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Seventy Weeks or Seventy Years?

What's the difference between Seventy Weeks and Seventy Years? Does it really matter? It doesn't matter when it comes to salvation. It matters greatly if you are studying prophecy.

These are two unique sets of time periods that are taught in the Old Testament scriptures:

  • The nation of Israel spent seventy years in exile in Babylon (605-539 B.C.).

  • God decreed seventy weeks for His people, Israel, after the Babylonian exile.

Seventy Years

The Lord gave this commandment to Moses at Mount Sinai:

"Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard and gather in its crop, but during the seventh year the land shall have a sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD; you shall not sow your field nor prune your vineyard" (Leviticus 25:3-4).

The Lord issued this warning if His people disobeyed Him and did not "carry out all of these commandments" (Leviticus 26:14):

"I will lay waste your cities as well and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your soothing aromas. ‘I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled over it. ‘You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste. ‘Then the land will enjoy its sabbaths all the days of the desolation, while you are in your enemies’ land; then the land will rest and enjoy its sabbaths. ‘All the days of its desolation it will observe the rest which it did not observe on your sabbaths, while you were living on it" (Leviticus 26:31-35).

Simply put - the land will have its sabbath rest one way or another!

The Israelites did not listen to the Lord. They disobeyed Him and provoked Him to anger (Jeremiah 25:6-7). As a result of their continued disobedience, the Lord sent Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to take His people into exile in Babylon for seventy years (Jeremiah 25:8-11), "until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days of its desolation it kept sabbath until seventy years were complete" (2nd Chronicles 36:21).

The prophet Daniel, along with his friends as well as other youths, were taken to Babylon during the first or second year of the exile (605-604 B.C.). Daniel was still in Babylon when the Medo-Persian empire conquered the Babylonian empire in 539 B.C. Daniel wrote the following:

"In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, of Median descent, who was made king over the kingdom of the Chaldeans— in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, observed in the books the number of the years which was revealed as the word of the LORD to Jeremiah the prophet for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem, namely, seventy years. So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes" (Daniel 9:1-3).

While Daniel was still praying, the angel Gabriel came to Daniel to give him "insight with understanding" (Daniel 9:22). He then said the following:

Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy place" (Daniel 9:24).

Seventy Weeks

In the original Hebrew, a week is a heptad - a period of seven's. Depending on the context, this period could be seven days or seven years. In Genesis 29:27 the context points to a week being seven years - “Complete the week (heptad) of this one, and we will give you the other also for the service which you shall serve with me for another seven years.” In Ezekiel 45:21 the context points to a heptad as seven days - “In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month, you shall have the Passover, a feast of seven (heptad) days; unleavened bread shall be eaten."

The context of the prophecy given by Gabriel to Daniel (Daniel 9:24-27) clearly points to a week being a period of seven years. Since God decreed seventy weeks for His people and their holy city, Jerusalem, the total length of this time period is 490 years. This period of time is broken down into the following segments:

  • Seven weeks or 49 years (Daniel 9:25).

  • Sixty-two weeks or 434 years (Daniel 9:25-26).

  • One week or 7 years (Daniel 9:27) - "the seventieth week."

Seven Weeks

“So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks... it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress" (Daniel 9:25).

2nd Kings 25:8-11 records that, during the "nineteenth year (586 B.C.) of King Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard" came to Jerusalem. "He burned the house of the Lord, the kings house, and all of the houses of Jerusalem." His army also "broke down the walls around Jerusalem."

The house of the Lord (Solomon's Temple) and the holy city were completely destroyed, along with the walls surrounding Jerusalem. Those "who were left in the city" and as well as those "who had deserted the king of Babylon" were "carried away into exile."

Shortly after the end of the Babylonian exile, Cyrus king of Persia, during the first year of his reign (539 B.C.), issued a decree to rebuild the house of God in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-2; 5:13). The temple was completed in 516 B.C. during the “the sixth year of the reign of King Darius” (Ezra 6:15). The rest of the city remained desolate and without walls for over seventy years.

The seven weeks began when the decree was issued "to restore and rebuild Jerusalem" by the Persian king Artaxerxes during the twentieth year of his reign (444 B.C.) as recorded in Nehemiah 2:1-10. When Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, he discovered that the situation is bad - "Jerusalem is desolate and its gates burned by fire" (Nehemiah 2:17). Although it took fifty-two days to complete the wall (Nehemiah 6:15), it was done under “times of distress” (Read Nehemiah chapters 4-6). Nehemiah 7:4 records that “the houses were not built” by the time the census was taken of the returned exiles after the wall was rebuilt. It took 49 years to remove all of the debris from the city and rebuild it. The 49-year period ended around 396-395 B.C. and the 434 year (sixty-two weeks) period began.

Sixty-Two Weeks

“So you are to know and discern that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks... Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined" (Daniel 9:25-26).

During this period, we see the end of the Medo-Persian Empire (331 B.C.), the rise and fall of the Graeco-Macedonian Empire (331-27 B.C.), and the early years of the ancient Roman Empire. Jesus was born during the reign of the Roman emperor Caesar Augustus as recorded in Luke 2:1-20. The sixty-two weeks came to an end with the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem as prophesied in Zechariah 9:9 - "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout in triumph, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and endowed with salvation, Humble, and mounted on a donkey, Even on a colt, the foal of a donkey." The Messiah, Jesus Christ, is “cut off” a four days later when He is crucified. This same phrase is used in Isaiah 53:8 – “By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living for the transgression of my people, to whom the stroke was due?”

"the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary"

Jerusalem and the sanctuary (the second Temple) were destroyed by 30,000 Roman legions under General Titus after four years (A.D. 66-70) of putting down a Jewish revolt against Rome’s authority. History records (Eusebius, Josephus) that the walls of the city were battered down and the Temple was destroyed by fire. Over one million Jews were killed and 95,000 Jews were taken captive and became prisoners of Rome. Jesus prophesied that Jerusalem and the temple buildings will be destroyed nearly 40 years earlier (Matthew 24:1-2, Luke 19:41-44).

One Week

“And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate" (Daniel 9:27).

Who is “he” referring to? Since this person cannot be the Messiah who was “cut off” – crucified, died, buried, and rose from the dead on the third day – this must be referring to the “prince who is to come” (Daniel 9:26). From Daniel’s perspective, not seeing an over 2000 year gap in history, this will be a ruler like the one who sent 30,000 Roman legions to destroy Jerusalem and the Temple. This ruler will come from the fourth beast (Daniel 7:7-8) – the Roman Empire. From our perspective, with past history and the completed scriptures, there is only one logical conclusion: there will be a revived Roman Empire on this earth during the final seven years of history before the physical and glorious return of Christ to earth (Matthew 24:29-31; 25:31-33; Revelation 19:11-18). This will be a continuation of the fourth beast. This beast will have its dominion taken away and destroyed forever (Daniel 7:15-28).

“And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering.”

  • A firm or strong seven year covenant, a treaty or alliance, will be made with Israel at the beginning of the seventieth week. Temple sacrifices and offerings will be allowed and instituted. This means that the Temple will be rebuilt – see Revelation 11:1-2. The rebuilt temple will be “tread under foot” by the nations for forty-two months (3 ½ years).

  • God’s two witnesses "will prophesy for twelve hundred and sixty days" (3 ½ years, Revelation 11:3). At the end of this period of time, “the beast that comes up out of the abyss will make war with them, and overcome them and kill them” (Revelation 11:7).

  • The cutting off of sacrifices and offerings will usher in the second half of the seventieth week - the “great tribulation” (Matthew 24:21, Revelation 7:14). This will be “the time of Jacob’s distress” (Jeremiah 30:3-7).

“and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate”

  • Matthew 24:15 – “Therefore when you see the ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION which was spoken of through Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place …”

  • Daniel 9:25 – “He will speak out against the Most High and wear down the saints of the Highest One… and they will be given into his hand for a time (one year), times (two years), and half a time (half a year).”

  • The dragon (Satan – Revelation 12:9) will give the beast “a mouth speaking arrogant words and blasphemies, and authority to act for forty-two months” (Revelation 13:5).

  • 2nd Thessalonians 2:3-4 – “the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God.”

“even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.”

  • Daniel 7:26 – “his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever.”

  • Revelation 19:19-20 - "And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies assembled to make war against Him who sat on the horse and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.”

  • Revelation 20:10 – “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

Different Views on the Seventy Weeks

Although there are probably as many views on Daniel's prophecy of the seventy weeks as there are people living on this earth, the four major views are as follows:

Maccabean View - the seventy weeks began with the Babylonian exile in 605 B.C. and ended with the Maccabean Revolt - death of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, cleansing and rededication of the Temple - in 164 B.C.

Dispensational View - the first sixty-nine weeks (483 years) began in the 20th year of King Artaxerxes (444 B.C.), who issued the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem (Nehemiah 2:1-10). The sixty-nine weeks ends in A.D. 33 – the triumphal entry of Christ on a donkey (Zechariah 9:9, Matthew 21:1-11) followed by His crucifixion and death a four days later. The seventieth week begins at the end of the current “Church Age” and literally ends seven years later with the physical and glorious return of the Son of Man (Matthew 24:29-31).

Preterist View - the first sixty-nine weeks began in the first year of King Cyrus (538 B.C.) when he issued the proclamation to rebuild the “house of the Lord, the God of Israel” and allowed the surviving captives to return to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-4). This period ended when Jesus was baptized. The seventieth week began after this event and ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.

Covenantal/Futurist - like the Preterist View, the first sixty-nine weeks began in 538 B.C. This period ended when Jesus was crucified. The seventieth week began when He rose from the dead and continues to this day – it is not a literal seven year period. This figurative seventieth week will end when the Son of Man returns.

I firmly hold to the Dispensational View.

Timeline of Events - Dispensational View

Seventy Years in Exile (605-539 B.C.)

605 B.C. - The third year of Jehoiakim king of Judah – Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem. Some were taken into exile to Babylon along with vessels from the Temple (2nd Chronicles 36:5-7; Daniel 1:1-4).

586 B.C. - Nineteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar – the house of the Lord was burned down, along with the king’s house and all of the houses in Jerusalem. The walls around Jerusalem were broken down. All of the articles of the house of God were taken to Babylon (2nd Kings 25:8-10; 2nd Chronicles 36:18-20 ).

539 B.C. - The last Babylonian king, Belshazzar (grandson of Nebuchadnezzar) was slain. Darius the Mede received the kingdom (Daniel 5:30-31). The Babylonian empire was conquered by the Medo-Persian empire.

Post Captivity - Rebuilding the House of God (539-516 B.C.)

539 B.C. - During his first year, Cyrus, king of Persia, issued a proclamation to rebuild the house of the Lord. He allowed the surviving exiles to return to Jerusalem (2nd Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4).

536-520 B.C. - Work on the house of God stopped, then resumed during the second year of Darius, king of Persia (Ezra 4:24; Haggai 1:1).

516 B.C. - The house of God (the second Temple) was completed during the sixth year of Darius, king of Persia, nearly 70 years after it was destroyed (Ezra 6:15).

The First Seven Weeks (444-396/395 B.C.)

444 B.C. - During his twentieth year, Artaxerxes, king of Persia, issued the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem and the wall surrounding the city. The wall was completed in fifty-two days (Nehemiah 2:1-10; 6:15).

444-396/395 B.C. - Once the wall was completed, the rest of Jerusalem was rebuilt. It took forty-nine years to remove all of the remaining debris and rebuild the city.

The Next Sixty-Two Weeks (396/395 B.C.-A.D. 33)

396/395-331 B.C. - Reign of the remaining Persian kings from Artaxerxes II Mnemon to Darius III Codomanus.

331 B.C. - Alexander the Great conquered the Medo-Persian Empire thus establishing the Graeco-Macedonian Empire - the third beast of Daniel 7:6.

323 B.C. - Death of Alexander the Great. His empire was divided into four kingdoms - the four heads of Daniel 7:6 - the two mains ones being the Ptolemic or Southern Kingdom and the Seleucid or Northern Kingdom (Daniel 11:2-20).

175-166 B.C. - Reign of the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes (Daniel 11:21-35) who did away with the regular sacrifice and desecrated the second Temple in 167 B.C. by erecting a statue of his god, Zeus, on top of the altar of burnt offerings. He was overthrown during the Maccabean revolt which led to the establishment of a new, independent kingdom of Israel.

63 B.C. - The Roman Empire, under Pompey, conquered Palestine and claimed control of Jerusalem and Judea.

37 B.C. - Herod the Great became the client king of Rome over Judea.

19 B.C. - Herod embarked on a massive building and restoration program throughout Judea and Jerusalem including building impressive roads, fortresses, and palaces. His most amazing feat was a massive restoration and beautification project of the second Temple which was completed 500 years earlier.

5-1 B.C. - Jesus Christ is born during the reign of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1-20).

A.D. 29-30 - The ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ begin.

A.D. 33 - Jesus Christ triumphantly enters Jerusalem on a donkey, in fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, four days before Passover.

After The Sixty-Two Weeks

A.D. 33 - Jesus Christ is arrested, tried, scourged, and crucified on the Passover. He rose from the dead on the third day then ascended into heaven forty days later!

A.D. 66-70 - The Jews revolt against Rome's authority culminating in the destruction of the second Temple and the city of Jerusalem by 30,000 Roman legions under General Titus. This was prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24:1-2.

A.D. 70-Present - The current "Church Age." It is important to remember that the Church did not replace Israel.

The Final, Seventieth Week

This seven year period is still future. The prophetic details of this week are provided under the heading "One Week" above. This week will culminate in the physical and glorious return of Jesus Christ to earth where He will reign from His throne in Jerusalem for one-thousand years (Revelation 20:1-6).

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture cited in this post is taken from the New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update.

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