The Length of Jesus’ Ministry and Daniel 9

The Length of Jesus’ Ministry and Daniel 9

The 16th episode of Mark Goodacre’s NT Pod shows that there is no evidence within the Gospels themselves (or the New Testament itself) that Jesus’ ministry was three years (or 3 1/2 years), as is often assumed in devotional or traditional literature, movies, etc.

Goodacre points to Origen (3rd Century) and Eusebius (4th Century) as the earliest sources for the idea that Jesus’ ministry was three and a half years, each of whom take their cues from Daniel to determine the length of Jesus’ ministry, but he doesn’t get into the details of the passage that governs their timetables.

From Origen and Eusebius, it’s clear that the notion of a 3 1/2 year ministry stems from an early Christological interpretation of Daniel 9:26–27, which talks about an “anointed one” being cut off “after the sixty two sevens” (the 62 sevens follow seven earlier sevens, making it after the 69th seven overall; these “sevens” seem to have been identified as groups of seven years, though it’s not clear whether Jubilee years are factored in as well) and putting an end to sacrifice and offering “in the middle of the final seven.” This “being cut off” and putting the end of sacrifice and offering were identified as the crucifixion, which would have happened in the middle of the final (70th) “seven,” or three and a half years after an “anointed one” shows up at the end of the 69th seven. Thus, reasoned Origen and Eusebius, Jesus’ ministry must have commenced at the beginning of the 70th “seven,” and the crucifixion must have been 3.5 years into that ministry.

I’ve long thought that the “70 sevens” passage in Daniel 9 was a major factor in the messianic fervor of the first century BCE through the early second century CE, as the Jews of that period expected the prophecy to be fulfilled in their time. That Origen and Eusebius continue to use Daniel 9 as a source for the ministry of Jesus in the third and fourth centuries only underscores my conviction on this point.

It’s also worth pointing out the somewhat amusing reversal this terse passage in Daniel 9 has undergone in popular theology over the last century. These verses went from being understood as a prophesy of the ministry of Jesus (as in Origen and Eusebius) to being interpreted as prophecies of the antichrist in modern dispensational theology. In that theological scheme, the “70th seven” is still to be fulfilled in the future by the antichrist, who will be the one to “put an end to sacrifice and offering,” etc., during the “Great Tribulation” (i.e. the “70th seven,” which oddly has no temporal link to the other 69 “sevens). You’d probably have to have been in a coma the last few years not to have seen or heard about the “Left Behind” series, which is based on this popular theology, all of which rests on this understanding of the “70th seven” as a future seven-year “Great Tribulation.”

So the same passage has been alternately interpreted as prophesying Jesus’ ministry (in the earliest Christian interpretation) or as predicting the reign of the antichrist. Amazing how flexible such obscure and difficult prophetic passages can be, no?

20 Comments
  • John Mark Harris
    Posted at 21:34h, 24 April Reply

    I tend to take the Origen/Eusebius position (sorta). I do think that the “70th week” started in Jesus’ ministry. what do you think?

    • Jason A. Staples
      Posted at 00:16h, 25 April Reply

      I think a fairly strong case can be made that Jesus himself thought his ministry was the start of Daniel’s 70th week, so you’re in pretty good company.

    • Daniel Clemons
      Posted at 22:31h, 31 October Reply

      If Jesus’ ministry was 3 1/2 years to start Daniel’s 70th week, what happened to fulfill the remaining 3 1/2 years? I’m sure you are busy with your studies, but if you have any information, I would really appreciate it!

      • Jason A. Staples
        Posted at 16:05h, 12 November Reply

        Good question. The Gospels don’t really address this, though Luke-Acts seems to equate this with the early growth of the church and then the gospel going to the nations.

        • Trent Licklider
          Posted at 20:53h, 05 August Reply

          Jesus does tells and warns his disciples of the coming apostasy or falling away from the truth (His teachings) that would take place in Matthew 24. He tells his disciples that they would see all this even the desolation that causes abomination spoken of in Daniel chapter 9. The end of Daniel 9 is the key verse which states that He (Messiah) would make a covenant with the people for one week (7 years) and in the middle of the week He world put and end to sacrifice and offerings. Jesus did this when He did for us on the cross.

          The last sentence is key when it states that one will come later who will cause the desolation of the wing of the temple. A little earlier in chapter 9 it states that the ruler will burn the the city (Jerusalem) and destroy the temple. This is exactly what Nero did in 70AD.

          Nero did not cause any abomination, but there was an individual that Jesus says His disciples would see commit the Daniel’s abomination and He warns his disciples to not be deceived. Did the disciples know this individual and should we be trying to know this person or we to might be deceived by him.

          I will tell you the only person this can be and it will totally shock you. You can read about him in Acts 21 where Paul is arrested in the Temple. He is that person and it clearly states that He defiled the temple and was even the person who influenced Trophimus the Ephesian (Paul’s disciple at Ephesus) to enter and defile the temple. Jesus prophesied in Matthew 24 of an individual who would defile the temple and his followers would see this happen and it came true. In fact if Jesus is a true prophet it had to of happened or Jesus should be stoned a prophet who prophesied a lie.

          The only person who defiled the temple from the time of Jesus to the destruction of the temple in 70AD is the false apostle Paul who is deceiving the whole religious system of protestants and catholics. Beware of his letters the appear to be sound but are very different to our Lord Jesus Christ’s teaching.

          • Jason A. Staples
            Posted at 18:04h, 03 September

            I’m afraid that your interpretation doesn’t really have a strong foundation. For one thing, Acts 21 does not indicate that Paul actually had Trophimus enter the temple but rather suggests the opposite. Secondly, Nero was already dead by 70 CE. Titus is the one who destroyed the temple. Moreover, you’re mistaken in saying that the temple had not been defiled in any way, as Caligula (Gaius) attempted to do just that, and many devout Jews believed the temple had in fact been defiled through those events.

            Moreover, you seem to be presuming that Paul’s teaching was significantly different from other earliest Christians, but the theological differences between Paul and Mark/Matthew/Luke/John, etc. are minimal.

  • BradK
    Posted at 15:57h, 12 July Reply

    Could the parable of the barren fig tree in Luke 13 be construed to be evidence of Jesus’ ministry being that long? ‘Lo, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down; why should it use up the ground?’ Could he have been referring to his own passover visits to Jerusalem? Obviously I am speculating here, but that question hits me almost every time I read that passage. Is this parable considered to be an authentic Jesus saying by those who are into determining such things?

    • Jason A. Staples
      Posted at 19:49h, 14 July Reply

      That’s an interesting question; one I haven’t thought of before. I’ll have to definitely give it some thought, as you may be onto something here.

    • Bill Avenell
      Posted at 15:45h, 08 August Reply

      That reference relates to a parable Jesus told, not to the length of His ministry. The fig tree was representative of the nation of Israel being unfruitful and grace being extended during the year of the Lord’s ministry. Luke 4:18-19 The acceptable or favourable year of the Lord.

  • Christopher Jack
    Posted at 15:47h, 07 May Reply

    It seems to me that the celebration of the Passover by Jesus on Thursday of Holy Week and by the Israelites on Sabbath of Holy Week helps to narrow the issue. The Passover was celebrated 14 days after the first new moon on or after the vernal equinox. The Jews had adopted the Babylonian calendar, which celebrated the new moon on the day of the first sighting of the first crescent, and God dictated the new moon to be two days after the last crescent sighting (invariably two days before the next crescent sighting), this places the true Passover actually two days before when the Jews were celebrating it. Why so important? Because there was only one year between AD 27 and AD 33 on which the celebrated Passover dates fell on Thursday and Sabbath… and that was AD 30 (http://aa.usno.navy.mil/faq/docs/SpringPhenom.php). Check my math, but 490 years prior to that year was 457BC, the date of Artaxerxes ‘ decree to rebuild the temple. Seems to line up with the 70 weeks prophecy to me.

    • Jason A. Staples
      Posted at 11:02h, 16 May Reply

      For what it’s worth, it is more likely that Jesus’ last meal was on a Wednesday and that he was crucified on a Thursday. That is the chronology of the Gospel of John, and there are subtle indications in Mark as well that this chronology is most likely correct.

      Secondly, Daniel doesn’t say anything about Artaxerxes’ decree to build the temple, only of “a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem,” which is fairly significantly different.

  • Christopher Jack
    Posted at 15:49h, 07 May Reply

    487 years prior to AD 30 was 457 BC. He died “in the middle of the 70th week.” Therefore, the prophecy actually completes itself in AD 33, even though He died three years prior.

  • Christopher Jack
    Posted at 14:57h, 17 May Reply

    It is Daniel 9 that prophecies about the decree to rebuild Jerusalem. Ezra 7 and 9 both discuss of Artaxerxes’ decree to rebuild both civil and religious parts of the city, whereas previous decrees by Cyrus for example only focused on the temple. The timing seems to fit remarkably. Your remaining argument in regards to the chronology of John and places in Mark seems disputable at best. Maybe you can help me understand, I may just be young and naive.

  • Bill Huff
    Posted at 00:43h, 03 July Reply

    The only 7 year period mentioned in the New Testament is in the gospels and has nothing to do with end-times. When I asked somebody where they get this 7 year period in Revelation I was told that they join two of the 3-1/2 periods together. If we were consistent with that theory we’d wind up with 18-1/2 years of tribulation. For my part, I view these 3-1/2 year periods as overlay of the same period, highlighting different aspects.
    I have a .pdf file you may or may not be interested in titled “What I Think I Understand About Revelation.” Help yourself technosmith.com/books. It’s the last one on that page

  • Neil Gellibrand
    Posted at 15:39h, 29 September Reply

    Daniel’s 70 weeks refer to the Protestant era that we are now in. The 7 weeks are preliminary reformation weeks of years and do not count among the 70. The 62 weeks are the first of the 70 weeks, which leaves 8 weeks for end time events. As for the ‘cut off’ of the Messiah, please read Genesis 3:16.. God has commanded that all women must accept being ruled over by their husbands, thus they can not effectively function as priests, regardless of what we may decide. A woman priest is what will cut off the Messiah.
    Concerning Jesus’ ministry. Once the passover lamb is chosen it must be kept up till the fourteenth of Nisan and then killed. In Jesus’ case he was in the wilderness and had to wait one year before being crucified. This is the key to determining the length of his ministry.

    • Jason A. Staples
      Posted at 18:46h, 27 October Reply

      With all due respect, nothing you said in this comment is anything close to correct.

  • Trent Licklider
    Posted at 21:15h, 05 August Reply

    I would like to hear you response to what I said about Paul being the great deceiver. I have been a christian for many years but the last 2 years I have been reading through a book called the “life of Jesus” which fairly puts the gospels of Matthew, Mark Luke and John in chronological order. I have been reading the gospels continuously now over and over and I see such a big difference on Jesus’s teachings and Paul’s teaching. When I came to Christ about 50 years ago I was introduced to our Lord through the gospels, I was 10 years old then. Through my years in the church I now notice that all the churches I attended were predominantly Pauline theology and really not centered on the teachings of Christ.

    I love reading the second letter of John which clearly states by the Apostle John that we should hold dearly to the teachings of Jesus and absolutely do not accept any other teachings. This includes Paul who claims to be an Apostle but has no witnesses to back his experience up. Peter says in his second letter to not hold to cleverly devised tales concerning the coming of our Lord and His Majesty on the mountain witnessed by Peter, John and James.

    Paul had the same amount of witnesses that Joseph Smith the founder of the Mormon church had when he claimed to have a revelation from Jesus Christ. Why do we give Paul a pass, but we correctly label Joseph Smith a false prophet . Paul is every bit if not more of a deceiver than Joseph Smith and he has gotten his letters into the new testament writings on an equal par with the teaching of Jesus. Beware Beware!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Todd
      Posted at 22:36h, 08 January Reply

      Of course there is a difference between the teachings of Jesus and the teachings of Paul. Jesus taught under the Old Covenant. Jesus was born under the Law in order to redeem those under the Law. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus instituted a New Covenant, one of grace. . Pauline theology is the true Gospel, a righteousness that is by faith. It was introduced in the Garden when God said that the Seed of the Woman would crush the head of the serpent. It was announced to Abraham when he was told that in his Seed, Jesus Christ, all nations would be blessed. It was also taught to the Israelites in the Wilderness, but it did not profit them because they did not have faith. The Law was introduced as a temporary measure, until the Seed that should come. During His ministry, He fulfilled the Law, which had condemned all others and through His death and resurrection put it away, bringing in a new covenant, not based on a righteousness that could never be obtained through the Law, but a righteousness that comes by faith. If Paul is a false prophet, then so are the other apostles who affirmed that Paul was a true apostle. The reason we believe the witness of Paul and not those of Joseph Smith, is because the witnesses of Paul wrote the rest of the New Testament. Paul did not defile the Temple, the religious leadership defiled the Temple because of their abomination, and Jesus declared to them that their Temple would be made desolate. The coming apostasy or falling away that Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24 is the same apostasy and falling away that Paul mentions, the one in which the man of sin will be revealed. Paul is not talking about himself. The problem here is that you have been reading a book which purports to tell you what the Bible says. You are listening to the words of men.

      • Jason A. Staples
        Posted at 17:11h, 21 January Reply

        This is completely mistaken. Paul himself would have completely disagreed with everything you said here. I find it remarkable that a person would actually argue that Jesus’ teachings ultimately aren’t relevant to Christianity and don’t apply to Christians.

  • Filip
    Posted at 06:42h, 02 June Reply

    Could it be that the 70th week is exactly that. Seven years of teaching by Jesus.

    In Dan 9:27 we are told it’s seven years, but what if it was 7 days?

    As you said Jesus’ last meal was on a Wednesday and that he was crucified on a Thursday. This happened on the feast of unleavan bread.

    We are clearly told that Jesus would be in the grave 3 days and nights.

    Thursday being the 15th and Jesus was raised on the start of the evening of the first day of the week the 18th.

    This makes it exactly 3.5 days into the feast of unleavan bread and confirming the fulfilment of the feasts.

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