From Nehemiah to Paul
We have already shown how the seventy weeks began with the decree of Artaxerxes (Cyrus II) in 458 B.C. This was the king’s seventh year, and his decree is recorded in Ezra 6:11-26. But the seventy weeks also has a secondary starting point thirteen years later, when the same king made a second decree.
This second decree was issued in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes (Neh. 2:1), which was the year 445 B.C. This is what sent Nehemiah to Jerusalem to build the walls of the city. Like the earlier decrees, this one was opposed by those who felt threatened by a defensible city in their neighborhood. Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite official and Geshem the Arab opposed this work (Neh. 2:19). Nonetheless, the wall was completed in 52 days (Neh. 6:15).
It is of note that 490 years after Nehemiah rebuilt the wall around Jerusalem the Apostle Paul was commissioned as a missionary sent out from the church in Antioch. Paul was commissioned in the 14th year from his conversion (Gal. 2:1). His commission came after he and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem with contributions for the church there, in anticipation of a famine that had been prophesied by the prophet Agabus. Acts 11:27-30 says,
27 Now at this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world. And this took place in the reign of Claudius. 29 And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea. 30 And this they did, sending it in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.
This famine “took place in the reign of Claudius” (Acts 11:28). Claudius reigned from 41-54 A.D. Paul could not have been converted before 33 A.D., and since he tells us that he went to Jerusalem “after fourteen years” (i.e., 13-14 years later), this would have been the year 46-47 A.D. It is of interest to us to note that this was 490 years after Nehemiah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in 445 B.C.
If we compare the two beginning points with the two endpoints of the seventy-week prophecy, we see that there were distinctly different purposes for each cycle. Ezra was sent to Jerusalem to offer sacrifice for Judah and also for the Persians. Nehemiah was sent to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and provide for its defense.
So also at the end of each seventy-week period, we see distinct events taking place. Jesus came to Jerusalem to be offered as a Sacrifice, thus completing the work begun by Ezra. Then thirteen years later the Apostle Paul came to Jerusalem with donations from the Christians in Antioch to protect the church in Jerusalem from the coming famine.
As we have already discussed the purpose of Christ’s Sacrifice on the cross in connection with the first endpoint in 33 A.D., we will focus upon the second endpoint that finds its fulfillment in the work and ministry of the Apostle Paul.
The purpose of most time cycles is to establish a cause-and-effect relationship between its starting point and its endpoint. So how does Nehemiah compare with the Apostle Paul? How does the commissioning of Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem compare with the Apostle Paul’s commission and calling?
Rebuilding the Wall
First of all, a wall is designed to defend a city from its enemies. It is not designed to keep people out of the city, but to force people to enter the city through its gates. Those who try to scale the wall are enemies, because they attempt to enter a city in an unlawful manner or with hostile intent.
Prophetically speaking, a wall represents the law of God. It is the boundary, i.e., the moral boundary, which defends the city and keeps out the unrighteous. So Jeremiah tells us in Lam. 2:8, 9,
8 The Lord determined to destroy the wall of the daughter of Zion… 9 Her gates have sunk into the ground, He has destroyed and broken her bars. Her king and her princes are among the nations; the law is no more…
In other words, the people of Judah and Jerusalem had continually violated the law of God, thereby destroying its spiritual wall of defense around the city. So God destroyed its physical wall, because the spiritual pattern is always reflected in the natural. He used the Babylonian army to bring judgment upon Judah and to bring the people into captivity for seventy years.
After the captivity was completed, the people began to return to Jerusalem in 534 B.C. during the reign of Cyrus. They built the temple from 520-515 B.C., but the walls remained in disrepair. Finally in 445 B.C. Nehemiah was sent to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem. The prophetic significance of this was that the spiritual wall had been repaired, so God allowed the physical wall to be rebuilt as a reflection of the spiritual condition of the nation.
Specifically, Nehemiah had to rid Judea of its usurious banking practice. Neh. 5:1-5 says,
1 Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers. 2 For there were those who said, “We, our sons and our daughters, are many; therefore let us get grain that we may eat and live.” 3 And there were others who said, “We are mortgaging our fields, our vineyards, and our houses that we might get grain because of the famine.” 4 Also there were those who said, “We have borrowed money for the king’s tax on our fields and our vineyards. 5 And now our flesh is like the flesh of our brothers, our children like their children. Yet behold, we are forcing our sons and our daughters to be slaves, and some of our daughters are forced into bondage already, and we are helpless because our fields and vineyard belong to others.”
The Jews had learned to loan money at interest during their stay in Babylon, and even though they had gone out of Babylon, it was more difficult to get Babylon out of them. The practice of usury, then, is presented to us as the example of lawlessness that had to be corrected before Nehemiah could rebuild the wall in the next chapter.
Paul Came with Gifts, not Loans
Seventy weeks of years after Nehemiah built Jerusalem’s wall, Paul came to Jerusalem bearing gifts from Antioch. This was not money to be loaned to the Church at interest. These were interest-free gifts. Their donations represented a lawful way of assisting the poor, which Nehemiah had to enforce 490 years earlier.
In Nehemiah’s day, the people were being enslaved by interest-bearing loans, which was unlawful (Deut. 23:19). A famine had struck the land, and they were unable to repay their debts (Neh. 5:3). Seventy weeks later, Agabus prophesied of a famine, and Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem with interest-free gifts, so as not to put the people of Jerusalem into bondage. The parallel between Nehemiah and Paul is striking.
The wall of Jerusalem had a deeper significance in the life and ministry of the Apostle Paul—something that is very relevant to us even today. Paul’s teaching re-established the law and showed us its proper place in the Church. Paul wrote in Rom. 3:31,
31 Do we then nullify the law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the law.
Hence, any doctrinal understanding that puts away the law runs contrary to Paul’s teaching. Many have misunderstood Paul, thinking that he put away the law, when in fact he established the law. In doing this, he completed the work that was begun by Nehemiah 490 years earlier. Paul did spiritually what Nehemiah did physically.
Paul’s discussion of the law shows that he understood that the law could not justify sinners, because all had sinned. The law cannot justify sinners, for it must always condemn sin. But Paul also showed that Jesus died to pay the full penalty of the law for the sin of the world. Jesus thus upheld the law and paid its penalty, so that we could shift the liability of our own sin upon Jesus Christ.
In other words, Jesus had respect for the law, for if He had put away the law, there would have been no need to pay its penalty. He could have simply repealed the law and cancelled its penalty, for “where there is no law, neither is there violation” (Rom. 4:15). But that is not how He handled the sin problem.
In upholding the law, He testified in Rom. 7:12,
12 So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
The law is the moral boundary of the Kingdom, because it is the revelation of God’s character as seen in the life of Jesus Himself. Christ’s life is the standard by which all are measured in the courts of heaven. That standard itself can save no one, but here is where the two covenants provide different paths toward salvation. The Old Covenant gives man the opportunity to be saved by his own vow of obedience. The New Covenant gives God the opportunity to save all men by His own vow, or promise.
We know, of course, that only the New Covenant can save anyone, regardless of their ethnicity. Only God has the power to work in us from within and to take us through the three steps toward full salvation—justification, sanctification, and glorification. These three steps are set forth in the feast days.
The Dividing Wall
The Apostle Paul’s commission had both a positive and a negative side. On the positive side, he was called to repair the wall of God’s law. He put it into its proper place around the New Jerusalem, so that it would serve to direct people through one of the gates of the city.
On the negative side, he was called to tear down the dividing wall that was in the temple of the earthly Jerusalem. That wall had divided the people of God into “chosen” and non-chosen people (as men viewed it). This wall had even divided the women from the men. But because the wall was torn down by Christ, Paul taught in Gal. 3:28,
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
Paul’s commission was to teach and advocate the true heart of God, which was to make the temple a house of prayer for all people (Isaiah 56:7). So when Paul wrote about the New Covenant Temple within the walls of the New Jerusalem, he said in Eph. 2:11-16,
11 Therefore, remember, that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “Uncircumcision” by the so-called “Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15 by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16 and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity.
The dividing wall in the temple stood as a monument to fleshly religion, which impressed upon the Jewish mind a status of exclusivity that went contrary to the mind of God. It told all non-Jews and even all Jewish women that they were incapable or unworthy of approaching the God of Israel beyond a certain point. This ran contrary to the law of God itself, which commanded equal justice for all and that there should be “one law and one ordinance for you and for the alien who sojourns with you” (Num. 15:16).
The popular Jewish idea that the so-called “Noahide laws” apply to non-Jews, while the rest of the law applied only to Jews, is absolutely contrary to God’s law. Such a view is based on the notion that non-Jews are little more than “beasts” and “cattle,” and are therefore incapable of rising to the spiritual level of male Jews. The Apostle Paul, who boldly tore down the dividing wall, is thus hated by Jewish rabbis even more than they hate Jesus Himself.
This dividing wall also ran contrary to God’s command in Lev. 19:33, 34,
33 When a foreigner resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. 34 The foreigner who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.
How could the foreigners be “as the native” when they were told that they could approach God only as far as “the court of the women”? This was a direct violation of the law, because it gave Jews an excuse not to love foreigners as much as other Jews. Thus, they taught that to love your neighbor as yourself referred to loving one’s fellow Jews or Israelites. This second great commandment, they said, did not apply to foreigners—not even when they were seeking to know the God of Israel and to worship in His temple.
Others have taught that the “aliens” in question were actually Israelites who had moved away and then had returned. In other words, they were aliens by address, but Israelites by race. The law, however, destroys that view by saying, “for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” The reason Israel was to love aliens as themselves was because the Israelites themselves knew what it was like to live as aliens in Egypt. They did not like being oppressed as foreigners, so they ought to have learned by experience to love foreigners within their own borders.
And so Jesus condemned the religious leaders of His time in Matt. 15:8, 9,
8 This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. 9 But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.
The dividing wall was not commanded in the law. Moses constructed no dividing wall in the outer court of his tabernacle. Neither did David instruct Solomon to construct such a wall in the outer court of the first temple. We are not told of any such wall in the second temple when it was built in the days of Haggai and Zechariah (515 B.C.). But King Herod had reconstructed the temple stone by stone, beginning about 19 B.C. We know from history that the dividing wall was set up at that time, and it was yet in existence in the time of the Apostle Paul.
So we find that Paul not only was called to construct the wall around the New Jerusalem, but he was also called to tear down the dividing wall that divided the believers—Jewish men on the right, women and Gentiles on the left. For this reason, Paul fought against the Judaizers in so many of his letters.
All of this establishes Paul as an endpoint of Nehemiah. Nehemiah was commissioned to repair the physical walls of Jerusalem. Seventy weeks later, Paul was commissioned to repair the spiritual walls of the New Jerusalem. This secondary fulfillment of Gabriel’s prophecy of the seventy weeks is remarkable, because it provides a double witness to the work of Jesus on the cross, which was the primary fulfillment of the seventy-week prophecy.
Gabriel’s prophecy ends abruptly with no further explanation, but his words are among the most important prophecies in the word of God insofar as understanding the timing and purpose of the coming of Christ. We know from history that the desolation of Jerusalem and the temple did not happen at the same time that the Messiah came to do His work.
The seven-year war with the Romans (66-73) occurred forty years after Daniel’s final week (26-33). This grace period was obtained through Ezekiel’s intercession (Ezekiel 4:6). After 40 years, when the nation refused to repent for its rejection of the Messiah, God sent “His armies” (Matt. 22:7) to destroy the city and its temple. In this case the Roman armies were God’s mercenaries that were sent to enforce the decree from the divine court.
Once we understand how Gabriel’s prophecy was fulfilled, it becomes clear that there is no need to separate the seventieth week from the rest of the prophecy and to put it off to the end of the Pentecostal Age. The events from 26-33 A.D. are the cause of the seven-year war forty years later from 66-73, and perhaps there will even be another seven-year period in our time when Jerusalem is destroyed for the last time. The rejection of Christ in the seventieth week caused Jerusalem’s desolation forty years later, but that final week of Daniel 9 has already been fulfilled.