Times of the Gentiles

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Many end-time prophecies focus on events that will occur in the Middle East and involve the city of Jerusalem. Here is how Jesus described one crucial end-time event...


Are we approaching a pivotal turning point in history? Are ancient prophecies coming alive today? When Jesus was asked, "What will be the sign of Your coming, and of the end of the age?" He did not avoid the question! He told His disciples to watch for a constellation of specific events: the rise of militant religious activity, the spread of ethnic violence and war, the turbulence of weather (droughts, floods and natural disasters), the tragedy of food shortages and famines, and the tumult of economic disruptions.

Many Bible prophecies describe this troubled end of the age as "the times of the Gentiles"—a time when resurgent Gentile nations will again dominate the global stage. Those ancient prophecies are coming alive today. What do they mean?

Ancient Prophecies

Many end-time prophecies focus on events that will occur in the Middle East and involve the city of Jerusalem. Here is how Jesus described one crucial end-time event: "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near… for these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled" (Luke 21:20–22). Christ also foretold that, "Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" (Luke 21:24). The Greek word for trampled means "trodden down, under the heel of" and this phrase has been variously translated, "Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the heathen… by foreigners… pagan feet will tread Jerusalem" and many of the city's inhabitants will be carried captive into other nations (Luke 21:24). The phrase "until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" is also translated: "until their day is over," or "until the time granted to the Gentile nations has run out" or "until the time of heathen domination will have come to an end" (see The New Testament from 26 Translations). The Apostle John writes that near the end of the age, the outer court of the Temple in Jerusalem will be "given to the Gentiles. And they will tread the holy city under foot for forty-two months [1,260 days or 31⁄2 years]" (Revelation 11:1–2). The word translated "Gentile" refers to those not descended from the ancient tribes of Israel and Judah, and thus refers to nations such as Germany, Russia, China and Egypt, which will play a part in the fulfillment of end-time prophecy.

These New Testament prophecies reiterate and expand ancient prophecies found in the Old Testament. Zechariah foretold that during the "Day of the Lord" at the end of the age, God will "gather all the nations to battle against Jerusalem; the city shall be taken… Half of the city shall go into captivity" (Zechariah 14:1–2). The "half" that goes into captivity will probably be East Jerusalem—the Jewish half! Ezekiel described the "Day of the Lord" as a "day of clouds, the time of the Gentiles" (Ezekiel 30:3). Daniel prophesied that just before Jesus Christ's return, the world will be dominated by the final revival of a Gentile power with historical roots in the Roman Empire (Daniel 2:40–45). Daniel foretold that an evil end-time leader of this European-based "Beast power" will stop the daily sacrifices in Jerusalem, and will set up a "transgression of desolation" (Daniel 8:13), in which the sanctuary and people of Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot—just as Jesus warned (Matthew 24:15; Luke 21:24).

Perilous Times Ahead

What will the "times of the Gentiles" be like? Will a world dominated by Gentile governments bring peace to the earth? Notice how Jesus predicted that the end of the age will see religious and ethnic strife, wars and rumors of wars, the spread of disease, natural disasters and the persecution of those who believe in the truth of Scripture (Matthew 24:3–10). Jesus warned that during this period of Gentile domination, "there will be great tribulation, such as has not been since the beginning of the world until this time, no, nor ever shall be. And unless those days were shortened, no flesh would be saved"—unless God intervenes in world affairs (Matthew 24:21–22).

The Apostle Paul warned: "In the last days, perilous times will come"—times characterized by selfishness, greed, callous and inhuman actions, loose morals, pursuit of sensual pleasures, superficial religiosity and hatred of biblical values (2 Timothy 3:1–5). Paul also foretold that "in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons, speaking lies in hypocrisy… forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from foods" (1 Timothy 4:1–3). Paul foresaw that in the times of the Gentiles, demonic spirits and deceptive ideas would lead people to pervert the truth of Scripture, and to invent their own non-biblical doctrines instituting celibacy, vegetarianism and other practices in place of God's own plain laws.

The Apostle John adds another prophetic detail, explaining why the times of the Gentiles will be so terrible: "And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon.… that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels [demons] were cast out with him.… Woe to the inhabitants of the earth… For the devil has come down to you, having great wrath, because he knows that he has a short time" (Revelation 12:7–12). Jesus will need to return, to stop total disaster on the earth!

Return of the Gentiles

Are "the times of the Gentiles" really approaching? Have we arrived at a crucial turning point in history? Are biblical prophecies actually coming alive today? When we look at the grand sweep of history, and consider what scholars in international relations understand, the answer should be obvious. Over the last 400 years, the nations of Western Europe and the ideas of Western civilization have dominated and shaped the world. England amassed a global empire, and the United States became not only the richest, most powerful nation the world has ever seen, but also the guarantor of global stability. The dramatic rise to power of England and the U.S. is unique in world history, and fulfilled Bible prophecies about the Israelites—the descendants of Jacob and Joseph (see "Does God Guide World Affairs?" on page 22 of this issue).

In recent decades, however, this picture began to change, and another dramatic shift is now underway. As historian Samuel Huntington has noted, scholars acknowledge that in the last 50 years "the expansion of the West" came to a close and "the revolt against the West began" (The Clash of Civilizations, p. 53). Regarding the "fading of the West," Huntington wrote: "European colonialism is over; American hegemony is receding… We are witnessing 'the end of the progressive era' dominated by Western ideologies and seeing instead a 'revolt against the West'"—the "re-Islamization" of Muslim societies, the "Hinduization" of politics in India and the "Asianization" of countries in the Far East—as non-Western nations reassert the superiority of their values and strive to become powerful players on the world stage (ibid., pp. 91–95). Looking at present-day geopolitics, Huntington states, "Power is shifting from the long predominant West to non-Western civilizations" (ibid., p. 29). An Asian critic of the West observes, "For the first time since… 1948, countries not thoroughly steeped in the Judeo-Christian natural law traditions are in the first rank. That unprecedented situation will define the new international politics of human rights. It will also multiply the occasions for conflict" (ibid., pp. 196–197).

For scholars who study world affairs, the years just ahead appear ominous. Huntington concludes, "On a worldwide basis, civilization seems in many respects to be yielding to barbarism, generating the image of an unprecedented phenomenon, a global Dark Ages, possibly descending on humanity… clashes of civilizations are the greatest threat to world peace" (ibid., p. 321). Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as National Security Adviser to U.S. President Jimmy Carter, has written that "the only real alternative to American global leadership… is international anarchy" (The Grand Chessboard, p. 195). Such conclusions about the decline of the West—primarily about the fall of nations descended from ancient Israel—echo end-time biblical prophecies about the "times of the Gentiles" that will mark the end of this age. We are living at a pivotal turning point of history as these prophecies come alive today!

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