WHEN did the 490 years (seventy weeks) begin and the first 483 end?

DispensationalismThis second article in the current series compares the time indications for the Seventy Weeks in Daniel 9 to the Dispensational interpretation.  Dispensationalism takes the second decree of Artaxerxes (445/4 BC) as the one that restored Jerusalem.  But since this decree does not fit the time of Christ, Dispensationalism reduces the 483 years by about 7 years by interpreting these as 360-day years.  This brings us to Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which is then interpreted as the appearance of the Messiah, as predicted in 9:25.  Dispensationalism then assumes that God suspended His covenant with Israel at the Cross.

Decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem

9:25 reads:

from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem …” (NASB).

Seventy WeeksThe Seventy Weeks began with this decree.  As stated in the previous article, restore, in the original text, does not mean the same as rebuild.  Restore means to give the city back to its previous owner.

In the article Which decree four decrees by three different Persian kings over a period of about 90 years, are considered.

Cyrus:

King CyrusThe decree by Cyrus in 538/7 BC allowed Jews to return to Jerusalem and therefore to rebuild Jerusalem, but it did not restore Jerusalem to the nation to serve as their national capital.

Darius:

The decree by Darius I 520 BC simply confirmed Cyrus’ edict.    

Artaxerxes in 457 BC (Ezra 7:1-26):

As discussed in the article Which Decree, this decree, for the first time, granted autonomy of Judah.  It restored Jerusalem as judicial and executive capital to the nation.  In this decree, the king said, “Whoever does not obey the law of your God … must surely be punished by death …” The Persian king thereby 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 provides for a measure of judicial and civil autonomy unknown since the Babylonian desolation of Jerusalem and Judea about 130 years earlier.

A further indication that this is the decree intended by 9:25 is the fact that, if we add Seventy Weeks (490 years) to 457 BC, we come to the time of Christ.

Artaxerxes in 445/4 BC (Neh. 1-2):

Nehemiah, cupbearer to Artaxerxes IDispensationalism takes this as the decree that restored Jerusalem.  This decree, however, did not “restore” Jerusalem.  This decree only dealt with the physical construction of the city walls.  When Nehemiah asked for this decree, he did not even ask to rebuild the city.  He only asked for permission to go to Jerusalem (2:5) and for wood for the walls (2:8).  This decree was also too late to fit the time of Christ.

Dispensationalism claims that the second decree of Artaxerxes I for the first time authorized the rebuilding of Jerusalem, but that is also not true.  All four decrees above, by allowing the Jews to return to Judah and to rebuild the temple (Ezra 1:1-4; cf. Is. 45:1), implicitly allowed the Jews to rebuild their cities.  Please see the article ‘Which decree‘ for a fuller discussion.

Seventy Weeks – Prophetic Years

9:25 continues:

 “until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks” (9:25 NASB)

Dispensationalism prophetic yearsDispensationalism proposes that the Messiah Prince is Jesus Christ and that He would appear 7+62=69×7= 483 years after the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (9:25), but 483 years from 445/4 BC brings us to about AD 40; far beyond the Cross.  Dispensationalism therefore proposes that the 483 years are “prophetic years” of 360 days each; not 365 days.  This gives a total of 173,880 days (483 x 360), which is equal to 476 solar years plus some days.  In this way the 483 years are shortened by 7 years to fit the actual historical time from Artaxerxes’ second decree to the crucifixion, assuming the crucifixion was in AD 33 or AD 32.

However, as discussed in The Covenant in Daniel 9, the covenant pattern forms the framework for the Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9.  Since the covenant is based on Israel’s seven-year cycle, and since the Seventy Weeks are an extension of God’s covenant with Israel, these must be literal years.  To explain:

Sabbath Years

In Leviticus 25 God commanded Israel to allow the land to rest every seventh year (v2), similar to the weekly Sabbath day of rest.  Israel had to work the land for six years (v3), but in the seventh year the land had to rest (v4).  In this way, the years on the Jewish calendar were divided into sevens, where each seventh year is a Sabbath.

Warning of exile

Leviticus 26, which contains the covenant promises and warnings, warned Israel that it would be in exile for every Sabbath year not observed.  While they are in exile, the land will enjoy its rest.  The Sabbath years were therefore made part of the covenant threat of exile.

490 years of disobedience

Jeremiah prophesied that Israel would be in exile for 70 years.  Each of Jeremiah’s 70 years of exile, therefore, was a Sabbath year.  This is confirmed by 2 Chronicles 36:21. Each of the 70 years, therefore, represents 7 years of disobedience.  Consequently, the 70 years represent the equivalent of Seventy Weeks (490 years) of disobedience, prior to the exile.

Seventy Weeks renewed covenant

The prophecy of Daniel 9 therefore extended God’s covenant with Israel for a new cycle of Seventy Weeks, in which every seventh year will be a Sabbath year.  The Seventy Weeks of Daniel 9 refer to these weeks of years, and therefore are literal solar years.

This confirms that the second decree of Artaxerxes does not fit the time of Christ.

Difference in dates

The second decree of Artaxerxes I is dated by most dispensationalists to 445 BC, but by some to 444 BC:

Interpreters that use March 14, 445 BC as the date of the decree (e.g. Sir Robert Anderson) count 173880 days to end on 6th April, AD 32 as the date for Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.

Interpreters that use March 5, 444 BC as the date of the decree (e.g. Hoehner) count 173880 days to March 30, AD 33 as the date for the triumphal entry, and the crucifixion six days later on April 5, AD 33.

Dispensationalism sometimes claims that its calculations fit the historical events precisely, but the difference in the dates places doubt over such claims.

Triumphal entry

Daniel 9:25 reads:

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

In other words, the Messiah would appear 483 years after the decree.

In Dispensationalism the “Messiah the Prince” (the anointed in the KJV) is Jesus Christ and 9:25 refers to His triumphal entry into Jerusalem; 5 days before His crucifixion.  However, 9:25 refers to the appearance of the Messiah; not His disappearance.  It seems to say that the Messiah will commence His ministry at the end of the 69 weeks; not end His ministry.

Jesus baptizedJesus did not begin His ministry at His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  He began His work as Messiah about three years earlier at His baptism, where He was “anointed” and introduced to Israel:

John the Baptist said, “so that He might be manifested to Israel, I came baptizing in water” (John 1:31).

God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power” (Acts 10:38).

God proclaimed this Anointed One to be His Son or King (Mark 1:9-11; cf. Ps. 2:6, 7) on the day of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist.

Covenant suspended at the Cross

As stated, in Dispensationalism the first 483 years came to an end at Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem (a few days before His death), with the last seven years postponed to the end of the age.

However, Seventy Weeks (490 years) are promised by God as years of Jewish preference (“for your people and your holy city”), and the preference which Jews enjoyed continued after the Cross.

Early Church History

During the first few years after the Cross the Holy Spirit only came on Jews and the gospel was preached only to Jews.  The church consisted only of the “circumcised” (cf. 10:45; i.e. Jews) and they did not associate with the uncircumcised (Acts 10:34-35).  See Jerusalem Phase of the Early Church.

About three or four years after the Cross the Jews persecuted these Jewish Christians, commencing with the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7; 8:1). See Judea and Samaria Phase of the Early Church.

Immediately following this persecution (Acts 10) Peter received his dream of the unclean beasts (Acts 10:19-20).  Up to that point in time these Christian Jews kept their distance from Gentiles, as all Jews did.  But through this vision God told him, and the church, to preach the gospel also to Gentiles (v34-35).  Simultaneously the Holy Spirit suddenly and powerfully led the Christians to take the gospel to the uncircumcised (non-Jews).  At that time the period of Jewish preference came to an end.

End of the Seventy Weeks

The prophecy does not mention any specific event for the end of the Seventy Weeks, but it is more or less obvious that the end of the Seventy Weeks is also the end of God’s covenant with Israel.  In other words, we should be able to identify some event in history that indicates the end of God’s covenant with Israel.  It is proposed here that the Seventy Weeks came to an end when the Holy Spirit led the Christians to take the gospel to non-Jews.

Stoning of StephenThis conclusion is supported by Stephen’s speech.  Both Daniel’s prayer and Stephen’s speech are based on God’s covenant with Israel.  While Daniel confessed the sins of his people and prayed for the mercy promised in the covenant, Stephen’s speech was an announcement of God’s judgment in terms of the covenant.  In other words, Stephen announced the end of the Seventy Weeks.

These three or four years after the Cross were, therefore, part of the 490 years.  Please see the article, Stoning of Stephen, for more detail.

Summary

Decree The 490 years began with “a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem”.  Restore, in the original text, does not mean to rebuild.  Restore means to give the city back to its previous owner.  The decree of Artaxerxes in 457 BC restored Jerusalem as judicial and executive capital to Israel.  This decree also fit the time of Christ.  Dispensationalism takes the second of Artaxerxes (445/4 BC) as the decree that restored Jerusalem.  But this decree only dealt with the physical construction of the city walls.  This decree also does not fit the time of Christ.

Prophetic Years The second decree of Artaxerxes does not fit the time of Christ.  Dispensationalism, therefore, reduces the first 483 years by about 7 years by interpreting these as “prophetic years” of 360 days each; rather than literal years of 365 days each.  However, the covenant pattern forms the framework for Daniel 9.  Since the covenant is based on Israel’s seven-year cycle, and since the 490 years are an extension of God’s covenant with Israel, these are literal years.

Difference in datesDifferent Dispensational interpretations use different years for Artaxerxes’s decree and for the Cross.  This raises some doubt over to the calculations.

Triumphal entryMessiah the Prince” will appear after 69 weeks (9:25).  In Dispensationalism this is His triumphal entry into Jerusalem; 5 days prior to His crucifixion.  But that was not His appearance; it was His disappearance.  Jesus began His work as Messiah about three years earlier at His baptism, where He was anointed and introduced to Israel.

Covenant suspended at the CrossDispensationalism assumes that God suspended His covenant with Israel at the Cross, but for three or four years after the Cross, when the Holy Spirit came with power on the disciples, the gospel was preached only to Jews.  This period of Jewish preference only came to an and when Stephen announced God’s judgment in terms of the covenant.  These three or four years after the Cross were, therefore, part of the 490 years.

Articles in this series

This series discusses the Dispensational interpretation of Daniel 9 and includes the following:

(1) Introduction to Dispensationalism and Daniel 9: Overview of the text of Daniel 9 and of the Dispensational interpretation
(2) WHEN: When did the 490 years begin? When was the decree issued, when did the Messiah appear and when did God suspend His covenant with the Jews?
(3) WHAT: Is it God’s or Satan’s covenant that is confirmed in Daniel 9:27?
(4) WHO: Who confirms that covenant for seven years; the Messiah or the prince?
(5) When are the last seven years?  Are they the last seven years before Christ returns?
(6) Other inconsistencies between the text and the Dispensational Interpretation
(7) When will Christ fulfill the Daniel 9:24 goals, set by for the 490 years?

See also, the Summary of all Daniel 9 articles, including the Historical Messianic Interpretation

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 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. 

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.

Articles in this series

This series discusses the Dispensational interpretation of Daniel 9 and includes the following:

(1) Introduction to Dispensationalism and Daniel 9: Overview of the text of Daniel 9 and of the Dispensational interpretation
(2) WHEN: When did the 490 years begin? When was the decree issued, when did the Messiah appear and when did God suspend His covenant with the Jews?
(3) WHAT: Is it God’s or Satan’s covenant that is confirmed in Daniel 9:27?
(4) WHO: Who confirms that covenant for seven years; the Messiah or the prince?
(5) When are the last seven years?  Are they the last seven years before Christ returns?
(6) Other inconsistencies between the text and the Dispensational Interpretation
(7) When will Christ fulfill the Daniel 9:24 goals, set by for the 490 years?

See also, the Summary of all Daniel 9 articles, including the Historical Messianic Interpretation