WHEN DO DANIEL’S WEEKS BEGIN?

PMT 2013-026 by Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Start dateAn initial problem faces the interpreter of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy. We must determine the identity of the “command” in Daniel 9:25: “Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem. . . .”

Decrees to Consider
At first we might suspect Cyrus’s decree in 538 B.C., which is mentioned in 2 Chronicles 36:22-23 and in Ezra 1:1-4; 5:13, 17, 6:3. Certainly Cyrus gives a command to rebuild the city (Isa. 44:28): yet the bulk of the references to his decree deal with the Temple’s rebuilding. Daniel, however, specifically speaks of the command to “restore and build Jerusalem,” which is an important qualification as E. W. Hengstenberg so capably shows. Though the Jews make half-hearted efforts to rebuild Jerusalem after Cyrus’s decree, the city long remains little more than a sparsely populated, unwalled village.

Yet Daniel speaks of the command to “restore” (root: shub, “return”) Jerusalem (Dan. 9:25). This requires a return to its original integrity and grandeur as per Jeremiah’s prophecy: “I will cause the captives of Judah and the captives of Israel to return, and will rebuild those places as at the first” (Jer. 33:7). This must involve the restoring of the city complete with its streets and protective wall: “the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times” (Dan. 9:25).

However, the Jews did not seriously undertake this until the middle of the fifth century B.C. Hengstenberg points to the decree of Artaxerxes I in Nehemiah 2:1 (cf. v. 18) as the beginning point, which he argues is in 455 B.C. J. Barton Payne and C. Boutflower direct our attention to the spiritually charged endeavor under Ezra in Ezra 7:11-26 as the starting point. This date would be in 458 or 457 B.C.
Julius Africanus, Vitringa, Ideler, and most dispensationalists compute the years by Jewish 360-day years. Adopting any of these closely related scenarios, we discover a possible reason the Jews expect the Messiah in the first century (Matt. 11:3; Mark 15:43; Luke 1:76-79; 2:25, 26, 38; 3:15). And he does appear at that time.

In the final analysis, the decree of Ezra in 457 B.C. during the seventh year of Artaxerxes I (454-424 B.C.), seems the best possibility. Ezra certainly understands this as permitting the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls. This would carry the first sixty nine years up to A.D. 26 (omitting a year in the calculation, because no year 0 exists between 1 B.C. and A.D. 1), which is the year Christ’s ministry opens. The Romans then crucify him three and one-half years later in A.D. 30 — a date accepted by most evangelicals scholars.

References decades after Cyrus’s decree, make abundantly clear that little was done toward rebuilding Jerusalem. Nehemiah laments that Jerusalem’s walls are “broken down” (Neh. 1:3; 2:3-5, 17; 7:4). Zechariah speaks of Jerusalem as “destroyed” in his day (Zech. 14:11), even mentioning its soon-coming rebuilding (Zech. 1:16; cp. Zech. 1:12; 2:1; 7:7; 8:5-6). The enemies of the Jews warn Artaxerxes that the Jews will become a problem if they rebuild the city (Ezra 4:12-23). This explains why Ezra mentions Jerusalem’s utter affliction “even to this day” (Ezra 9:7-9, 15).

The process of diligent rebuilding climaxes in Jerusalem’s restoration. This process probably begins either in seed during the spiritual revival under Ezra (Ezra 7) or in actuality under the administration of Nehemiah (Neh. 2:1, 17-18; 6:15-16; 12:43). Several political commands prepare for the restoring of Jerusalem, as well as one divine command: “So the elders of the Jews built, and they prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. And they built and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the command of Cyrus, Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia” (Ezra 6:14).

The Elements of the Time-frame
Now let us consider the constituent elements of the time-frame of the prophecy. The first period of seven weeks must mark off some event, in that Daniel distinguishes it from the two other periods. If it were not significant, he would speak of “sixty-nine weeks,” rather than “seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” (Dan. 9:25). Although we cannot be certain, this seven weeks (or forty-nine years) apparently covers the period of Jerusalem’s actual rebuilding. The Jews rebuild the city during this era, despite the opposition in “troublesome times” that God ordains (cp. Neh. 4:18; Dan. 9:25). Daniel does not clearly enunciate the time-frame, thus it has no bearing upon the prophetic debate.

As I will show, the second period of sixty-two weeks extends from the conclusion of Jerusalem’s rebuilding to Messiah’s formal introduction to Israel at his baptism (Dan. 9:25). This is sometime around A.D. 26. Conservative scholars widely agree on such an interpretation, which is virtually universal among Christian exegetes — excluding dispensationalists.

The third period of one week is the subject of intense scholarly controversy between dispensationalism and other conservative traditions. Much of my discussion below will deal with that final week.

In that our inquiry into the seventy weeks is eschatological and not apologetical, we need not finally determine the exact starting point for the time of the command. We do take comfort in the several closely related possibilities open to us, however. Yet the Messianic events to which Daniel alludes are more crucial to our eschatological concerns than the determination of the date of the command.

In my next blog article, I will consider significant differences separating dispensationalism from the other evangelical viewpoints.

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