INSIGHT INTO BIBLE PROPHECY #44
JESUS FULFILLED GOD'S TIMETABLE
by David Vaughn Elliott
Can you imagine predicting the arrival of a world leader several centuries before his arrival? Imagine predicting, not only his arrival, but the year of his arrival!
Daniel's famous 70-weeks prophecy (9:24-27) predicted the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the arrival of the Messiah, followed by a second destruction of Jerusalem. If this were the total prophecy, it would be sufficient to build one's faith. But, when one considers the chronological elements of the prophecy, the soul is overcome with wonder!
At the outset, it must be noted that the possibility of a literal 70 weeks (less than 1 and 1/2 years) must be discarded. If one insists on a literal interpretation, the prophecy simply fails. That's why all Bible believers accept some type of figurative interpretation.
To discover how to interpret figures, serious Bible students will first search the Scriptures for clues. In this case, the clue comes from Ezekiel. God told Ezekiel to lie on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for 40 days. Why? "For I have laid on you the years of their iniquity, according to the number of the days... I have laid on you a day for each year" (Ezekiel 4:5,6).
"A day for each year" is thus a solid Bible precedent for the figurative interpretation of time prophecies. This does not mean that this "key" is to be applied to every prophecy. Rather, it is a divinely given key that should be examined every time the literal meaning of a prophecy does not make sense.
A week is seven days. Seven times seventy equals 490 days. According to the key, one day is one year. Therefore, 490 prophetic days become 490 calendar years. This interpretation offers real possibilities.
Notice what is said about the various time periods in the prophecy. The six spiritual items listed in Daniel 9:24 (see Insight #39: "The Jews' Time Has Run Out") had to happen within the 70 weeks (490 years). The Messiah had to come at exactly "seven weeks and sixty-two weeks" (verse 25) (7+62=69; 69x7=483 years). During the last week (7 years), a covenant would be confirmed. In the middle of that "week" the sacrifices would cease. All these things are prophesied to take place within 490 years.
Two other items are mentioned in the prophecy that might or might not occur during the 490 years. Verse 26 mentions both the death of the Messiah and the destruction of Jerusalem. The text introduces both events with these words: "And after the sixty-two weeks." It does not specify if "after" refers to the final week or some time later.
In short, the wording of the prophecy requires that many of the details be fulfilled within 490 years. However, the wording does not require that everything take place within that period.
THE START OF THE TIMETABLE
In order to count a period of time, we must know when to start counting. Gabriel told Daniel (in 9:25):
"From the going forth of the command
To restore and build Jerusalem
Until Messiah the Prince,
[There] [shall] [be] seven weeks and sixty-two weeks."
Seven plus 62 equals 69 weeks (483 days). That's 483 years "until" the Messiah. Starting when? "From the going forth of the command To restore and build Jerusalem."
When Gabriel was talking to Daniel, Jerusalem was in total ruins. It was time for the Jews to return to their Promised Land to "restore and build" Jerusalem. A king of Persia would give the command. The Bible tells us of four such commands.
FIRST COMMAND: 536 B.C., Ezra 1:1-4: "Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia... Cyrus... made a proclamation... saying... the LORD God... has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem."
This command had to do with the temple, which was the most important part of Jerusalem. Ezra proceeds to tell of this first return and of the building of the temple foundation. However, when local opposition developed, Artaxerxes, king of Persia, issued a command to stop the building. The work ceased.
SECOND COMMAND: 520 B.C., Ezra 6:1-12: "Then King Darius issued a decree... Let the work of this house of God alone; let the governor of the Jews and the elders of the Jews build this house of God on its site."
As with the first command, this second one dealt with the temple. The decree was issued to stop the opposing forces. This time, the work went forward. They completed and dedicated the temple, aided by the prophesying of Haggai and Zechariah.
THIRD COMMAND: 457 B.C., Ezra 7:11-26: "Artaxerxes, king of kings, To Ezra the priest... I issue a decree that all those of the people of Israel and the priests and Levites in my realm, who volunteer to go up to Jerusalem, may go with you... And you, Ezra, according to your God-given wisdom, set magistrates and judges who may judge all the people." Ezra 9:9: "Our God... extended mercy to us in the sight of the kings of Persia, to revive us, to repair the house of our God, to rebuild its ruins, and to give us a wall in Judah and Jerusalem."
These two texts cover a full range of activities to "restore and build" Jerusalem. They speak of establishing local law and order, as well as rebuilding the ruins of the temple and the wall.
FOURTH COMMAND: 444 B.C., Nehemiah 2:1-10: "In the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes... I... said to the king... 'the city, the place of my fathers' tombs, [lies] waste, and its gates are burned with fire... I ask that you send me to Judah, to the city of my fathers' tombs, that I may rebuild it'... So it pleased the king to send me."
This final command of a Persian monarch dealt with the building of Jerusalem's walls. Nearly 100 years had followed the first command, and the walls were still in ruins. Now, finally, Nehemiah moved the people to rebuild the walls.
WHICH COMMAND TO START WITH
Which of these four commands to "restore and build" Jerusalem is the one referred to in Daniel's prophecy? Not an easy question! There are those who favor one or the other of these commands, based on their concept of the nature of each command. However, it must be noted that the temple, the government and the walls--all are involved in the complete restoring and rebuilding of Jerusalem. Therefore, the words of the prophecy can be satisfied as long as any one of these commands becomes the starting point.
The major outline of the prophecy is clear: 1) the city and temple would be restored and rebuilt, 2) the Messiah would come, and 3) the city and the temple would again be destroyed. The prophecy says that there would be 483 days/years from "the command... until Messiah."
Let's take each of the commands, add 483 years and see if there is any fulfillment. Remember that when we move from B.C. to A.D. we have to add the two figures of years. It is much like counting temperature from below zero to above zero. If it was 10 below and now is 10 above, you add the two figures. It warmed up 20 degrees.
1 -- Starting with 536 B.C. and adding 483 years, we arrive at 53 B.C. No Messiah there.
2 -- Starting with 520 B.C. and adding 483 years, we arrive at 37 B.C. Still no Messiah.
3 -- Starting with 457 B.C. and adding 483 years, we arrive at 26 A.D. Right on target for Jesus!
4 -- Starting with 444 B.C. and adding 483 years, we arrive at 39 A.D. No Messiah there, either.
The first two are much too early; while the fourth is several years too late. Nobody has any Messiah to suggest for those 3 dates. Thus, the only one of the four dates to examine is the 3rd one.
"Until Messiah." Notice that when Jesus was baptized, "the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, 'You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased' " (Luke 3:22).
Several years later, Peter mentioned this event to Cornelius: "that word... began from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power, who went about doing good" (Acts 10:37-38). Peter speaks of 1) John's baptism, 2) Jesus being anointed with the Holy Spirit and 3) Jesus' ministry--in that order. This leaves only one possible explanation for the anointing Peter mentions. After John baptized Him, Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit.
Anointed! "Messiah" is the Hebrew word for "anointed." "Christ" is the Greek. The usual method of anointing was with oil; but Peter, by inspiration, says that Jesus was anointed with the Holy Spirit. That means that, in a real sense, Jesus became the Messiah/Christ at that moment.
Many, if not most, scholars today would place Jesus' baptism in 26 A.D. That is precisely the year we arrived at when starting with the command of 457 B.C.! This is more than just an interesting coincidence. It is an absolutely amazing prediction! It leaves no room for doubt that Jesus of Nazareth is the promised Messiah of God. It leaves no room for doubt that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is the only authentic religion in all the world. It leaves no room for doubt that Jesus accomplished what Gabriel said would be accomplished within the 490 years; namely:
"To finish the transgression,
To make an end of sins,
To make reconciliation for iniquity,
To bring in everlasting righteousness,
To seal up vision and prophecy,
And to anoint the Most Holy" (Daniel 9:24).
THE FINAL WEEK OF DANIEL
Daniel's final week (7 days/years) is singled out in the prophecy for special attention. The final week starts with the arrival of Messiah. It is common knowledge that Jesus' earthly ministry lasted 3 and 1/2 years. That is half of the prophetic week. Daniel's prophecy does not specifically say when the Messiah would "be cut off." He just says "after" the (7 plus) 62 weeks. Now we can see that the cutting off took place exactly in the middle of the last week.
Daniel says: "in the middle of the week He shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering." Any Christian knows that the death of Jesus on the cross put an end to the Mosaic sacrificial system. "For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified... Now where there is remission of these, [there] [is] no longer an offering for sin" (Hebrews 10:14,18). Yes, those offerings and sacrifices still physically existed; but, as far as God was concerned, they were meaningless.
God not only said this through His inspired writer; He confirmed it with action. "And Jesus... yielded up His spirit. Then, behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom" (Matthew 27:50,51). The temple was no longer God's house. The sacrifices of the temple no longer had value. The cloth veil was torn in two because Jesus became the real veil: the Mediator between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. "Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh" (Hebrews 10:19,20).
THE COVENANT CONFIRMED
Before mentioning the middle of the week, Daniel said that the Messiah "shall confirm a covenant with many for one week." Now, it is a well-known fact that Jeremiah prophesied a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34). That Jesus brought in a new covenant, there is no question. At the Last Supper, He declared: "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:28).
It thus seems easy to think of Jesus confirming the covenant for the first half of the week (his 3-and-1/2-year ministry). But what about the second half--the 3 and 1/2 years following His ascension? On the one hand, there should be no difficulty with understanding that the covenant was confirmed by the apostles after Jesus' ascension. But, that involved many years. Why refer to just 3 and 1/2 years? What event closes the 70 weeks?
That event cannot be the destruction of Jerusalem, because that did not happen until 70 A.D. It is highly unlikely that the event is the conversion of the first Gentile, Cornelius. While we do not know the exact year of his conversion, the book of Acts places it after the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Saul's conversion, itself, appears to be too late; scholars would place it around 35 A.D. We must seek for some significant event or condition prior to Acts 9.
Prophecy had predicted, and Jesus had commanded, that the Gospel first be preached in Jerusalem (Joel 2:28-32; Luke 24:46-49). The church started with 3,000 souls and quickly grew to 5,000 men, all Jews, all in Jerusalem. Who knows how long the Christians would have remained in Jerusalem, had it not been for the great persecution that followed the murder of Stephen. But as a result, the believers "were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria" (Acts 8:1).
We do not know the exact date of Stephen's death and the resulting dispersion. Nevertheless, it must have been right around 33-34 A.D., to allow time for Saul's persecution of the church before his conversion.
This dispersion, then, brings us right to the end of the 70 weeks (490 years). Much of the 70-weeks prophecy deals specifically with Jerusalem. It would appear that 3 and 1/2 years was precisely the length of time that God set aside for the new covenant to be confirmed exclusively in Jerusalem and exclusively among Jews. This was Jerusalem's moment. Large numbers were converted before the Jews, led by Saul of Tarsus, tried to stamp out the new message.
Instead of stamping it out, they caused it to spread beyond Jerusalem. The first place mentioned which then received the Word was Samaria. The Jews hated the mixed-race Samaritans. The apostle John had wanted to call fire from heaven to consume a Samaritan village. Now, this same John lay hands on Samaritans so they could receive the Holy Spirit.
The day of taking the Gospel exclusively to Jerusalem and exclusively to pure Jews and proselytes was over. The 70 weeks had come to an end. World evangelism had begun. Jerusalem had had its golden opportunity. Many took the opportunity; but others only further sealed the doom of their city.
THE DESOLATION OF JERUSALEM
It is that doom which much of the 70-weeks prophecy is all about. That doom would come "after" the 69 (7+62) weeks. The language of the prophecy requires that the removal of sin take place within the 70 weeks. It requires that the Messiah come within the 70 weeks. It requires the confirmation of a covenant during the last week. However, it does not require that Jerusalem and the temple be destroyed within that time. "After." It in no way specifies how long after.
Nevertheless, we cannot help noticing that the doom of Jerusalem was, indeed, sealed during the 70 weeks. The rending of the veil was proof that God was finished with the temple. Besides that, the Jews proclaimed their own doom at the trial of Jesus: "And all the people answered and said, 'His blood [be] on us and on our children' " (Matthew 27:25).
During His last week, Jesus lamented: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under [her] wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate" (Matthew 23:37,38). "Your house." No longer "My Father's house." "Your house... desolate" puts us right back in Daniel 9 with "abominations... makes desolate." Their rejection of Jesus during the 70th week ensured that the desolation would come; it could not be withheld.
As Jesus looked upon Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, He "wept over it, saying... 'days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you... and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation' " (Luke 19:41-44). "You did not know the time." They rejected God's timetable! They crucified their Messiah! The fate of Jerusalem was sealed in the 70th week.
WHY THE DELAY
When Jesus died, the temple sacrifices no longer had value, as far as God was concerned. Nevertheless, the temple and Jerusalem were granted 40 years of grace. The Gospel had to begin in Jerusalem. The temple area was an important meeting place to preach the Gospel. It was Jerusalem that crucified Jesus. It was right outside Jerusalem that Jesus arose from the dead and in Jerusalem that the apostles were baptized with the Holy Spirit.
Being thus empowered from on high, the apostles preached the Good News to Jews who had gathered for the annual feast of Pentecost. These Jews were present from all parts of the Roman Empire (Acts 2:8-11). Scripture had said:
"For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the LORD from Jerusalem" (Isaiah 2:3). The Lord's Kingdom needed time to become established. The Jewish Christians needed time to understand the passing away of the law.
For the sake of the Gospel, God was gracious to Jerusalem for 40 years. For the sake of those Jews who would open their hearts to their Messiah, God was gracious to Jerusalem for 40 years. However, the time had to come when the temple sacrifices were more than a thing of the past in the mind of God. They had to become a thing of the past in historical reality. Therefore, God sent the Romans so that the Mosaic system of sacrifice would be wiped off the face of the earth. God sent the Romans to put a definitive end to Jerusalem being His dwelling place.
JESUS FULFILLED GOD'S TIMETABLE
The climax of Daniel's prophecy is the 70th week. In the 70th week, the Messiah comes, salvation is brought down, and the King makes an everlasting covenant with His followers. It is the high point of human history. It is God reaching down to mankind in an unbelievable act of love. The 70 weeks end in triumph! The grand work of redemption is accomplished. Thousands of believing Jews are born again, to initiate the eternal kingdom of God.
The Messiah had come right on schedule. Jesus of Nazareth entered His Messianic ministry at the start of the 70th week, precisely according to God's timetable. He was cut off in the middle of that week, thus ending the Mosaic system of sacrifice, precisely according to God's timetable. Jesus' death on the cross brought in reconciliation and righteousness, precisely according to God's timetable. Only God could make and predict such a timetable! Only the Son of God could fulfill the prediction!
(Scripture in the preceding article is taken from the New King James Version. Copyright (c) 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.)
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