Conversation Signaling the Start of the Terminal Month
If we are correct in identifying the Transfiguration as the fulfillment of Daniel 9:25, it must have occurred in the month following December 8/9, AD 31, the date we calculated by moving forward sixty-nine weeks from the first day of the month when Nehemiah prayed. How can we prove that the Transfiguration took place at the time required by prophecy? The Gospels must furnish certain information. First, they must report an incident that we can set on the momentous date issuing from our calculation: that is, on December 8/9, AD 31. Second, they must disclose how much time then passed before the Transfiguration. According to prophecy, the interval must have been less than a month. Third, once we have used this information to assign the Transfiguration an exact date, Scripture must provide one or more ways of verifying it.
The preface to the prophecy in Daniel 9:25 commands us to "know and understand." So, if we are on track to the right solution, we should find the information we need. But if we are not on track, if we are forcing Scripture to fit a solution we have contrived but God did not intend, it is impossible that we would find such information. If it is there, it is there for only one reason—to enable us to solve the riddle.
Do the Gospels in fact relate an event that marks the arrival of December 8/9, AD 31? Yes, the event we are looking for is Jesus' prediction in Matthew 16:28 that some of His disciples would soon see Him coming in His kingdom. Why did Jesus announce the Transfiguration several days ahead of time, and why do the Gospels record His announcement? Presumably, to show us that the month at the end of the sixty-nine weeks had now arrived.
This announcement was actually the last of several earth-shaking announcements, all made in a single conversation with His disciples. The whole series points to the imminent close of the sixty-nine weeks. The fullest report of the conversation appears in Matthew 16.
13 When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?
14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.
15 He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?
16 And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.
17 And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven.
18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
19 And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.
20 Then charged he his disciples that they should tell no man that he was Jesus the Christ.
21 From that time forth began Jesus to shew unto his disciples, how that he must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day.
22 Then Peter took him, and began to rebuke him, saying, Be it far from thee, Lord: this shall not be unto thee.
23 But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.
24 Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.
25 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.
26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?
27 For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
28 Verily I say unto you, There be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
Whether the whole conversation took place in one day is a question critical to one way of validating our solution of Daniel’s riddle. The question is left unsettled by Matthew, but resolved by Mark and Luke. Luke’s coverage is the fullest outside of Matthew’s.
18 And it came to pass, as he was alone praying, his disciples were with him: and he asked them, saying, Whom say the people that I am?
19 They answering said, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others say, that one of the old prophets is risen again.
20 He said unto them, But whom say ye that I am? Peter answering said, The Christ of God.
21 And he straitly charged them, and commanded them to tell no man that thing;
22 Saying, The Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised the third day.
23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.
24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.
25 For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?
26 For whosoever shall be ashamed of me and of my words, of him shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he shall come in his own glory, and in his Father's, and of the holy angels.
27 But I tell you of a truth, there be some standing here, which shall not taste of death, till they see the kingdom of God.
28 And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.
Luke says that the Transfiguration took place a certain number of days "after these sayings" (v. 28). To use these sayings as the starting point for the interval implies that they all fell on the same day. When we work backward from verse 28, we do not find a clear narrative break until the beginning of verse 18, where Luke says, "And it came to pass," an expression introducing a new incident. After verse 18, we do not find another narrative break until the same expression reappears in verse 28. Thus, everything in verses 18 to 28 evidently belongs to the day of "these sayings." Jesus’ opening question was, "Whom say the people that I am?"—the same question that initiated the conversation in Matthew 16:13–28.
In verses 20 to 22 Luke explicitly places in the same conversation both Peter’s confession and Jesus’ prediction of future suffering. Matthew agrees, saying that the disciples first heard the prediction at "that time" (Matt. 16:21).
Although in Luke’s account a possible narrative break occurs in verse 23, where we read that Jesus left off teaching His disciples and addressed a crowd, Mark indicates that when the crowd came to hear Him, the disciples had not departed, but were still present (Mark 8:34). Mark’s account leaves the clear impression that Jesus’ words to the whole group were follow-up to what He had just spoken to Peter and the disciples.
We conclude from comparing all three Synoptics that the conversation recorded in Matthew 16:13–28 fell within the confines of a single day. If this conversation inaugurated the final month in the divine schedule of weeks, that day was December 8/9, AD 31.
With his eye for detail, Mark tells more about the setting of the conversation leading to Jesus' announcement of His arrival soon as the King. It all started as Jesus and His faithful companions were en route to Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27). Presumably, they were traveling in the daytime. So by modern reckoning, the precise date in AD 31 was December 9. We will designate it the Day of Announcements.
During that day, before speaking of the Transfiguration soon at hand, Jesus divulged three major truths which previously had been veiled in mystery. Each truth was connected in some fashion with the completion of the sixty-nine weeks. In effect, the new teaching alerted Jesus' disciples, as well as any reader of the Gospels, that Daniel's prophecy was about to be fulfilled.
The three truths newly revealed were as follows:
- In asking His disciples who He was, Jesus phrased the question so as to prompt the right answer (Matt. 16:13). He identified Himself as the Son of man, a title drawn from the Book of Daniel (Dan. 7:13). The answer Peter gave was, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God" (v. 16). Christ is the Greek equivalent of Messiah (1),a title Jesus bears in the prophecy of the sixty-nine weeks (Dan. 9:25). Jesus' assent to Peter's answer (v. 17) marks the first time in His recorded ministry that He openly acknowledged His identity to His disciples. That He was revealing a former secret is implied by His charge to tell no one else (v. 20). What Jesus said on this occasion was, in essence, "Yes, I am the One whose coming at the end of sixty-nine weeks is prophesied in Daniel 9:25."
- Jesus revealed His intention to found the church (v. 18). No earlier reference to the church, by that name, appears in the Gospels. To understand why this was the right moment to make His intention known, we must consider the significance of the seventy weeks. When they began in Nehemiah's day, they represented the remaining time of God's special dealings with the Jewish nation. The first sixty-nine lasted until the life of Christ. The seventieth is still future. Between them lies the long period of history known as the Church Age. The conversation in Matthew 16 was the appropriate time for Jesus to reveal the church because the sixty-nine weeks were just then coming to an end. The next phases in God's program for human history were the redemptive work of Christ and the founding of the church. There would soon be a change in dispensations—from the dispensation of law to the dispensation of grace, from the Mosaic system to the church, from the times of preparation to the Church Age.
- Jesus began to teach His disciples that He must suffer and die in Jerusalem (v. 21). He chose this occasion to reveal His coming ordeal because on the prophetic timetable, the cutting off of the Messiah was the next event after completion of the sixty-nine weeks (Dan. 9:26).
Date of the Transfiguration
Do the Gospels tell us when the Transfiguration took place in relation to the conversation in Matthew 16? Very seldom do they specify the amount of time between consecutive events, yet each of the Synoptics gives us the desired data. According to Matthew and Mark, Jesus and three disciples departed for the mountain "after six days" (Matt. 17:1; Mark 9:2). Luke says "about an eight days after" (Luke 9:28), but he is using a rounded number. By inclusive reckoning, the interval between two times a week apart is eight days, because the sum embraces the days at both ends. Thus, we infer that Luke is saying "about a week later." We may assume that the exact count, "after six days," is also based on inclusive reckoning. That all three Synoptic writers should be careful to provide this small detail is remarkable. It is not random information, but information for a purpose—to enable us to date the Transfiguration.
We have shown that the opening day of the month during which, according to prophecy, Messiah the Prince would come was December 8/9, AD 31. We have argued that this was the day when Jesus elicited Peter's confession, announced the church, first warned of the Messiah's coming ordeal, and foretold that some of the disciples would soon behold His kingly glory. If He and His little band of witnesses then departed after six days, the date was December 13/14, AD 31.
The fourteenth was a Friday (2). On that day, "Jesus taketh Peter, James, and John his brother, and bringeth them up into an high mountain apart" (Matt. 17:1). By his mention of no day other than the day of departure, the narrator implies that it was still Friday when they came to the place of prayer. Then, "Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him" (Luke 9:32). The account strongly suggests that the revelation of Jesus' glory came after nightfall.
It appears, then, that the Transfiguration took place on the night of December 14/15, AD 31, in either the late hours of Friday or the early hours of Saturday. Among the Jews, the day was the Sabbath. (The Sabbath begins on Friday evening.) On what other day could the King be crowned who will bring a Sabbath rest to the whole world?
The date of the event terminating the sixty-nine weeks illumines the date of the opening event: the heavenly commandment issued as soon as Nehemiah began to pray. The date of the opening event was November 23/24, 446 BC, also a Sabbath.
Can we verify that Jesus indeed entered His kingly office on December 14/15, AD 31? Yes, in two ways. Both view the date of the Transfiguration in relation to the date of the Crucifixion. Our next task therefore is to prove that Jesus died on April 3, AD 33, a Friday. On the Jewish calendar it was Nisan the fourteenth, the same day as Passover. In the lessons cited below, the case presented on behalf of this date is wide-ranging and compelling.
Verifying the Date of the Transfiguration
Having anchored our chronology in the correct date of the Crucifixion, we can proceed to verify that the Transfiguration fell on December 14/15, AD 31. The task will not be simple, yet it will produce many important insights. We must remember that God is under no obligation to make the treasures of His Word easy to find. Bible prophecies show His supernatural hand, but He always keeps His hand hidden to some extent, lest He force people to believe. He never takes from the proud all their excuses for not believing. To attain compelling evidence that the Bible is a divine book requires diligent searching motivated by faith.
We will begin by showing that our date for the Transfiguration is in line with a sound chronology of Jesus' ministry. The conventional view is that the Transfiguration fell in the final year. But though the other Synoptic writers do not shed much light on how much time transpired between the Transfiguration and the Crucifixion, Luke clearly puts the Transfiguration before the Passover of 32. In His Gospel, the account of Jesus' glory on the mountain comes several chapters before the Parable of the Unfruitful Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9), the parable which implies that Jesus had one year remaining in His ministry. In all the Synoptics, the Transfiguration follows the feeding of the 5000 during the Passover season of 31. So, the date we have derived for the Transfiguration, in December of 31, is reasonable.
Yet we need not be content with a date that seems approximately correct. We can demonstrate in two ways that the date we have derived for the Transfiguration is exactly correct.
- We find in Daniel 9:26 a prophecy specifying the interval between the Transfiguration and another key event before the Crucifixion. Given that the sixty-nine weeks ended on December 14/15, 31, we can date this intervening event. It so happens that we can date it also by reference to the Jewish Talmud, which gives the interval between this event and the Crucifixion. The perfect agreement of these two independently derived dates, the one relying solely on Scripture, the other relying solely on secular history, provides external validation of our date for the Transfiguration.
- Daniel 9:25 contains an easily overlooked prophecy giving the interval between the Transfiguration (or, more precisely, the announcements a few days earlier) and the Resurrection. If, based on this prophecy, we use the established date of the Crucifixion to compute the date of the Transfiguration, we arrive at the same date we obtained from Daniel's prophecy of the sixty-nine weeks. The perfect agreement of these two dates independently derived from Scripture provides internal validation of our date for the Transfiguration.