It’s becoming more clear that April 3, 33 AD is our date. An ancient and startling Jewish prophecy of the Messiah adds more evidence.
Centuries before the birth of Christ, a young Jew was taken prisoner. He was abducted from his homeland and all that he had known. Perhaps he went along stumbling, bloody-footed with other prisoners. More likely, he rode a camel or cart because of his high birth. History does not say. He journeyed months from Judea, which he would never again see. But, when uprooted from everything familiar, this young man did not forget. According to the Bible, he did not lose faith in his god. His name was Daniel.
It was 605 BC. The tiny state of Judah was overrun by the great army of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Judah had taken the wrong side in a regional conflict between Egypt and Babylon, and it paid the price (1). To ensure its submission as a vassal state, many from Judah’s royal and aristocratic families were carried away in what is sometimes called the first Babylonian captivity. Daniel was among these.
The Bible records that Daniel was groomed for service in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. He learned the Babylonian language, literature and customs. With time, he became a trusted advisor to the king, more accomplished than all the other royal advisors. The Bible says that his true strength was in his faith and his god, not his personal ability.
Though his success in the king’s court was remarkable, and though he never returned to his homeland, still his heart must have remained in the land of his birth. The Bible records his prayers—heartcries, really. Pleas of such passion that there must have been tears on his face (2). Daniel pleaded with God for his people, that their captivity might end, that the temple at Jerusalem might be rebuilt.
The Bible records that during such a time of passion, Daniel had a vision. The angel Gabriel appeared to him and spoke. The Book of Daniel, Chapter 9 records:
21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice. 22 He instructed me and said to me, “Daniel, I have now come to give you insight and understanding. 23 As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed…
25 “Know and understand this: From the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until the Anointed One, the ruler, comes, there will be seven ‘sevens’, and sixty-two ‘sevens’… 26 After the sixty-two ‘sevens’, the Anointed One will be cut off…”
The word “Christ” means “anointed one.” For this and other reasons, most commentators conclude that Daniel received a prediction of Messiah’s coming. More than that, Daniel was told the date of Messiah’s death, the date he would be “cut off.” That’s the date we seek for our astronomical investigation. So, can the numeric symbolism of Daniel’s “sevens” be deciphered? Perhaps it is not terribly complicated.
Taking a direct approach, let us assume that the “sevens” are seven years. Gabriel told Daniel that after the decree to rebuild, there would be “seven sevens” (which is 49), plus “sixty-two sevens” (which is 434). After these 483 years, the Anointed One would be cut off. If the prophecy is true, this would be the year of the crucifixion.
Remember that in ancient times, our modern calendar system was not in use. In other prophetic passages a year of 360 days is used (3). To convert to our modern system which uses the longer solar year, we must divide by the time it takes for Earth to orbit the Sun, which is 365.24 days. This yields 476 years on our calendar (4).
We now have a number of years, but when do we start the countdown? Gabriel said to count “from the issuing of the decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem.” When was that? The prophet Nehemiah records such a decree, and he dates it as the twentieth year of Artaxerxes (5). On our calendar, that date is 444 BC (6). Counting 476 years from 444 BC, and remembering that there is no year numbered “zero” AD, we discover what Gabriel told Daniel: the Messiah would be cut off in 33 AD.
This stunning prophecy, made over 500 years before Christ was born, is consistent with all of the other evidence we have seen. So, we have increasing confidence that Jesus was crucified on April 3, 33 AD. But the “clincher,” perhaps the most powerful evidence, is astronomical. Let’s consider Peter’s argument.