The phrase “times of the Gentiles” is found in Luke 21:24, where Jesus is describing the events that will occur in the end times. In context, Jesus stated:
They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive among all nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (Luke 21:24 ESV).
So the times of the Gentiles refers to the period of time when Jerusalem will be under Gentile control. This period began in 586 BC when Jerusalem was conquered by Babylon. Jesus stated that this time period would continue until “the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” So the times of the Gentiles denotes a period of Gentile dominance over Jerusalem that would last until some future event – the fulfillment mentioned by Jesus.
What does this fulfillment refer to? Many Bible scholars believe it refers to the end of Gentile control over Jerusalem. This happened in 1967, when Israel conquered East Jerusalem in the Six-Day War. For the first time in over 2,500 years, Jerusalem was back under Jewish political control. So the times of the Gentiles, the long period of Gentile control over Jerusalem, appears to have ended in 1967.
Now what leads to this interpretation? There are several reasons to connect the times of the Gentiles with Gentile control of Jerusalem:
- The context of Luke 21:24 places the times of the Gentiles within events of the end times and the restoration of Israel.
- Numerous prophecies in the Old Testament predict a time when Gentile powers will no longer oppress Jerusalem (Isaiah 60:12, Zechariah 14:2, Ezekiel 30:3).
- Romans 11:25 refers to Israel being partially hardened spiritually until “the fullness of the Gentiles has come in.” This implies a future end to Gentile spiritual dominion over Israel.
- Revelation 11 refers to two witnesses prophesying in Jerusalem, which has “been given over to the nations” (11:2). Their ministry ends with revival in Israel (11:13), implying God’s spiritual favor will return to Israel.
Based on these factors, the times of the Gentiles denotes a long period of Gentile control over Jerusalem that began in the 6th century BC. It appears Jesus was predicting that this time of Gentile dominion would continue until some climactic event, which we now see was the restoration of Jerusalem to Jewish control in 1967. This regaining of political control over the city essentially ended the times of the Gentiles, the long period of Gentile oppression of Jerusalem.
Characteristics of the Times of the Gentiles
What are some key characteristics of this lengthy period known as the times of the Gentiles?
- The dominance of Gentile powers over the nation of Israel and the city of Jerusalem.
- The dispersion of many Jews from ancient Israel. Centuries of Jewish diaspora.
- The spiritual hardening of Israel, as they rejected Jesus Christ (Romans 11:7-25).
- The taking of the gospel to the Gentile nations. Widespread Gentile conversions to Christianity.
- The treading down of Jerusalem until the climax of the age (Luke 21:24).
- Increased Gentile control over Israel’s land during the diaspora. Foreign empires ruling Palestine.
All these factors were at work from 586 BC until modern times. For most of their history, the Jewish people lacked spiritual leadership and political self-determination. Foreign empires controlled their land while many Jews lived in diaspora. At the same time, the gospel went forth to the Gentile world through missions and revivals. The times of the Gentiles denotes this lengthy period of Jewish exile and growing Gentile Christian influence.
Biblical Support for the Times of the Gentiles
Various passages provide biblical support for the concept of the times of the Gentiles:
Old Testament Prophecies
The Old Testament contains many prophecies that refer to Israel’s coming exile and foreign oppression. These passages foresaw a lengthy era of Gentile dominion over Jerusalem:
“And this whole land shall become a ruin and a waste, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jeremiah 25:11 ESV).
“Behold, I am about to make Jerusalem a cup of staggering to all the surrounding peoples” (Zechariah 12:2 ESV).
“Look, I am against you, O Sidon, And I will be glorified in your midst. Then they will know that I am the LORD when I execute judgments in her, And I will manifest My holiness in her” (Ezekiel 28:22 NASB).
These and other passages predicted a lengthy period of Gentile control over Israel and Jerusalem. This pointed ahead to the age Jesus would later refer to as the times of the Gentiles.
New Testament Descriptions
In Luke 21:24, Jesus made a direct prediction concerning a long period of Gentile dominion over Jerusalem. Revelation 11:2 also contains a key reference connecting the times of the Gentiles with Gentile “trampling” of the Holy City:
“But do not measure the court outside the temple; leave that out, for it is given over to the nations, and they will trample the holy city for forty-two months” (Revelation 11:2 ESV).
The book of Romans explains how Israel’s rejection of the gospel led to spiritual hardening, while the Gentiles experienced salvation instead (Romans 11:11-32). This transition of spiritual leadership to the Gentiles typified the times of the Gentiles.
The times of the Gentiles had an observable fulfillment in history. Gentile powers ruled over Jerusalem from 586 BC until modern times. Babylon conquered the city in 586 BC. After that, Medo-Persia, Greece, Rome, the Byzantine Empire, the Arab caliphates, the Ottoman Turks, and the British Empire controlled Jerusalem. Gentile domination of the city ended only in 1967, when Israel took control of it in the Six-Day War.
So we have Old Testament prophecy of a coming Gentile age, Jesus’ prediction of the times of the Gentiles, descriptions of Gentile dominion in Revelation, and the observable historical record of Gentile control over Jerusalem for 2,500 years. All these factors point to the times of the Gentiles beginning in the 6th century BC and extending until the regaining of Jerusalem in 1967.
Purpose of the Times of the Gentiles
Why did God ordain such a lengthy period of Gentile dominance over Jerusalem and Israel? What purposes did the times of the Gentiles accomplish in history?
- To punish national Israel for their pattern of idolatry and rejection of God’s messengers (Jeremiah 25:8-11). The conquest of Jerusalem in 586 BC fulfilled God’s warnings of judgment.
- To show that God ruled over the nations and used Gentile powers to accomplish His will (Jeremiah 27:5-7).
- To turn Israel back to God through exile and tribulation (Jeremiah 29:10-14).
- To allow the fullness of the Gentiles to come to salvation in Christ (Luke 21:24; Romans 11:25).
- To prepare Jerusalem spiritually for the return of Christ (Matthew 23:37-39).
In summary, the times of the Gentiles allowed God to judge national Israel, turn individual Jews back to Him, bring Gentiles to salvation, and ultimately prepare events for Christ’s return. This long period of history accomplished great purposes in God’s plan.
End of the Times of the Gentiles
Does the regaining of Jerusalem in 1967 definitively mark the end of the times of the Gentiles? Most Bible scholars believe it does, for the following reasons:
- Israel now controls Jerusalem for the first time since 586 BC.
- Israel possesses Jerusalem in the era leading up to Christ’s return (Luke 21:24-28).
- Jerusalem is no longer “trampled by the Gentiles” now that Israel governs it (Revelation 11:2).
- Israel’s spiritual blindness begins fading as Jews return to their homeland (Jeremiah 23:7-8).
- These signs indicate Christ’s coming is drawing near (Matthew 24:32-33).
For these reasons, most scholars teach the end of the times of the Gentiles occurred in 1967 when Israel captured Jerusalem. However, some disagree that the times have fully ended yet. Reasons include:
- Israel’s hold on Jerusalem remains politically contested by some nations.
- Many Jews still live outside their homeland in diaspora.
- Israel as a nation is still far from turning fully to Jesus.
- Some expect a future temple to be built, which necessitates further changes in Jerusalem.
So while the times of the Gentiles may have ended in a political sense in 1967, arguments remain that there are spiritual aspects not yet fulfilled. Regardless, the regathering of Israel signals we are in the season of Christ’s return.
Significance for the End Times
What is the significance of the times of the Gentiles ending for the end-time prophetic scenario? Here are some key implications:
- Israel’s reestablishment as a nation is a major end-times sign being fulfilled (Ezekiel 37:21-22).
- Israel now controls Jerusalem, enabling construction of a prophesied Third Temple (Revelation 11:1-2).
- Jewish Aliyah (return) to Israel expands, preparing for Messiah’s coming (Jeremiah 23:7-8).
- The stage is set for increasing end-time focus on Israel and Jerusalem (Zechariah 12:2-3).
- Rising global anti-Semitism may spark attacks against Israel (Zechariah 12:9).
- Christ’s return to deliver Israel is anticipated (Matthew 23:39; Zechariah 14:3-4).
In summary, the end of Gentile control over Jerusalem propels forward key end-time events. These prophetic developments will intensify as we approach Christ’s coming to establish His kingdom on earth.