Times and Signs—Part 4

The Treading Down of Jerusalem

“Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” —Luke 21:24

JESUS’ prophecy concerning the treading down of Jerusalem was part of his answer to the disciples’ question, “What shall be the sign of thy coming [Greek, ‘presence’], and of the end of the world [age]?” (Matt. 24:3) It implies that when the time came that Jerusalem would no longer be trodden down by the Gentiles, the end of the age would be here, and the second presence of the Messiah would be a reality. This, then, is a ‘sign’ of vital importance to every student of prophecy. It is reasonable to conclude, we think, that in this prophecy the city of Jerusalem is used by Jesus as a symbol of the national polity of Israel. Jerusalem was the capital city of Israel, and would, therefore, properly stand for the nation, even as national capitals do today.

Toward the close of Jesus’ ministry he said to the religious rulers of Israel, and through them to the nation, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” (Matt. 23:37,38) Certainly the literal city of Jerusalem had never killed the prophets; but the people did who represented the nation of Israel. We believe that Jesus spoke in this same representative sense in his prophecy concerning Jerusalem being trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles were fulfilled.

Jesus’ expression, trodden down, is evidently a reference to the fact that Israel, at the time of his first advent, was not a free, but a subject nation, and had been for hundreds of years. The nation lost its national independence in 606 B.C., when its last king, Zedekiah, was overthrown by Nebuchadnezzar and the people taken captive to Babylon. Seventy years after this, under a decree issued by King Cyrus of the Medo-Persian Empire, the people were permitted to return to Israel, although still subject to Gentile authority.

The Medo-Persian Empire fell before the rising power of the Greeks, and the Grecian Empire, in turn, later came under the domination of the Romans; while Israel continued to be subject to each of these Gentile powers, and at the time of Jesus was being trodden down by Rome. In his prophecy, Jesus took note of this, and foretold that it would continue until the times of the Gentiles were fulfilled.

A Fixed Time

The Greek text indicates that the times of the Gentiles were to be a fixed time, not an indefinite period, and the Scriptures reveal clearly just how long this fixed time was to be. This information comes to light in a prophecy pertaining to God’s dealings with Israel, for in reality, while it is spoken of as the times of the Gentiles, it is actually a period of punishment upon Israel—punishment in the loss of national independence.

Through Moses, God entered into a covenant with Israel in which he promised to protect and bless the nation commensurate with their fidelity to him. The people were warned by God of the disciplinary punishments which would come upon them if disobedient; and, in the event that they did not learn their lesson from these, and continued in their wayward course, a more drastic and long-lasting punishment was prophesied. This is recorded in Leviticus 26:18,21,24,28. We quote from verses 12,14,16-18:

“I will walk among you, and will be your God, and ye shall be my people; … but if ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments, … I will set my face against you and ye shall be slain before your enemies: they that hate you shall reign over you. … And ye shall sow your seed in vain for your enemies shall eat it. … If ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then will I punish you seven times more [further] for your sins.”

This prophecy was stated with a degree of finality which makes it apparent that the ‘seven times more’ was to be a lasting and final punishment upon Israel that would come upon the nation because their sins had come to the full. It was to this situation that the Prophet Ezekiel evidently referred when he said to Israel’s last king, Zedekiah, “Thou profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end. Thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him.”—Ezek. 21:25-27

In order to understand the significance of this prophecy we must realize that Israel’s kings reigned as the representatives of God. Referring to the divine rulership of that nation through him, and his successors, David said in prayer to his God, “Thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all.” (I Chron. 29:11) This arrangement was typical of the real messianic kingdom which is later to be established in the hands of Christ.

It was this typical kingdom which came to an end with the overthrow of Zedekiah. It there ceased to function. It was overthrown until the antitypical kingdom should take its place, or until, as the Prophet Ezekiel stated it, “he come whose right it is.” This, unquestionably, is a reference to Christ. And, since it was with Zedekiah’s overthrow that Israel’s long and final period of punishment began, it must be from this point that the prophetic “seven times” began to count—that long period during which Jerusalem would be trodden down by the Gentiles.

Further Confirmation

It was Nebuchadnezzar and his armies that overthrew Israel’s last king, Zedekiah, and took the people captive to Babylon. Daniel, who was among these captives, became one of God’s outstanding holy prophets while serving in the Babylonish government, and was used by the Lord to focus attention on the great development which occurred in the divine plan when King Zedekiah of Israel was overthrown. In the Lord’s providence, this development is brought to light in connection with a dream given to Nebuchadnezzar, and recorded in Daniel 2:28-45. When the king awoke from his sleep he could not remember his dream, but he had been frightened by it, and sought the help of “the magicians, and the astrologers, and the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans” to recall his dream for him and to give the interpretation. (Dan. 2:2) These could give him no help. It was then arranged that Daniel should be given an opportunity to try.

With the Lord’s help, Daniel was able to relate the king’s dream to him, together with its interpretation. This was the dream in which Nebuchadnezzar saw a human-like image having a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, trunk and thighs of brass, and legs of iron. The feet and toes of this image were made of iron and clay. In his dream the king saw a stone cut out of the mountain without hands, which smote the image on its feet. Then the image fell, was ground to powder and blown away. The stone which smote the image grew until it became a great mountain that filled the whole earth.

In his interpretation of the dream, Daniel said to Nebuchadnezzar, “Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory. And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of heaven hath he given into thine hand, and bath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.”—vss. 37,38

Here is a remarkable statement. It indicates that now, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar, whatever authority God chose to exercise in the affairs of men, it would be through Gentile rulers rather than the typical kingdom of Israel, which Nebuchadnezzar himself had overthrown. Daniel explained further that Babylon would have successors, three in number, as represented by the silver, brass, and iron of the image. These are easily identified historically as Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome. It was in the days of the Roman Empire that Paul wrote, “The powers that be are ordained of God.”—Rom. 13:1

Let us not conclude from this, however, that God blessed the rulerships of these successive empires, or that he sanctioned everything they did. It is simply that throughout the centuries God permitted them to maintain a semblance of law and order in that part of the world in which he was dealing with the chosen ones whom he was preparing to be associated with Christ when the time came for him to establish the kingdom.—I Tim. 2:1,2

The Interpretation

Gentile nations had existed in the earth from the dawn of history. Powerful among these were Egypt, Assyria, Syria, and Babylon. Under Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon had become supreme, conquering that last island of resistance which was Israel. Even so, the Medes and Persians were threatening, and finally overthrew Babylon. It is clear, then, that the image Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream did not represent the mere fact that Gentile nations were now to exist, for this would have been no special change in the status of the world’s governments.

Much more than this was involved in the symbology of Nebuchadnezzar’s image, as Daniel reveals in his interpretation. “The God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom,” Daniel said to the king, and added, “Thou art this head of gold.” (vss. 37,38) In other words, the head of gold pictured the fact that the God of heaven had given Nebuchadnezzar a kingdom. This was a new development. God’s typical kingdom of Israel was overthrown, and now he had given dominion to a Gentile king. Here, obviously, must be the beginning of the ‘times of the Gentiles’.

Surely this was a strange situation. Beginning with Israel’s exodus from Egypt, no Gentile ruler had for long been permitted to oppress this chosen people of God. Pharaoh and his hosts were destroyed in the Red Sea; and many other signal victories had been scored over various Gentile rulers and armies. True, for brief periods God had permitted Gentile nations to oppress his people as chastisement; but when they repented, and called to their God for help, they were delivered.

Doubtless the Gentile nations generally knew of the dangers involved in attacking Israel. But now the king of Babylon had overthrown Israel’s ruler, and taken the people captive. Instead of himself being severely punished for this, or even destroyed, the God of Israel had said through one of his prophets, “The God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom. … Thou art this head of gold.”

Not long after this Nebuchadnezzar said, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30) For this show of pride the Lord removed the kingdom temporarily from Nebuchadnezzar. The record reads, “While the word was in the king’s mouth, there fell a voice from heaven, saying, O King Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken; the kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field: they shall make thee to eat grass as oxen, and seven times shall pass over thee, until thou know that the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will.”—Dan. 4:31,32

When the king had been properly humbled his reason returned, and he extolled the God of heaven, and, as he said, “I was established in my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added unto me.” (vss. 33-37) This experience served to further impress Nebuchadnezzar with the fact that Israel’s God, the God of heaven, was taking notice of his behavior, and interfering with his conduct when it pleased him to do so. This, in turn, would more firmly convince him that Jehovah had indeed given him a kingdom.

The Prophet Daniel became highly placed in the government of Babylon, and when it was overthrown he maintained his exalted position under the Medo-Persian rulers. Under these circumstances it would seem highly probable that Cyrus, for example, and his successors, would be impressed with the fact that Israel’s God was in some manner overruling in their affairs. Cyrus, in fact, announced, “The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah.”—Ezra 1:2

How true, then, was Daniel’s prophecy to Nebuchadnezzar, “After thee shall arise another,” to whom the statement would apply, “The God of heaven bath given thee a kingdom.” (Dan. 2:39,37) The Bible does not fill in the record of more than four centuries just prior to the first advent of Jesus. However, during that time the Greeks gained power and overthrew the Medo-Persian Empire, and then came the powerful Roman Empire, to which Israel was subject when Jesus came.

Thus we have the succession pictured by the gold (Babylon); the silver (Medo-Persia) (Dan. 8:20); the brass (Greece) (Dan. 8:21); and the iron (Rome). The intent of Daniel’s prophecy is that the same fact would apply to all these; namely, that the God of heaven would give them a kingdom. Indeed, as we have seen, Paul wrote that Rome had been ordained, or, as the marginal translation states, ‘ordered’, by God.

Actually, the symbology of Nebuchadnezzar’s image did not end with the legs of iron. There were also the feet and toes of iron and clay. This pictures a weakening and dividing of the Roman Empire, which we also know to be historically exactly what happened. The idea of divine rulership through the Roman Empire would continue on down to the various divisions of Rome. We should expect, of course, that this concept of government would, with the passing of centuries, become grossly distorted, and it did. It was this ideology that was once so much hailed in Europe as the “divine right of kings.”

Thus, briefly, we have traced the times of the Gentiles down through the centuries to our day. Now it is but proper to ask if the Scriptures give us the exact length of this period. They do; for since, as we have seen, the period of the times of the Gentiles was designed by God as one of punishment upon his typical people, Israel, the prophetic measurement of their period of punishment would be the measuring rod for which we are looking. Already we have discovered that this was to be a period of “seven times.”—Lev. 26:18,21,24,28

The “time” here referred to is the Jewish year of 360 days, and seven such “times” would therefore be 2,520 days. But these are symbolic, not literal times. Israel had periods of punishment exceeding seven literal years. Through the Prophet Ezekiel, the Lord gives us the key to a proper understanding of prophetic time. He said to Ezekiel, “I have appointed thee each day for a year.”—Ezek. 4:6

Considering a day as symbolic of a year, the prophetic seven times, or 2,520 days, would therefore be this number of years. Reliable secular history reveals that Zedekiah was overthrown, and Israel destroyed as a nation, in 606 B.C. Counting 2,520 years from 606 B.C. brings us to A.D. 1914. We all know that the year 1914 was one of the outstanding turning points in history, but let us examine what occurred then, and since, in the light of the prophecies pertaining to and associated with the times of the Gentiles.

Nation Reborn

First, let us recall the words of our text, “Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” If the times of the Gentiles were fulfilled in 1914, we should see evidence of a changed status of the Jewish people since then; and we do! As a rule, the time measurements of the Bible point out merely the beginning of events to which they apply, not the completion of those events, so we should not expect too much to occur in the one year of 1914.

The First World War started in 1914. It was a destructive war, as are all wars, but out of that struggle came a change of attitude on the part of some of the great powers toward the Jewish people. There was the Balfour Declaration, later implemented by the League of Nations, declaring the right of the Jewish people to build a national home for themselves in Palestine, the land that was promised to their fathers by God.

So far as human wisdom can determine, it would appear that had it not been for the World War and the conditions it brought about, this official declaration of the right of the Jewish people to a home in the Promised Land would never have been made. The Jewish people were quick to follow up this advantage, although many difficulties arose, some of which have not yet been overcome.

It seems that the British had made commitments to the Arabs which were in conflict with promises made to the Jewish people. This eventually led to the issuance of the ill-famed British White Paper denying all further right of Jews to seek a homeland in Palestine. There came also the bitter persecution of the Jewish people by the Nazi German government under Hitler. This, in turn, made it imperative for them to seek refuge in another land, and, of course, their hearts turned toward the Holy Land.

The situation became more and more tense as underground warfare increased against the Arabs. Finally the British withdrew their army of protection from Palestine, and soon the Arabs were defeated by the Israelites, and the State of Israel was formed. In quick succession, one after another of the great powers recognized this new state or nation, and in due course it became a member of the United Nations.

While there were many years of controversy and conflict involved, it was the First World War, beginning in 1914, which set up the circumstances, put the wheels in motion, and finally led to the establishment of Israel once more as an independent nation, no longer a vassal to other nations. True, conditions are much different in Israel now from what they were in ancient times. All nations are differently constituted than they were when Nebuchadnezzar was given dominion under the whole heaven by the God of heaven.

The point is that in the world of nations today, Israel has a part—a free part. She has her ambassadors in the world’s capitals; and most of the other nations have their ambassadors in Israel. Instead of being trodden down as a vassal nation, she is recognized as a free nation among nations. To be sure, Israel is a small nation, and she does not yet possess all the Promised Land. It is also true that Israel could easily be crushed as a nation. But these details do not mitigate against the fact that officially she is no longer trodden down by the Gentiles. She is struggling to improve her position, even as other nations are doing, but Israel is not subject to other nations.

Thus, when we recognize that Jesus, in his prophecy pertaining to Jerusalem and the times of the Gentiles, was not referring to the buildings and walls of the ancient city, but to the nation symbolized by that ancient capital, it becomes evident that the times of the Gentiles are now fulfilled. Since Jesus made this prophecy in answer to the disciples’ question concerning the sign of his second presence and the end of the age, it means that in this marvelous development we have positive proof that he has returned, and is even now preparing to set up his kingdom!

Divine Right of Kings

And there is another and equally revealing aspect of Jesus’ prophecy concerning the times of the Gentiles. We have noted in considerable detail that the human-like image which Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream did not represent simply the existence of Gentile nations, but more particularly the fact that God had granted a lease of power, or authority, to a certain line of Gentile kingdoms, beginning with Babylon. This was to be true of the empires pictured in turn by the gold, the silver, the brass, and the iron of the image. It was also to be true as foreshadowed by the feet and toes of the image, consisting of iron mixed with clay.

We have already noted that the divisions of the old Roman Empire were pictured by the toes of the image, and these were still in existence at the outbreak of the First World War. The various European countries involved in this picture still exist, but with few and unimportant exceptions, their governments have changed. Among the powerful of these were Russia, Germany, Italy, and Austria. Prior to the First World War these ruled by hereditary ruling houses, the offshoots of the old Roman Empire. They claimed that God had authorized them to rule, and he had.

But this authorization was to continue only until the end of the times of the Gentiles. If, then, the times of the Gentiles ended in 1914, we should expect to see changes in this old Roman Empire setup. And certainly we do. No one today thinks of any country in Europe as a segment of the Roman Empire. Italy, the very seat of the ancient Roman Empire, is now a republic.

Nor does the divine right of kings concept of government any longer exist, except, perhaps, in the wishful thinking of a few, petty, dethroned kings. Nor is anyone recommending a return to this form of government as a solution to the world’s problems. That which was established by divine decree and expressed by Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar when he said, “The God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom,” has been destroyed.

The prophecy states that when the stone smote the image the gold, the silver, the brass, and the iron were broken to pieces “together.” (Dan. 2:35) The empires involved in this prophecy each fell separately, not ‘together’. That they would fall ‘together’ suggests that there would be something common to all of them, which would continue throughout the entire times of the Gentiles, and not be destroyed until the ‘stone’ smote the image on its feet. We believe that this was the mandate, “The God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom.” And now this has ended.

This, in turn, would mean, Daniel explains, that “in the days of these kings [represented by the toes of the image] 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 forever.” (Dan. 2:44) This indicates that regardless of the ebb and flow of world conditions today, in which peace is promised today, and war threatened tomorrow, the meaning of all the chaotic years since 1914 is that the God of heaven is setting aside human rulership in preparation for the kingdom of the Messiah—that kingdom which eventually will establish God’s will in the earth, even as it is now in heaven. For that kingdom may we continue to pray!

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