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The 70 Weeks Error

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Issue #397August 2021

The 70 Weeks Error

Dan. 9:24-27 is the primary revelation about the 70 weeks of years leading to the Messiah’s first work. We will not try to give a complete exposition of this passage here, because it involves so many different facets. The heart of Darby’s misinterpretation, popularized by Scofield, is in his view of Daniel’s final week of years, which encompassed Christ’s ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension.

The prophet divides the 70 weeks into 7 weeks plus 62 weeks plus 1 week. In terms of actual years, it is 49 years plus 434 years plus 7 years.

Scofield’s Reference Bible dates the 70th week of Daniel from 27-33 A.D. That dating accounts for only six years, not seven. It actually began at Passover of 26 A.D. and ended with Jesus’ crucifixion at Passover of 33 A.D.

Dating Jesus’ Birth

Strangely enough, Scofield’s Bible puts the birth of Christ in 4 B.C., which, if correct, would mean that Christ’s death in 33 took place when Jesus would have been 36 years old. (Note: there is no Year Zero. In counting the years, you have to go directly from 1 B.C. to 1 A.D.)

Scofield did not know history very well, nor did Darby before him. In fact, the belief that Jesus was born in 4 B.C. came from an editor’s note in Josephus, which commented on the lunar eclipse that had occurred shortly before the death of Herod. Since Herod died shortly after the birth of Jesus, this eclipse was used to date Jesus’ birth.

Josephus writes in Antiquities of the Jews, XVII, vi, 4,

“But Herod deprived this Matthias of the high priesthood and burnt the other Matthias, who had raised the sedition, with his companions, alive. And that very night there was an eclipse of the moon.”

The editor’s notes had this (incorrect) interpretation:

It happened March 13th, in the year of the Julian period 4710, and the fourth year before the Christian era.”

There was an eclipse on March 13, 4 B.C. The editor assumed that this was the one Joseph was referencing. But if Herod had died shortly afterward, there would not have been time for his 30-day funeral and another 7 days where his body was honored and viewed before the feast of Passover which, in 4 B.C., occurred on April 11.

To compound the error, Scofield (and many others) claimed that Jesus was born in the latter part of 4 B.C. How could Jesus be born 6-8 months after the death of Herod? How could Herod kill the children of Bethlehem many months after his own death?

Obviously, someone was not thinking properly. Yet this error has been perpetuated by many historians and Bible teachers in the past two centuries.

When Josephus wrote how rabbi Matthias had been burnt alive and the other Matthias (the high priest) had been deposed at the time of the eclipse, he was speaking of the eclipse on Jan. 9, 1 B.C. This took place about two weeks after Herod had slaughtered the children in Bethlehem, being paranoid in his last months.

In early December of 2 B.C., as Herod was less than 2 months short of his 70th birthday, some rabbinical students had torn down Rome’s eagle from the temple wall. Herod took this as a challenge to his own authority and immediately investigated the incident.

The rabbi whose students had removed the eagle was named Matthias, was burned at the stake a month later on Jan. 9 of 1 B.C., and the high priest by the same name was deposed and replaced by Herod. That is when the eclipse in question occurred.

Herod then became very ill and went to some nearby hot springs to try to find healing. He died there on Jan. 28, and the people immediately declared that date to be a national holiday. Herod’s son suppressed the holiday, of course, but it was enough to tell us the precise date of Herod’s death.

Josephus tells us in Wars of the Jews, I, xxxiii, 1, that Herod “was almost seventy years of age” when he died. We know that he was 25 when he began his political career in 47 B.C. (Antiquities of the Jews, XIV, ix, 2). So he was approaching 70 at the time of eclipse in January of 1 B.C.

In 4 B.C. Herod was only 67 or 68 years old.

The point is that Jesus had been born a few months earlier on the eve of the feast of Trumpets, Sept. 28/29, 2 B.C. The wise men arrived from Persia three months later, following Jupiter after it had “crowned” Regulus situated between the feet of Leo, the Lion. (This fulfilled Gen. 49:10, where Regulus, “The Regulator/Lawgiver,” was said to be located between the feet of the lion of Judah.)

On the evening of Dec. 25, the wise men noted that Jupiter was situated over Bethlehem just a few miles south of Jerusalem. The rabbis had told them of the prophecy in Micah 5:2 that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:4, 5), so they went there and found Jesus in a house (Matt. 2:11).

Whereas the shepherds had found Jesus in a “manger” (Matt. 2:16) the night He was born, the magi arrived three months later and found Him in a house. No doubt they had remained in Bethlehem to hold Bible studies with the shepherds and the other residents.

The magi, however, were warned that night to return to their country by another route, and Joseph too had a dream in which he was told to flee to Egypt (Matt. 2:12, 13). Jesus was three months old when Joseph and Mary fled to Egypt for His protection on Dec. 26. Moses was the same age when he too was taken into the house of Pharaoh (Ex. 2:2).

However, the editor used the wrong eclipse to date Herod’s death—and therefore also Jesus’ birth. The eclipse that Josephus mentioned was not on March 13, 4 B.C., but rather the one occurring on January 9, 1 B.C. Darby and Scofield did not realize this.

Dating Jesus’ Ministry

John the Baptist was about 6 months older that Jesus, because John’s mother was in her sixth month of pregnancy when Mary visited her (Luke 1:36). Jesus began his ministry at the customary age of 30 (Luke 3:23).

But to date the ministry of Jesus, one must know the date of His birth. That is why it is important to know historically that He was born in September of 2 B.C., and not two years earlier in 4 B.C.

By knowing this history, we can understand the prophecy of Daniel’s 70 weeks and how it correlates with Jesus’ ministry, death, and resurrection.

John’s ministry had begun a few months earlier when he too turned 30. John’s ministry began around the time of Passover in the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1). This was 29 A.D.—not 27 A.D., as Scofield assumed. In those days the people, at the Passover feast, always set a place for Elijah, whom they expected to come at that time. John did indeed come at Passover, for he was “Elijah” (Matt. 11:14).

Tiberius himself, being the adopted son of Augustus Caesar, took the throne upon the death of his father on Aug. 19, 14 A.D. Therefore, the 15th year of Tiberius was from August of 28 to August of 29 A.D. John’s ministry began in April of 29 A.D., and he baptized Jesus in September on the Day of Atonement to fulfill the prophecies of that feast day.

John continued to prepare the way for Christ until he was cast into prison for criticizing Herod Antipas “the Tetrarch” for marrying his brother’s wife in violation of God’s law. When John was imprisoned, then Jesus began His ministry in the early months of 30 A.D. (Matt. 4:12). Yet only when John was executed (Matt. 14:10) did the priesthood pass from John to Jesus.

John, being of the Hasmonean king-priest family, was the legitimate heir to the priesthood. The Hasmonean ruler had been overthrown by Herod the Great in 38 B.C. John died childless, so his priestly calling was passed to his first cousin, Jesus. But Jesus was of the tribe of Judah, so His priesthood was of the Melchizedek Order (Heb. 7:14, 15).

Scofield dates Jesus’ ministry from 27-33 A.D., giving him a six-year ministry. This was certainly not the case. Jesus’ ministry began in early 30 A.D. and Jesus received His full priestly authority at Passover of that same year when John was beheaded by Herod.

The Middle of Daniel’s 70th Week

From clear history, we see that Jesus began His ministry in the middle of Daniel’s 70th week. Those 70 weeks began in the 7th year of King Artaxerxes of Persia (458 B.C.). Once again, there are differing views of history that are being taught. Most views begin with an assumption about Jesus’ ministry and then they go back 69 weeks of years and assume that their date is where the 70 weeks began.

This is not a proper way to determine prophecy. One must know precisely when the 70 weeks began in order to know where it ends. It actually began when Artaxerxes issued his decree that is recorded in Ezra 7:11-26. That decree brought “this Ezra” (vs. 6) to Jerusalem in the 7th year of the king. (There were two men named Ezra).

Artaxerxes succeeded Xerxes, who died in 465 B.C. As was customary, the rest of the year was attributed to Xerxes, even though he was dead, in order to maintain a proper calendar without dividing up the year. Hence, the first year of Artaxerxes’ reign was reckoned to begin the following Spring in 464 B.C. His 7th year then began at Passover of 458, and later that month Ezra began his journey (Ezra 7:9).

Persian history is very clear. Darius reigned 36 years from 521-486 B.C., in whose reign the second temple was completed in 515. The precise dates of Darius’ reign are established astronomically by two eclipses. The first occurred in 502 in his 20th year, and the second occurred in 491 B.C. in his 31st year.

Xerxes succeeded him and reigned 21 years from 485-465 B.C. The time of his reign is fixed by the Battle of Salamis, where he fought against the Greeks in 480 B.C. Nine days later, a solar eclipse occurred in Greece on Oct. 2, 480 B.C. This battle took place in the archonship of Kalliades, according to Herodotus, the father of modern history. Kalliades ruled from July of 480 to July of 479 B.C.

Knowing this history may not be important to the average believer, but if one intends to teach prophecy, one must have a good working knowledge of history. Darby and Scofield did not know history very well, and for this reason they were deceived. And when their eschatology became mainstream, most of the church was deceived with them.

The point is that if we date the start of Daniel’s 70 weeks with Ezra’s mission to Jerusalem at Passover of 458 B.C., the 70th week fell from Passover of 26 until Passover of 33 A.D. The middle of the final week fell in Sept. of 29 A.D.—when Jesus was baptized.

The 70 weeks ended when Jesus died on the cross at Passover of 33 A.D. (458 B.C. to 33 A.D.) Adding 458 plus 33 comes to 491, but you have to subtract a year to account for the fact that there is no year zero. Hence, it is 490 years.

Jesus’ Mission, According to Daniel

Dan. 9:25 says that there was to be 70 weeks of years “until the Messiah the Prince.” The time was divided into 7 weeks plus 62 weeks plus 1 week. After the 62 weeks ended in 26 A.D., “the Messiah will be cut off” (Dan. 9:26), and this is seen as the cause of the destruction of “the city” (i.e., Jerusalem).

Daniel does not say who “cut off” the Messiah.  Neither does He tell us specifically when this would occur, other than “after the sixty-two weeks.” Most people understand that this would occur in the middle of the final week, rather than precisely at the end of the 62 weeks.

His revelation is sketchy. He does not say specifically that the Messiah would be crucified, but only that He would be “cut off.” The Hebrew word is karat, which can mean to kill (Obad. 1:9), separate, excommunicate, or revoke one’s citizenship (Lev. 7:27; 17:4; Hos. 10:7). Daniel makes no attempt to interpret the meaning of “cut off.”

So we must turn to the historical record to see how this was actually fulfilled—and when. Of course, nothing happened at Passover of 26 that might fulfill the prophecy at the precise end of the 69 weeks. The middle of the week brings us to September of 29, when Jesus was baptized.

Baptism signifies death and resurrection. Jesus’ baptism was His dedication ceremony by which He was separated (sanctified) and agreed to die on the cross. It was his legal death that preceded His actual death.

The Gap Theory

Daniel 9:27 speaks obscurely of the middle of the week, saying,

27 And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week He will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering…

Scofield says that this is a reference to the antichrist. He identifies “he” with those who will “destroy the city and the sanctuary” (vs. 26). Hence, they use “he” rather than “He.”

By interpreting this as a reference to antichrist, the “firm covenant” is said to be a covenant with the Jews in the Israeli state. But to make this assertion, the 70th week of Daniel had to be placed into the future, as if time stopped in 26 A.D. This is the origin of the “gap” theory, where the 70th week of Daniel was separated from the previous 69 weeks of history.

Without this “gap” theory, Dan. 9:27 could not be applied to the antichrist (as men defined the term). One inherent problem with this is that if the prophetic timeclock stopped in 26 A.D., how could the Messiah be “cut off” during that 70th week? Would not His baptism (or death) also be put off to the far future?

Scofield taught that the Messiah would be crucified in the middle of the 70th week. How, then, could the 70th week be put off into the future?

In my view there is no “gap” at all. The 70th week of Daniel saw Jesus’ baptism in the middle of the week, and then He was crucified at the end of the 70th week in 33 A.D.

He was “cut off” legally at His baptism, and He was “cut off” physically when He was crucified 3½ years later. When we study history in an unbiased manner, we interpret Daniel’s prophecy according to what actually happened.

In the middle of the week (as Daniel prophesied), Jesus “put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering.” In other words, when the Messiah was presented (baptized), He was the true sacrifice and grain offering. There was no further need for such types and shadows, because the true Sacrifice and Grain Offering had come. From that moment on, men were required to look to Him, believe His word, acknowledge his mission, and know His calling as the “Son of Man” who was to come “with the clouds of heaven” (Dan. 7:13).

Christ’s entire ministry at that time was designed to show forth the glory of His Father so that the people would know Him and find salvation through Him alone. The means of justification shifted from animal sacrifices to the only true Sacrifice that has the power to save.

This was the “firm covenant” that was made during the 70th week. It was not a covenant with the antichrist at all, nor was it to happen in the far future after a long “gap.”

The Covenant Week

As for the timing of this covenant, Daniel implies an entire week, after which time the destruction of Jerusalem was to take place. The latter part of Dan. 9:27 says,

27 … and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.

The wording is not only obscure but difficult, but we know that it speaks of Jerusalem’s destruction. History shows that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. Yet Josephus tells us that the Roman War actually began at Passover of 26 A.D.

The Romans began by taking back control of Judea’s countryside. Then Nero died in 68, and the war effort was suspended for more than a year until Vespasian secured the throne in September of 69. He then left the army under his son Titus, who finally began the siege on Passover morning of 70 A.D.

The final battle (at Masada) was won at Passover of 73 A.D. This ended the 7-year war.

The Roman War occurred precisely 40 years after Daniel’s 70th week (26-33 plus 40 is 66-73). When Jesus was baptized in September of 29, history tells us that Vespasian was given the throne of Rome precisely 40 years later in September of 69.

John the Baptist was executed at Passover of 30, and precisely 40 years later, Titus laid siege to Jerusalem. Jesus was crucified at Passover of 33, and precisely 40 years later, Masada was taken.

Even as Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection ended Daniel’s 70th week, so also the fall of Masada ended the week of the Roman War.

Judah’s 40-Year Grace Period

This 40-year cycle was a grace period given to Jerusalem and Judah on account of Ezekiel’s intercession 600 years earlier. In Ezek. 4:6-8 God told the prophet,

6 When you have completed these, you shall lie down a second time, but on your right side and bear the iniquity of the house of Judah; I have assigned it to you for forty days, a day for each year. 7 Then you shall set your face toward the siege of Jerusalem with your arm bared and prophesy against it. 8 Now behold, I will put ropes on you so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have completed the days of your siege.

This prophesied of “the siege of Jerusalem.” The prophet had to lie on his right side for 40 days “and bear the iniquity of the house of Judah.” This intercessory work bought Judah 40 years of grace. As it turned out in history, this was Judah’s grace period from Daniel’s 70th week until the week of the Roman War—thanks to Ezekiel’s intercession.

We see, then, that Daniel’s 70th week was not put off into the far future. It was fulfilled at its proper time from 26-33 A.D. This was confirmed 40 years later by the Roman War from 66-73 A.D. If Daniel’s 70th week had not be fulfilled in 26-33, then there would be no events to establish the 40-year grace cycle in Ezekiel’s intercession in regard to “the siege of Jerusalem.”

Final Thoughts

The “gap” theory is perhaps the most important cause of the misunderstanding in modern eschatology. If Daniel’s 70th week was not postponed until the time of Christ’s second coming, then there is no reason to suppose that an antichrist will make a covenant with the Israelis just before the second coming of Christ.

In fact, this misunderstanding has twisted the meaning of John’s term “antichrist,” blinding the eyes of many people to what Scripture actually teaches about it.

Furthermore, men’s views of “the great tribulation” have also been based on Daniel’s 70th week, blinding people to the timing and length of the tribulation. It is not a 7-year period at all, but is rather a period of “seven times,” i.e., 7 x 360 years, beginning with the fall of Jerusalem in 604 B.C.

To be continued…