVI AVG F AVGVSTVS,
“Caesar Augustus Tiberius, son of the Divine Augustus.” The same inscription is thought to have been present on the “tribute denarius” mentioned in the Gospels (Matthew 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26).
The concern of the prophet Daniel in offering the prophetic prayer of Daniel 9:1-19 was the restoration of the Temple and the right worship of God according to the Law of Moses. Thus the “seventy years” of “desolations” ought to be counted from the time the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC until the dedication of the rebuilt Temple under Darius the Great in 516 BC.
Likewise, the “seventy weeks” of years ought to be counted from the time when the Temple sacrifices began again in full compliance with the Law of Moses from the year of Artaxerxes’ decree in 457 BC until the Messiah was cut off “in the middle of the [seventieth] week,” that is, in AD 30.
Whether Jesus appeared in public ministry in AD 27 or 29, you can hold that the Messiah was cut off “in the middle of the week” using either 457 or 444 BC as the anchor date. However, 457 BC is exactly 483 years to AD 27.
True, volumes have been written about the question of the seventy weeks proposing various solutions. However, from the earliest days of the Church, those who dealt with this question noticed that it was only necessary to find the approximate date of the beginning of Christ’s ministry in AD 27 and to count backwards 483 years to reach the year 457 BC, which just happens to be the year that the decree of Artaxerxes I was put into effect.
This is in harmony with the accounts given in the Gospels, which include the anchor dates for Jesus’ birth and the duration of His ministry.