In 538 BC, the first year of Persian rule over Babylon, I read in the Book of Jeremiah that our captivity in Babylon was supposed to last 70 years (Jere. 25:11-12). Jeremiah, you may remember, lived around the same time as I did and documented the defeat of Israel and destruction of Jerusalem from that end while Ezekiel and I wrote from Babylon.
Since almost 67 of the 70 years had passed, I began praying for God to free us to go home again. Of course in due time he did and the story of our return to Israel is documented in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah. But the answer to my prayer was a blockbuster that went way beyond the scope of my request and has become the most important message in all of prophetic scripture. Like I said before, it’s no less than the key that unlocks all the secrets of end-time chronology.
While I was still praying, the Angel Gabriel was dispatched from Heaven with answers that went to the heart of the matter behind my prayer. I simply asked the LORD to remember His promise to let us go back home, but He decided to give me an overview of our people’s future to reassure me that not only had He not forgotten us but that He still had great plans for us. He’s like that, you know, and it can confuse us if we’re not careful. Knowing the innermost concerns of our hearts, He often provides answers that are much bigger than the puny words of our questions.
Gabriel began by telling me that seventy “sevens” were set aside for our people and our Holy City Jerusalem during which the LORD would accomplish six things. He would finish transgression and put an end to sin, atone for all our wickedness and usher in everlasting righteousness, seal up (or bring to pass) all the visions and prophecies He had given our people and anoint the Most Holy Place, His Temple, as His residence on Earth. I understood this to mean that He was going to make right all the things that had gone wrong with His creation since Adam and Eve sinned, restore it to its original state, and set up the Kingdom of God on Earth that He had been promising right from the start. This would be the 5th Kingdom from the dreams He had given Nebuchadnezzar and me earlier, the one that would last forever.
He then told me that this period of time would begin when an official decree was given permitting the rebuilding and restoration of Jerusalem, which had been totally destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar and was currently a pile of rubble with a 70 year accumulation of brush growing all around. This decree was issued by the Persian King Artaxerxes Longimonus in March of 445BC nearly 93 years after Gabriel’s visit. King Cyrus of Persia had actually offered to set us free the same year I began praying but it took years for us to get ready to leave, and then since we could only rebuild our homes and reclaim our fields most of our people stayed in Babylon. Only about 40,000 returned and the last of them finally left for Israel with Ezra in 464. It was 19 years after that before Nehemiah got permission to rebuild Jerusalem.
To make this easier, let me explain that we have a word in Hebrew that means seven years, just like you have a word in English (decade) that means 10 years. Our Hebrew word has been translated as weeks, meaning a week of years (7 years) or simply sevens. So when Gabriel said seventy sevens he meant 70 times 7 years or 490 years.
When he now told me that a period of 7 sevens followed by a period of 62 sevens would pass he meant that 49 years plus 434 years (483 years in all) after the decree to rebuild Jerusalem, the Messiah would visit the city and offer Himself as Israel’s King. And that’s exactly what happened. On the day you know as Palm Sunday the Lord Jesus rode into Jerusalem and allowed the crowds to proclaim Him as the Messiah for the first and only time. When our religious leaders told Him to quiet the crowd, He said if He did the very stones would cry out this message because this was His Day. When they still refused to accept Him, He pronounced judgment upon the city because “you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.” (Luke 19:41-44) Do the math and you’ll discover it was 483 years to the day from March 14, 445 BC.
Next Gabriel told me that after the 483rd year the Messiah would be executed (cut off in Hebrew) but not for Himself. Then, without a word of explanation, he skipped ahead nearly 2000 years, telling me things from both the time of the first coming of Christ and His 2nd coming in a single breath. In retrospect you can see why. Shortly after the events foretold above came to pass, my people ceased to exist as a nation, seven years short of the time Gabriel had set forth. Later, Jesus explained that sometime during the life of the generation being born at our national reappearance (1948 on your calendar) the seven-year balance of the prophecy would be fulfilled. (Matt 24:34)
It will go like this. A coming world leader, somehow descended from the Romans who destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD will arise to power and confirm a treaty with my people that will permit the building of a new Temple in Israel, the first in nearly 2000 years. The execution of this treaty will signal the beginning of the final seven years in Gabriel’s 490-year summary. In the middle of this 7-year period when my people are once again back in covenant with God and worshiping Him according to our ways, this leader will suddenly put an end to our worship. Just as Antiochus Epiphanes had done before him, he’ll set up an abomination that causes desolation, an act that so angers God that He had His Son warn my people alive at the time to flee Jerusalem for their lives when they see it happen. And then God will pour out disaster after disaster upon him till he’s destroyed.
Since the Romans destroyed the city and the Temple in 70 AD and since there hasn’t been a Temple in Israel since, we know this last part of the prophecy is still in the future. Also the six things Gabriel told me the LORD would accomplish during our 490 years haven’t all been finished yet. On top of that, we know that the last half of the last seven years is something the Lord Jesus called the Great Tribulation, referring to this prophecy as He did so (Matt 24:15-21). This is the time described in detail by John in Revelation 6-18, a time clearly in the future. So there’s a gap between the first 483 years and the last 7.
Obviously this visitation had a profound effect on me. Gabriel had just told me something we Israelites had longed for centuries to know; the timing of Messiah’s coming. I gathered around me some of the Persian priests I had come to trust and together we formed a group that pledged to pass this knowledge down through our descendants since the time of His coming was still 500 years away. Over the generations this group became more and more influential as each royal birth was scrutinized to determine if it was the one they’d been told of. As remnants of the Persians came to be known as the Parthians, this group gained such influence that no Parthian King could rule without their consent. Then one year a star appeared in the eastern sky just as the prophecy of Balaam had foretold. It was the sign they had waited for and the timing was about right, so representatives of our group, now called the Magi, set out to follow the star.
Traveling in those days required great preparation and support and so it was some time after the Messiah’s birth that this caravan arrived in Jerusalem seeking “One that was born King of the Jews.” You understand Herod was not even Jewish, but a friend of the Roman Emperor from Edom. He had been appointed King over Israel and a natural born King would obviously have a superior claim to the throne, and these Magi were King makers after all. On top of that the Parthians had recently defeated the invading Roman army and traveling to Israel was tantamount to entering enemy territory, so the Magi were heavily protected. You can see why their arrival threw the whole city into a turmoil.
Herod immediately sent for the Jewish leaders who recalled Micah’s prophecy that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem so the Magi went there (Micah 5:2). For his part Herod figured out the timing and decreed that all the Jewish boys in Bethlehem two years of age and younger were to be murdered, thinking to eliminate his competition. The Jewish leaders, being largely of the Saduccean persuasion who no longer believed in predictive prophecy want back to the Temple and their normal routines. After seeing the Baby Jesus the Magi went back home by a different route, avoiding Jerusalem. And Joseph and Mary, being warned in a dream of the looming danger, rushed their baby boy to safety in Egypt.
But Eternity had invaded Time, Heaven had invaded Earth and the Son of God had become the Son of Man. The world would never be the same again.