Beginning the Seventy Weeks
The prophecy of the seventy weeks leading to the Messiah is one of the most important prophecies in the word of God. While this prophecy may not be important in the development of one’s character, it does give us understanding of the divine plan. Conversely, misunderstanding it can mislead us and (as we see in the Church today) it can even cause us to support those that John calls “antichrist.”
I have noticed that many prophecy teachers set the beginning point for the seventy weeks according to their pre-conceived belief about when those weeks should end. In other words, they determine the date of Christ’s crucifixion according to their belief system and then work back 490 years to the presumed date of the decree which began the cycle.
In doing this, they try to force their view of prophecy upon history, instead of allowing history to guide the view of prophecy. The fact is that history is prophecy fulfilled, and so we ought to allow history to shape our view of prophecy, not the other way around.
The Beginning Point
Gabriel linked the start of the seventy weeks to “the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” History shows that Cyrus’ decree came too early for it to have been the one jump-starting the seventy weeks. His decree was issued in 534 B.C., which was 566 years before 33 A.D. His decree came 76 years too early.
But there was a second decree, issued 76 years later by Artaxerxes in 458 B.C., which was precisely 490 years prior to 33 A.D.
In fact, the 76 years was important, because it is the biblical number of cleansing. The nation had to be cleansed after its release from Babylon, and only then could Judah’s calling be fulfilled. Their Babylonian captivity represented the death of the nation for 70 years, and the law said it should take seven days to be cleansed (Num. 19:11). The one to be cleansed then had to be cleansed the next morning (on the eighth day), which made their time of cleansing, in essence, slightly over 7½ days. This law was fulfilled nationally by multiplying by ten and by reckoning in years, making it 76 years.
After Cyrus died, his son Cambyses ruled from 529-522 B.C., the first two years of his reign as co-regent with his father. Darius I then came to the throne, and 522 was the beginning of his reign. The first year of his reign, as they reckoned in those days, was the year 521, beginning in the Spring (April). They always gave the previous king the full year, even if he died during that year, so as not to overlap the reigns of kings and cause confusion among the court historians.
Because Darius’ reign included two lunar eclipses that were recorded in his seventh and thirty-first years, historians have positively identified the years of his reign. His first year was 521, so his seventh year was 515, and his thirty-first year was 491 B.C. Darius the Great reigned a total of 36 years until 486 B.C. When he died, Xerxes then came to the throne, and his first year was reckoned as 485 B.C.
Xerxes was the king who tried to conquer Greece, but failed. The Greeks, of course, recorded these events as well. Herodotus recorded the Battle of Salamis in the archonship of Kalliades, who ruled from July of 480 to July of 479. Adam Rutherford tells us also of a solar eclipse which fixes the reign of Xerxes:
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 (Bible Chronology, pp. 17,18).
Therefore, not only were the years of Darius fixed by astronomy, but Xerxes also. Xerxes died in the 21st year of his reign (465 B.C.), and so the first year of his successor, Artaxerxes, was the year 464 B.C. It was at the start of his seventh year (April 458) that he issued his decree which began the countdown of 490 years to the Messiah, as dated in Ezra 7:7.
The Decree of Artaxerxes
Josephus tells us that Artaxerxes had another name.
After the death of Xerxes, the kingdom came to be transferred to his son Cyrus, whom the Greeks called Artaxerxes [Antiquities of the Jews, XI, vi, 1].
I believe that this is prophetic. The original Cyrus had issued the first decree allowing the people of Judah to return to Jerusalem and to build the second temple. Seventy-six years later, Artaxerxes did the same things, and Josephus tells us that his Persian name was Cyrus, son of Xerxes. The fact that two men were named Cyrus provides leeway for prophecy to be fulfilled in two men, as if they were the same man. In fact, this is one reason why chronologists from a century ago thought that they were indeed the same king. Yet, as I have already shown, archeologists unearthed the tombs and palaces of the intervening kings, proving that those kings did rule between the two Cyruses.
In fact, Isaiah’s prophecies about Cyrus (Isaiah 45:1) also have a double fulfillment, because Cyrus I and Cyrus II each issued decrees regarding the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple.
Ezra 7:7-9 says,
7 And some of the sons of Israel and some of the priests, the Levites, the singers, the gatekeepers, and the temple servants went up to Jerusalem in the seventh year of King Artaxerxes. 8 And he came to Jerusalem in the fifth month, which was in the seventh year of the king. 9 For on the first of the first month he began to go up from Babylon; and on the first of the fifth month he came to Jerusalem, because the good hand of his God was upon him.
The actual decree is recorded in Ezra 7:11-26. The king funded this mission (Ezra 7:14-18) and even sent word to all the treasurers in the area to provide for any unforeseen needs that Ezra might encounter (Ezra 7:21-23). Josephus tells us,
When Esdras [the Greek form of Ezra] had received this epistle, he was very joyful, and began to worship God, and confessed that he had been the cause of the king’s great favour to him, and that for the same reason he gave all the thanks to God. So he read the epistle at Babylon to those Jews that were there; but he kept the epistle itself, and sent a copy of it to all those of his own nation that were in Media; and when these Jews had understood what piety the king had towards God, and what kindness he had for Esdras, they were all greatly pleased; nay, many of them took their effects with them, and came to Babylon, as very desirous of going down to Jerusalem; but then the entire body of the people of Israel remained in that country; wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers. [Antiquities of the Jews, XI, v, 2]
It is of passing interest to us to note that Josephus did not believe that the ten tribes of Israel returned to their old land. Since he was writing toward the end of the first century A.D., it is clear that the House of Israel still remained to the north of Babylon near the Caspian Sea and the Black Sea east of the Euphrates River. At that time, of course, they were not yet “lost,” at least not to Josephus.
Ezra 7:9 seems to imply that Ezra and the immigrants actually left Babylon on the first day of the first month to go to Jerusalem. But Ezra 8:31 tells us more specifically that the journey began on the twelfth day of the first month. Josephus confirms this. He tells us that Ezra first organized a three-day fast to pray for safety in their journey. He then says,
So when they had finished their prayers, they removed from Euphrates on the twelfth day of the first month of the seventh year of the reign of Xerxes [actually, Artaxerxes], and they came to Jerusalem on the fifth month of the same year [Antiquities of the Jews, XI, v, 2].
Artaxerxes funded this very important mission, purchasing animals for sacrifice to be offered on the altar in Jerusalem. Ezra 7:17 says,
17 with this money, therefore, you shall diligently buy bulls, rams, and lambs, with their grain offerings and their libations and offer them on the altar of the house of your God which is in Jerusalem.
The king’s intent was also to offer prayers for himself, as was commonly done in those days, regardless of which religion was making sacrifice. In fact, this practice was continued into the first century until the temple was destroyed by the Romans. Such sacrifices were considered to be acts of friendship and peace between church and state.
Hence, the king’s decree reads, in part, in Ezra 7:23,
23 Whatever is commanded by the God of heaven, let it be done with zeal for the house of the God of heaven, lest there be wrath against the kingdom of the king and his sons.
Fulfilling Noah’s Prophecy about Japheth
Neither Ezra nor King Artaxerxes realized that this sacrifice was also a fulfillment of an earlier prophecy from Noah on the occasion in which he cursed Canaan. Gen. 9:27 says,
27 May God enlarge Japheth, and let him dwell in the tents of Shem; and let Canaan be his servant.
The Persians and Medes (Madai) were descendants of Japheth (Gen. 10:2). Noah had prophesied about unity between Japheth and Shem. As I showed in my book, Secrets of Time, chapter 4, this prophecy was given 1660 years from Adam. Ezra’s sacrifice on behalf of the Persian king and his Medo-Persian Empire was made in the seventh year of Artaxerxes, which was 3437 years from Adam.
If we subtract the two dates, we see that in the 1776th year came the fulfillment of Noah’s prophecy. This is 888 x 2. The numeric value of the name Jesus (in Greek) is 888.
I believe that Ezra’s sacrifice brought prophetic unity between Shem and Japheth, putting them into the same “tent,” as Noah worded it. A tent is a covering, and in this case Ezra placed Persia under God’s covering. The fact that this took place 2 x 888 years later shows that the two brothers, Shem and Japheth, were united through Jesus Christ.
This was an early fulfillment of what Paul wrote about many years later in Eph. 2:14-22, where Christ broke down the wall of partition in the temple in order to reconcile all men in Christ and to give them equality as “God’s household” (Eph. 2:19). In other words, both Shem and Japheth were to be in the same household. Even Ham (or Canaan) was to be in that household, though he was to be a servant.
There are many implications inherent in this prophecy, which are beyond the scope of our present discussion. For now it is sufficient to know that the sacrifice of Ezra on behalf of his own nation and also on behalf of Medo-Persia was a very important prophetic event dating back as far as the days of Noah shortly after the flood.
The decree of Artaxerxes in April 458 B.C. sent Ezra to Jerusalem to make that sacrifice. This decree started the seventy week cycle which finally ended with Christ’s crucifixion on April 3, 33 A.D.