The Bible’s Most Difficult Prophecy?

BCOne of the most difficult prophecies in the Bible seems to come to life when linked to the coming of Jesus two thousand years ago. Daniel 9:24-27 has been the basis of endless speculation and has been largely responsible for the idea of a seven-year peace treaty being made in Israel by an end-time antichrist. Sales of novels and others texts by authors such as Tim La Haye, who died last week, show that considerable interest exists in this subject, but what does this passage actually reveal about Jesus?

Firstly, it is helpful to locate the ministry of Jesus as specifically as possible. The reason will be apparent shortly. Jesus’ birth marks the dividing point in the years of history (although there is, of course, no ‘year zero’). It actually dates back before the reversion from B.C. to A.D. and before the death of Herod the Great, known to have occurred in 4 B.C.  Herod’s son, Archelaus, marked the beginning of his reign over Judea and Samaria from 4 B.C., too. Also, statements in the writings of the contemporary historian, Josephus, show that Herod died after an eclipse of the moon (Antiquities 17.6.4), but shortly before the Passover (Antiquities 17.9.3), which fits as precisely as late March or early April that year.

Herod ordered the killing of the male children of Bethlehem under two years of age (Matthew 2:16) based on the timeframe given by the Magi (2:7). This could have happened early in 4 B.C. and matches various possible astronomical signs accounting for the star of Bethlehem around that time, but this does not necessarily mean that Jesus was born much earlier than this date. Herod simply selected a two-year range to be certain of the elimination of a threat; estimates suggest the death of twenty to thirty children.

If Jesus was therefore born in 5 B.C., this would place the commencement of His ministry, which began “around thirty years of age” (Luke 3:23), at approximately A.D. 26. John the Baptist’s ministry commenced in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar which began in A.D. 14 but with a local co-regency in A.D. 12. This also therefore substantiates John baptising Jesus in around A.D. 26.

With this in mind, we turn to the difficult Daniel passage.

Daniel’s Seventy Week Prophecy (9:24-27) speaks of seventy seven-year periods (arising from the idea of weeks of years in Leviticus 25:8). Here, sixty-nine are marked to the coming of the Messiah from a decree to rebuild Jerusalem but in two stages divided by the conclusion of Nehemiah’s work.

The decree itself could be that of 458 B.C. (or 457 B.C., but in the seventh year of Artaxerxes as explained in Ezra 7). The exiles are permitted to return, but the rebuilding of Jerusalem is implied and it can link to a similar grant made in 445 B.C., anyway (Nehemiah 2). Although some see the years of Daniel as prophetic periods of 360 days and therefore fit the prophecy to the latter decree, this was unlikely to be in his understanding if adjustments had to be made for the solar year. The 483 years simply marks the time between the 458 B.C. decree and the year A.D. 26, as expected from the reckoning of birth dates!

This seems to mark the time of Jesus’ baptism, with the crucifixion then happening around A.D. 30. His being “cut off” seems to be a reference to Jesus’ death within Daniel’s seventieth week. Therefore the first half is His earthly ministry and the second concludes with the stoning of Stephen and the call of Paul, after which the Gospel is taken to the Gentiles. It also allows a continuous seventy weeks, notwithstanding the fact that three-and-a-half years of turmoil (or 1260 days) is mentioned in several passages in Revelation.

Jesus refers to Daniel’s verse 27 “abomination of desolation” in Matthew 24:15. Though previously applied to Antiochus Epiphanes’ desecration of the temple in 168 B.C. it is here clearly applied to a yet-future negative event under an associated ruler who is different from the Messiah and covenant maker.

That ruler, if not a future antichrist, is probably Titus. In A.D. 70, he led the Roman armies to demolish Jerusalem and its temple, as the prophecy requires. The finality of the destruction would have been devastating for the survivors. This does seem to have existed after a three-and-a-half year tribulation period, even though there could also be an end-time event of similar duration.

However, either interpretation would still require an unexplained gap to be inserted between Daniel’s sixty-ninth and seventieth weeks. The problem is resolved, though, if the covenant maker is identified with the Messiah (Matthew 26:28), with verse 27 a logical continuation of the start of verse 26, since the Messiah is the subject.

The prince to come is therefore the one who also comes on the “wing of abomination,” a reading of the original text not clear in the NKJV and NIV translations, but suggested in the more accurate ESV version. The Jewish rendition is: “at the corner of the altar will be an appalling abomination until the decreed destruction” which simply links it with the horns of the altar in Amos 3:14 to identify judgment even on the last refuge for the apostate (1 Kings 1:50-53). After all, the phrase “wings of abomination” can refer to an overarching or complete destruction.

Of course, the enigmatic numbers of Daniel 12:11-12 revealing the destruction in 1290 and also 1335 days (not just the 1260 of elsewhere) may rival Daniel 9 in difficulty, but these are almost certainly linked. Whether relating to the events of A.D. 70 or some time in the future, these all approximate a three-and-a-half year period, the 1290 including a leap month commonly and periodically inserted into calendars using lunar cycles, and the 1335 may simply be a prophetic declaration that an extra 45 days brings the very finality of the conquest which God’s people must fully endure.

This is, in fact, the very theme of that passage and it seems to say that, whichever way we might assess any period of trial, our perseverance must be complete. It may also suggest the futility of any obsession with an overly-precise analysis of prophecy in our godly desire to be biblically specific, given that apocalyptic writing if more typically focused on symbolism than science.

So, no dogmatism here; just a possible way to read what is a thoroughly Messianic prophecy, leaving our search for tribulations and antichrists more directly located elsewhere in the Bible. And although the idea of three and a half years of turmoil is biblically valid – whether fulfilled in A.D. 70 and/or in the future – any link to the covenant week of Daniel 9 is speculative and warrants careful comparison to other views.

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