Take the 2-minute tour ×
Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for professors, theologians, and those interested in exegetical analysis of biblical texts. It's 100% free, no registration required.

To what does Luke refer, when he records Jesus’ phrase: "the times of the gentiles" (Luke 21:24)?

Young's Literal Translation renders the verse in question as follows:

“and they shall fall by the mouth of the sword, and shall be led captive to all the nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by nations, till the times of nations be fulfilled.

The Apostle Paul makes allusion to something called the “fullness of the Gentiles” in the following passage.

Rom 11:25-27 (NASB)
25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

 “The Deliverer will come from Zion,   
  He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”   
  27 “This is My covenant with them,   
  When I take away their sins.”

But are the two expressions related? My understanding is that “the times of the Gentiles” has to do with the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 (Luke 21:20) as a precursor of a future time of tribulation (Rev 19:19).

But is that a reasonable or legitimate interpretation?

share|improve this question
1  
Your own interpretation you are asking to validate isn't clear to me. I understand the verse as meaning the Jews are taken into captivity in 70/120 AD and that Jerusalem is never rebuilt from that point forward (i.e. no temple) until the end of time basically. I'm not sure if that's the same as your theory or not. –  david brainerd Jul 26 at 0:52
1  
@Richard I have difficulty with your question: 1) Are you merely asking for exegesis on "Times of the Gentiles"? That would be a good question. 2) Are you asking if the interpretation of "Times of the Gentiles" supports a Futurist/Dispensational hermeneutic? That would also be a good question, providing you cited your source for (1). Are you attempting to extrapolate a different meaning than what you quoted? You could address it by "answering your question" or ask a question stating your meaning(with support). –  user2479 Jul 26 at 2:53
    
Hi Richard, I think the question needs just a bit more clarification as we aren't sure whet you intent is (see discussion in The Library starting here –  Jack Douglas Jul 27 at 11:57
    
Thank you for the helpful comments - I have attempted to edit this question in line with the comments received. –  Richard Jul 30 at 8:13

2 Answers 2

The Idea in Brief

The "Times of the Gentiles" is the period of time when the visible theocratic kingdom on earth is absent. That is, when the visible theocratic kingdom on earth existed, the Biblical referent of time was in reference to what Jewish ruler(s) were in power. When the theocratic kingdom on earth ended with the departure of the glory of the Lord (before the Babylonian Captivity), the Hebrew Bible then referenced Gentile powers as the referent of time. This Gentile rulership began at the time of the Babylonian Captivity, and continues to this day, and therefore the fulfillment of the Times of the Gentiles awaits a future day, when the visible theocratic kingdom will be established again on earth.

Discussion

In the Hebrew Bible, the theocratic kingdom began at Sinai, when the glory of Yahveh dwelt (glory-dwelled = "shekinah") in the Tabernacle and later in Solomon's Temple. First Moses, the judges, and then the Jewish kings were the representatives of the leadership of this theocratic kingdom on earth. That is, Yahveh was the Head of State.

Therefore the referents of time in the Hebrew Bible were not based on the age of the world, but based on the reigns of these respective Jewish leaders at the time. For example, Hebrew Scripture references the reigns of the Jewish kings as time referents, since they had represented the leadership of the theocratic kingdom (even when divided).

1 Kings 16:23 (NASB)
23 In the thirty-first year of Asa king of Judah, Omri became king over Israel and reigned twelve years; he reigned six years at Tirzah.

That is, the rule of Jewish kings was the basis of gauging time, since their rulership was the nominal extension of the authority of Yahveh, who was the Head of State of the theocratic kingdom, even if divided. The laws of this kingdom came from the Torah.

However, when the Babylonian Captivity occurred, the glory of Yahveh had departed the Temple and this theocratic kingdom on earth ended: thus the reign of Jewish kings had terminated (and so there was no longer any more referent of time based on the reign of any Jewish kings). At this time the prophet Daniel introduced the images of reigning Gentile powers on earth as rapacious animals, which one day would end. So post-exilic Hebrew Scripture such as Zechariah and Haggai reference the reigns of these Gentile powers (and not Jewish kings), and so these references are to the times of the reference of reigning Gentile powers on earth versus any Jewish power -- thus "the Times of the Gentiles." The following graph provides an overview of "the Times of the Gentiles."

The last eight chapters of Ezekiel (approximately 20% of the book) concerns dozens of measurements, which suggest the literal establishment of the new temple, where the glory of Yahveh will one day dwell. (The dozens of references to precise measurements with a ruling measuring rod suggest that this temple is literal.) It was in this context of the apocalyptic end that Jesus was alluding in Luke 21:24 to the fulfillment or completion of the "Times of the Gentiles," when Gentile rule would end in the world in general and over the Promised Land in particular. That is, Jesus was alluding to the time when these rapacious Gentile powers would no longer dominate the earth.

At the current time (today) we are living in the invisible kingdom of God (under the New Covenant), where the temple is the body of the believer in the individual and collective sense. That is, the believer operates in the kingdom of God while on earth (please see Acts 26:16-18 and Col 1:13). Since this kingdom is invisible, there is no exercise of direct theocratic authority on earth. That is, there is no direct exercise of the Torah within this invisible kingdom.

So the "Times of the Gentiles" refers to this indefinite period of time on earth, which will one day end when the Lord comes back to earth to reestablish his rule and authority on the earth, when "the nations will be broken with a rod of iron and shattered like earthenware" (Ps 2:9 with Rev 2:26-27, Rev 12:5, and Rev 19:15). The Apostle Paul is making the same reference to the fulfillment of the Times of the Gentiles, which will inaugurate the Zionic era.

Rom 11:25-27 (NASB)
25 For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; 26 and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,

 “The Deliverer will come from Zion,   
  He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”   
  27 “This is My covenant with them,   
  When I take away their sins.”

In conclusion, Scripture points to the literal establishment of the theocratic kingdom on earth at some point in the future, which will be centered on the Temple described by Ezekiel (and which translates into the eternal Zionic Jerusalem described in Revelation 21:10-27, where the measuring rod appears again suggesting literal events and objects).

Conclusion

The "Times of the Gentiles" is the period of time when the visible theocratic kingdom on earth is absent.

share|improve this answer

"THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES" - TO WHAT DOES THIS REFER? (Luke 21:24)

“The times of the gentiles” is one of those phrases that is all too often lifted out of its context and invested with a meaning much wider than that originally intended.

The phrase itself sits within the specific context of Jesus’ Olivet prophecy, which all three synoptists record (Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21). Luke alone gives us the phrase “the times of the gentiles” (the Greek word ethnos being rendered “nations” elsewhere in the same chapter and even in the same verse): “And they [the inhabitants of Judea v.21] shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24).

Matthew’s account regards this same event as a time of "...great tribulation, such as was not since the beginning of the world to this time, no, nor ever shall be" (Matt 24:21) and that, for the elect’s sake, this period of tribulation would be shortened (v.22), indicating that a relatively brief timeframe is in view. That this period of “tribulation” refers to something which the generation of Jesus’ own day would, themselves, experience is made clear from the damning statements made by Jesus, which Matthew records for us in the previous chapter (Matt 23:33-38).

Robert Young’s literal version, transliterates the Greek ethnos as ‘nations’ which is consistent with its rendering elsewhere in the same passage: “…and they shall fall by the mouth of the sword, and shall be led captive to all the nations, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by nations, till the times of nations be fulfilled” (Luke 21:24 Young’s Literal Translation).

Although not a literal translation, the God’s Word version, using the CNE (Closest Natural Equivalent) method of translation, correctly, in my opinion, communicates the meaning of this passage as follows: “Swords will cut them down, and they will be carried off into all nations as prisoners. Nations will trample Jerusalem until the times allowed for the nations [to do this] are over” (Luke 21:24 God’s Word Translation).

Some, like many premillennialists (I am a ‘perennialist’ Isa 9:7) may argue that the phrase ‘times of the gentiles’ refers to a period of history, lasting many centuries, during which there has been no ‘theocratic kingdom on earth’. However, I find no justification for this view in the context of Luke's account of the Olivet prophecy (i.e. the imminent fall of the city of Jerusalem and its temple). Also, there were ruling empires in the world before there was ever a nation Israel. Does that mean there were ‘gentile times’ long before there were ‘times of the gentiles’? This idea doesn’t appear to be well founded and seems so out of context with the whole theme of Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21. The prophecy isn’t about non-Israelite nations being dominant or of a "theocratic kingdom" ceasing to exist, but, specifically, about Jerusalem being ‘trodden down’ by a foreign army or armies. This is clearly the context of the passage.

The period during which the city of Jerusalem was overrun and destroyed along with its temple, was about three and a half years (similar it would appear to the timeframe referred to in the apocalypse (Rev 12:6; 11:2) with its symbolic reference to a future time of tribulation (“a time, times and half a time”) and with reference to a very different ‘temple’ and ‘holy city’ (as John clearly regards the then and present, physical city of Jerusalem as anything but holy (Rev 11:8).

share|improve this answer

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.