I believe that most people who insist on believing that the words recorded in Daniel 9:24-27 are referring to events which took place during the reign of Antiochus IV do so because of their possession of a very strong anti-supernatural bias. In other words, they can't believe that this passage of scripture is a messianic prophecy because they don't believe the Bible contains any prophecy, or that such supernatural activity is even possible. That being the case, they are left to believe that this passage of scripture must refer to events which took place long before the time of Christ and must have been written after the events being referred to took place, not centuries before they occurred.
Those who do not posses such an anti-supernatural bias are usually willing to consider the possibility that Daniel 9:24-27 is indeed a messianic prophecy. However, those who have long considered it to most likely be such have also long struggled with its proper application.
I long ago considered the "Gap" interpretation that has here been suggested and found it to be a very poor fit.
The Watchtower Society's interpretation is also problematic. For it insists, against the testimony of all historians, that Artaxerxes came to the throne of Persia in 474 BC. They do so to support their interpretation of Daniel's 70 weeks prophecy. (Dan.9:24-27) They say that since Daniel prophesied that 69 weeks (of years) would pass between the issuing of a decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the coming of the Messiah, that decree must have been given 483 years before 29 AD, the year they assign to Christ's baptism. And because 483 years before 29 AD was the year 455 BC, they say 455 BC must have been the 20th year of Artaxerxes, the year in which the Bible tells us such a decree was issued. (Neh. chapter 2 )
However, all serious historians now assure us that Artaxerxes began to rule the Persian empire in August of 465 BC. And they tell us that Artaxerxes' 20th year of ruling Persia took place in 445 BC, not in 455 BC as the Watchtower Society says.
If these historians are correct in their dating of Artaxerxes' reign, and I believe they are, and if Daniel 9:24-27 is a messianic prophecy, and I believe it is, how can we reconcile this apparent historical conflict? I believe we can do so by paying close attention to something the first century Jewish historian Josephus wrote on this subject matter. Josephus recorded that Nehemiah "came to Jerusalem" not "in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes" as the Bible seems to say, but in his "twenty and fifth year." (Ant. XI, 5, 7)
The fact is that the Bible does not actually say that Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem in Artaxerxes' 20th year. It only tells us that Artaxerxes then gave Nehemiah permission to do so. While Josephus, on the other hand, tells us of the time that Nehemiah actually "came to Jerusalem." This allows us to understand that Nehemiah did not return to Jerusalem and give his command to begin rebuilding that city until Artaxerxes' 25th year as king of Persia, which would have been in the year 440 BC, even though the Bible seems to indicate that Nehemiah issued his command five years earlier, in Artaxerxes' 20th year as king of Persia, which is now understood to have taken place in the year 445 BC. (Neh. 1:1-6)
Concerning this matter, in his book, "History Of Israel" (third edition, 1981, pg. 381) John Bright tells us, "The Bible gives us the impression that Nehemiah set out at once, accompanied by a military escort (Neh.2:9). But Josephus (Ant. XI, 5, 7), who follows the Septuagint text, the first part of which is preserved in 1 Esdres, places his arrival only in 440. Though assurance is impossible, this may be correct. If Nehemiah first went to Babylon and collected Jews to accompany him, as Josephus has it, and then having presented his credentials to the satrap of Abah-nahara, attended to the procurement of building materials before proceeding to Jerusalem, as he possibly did since work was begun soon after his arrival, the date is not unreasonable."
Other scholars agree with Bright's assessment of Josephus' probable accuracy in this matter. For instance, Sigmund Mowinckel, a highly regarded Scandinavian bible scholar, believes that Josephus used a separate Greek version of Nehemiah that in several respects differed from that preserved in the LXX. He argues that Josephus' chronological information on the Persian kings was not his own calculations or mistakes, but was quoting from this now lost Greek version of Nehemiah. On Josephus' statement about the 25th year of Artaxerxes, Mowinckel says that his figures may very well be the original ones. He writes, "In my opinion the balance [of evidence] is in favor of [the figure] '25'." (Vol. 3, p.45 of Studien zu dem Buche Ezra-Nehema, Vols. 1-3, Oslo, 1964)
It is also possible to reconcile the "25" figure provided to us by Josephus and the "20" figure provided to us by Nehemiah by understanding something that I learned by studying the chronological information recorded in the books of Kings and Chronicles. By doing so I learned that Bible writers did not count a king's years of reign in which his right to rule was being legally contested. If Nehemiah counted the years of Artaxerxes' reign in this way we have reason to believe that he would not have counted the first five years of his rule. If he did not, then the "20th" year of Artaxerxes as reckoned by Nehemiah would have been his "25th" year as reckoned by Josephus and by modern day historians. If Nehemiah reckoned the reign of Artaxerxes in this way, when he told us that he was allowed to return to Jerusalem to begin its rebuilding in Artaxeres' "20th" year he would have been referring to the same year Josephus was referring to when he told us that Nehemiah came to Jerusalem in Artaxerxes' "25th" year. In such a case both men would have been referring to the year 440 BC.
But what reason do we have for believing that Nehemiah may not have counted the first five years of Artaxerxes' reign because he knew their legality was then being contested?
Historians tell us that Artaxerxes ascended to the throne of Persia in a very unusual way. He did so following the murder of his father Xerxes. In order to gain the throne for himself Artaxerxes blamed his father's murder on the rightful heir to the throne, his older brother crown prince Darius. He and his supporters, the real murderers, then had Darius unjustly executed. This much we know. And since we know it we can assume that many of Persia’s royal family then also knew it.
Under those circumstances, Artaxerxes' legal right to rule Persia during the first few years of his reign would have certainly been disputed by anyone who considered himself to be the legitimate heir to Persia’s throne. Immediately following Xerxes’ murder Artaxerxes' other older brother Hyspases, who was then away governing the Persian Province of Bactria, and Xerxes' own full brother Achamenes, who was then away governing Egypt, both would have known that they then held the legal right to Persia's throne, ahead of Artaxerxes. At that time many of their friends and family would have certainly supported their claims to be the rightful heir to Persia’s throne.
Since this was the case, Artaxerxes would not have gained full unchallenged control of the Persian empire until the year 459 BC. For it was in that year that Achamenes was killed in a battle in Egypt, and it was only shortly before then that Artaxerxes killed his older brother Hyspases in what is known as the Bactrian revolt. So, with these things in mind, it appears that it was not until 459 BC, when both of his legitimate rivals for Persia's throne were finally out of the way, that Artaxerxes finally secured full legal control of Persia’s throne.
And if that is the case, if Nehemiah counted the years of Artaxerxes' reign beginning with his first uncontested year of rule, he would have counted the year 459 BC as his first year and the year 440 BC as his "20th" year, the year in which he came to Jerusalem and ordered that its rebuilding begin.
But how does understanding that Nehemiah may have reckoned the reign of Artaxerxes differently than we do today, in a way that equated his 25th year with his "20th" year, and differently than Josephus did who said that Nehemiah gave his order to begin rebuilding Jerusalem in Ataxerxes' "25th" year, help us to make sense of Daniel's "Seventy Weeks" prophecy?
As most students of Bible prophecy know, Daniel's "seventy weeks" are generally understood as referring to seventy weeks of years (seventy sets of seven years) totaling a period of 490 solar years. But the Jews used a lunar calendar! Their years were lunar years, not solar years. And, despite the fact that the Jews adjusted their lunar calendars by adding a thirteenth month to them every few years to prevent them from falling too far out of sync with the solar year, the fact remains that a "year" to the Jews always meant a lunar year, not a solar year. And a week of years to the Jews would have meant seven lunar years. And seventy weeks of years to the Jews would have meant 490 lunar years, not 490 solar years.
Now, since one lunar year contains 354.367 days, 490 lunar years contain 173,639.83 days. And 173,639.83 days divided by 365.2425 (the number of days in a solar year) equal 475.40 solar years. With these things in mind, I have come to conclusion that Daniel's "seventy weeks" were a period of 475.4 years which ran from 440 BC to 36 AD. I believe those 475.4 years began at the time Nehemiah gave his "commandment to restore and to build Jerusalem" (Dan. 9:25 KJV; Neh. 2:17,18). And I believe those 475.4 years ended at the time God acted to "confirm the [new] covenant with many" by pouring His Holy Spirit out on Gentiles for the first time (Dan. 9:27 KJV; Acts 10). I believe the "many" here referred to were the "many nations" God promised Abraham that he would one day become the father of. (Gen. 17:4) Thus, I see no need to rewrite history, as the Watchtower Society does, in order to understand Daniel's "70 weeks" prophecy.
For the facts of history, together with a knowledge that the Jews used a lunar calendar, combine to show that, just as Daniel prophesied, the Messiah appeared in the fall of the year 29 AD. At that time Jesus Christ was "cut off" from his people and, quite literally, "had nothing for himself." (Dan.9:26) For he then began a forty day long fast in the wilderness. Then, after three and a half years, in the middle of Daniel's seventieth week, Christ's sacrificial death brought an end to the Jewish system of sacrificial offerings.(Dan. 9:27) Finally, three and a half years later, at the end of Daniel's "Seventy Weeks" Christ "confirmed a covenant with many" (Dan.9:27) when he, for the first time, poured out his Holy Spirit on non-Jewish people. This confirmed the fact that God intended for the good news of Jesus Christ to be preached to all people on earth, just as Christ said that it would be. (Math. 24:14)
With these things in mind, I believe we can now properly understand Daniel's "70 weeks" prophecy in the following way:
First, 7 weeks (49 lunar years, 47.54 solar years) from the spring of 440 BC brings us to the late autumn of 393 BC. By this time Jerusalem's rebuilding had been completed. (Dan.9:25)
Second, after another 62 weeks (434 lunar years, 421.07 solar years) in the autumn of AD 29 Jesus of Nazareth became the “Messiah” spoken of in Dan. 9:25, 26 when he was anointed with the waters of baptism by John and Holy Spirit by God. Immediately following this event Jesus spent forty days fasting alone in the wilderness. During this time, in fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy, Jesus was totally "cut off" from his people and quite literally "had nothing for himself." (Dan. 9:26)
Third, "in the middle of” this prophecy's 70th week, on April 3rd, April 5th and May 14th of 33 AD, Jesus' sacrificial death, resurrection and ascension to heaven successfully "put an end to sacrifice and offering." (Dan. 9:27)
Fourth, at the end of this prophecy's 70th week, in about mid-September of 36 AD, in further fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy, God's Holy Spirit was poured out on the first non-Jewish people.(Acts 10) This was done in order to "confirm a covenant with many." (Dan. 9:27) The "many" here referred to were the "many nations" God promised Abraham that he would one day become the father of. (Gen. 17:4)
By the way, I am certainly well aware of the fact that the Jews added a second month of Adar to the tail end of their lunar calendars every few years to make sure that their lunar calendar never fell too far out of sync with the solar year. However, this does not change the fact that, to the Jews, "a year" normally meant 354 days. For that is the number of days which one of their calendars normally contained. Their calendars usually consisted of six 29 day months and six 30 day months. So, to the Jews a “year” was a lunar year, and a week of years (literally a “seven” of years) was seven lunar years. And “seventy” “sevens” of lunar years = 490 lunar years, none of which are by nature solar-adjusted.