The Times of the Gentiles

 •  10 min. read  •  grade level: 11
This illuminating expression from the lips of our Lord is found in Luke 21:2424And they 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). It refers to the time when, Israel being set aside because of idolatry, God ordained that the Gentile should hold the government of the world. It ends with that power being set aside because of its wickedness, and God in sovereignty bringing in the Jew for blessing under the reign of Christ in His millennial kingdom.
It is twice presented pictorially in the book of Daniel —once in Nebuchadnezzar's dream of the great image as described in Daniel 2:31-4531Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. 32This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, 33His legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. 34Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. 35Then was the iron, the clay, the brass, the silver, and the gold, broken to pieces together, and became like the chaff of the summer threshingfloors; and the wind carried them away, that no place was found for them: and the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth. 36This is the dream; and we will tell the interpretation thereof before the king. 37Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. 38And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold. 39And after thee shall arise another kingdom inferior to thee, and another third kingdom of brass, which shall bear rule over all the earth. 40And the fourth kingdom shall be strong as iron: forasmuch as iron breaketh in pieces and subdueth all things: and as iron that breaketh all these, shall it break in pieces and bruise. 41And whereas thou sawest the feet and toes, part of potters' clay, and part of iron, the kingdom shall be divided; but there shall be in it of the strength of the iron, forasmuch as thou sawest the iron mixed with miry clay. 42And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. 43And whereas thou sawest iron mixed with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. 44And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever. 45Forasmuch as thou sawest that the stone was cut out of the mountain without hands, and that it brake in pieces the iron, the brass, the clay, the silver, and the gold; the great God hath made known to the king what shall come to pass hereafter: and the dream is certain, and the interpretation thereof sure. (Daniel 2:31‑45); and again in Daniel's vision of four beasts as described in Daniel 7:1-281In the first year of Belshazzar king of Babylon Daniel had a dream and visions of his head upon his bed: then he wrote the dream, and told the sum of the matters. 2Daniel spake and said, I saw in my vision by night, and, behold, the four winds of the heaven strove upon the great sea. 3And four great beasts came up from the sea, diverse one from another. 4The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it. 5And behold another beast, a second, like to a bear, and it raised up itself on one side, and it had three ribs in the mouth of it between the teeth of it: and they said thus unto it, Arise, devour much flesh. 6After this I beheld, and lo another, like a leopard, which had upon the back of it four wings of a fowl; the beast had also four heads; and dominion was given to it. 7After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. 8I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things. 9I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. 10A fiery stream issued and came forth from before him: thousand thousands ministered unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him: the judgment was set, and the books were opened. 11I beheld then because of the voice of the great words which the horn spake: I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame. 12As concerning the rest of the beasts, they had their dominion taken away: yet their lives were prolonged for a season and time. 13I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. 14And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. 15I Daniel was grieved in my spirit in the midst of my body, and the visions of my head troubled me. 16I came near unto one of them that stood by, and asked him the truth of all this. So he told me, and made me know the interpretation of the things. 17These great beasts, which are four, are four kings, which shall arise out of the earth. 18But the saints of the most High shall take the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever. 19Then I would know the truth of the fourth beast, which was diverse from all the others, exceeding dreadful, whose teeth were of iron, and his nails of brass; which devoured, brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with his feet; 20And of the ten horns that were in his head, and of the other which came up, and before whom three fell; even of that horn that had eyes, and a mouth that spake very great things, whose look was more stout than his fellows. 21I beheld, and the same horn made war with the saints, and prevailed against them; 22Until the Ancient of days came, and judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom. 23Thus he said, The fourth beast shall be the fourth kingdom upon earth, which shall be diverse from all kingdoms, and shall devour the whole earth, and shall tread it down, and break it in pieces. 24And the ten horns out of this kingdom are ten kings that shall arise: and another shall rise after them; and he shall be diverse from the first, and he shall subdue three kings. 25And he shall speak great words against the most High, and shall wear out the saints of the most High, and think to change times and laws: and they shall be given into his hand until a time and times and the dividing of time. 26But the judgment shall sit, and they shall take away his dominion, to consume and to destroy it unto the end. 27And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. 28Hitherto is the end of the matter. As for me Daniel, my cogitations much troubled me, and my countenance changed in me: but I kept the matter in my heart. (Daniel 7:1‑28).
The times of the Gentiles began with Nebuchadnezzar. God allowed him to make Israel tributary. He dethroned Judah's king and carried away the people captive. From then till the Lord comes to reign “the times of the Gentiles” run their course. It is interesting and instructive to see why this was allowed, namely, because of Israel's idolatry, and later on continued because of their great sin in rejecting their Messiah
Nebuchadnezzar was the first Gentile monarch to rule by divine right. The prophet Daniel addresses the Babylonian monarch with the words: “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory” (Dan. 2:3737Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. (Daniel 2:37)).
The times of the Gentiles run as follows, as typified by the great image seen by Nebuchadnezzar in his dream, and by the four beasts as seen by Daniel in his vision.
(1) Head of Gold = Lion = Babylonian Empire.
(2) Breast and Arms of Silver = Bear = Medo-Persian Empire.
(3) Belly and Thighs of Brass = Leopard = Grecian Empire.
(4) Legs of Iron, feet partly iron and partly clay = Fourth Beast = Roman Empire.
Evidently the vision given to Nebuchadnezzar emphasized the outward appearance of these world empires, whilst that given to the prophet presented the inner characteristics.
The Babylonian Empire existed at the time of these visions, but nothing short of inspired prophecy could have foretold the fall of that mighty empire, and the rise of other empires, whose course lay absolutely untracked by mortal vision in the vista of the approaching centuries. Daniel affords, then, a very remarkable proof of inspiration.
Not much is said about the first three empires. The main attention of inquiry is naturally fastened on the fourth—the Roman Empire,—as it is that empire which comes into importance in the last days.
Note the descending value of the materials of the composite image, as seen in vision by Nebuchadnezzar.
Gold,
Silver,
Brass,
Iron,
Clay,
thus illustrating the gradual decadence of supreme power, which had, as its highest illustration, Nebuchadnezzar.
We would ask the thoughtful student to turn to Daniel 7 in reading the description of the four beasts as seen in Daniel's vision. Just as the materials descended in value in Nebuchadnezzar's dream, so there is descending value seen in the beasts described in the prophet's vision.
Babylon.—Here we have majestic power presented to us under the figure of the lion; rapidity as set forth in the eagle's wings, but finally broken and subdued as seen in its being made to stand upon its feet as a man, and a man's heart given to it (see Dan. 7:44The first was like a lion, and had eagle's wings: I beheld till the wings thereof were plucked, and it was lifted up from the earth, and made stand upon the feet as a man, and a man's heart was given to it. (Daniel 7:4)). This is illustrated in the history of Nebuchadnezzar himself.
Medo-Persia.—Here power is presented to us under the figure of a bear. The impression given is that of a ferocious unwieldy power, and the two parts of the empire not being equal, as the beast raised up itself on one side more than on the other. This was seen in that Persia was the predominant power in the Medo-Persian Empire.
Greece.—Here power is presented to us under the figure of a leopard, speaking of rapidity. To this was added the further symbol of four wings of a fowl, emphasizing the idea of rapidity, though inferior to eagles' wings as set forth in Babylon. This imagery was fulfilled by the rapid conquests of Alexander the Great, who died in his early thirties, whilst the four-headed appearance of the leopard answered to Alexander's empire being divided by his four generals after his death.
Rome.—The terrible character of this empire could not be symbolized by a likeness to any known beast. Daniel describes it as— “dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all beasts that where before it; and it had ten horns” (Dan. 7:77After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. (Daniel 7:7)).
The wonderful Roman Empire was different from every empire that preceded it. It was not signalized by the complete autocracy of Babylon, for it passed through various phases of rule, that of kings, consuls, presidents, emperors, etc. Yet throughout all it was characterized by tremendous force and determination, coupled with a genius for taking time in which to call to itself ample power to deliberately carry out its purposes of aggrandizement.
It is this same beast that occupies the attention of the Apostle John. When he wrote, the three previous world-empires had passed into history, and he himself was a prisoner at Patmos in the power of the Roman Empire, whose revival in a future day he foretold. If we put Daniel and Revelation together we shall see that both books refer to the Roman Empire.
“After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. “I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things” (Dan. 7:7-87After this I saw in the night visions, and behold a fourth beast, dreadful and terrible, and strong exceedingly; and it had great iron teeth: it devoured and brake in pieces, and stamped the residue with the feet of it: and it was diverse from all the beasts that were before it; and it had ten horns. 8I considered the horns, and, behold, there came up among them another little horn, before whom there were three of the first horns plucked up by the roots: and, behold, in this horn were eyes like the eyes of man, and a mouth speaking great things. (Daniel 7:7‑8)).
“And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon [Satan] gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. “And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast” (Rev. 13:1-31And I stood upon the sand of the sea, and saw a beast rise up out of the sea, having seven heads and ten horns, and upon his horns ten crowns, and upon his heads the name of blasphemy. 2And the beast which I saw was like unto a leopard, and his feet were as the feet of a bear, and his mouth as the mouth of a lion: and the dragon gave him his power, and his seat, and great authority. 3And I saw one of his heads as it were wounded to death; and his deadly wound was healed: and all the world wondered after the beast. (Revelation 13:1‑3)).
It is instructive to note that whilst Daniel speaks of this beast as being “dreadful and terrible,” John, the Seer, tells it was like a leopard as a whole, its feet bearlike and its mouth lion-like, thus showing that whilst the Roman Empire has its own distinctive features, it inherits the characteristics of the three preceding empires.
Daniel tells us that this beast had ten horns, and that a little horn arose before whom three of the ten horns were plucked up by the roots, thus leaving seven horns, whereas there had been ten.
John, the Seer, beholds the beast as having seven heads and ten crowned horns. Thus John and Daniel agree, each presenting the matter in hand in his own distinctive way.
We come now to an important and interesting inquiry: What is the meaning of the deadly wound being healed? There is no doubt, we think, but that John in vision beholds the revived Roman Empire, which is still future, and which cannot come into definite existence till after the rapture of the Church. But whilst John sees it, as such, he does not, we think, ignore its past history. The Roman Empire will be resuscitated, and will not be a new thing.
The deadly wound, we believe, was the break-up of the imperial power of Rome by the Huns and Goths in the fifth century. For nearly fifteen hundred years the Roman Empire has not been in actual existence, though “the times of the Gentiles” are still running their course, as is very evident from the Savior's words in Luke 21. Palestine has been in Gentile hands from that day to this.
Before we answer our question, What is meant by the deadly wound being healed? we ask, Why has God allowed the Roman Empire to be broken up, necessitating its revival, for no such event as is betokened by the symbol of the stone cut out without hands smiting the feet of the image has ever taken place? It might be argued that the descent of the Huns and Goths into the Lombardy plain and their thundering at the gates of Rome itself might answer to this, but a careful reading of Daniel 2:3434Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. (Daniel 2:34), and 7:9-14, incontestably points to divine interposition, and that no less a person than the Lord Jesus is referred to as “a stone cut out without hands” (Dan. 2:3434Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces. (Daniel 2:34)), and that it is the Lord Himself who will set up the fifth world-empire, which shall stand forever.
Why then has God allowed the Roman Empire to be broken up for the moment? We believe the answer is very obvious. It was (consequent on the rejection of Christ by the Jews) the time chosen of God to carry out His wondrous designs concerning the Church—designs which were the subject of purpose between the Father and the Son in the past eternity.
Just as God put the Jew aside spiritually because of his rejection of his Messiah, and introduced the Church into heavenly blessing, so God set aside for the moment the Roman Empire governmentally because of its crucifying the Son of God, for we must remember that, although the Jews clamored for His death, yet it was under the Roman power that He suffered.
We believe then the being wounded to death was the break-up of the Roman Empire, though the dispersal of the Jews among the nations, and the Holy Land passing under the sway of first one Gentile power and then another, have continued the times of the Gentiles until now.
Although the healing of the deadly wound, that is the revival of the Roman Empire, is subsequent by many centuries to its infliction, that is the break-up of the Roman Empire, the Apostle John does not ignore the latter as a great fact in history. He mentions it to draw attention to its healing, which is still future. Few things will be so dramatic and awe-inspiring as the revival of the Roman Empire, in other words the healing of the deadly wound.
The Roman Empire, when revived, will run its course under the power of the beast, the over-lord over vast territory, and will be energized by the dragon, Satan, until the stone cut out without hands strikes the feet of the image and destroys it, or as Daniel tells us, “I beheld till the thrones were cast down... I beheld even till the beast was slain, and his body destroyed, and given to the burning flame” (Dan. 7:99I beheld till the thrones were cast down, and the Ancient of days did sit, whose garment was white as snow, and the hair of his head like the pure wool: his throne was like the fiery flame, and his wheels as burning fire. (Daniel 7:9) and 11).
How exact is the prophecy of our Lord in Luke 21. He foretold the destruction of the Temple, and it took place exactly as predicted; He foretold the terrors of the siege of Jerusalem, and it was the worst in history for bloodshed. He prophesied that the Jews should be led captive among all nations, and volumes could be written to show how literally this has been fulfilled. The phenomenon of a people, thus scattered and down-trodden, preserving its identity along the centuries, is the marvel of the world's history which cannot be explained on natural grounds. He likewise prophesied that the holy city should be trodden down of the Gentiles, and it has been, and will be till the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. Could prophecy be more exact and wonderful, proving beyond a doubt the inspiration of Christ and the Scriptures?