Prophecy is a cross between art and maths. It is both subjective and objective. The arty (or subjective) side is most important, in terms of what it teaches; but the mathematical (or objective) side provides the most convincing proof. In the best prophecies the two work together. They can be objectively measurable as well as illustrating powerful truths.

You may have seen Christmas cards with something like this printed on them: "A virgin shall conceive and bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel." (Hebrew for 'God is with us’.) That prophecy comes from Isaiah 7:14. The Messiah was “named” Jesus, but he was recognised as being God in human flesh… the literal meaning of Immanuel.

At Easter we might see cards with these words from Isaiah 53: "He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him... He was brought as a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opened not his mouth.” This prophecy describes Jesus’s sacrificial death… something which most people (even the good guys) did not understand when he finally arrived.

Such prophecies paint a picture of the humble, loving One who gave his life for the sins of the world. But, while we can see the connection now, exactly who the prophecies were talking about was open to debate before Jesus arrived. Most don't even spell out that they are talking about the Messiah.

This can be frustrating for the skeptic in each of us. But it seems to be part of God’s plan, to always leave room for doubt (or faith, as the case may be). Most prophecies are not clear until after they have actually been fulfilled, and even then, it takes a little bit of faith. The evidence is never totally overwhelming. God leaves us free to choose to believe or not to believe.

We naturally crave as much hard evidence as possible... something along the lines of: "The Messiah will be born in Bethlehem in the year 4 B.C., and his name will be Jesus."

The Bible does not state it quite that clearly; but it does come close. I’m talking about a prophecy which, for starters, is the only passage in the entire Old Testament that actually uses the word “Messiah”. It does not apply to anyone else but the Messiah. On top of that, it was written hundreds of years before Jesus was even born; yet it predicts a precise year in which the Messiah will be “cut off” (or killed), “not for himself” but for others.

Very little is said about this prophecy in most church circles, because of one small problem: It appears to miss the mark by three years. Instead of Jesus being executed in 30 A.D., as most history books state, the prophecy seems to have said that he would be executed three years before that (in 27 A.D.).

The prophecy, found in Daniel 9:24-26, begins: “Seventy weeks are determined…"

The word “week”, as it appears in the King James Version of the Bible is somewhat confusing for non-Jews, because various cultures measure things differently. In India, for example, they have the word “lakh” for 100,000, but no word for million. Many English-speaking countries have a term for two weeks (“fortnight”) where other cultures would just say “two weeks”. Even so, the Israelites had a word which could be used either for seven days or for seven years. One had to work out from the context which was being described. That word has been translated as “week” in the King James Bible.

An illustration of this term is in Genesis 29. It tells the story of Jacob being tricked into working an extra seven years before he could marry Rachel. (His father-in-law had slipped Rachel's older sister, Leah, into his bed after he had completed seven years of service for a bride.) In the 27th verse, the father-in-law says of Rachel (King James Version), "Fulfil her week and we will give you this [Rachel] also for the service which you shall serve with me yet seven other years." It goes on to say (in verse 28), "And Jacob did so, and fulfilled his week, and he gave him Rachel his daughter to wife also.”

We will now go through the passage from Daniel, line for line, substituting seven years for each “week” to make it read more easily:

Daniel 9:24a. “490 years are determined upon your people and upon your holy city…

Daniel says there will be only 490 years left during which God will have a visible nation known as his People. Ironically, the prophecy starts out by saying exactly the opposite of what people came to expect from their Messiah. Everyone assumed that the Messiah would more or less conquer the world in the name of Israel, and they would be the top dogs forever. Instead, Jesus came as a sacrificial Lamb, promoting an invisible kingdom (“from heaven”). This theme continues throughout both the Gospels and The Revelation, culminating in his execution.

The verse from Daniel (See below.) repeats three times that the Messiah is going to replace transgressions/sins/iniquity with “everlasting righteousness”. In other words, rather than promising an everlasting political kingdom, it predicts everlasting righteousness, something which Jesus described as “the kingdom of heaven”. God’s “choice” moved away from the political kingdom of Israel to the invisible spiritual kingdom of righteousness that Jesus’ death on the cross would symbolise.

Daniel 9:24b “ finish the transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up the vision and prophecy, and to anoint the most Holy.”

The word Messiah means “anointed one”. Kings were anointed with oil as part of crowning them. The last line above talks of “anointing the most Holy”, which sounds like the coronation of the Messiah.

Now we move to the second verse:

Daniel 9:25a “Know therefore and understand…

Jesus used such a phrase when referring to the Abomination of Desolation (Matthew 24:15), and John the Revelator did the same when referring to the number of the Beast (Revelation 13:18). These words ask the reader to pay special attention, if they want to grasp the true meaning of prophecy. Such instructions are quite rare, and they tell us that we are dealing with a powerfully significant passage, not only in terms of measurable dates, but also in terms of spiritual truths. God, within the prophecy itself, is telling us to give these verses special attention.

Calendar Problems

Any attempt to set an exact date for a prediction in Bible times is fraught with problems simply because, in those days, there were no calendars as we know them today. The year in which something took place would often be prefaced by reference to rulers or other significant events to identify the year. It’s a bit like saying that you did something two years after John Howard was elected Prime Minister. In the absence of a numerical date, Daniel needed to give the 490 year prophecy an objective starting point.

He does that here:
Daniel 9:25a “Know therefore and understand that from the going forth of the commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem…

In 457 B.C., Artaxerxes commanded that the city of Jerusalem should be rebuilt. This is referred to in Ezra 7:12-26. It is our starting point.

Daniel 9:25b “... unto Messiah the Prince shall be 49 years, plus 434 years. The street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublous times.

Add the two periods (49 years and 434 years) and you get 483 years, not 490 as mentioned in verse 24. We are a “week” short of the period “determined" for Daniel’s people. (More on that in the next chapter.)

You may have spotted what looks like a discrepancy in my maths. I said that 483 years is not long enough to stretch from 457 B.C. to 30 A.D., but, if you add 457 and 27 (getting 484), neither is it quite long enough to stretch to 27 A.D. But that discrepancy is because the calendar jumps from one year before Christ to one year after Christ, leaving out the year zero. One year must be subtracted from all calculations that cross the gap from B.C. to A.D.

How Reliable is Our Calendar?

Worse still, the calendar makers got the date wrong when Jesus was born as well. They had decreed that he was born in 1 B.C., a contradiction in itself, but, in fact, they later discovered that they were off by a further three years, and he was most likely born in 4 B.C., and possibly even earlier. So we talk about Jesus dying in the year 30 A.D., but he was almost certainly 33 years old when he died, and not 30.

This error of three years (27 A.D. vs 30 A.D.) comes down to whether we trust calendar makers who were off with basic facts right from the start, or whether we assume the Bible prediction was right, and something is off with present-day calendars. That may be the bit of faith I mentioned earlier in relation to all prophecy. I would like to offer irrefutable proof, but all I can really say is that the prediction was incredibly close.

In fact, even if we accepted that the Bible was wrong (and not the calendars), what are the odds that someone could have taken one shot, totally in the dark, from hundreds of years before the Messiah had even been born, without any clues as to whether he would be born the next year or two thousand years from then, and then come within three years of predicting the year in which Jesus would die? No so-called fulfilled prophecy outside of the Bible, comes close to this in terms of clarity about what it was predicting to begin with, and in terms of measurable accuracy after the prophecy was fulfilled.

There are so many remarkable prophecies from the book of Daniel, that unbelieving “experts” insist that they must have been written hundreds of years after they were actually written, simply because no one could have known the things Daniel predicted without already having seen them take place. (He predicts and names the Greek Empire, for example, during the early years of the Persian Empire, when no such empire had even been thought of yet.)

Daniel’s prophecies were written somewhere between the 5th and 6th Centures B.C. Nevertheless, skeptics insist that it had to have been written as late as 165 B.C. for him to be so accurate with his predictions.

Yet, even starting with 165 B.C., he came up with 27 A.D. almost 200 years before the death of Christ, as the year in which the Messiah would be crucified.
  I choose to believe there has been a mistake with the calendars rather than a mistake with the prophecy.

From what you have read here, I would challenge you to ask yourself whether it is reasonable evidence to indicate that there is a God and that he does have a plan for the world? Did he send his Son to live and die on Earth, in an effort to teach us humans what He is looking for from each of us?
If you get nothing else from this book, I hope it will make you think about the strong possibility that God has spoken (through Jesus and through the Bible), and that he is waiting to see how you will respond.

Appendix, Chapter 6

Matthew 24:15:When you see the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel the prophet stand in the holy place, (whoso reads, let him understand)…"

Revelation 13:18: “Here is wisdom. Let him that has understanding count the number of the beast..."

Daniel 9:24-26. "Seventy weeks are determined upon your people and upon your 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. 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."

Revelation 12:6, 14. "The woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared of God, that they should feed her there a thousand two hundred and sixty days… To the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place where she is nourished for a time and times and half a time, from the face of the serpent."

Revelation 11:2-3. "…the holy city shall they tread under foot forty-two months. And I will give power unto my two witnesses, and they shall prophesy a thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth."

Revelation 13:5. "There was given unto him a mouth speaking great things and blasphemies; and power was given unto him to continue forty-two months."