A GREAT PROPHETIC PERIOD
THE 2300 YEARS OF DANIEL 8:14
The commission to the angel Gabriel was, "Make this man to understand the vision" (Dan. 8:16); therefore in the angel's explanation of the vision of Daniel 8, we must assuredly find the interpretation of the prophetic period of 2300 years, the close of which marks the opening of the judgment work in heaven, or the cleansing of the sanctuary.
The eighth chapter closes, however, with no reference to the beginning of this period of time, a most important measuring line of prophecy. The angel had explained the symbols representing Medo-Persia, Grecia, and Rome, and had dwelt upon the antichristian work of the apostasy that was to develop; but he left the time of the prophetic period unexplained, save to say that it was "true," and that it would be "for many days"—far in the future. Here the angel stopped, for Daniel fainted. In spirit the prophet had been gazing upon the warfare of the great apostasy against God's truth through the ages, and evidently it took all strength from him. Daniel closes the account of this vision with the words, "I was astonished at the vision, but none understood it." Verse 27.
The heavy line represents the full 2300 year-day period, the longest prophetic period in the Bible. Beginning in b.c. 457 when the decree was given to restore and build Jerusalem (Ezra 7:11-26; Dan. 9:25), seven weeks (49 years) are measured off to indicate the time occupied in this work of restoration. These, however, are a part of the sixty-nine weeks (483 years) that were to reach to Messiah, the Anointed One. Christ was anointed in 27 a.d., at His baptism. Matt. 3:13-17; Acts 10:38. In the midst of the seventieth week (31 a.d.), Christ was crucified or "cut off," which marked the time when the sacrifices and oblations of the earthly sanctuary were to cease. Dan. 9:25, 27. The remaining three and one-half years of this week reach to 34 a.d., or to the stoning of Stephen, and the great persecution of the church at Jerusalem which followed. Acts 7:59; 8:1. This marked the close of the seventy weeks, or 490 years, allotted to the Jewish people.
But the seventy weeks are a part of the 2300 days; and as they (the seventy weeks) reach to 34 A.D., the remaining 1810 years of the 2300-day period must reach to 1844, when the work of judgment, or cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary, was to begin. Rev. 14:6, 7. Then special light began to shine upon the whole sanctuary subject, and Christ's mediatorial or priestly work in it.
Four great events, therefore, are located by this great prophetic period,—the first advent, the crucifixion, the rejection of the Jewish people as a nation, and the beginning of the work of final judgment.]
But the angel had been commanded, "Make this man to understand the vision;" and soon after, as recorded in the next chapter,—possibly within a year,[G]—Gabriel appeared to the prophet with the words:
"O Daniel, I am now come forth to give thee skill and understanding.... Therefore understand the matter, and consider the vision." Dan. 9:22, 23.
Thereupon the angel began to deal with the matter of time in the prophecy, the very feature of the vision of the eighth chapter that he had not yet made Daniel understand. Therefore the vision of the 2300 years must be the topic.
First of all, the angel said that a short period was to be cut off from the long period, and allotted to the Jewish people; this short period was to reach to the coming of the promised Messiah and the filling up of the measure of Jerusalem's transgressions. The angel's own words are:
"Seventy weeks [490 days, prophetic time, or 490 literal years] are determined [cut off, as the word means] upon thy people and upon thy holy city, to finish the transgression, and to make an end of sins, and to make reconciliation for iniquity, and to bring in everlasting righteousness, and to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy." Verse 24.
This 490-year period "cut off" was to cover the history of the people of Jerusalem until that city had filled out the measure of its transgression. The only prophetic period from which this 490 years can properly be said to be "cut off" is, assuredly, the longer period of 2300 years, which stretches far onward to "the time of the end." The 490 years and the 2300 years, then, must begin at the same time.
It was the time period that the angel Gabriel was yet to explain; and he begins the explanation by showing that the first 490 years of it would reach to the days of the Messiah. Then he gives the event that marks the beginning of the 490 years, which event must necessarily mark the beginning of the 2300 years as well.
This is what he was commissioned to make Daniel "understand" when first the vision of the 2300 years was given. Now he tells him to "understand" it:
"Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem unto the Messiah the Prince shall be seven weeks, and threescore and two weeks: the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times. And after threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for Himself: and the people of the prince that shall come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary; and the end thereof shall be with a flood, and unto the end of the war desolations are determined." Dan. 9:25, 26.
The date of the going forth of the commandment to restore and rebuild Jerusalem is the date, therefore, from which the great prophetic measuring line runs; the first 490 years of it to reach to the time and work of the Messiah, at the first advent, the full 2300 years running on to mark the time when the judgment hour in heaven opens. Once the starting-point is fixed, all the events of the long period must follow exactly as scheduled in the time-table of divine prophecy.
Date of the Commencement to Restore Jerusalem
There were several commands issued concerning the restoration of Jerusalem after the Babylonish captivity. Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes Longimanus each issued such a decree. Which one answers to the language of the prophecy as "the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem"?
The decree of Artaxerxes was most comprehensive (Ezra 7), authorizing the full restoration of the civil and religious administration of Jerusalem and Judea. And Inspiration specifically sums up all the decrees as completed only in that of Artaxerxes, which thus constituted "the commandment:"
"They builded, and finished it, according to the commandment of the God of Israel, and according to the commandment of Cyrus, and Darius, and Artaxerxes king of Persia." Ezra 6:14.
According to this scripture, the full "going forth of the commandment to restore and to build," dates from this decree of Artaxerxes. And this decree went forth "in the seventh year of Artaxerxes the king." Ezra 7:7.
What year was this seventh year of Artaxerxes—a date so important to fix to a certainty?
The great chronological standard for the kings of the ancient empires is the canon, or historical rule, of Ptolemy. Ptolemy was a Greek historian, geographer, and astronomer, who lived in the temple of Serapis, near Alexandria, Egypt. From ancient records he prepared a chronological table of the kings of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome (carrying the Roman list to his own time, which was the second century after Christ). Along with his list of kings and the years of their succession, Ptolemy compiled a record of ancient observations of eclipses. In such and such a year of a king, for instance, on a given day of the month, an eclipse of the sun or moon would be recorded. Astronomers have worked out these observations, and verified them. The learned Dr. William Hales said:
"To the authenticity of these copies of Ptolemy's canon, the strongest testimony is given by their exact agreement throughout, with above twenty dates and computations of eclipses in Ptolemy's Almagest."—"Chronology," Vol. I, p. 166.
Thus, says James B. Lindsay, an English chronologist, "a foundation is laid for chronology sure as the stars." So the sun and the stars, the divinely appointed timekeepers, bear their witness to the accuracy of the historical record.
We thank God for this, as we desire to know if we may depend upon Ptolemy's canon to help us fix to a certainty the seventh year of Artaxerxes.
According to Ptolemy, Artaxerxes succeeded to the throne in the two hundred and eighty-fourth year of the canon. In modern reckoning, this two hundred and eighty-fourth year runs from Dec. 17, 465 b.c., to Dec. 17, 464 b.c. The canon does not tell at what part of the year a king succeeded to the throne; it only deals with whole years. The question is, to be exact, Did Artaxerxes come to the throne in December, 465 b.c., or at some time in the year 464 b.c.? At what season of the year did the king take the throne? Some historians, dealing with the matter roughly, date the succession from the year 465. But in dealing with divine prophecy, we require certainty upon which to base the reckoning of the seventh year of Artaxerxes, from which date the prophetic period runs.
And in God's providence we do have certainty. Of all the kings of Assyria, Babylon, and Medo-Persia, in Ptolemy's long list, there is but one concerning whose succession the Scriptures give us the very time of the year—and that one is Artaxerxes. The one case in which we need to know to a certainty the season of the year, in order to fix an important date in prophecy, is the one case in which Inspiration gives exactly the particulars. Who cannot see the hand of God in this?
The combined record of Neh. 1:1; 2:1 and Ezra 7:7-9,[H] shows that Artaxerxes came to the throne between the fifth month of the Jewish year and the ninth month,—roughly, between August and December,—or in the autumn. The Bible gives one part of the record, and Ptolemy's canon gives another part; and by the combined record we know that Artaxerxes came to the throne late in the year 464 b.c., and thus the seventh year of his reign would be 457 b.c. This is the date fixed by other sources of reliable chronology also, Sir Isaac Newton having worked out several lines of evidence from ancient authorities, in each case reaching the year 464 b.c. as the first of Artaxerxes, which makes the seventh to be 457 b.c.
In the seventh year of Artaxerxes the commandment went forth to restore and to build Jerusalem, and this event fixes the beginning of the 2300 years, as also of the 490 years cut off from it upon the Jewish people.
That year, 457 b.c., therefore, is a date of profound importance. It stands like the golden milestone in the ancient Forum at Rome, from which ran out all the measurements of distance to the ends of the empire. From this date, 457 b.c., run out the golden threads of time prophecy that touch events in the earthly life and the heavenly ministry of Jesus that are of deepest eternal interest to all mankind today.
The Ransom Paid
Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which, at the mercy-seat of God,
Forever doth for sinners plead,
Can cleanse my guilty soul indeed.
Lord, I believe were sinners more
Than sands upon the ocean shore,
Thou hast for all a ransom paid,
For all a full provision made.
[G] The dates placed in the margin of the King James Version indicate a period of fifteen years between the eighth and ninth chapters of Daniel. This was because in former days it was thought that Belshazzar was the Bible name of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon, who reigned seventeen years. In that case, from "the third year" of his reign, when the prophecy of Daniel 8 was given, to the "first year of Darius," who succeeded him, when the angel appeared again to Daniel, would be fifteen years. But the unearthing of the buried records of Babylonia during the last half century, reveals the fact that Belshazzar was the son of Nabonidus, associated with him on the throne as king for a few years before the fall of Babylon. The third year of his reign may very likely have been the last year; and Darius immediately followed Belshazzar. The explanation of the ninth chapter might have been within a few weeks or months following the vision of chapter 8, and probably was.
[H] These texts show that the king came to the throne in the autumn, so that the actual years of his reign would run from autumn to autumn. Neh. 1:1 begins the record: "In the month Chisleu, in the twentieth year." Neh. 2:1 continues: "It came to pass in the month Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes." Thus it is plain that in the monthly calendar of the king's actual reign the month Chisleu came first in order, and then Nisan. Chisleu was the ninth month of the Jewish sacred year, roughly, December. Nisan is the first month, April. And these months, December, April,—in that order,—came in the first year of the king, of course, the same as in his twentieth year. And in the same year also came the fifth month, August; for Ezra 7:7-9 shows that the first and fifth months—in that order—also fell in the same year of his reign. Then we know of a certainty that his reign began somewhere between August and December, that is, in the autumn. The first year of Artaxerxes was from the latter part of 464 b.c. to the latter part of 463, and the seventh year, as readily counted off, would be from near the end of 458 to near the end of 457. Under the commission to Ezra, the people began to go up to Jerusalem in the spring of that year, 457 b.c. (in the first month, or April), and they "came to Jerusalem in the fifth month" (August). Ezra 7:8, 9. Ezra and his associates soon thereafter "delivered the kings commissions unto the king's lieutenants, and to the governors on this side the river: and they furthered the people, and the house of God." Ezra 8:36. With this delivery of the commissions to the king's officers, the commandment to restore and to build had, most certainly, fully gone forth. And from this date, 457 b.c., extends the great prophetic period.