THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES
Prophecy Studies - No. 3
The Times of the Gentiles are upon us, though many may not be familiar with the term. Events in recent years are connected with this prophetic period.
It didn’t seem to raise much excitement at the time. It didn’t get much notice in the papers. There were no big parades. But something happened on January 1st, 1993, that was revolutionary. It will eventually affect the lives of everyone on earth. On that day, twelve nations in Western Europe became a single economic unit, linking 345 million people in a single common market. With that step, the European continent was on its way to forming the mightiest power base on earth--what we could call the United States of Europe. We need to look at this entity now, as it relates to prophecy.
At the present time, during the Church Age, God has temporarily set aside His program for Israel as a nation. Things have changed for the Jews. They have been scattered across the earth. And though the little country of Israel was reestablished in 1948, it suffers constant oppression and attacks from its neighbours. Israel today has no king on the throne, no temple, no priesthood, no sacrifices. She is only a shadow of what she was in the glory days of David and Solomon.
What we looking at today is a period of time when Israel is dominated by Gentile powers. This is not the same as the Church Age, because it began in the Old Testament, with the Babylonian Captivity, and it will continue on after the rapture of the church, under the rule of the Antichrist. Jesus referred to this era as “the Times of the Gentiles.” He says, “Jerusalem will be trampled by the Gentiles until the Times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (Lk. 21:24).
This does not mean necessarily a constant and unbroken “trampling.” Rather, it is similar to having a chronic cough. Not constant coughing, but persistent and repeated coughing over time. In a similar way, Israel will repeatedly be threatened, attacked, and sometimes oppressed by other nations until Christ’s return. An entire book of the Bible deals in a major way with the Times of the Gentiles: the book of Daniel. Daniel was a slave in Babylon, along with many of the Jews. Their captivity, beginning the Times of the Gentiles was a judgment of God upon their idolatry and sin. The king of Babylon in that day was Nebuchadnezzar.
1) What happened that troubled the Babylonian king (Dan. 2:1)?
2) When the king’s heathen astrologers and magicians could not tell him what he wanted to know, what did he do (vs. 12)?
3) This decree included Daniel, who was serving in the court as a counselor to the king (vs. 13). But what did Daniel do about it (vs. 16-18)?
4) To whom did Daniel give the credit for revealing the secret information the king wanted (vs. 28)?
INSIGHT: Daniel went on to reveal to the king what his dream had been, and what it meant. Its full meaning spans centuries of time.
5) What did the king see in his dream (vs. 31)? And what was unusual about it (vs. 32-33)?
6) What happened to the dream image (vs. 34)? And what eventually became of the stone (vs. 35)?
7) According to verses 37-38, what did the golden head of the image represent?
INSIGHT: As the prophecies of Daniel unfold, we see that the head of gold pictures not the king only, but Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon, the empire of Babylon under its most powerful king.
8) What did the chest and arms of silver portray (vs. 39)? And how is it described in the verse, in comparison to Babylon?
INSIGHT: Daniel was still alive, an old man in his eighties, when this second empire came to power. At the time of King Belshazzar, an alliance of the Medes and the Persians (note the two arms of this part of the image) conquered the Babylonians.
9) What is pictured by the bronze belly and thighs of the image (vs. 39)?
INSIGHT: Some versions read “brass,” and some “bronze,” describing the belly and thighs of the image. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc, bronze combines copper and tin. But Hebrew had only one word for copper and all its alloys.
INSIGHT: Under Alexander the Great, the Greeks quickly conquered the Middle East all the way to the borders of India, as well as the northern part of Africa. In time, the Grecian Empire spread the influence of its ideas, culture and language all over the world.
10) What do the legs and feet of iron represent (vs. 40)? And how is this described?
INSIGHT: The Roman Empire took over from the Greeks during the period between the Old and New Testaments. Known it history as “the Iron Kingdom,” it was in power at the time of Christ, and dominated with military might. But a couple of centuries later the empire split in two (pictured by the two legs). Greatly weakened, several centuries afterward, first the western, and then the eastern segment of the empire fell.
11) What is unusual about the feet of the image? And what effect does this have (vs. 42)?
12) Finally, what does “the stone cut out of the mountain without hands” picture (vs. 44-45)? And what is the significance of it being formed “without hands”?
13) What does the stone do to the kingdoms that preceded it?
INSIGHT: These are the five major kingdoms that relate to Israel in a special way during the Times of the Gentiles. As Nebuchadnezzar sees them, the first four are portrayed as a gigantic man. But in a later vision of Daniel (in Chapter 7), we see them in God’s sight, as wild, ravening beasts.
INSIGHT: At this point we need to consider a peculiarity of the viewpoint of the Old Testament prophets. When they describe the future coming of Christ, they sometimes bring details of both His first and second coming together in one passage. An example of this is Isaiah 61:1-3. Jesus said He fulfilled the first one and a half verses at the time He was on earth (cf. Lk. 4:16-21). But “the day of vengeance of our God” awaits His return, as does the restoration of Israel described in Isaiah 61:3.
It is as though the Old Testament prophets saw the two comings as two distant mountain peaks, one beyond the other, with no view of the valley between. That valley represents a period that (as of now) is 2,000 years long. This means that the entire Church Age in which we live was invisible to the Old Testament prophets. They say nothing about it. Their focus is on the future of Israel--in which the Church Age is a kind of gap or interruption.
INSIGHT: The Roman Empire did not fully come to an end in ancient times, as the other empires did. Though it does not bear that name today, it has continued to exercise influence, through the world-wide exploration, trade, commerce, and scientific discoveries of the European nations. In the last days, the nations of Europe will unite in a new form of the Roman Empire. (What we are seeing in Europe today seems to be the beginning of this.) Rather than the complete unity of the original empire, the final form will depend on alliances of nations (the iron will be mixed with clay), and be less cohesive. There are now more than ten nations in this federation. Perhaps several will unite to bring the final total to “ten,” as in the prophecies of Daniel. Daniel
Chapter 7 introduces us to the mysterious leader of this powerful empire, describing him as a “little horn” that rises up among the ten (vs. 8).
14) What actions are ascribed to the “little horn” (7:8)?
INSIGHT: We will take a closer look at this “little horn” a person, sometimes called the Antichrist or the Beast, in a later lesson. But take a moment to read Daniel 7:9-14, an awesome description of Christ and His coming kingdom (the stone that smashes the image, in Chapter 2.)
15) What general impressions to you get from the scene described in verses 9 and 10?
16) What will happen to the “little horn” and his kingdom (vs. 11)?
17) How does the kingdom of the Son of Man differ from the kingdoms that come before it (7:14; or see 2:44)?
INSIGHT: The last portion of Daniel we shall consider concerns his vision of the “Seventy Weeks.” It is remarkable in that it gives the precise date of Christ’s “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, 500 years before it happened. So that we can have the same text before us for study purposes, the entire text of Daniel 9:24-27 is given here in the New King James Version:
24. Seventy weeks are determined for your people and for your holy city, to finish transgression, to make an end of sins, to make reconciliation for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy, and to anoint the Most Holy.
25. Know therefore and understand, that from the going forth of the command to restore and build Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince, there shall be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; the street shall be built again, and the wall, even in troublesome times.
26. And after the sixty-two weeks Messiah shall be cut off, but not for Himself; and the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. The end of it shall be with a flood, and till the end of the war desolations are determined.
27. Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week; but in the middle of the week he shall bring an end to sacrifice and offering. And on the wing of abominations shall be one who makes desolate, even until the consummation, which is determined, is poured out on the desolate.
18) Who is the subject of this prophecy (vs. 24)?
INSIGHT: The time span of the prophecy is “seventy heptads” (in Hebrew). Literally, seventy sevens. Sometimes heptad is translated by our English word “weeks,” but not always. And that will not fit here. It is far too short a time to encompass the whole prophecy. The Jews, with their Sabbatical years, tended to think in seven year periods (or heptads of years). In this case we have a prophecy that is going to take, in total 70 x 7 years (or 490 years).
19) What is to be the starting point of the prophecy (vs. 25)?
INSIGHT: That involved the Persian decree that sent Nehemiah back to his homeland to begin the rebuilding process. The date of the decree has been established as 445 BC. That is where the 490 years for Israel begins. The terminal point of the prophecy is the complete spiritual and national restoration of Israel, under her Messiah-king, as described in the six characteristics of vs. 24, including the bringing in of everlasting righteousness and the anointing of the Most Holy (possibly referring to the enthroning of Christ as King of kings and Lord of lords).
INSIGHT: According to vs. 25, the first 69 weeks (or 483) years of the prophecy can be divided into two segments of 7 weeks, plus 62 weeks. The seven weeks (or 49 years) take us to the end of the Old Testament period. Then, the additional 62 weeks (or 434 years) take us from the end of the Old Testament, through what are sometimes called the “400 Silent Years” between the Testaments, and on through the earthly life and ministry of Christ.
20) What is the major event that ends the first 483 years of the prophecy (vs. 25)?
INSIGHT: This is the event prophesied in Zechariah 9:9 as follows: “Behold, your King is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” The significance of this is revealed in a statement by Jesus (see Lk. 19:41-44). Years ago, a man named Sir Robert Anderson calculated the revealed time of this “Triumphal Entry” and found that Daniel’s prophecy predicted it exactly, to the very day.
21) What event is described at the beginning of Daniel 9:26?
22) What is the meaning of the phrase “but not for Himself” (vs. 26)?
INSIGHT: When Israel rejected her Messiah-king, her story came to a temporary end. God turned from His national program with Israel to deal with the church. But the Church Age does not concern Daniel. (Note again the perspective of the Old Testament prophets.) The crucifixion of Christ took place after the 483 year, and God’s program with Israel will not be taken up until the church is raptured. It is at that time that the last of the “seventy weeks”--the last seven years for Israel, will transpire, before her Messiah comes to reign over her.
23) To what “people” does the coming world leader belong, according to what we saw in Daniel 7:7-8?
INSIGHT: It was the army of the Roman Empire that attacked and destroyed the city of Jerusalem in 70 AD, under the Roman general Titus. The latter part of vs. 26 indicates that Israel will continue to be oppressed until the end--the end of “the Times of the Gentiles.” During that period, Israel will long for peace. At one point, it will seem that perhaps peace is within her grasp.
24) What significant thing will “the prince who is to come” do in relation to Israel (vs. 27)?
25) But what will happen to this after three and one half years?
INSIGHT: Our look at this will be taken up again in a later study. For now, consider the sovereignty of God. When Nebuchadnezzar reigned, Babylon seemed like an unstoppable force. But it came to an end, just as God said it would. And nations that were insignificant in Daniel’s time (Greece and Rome) took their place as world empires, just as God had said. Can we not, from this find renewed confidence that the kingdom of Christ, which will never pass away, is just as certain to come? God is still on the throne.