Daniel 9:26 The Messiah who is cut off is our Lord Jesus Christ. The people refer to Roman Empire. The prince is a supernatural forces representing the Roman Empire.

Daniel 9:26 a Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing

The Cross
Messiah cut off

The “Messiah” (NASB), who is cut off (killed) is our Lord Jesus Christ.  Daniel 9:25 uses the word “until” to describe His public appearance at His baptism at the end of the 7+62 weeks (483 years), while Daniel 9:26 uses the word “after” to describe His atoning death; an unspecified period later.

Daniel 9:26 b And the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary

Jerusalem destroyed
Jerusalem destroyed

Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD.

Since seventy weeks were decreed for Jerusalem (9:24), the city would not be destroyed during the seventy weeks.

God did not purpose the Jewish nation to fail, but if firstly rejected the Messiah, and then, after His death, the Holy Spirit.  They thereby broke God’s covenant with them and lost their divine protection.  As our Lord looked into the immediate future, He wept over the city (Luke 19:21), saying:

If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace!  But now they have been hidden from your eyes.  For the days will come upon you when your enemies will throw up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, and they will level you to the ground and your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation” (Luke 19:42-44).

The People of the Prince

The “people” refer to Roman Empire, for it destroyed Jerusalem in AD70.

The “prince” is probably an angel, representing the Roman nation.  This is justified as follows:

Michael the archangel(1) The prince in verse 26 is described as “the prince who is to come”.  A few verses later we read of another prince who is “to come”.  The supernatural being speaking to Daniel (possibly Gabriel) has to return to fight against “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (10:13, 20).  He said, “no one … stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince” (10:21).  Michael is “one of the chief princes” (10:13).  “The prince of Greece is about to come” (10:20).  Both the prince of Rome and the “prince of Greece” are “to come” (9:26; 10:20).  But the “prince of Greece” was to come sooner, for he was “about to come”.

Since this is a supernatural being who is speaking with Daniel (10:16, 18), the princes against whom he fights, and the prince Michael who stands with him, are also supernatural beings.  The NASB calls them “forces”. Each of the princes (of Persia, of Greece and “Michael your prince”) represents a nation.  Michael is the prince of the nation of Israel (12:1).

Since both the “prince of Greece” and the prince of Rome are “to come” (10:20; 9:26), it is implied that the prince of Rome in 9:26 is also a supernatural being.

(2) The Messiah is also called a prince (9:25), and He said, “before Abraham was born, I am” (John 7:58).  He is a human being, but also a supernatural being.

This prince in 9:26 is therefore not a human Antichrist, as in Dispensationalism, but a supernatural “force” (10:21).

Daniel 9:26 c And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined.

Jerusalem destroyed
Jerusalem destroyed

Beginning in AD 66, wars broke out between the Jews and the Romans.  A few days before the AD 70 Passover, the Roman destroyers attacked Jerusalem, breached the wall and overwhelmed the city.  The Temple was fired and destroyed.  The Jews were ruthlessly slaughtered.  Their blood, according to Josephus, flowed in streams down the steps. The desolater had come. The city and temple were in ruins; the desolation accomplished.  Hundreds of thousands were slain, tens of thousands sold into slavery, and war followed upon war.

NEXTDaniel 9:27 The Covenant
TO:  Daniel 9 Interpretations Overview
TO:  Daniel 9: List of available articles

 

Who confirms the covenant and put an end to sacrifice in Daniel 9:27; the Messiah or the prince?

It is either the Messiah that is killed or the prince who destroys Jerusalem.  The Poetic Pattern and the messianic nature of the prophecy indicates that it is the Messiah.  He is also the dominant figure in the previous verse, and as argued in the previous article, it is God’s covenant with Israel.  It cannot be the prince, for he is a supernatural being.

Verse 26 refers to two people: the Messiah that is “cut off” and “the prince that shall come”.  Verse 27 continues with a “he”:

“… 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”

This article identifies of the “he” in verse 27.  Dispensationalism argues that “he” refers to the prince whose people destroyed the city in AD 70, and that this prince will reign during the last seven years before the return of Christ.

Poetic Pattern

Summary: The Poetic Pattern of the prophecy indicates that “he” in verse 27, who confirm the covenant for seven years, is the same as the Messiah who is cut off in verse 26.

Parallelism

parallelismThe prophecy in Daniel 9 uses much parallelism, where two related words or phrases are used together to emphasize a point, for instance:

Insight with understanding (v22);
Give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision (v23);
Your people and your holy city (v24);
To finish the transgression, to make an end of sin (v24);
Know and discern (v25);
Restore and rebuild (v25);
Seven weeks and sixty-two weeks (v26);
The city and the sanctuary (v26); and
Sacrifice and grain offering.

We also find this repetition of thought in two adjacent verses:

I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding” (v22) and
I have come to tell you” (v23)

Two foci

Jesus in JerusalemBut perhaps the most important pattern in the prophecy is the way in which the focus shifts repeatedly back and forth between the two foci; Jerusalem and the Messiah:

25: from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem;
until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks;
it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress.
26: after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary.
27: he shall confirm the covenant …; and … cause the sacrifice … to cease … he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation …

Verses 25 and 26 explicitly shift the focus four times between Jerusalem and the Messiah.  The implication is that verse 27 continues this pattern.  Since verse 26 ends with a reference to Jerusalem, the first part of verse 27, describing the “he” who confirms the covenant for seven years, but “cause the sacrifice … to cease” in the middle of that week, should be the Messiah.

Similarly, the destruction in the last part of verse 27 should refer to Jerusalem.  Also see Daniel 9: Chronological sequence for a further discussion.

Messiah is the Dominant Figure

Summary: The dominant figure in verse 26 and in the entire prophecy is the “Messiah”.  He is therefore the appropriate antecedent for “he” in verse 27.

The prince whose people destroy the city is the last person mentioned in verse 26.  Dispensationalism therefore proposes that the “he” in verse 27 refers to this prince.

However, the “prince that shall come” is not the subject of that clause in verse 26.  It reads “people of the prince”, not “the prince of the people”.   The “prince” in verse 26 is a subordinate figure.  The dominant figure in the entire prophecy and in verse 26 is the “Messiah“.  The Messiah should therefore be preferred as the antecedent for the “he” in verse 27.

Supernatural Being

Summary: The prince in 9:26 is a supernatural being, representing the Roman nation, while the “he” of verse 27 is a human being, and therefore cannot refer to a supernatural being.  The proper antecedent for “he” is therefore the Messiah.

The prince in verse 26 is described as “the prince who is to come”.  A few verses later we read of a prince of Greece who also is “to come”:

Michael the archangel“I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; … the prince of Greece is about to come.  … Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince.” (10:20, 21; see also 12:1)

Since this is a supernatural being that is speaking here (10:16, 18), the princes against whom he fights, and the prince Michael who stands with him, are also supernatural beings.  The NASB, quoted above, calls them “forces”. They are not human beings.  Each of the princes (of Persia, of Greece and “Michael your prince”) represent a nation.  Michael is the prince of the nation of Israel (12:1).

Since both the “prince of Greece” and the prince of Rome are “to come” (10:20; 9:26), it is implied that the prince of Rome in 9:26 is also a supernatural being.  The “he” in verse 27, who is a human being, therefore cannot refer back to the prince in verse 26.

Messianic Prophecy

Summary: According to Daniel 9 this world’s sin problem would be solved by the killing of the messiah, while an end will be made to the sacrificial system.  In the light of the New Testament these refer to Jesus, and the “he”, who makes an end to the sacrificial system, is the Messiah.

Daniel 9:27 indicates:

… in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering

antichrist last seven years

In Dispensationalism this is the work of the Antichrist during the seven years prior to the return of Christ.  He will destroy the sanctuary and its services.

In Dispensationalism the first 7+62 weeks (483 years) came to an end the Sunday prior to the Cross, while the 70th week is still in our future.  The Cross therefore does not fall within the 490 years and none of the goals set for the 490 years, as listed in verse 24, have been fulfilled through the Cross, but will only be fulfilled at the end of the future 70th week.

Context

However, this “put a stop to sacrifice” must be understood within its context:

make atonement for iniquityVerse 24 lists six goals to be attained through Daniel’s people during the 490 years, including “to make atonement for iniquity” and “to bring in everlasting righteousness”.

The goals must be fulfilled through seven events listed in 9:25-26, including the appearance (v25) and the killing of the Messiah (v26).

Verse 27, saying that a stop will be put to sacrifices in the middle of the final seven years, is the core and purpose of the 490 years.

The prophecy of Daniel 9 therefore implies that this world’s sin problem would be solved (9:24) through the appearance (v25) and killing of the messiah (v26), while “sacrifice and grain offering” will be stopped (9:27).

Fulfilled in Jesus

In the light of New Testament, this describes Jesus Christ:

He was “Jesus the Messiah” (Matt 1:1, cf. 1:16, 17; 2:4; John 1:41, 4:25).

He was killed.

He solved the sin problem of the world.  Through His death, He fulfilled the goals in verse 24 “to make atonement for iniquity” (John 1:29; Matt. 26:28; Hebr. 7:27, 9:26-28; Hebr. 9:12; 10:10, 12, 14) and “to bring in everlasting righteousness” (Heb. 9:12; Rom. 5:10, 11; Col. 1:20; 2Co 5:19; Col 1:22; Rom 5:18; John 3:17; Col 1:19-20).

His death caused sacrifice to cease.  Christ’s death did not cause the Jewish sacrifices to cease immediately.  The Jewish sacrifices continued until the destruction of Jerusalem forty years later.  But these sacrifices pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Lamb of God.  When Jesus—the Lamb of God—died, He fulfilled the significance of those sacrifices.  The Jewish sacrifices were consequently terminated at the death of Christ in the sense of its loss of meaning.

The letter to the Hebrews states this explicitly.  When Jesus ascended to heaven and became High Priest (Heb. 6:20), the law changed (Heb. 7:12), including the sacrificial system (Heb. 7:19; 8:4; 9:22).  Jesus set “aside the first [sacrifices and offerings] to establish the second” (Heb. 10:9).  (See also Heb. 8:13 and Eph. 2:15.)  In this way His death caused “sacrifice and the oblation (NASB: grain offering) to cease” (Daniel 9:27).

Conclusion

The Daniel 9 prophecy is therefore thoroughly messianic in nature.  In this context the statement that “he will put a stop to sacrifice” in verse 27 must be understood as referring to the sacrifice at the Cross which made an end to all other sacrifices.  The “he” therefore refers to the Messiah.  To allocate verse 27 to an end time antichrist does injustice to the overall gist of the prophecy.

pierced through for our transgressionsThe prophecy, received 500 years before the cross, discloses a most profound aspect of the Messiah’s mission, namely that His death would be the true sacrifice for sin.  As also disclosed by Isaiah 53, He was “pierced through for our transgressions”.  This is not only another proof of the existence of the supernatural, but also it tells us much about the nature of the universe.  God knows where we are.  He sent His only begotten Son to die for our sins.  We cannot understand why and how, for His thoughts are as high above our thoughts as the stars are above the earth, but it is wonderful to understand that the Source of all power and love feels this way about us; undeserving sinners.

Repetition

But then questions may arise:

If the termination of the sacrifices and the killing of the messiah is the same event, why is the one described as “after the 62 sevens”, (9:26) and the other as in the “midst of” the last seven (9:27)?

And why is the destruction of Jerusalem mentioned between the killing of the Messiah and the stop that is made to sacrifices?

The answer to this question is found in the repetition (parallelism) of the prophecy, as described above in the section dealing with the poetic structure.  Since the prophecy so often repeats concepts, the repetition of the events of verse 26 by verse 27 is almost to be expected.  The prophecy consists of three divisions; each providing information relative to a different period of time:

490 yearsVerse 24 announces the 490 years and sets the goals for that period.
483 years – Verses 25 and 26 describe events relative to the first 483 years, including the killing of the Messiah and the consequential destruction of the city after the end of the 483 years.
Final 7 years – Verse 27 describes the same events, but relative to the final seven years.

Summary

The previous verse identifies two options; the Messiah that is “cut off” and “the prince that shall come”.  The previous article found that it is God’s covenant.  It must therefore be the Messiah.  In this article:

Poetic Pattern – The prophecy has a poetic pattern which shifts repeatedly back and forth between Jerusalem and the Messiah.  In this pattern the “he” is the Messiah.

Dominant Figure – The dominant figure in verse 26 and in the entire prophecy is the “Messiah”.  He is therefore the appropriate antecedent for “he” in verse 27.

Supernatural Being – Comparison with the princes in Daniel 10 shows that the prince in 9:26 is a supernatural being, representing the Roman nation, while the “he” of verse 27 is a human being, and therefore cannot refer to a supernatural being.

Messianic Prophecy – The purpose of the events predicted by the prophecy is to solve this world’s sin problem (v24) through the killing of the messiah (v26), while an end will be made to the sacrificial system (v27).  This is a prediction of Christ’s mission.  Since the Lamb of God caused sacrifices to cease, the “he”, who makes an end to the sacrificial system, is the Messiah.

NEXT:  Is the last week the last seven years before Christ returns?  Dispensationalism claims it is.  However, the desolations in the last part of verse 27 is the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, also described by verse 26.  This is indicated by the Poetic Pattern and the repetition of words.  The last week, described earlier in verse 27, must therefore be prior to AD 70.

TO:  Daniel 9 Interpretations Overview
TO:  Daniel 9: List of available articles

Dispensationalism and the Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9; An introduction

DispensationalismDaniel 9 allows Jerusalem a further 70 cycles of 7 years each—490 years—to achieve 6 goals.  The prophecy therefore promises that Jerusalem would be restored to Israel to serve as their executive capital.  The city is rebuilt constructed to receive the Messiah, but it is again destroyed because it did not receive the Messiah.  In Dispensationalism the last seven years are the seven last years before the Return of Christ, when the antichrist rule.  In the traditional interpretations the last seven years revolves around the Cross. 

Articles

This is the first article in a series on the Dispensational Interpretation of Daniel 9:

(1) Introduction to Dispensationalism and Daniel 9: Overview of the text of Daniel 9 and of the Dispensational interpretation
(2) Time indications in Daniel 9: When was the decree issued, when did the Messiah appear and when did God suspend His covenant with the Jews?
(3) Whose covenant is confirmed in Daniel 9:27; God’s covenant with Israel or the devil’s?
(4) Who confirms the covenant for seven years; the Messiah or the prince?
(5) Is the last week the last seven years before Christ returns?
(6) Dispensationalism Daniel 9 and the Antichrist: Other inconsistencies compared to the text
(7) When will the Daniel 9:24 goals, set by for the 490 years, be fulfilled?

Origin

John Nelson DarbyEvangelical Christians today extensively hold to the Dispensationalism view on eschatology, in spite of its relatively recent origin.  Dispensationalism is often linked with the teachings on prophecy by John Nelson Darby (1800-1882)—from the 1830s on—and the Plymouth Brethren of Ireland.  Scofield (1843-1921) of the United States was influenced by Darby and presented the view of seven dispensations from Eden to the new creation in the notes of the widely used Scofield Reference Bible.

Overview of the Prophecy

Daniel the prophetsDaniel received the Daniel 9 prophecy in the year 538 BC.  At that time the Jewish nation was in Babylon in captivity, and Jerusalem and the temple were in ruins.  Daniel prayed for Jerusalem (9:16), the sanctuary (9:17) and for his people (9:19).  While still praying, the angel Gabriel appeared to him (9:21) and gave him the extremely compact and powerful prophecy contained in verses 24 to 27:

Verse 24

The prophecy commences with the announcement that 70 weeks have been decreed for Israel and for its capital city, Jerusalem, to achieve 6 goals:

Seventy WeeksSeventy weeks are determined upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to
   finish the transgression, and
   make an end of sins, and   
   make reconciliation for iniquity, and
   bring in everlasting righteousness, and
   seal up the vision and prophecy, and to 
   anoint the most Holy. (KJV)

Israel’s calendar followed a seven-year cycle in which every seventh year was a Sabbath for the land (Lev. 25).  The 70 weeks are 70 of those seven-year cycles, and consequently equal to 490 years.

The remaining three verses describe the events through which the six goals above were to be achieved.

Verse 25

This verse indicates when the 490 years start:

So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to Rebuild Jerusalem Jerusalem

To identify this decree, it is important to distinguish between “restore” and “rebuild”.  “Restore” in the original text means to give the city back to its previous owner.  “Restore” does not include the idea of rebuilding.  Jerusalem was the judicial and executive capital of the Israeli people.  To restore Jerusalem means that it will be returned to the Jews to serve as their capital from which they would rule their whole nation, according to their own laws as a theocentric society.

Verse 25 continues to say that the Messiah Prince would appear 69 sevens (483 years) after that decree:

from the issuing of a decree … until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” (NASB).

Verse 25 concludes by adding that the rebuilding of Jerusalem would be “in troublous times”.

Verse 26

This verse shifts the focus back to the Messiah.  While verse 25 indicated that the Messiah will appear at the end of the first 483 years, verse 26 states that he would be cut off “after” the 69 sevens.

Verse 26 then again diverts the focus to Jerusalem, stating that it will be destroyed again.  Since 70 weeks have been decreed for Jerusalem, it must be this destroyed after the end of the 70 weeks.

The CrossIt is important to note how the prophecy repeatedly jumps back and forth between Jerusalem and the Messiah.  Verses 25 and 26 switch four time from the one to the other.  As discussed in the article Poetry and Chiasm in Daniel 9, the prophecy of Daniel 9 is a form of poetic parallelism in which Jerusalem and the Messiah are the two foci.  These two foci stand in cause-effect relationships; the city is rebuilt to receive the Messiah, but it is again destroyed because it did not receive the Messiah.

Verse 27

The first part of verse 27 focuses on the final seven years:

And he shall with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease” (9:27 KJV)

The only event during the first 483 years is “restore and rebuild Jerusalem”.  The death of the Messiah, the “confirm the covenant” and the “cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease” (9:27) all happen during the final seven years.  These final seven years therefore are the core and the real purpose of the 490 years.  The first 483 years merely serve to locate the last seven years in time.

The last part of verse 27 describes unspecified destruction.

Conclusion

Daniel 9 is very different from the other prophecies in Daniel.  Daniel 9 is literal and only deals with Israel and the 490 years.  The other prophecies are symbolic and deal with all nations and with all time.

Dispensationalism: interpretation in brief

In Dispensationalism:

The 490 years start with the second decree of Artaxerxes I (Neh. 1-2), who gave Nehemiah permission to repair Jerusalem.

The first 483 years end with Jesus’ triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday.

The 490 years are not viewed as continuous, but a huge “paren­thesis” or “gap” is inserted between the first 483 years and the final seven years.  The entire “church age” is a gap during which the prophetic clock has stopped ticking.

The seven years are the final seven years before the Return of Christ, commencing with the rapture of the church.  The rapture includes the resurrection of dead saints and the translation of living saints.  They will secretly be removed from the earth.

Confirm the covenantDuring the 70th week the antichrist will arise; a revived Roman empire whose prince will oppress the Jews and bring upon the world a 3½ year tribulation during the latter half of the seven years.

Traditional Interpretation

There is not much difference between Dispensationalism and the traditional Protestant interpretations of the first 483 years.  Both start the 490 years with a decree of Artaxerxes and both end the first 483 years in the time of Christ.  The major difference is with respect to the final seven years. In the traditional interpretation:

From a decree to restore – The 490 years began with Artaxerxes’ first decree in 458/7 BC.

Baptism of Jesus ChristUntil Messiah the Prince – 483 literal years later the Messiah appeared at His baptism in AD 26/27.  This was also the beginning of the final seven years.

Sacrifice cease – 3½ years later, in the midst of the final seven years, Jesus was killed, causing “the sacrifice and the oblation to cease”.  These sacrifices pointing forward to His death and lost their purpose and meaning when He died.

Last seven yearsConfirmed – Jesus Christ confirmed God’s covenant with Israel during the final seven years:

First through His personal preaching for 3½ years before His death;

Then, for a further 3½ years after His death, by sending His disciples with the power of the Holy Spirit to Israel only.  In those 3½ years the church consisted only of Jews and it still adhered to all Old Testament laws.  It was a sect of Judaism.  See Early Church.

The End – God’s 490-year covenant with Israel came to an end 3½ years after His death, when Israel rejected Him by persecuting His Spirit-filled disciples.  After this the gospel was suddenly redirected from Jews only to all people.

Jerusalem destroyed – Since 490 years were decreed for Jerusalem (v24), Jerusalem was not destroyed during those 490 years, but only in 70 AD.

Importance of Daniel 9 in Dispensationalism

The importance of the Seventy Weeks prophecy for Dispensationalism can hardly be exaggerated.  Dispensationalism often appeals to Daniel 9 as the clear proof that the entire Church Age is a parenthesis in the prophetic program which is found between verses 26 and 27 of Daniel 9.  The other schools of Christian thought on eschatology are able to survive even when their views of Daniel 9 are proven false, but Dispensationalism eschatology stands or fall on its interpretation of Daniel 9.

Summary

Daniel 9 goalsDaniel 9 sets 6 goals for Israel.

For this purpose it grants Jerusalem a 70 weeks.  Israel’s calendar was divided into groups of seven-years, where every seventh year was a Sabbath.  The 70 weeks are 70 of those seven-year cycles, and consequently equal to 490 years.

Jerusalem was to be restored.  “Restore” does not mean rebuilding.  In the original text to restore means that Jerusalem will be returned to the Jews to serve as their capital to rule the whole nation.

The prophecy repeatedly jumps back and forth between Jerusalem and the Messiah.  The prophecy of Daniel 9 is poetic parallelism in which Jerusalem and the Messiah are the two foci.  The city is restored and rebuilt to receive the Messiah, but it is again destroyed because it did not receive the Messiah.

The final seven years are the core and the real purpose of the 490 years.  The first 483 years merely serve to locate the last seven years in time.

Daniel 9 is very different from the other prophecies in Daniel.  Daniel 9 is literal and only deals with Israel and the 490 years.  The other prophecies are symbolic and deal with all nations and with all time.

In Dispensationalism the first 483 years end with Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but the last week is the final seven years before the Return of Christ, when the antichrist will bring upon the world a 3½ year tribulation.

There is not much difference between Dispensationalism and the traditional Protestant interpretations of the first 483 years.  Both start the 490 years with a decree of Artaxerxes and both end the first 483 years in the time of Christ.  The major difference is with respect to the final seven years. In the traditional interpretation the final seven years include the 3½ years that Jesus preached in person and the 3½ years after His death, when He preached through His Holy Spirit to Israel only.

Dispensationalism is highly dependent on its interpretation of Daniel 9.  If the dispensational interpretation is Daniel is proven false, the entire Dispensational scheme collapses.

NEXT:   Time indications in Daniel 9: When was the decree issued?  Are these 490 years of 360 days each?  When did the Messiah appear and when did God suspend His covenant with the Jews?  The last seven years, which are the core of the prophecy, is identified by these time indications.

TO:  Daniel 9 Interpretations Overview
TO:  Daniel 9: List of available articles

Daniel 9: Decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem

The Daniel's prophecies490 years begin with a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.  Restore means to return the city to the Jews to serve as their capital from which they would rule their whole nation, according to their own laws.  Four Persian decrees are considered:

King Cyrus(1) The decree by Cyrus in 538/7 BC allowed Jews to rebuild Jerusalem, but did not give Jerusalem back to the nation to serve as their national capital. 
(2) The decree by Darius I 520 BC simply confirmed Cyrus’ edict.    
(3) The decree by Artaxerses I 457 BC for the first time granted autonomy of Judah, and if we add 490 years to 457 BC, we come to the time of Christ. 
(4) The second decree by Artaxerxes—in 445/4—was too late to fit the time of Christ and simply confirmed his previous decree.

Purpose

The 70 weeks (490 years) of Daniel 9 begin with a decree:

… FROM the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem …” (NASB 9:25)

Identification of this decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem is very important for a correct interpretation of the 490 years.   A number of historical decrees with different dates have been suggested by scholars.  This article evaluates these decrees and identifies the decree that fits the prophecy best. 

Decree to Restore and Rebuild Jerusalem

The decree that we are looking for will both “restore” and “rebuild” Jerusalem.  “Restore” and “rebuild” are two related but very different actions:

Rebuild means to physically reconstruct.

Restore (shûb) does not include the idea of rebuilding.  To restore a city means to return it to the previous owner, for example:

Ahab, king of IsraelThe Aramean king once said to Ahab, king of Israel: “I will return (shûb, “restore”) the cities my father took from your father“ (I Kings 20:34).  These cities have not been destroyed, and were simply returned (given back) to Israel.

Azariah, king of Judah, rebuilt and restored the city Elath to Judah (2 Kings 14:22).  This verse contains the both verbs in Daniel 9:25; ”rebuild” and “restore.”  The city had been in ruins.  After it was rebuilt, it was restored (returned or given back) to Judah to rule as their own (cf. 1 Kings 12:21).

Restoring (shûb) Jerusalem in Daniel 9 therefore does not include rebuilding.  Nor does it merely mean that the Jews are allowed to live in the city.  “Restore” in Daniel 9:25 means that Jerusalem would again be owned again by the Israelites. But Jerusalem was also the judicial and executive capital of the nation and symbol of the Israeli people.  To restore Jerusalem therefore means that it will be returned to the Jews to serve as their capital from which they would rule their whole nation, according to their own laws as a theocentric society.

The decree of God via Jeremiah

JeremiahCritical scholars are academics who do not accept in the divine inspiration of Daniel.  They do not believe that Daniel 9 refers to Jesus, but rather propose that Daniel was written during the persecution of the Jews by the Greek king Antiochus (around 165 BC), and that that crisis is also the crisis in Daniel.  In other words, they propose that Daniel was written in the form of a prophecy, but actually describes events that occurred prior to the writing of Daniel.  Since such scholars have to fit 490 years between the decree and the time of Antiochus, they select the earliest possible decree.  For this reason they propose that the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem is a decree of God via the prophet Jeremiah.

But even if they take the very first mention by Jeremiah of the coming destruction and restoration of Jerusalem, in about 605 BC, they still only have 440 years between 605 BC and the time of Antiochus; not the required 490 (70×7) years.  They usually explain the difference as a mistake made by the uninspired writer.  But people who accept Daniel as supernaturally inspired, and particularly people who accept the messiah in Daniel 9 as referring to Jesus Christ, do not accept the announcements by Jeremiah as the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.

Four Persian decrees

Persian empire
Persian empire

The books by Ezra and Nehemiah mention four different “decrees” which deal with the return of the exiles and the rebuilding of the temple and city.  These decrees were issued by three Persian monarchs over a period of 93 years:

  1. 538/7 BC: Cyrus allowed Jews to return to Judah and to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4; cf. Isa 45:1).
  2. About 520 BC: Darius I reaffirmed and expedited the order of Cyrus (Ezra 6:1-12).
  3. 457 BC: Artaxerses I granted a decree to Ezra (7:12-26) to reestablish the autonomy of Judah.
  4. 445/444 BC: Artaxerxes I gave permission to Nehemiah to repair Jerusalem.

One of these must be the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.

Cyrus in 538/7

Isaiah prophecied CyrusMore than a century before Cyrus was born, God inspired Isaiah to write:

Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be rebuilt,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’“ (Is. 44:28)

He (Cyrus) shall build my city and set my exiles free“ (Is. 45:13)

In 538/7 BC Cyrus decreed as follows:

The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you … let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel.” (Ezra 1:2-4)

Jerusalem in ruins
Jerusalem in ruins

The decree by Cyrus allowed the Jews to return to Judea and to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4; cf. Isa 45:1).  It also implies the right to rebuild their cities, including Jerusalem.  But it is not the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem in Daniel 9:25, for it did not allow the Jews to rule themselves.  It did not give Jerusalem back to the nation to serve as their national capital; to make their own laws, to govern themselves.  Jerusalem, as capital of the Jews, was not yet “restored”.  They were still ruled directly by Persian laws.

Isaiah predicted that Cyrus “shall build my city and set my exiles free“ (Is. 45:13), but Cyrus did not set the Israelites free to rule themselves; only to return to Judea.  Nevertheless, Cyrus did initiate a process that ultimately led to the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, authorizing Jerusalem to be returned to the Jews, to serve as their judicial capital. 

Darius I in 520

King DariusIn response to Cyrus’ edict the Jews slowly began to return to their homeland (Ezra 3).  More than 15 years later Haggai and Zechariah (their ministry began about 520 BC) tell us that instead of making the rebuilding of the temple their priority, the returnees had set about their own business.  While the affluent built luxury homes, the majority of the returned exiles lived in and around the ruined city and suffered crop failures and droughts.  The temple was still in ruins (Haggai 1:1-11).

rebuild the templeZerubbabel and Joshua, under the influence of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, again started to rebuild the temple seventeen years after the decree of Cyrus, but experienced resistance (Ezra 5).  Israel’s old enemies—the Samaritans—complained to the authorities.  In response, the local governor inspected the work, and wrote a letter to Darius to verify the claims of the Jews.  An investigation was made and the decree of Cyrus was found.  Darius confirmed the decree of Cyrus by means of an additional edict (ca. 520 BC) (Ezra 6:3-12).  The temple was finished and dedicated in March, 515 BC (Ezra 6:13-18).

The royal decree of Darius I mentions only the restoration of the temple.  It simply confirmed Cyrus’ edict, and therefore also did not restore Jerusalem as legislative and executive capital of the nation in order that the Jews may govern themselves.

[Note that the Samaritans appealed to the Persian authorities, which confirms that that Jerusalem has not yet been restored.]

Therefore the main contenders are the two decrees by Artaxerxes I.  He issued decrees in 458/7 and in 445/4 BC.

Artaxerxes in 458/7

TorahThe decree in 458/7 BC (Ezra 7:12-26), about 60 years after the temple had been completed, granted permission to the exiles to return to Jerusalem, assigned funds for the support of the temple in Jerusalem and exempted the temple and temple personnel from tax.  These are not different from the previous decrees.  But what was now added is that the decree established a legal system based on the Torah for all the Jews in Judea.  This included appointing magistrates and judges to enforce the law.  Judea was to enjoy significant judicial and civil autonomy under the larger overlordship of Persia.  Of particular importance is vs. 26:

Ten CommandmentsWhoever does not obey the law of your God and the law of the king must surely be punished by death, banishment, confiscation of property, or imprisonment.

In this way the Persian king made the Mosaic law part of his own law, and granted authority to the Jews to govern themselves on the basis of the law of God.  It does provide for a measure of civil autonomy unknown since the Babylonian desolation of Jerusalem and Judea (vss. 25-26).

In response to this decree, Ezra, with a considerable company of people (priests, Levites, singers, gate-keepers, and temple servants) went up from Babylon in Mesopo­tamia to Jerusalem in the seventh year of his reign (Ezra 7:6-7, 11-17).  After a journey lasting several months, they arrived at Jerusalem.

ArtaxerxesAll historical sources point unanimously and harmoniously to the fact that the seventh regnal year of Artaxerxes I extended from March/April of 458 BC to March/April of 457 BC.  The Jews who lived in this historical period, however, did not use the Persian-Babylonian March/April calendar.  Their calendar began in September/October:

Nehemiah 1:1 and 2:1 provide specific evidence for this.  Both verses date the events to Artaxerxes’ twentieth year, but to different months.  In 1:1 it is the “month Chislev” and in 2:1 it is the “month Nisan”.  But in the Persian-Babylonian calendar Chislev was the ninth month and Nisan was the first.  If Nehemiah had used the Persian-Babylonian calendar, then Nehemiah 2:1 should have been dated to Artaxerxes’ twenty-first regnal year.  The fact that the regnal year number did not change is evidence that Nehemiah employed the Jewish calendar, which used the same names for months, but started the year in a different month.

Since Ezra was a contemporary of Nehemiah, it is possible to apply the same Jewish calendar to the dates in Ezra.  This would mean that the decree recorded in Ezra 7 was issued sometime in the year that began in the September/October of the year 458.

Artaxerxes in 445/4

Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes IIn the king’s twentieth year (Neh. 2:1) (445/4 BC) Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes I, received a report from a group of Jews who had arrived in the Persian capital from Jerusalem:

The survivors there in the province who escaped exile are in great trouble and shame; the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates are destroyed by fire” (Neh 1:3; cf. 2:3).

Nehemiah then requested and obtained permission from Artaxerxes to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city (Neh. 2:5).

The two decrees of Artaxerxes

We have to choose between the two decrees of Artaxerxes.  It is proposed that the 458/7 decree is the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, for:

(1) It fits the time of Christ and
(2) It fits the requirement that it restored Jerusalem to the Jews.

The decree of 458/7 fits the time of Christ.

Baptism of Jesus ChristThe inauguration of Jesus’ public ministry (Mark 1:11-14; Luke 4:18; Acts 10:38) was at His anointing by the Holy Spirit at His baptism (Acts 10:37, 38), in the fifteenth year of the Roman emperor Tiberius (Luke 3:1, 5, 21).  Finegan (Handbook of Biblical Chronology, Princeton, 1964, p265) dates His baptism to AD 26/27.  If this was the predicted appearance of the “Messiah the Prince” (9:25) at the end of the 7+62 weeks, and if the 490 years began in 458/7 BC, 490 yearsthen it fits the time of Christ perfectly.  His baptism was exactly 483 years after the decree in 458/7 (7×7+62×7=483), as specified by the prophecy.  (Remember, no year nil.  From 1 BC to 1 AD is one year, not two.)

If the 490 years began in 445/4 BC, then the Messiah would appear 483 years later in 39/40, which is far beyond the time of Jesus.  The dispensational scheme, preferring the decree of 445/4 BC, interprets the 483 years as “prophetic years” of 360 literal days each.  This reduces the 483 years by approximately 7 years in order to end the period at the time of Christ.  However, the prophecy of Seventy Sevens is based on the seven-year sabbatical cycle.  This means that the 70 weeks are 70 literal cycles of seven literal years each.  No symbols are used in the prophecy of Daniel 9.

The decree of 458/7 for the first time “restored” the city to the Jews by allowing the Jews to rule themselves from their capital city.

The Nehemiah-decree did not restore the city to the Jews and substantially added nothing to the previous decrees.  It deals only with the physical construction of the walls.

The decree of 458/7 did authorize the Jews to rebuild Jerusalem.

One objection against the decree of Artaxerxes I to Ezra in 457 BC (Ezra 7:1-26) is that it did not specifically authorize the rebuilding of Jerusalem. However:

Rebuild JerusalemImplied: The right to rebuild the city—the national administrative center (cf. Ezra 7:25-26)—is implicit in the authorization to set up a judicial system at a central place, based on the law of God. 

The previous decrees of Cyrus and Darius already implicitly authorized the Jews to rebuild their cities.  The following also prove that construction of the walls began before Nehemiah arrived.

(1) When Nehemiah arrived, he inspected the wall (Neh. 2:15).  The next verse refers to “the priests … who did the work”.  This must have been work on the wall as the temple was completed 70 years earlier in 515 BC (Ezra 6:13-18).

(2) Nehemiah repaired the walls in only 52 days (Neh. 6:15).  This implies that work have been done before, for it is unlikely that the damage caused in 586 BC, together with the neglect of the next 150 years, could be reversed in less than two months while battling constantly with opposition.  

(3) Some Persian officers complained to Artaxerxes that “the Jews … are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city; they are finishing the walls…” (Ezra 4:12).  The letter requested the king to put a stop to the work, which he did (vs. 23).  Since no such interruption is recorded in the book of Nehemiah and because Nehemiah completed the walls of the city within 52 days, this was not an interruption of Nehemiah’s work on the walls.  Since Nehemiah finished the walls, this interruption, and therefore this work on the walls, occurred prior to Nehemiah.

Further evidence that the previous decrees of Cyrus and Darius already implicitly authorized the Jews to rebuild their cities are:

Nehemiah(a) Nehemiah expected the walls to be completed before he went to Jerusalem.  About 13 years after Ezra arrived at Jerusalem—in 445/4 BC—Nehemiah is informed that “the walls of Jerusalem” were broken down and the gates destroyed by fire (Nehemiah 1:3).  Nehemiah was deeply troubled by the news—he wept for days (Neh. 1:4).  The fact that Nehemiah was devastated by the news implies that he expected to hear that the walls and gates have been completed.  This means that permission to rebuild the walls and gates was already granted, and that Nehemiah knew about people that went to Jerusalem for that purpose.

(b) Nehemiah did not ask to rebuild the city.  Nehemiah only asked for permission to go to Jerusalem (2:5) and for wood to build the walls (2:8).  These requests imply that permission has already been granted for the reconstruction of the walls.

In summary, the 458/7 decree fits the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem better:

(a) It fits the time of Christ;
(b) It restored Jerusalem as judicial capital to the Jews, and:
(c) Implicitly authorized the Jews to rebuild the city.

NEXT: Daniel 9: Prayer and Prophecy form a unit
TO: Daniel 9 Interpretations Overview
TO: Daniel 9: List of available articles