Dating the Seventy Weeks
Many prophecy teachers have written books with differing starting points for Daniel’s Seventy Weeks. The differences are usually due to some theological bias that they feel must be maintained, regardless of actual history. And so, those who maintain that the crucifixion occurred in 30 A.D. are constrained to backtrack from that date to postulate the beginning of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks. Those who believe in a 31 A.D. crucifixion will simply bring their starting date ahead by a year.
The problem is that Scripture is unclear. It only tells us that the decree of Artaxerxes was made in his seventh year. We must rely upon the historical records to discern which date this is on our modern calendar. Many historians over the years have done this for us, of course, so we must, in turn, rely upon their scholarship.
Cyrus was the king of Persia who overthrew Babylon, along with his father-in-law, king Darius the Mede (Dan. 5:31). But for our purposes, we need not study the Persian kings before Darius the Great, whose long 36-year reign spanned from 521-486 B.C. It was in the early part of his reign that the temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem (Hag. 1:1).
Darius reigned 36 years from 521-486 B.C.
Xerxes reigned 21 years from 485-465 B.C.
Artaxerxes reigned 41 years from 464-424 B.C.
Ptolemy, an Egyptian astronomer recorded many years ago that there was a lunar eclipse in the 20th year of Darius and another in his 31st year. Modern astronomers say that these occurred on Nov. 19, 502 B.C. and April 25, 491 B.C. (as we reckon dates on our Gregorian calendar). This establishes the years of the reign of Darius the Persian by a double witness of astronomical events.
Once we know that the first eclipse occurred on Nov. 19, 502 B.C., and that this was the 20th year of Darius, we can easily fix his first year as 521 B.C. The final year of his long reign was in the year we know as 486 B.C.
Historians know from the records that his successor, Xerxes, reigned 21 years from 485 to 465 B.C. You should know also that when a king died, the entire remaining portion of that year was reckoned as the last year of his reign. The dead king’s successor began to reign immediately, and the rest of that year is often called “the beginning of his reign.” But the official first year of his reign was not reckoned to him until the beginning of the next year.
Hence, Darius died some time in 486, and that is reckoned as the final year of his reign. His successor was Xerxes, whose first year was reckoned as 485 B.C. and his 21st year was 465 B.C.
Xerxes attempted to conquer Greece, so we have the old Greek records to corroborate the Persian records of Xerxes’ reign. The famous Battle of Salamis was fought in September of 480 B.C. Adam Rutherford tells us,
“For example, the famous naval battle of Salamis wherein Xerxes I of Persia was defeated by the Greeks is recorded by Herodotus as occurring in the archonship [rule] of Kalliades. A complete list of these annual archons has been preserved from the time of Salamis, and even earlier, down to the third century B.C. The Greeks often dated their events by recording the name of the archon in whose particular year of office these occurred… The archon on Kalliades, in whose year the Battle of Salamis was fought, held office from July 480 B.C. to July 479 B.C. We also know that this battle took place in the month of September (23rd), hence the September of 480 B.C…. The date is still further established by Herodotus’ record of an eclipse of the sun a few days after the Battle of Salamis, for astronomical computation confirms that a solar eclipse, visible in Greece, took place on 2nd October, 480 B.C., just nine days after Xerxes’ defeat at Salamis in the 6th year of his reign. (Rutherford, Bible Chronology, pp. 17, 18)
Rutherford uses this data to disprove the theory of certain Dispensationalists of the early 20th century such as Bullinger, Anstey, and Morrow, who thought that Daniel’s 70 weeks was to be reckoned from the Edict of Cyrus, rather than of Artaxerxes. To make the dates come out, they theorized that Cyrus lived in the 450’s B.C., instead of in the 530’s. Their theory was positively disproved in the 1930’s with the archeological excavation of the royal palaces and tombs in Persepolis, but yet the discredited views continue to be perpetuated by those who have not taken the time to study the new archeological data.
Obviously, though, one must know the truth in order to obtain a more accurate view of Daniel’s 70 weeks, for if Cyrus is to be dated in the 450’s, then Darius would have to be dated in the 440’s and 430’s, and Xerxes’ reign still later, perhaps in the 420’s or even later. But as we know from the Greek records set forth by Adam Rutherford, Xerxes fought the Battle of Salamis in the archonship of Kalliades in 480 B.C. Kalliades was certainly NOT the archon in the 420’s.
After Xerxes died in 465, Artaxerxes took the throne, and his first year was reckoned by the Persians as 464 B.C. It is important to understand the firm foundation of the date on which Daniel’s 70 weeks begins, because if we do not know the years of Artaxerxes, then we will not date Daniel’s Seventy Weeks correctly. If we begin in the wrong year, then our endpoint will also be wrong in dating Jesus’ ministry and crucifixion.
The seventh year of Artaxerxes fell in 458 B.C. at which time he issued his decree recorded in Ezra 7:11-26. This brought Ezra to Jerusalem, as we read in verse 8,
8 And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king .
Thirteen years later Nehemiah was sent to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls. Neh. 2:1 says,
1 And it came about in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes ...
This is when the king noticed that Nehemiah was sad and asked him about it. Nehemiah told him it was on account of Jerusalem’s desolation. And so the king sent him to Jerusalem to rebuild its walls. This was in the year 445 B.C. The vast majority of historians are in agreement with this. These two dates (Ezra and Nehemiah) are both important in the discussion of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks. Each represents a beginning point, and each has an endpoint.
458 B.C. to 33 A.D. (Jesus’ crucifixion)
445 to 46 A.D. (Paul’s commissioning)
Seventy Times Seven: A Grace Cycle
If we go beyond the simple history establishing the midst of the week as the time of Jesus’ baptism, we can see another reason why Jesus had to be crucified at the END of the 70th week of Daniel in 33 A.D. In Matt. 18:21 Peter asked Jesus,
21... How often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times? 22 Jesus said to him, I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
This is 490 times, and it relates to Daniel’s 70 weeks.
In my early years, this only had a superficial meaning to me. But when I began to study the Jubilees and cycles of time, I found that Jesus was giving us the underlying purpose of Daniel's 70 weeks. It was a forgiveness (grace) cycle.
The nation was given grace once a year on the Day of Atonement. The High Priest killed a goat and brought its blood into the Most Holy Place to atone for the sins that had accumulated under the altar during the previous year.
If God gave grace to the nation once a year, how long would it take before God's obligation to forgive ended? Well, 490 years, of course. He forgave the nation’s sin once a year, so it would take 490 years to reach the end of this prophetic obligation. Hence, Jesus immediately told Peter a parable explaining this principle in Matt. 18:23-35. It begins,
23 For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a certain king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. And when he had begun to settle them, there was brought to him one who owed him ten thousand talents.
In other words, this illustrates the principle of forgiving 490 times, and then bringing the slaves, or servants, into accountability to settle the debts. All sin is reckoned as a debt in Scripture, and so a number of Jesus' parables reflect this.
It is plain from the parable that the forgiveness of debt was not absolute. It only covered sin. It postponed the day of reckoning. It was primarily a grace period to allow more time for the debtor to make the payment on the debt that was owed. Further, full and complete forgiveness was conditional ultimately upon the debtor’s willingness to reciprocate by forgiving others their debts to him.
So when the day of reckoning the accounts arrived, the debtor received grace whereby the debt was cancelled. However, we find that the debtor was unwilling to forgive his neighbor of a relatively small debt, and as a consequence, the master made him liable to repay his own debt in full. In other words, he lost his Jubilee because the law of Jubilee was not written in his heart.
In the case of the crucifixion, the national Jubilee of Judah occurred after the nation had been forgiven 490 times (years). This was 490 years from the resumption of the prophetic calendar, established by Artaxerxes’ decree according to Daniel’s prophecy. God had given the nation an extension of grace each year for 490 years.
Only then did the King settle the debt at the cross, not only for Judah, but for the whole world. This is the purpose of Daniel's 70 weeks. According to Jesus’ parable, God’s obligation to grant extensions of grace would end only after 490 times. Hence, if God had settled the debt for sin after just 486 or 487 times, and if Jesus had been crucified in the middle of the 70th week of Daniel, this principle would have been violated.
This is why the crucifixion happened in 33 A.D., not in 30 A.D. Jesus presented Himself to John for baptism on the Day of Atonement in 29 A.D., which was the tenth day from His 30th birthday (Feast of Trumpets). In doing so, He was declaring: I am the true Goat that covers the sin of the nation on this day. I am the fulfillment of this Sacrifice and all others as well.
Three-and-a-half years later, Jesus was crucified at Passover of 33 A.D. Many in the past century, however, have argued against this date, because they have some doctrinal position to maintain. But if we look purely at the history, find out what happened, and then interpret Scripture accordingly with no biblical position to maintain at all costs, this is the simple truth—Jesus was crucified at the END of Daniel's 70 weeks in April of 33 A.D.