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The Times of the Gentiles

By Richard Gunther


Luke 21:24

    “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled”.


   The context is the predictions about the soon coming fall of Jerusalem, spoken by Jesus to his disciples, circa 30 AD. Jesus wanted to warn his disciples about the imminent destruction of the city and Temple, in order to spare his followers from harm. He told them, when they saw the city surrounded with armies . . . “For these be the days of vengeance, that all things that are written may be fulfilled . . . and Jerusalem shall be trampled down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled”.


   There is a modern teaching that these words apply to some future time, but history records an exact fulfilment, so why should we look elsewhere?


   There are four significant points which we can take from these words of Jesus:

1.          The destruction of Jerusalem was an event which Jesus said would take place within the lifetime of his followers. “When you see . . .”

2.          The city, having fallen, would remain under Gentile control for a period of time known as “the times of the Gentiles”

3.          The period of Gentile control would have a definite termination point, a time when the Gentile dominance was over. (Finished, complete).

4.          These be the days” also indicates that no future time of fulfilment remains, because in this destruction which Jesus describes “all things that are written” will be fulfilled.


   In order to find out more about the expression “the times of the Gentiles” we need to go back to the covenant which God made with His people when they were settled in Palestine. See Lev. 26 and Deut.28, 29 and 30. In these four chapters God lays down some conditional promises, which meant that if Israel kept her side of the bargain, God would keep his. Keeping the bargain meant blessings, but breaking it meant curses, or troubles.


   As well as a covenant made like a legal document, with blessing and curse clauses, God also drew up a covenant in such a way as to make it constitute a marriage contract. See Jer.3:14 and Is.54:5. Through the covenant we hear the words “IF” and “BUT”. If the people obey, they will receive the following benefits, BUT if they disobey they will receive the following curses.


   According to the covenant, if the nation of Israel, here called the Wife of Jehovah, would obey her Husband, and keep the commandments, statutes and judgements, then great and abundant blessings would come to her, but if she was an unfaithful and disobedient wife, the curses would come to her. If you follow the list of curses through, you see that they end with captivity and eventually, death. In other words, God promised to utterly destroy His people if they turned away from Him. Having promised this, He was obliged to follow through and keep His promise, so how could He avoid the total extinction of His people?


   The people of Israel failed to keep their side of the covenant, so the curses began to fall on them. At first God tried to show great mercy, by dividing the kingdom into two, and dealing with each smaller kingdom in such a way as to demonstrate his love and justice alternatively to each other kingdom. But history shows that neither the northern kingdom of Israel, consisting of roughly ten tribes, nor the southern kingdom of Judah, consisting of roughly three tribes, were interested in being faithful. Israel went into captivity first, then about 150 years later Judah fell.


   Under the terms of the marriage contract, Israel was now divorced. In spiritual terms God could not remarry His divorced wife Israel – something He backs up in the Law. In spiritual terms, she had committed adultery, by adopting pagan ways and worshipping pagan idols. The only way God could re-marry Israel was by Himself actually dying, and then coming back to life, but this of course was impossible, because God cannot die. Or so we assume. God the Son however, was able to give his life for the adulteress Israel, and then rise from the dead to begin wooing her back to His side.


   But the point is, there was a definite punishment period, or set time of duration, worked out for both Israel and Judah, which God calls the “seven times”. This equates with the “times of the Gentiles” – something which will be explained below.


   The “seven times” is a two-word expression which refers to a single length of time. It does not mean seven separate periods of time, but one continuous time. It is a length of time which God has allotted to punishing His people – seven times for Israel and seven times for Judah. Jesus, of course, knew all about these punishment times when he referred to the “times of the Gentiles”. (Not the “time”, but “times”), and the purpose of these seven times was to chastise, correct, train and prepare the people for their future role in the world.


   References to the “seven times”:

1. I will punish you seven times for your sins            Lev. 26:18

2. I will bring seven times more plagues upon you    Lev.26:21

3. I will punish you seven times                           Lev. 26:24

4. I will chastise you seven times                          Lev. 26:28


   The “seven times”?

   Before we look at this question we have to understand how the Bible works. It is one book, written by many people over many centuries, but inspired by the One God.  God has used language in a wide varieties of ways, and, in some cases He has hidden the meaning of what he says behind parables and symbols, either to protect  Christians, or to prevent lazy and/or indolent people from understand the treasures of wisdom contained in His Book. Jesus himself told his followers not to cast their “pearls” before “swine”. Proverbs opens with a call by Wisdom personified in the streets for someone who will stop and hear. Jesus told his hearers that his parables were deliberately obscure to prevent the wicked from understanding them.


   The Bible also stands as the most complete Book ever written. Every verse in the Bible is supported, explained and integrated with every other verse. In fact, in a humorous sort of way, instead of a few cross-references being attached to every verse in the Bible, the entire Bible ought to be attached to every verse of the entire Bible! Every illustration which Scripture uses is explained by other Scriptures, and every word spoken by Jesus was totally consistent with every other word he spoke, and also with every word spoken by all the prophets who preceded him. It is because of this perfect internal consistency that we need not look anywhere else for an understanding of what the Bible says, because it always explains itself. (This is not to say that there is not a place for a good illustration, anecdote or testimony drawn from life, because everything has its use)


   So to find out what the “seven times” means we need to do some Bible study, which means we have to look at other references, and then connect them up, doing some backward and forward reasoning.


   As an example of how this forwards/backwards reasoning works, here is a typical example:

   In Galatians 1:18 Paul says “after three years I went up to Jerusalem”, yet, in Acts 9:23 he says “after many days” were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him. By placing the two verses together we see that “three years” also means “after many days”.

   Another example, showing the internal consistency of Old and New Testaments, is in 1Kings 18:1 “And it came to pass after many days, that the word of the Lord came to Elijah in the third year . . .”

   James 5:17, speaking about this event, says the lack of rain lasted for “three years and six months”.

   This expression “many days” turns up in 1Kings 17:15 where it speaks of the widow and her son. They were given meal and oil by miraculous supply “many days”.

   An even earlier example of this expression applies to the length of time Abraham lived in the Philistine’s land – “many days” – Gen.21:34.

   So, by comparing one verse with another, we can see that the expression “many days”, in the Bible, means “three years”.


   Another way of determining how long “seven times” is, is to find out what happened to God’s people under their “seven times” punishment, we need to know when they went into captivity, and then start counting the years, and see if we can find out when they came out of captivity. The whole length of time during which they are in captivity, or downtrodden, should be the same length of time which the Bible calls the “seven times”.


   Captivity dates for Israel:

Israel went into captivity in three stages, to Assyria in the north of Palestine. The first wave of Assyrians arrived in 745 BC, and Israel was gone from her land by 704 BC. Meanwhile, the southern kingdom of Judah stayed on for another 150 years.

   In 604 BC Nebuchadnezzar set off from Babylon with the aim of conquering Judah. Now we have some dates which determine when the “seven times” began.


   How long is “seven times”?

   To find out how long “seven times” is we have to look at other references. Daniel and Revelation have more details. In these books we find that a “Time, and Times, and the diving of Time” is equal to “Three and a half Times”, and this in turn is equal to “Time, Times and a Half”. We also find that the expression “Three and a Half Times” is the same as “42 months” and that “42 months” is the same as “1260” days.


   Using the prophetic chronology measure of 1 day equalling a year, we can calculate how long 42 months is. 42 months, times 30 days per month = 1260 day/years.


1. Dan. 7:25          Time, Times and dividing of Time                   = 3 ½

2. Dan. 12:7          Time, Times and a Half                           = 3 ½

3. Rev. 12:14                  Time, Times and a Half a Time               = 3 ½

4. Rev. 11:2           Forty and two months                              = 1260 days

5. Rev. 11:3           A thousand, two hundred and sixty days = 1260 days

6. Rev. 12:6           A thousand, two hundred and sixty days = 1260 days

7. Rev. 13:5           Forty and two months                              = 1260 days


   A Time therefore equals 1, Times equals 2. Twice 3 ½ Times equals Seven Times. Seven Times must therefore equal twice 1260 days, or 2520 years.


   That a prophetic day equals a literal year is made clear in Num.14:34 and Ez.4:6.


   It is never God’s intention I am sure, to confuse or discourage true believers from understanding His Word. To think otherwise would be to malign His holy Nature, love and compassion towards sinful Man. But some passages of Scripture are written in such a way as to deliberately make them difficult to understand – perhaps in order to deter lazy Christians, as well as hide the truth from the proud.


   So now we have a definite length of time to use for measuring the punishment period for both the kingdom of Israel and the kingdom of Judah. We also know the general beginning points when the punishment periods began to come in, so all we need to do now is count the years and we should find the end points for those punishment times.


   Looking first at the kingdom of Judah, we know that the “seven times” starts with judgement and ends with blessing. The terms of the blessing are based on the finished work of the Messiah, who took the curses of the Law on Himself, and suffered the final part of those curses – death – on behalf of Israel. As Jesus said many times, he had come for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”, and as Israel’s Shepherd, he wanted to gather all his lost sheep. He also came as Israel’s bridegroom, ready to ‘remarry’ his fallen wife.


   Starting with Judah in 604 BC let us add up the years and see if anything notable happened to the Jews (a remnant of Judah) 2520 years after they went to Babylon. 604 plus 2520 brings us to AD 1917. In that year General Allenby marched into the city of Jerusalem and set it free from the Turks. Up until that year the city and land had always been dominated by some foreign power – even in the days of Jesus, when the Romans had subjugated it. From 1917 on the city began to grow, Zionism flourished, the deserts began to grow crops and a form of democracy was instituted. The desert blossomed, just as the prophets had predicted. In 1948 the State of Israel emerged, and since then Jerusalem has become an important capital of the world.


   History shows us that the words of Jesus were totally reliable. Jerusalem was “trodden down of the Gentiles (=non-Israelites) until the  times of the Gentiles were fulfilled”.

   Another reference is in Luke 21:24.

   It is also very important to notice that this “treading down” of Jerusalem by the Gentiles was a once only event, never to be repeated. There is no indication anywhere in Scripture which predicts yet another time of “treading down”. Jerusalem’s ‘seven times’ has run its course and finished. Only restoration can follow, and then, finally, the return of the Messiah. The Arabs, the Egyptians, the Russians . . . no nation can now capture or dominate Jerusalem ever again.


   It is quite a startling thing to realize that God is so much in charge of all the affairs of Man, even the days and years of Man’s activity, even rebellious and sinful Man’s best efforts to rule without God, are still broken into neat segments of time. In Daniel God foretold the order of empires. In Genesis He foretold the 400 years of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt. In Revelation He foretold the duration of the Roman church power. God oversees the coming and going of leaders, the events and affairs of Man – all overseen in minute detail by God in His wisdom, leaving nothing unnoticed. The weak become strong, the strong pass away. The Reformation comes, the Armada sinks. The Papacy rises, the French Revolution brings it down in the very year predicted by God. God is and always will be, in control.


   Having looked at the kingdom of Judah, her material and national fall and rise, we should be able to apply exactly the same measuring system to the northern kingdom of Israel. We know the times when invasions brought her low, so we can count 2520 years and look into history to see if any nation, once small and obscure, suddenly rises out of nowhere and becomes strong again. Just as Judah’s material blessings included material, economic, political, military and social power, the northern kingdom should enjoy the same material blessings. We cannot apply these blessings to the Church because they are not spiritual blessings, and we may not assume that God has not kept His promises. If He kept His covenant with Judah, He will also keep it with Israel.


   So where, in the world today, is that nation of Israel which has risen out of her “seven times punishment and gained in size and power ever since?

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