Daniel and the timing of Messiah
More than any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures, the writings of the prophet Daniel confront us with evidence of the time of Messiah’s coming—evidence that many people would rather not see. But it is there and cannot be ignored.
That Daniel was indeed a prophet is well substantiated. He accurately prophesied the rise of the Medo-Persian, Greek and Roman empires even at a time when the Babylonian Empire, which preceded them all, was at its height. He accurately predicted the fortunes, conflicts, wars and conspiracies of the two kingdoms of Syria and Egypt between the fracturing of the Greek Empire and the conquest by Rome. He prophesied the role of the Maccabees during this period. It is Daniel’s detailed accuracy in his prophecies that has caused many critics to try to give a late date to the book of Daniel, although no evidence has been discovered that would negate the book’s composition at the time that it claims to have been written. At the very latest, the book was completed around 530 B.C.E.
The purpose of this article is to discuss in some detail verses 24-27 of Daniel nine. However, it will be wise to survey the entire chapter in order to see what engendered the prophecy of when Messiah would come.
Background on Daniel the Prophet
The date for Daniel’s prophesy is the first year of Darius, which means that it occurred in the year 539 B. C. E., about 66 or 67 years after the Jews initially went into exile to Babylonia.
It was on this occasion, Daniel stated, that he was studying the Scriptures; and from these Scriptures he came to understand that the number of years for the completion of the desolations of Jerusalem was almost over, since the duration was to be 70 years. Daniel mentioned that he was studying “books,” and we can see for one that he had been studying the writings of Jeremiah; the lives of Jeremiah and Daniel did overlap to some extent. On two occasions (Jeremiah 25:10-14, 29:10-14) Jeremiah predicted that the captivity and desolation of Jerusalem would last 70 years. What other books Daniel may have been studying we cannot know with certainty. But there are some strong possibilities that he also studied the book of Isaiah, since Isaiah actually named Cyrus as the one who would permit the Jews to return (Isaiah 44:28-45:1). Furthermore, there are other writings in Moses and the Prophets that spelled out some specific conditions for the establishment of the messianic kingdom, and Daniel may have looked at some of these as well (Leviticus 26:40-43, 1 Kings 8:46-53, Jeremiah 3:12-18, Hosea 5:15-6:3). These passages emphasize that Israel as a nation must repent and confess sin prior to the establishment of any kingdom of the Messiah.
Reckoning the 70 years from the year 605 (when the Jews went into exile) would bring the end of the 70 years to 536 B.C.E. Daniel realized that the captivity had only about three years to go.
But Daniel not only expected the captivity to end after 70 years, he also expected a final termination of any possibility of future desolations for Jerusalem. He had acted as if the messianic kingdom were about to occur: since the Word of God was to be established on the basis of prayer, he prayed; and realizing that the prerequisite was the confession of national sin, he confessed the sins of Israel.