The Times of the Gentiles

SCRIPTURALLY speaking, the world of mankind is made up of two groups of people; namely, Jews and Gentiles. True, there are many racial divisions. There are the black, the white, yellow, and red races. But it is not color that makes a distinction between Jews and Gentiles; it is heredity. The Jewish people are the descendants of Abraham, through his son Isaac; all the remainder of mankind are Gentiles because they are not descended from Abraham through Isaac. It is true that the Arabs are descendants of Abraham, but not through Isaac; they are descended through Ishmael, Isaac’s brother, and Esau, the grandson of Abraham. These are Semitic in order, but not Jewish, or Israelites.

God dealt in a very special way with those who were the descendants of Abraham through Isaac. As a people he delivered them from bondage in Egypt, and entered into a special covenant with them, Moses serving as their mediator. While because of their lack of faith they were permitted to wander in the Wilderness for forty years, he finally, under the leadership of Joshua, brought them into the Promised Land of Canaan; and, by helping them to drive out the Canaanites, delivered the land to them to be an everlasting possession.

Joshua was their last national leader, and following his death they were governed by judges whom from time to time the Lord raised up to deliver them from their enemies, who were constantly threatening them. The Prophet Samuel was the last of these judges. Toward the end of his faithful tenure of office, the Israelites clamored for a king to rule over them instead of a new judge. They wanted to be like the other nations of earth. The Lord granted this request, and directed Samuel to anoint their first king, who was Saul.

Saul did not remain faithful to the Lord so was cast off from being the Lord’s representative in ruling Israel, and David was anointed in his place, although David did not assume the rulership of the nation until after the death of Saul. David was a faithful servant of the Lord, who referred to David as being a man after his own heart. One of the things David wanted to do was to build a “house” for the Lord, a temple in which the Israelites could meet with the Lord, instead of the tent or tabernacle which was constructed in the days of Moses.

David told the Prophet Nathan about this desire, and Nathan gave him the authority to proceed. But the Lord intervened, and through the prophet said to David, “Now therefore so shalt thou say, … Thus saith the Lord of hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be ruler over my people, over Israel: and I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thine enemies out of thy sight, and have made thee a great name, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth. Moreover I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as beforetime. And as since the time that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel, and have caused thee to rest from all thine enemies. Also the Lord telleth thee that he will make thee an [ruling] house. And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He [Solomon] shall build an house for my name [Solomon’s temple], and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: but my mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever before thee: thy throne shall be established forever.”—II Sam. 7:8-16

David’s Ruling House Everlasting

Many of David’s successors on the throne of Israel were unfaithful. Even Solomon, his son, who was the first to succeed him, did not continue faithful to the Lord, and following his death the nation was divided into two kingdoms. The smaller one, with headquarters at Jerusalem, was ruled over by David’s grandson, and the other kingdom, sometimes known as the ten-tribe kingdom, with headquarters at Bethel, was ruled over by a man named Jeroboam, who, when his life was threatened by Solomon, fled to Egypt for safety, (I Kings 11:40) When Solomon died, Jeroboam returned and became the ruler over ten of the tribes of Israel, while Solomon’s son Rehoboam ruled over the remainder. Neither Jeroboam nor any of his successors were faithful to the Lord, and in due course the Lord permitted this ten-tribe kingdom to be overthrown by the Assyrians, and many of its people went into captivity in Assyria.

Some of the descendants of Rehoboam, on the other hand, endeavored as best they could to serve the Lord and to rule the people in harmony with his precepts. But the majority of these kings were also unfaithful, and in due course this southern kingdom of Judah came into subjection to the Babylonians, and most of the people, including the remnant of the ten-tribe kingdom which did not go to Assyria, were taken captive to Babylon.

The climax of this event occurred in 606 B.C., although the people of this small nation had already lost their independence several years before—nineteen years, to be exact—when Jehoiakim was made king by the king of Egypt. The Egyptian government began to tax the people, and while Nebuchadnezzar wrested power from the king of Egypt and took control of the situation, the Israelites never did regain their independence. In 606 B.C. Zedekiah was dethroned, and the people went into captivity in Babylon for seventy years.

“Whose Right It Is”

Through the Prophet Ezekiel the Lord uttered a prophecy concerning the overthrow of Israel’s last king, which reads: “And thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, Thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him.”—Ezek. 21:25-27

As we read in II Samuel 7:16, the Lord promised David that his throne would be established forever, so when that rulership was discontinued with the overthrow of King Zedekiah, it was to be for a period of time only, or, as the Lord said, “Until he come whose right it is.” And who is this great One to whom the throne of David was promised and really belongs? He will not be found among the rulers in the State of Israel today. He is none other than the crucified, resurrected, and glorified Christ Jesus.

This fact is clearly established by the angel Gabriel, who announced to Mary that she would be the mother of the Messiah. The angel said to her, “Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord shall give unto him the throne of his father David: and he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.”—Luke 1:30-33

Isaiah records a prophecy concerning Jesus’ birth and points up the same fact concerning the throne of David. We quote: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to [re] establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”—Isa. 9:6,7

Israel’s Hope

This and other promises of God assuring Israel that he would send them a great Ruler to sit on the throne of David inspired the devout of the nation with hope—a hope that carried over from one generation to another of these chosen people of God even through the trials of being a subject people, for, beginning with their captivity in Babylon they never again enjoyed national independence. After Babylon, they were subjects of the Medo-Persian Empire; then of the Grecian Empire, and then of the Roman Empire. They were vassals to Rome when Jesus was born, and during the time he preached the kingdom of God to them up and down throughout their Promised Land.

Due to the opposition of the religious leaders of Israel, the majority of the Israelites rejected Jesus as the Messiah of promise; but a few did accept and follow him. However, even these did not clearly understand the full import of his ministry. They believed that he was the great King of promise; that he had come to deliver them. But their concept of deliverance was limited, as indicated by a question which his disciples asked Jesus after he was raised from the dead. They asked, “Wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?”—Acts 1:6

This question indicates that these disciples had in mind the immediate situation of the Jewish nation in their bondage to Rome. They knew that Israel had not been a free nation since the Babylonian captivity. While they were released from that captivity, they continued to be a vassal nation under Medo-Persia, Greece, and at the time, Rome. By their question they were asking Jesus when they would have their own government again, and run their own affairs as they had done prior to the overthrow of King Zedekiah in 606 B.C.

Wonderful Promises

True, God had caused his prophets to foretell many wonderful things on behalf of Israel and the world which the Messiah would accomplish. He was to give his life to redeem mankind from death. This he had already done, and while the apostles were beginning to understand this to some extent, the full meaning of the plan of God concerning this basic feature of his grand design for the rescue of the adamic race from sin and death was not discerned until the coming of the Holy Spirit, at Pentecost.

God had promised that during the Master’s second visit to earth, universal and lasting peace would be established, and that all nations would rejoice in the security which the messianic kingdom would assure to all who obeyed its righteous laws. As we have read, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” This will mean peace among nations and within nations. It will mean community peace and family peace. And best of all, it will mean peace between God and men, without which mankind would continue in chaos, suffering, and death.

God had promised that in his kingdom he would “swallow up death in victory,” and “wipe away tears from off all faces.” Probably the disciples had these and other wonderful messianic promises dimly in mind, but they were unaware of how and when they would be fulfilled. Their concern for the moment was to know when Jesus would deliver their nation from the Roman yoke, and restore their lost kingdom to them. Having accepted Jesus as their Messiah, they believed he would be the King of this restored kingdom, and from various promises he made to them they entertained the hope of sharing in some official capacity in that government.

Signs of His Coming

On different occasions Jesus had indicated to his apostles that he would leave them for a time, and return at a later date. Because of events shortly before his crucifixion the apostles became concerned about his leaving them, and they went to him to find out, if they could, how they might know of his return and second presence. On the Mount of Olives they said to Jesus, “Tell us, when these things shall be—and what the sign of thy presence and the conclusion of the age.”—Matt. 24:3, Rotherham

The disciples had not recognized Jesus at his first advent by his appearance, but by the signs which accompanied his presence. And they concluded correctly that if he were going away, to later return, the same situation would be true, hence their desire to know what sign, or signs, to look for in order to know that he had returned.

In reply to this question Jesus gave his disciples a number of signs. One of them was that there would be upon the earth “distress of nations, with perplexity,” resulting in men’s hearts failing them for fear. (Luke 21:25,26) Matthew’s description of this sign, as given by Jesus, is that there would be a time of great tribulation, so severe that unless it was shortened no flesh would survive. (Matt. 24:21,22) It has been given to the present generation to witness the fulfillment of this prophecy; for today the tribulation among the nations is so acute that the very existence of the human race is threatened.

Another Sign

As noted, Jesus gave a number of signs by which his people could know the time of his second presence. Among them is one pertaining to the position of the Jewish people. He said: “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” (Luke 21:24) The “times of the Gentiles” in the prophecies is that period of time during which the Jewish people would have no independent government of their own, and indeed, for a greater part of this period would have no government at all.

The word “Jerusalem” in the expression “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles,” refers to the Jewish polity, the nation as a whole, just as the word “Washington” is often used to denote the United States Government, and “London” the British government. Thus, when Jesus said that “Jerusalem” would be trodden down of the Gentiles, he really meant that the entire nation would be subject to Gentile domination, and that this would continue “until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.”

As we have noted, the Lord had made many promises to the Jewish people. According to these promises they were to be restored to their own land—the Promised Land. God’s Spirit was to be poured out upon them. In Messiah’s kingdom their dead were to be raised, and they were to be given health and life. But Jesus did not say that all these blessings would come to them before the Gentile Times ended. All he said was that when Jerusalem was no longer trodden down of the Gentiles it would mean that the times of the Gentiles had ended, and that this could be taken as one of the outstanding signs of his second presence on earth.

The prophecies indicate that the period Jesus referred to as “the times of the Gentiles” was to be 2,520 years in length. We learn this from a prophecy recorded in Leviticus 26:17,18, which reads: “I will set my face against you [Israel], and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth.” This is a reference to chastisements which the Lord inflicted upon his people prior to their captivity in Babylon. Then the prophecy continues, “And if ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.”

This “seven times more” is in reality a time prophecy. It is based on the ancient Jewish year of 360 days, in which, according to symbolic time measurement, each day is counted for a year. This, then, would be a period of 2,520 years. It began when the Jews were taken captive to Babylon in 606 B.C. Its termination would therefore be in A.D. 1914. That was the year when World War I began, and out of that war there came for the first time the opportunity for the Jewish people to return to their own land, and to build it up for their own use as a people.

In 1918 came the Balfour Declaration to this effect, and later this was confirmed by a mandate from the League of Nations. Thus the Jewish people were set on the return road to liberty, and while many hard experiences intervened, these developments which arose from the first World War led to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and this marked the end of their being trodden down of the Gentiles.

Today Israel is a free nation among nations. The State of Israel is not beholden to any nation in the sense of being required to pay tribute. Just as are all the other nations of earth, Israel is passing through a period of chaos, fear, and distress. Though she is ringed by enemies, she is not subject to any nation, but is a member of the greatest body of nations which ever attempted to co-operate in the common cause of peace; namely, the United Nations. In other words, instead of being trodden down by the Gentiles, Israel is now a nation among the nations, or governments, of this world.

To occupy this position among the nations, in fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy, implies the existence of Gentile nations, even though it means that the Gentile Times have ended, for it was this that Jesus said would be involved in the working out of the divine plan when Jerusalem was no longer trodden down by the Gentiles. The free state of Israel is not the messianic kingdom, for Jesus will be the Head of that government, and the restored Ancient Worthies will be his human representatives.

Jesus did not say that the times of the Gentiles would be ended when the messianic kingdom began to function through the resurrection of the Ancient Worthies. To repeat, all he said was that Jerusalem would no longer be trodden down of the Gentiles, and this wonderful prophecy has now come to its fulfillment. Israel is free to chart her own destiny as best she can, and this should strengthen our faith in the prophecies and in their accuracy.

In our next article on this subject we will deal with the position the Gentile nations have occupied through “the times of the Gentiles,” and here we will find further confirmation that “the Gentile times” have ended. This, in turn, means that the long-promised and much prayed for kingdom of Christ is near.

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