The Sixty-Nine Weeks

A Reading for Christmas


The reading sketches the main facts showing that Christ came at the time prophesied by Daniel. It shows also why the Jews failed to recognize the Christ when He came.

Paul writes in Galatians, "When the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son." To most of us these words suggest only that Jesus Christ came at the time chosen in the secret counsels of eternity. But many in the first century would have taken the meaning further. They would have understood it as an allusion to Daniel's wonderful prophecy of the exact time when the Messiah would come.

In Daniel 9:25 the prophet states that from the going forth of the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince would be sixty-nine weeks. The context of the prophecy shows that these are not ordinary weeks. Rather, each is a period of seven years, and the whole sixty-nine span 483 years.

When did the weeks begin? After the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, the city lay in ruins until the Persians authorized its reconstruction. The principal effort to restore the gates and walls followed an edict of King Artaxerxes. If we assume that prophecy views this edict as the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem, the sixty-nine weeks began in the middle of the fifth century BC.

What then is the date closing the sixty-nine weeks? Adding 483 years to a date in the fifth century BC yields a date in the first century AD.

This result is so obvious that it did not escape readers in ancient times. A rough estimate of the terminal date must have prepared the wise men to understand the meaning of the star that led them to the newborn king of the Jews. Among the Jews themselves, there were many who understood Daniel's prophecy. And so it was that as the first century wore on, an agitated belief that the Messiah would soon come and right all injustices swept through the Jewish nation. The climate of expectancy was stormy and unstable. The Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius say that feverish Messianic hopes fed by an ancient oracle were a primary cause of the disastrous Jewish rebellion against Rome in AD 66, which led to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. The oracle provoking the unrest was undoubtedly Daniel 9:25, for both historians say that the Jews were looking for the Messiah to come at a certain time.

It is sad that the Jews understood Scripture well enough to deduce the time of the Messiah's coming, but not well enough to recognize the validating marks of the Messiah in the character and ministry of Jesus. They wanted a celebrity from the mold of their own aspirations, a hero to conquer their enemies, a leader with supernatural power to build a material paradise. They did not expect a humble carpenter who would offer Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world.

We too must be careful not to seek wrong solutions. God's business is not to make this a better world, or even to give us better lives. His business is to prepare souls for heaven, the only place of true happiness.


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