An Introduction to the Countdown of Years, and an explanation of their starting point.

"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. 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. 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." (Daniel 9:24,25)

The word "week" is literally "a seven". Normally that does indeed translate as seven days - a week. But it can mean a seven of anything. It's one of those words of which the correct translation depends upon the context, and the context here is obviously not weeks but years. The sevens spoken of by Gabriel are sevens of years. "Seven weeks" are "seven sevens of years", namely forty-nine years, and "threescore and two weeks" are "sixty-two sevens of years", or "four hundred and thirty-four years".

So Daniel was told that God had numbered seventy-sevens of years ( i.e. 490 years) upon Jerusalem, and that the sequence of events would be:-

1. The Commandment to re-build Jerusalem;

2. Seven weeks (49 years);

3. Sixty-two weeks (434 years);

4. A final week (7 years).

The reason for the curious division into 49 years, 434 years, and 7 years was not given to Daniel, but with the benefit of hindsight we know what it was, and we shall come to it shortly; but to make sense of the prophecy we must begin by dating accurately the commandment to re-build Jerusalem. Many have come to grief here. We shall not.

1. The Commandment to re-build Jerusalem; The Starting Point of the Seventy Sevens

Various commentators have taken various commandments to restore and build Jerusalem as their starting point for counting Daniel's four hundred and ninety years. The Bible records such orders as having been issued by Cyrus, Darius and Artaxerxes. (Ezra 6;14 et al). Most commentators and chronologers seem to have chosen the decree of Artaxerxes as being the one from which to begin their count of the 490 years prophesied to Daniel, seemingly because they cannot make any other count land on any event to which the prophecy could refer. But this is because (a) Their chronology of the late Persian kings is derived from Ptolemy and not Scripture, and (b) They have not understood that The Holy Spirit reckons quite differently those years which lie under God's blessing and those years which lie under His judgment.

This chronology takes the decree of Cyrus as the starting point of the 490-year countdown, because
(a) We have numerous clear indications from the inspired text that this is the commandment referred to by Gabriel, and
(b) It arrives at the correct result without any "creative chronology"! (viz. the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70)

The scriptural basis for the choice of Cyrus is given below.

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, 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. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the LORD God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem. Then rose up the chief of the fathers of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests, and the Levites, with all them whose spirit God had raised, to go up to build the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem. And all they that were about them strengthened their hands with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, and with beasts, and with precious things, beside all that was willingly offered. Also Cyrus the king brought forth the vessels of the house of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had brought forth out of Jerusalem, and had put them in the house of his gods; even those did Cyrus king of Persia bring forth by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and numbered them unto Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah. (Ezra 1:1-8)

There are strong reasons why this decree is the one from which we should start the countdown given to Daniel.

(1) The decree of Cyrus terminated the seventy years which God had promised He would accomplish in the desolations of Jerusalem. Those seventy years began when Nebuchadnezzar, as co-regent with his father Nabopolassar, beseiged Jerusalem and took captives in AH 3520; they ended with the decree of Cyrus in his first year, which was AH 3589, the whole interval between the two events being one of seventy years. Had the seventy sevens of Daniel begun with the decree of any later king, the desolations of Jerusalem would have been extended far beyond their seventy year limit which God had set. The seventy sevens of Daniel must therefore have begun with the decree of Cyrus and none other.

(2) By his use of the words "that it might be fulfilled" The Holy Spirt here draws our attention to the unique significance of the decree of Cyrus, just as he did so frequently with prophecies about Jesus in the gospel of Matthew.

"... that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled ..."

(3) The decree of Cyrus was given by the direct inspiration of God.

"... the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia..."

(4) Isaiah clearly saw Cyrus as the originator of the all-important decree, not Artaxerxes.

Thus saith the LORD,..... that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof: that saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers: that saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. (Isaiah 44:24-28)

Isaiah specifically extends the decree of Cyrus concerning the rebuilding of the temple to the rebuilding of the whole of Jerusalem, for clearly they were one and the same decree. It is futile to attempt to separate the temple from the city.

So there can be absolutely no doubt about who it was of whom Gabriel spoke to Daniel as issuing the decree which initiated the countdown of seventy sevens. It was Cyrus, and he made that decree in his first year as sole king of Babylon. It is only because so many commentators have based their dates on Ptolemy's Canon rather than Scripture that they have found themselves unable to accept the decree of Cyrus as the terminus a quo, Ptolemy's erroneous dates of course getting them into trouble at the terminus ad quem.

NB: The muddled chronologies of those who have got themselves tangled up in the dispensational doctrine (usually from the Scofield Bible), which teaches that the last week of Daniel hasn't even happened yet and that we are still waiting for the Kingdom of God to arrive, are not discussed here.

2. The First Seven Weeks (49 years)

Forty-nine years from the first year of Cyrus in AH 3589 (BC 452) brings us to AH 3637 (BC 404). In this year Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem from Babylon as Pekah (or governor). In this year occurred the last recorded event of the Old Testament, namely Nehemiah's chasing off Sanballat's son-in-law for profaning the sabbath, and with this mundane event the Old Testament record closes.

3. Sixty-two weeks (434 years)

Four hundred and thirty-four years from AH 3637 (BC 404) bring us to AH 4072 (AD 32). What happened in AH 4072 (AD 32)? Messiah was "cut off", that is, Jesus Christ was crucified and buried. On the third day He rose again from the dead, appeared to many, and was carried up into heaven in the sight of His disciples.

4. The final week (7 years)

The last seven years were exactly those of the Roman war against the Jews which culminated in the total destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Half-way through the seven-year war Vespasian blockaded the roads of Judaea. This prevented the movement of animals for temple sacrifice, exactly as Gabriel had foretold.

So the whole period which Gabriel delivered to Daniel, and which the Jews found so difficult to understand, was as follows:-

NB: The years are counted inclusively as was the practice in Babylon (e.g. 452 to 404 = 49 years, not the 48 given by modern subtraction). Without doubt this was the method of reckoning used by Daniel in the accounts of the provinces which he would have prepared for the king, though it was not elsewhere used by the Jews.

1st (7x7)2nd (7x7)3rd (7x7)4th (7x7)5th (7x7)6th (7x7)7th (7x7)8th (7x7)9th (7x7)
49 years49 years49 years49 years49 years49 years49 years49 years49 years
BC 452-404 BC 403-355BC 354-306BC 305-257BC 256-208BC 207-159BC 158-110BC 109-061BC 060-012

10th (7x7)
Countdown to JudgmentMessiah in Israel - Judgment suspendedCountdown to Judgment
11 years33 years38 years
11 BC - 1 BC1 BC - AD 32AD 33 - AD 70

NB: Be careful with the arithmetic when looking at the above numbers, because to western minds accustomed to counting money they are counter-intuitive. If in doubt, set out the years in spreadsheet or tabular form and count them manually. Keep a clear head about exactly what you are counting!

To the best of my ability to determine the year, Jesus was born in 2 BC, probably at Succoth (Tabernacles). But in keeping with Jewish custom his age was not recorded until Passover of the year following, at which he was reckoned to be "a son of 1 year", i.e. aged 1. Birthdays as we practice them today were of no significance whatsoever (being a demonic astrological practice of the pagan Babylonians) and are not therefore recorded anywhere in scripture. The ages of righteous Hebrews were always reckoned from Passover to Passover.

From the decree to Messiah's being cut off:BC 452 to AD 32(7 x 7) + (62 x 7)483 years
From the decree to the destruction of the city:BC 452 to AD 70523 years
Less the years that Messiah was in Israel and the judgment was suspendedBC 001 to AD 3233 years
So total extent of judgment determined upon Jerusalem =(523 - 33) years (70 x 7)490 years

The first year of Cyrus ruling as sole king, and the first year of the return to Jerusalem under Zerubbabel, was the year AH 3589 (BC 452).
So the countdown of seventy sevens begins here.

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