The Times of the Gentiles

Prof. Johan Malan, Mossel Bay, South Africa (December 2011)

The Lord Jesus referred to the long period of Jerusalem’s domination by Gentile nations when, shortly before His rejection and crucifixion by Israel, He said that the Jewish people would “fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Luke 21:24). It is important to correctly understand the expression “the times of the Gentiles”, as the end of this period will be brought about by a dramatic intervention by Christ, inclusive of the restoration of David’s throne and the kingdom of Israel.

Firstly, we need to define the term “Gentiles”. The Bible clearly distinguishes between Israel and the Gentiles. These nations are described in Hebrew as goyim (sing. goy) and in Greek as ethne (sing. ethnos). That means “ethnic groups”, “peoples”, “nations” or “heathens” since, in Old Testament times, all nations or peoples outside Israel were heathens (or pagans) who did not know the true God of Israel and were consequently hostile towards Israel.

In His prophecy in Luke 21:24 the Lord Jesus did not announce the beginning of the times of the Gentiles but its further continuation and ultimate termination. The beginning of Israel’s domination by heathen nations was during the Babylonian exile of Judah, and it still continues. During the time of Christ’s earthly ministry Israel was subject to the Roman Empire, and a Roman governor with executive powers was stationed in Jerusalem.

Times of the non-Jewish nations

In his Reference Bible (p. 1345) C.I. Scofield says: “The Times of the Gentiles is that long period beginning with the Babylonian captivity of Judah, under Nebuchadnezzar, and to be brought to an end by the destruction of Gentile world-power by the ‘stone cut out without hands’ (Dan. 2:34, 35, 44), i.e. the coming of the Lord in glory (Rev. 19:11-21), until which time Jerusalem is politically subject to Gentile rule (Luke 21:24).”

J. Dwight Pentecost agrees with this statement: “With the incursion by Nebuchadnezzar an important prophetic time period – the times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24) – began. The times of the Gentiles is that extended period of time in which the land given in covenant by God to Abraham and his descendants is occupied by Gentile powers and the Davidic throne is empty of any rightful heir in the Davidic line. The times of the Gentiles, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion of Jerusalem in 605 BC, will continue till the Messiah returns. Then Christ will subdue the nations, deliver the land of Israel from its Gentile occupants, and bring the nation Israel into her covenanted blessings in the millennial kingdom” (Daniel, In: Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 1329, eds. John Walvoord & Roy Zuck).

The events described in Daniel 1 mark the beginning of Israel’s Babylonian exile, and are therefore an important turning-point in the history of Israel as an independent covenant people of God in their own land with Jerusalem as their capital. This is the beginning of the times of the Gentiles in which pagan kingdoms rule over Israel, pagan cultures and religious practices are imposed upon them, and in which the reckoning of time is done in terms of non-Jewish calendars, often with reference to pagan kings’ periods of rule.

After the fall of Jerusalem and termination of Israel’s royal dynasty, the royal house of David would no longer be the representative of God’s kingdom on earth, as pagan kings would enforce their authority in the Middle East as well as the rest of the world. Even after Israel’s restoration from their Babylonian captivity they were still subject to the supreme authority of pagan world empires as the times of the Gentiles took its further course. During the entire New Testament period Jerusalem was trampled by Gentiles (Luke 21:24).

God’s kingdom will only be seen again as a visible reality on earth after Israel and Jerusalem have been fully restored and Jesus Christ rules from the throne of David. Before the birth of Jesus the angel Gabriel said to Mary about her Son: “He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David” (Luke 1:32). At His first coming Jesus was the suffering Messiah who laid down His life for the sins of the whole world, but at His second coming He will come as King who will also restore the fallen throne of David (Acts 15:16-17).

All efforts by dominionists who are intent on visibly revealing God’s kingdom on earth without a fully restored Israel and Jerusalem are deceptive and unbiblical, and can only be used by the Antichrist to establish a humanistic and multireligious kingdom on earth in which Israel does not play the leading role. True children of God are still sojourners and pilgrims in a world which lies in the sway of the evil one. The purpose with the gospel is to save people from “the present evil age” (Gal. 1:4), and not to transform the entire world into a Christian world in an effort to manifest God’s kingdom on earth. That will only happen after the King has come, who alone can restore the throne of David in Jerusalem.

We are living in a very important phase of world history, in which Jerusalem and Israel are increasingly restored in anticipation of the coming of the King. In June 1967, Jerusalem was fully liberated from Jordanian control by Israel, and in August 1980 was declared to be their eternal indivisible capital. Since 1980, Jerusalem for the first time again enjoyed the status which it had before the Babylonian exile of Israel – i.e. being the capital of an independent Israel, but still without a king. Since the Babylonian exile there never again was a successor of David on the royal throne in Jerusalem – neither will there be one until the Messiah comes. In the religious sphere it is particularly evident that the trampling of Jerusalem still continues since the Temple Mount is controlled and trampled by pagans who worship their false gods in the very heart of Jerusalem. This situation will only change when Israel’s Messiah-King comes, as He will crush Gentile rule (Rev. 19:19-20) and also “cut off the names of the idols from the land, and they shall no longer be remembered” (Zech. 13:2).

We are now rapidly approaching the time when David’s throne will be restored, after which Jerusalem will, with even more splendour than the days of David and Solomon, be the centre of world events. A precondition for the dawning of this blessed time is that the spiritual problems of Israel must first be addressed and eliminated. The nation should repent by receiving the Messiah as their Saviour, and then the Lord will respond by giving them a new heart (Ezek. 36:24-28). Because Israel, as a nation, still refuses to recognise Jesus Christ as Messiah, the partially restored Jerusalem will, during the coming tribulation, again be surrendered to Gentile control. That will be reminiscent of the Babylonian exile of Israel – albeit for a much shorter period of time but nevertheless even more severe.

Jesus warned Israel that they would accept the wrong messiah (John 5:43), that this impostor would desecrate the temple in Jerusalem (Matt. 24:15), and that Jerusalem would be invaded by its enemies and partially be destroyed by them (Zech. 14:2). Many Jews will have to flee the city in great haste in order to survive (Matt. 24:15-21). At the end of the tribulation period, Jesus the Messiah will suddenly descend upon the Mount of Olives, save the remnant of Israel, destroy the enemy forces and establish His kingdom in Jerusalem (Zech. 14:4-9).

At that moment the times of the Gentiles will come to an end and Israel will be restored in its position as head of the nations. Times of refreshing will come for them from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19).

Warnings to Israel

Since their beginning as a nation Israel had the calling to be God’s sanctified representatives on earth (Deut. 26:18-19). If they had heeded this calling God would have made them the leading nation in the world: “If you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. ... Then all people of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. ... And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not beneath, if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God” (Deut. 28:1, 10, 13).

But the contrary was also true: if Israel does not fulfil their calling and fall away to the level of pagan nations’ idolatry, great distress would come upon them: “If you do not obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments and His statutes which I command you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you: ... The alien who is among you shall rise higher and higher above you, and you shall come down lower and lower. ... They shall besiege you at all your gates until your high and fortified walls, in which you trust, come down throughout all your land; and they shall besiege you at all your gates throughout all your land which the Lord your God has given you. ... Then the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other, and there you shall serve other gods, which neither you nor your fathers have known – wood and stone” (Deut. 28:15, 43, 52, 64).

Israel have lost their royal house during the Babylonian exile, and with that also their independent existence in the land of Israel. Even though they were restored in their land seventy years later, their royal house was not restored and they remained subject to the supremacy of pagan nations. During the first coming of the Messiah, who is the only rightful successor to the throne of David, unbelieving Israel defeated their chances to be completely restored spiritually and politically, thus to become the independent and leading people of God in the world. To the contrary, because of rejecting the Messiah, much worse things than the Babylonian captivity of seventy years would befall them as they would be given over to international dispersion which lasted for almost two millennia.

The Messiah said that Jerusalem would be destroyed (Matt. 23:37-38; Luke 19:41-44), and added that the city would be surrounded by armies, that the inhabitants would fall by the edge of the sword, and that Jerusalem would be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke 21:20-24).

Israel’s restoration

Just as clear as the prophecies on Israel’s Diaspora and the times of the Gentiles, are also the many prophecies on Israel’s end-time restoration and the termination of the period of Gentile domination. But that can only happen when the Messiah, who was rejected by Israel two thousand years ago, returns and is reconciled with the entire remnant of Israel. He Himself has envisaged this turn of events when He announced His ascension as well as the first century destruction of Jerusalem: “For I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Matt. 23:39).

His second coming will lead to the national reconciliation between Israel and the Messiah: “And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn. ... In that day a fountain shall be opened for the house of David and for the inhabitants of Jerusalem, for sin and for uncleanness” (Zech. 12:10; 13:1; cf. Ezek. 36:22-28).

When that happens, the times of the Gentiles will be formally concluded and the whole world will be ruled by Christ from the restored throne of David in Jerusalem (Acts 15:16-17). The spiritually restored Israel will be a blessing to the whole world (Rom. 11:12, 26) and they will fill the face of the world with fruit for the kingdom of the Messiah (Isa. 27:6).

No replacement theology

The Bible does not support the commonly proclaimed replacement theology, which is based upon the supposition that God has abrogated His covenant with Israel because of their sin, and that the church has replaced them by becoming the “spiritual Israel” of the New Testament. This theological tenet is completely at variance with the Bible because God’s firmly established covenant with the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is irrevocable:

“Yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, nor shall I abhor them, to utterly destroy them and break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their God. But for their sake I will remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the nations, that I might be their God: I am the Lord” (Lev. 26:44-45).

The promises of the Lord on Israel are steadfast: “Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples, assemble you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel” (Ezek. 11:17). However, Israel is restored in an unsaved state, and for that reason great distress and spiritual testing await them in their land, and that will culminate in the great tribulation (Ezek 22:18-22; Jer. 30:7). A remnant from this time of distress will be spiritually restored on the day of the Messiah’s second coming (Zech. 13:8-9).

After that, Israel will fulfil the purpose for which the Lord has initially called them. All of them will serve the Messiah with one accord, and there will be no apostates among them (Jer. 31:31-34). Gentiles will seek the favour of Israel, and serve them (Zech. 8:23). “For the nation and kingdom which will not serve you shall perish, and those nations shall be utterly ruined. ... Also the sons of those who afflicted you shall come bowing to you, and all those who despised you shall fall prostrate at the soles of your feet; and they shall call you: The City of the Lord, Zion of the Holy One of Israel” (Isa. 6):12, 14).

The fullness of the Gentiles

During the times of the Gentiles the Lord, in His grace, offers all peoples and nations of the world the opportunity of entering the kingdom of heaven by accepting Jesus Christ as Saviour. For most of this period wayward Israel would be dispersed in the world and their city, Jerusalem, trodden down by the Gentiles. Individual Jews could always be saved, but because of their minority position that would not change the destiny of the nation at large. The partial spiritual hardening of the nation would continue “until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (Rom. 11:25).

The largest part of the harvest among the nations will be gathered at the rapture, because Christians are not destined for God’s judgements upon the unbelievers (Luke 21:36; 1 Thess. 1:10). During the subsequent tribulation period, a great multitude of people from all nations (also from Israel) will be saved (Rev. 7:1-17), and then Jesus Christ will come as King of kings to take over the kingdoms of the entire world (Rev. 11:15; Dan. 2:34-35, 44-45).

The present, partial restoration of Israel and Jerusalem is a clear indication that the times of the Gentiles are nearing its end. First, the Lord will judge the nations that despised and rejected the saving grace of His Son, and thereafter institute His reign of peace for the remnant of Israel and the nations who survived the judgements and will all be reconciled with the Messiah (Matt. 24:29-30).

“And the Lord shall be King over all the earth” (Zech. 14:9).