In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus referred to something he called “The Times of the Gentiles.” This phrase has puzzled Bible scholars for 2000 years. But if we carefully examine the phrase, we can get a good approximation of what this mysterious time period might mean.
The traditional view of many commentators is that it refers to the time that Gentiles (non-Jews) controlled all or part of Jerusalem. (From AD70 on). Some commentators have post-dated Gentile control all the way back to Babylonian days. Still others have suggested it is the time that the Dome of Rock has been present on the Temple Mount. The problem with all of these views is that they rely soley on we as commentators “think” it means rather than relying on what the Bible says it means.
Sense and Reference
An incredibly important, but often overlooked, Bible interpreation method is known as “Sense and Reference.” The method says that every Bible passage has a “sense” or what the phrase literally means when we read it. Many passages also have a “reference,” which is another Bible verse that the passage refers to that adds additional meaning to it. Sometimes the “reference” is just as important to the meaning of the passage as the literal “sense.”
This method of Bible interpretation dates back to several centuries BC. Jesus himself used it often. He would quote a single Old Testament phrase and assume his listeners would know the quote and its context. A famous example is when Jesus quoted the first line of Psalm 22 while hanging on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.” The “sense” of what Jesus was saying was a cry of anguish over the Father turning away from the Son while he bore our sin debt and literally became sin for us. The “reference” was all of Psalm 22. Jesus wanted those within listening distance to know that what they were seeing was the literal fulfillment of Psalm 22, from the sneering of the crowds, to his bones being out of joint, his tongue cleaving to the roof of his mouth, the piercing of his hands and feet, and the gambling for his clothes. Unfortunately most of his listeners missed the prophetic point of Jesus’s statement and thought he was calling on Elijah! If they had only understood Jesus’s true “reference,” how many might have been saved that day?
So we must ask, “is there a ‘sense and reference’ to Jesus’s statement about the ‘Times of the Gentiles?'” In order to answer this, let’s look at the passage in its context:
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city; because these are days of vengeance (Gk: EKDIKESEOS, meaning “justice or avenging”), so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people; and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times (Gk: KAIRON, meaning “appointed times”) of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21: 20-24 NASB)
Jesus’s disciples asked him what would be the sign of his second coming and the end of the age. He responded with a sermon we call the Olivet Discourse. This passage is about what will happen to Jerusalem at the Midpoint (half way point) of Daniel’s 70th Week.
This brings up the first misunderstanding that many commentators have about the passage; that it refers to AD 70 and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and not to the future 70th Week of Daniel. Because the events pictured in the passage are similar to events in AD 70, these commentators believe it refers to that time. In doing so, they miss an incredibly important verse, “so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.” All of prophecy wasn’t fulfilled in AD 70 so Jesus could not be exclusively talking about that period. The passage must refer to the 70th Week which is yet future. That is when all that is written is fulfilled.
Part of the reason many commentators don’t want to believe this refers to the future is what the passage says about Jerusalem, “they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all nations.” No one wants to imagine another holocaust, yet this is what the passage is picturing. But, regardless of whether we like it or not, we must remain true to God’s Word; it says a second holocaust is coming.
Knowing that the passage does not refer to AD 70 changes our opinion of what the phrase “Times of the Gentiles” means as well. If the entire passage was talking about AD 70, when Jesus said, “Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the Times of the Gentiles are fulfilled,” this would imply that these “times” would extend from the trampling in AD 70 until today. Now that we know that Luke 21: 20-24 is about the future, this theory (that the Times of the Gentiles is from AD 70 till Jesus returns) loses a lot of its validity.
Let’s trace what the passage says. We first see that Jerusalem will be made “desolate.” It’s people will be killed and sent to concentration camps in other nations. The passage then further states that during “those days,” the Gentiles will trample Jerusalem. The passage doesn’t say that Jerusalem has continually been trampled, it says that during “those days” (during this invasion at the midpoint of Daniel’s 70th Week) the Gentiles will trample the city.
Now that we know the “sense” of the passage, let’s see if we can find further clues as to the meaning from reference passages. The primary references to these verses are found in Daniel:
Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city . . . to seal up vision and prophecy . . . (Dan. 9: 24 NASB)
These are days of vengeance (Gk: EKDIKESEOS, meaning “justice or avenging”), so that all things which are written will be fulfilled. (Luke 21: 22 NASB)
This first reference implies the Jesus is explaining Daniel’s prophecy about the 70 Shabua. The second does as well:
The people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end will come with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. (Dan. 9: 26 NASB)
But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near. (Luke 21: 20 NASB)
You are probably saying “wait a minute, Daniel 9: 26 is talking about AD 70.” Really? Are we making the same mistake commentators previously made about Luke 21: 20-24? The first 69 weeks (Shabua) of this vision END with Jesus’s death. The destruction of the Temple in AD 70 is 40 years outside of Daniel’s 70 weeks, so how can verse 26 be part of the prophecy which is about the 70 weeks? I believe verse 26 is speaking of the destruction yet to come. This is another parallel showing Jesus is explaining the 70 weeks in Luke 21: 20-24.
In the middle of the week (70th Week) he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations will come one who makes desolate. (Dan. 9: 27 NASB)
We have already stated that Luke 21: 20-24 shows what happens at the Midpoint of Daniel’s 70th Week. This confirms the timing.
Until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate. (Dan. 9: 27 NASB)
Until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21: 24)
The perfect parallelism continues through the end of both passages. So now we know the end point of the Times of the Gentiles, it is the return of Christ and the destruction of the Antichrist. What is the link between these two things?
They (the saints) will be given into his (the Antichrist’s) hand for a time, times, and half a time. But the court will sit for judgment, and his dominion will be taken away, annihilated and destroyed forever. (Dan. 7: 25-26 NASB)
This is the linking verse that I think Jesus had in mind. “Times” and “destruction ” both appear in this one passage. So are the “Times of the Gentiles” the same as “time, times, and half a time?” Yes, I believe they are. Is there more proof? Yes, there is:
Jerusalem will be trampled (Gk: PATEO) under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21: 24 NASB)
It has been given to the nations; and they will tread (Gk: PATEO)under foot the holy city for forty-two months. (Rev. 11:3 NASB)
This is the next reference. We can see that the trampling of Jerusalem is 42 months. We already know that “time, times, and half a time” is 1260 days, 3 1/2 year or 42 months. We have a match. We can now say with fair certainity that the “Times of the Gentiles” is equal to the last half of Daniel’s 70th Week (42 months) and not the time from the Babylonian invasion and not the time since AD 70 as is so frequently taught.
What did Jesus mean by “times” when he used this word? We have already seen that the Greek word translated “times” is KAIRON meaning “appointed times.” In the Hebrew this word is MO’EDIM which also can mean “Feasts of the Lord.” Could Jesus have been talking about the Feasts of the Lord? Since we know each “time” is a year, was Jesus talking about a cycle of all 7 Feasts that take a year to complete? It is very likely.
We also know that the primary fulfillment of the first four Feasts have already taken place. Three more Feasts (Yom Teruah, Yom Kippur, and Tabernacles) still remain to be fulfilled. It is incredibly likely they will be fulfilled during the 70th Week of Daniel. So when Jesus referred to the “Times” of the Gentiles was he also referring to Feasts of the Lord that will be fulfilled when the Gentiles are in control of Jerusalem? He may have been.