The Times of the Gentiles
June 18th, 1967 @ 8:15 AM
THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-18-67 8:15 a.m.
On the radio, you are sharing the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the morning message. It is the center message, the middle message, of a trilogy. Last Sunday, Israel in the Consummation of the Age; this coming Lord’s Day – and I so hope that you will be able to listen to the message next Sunday morning, it is entitled The Christian’s Triumph. It has to do with the broad sweep of all the issues of history of heaven and earth in which we are involved and God’s purposes of grace in us, That Better Thing Which God Hath Prepared For Us; that will be the service next Sunday morning.
Now this Sunday, the message is a delineation of the meaning of some of these references in God’s Book, the times of the Gentiles and the fullness of the Gentiles. One is a matter of history, the other is a matter of election. I shall read the context of the verses: in Luke chapter 21 our Lord is prophesying the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, a prophecy which came to pass in 70 AD. And in speaking of that prophecy, He made a reference, "The Times of the Gentiles." Now this is the context, "And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh" [Luke 21:20]. "They shall fall by the edge of the sword, and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" [Luke 21:24].
That is our first phrase, the times of the Gentiles; "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" [Luke 21:24]. Now the second phrase is, the fullness of the Gentiles [Romans 11:25]; and this is in Romans 11. I start reading at verse 25:
For I would not have you, brethren, that ye should be without knowledge of this mustērion, this mystery, this secret in God’s heart, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles –
That’s our second phrase:
until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.
And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, there shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob:
For this is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.
As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election –
Remember, I said the times of the Gentiles is a matter of history, the fullness of the Gentiles is a matter of election:
as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.
For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
Now there are three classes of people, according to the Word of God. And those three are separately named in 1 Corinthians 10:32. I will read the whole verse, "Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God." There are three classes of people in the Bible, and all the way through, all the way through those three are separately presented. If you get them mixed up, you will find the Bible an enigma, a morass, you will understand it not. If you will keep those three classes distinctly separate, according to the Word of God, the Bible will be an open Book unto you. Three classes of people: the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God.
Now we’re going to speak of these three in order that we can understand what God means when He refers to "the times of the Gentiles" [Luke 21:24], and the to the "fullness of the Gentiles" [Romans 11:25], and to the election of grace that is incarnate in the calling out of His church, the ekklēsia, the people of God [1 Corinthians 10:32].
First, the Jews: in Genesis 14:13, Abraham is called "the Hebrew," the first time the word is used. The first Hebrew was Abraham. Doubtless semitically, semantically the word Hebrew comes from the Hebrew avar which means "to cross over." He crossed over the Euphrates River into the land of Palestine, into Canaan [Genesis 12:1, 5]. So he was called "the one who crossed over," a Hebrew. His son was named Isaac [Genesis 21:3]. And Isaac’s son was named Jacob [Genesis 25:24-26]. But in the Book of Genesis chapter 32, his name was changed from Jacob to Israel, the prince of God [Genesis 32:28].
Now Israel had twelve sons. And those twelve sons became patriarchs of the twelve tribes of Israel [Genesis :1-28]. They were together, all twelve of them, through the reign of King Solomon. But after the death of Solomon the country was divided and ten of those tribes formed the kingdom of Israel with their capital at Samaria [1 Kings 12:16-20, 16:24]. And the two southern tribes, Benjamin and Judah, were called the kingdom of Judah [2 Chronicles 11:12]. So those two kingdoms lived side by side for a long time; Israel, the northern ten tribes and Judah, the southern two tribes.
In 722 BC, Sargon came with an army of Assyria and destroyed the northern ten-tribe kingdom, and carried the northern ten tribes of Israel into Assyria, into Nineveh [2 Kings 17:6]. The Southern Kingdom continued until Nebuchadnezzar came in 606 BC, and again in 598 BC, and again in 587 BC [2 Kings 24-25]. And Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Southern Kingdom of Judah and carried Judah captive into Babylon [2 Chronicles 26:20]. Because of the extension of the Southern Kingdom, Judah, for about two hundred years, and because of their return after the captivity to Palestine, they returned, began returning in 536 BC, after a seventy year captivity – with a fair representation of the other ten tribes [2 Chronicles 36:21; Ezra 2:1].
Because the world came to know the Hebrew as "the Judahs" they came to be called Jews, "Judahs." Jews is a shortened from of Judahs. And the world, by its popular nomenclature, came to apply that word Judahs or "Jews," to all of the tribes. All of the tribes are known today, and have been for many centuries, as Judahs, as Jews.
Now, in their returning to Palestine, they sought to rebuild their nation and their city and their temple, and they achieved it to a great extent [Ezra 6:4; Nehemiah 6:15-16]. But beginning with Nebuchadnezzar they were never free; not until this day. You’re living in an end-time, in the consummation of history. They have never been free except for a few very brief years under the Maccabees.
Now, that leads to the second class of people in the Bible, and to the expression "the times of the Gentiles" [Luke 21:24]. Beginning with Nebuchadnezzar [Jeremiah 27:6], the times of the Gentiles began. And the times of the Gentiles [Luke 21:24] refers to a very definite chronological period in the mind of God, and known to God. It started at a very definite time; it follows a very definite course of history; and it ends at a very definite time. The times of the Gentiles is an historical period, a chronological period in the mind of God.
Now, let’s look at its beginning, let’s look at its course, let’s look at its ending. First, its beginning: the times of the Gentiles began with the destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem and of the kingdom of Judah, of the Jews, under Nebuchadnezzar in 606, in 598, in 587 BC [2 Kings 24-25]. For example, Jeremiah the prophet said in the twenty-seventh chapter of his prophecy:
And now have I given all these lands, the land of Palestine in Canaan, these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son, until the very time of his land come.
Then the prophecy continues, and I haven’t time to follow it.
This is the beginning of the times of the Gentiles, when God took the land of Palestine and placed it in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar [Jeremiah 27:6-7]. God does it, He says here in the prophecy, as a judgment against the unbelief and rejection of His people, Israel [Jeremiah 26:2-6]. Now that’s the beginning. The times of the Gentiles is a historical period with a very definite beginning, with a very definite course, and with a very definite ending.
Now, let’s follow its course: the times of the Gentiles [Luke 21:24] is a very definite course of history, and it is revealed in Daniel the prophet [Daniel 2:31-45].
I am so eager to begin the series of sermons on Daniel. I shall begin them this coming fall; I announced I was going to begin it last fall, then I was kept from my studying so much, I announced I was going to begin it in the wintertime. Then I was kept from my studying so much, I announced I was going to begin it last spring; then I was kept from studying, and I announced I was going to begin it this summer. I now announce I’m going to begin it this fall, the Lord granting. The Book of Daniel is one of the tremendous open doors God has given us in the Bible.
Now the course of the times of the Gentiles [Luke 21:24] is revealed in the prophet Daniel. Now I’ll go through it briefly. He saw a great image [Daniel 2:31]. The head of the image was of gold, and the breast and arms of the image was of silver, and the thighs, the middle part of the torso, was of brass, and the two legs were of iron, and the feet and toes were part iron and part clay. And a great stone cut with out hands came from the mountain and smote the image on its feet and it was destroyed, it ended [Daniel 2:32-35]. Then Daniel gave the interpretation thereof, and this is the course of the history of the Gentiles [Daniel 2:36-45], all of which time Judah and Jerusalem shall be trodden underfoot by the nations of the earth [Luke 21:24].
First, that head of gold, that complete, unalloyed monarchy represented the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar, Babylon [Daniel 2:38]; and that kingdom began in 606 BC. Then that breast and the two arms of silver represented the Median-Persian Empire [Daniel 2:32, 39], the Medo-Persian Empire, which was founded by Cyrus in 536 BC. Then this torso, the thighs of brass [Daniel 2:32, 39], represented the kingdom of the Greeks under Alexander which began about 332 BC. Then, the legs of iron [Daniel 2:33, 40] represented the Roman Empire, which is the last world empire. There will never be another world empire, not according to the Word of God [Daniel 2:44-45]. The United States will not be able to conquer the whole world, nor will Russia, nor will China, nor will any other nation, ever. The last world empire, according to the revelations to Daniel, was the Roman Empire. And the Roman Empire, as you know, with Judah, began in about 62 BC.
Then, it was revealed to Daniel that after the course of these great empires, the feet was of iron and of clay, and the ten toes; that is, there would be no more great universal empire in the world, but the world would be made up of different nations, a plurality of nations [Daniel 2:33-35, 42-44]. Some of them strong, like iron; some of them weak, like clay; and God says that is going to be the final part of the times of the Gentiles until the end. It will be part iron and part clay. The world will be made up partly of strong nations of iron, and partly of weak nations of clay. Then at the consummation of the age, according to Daniel, there will come a stone, cut without hands, out of the mountain, and will strike that image, this course of human history, on its feet, not on the legs or the breast or the head, but on the feet [Daniel 2:34-35, 45]; that is, this great final consummation of the coming of Christ shall be at the end time. And this stone, grows until it fills the whole earth [Daniel 2:35, 45]; a kingdom which Daniel describes as shall abide forever. It shall never have an end.
Now, we’ve spoken of the beginning of the times of the Gentiles [Luke 21:24]; that was under Nebuchadnezzar [Daniel 2:38]. We have spoken now of the course of the times of the Gentiles – the human history in which Gentiles dominate the Promised Land and Jerusalem [Daniel 2:31-35, 38-44].
We now come to the revelation in Daniel of the end of the times of the Gentiles [Daniel 9:20-27]. And here we must wait for a full discussion until I begin preaching through the Book of Daniel. I can but summarize so briefly, and I am afraid, more confusingly than lucidly, but I can summarize briefly the end of the days of the Gentiles. They are described with great meticulous care in the Apocalypse in the Revelation, the last book of the New Testament [Revelation 5:1-22:21]. And they are referred to in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel.
In the revelation that was given to Daniel, he is told that "seventy weeks of years are determined upon My people, until the end" [Daniel 9:24]. Seventy weeks of years would be seven times seven, four hundred ninety years. When Daniel received this prophecy there was four hundred ninety years left in God’s dealings with Israel until the end time, until the consummation of the age, until the end of history.
Now, in this prophecy, in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel, that four hundred ninety years is divided into two great separate parts: seven and sixty-two of those week years, sixty-nine of them are here in one place, sixty-nine [Daniel 9:25]. But the seventieth one is apart, is apart [Daniel 9:27]. Sixty-nine of those seventy weeks of years is here, and it follows a definite course until the crucifixion of the Messiah. From the days of the beginning of the decree for the rebuilding of Jerusalem until the crucifixion of the Messiah is to be four hundred eighty-three years [Daniel 9:26]. And that prophecy came to truth, came true exactly. From the decree of Artaxerxes Longimanus, the king of the Persian Empire, to rebuild Jerusalem [Ezra 7:13-26], until the death of the Messiah was exactly four hundred eighty-three years.
Now that, those sixty-nine weeks, are in one part of the prophecy, but there were seventy weeks of years; there’s one week left. And that week of years is separated in an altogether different context in the Revelation [Revelation 11:2]. And that seventieth week is the final week of world history. It is divided into two parts; and that’s where you get the reference "a time times and half a time" [Revelation 12:14]; a time times and divided of time, or three and one half years, or forty-two months [Revelation 13:5], or one thousand two hundred sixty days [Revelation 12:6], which time reference you will find again and again in Daniel and in the Revelation.
Now, the Revelation, the Revelation is an apocalypse presenting that last week; that’s what the Revelation is. The first three chapters of the Revelation follow the course of the church [Revelation 1:1-3:22], and that’ll be our third class, and we’ll speak of that in a moment. The first three chapters of the Apocalypse, of the Revelation, follow the course of the church through all of its seven periods; from the apostolic days, the Ephesian church, to the climactic and final days, the Laodicean church [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. These three chapters follow the course of this age. Beginning at the fourth chapter of the Revelation, the church is raptured, they are snatched away, they are taken up into heaven [Revelation 4:1].
My brethren, flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of
God . . .
But I show you a mustērion, a mystery: We shall not all sleep, we shall not all die, but we shall all be changed,
In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, the dead in Christ shall be raised, and we shall all be raptured, changed, taken up to glory.
[1 Corinthians 15:50-52]
And beginning at the rapture of the church and the resurrection of the dead, we have, from chapter 4 in Revelation through chapter 19 in the Revelation, this final week; the great final week in which God deals with Israel and with history and with the nations of the earth. Now, in that final week it consummates in the battle of Armageddon. The week closes in a tremendous campaign, a tremendous war called the battle of Armageddon: and I saw, in the sixteenth chapter of the Revelation, unclean spirits like frogs enticing, deceiving the nations of the earth; they are the spirits of evil ones:
And they go forth to the ends of the earth to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty.
And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon, the hill of Megiddo, before the plain of Esdraelon, the battle of Armageddon.
[Revelation 16:13-14, 16]
There is a great deal in the Bible, there is much in the Bible about that final war, the battle of Megiddo. For example, in the sixty-third chapter of the Book of Isaiah:
Who is this that cometh from Edom, with dyed garments from Bozrah? He that is glorious in His apparel, traveling in the greatness of His strength?
Wherefore art Thou red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like him that treadeth in the winepress?
Then he replies:
I will tread them in Mine anger, and trample them in My fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments, and I will stain all of My garments.
For the day of vengeance is in Mine heart; and the year of My redeemed has come.
In the great intervention of God in human history, in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, it says, "And His garments are red, stained scarlet" [Revelation 19:13], and of course the spiritualizer says, "Well that’s because He is the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world." That’s because people don’t know the Bible and they don’t listen to what it says, His garments are stained with blood:
Behold I saw heaven opened and a white horse; and He that sat upon it was Faithful and True, in righteousness doth He make war.
His eyes are as a flame of fire, and on His head are many crowns,
He was dressed in a vesture dipped in blood: and His name is called The Word of God.
So, the "vesture dipped in blood," that refers, according to the Bible, "to Him who is glorious, who is coming from Bozrah; and His garments are red" [Isaiah 63:1-2], that is, in the blood of His enemies; the great final Conqueror [Revelation 19:11-16].
Now, I want you to see how that end message, "and the wine press, the grapes of the earth, were gathered" [Revelation 14:19]. The earth is ripe for the judgment of Almighty God, "And the angel thrust in his sickle," this is the passage you read, and the vines of the grapes of the earth, the vine was gathered:
And the winepress was trodden without the city,
and blood came out up to the horse’s bridles,
by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs.
Two hundred miles, from Bozrah in Edom to Armageddo in Galilee is exactly one thousand six hundred furlongs, two hundred miles.
Now in days past, I used to wonder how is it that such a thing could ever be that there would be that many people there? And second: if they were there, how could that many people be slain that for two hundred miles "blood up to a horse’s bridle" [Revelation 14:20], how could such a thing be? Then the answer came in the development of history. One: the reason those armies are going to be there is they are enticed by the spirits of evil [Revelation 16:13-16], "the kings of the east" [Revelation 16:12]. The ninth chapter of the Book of Revelation says, "The king of the east will be there with two hundred million soldiers" [Revelation 9:16]. The king of the east is China and India and all Asia. They will be there with two hundred million soldiers [Revelation 9:16] – just one army! And the king of the north, that’s Russia, will come down with his millions, and the whole Western world will confront it with their millions; that’s going to be the great battle of the Lord God Almighty, the battle of Armageddon. All right, now the second question: how is it they’re going to be there? They are enticed by the spirits of evil [Revelation 16:13-16], and they’re working today [1 John 4:3].
Second: how could so many be slain? [Revelation 14:20]. And I used to wonder at that. When I was a boy – and I lived through World War [I] with vivid remembrance – in World War [I] they dug trenches from one side of France to the other. And for years, the German artillery and infantry fought on that side of the trench. And for years, the Allies fought on this side of the trench with artillery and infantry. And years passed, and that line stayed pretty much the same, the "Von Hindenburg Line." And they fought for years, seesawing back and forth from one trench to the other. But in the providences of history, you’ll find no more ultimate great powers fighting like that; for there has been invented the atomic bomb. And even the bloodthirsty Reds of China now have the hydrogen bomb. And now, I can see as God has prophesied and revealed centuries ago, now I can see how it is that those millions and millions and millions and millions are going to be slain. This final war will be fought with atomic fission, with hydrogen and atomic bombs. And that’s why the carnage and the bloodshed is so vast and so great.
Now, ah, I need a little moment; the third is the church. The Jews, the Gentiles, the church [1 Corinthians 10:32]. What does it mean? What does it mean? The fullness of the Gentiles [Romans 11:25], the times of the Gentiles [Luke 21:24] refers to a chronological period in history. The fullness of the Gentiles, "blindness in part is happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles" ; that refers to the election of grace, the plērōma of the Gentiles, "until the plērōma" that is "the full number." There is a certain number that God knows who are going to be saved, the plērōma, the fullness of the Gentiles. And when that number is filled, then the rapture, the taking away of God’s people from the earth, the gathering into glory, the plērōma, the full number, the church [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17].
For example, Ephesians, the first chapter, closes, "God hath put all things under the feet of Christ, and hath given Him to be the head over all things to the church, which is His body, the plērōma, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all" [Ephesians 1:22-23]. There is a certain number who are going to comprise the church of God.
I’ll have to wait till I preach through Daniel to place this. Between that sixty-ninth week and that seventieth week is this age of grace [Daniel 9:26-27], and it is an age of election [1 Corinthians 10:32]. It is an age of calling out. It is an ekklēsia, the church is a called out family of the Lord. From the day of the preaching of the gospel at Pentecost [Acts 2:1-40], until this present moment there has never been a nation, there’s never been a city, there has never been even a community that has altogether responded to the overtures of grace and to the gospel message of Jesus. It is an election, it is an election; the plērōma of the Gentiles [1 Corinthians 10:32]. There is a certain number, the fullness of number; and when that fullness of number according to the election of God – and if you don’t believe in election, you don’t believe the Bible; it is woven in the very heart and center of it – according to the election of God there are a certain number that are going to be saved [Romans 11:25].
And when that final plērōma, the full number is reached [Romans 11:25], then shall be the rapture, and God shall take His people up to heaven [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17], and then shall be the great tribulation, hē thlipsē hē megalē, which is described in chapters 14 through 19 in the Revelation. Then you have the election of Israel. After the fullness, the plērōma of the Gentiles, then shall God deal with Israel [Romans 11:25-29].
As it is written, "There shall come out of Zion a Deliverer, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is My covenant with them, when I take away their sins" [Romans 11:26-27]. They are not always going to be in unbelief; "As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes" [Romans 11:28], the old olive was taken out, the branch, and a new one, we were engrafted; but someday God’s going to put that olive branch back [Romans 11:24]. "As touching election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance" [Romans 11:28-29]. God doesn’t change [James 1:17]. He swore to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that their seed should have the land [Psalm 105:8-11]; and they’re going to have it. And God swore to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob that they should be His people forever [Psalm 105:6-10], and in their rejection leave an open door for us [Romans 11:11-12]. We also are elect. But God hath not forgotten His people, "For the gifts and the calling of God are without change, without repentance" [Romans 11:29].
I realize, sweet people, that this is so brief a summary of so vast a theme, but come this fall, we shall look at it as God hath revealed it, told it to His prophets, written in His Book that we might know it, that we might live in this age with great assurance, with confidence. And that’s going to be the sermon next Sunday morning, The Christian’s Triumph, why we are to rejoice when we see the fig tree beginning to bud, "Lift up your eyes and your hearts and your spirits; for your redemption draweth nigh" [Luke 21:28], God’s victory for His people.
Now, on the first note of the first stanza, come, give your heart to Jesus, put your life in the fellowship of the church, as the Spirit of the Lord shall say. When you stand up in a moment, stand up coming, and God attend you in the way, while we stand and while we sing.