What are "The Times of the Gentiles"?

Most Jehovah’s Witnesses, Bible Students, Free Bible Students, and various Adventists groups are familiar with the phrase "the times of the Gentiles." They generally understand the words "the times of the Gentiles" to refer to a very long period of time with a beginning and an end. They believe this period of time to cover many, many centuries. Some believe these "times" to be seven in number and cover over two millennia. They believe these "times of the Gentiles" to have begun with the destruction of Jerusalem in the sixth century before Christ. They understand these "times" would end with the Return, or Parousia of Jesus Christ.

By calculating the length of these "times of the Gentiles" some Bible students have predicted the Return of Christ to have occurred in an invisible visit in 1874 or 1914. Some apply "the times of the Gentiles" to Israel in the Middle East and point to a year like 1948 or 1976. Others would place the fulfillment of this period to a date -- 2000, 2006, 2012, 2020 -- in the future. If one uses a search engine such as InfoSeek and enter "times of the Gentiles" or "Luke 21:24" quite a number of thoughts on the Internet can be read on this subject.

What are "the times of the Gentiles"? Can they be used to compute the actual date for the Return of Christ in his foretold Parousia or Second Coming? How long are "the times of the Gentiles? Seven, or another number? How does the meaning of "the times of the Gentiles" affect your life?

How can we know the real length and meaning of the phrase "the time of the Gentiles"? Researchers with the Nazarene Saints believe this question may be answered without bias or preconceived theories by studying two things: a) the context; and, b) any source for the phrase from the Old Testament. Please consider these two matters with us.

According to the Context

The phrase of interest is found only in Luke 21:24 in what is called by some the "little apocalypse." [For details on this subject see the publication Nazarene Apocalypse which includes a verse by verse commentary on Matthew 24 and Revelation] In Luke chapter 21 Jesus the Nazarene has been answering a question put to him by four of his apostles. This is also recorded in Matthew chapter 24 and Mark chapter 13. This question was sparked by the Nazarene’s shocking prediction regarding the magnificent Temple of Herod as the center of Jewish worship in Jerusalem.

In view of the whole Temple complex, the disciples of the Nazarene pointed out the beauty of the edifice: "Teacher, look at those [temple] stones and buildings!" (Mark 13:1) Jesus’ response must have made these religious Jews break out in cold sweats: "These things which you behold -- the days will come when not a stone will be left on a stone and not be thrown down." (Luke 21:6) Instantly, and no doubt excitedly, the apostles asked: "Teacher, when will these things occur and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?" (Luke 21:7)

Is it unfair to suggest that the disciples’ question was sparked by the mere thought the Temple at Jerusalem would be destroyed? Is it clear the question itself, as presented here in the Gospel of Luke, deals with this same subject? Can we expect Jesus’ answer to their question is related to this phrase of our interest, "the times of the Gentiles"? Within the answer of the disciples’ question we find Luke 21:24 to be the conclusion: " ... and (Jerusalem’s inhabitants) will fall by the edge of the sword and (others) will be led captive into all the Gentiles; and, Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles should be fulfilled." This would conclude the specifics to the disciples’ question here in the Gospel of Luke.

This is not the first time the Nazarene predicts dire events for Jerusalem. Just a few days earlier he spoke with tears to a crowd of Jews: "If you had only been aware of this day and those things dealing with peace -- but it was hidden from your view. Because upon you days will arrive when your enemies will throw up a palisade around you and they will encircle you and distress you from every side. They will dash to the ground you and your children, and a stone will not remain upon a stone because you were ignorant of the time of your inspection." (Luke 19:41-44) In so doing he used language highly similar to that in the prophet Daniel: "And the king of the north [Rome] will come and throw up a siege rampart and actually capture a city [Jerusalem] with fortifications. ... And he will stand in the land of the Decoration [Judea], and there will be extermination in his hand." (Daniel 11:15, 16 NWT)

However, the Gospels of Matthew and Mark also include this "little apocalypse." They do not include the phrase in Luke 21:24, "the times of the Gentiles." How can we find out where Luke 21:24 would belong in the contexts of Matthew chapter 24 and Mark chapter 13? Both Matthew and Mark state something similar regarding Jerusalem: "Therefore, whenever you see the Disgusting Thing of the Desolation -- that spoken by the prophet Daniel -- standing in a Holy Place (let the reader be mindful) then let those in Judea flee into the mountains." (Matthew 24:15, 16; Mark 13:14) The Nazarene continues to predict this "desolation" of Jerusalem will be a "great tribulation (oppression)" on the Jews. In so doing, Jesus borrows words from Daniel 12:1. (Matthew 24:21, 22; Mark 13:19)

Does it seem fair to conclude that Luke 21:24 with its "times of the Gentiles" falls within the contextual environment of Matthew and Mark’s "great tribulation" and desolation of Jerusalem? Therefore, contextually, this trampling of Jerusalem -- with so many put to the sword while others are led away as prisoners -- occurs during this period of "the times of the Gentiles"? Thus, Jerusalem is "trampled" to such an extent that the Nazarene’s prediction regarding the Temple with no stone left upon a stone comes true.

This actually happened between the years of 66 to 70 AD. To this day there is a monument to this Roman victory in the city of Rome -- the Arch of Titus. It shows the captive Jews with soldiers carrying the golden Temple memora along with prisoners as booty. The Romans also cast a coin to commemorate their six year war with the Jews.

Thus, the contextual setting of Luke 21:24 and its "times of the Gentiles" would place it between the years 66 and 70 (or, as late as Masada in 73) AD. The period between 66 to 70 is roughly three and a half years, or 1,260 days. The whole period from Fall 66 to Spring 73 is 2,300 days, each year commemorated by a Roman coin. However, is there a source for Jesus’ words regarding "the times of the Gentiles"?

The Source of the Phrase “The Times of the Gentiles”

Can we discover a source in the Old Testament Hebrew Bible for the Nazarene’s phrase "the times of the Gentiles"? The disciple Luke wrote to a Greek named Theophilus and therefore recorded the words of the Lord in Greek. The whole phrase, "and the times of the Gentiles," is transliterated from the Greek to English by kai (and) esontai (will be) kairoi (times) ethon (of nations). Most versions render kairoi as "times" though it is also translated, appointed times (NW), their day (TCNT), the period (MOF). This is numbered by Strong’s as Greek word 2540, meaning "occasion, i.e. set or proper time."

Does kairoi occur in the Jewish Greek (the Septuagint) Book of Daniel? The word group kairoi occurs about two dozen times. Some want to parallel the Nazarene’s "the time of the Gentiles" with Daniel chapter 2. However, the word kairous (times) occurs only once and then only in relation to God’s ability to change "times." (Daniel 2:21). The city of Jerusalem is not mentioned in Daniel chapter 2 so there is nothing here to relate to "the times of the Gentiles."

Another chapter where "the times of the Gentiles" is highly associated by some is Daniel chapter 4. Here kairoi does occur three times in the Jewish Greek Septuagint, and each time in the single phrase "seven times." (epta kairoi = Daniel 4:20, 22, 29 in the Greek Septuagint; Daniel 7:16, 23, 25, 32 in the Hebrew text) The word kairoi was understood by the Jews and the Chaldeans to mean "years." To whom do these "seven times" or seven years apply? Do they here in chapter four of Daniel apply to Jerusalem, or even to Gentiles nations? Let us compare these. In the New World Translation "seven times" occurs in verses 17 and 23, both, "until seven times themselves pass over it." The "it" being the "tree" of Nebuchanezzar’s dream. In verses 25 and 32, the phrase is changed to "and seven times themselves will pass over you." Thus, the "seven times" deal with the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar.

Is this the conclusion of Daniel himself? We note the word "interpretation" occurs six times. In Daniel 4:6, 7 the king states that his own priests could not make know the interpretation of his dream. In Daniel 4:9 the king asks Daniel for the interpretation. After hearing the king repeat his dream of a great tree cut down and banded for "seven times," or seven years, the king asks Daniel for the interpretation in Daniel 4:18. In response Daniel says: "O my lord, MAY THE DREAM APPLY TO those hating you, and its interpretation to your adversaries." (Daniel 4:19 NW) Is it fair to suggest that the prophet himself gives the interpretation as something which will affect the enemies of the king?

Did "seven years" befall king Nebuchadnezzar in fulfillment of his own dream? We note with great interest Daniel 4:32, 44: " ... ‘and seven times (years) themselves WILL PASS OVER YOU, until you know that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind, and that to the one whom he wants to he gives it.'

AT THAT MOMENT THE WORD ITSELF WAS FULFILLED upon Nebuchadnezzar, and from mankind he was being driven away [for seven times]." (NW) Then at the conclusion of these seven years, the king says, "And at the end of the [seven years of] days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted up to the heavens my eyes, and my own understanding began to return to me. .. and I was reestablished upon my own kingdom." (Daniel 4:33, 36 NWT)

What was the lesson this whole experience was supposed to impress on the Babylonian king and those who would later read his story? He states it at the end of chapter four: "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, am praising and exalting and glorifying the King of the heavens, because all his works are truth and his ways are justice, and because those who are walking in pride he is able to humiliate." (Daniel 4:37 NW) This is God’s own lesson to us, "those walking in pride God is able to humiliate." Is it possible, while seeking some larger meaning to this chapter of the Bible, we end up really missing the point?

Based on the above consideration of the context of Daniel chapter 4 is it fair to conclude that these "seven times (kairoi) deal with Nebuchadnezzar in a literal fulfillment during his seven years of madness? Is there another way we can determine exactly what "the times of the Gentiles" are? What can be the source of Jesus’ words?

When we return to Luke 21:24 and read the precise context of the Nazarene’s answer, we note Luke 21:20, 22, 23: "Furthermore, when you (apostles) see Jerusalem surrounded by encamped armies, then know that the desolating of her has drawn near. ... Because these are days for meting out justice, that all the things written may be fulfilled. .. For there will be great necessity upon the land and wrath on this (Jewish) people." Rather than putting it this way, the Gospels of Matthew and Mark borrow words from the prophet Daniel and also include Jesus words: "When you see the sign of the refuse of desolation, as spoken by the prophet Daniel, accumulating in the holy place ... then let those who are in Judaea, flee to the mountains." (Matthew 24:15, 16 The New Testament From Aramaic by George M. Lamsa)

Can we find a place in Daniel where this "disgusting thing" (bdelygma) causing "desolation" (eremoseos) is related to Jerusalem in a precise kairoi or "times"? We find the exact thing in the Book of Daniel. First we note that Daniel 9:27 foretells "on the Temple (in Jerusalem) shall be the abomination [bdelygma] of desolations [eremoseon]; and at the end of the time [kairou] an end shall be put to the desolation." (LXX) Here we see the same words used by the Nazarene in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke: bdelygma, eremoseon, and kairou. Can we know how long this period of "desolation" covers with a final "end ... to the desolation"?

In the end of chapter eleven in Daniel (Daniel 11:40-44) the prophet foretells an attack against Jerusalem and Judea (NW: the land of Decoration; LXX: land of beauty) described as "a time of tribulation" (kairos thlipseos) in Daniel 12:1. This later phrase in Greek is the same one used by Matthew 24:21 (thlipsis megale) and Mark 13:19 (thlipsis). So, here we have more language identical to that of the Nazarene in his answer to his apostles about the end of Jerusalem and her Temple.

Can we know the exact length of this "time of tribulation"? No doubt for the benefit of Jewish disciples of the Nazarene, the prophet Daniel asked about the horrible prediction spoken by the angel: "How long to the end of these awful things?" (Daniel 12:6 Jewish Publication Society) With great excitement we also want to know "how long" this "time of tribulation" will be?

The answer comes in Daniel 12:7, 11 incorporating all the words used by the Nazarene in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke while telling us exactly how long "the times of the Gentiles" are. Consider these: "For a time [kairon], times [kairon], and half a time [kairou]; and when the breaking of the power of the holy people comes to an end, then shall all these things be fulfilled. ... From the time [kairou] the regular offering [at the Temple] is abolished, and an appalling abomination [bdelygma eremoseos] is set up --- it will be a thousand two hundred and ninety days." (JPS; with Greek words from the Septuagint)

The phrase used by the angel, "time, times, and half a time" is a Hebrew way of saying three and a half years of 1,260 days. The same phrasing is used in Revelation 12:6, 14 to mean 1,260 days, or precisely three and a half Jewish lunar years. Thus, "the time of the tribulation" is three and a half years, or a total of 1,290 (1,290) days. Is it fair to conclude from these verses in Daniel that "the times of the Gentiles" was, not seven, but three and a half years?

Is there further proof of this period of time as the length of "the times of the Gentiles"? Yes, there is at Revelation 11:2 where one of the apostles present on the Mount of Olives when Jesus gave his answer to their question records what amounts to a strong allusion to Luke 21:24. We follow this apocalyptic verse with interest: "The courtyard outside the Temple is given to the Gentiles and they will trample on the holy city forty-two months." Forty-two months is the same as three and a half years, or 1,260 days!

Here in Revelation 11:2 we discover several words identical to Luke 21:24 to remove any doubt "the times of the Gentiles" are three and a half years long. Revelation 11:2 uses ethnesin [Gentiles, nations], patesousin [trample on] just as Luke 21:24 does: " ... and Jerusalem will be trampled on [patoumene] by the nations [ethnon]." Can anyone in all seriousness argue "the times of the Gentiles" is not three and a half years in length?

What confirms this is the correct understanding is the actual length of the "time of tribulation" (Daniel 12:1 LXX) against Judea and its capitol Jerusalem with its holy Temple is the historical evidence this covered the years 66 to 70. The first century Jewish historian, an eyewitness to the destruction of Jerusalem, in his Jewish Wars, gives the details to this period of time.

However, we wonder why the Romans minted at least five coins to commemorate their victory over the Jews? There is another startlingly prophecy in the Book of Daniel. It is Daniel 8:9-14, 19: "And out of one of them there came forth another horn [Rome], a small one, and it kept getting very much greater toward the south and toward the sunrising [Palestine] and toward the Decoration [Judea]. And it kept getting greater all the way to the army of the heavens [Jewish soldiers], so that it caused some of the army and some of the stars to fall to the earth, and it went trampling them down [Luke 21:24]. And all the way to the Prince of the army it put on great airs, and from him the constant [feature] [the daily Temple sacrifice] was taken away, and the established place of his sanctuary was thrown down [Luke 21:6]. And an [Jewish] army itself was gradually given over, together with the constant [feature], because of [Jewish] transgression; and [Rome] kept throwing truth to the earth, and it acted and had success." And I got to hear a certain holy one speaking, and another holy one proceeded to say to the particular one who was speaking: "How long will the vision be of the constant [feature] and of the transgression causing desolation [eremoseos - Matthew 24:15], to make both [the] holy place [Temple] and [the] [Jewish] army things to trample on [Luke 21:24; Revelation 11:2]?" So he said to me: "Until two thousand three hundred evenings [and] mornings; and [the] holy place will certainly be brought into its right condition [from God’s standpoint; Luke 21:6]. ... And (the angel) went on to say: "Here I am causing you to know what will occur in the final part of the denunciation, because it is for the appointed time [kairou] of [the] end." (NW) Interestingly, the period from the fall of the year 66 to the spring of 73 when the Romans finally conquered Masada was almost exactly 2,300 days! In Daniel "the time of the end" is the end of Jerusalem and her Temple. This explains the five or more Romans coins celebrating the Jewish wars which lasted more than six years.

We believe the above is enough to confirm that the length of "the times of the Gentiles" is three and a half years and was fulfilled in the years 66 to 70 AD in fulfillment of Jesus’ prediction in the "little apocalypse" of Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In this regard does the Nazarene have a special warning for us today as we approach the year 2,000?

“Do not Follow Them!”

Some, though agreeing with the above, will insert that these seven years were only a "type" of something "anti-typical" to follow. That is, Nebuchadnezzar and the tree were only a minor fulfillment pointing as a shadow to a major fulfillment. This is, of course, easy to say. How does one go about proving such an assertion to be the case? Is there an inspired interpretation somewhere else in the Christian Bible where Daniel chapter 4 is quoted and so applied? Look as we may we find no allusion or quotation by the Nazarene or his disciples to this particular chapter of the Bible. The Nazarene and his beloved apostle John do reference other chapters of Daniel, such as 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12. Indeed, the Book of Revelation makes over four dozen allusions to the Book of Daniel, but never to chapter four.

It is easy for commentators with hidden agendas -- some even they may not be aware of -- to pass the magic wand over a verse and sprinkle fairy dust and then say, "This verse means this." And, there will always be those who will believe this. If a person wants Christ to return while he is alive and has been raised to think in these terms, it is not a big step to try to find an argument which will reinforce this hope. Unfortunately, this kind of Biblical exposition has been going over for centuries.

The mistake the flock which follow these men make is forgetting what the Nazarene warned his own disciples immediately following their question. He understood their need -- from their own personal perspectives -- to want to know how this affects them. They wanted to know when this desolation of their Temple would occur because such a thing had powerful implications to them.

The first sentence out of the Nazarene’s mouth was: "Look out that you are not misled; for many will come on the basis of my name, saying ‘I am he,’ and, saying, ‘The due time has approached.’ DO NOT GO AFTER THEM." (Luke 21:8 NW) Jesus strictly warns his apostles that "many" will appear on the scene claiming his authority and thus saying they were some appointed spokesman as a channel from God. Their central theme would be, "The due time [kairos] has approached." This phrase reads in the Byington version, "the time is at hand." (Compare also AMP and NAS) Thus, our own Lord cautions his disciples not to follow -- or, "join" (NJB) -- those who would proclaim "the time is at hand."

In this phrase "the due time has approached" the Greek is again kairos or "appointed time." (NW) Jesus goes on to make very clear that his disciples cannot make some calculation to prophetically determine certain times or seasons. Note in Mark 13:32, 33: "Concerning that day or the hour nobody knows, neither the angels in heaven nor the Son, but the Father. Keep looking, keep awake, for you do not know when the appointed time [kairos] is." (NWT)

However, some will argue that though we could not know "the day or hour" we could know the "season." (Matthew 24:32) Though this idea appeals to some, what does the Nazarene again say over one month later shortly before his ascension to heaven? His apostles asked him a question similar to the one they had asked in Matthew 24:3, "Are you restoring the kingdom to Israel now?" The Risen Christ answered them: "It does not belong to you to get knowledge of the times [chronous] or seasons [kairous] which the Father has placed in his own jurisdiction." (Acts 1:6, 7 NWT; compare KJV, BER) Or, as the Williams version puts it: "It is not your business to learn times and dates."

How could a Christian teacher be so "presumptuous" to claim to know more than the angels and Christ (Matthew 24:36) by predicting the end of "the times of the Gentiles" were fulfilled in 1874, or 1914, or 1948, or 1967, or any other date in the future? Deuteronomy 18:20-22 gives Moses’ ancient warning: "However, the prophet who presumes to speak in my name [Jehovah] a word that I have not commanded him to speak ... that prophet must die. And in case you should say in your heart: ‘How shall we know the word that Jehovah has not spoken?’ when the prophet speaks in the name of Jehovah and the word does not occur or come true, that is the word that Jehovah did not speak. With presumptuousness the prophet spoke it. You must not get frightened at him.' (NWT)

Moses said we need not fear any such "presumptuous" prophet as if they had some kind of authority from Jehovah or His Son Jesus. The Nazarene’s warning to his apostles still gives us inspired direction with regard to those who would preach, "The time is a hand!" --- DO NOT FOLLOW THEM! (Luke 21:8) What we need to do is follow the counsel of our Lord: "But what I say to you (apostles) I say to all, KEEP ON THE WATCH!" (Mark 13:37 NWT)

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