The Times of the Gentiles
June 18th, 1967 @ 10:50 AM
THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-18-67 10:50 a.m.
Now the sermon today is the middle part of a trilogy, the one last Sunday morning; the one this Sunday morning; and the one next Sunday morning. I could pray with all of the earnest desire of my soul that you can be here next Sunday morning. These things have a meaning, and a triumphant one to us: what is happening in the world, what God says about the end of the world. So many times, as we read the prophecy, and as we hear it preached upon, we are filled with fear and trembling. And instead of looking forward to the great triumphant consummation, we are filled with consternation and confusion. And we ought not to be that way.
And next Sunday morning, I’m going to preach on The Christian’s Triumph, what it means to us: how it will be like in heaven. How it will be when Jesus comes again; how it will be when we’re raised from the dead; how it will be when all God’s redeemed are gathered home; the rapture, the appearing of the Lord. To someone lost, remaining in tribulation, it might be fearful but not for us. And that triumphant presentation, with God’s help, we shall make this coming Lord’s Day.
Now, this central message in this trilogy, arising out of the times in which we live, concerns a definition of what God means when He refers to The Times of the Gentiles, which is a reference to history, and The Fullness Of The Gentiles, which is a reference to election. Now the first passage is in the twenty-first chapter of the Book of Luke, Luke 21:
And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies,
then know that the desolation thereof is nigh,
referring to the destruction of the city in 70 A.D –
And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be lead away captive into all nations:
and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.
[Luke 21:20, 24]
Now, that’s our first phrase, "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles, the times of the Gentiles, be fulfilled."
Now, the second passage, "the fullness of the Gentiles," the plērōma, "the fullness of the Gentiles," is in Romans 11:25:
For I would not, brethren, that ye should be without knowledge of this mustērion, this secret that God is preparing to reveal, kept secret from the foundation of the world, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits, lest we who are Gentiles should be proud and lifted up; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.
And that’s our second phrase, "until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in" [Romans 11:25]:
Then 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, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes.
I said this phrase, "the fullness of the Gentiles" [Romans 11:25], 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" [Romans 11:28-29], without change. A man may change, but not God’s purpose of grace. The promises of the Lord are everlastingly "Yea" and "Amen" [2 Corinthians 1:20]. They will never fall to the ground.
Now in the Bible there are three classes of people, three. They are named for example, in I Corinthians :32. And why people don’t understand the Bible is because they don’t distinguish between these three separate and distinct groups. I’ll read the text, "Give none offense, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God" [1 Corinthians 10:32]. They are three classes of people in the Bible: the Jews, the Gentiles, and the church of God. And these are the three that enter into an understanding of the times of the Gentiles and the fullness of the Gentiles.
First, the Jew: in the fourteenth chapter of the Book of Genesis, and the thirteenth verse, is the first time he used the word "Hebrew," and it implies and is in reference to Abraham [Genesis 14:13]. The first Hebrew was Abraham. It comes from a basic Hebrew word of theirs, meaning "to cross over." Abraham crossed over the Euphrates, out of the Mesopotamian Valley, and into the Promised Land, into Canaan [Genesis 12:1, 5]. He was called "the one who had passed over." And the name Hebrew, "the one who passed over," was applied to the family of Abraham through Isaac [Genesis 21:3] and through Jacob [Genesis 25:24-26].
Abraham had a son named Isaac, and Isaac had a son named Jacob. And in the thirty-second chapter of the Book of Genesis, Jacob’s name was changed to Israel, "the prince of God" [Genesis 32:28]. Now, Israel had twelve sons. And those twelve sons became the patriarchs, heading, fathering twelve tribes [Genesis :1-28]. Those twelve tribes of Israel were together until the death of King Solomon. And upon the death of Solomon, they were divided. The ten tribes to the north and their capital, Samaria, were called Israel [1 Kings 12:16-20, 16:24]. And the southern two tribes, Benjamin and Judah, were called Judah [2 Chronicles 11:12].
In 722 BC, Sargon, the great military prince of Assyria, carried away into captivity the northern ten tribes called Israel. And he settled them in the Mesopotamian Valley around Nineveh [2 Kings 17:6]. The Judaistic kingdom to the south continued for about two hundred years more. And in 606 BC, and in 598 BC, and in 587 BC, Nebuchadnezzar came and destroyed Judah and carried them into Babylonian captivity [2 Chronicles 36:20-21], settling them in the lower part of the Mesopotamian Valley.
It was there that the Hebrew came to be known as a "Jew." For the northern ten tribes had been settled around Nineveh, and the southern tribe of Judah with Benjamin continuing in the kingdom, became the kingdom that was known to the world. So in the Babylonian captivity, they called all of them "Judahs," and shortened to "Jews." The word Jew is a shortened form of "Judah," and in the Babylonian captivity, all of the captivity, the ten tribes settled northward, Judah settled southward, all of them were called Jews.
After a captivity of seventy years, from about 606 BC to 536 BC, at the decree of Cyrus of the Persian kingdom, they were allowed to return home. But, the Jew never had a free government and a free kingdom from that day of Nebuchadnezzar until this day in which we live, except for a few brief years in the days of the Maccabees. This is the Jew.
Second, the Gentile: the times of the Gentiles [Luke 21:24], the fullness of the Gentiles [Romans 11:25]. Now, the "fullness" is an election and refers to the church, and we shall speak of that last.
Our second discussion concerns the "times" of the Gentiles [Luke 21:24]. This is a very definite chronological period in the mind of God. It has a certain and definite beginning. It has a course of history that God has revealed. And it has a very definite consummation. The times of the Gentiles, "and Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" [Luke 21:24], and we are beginning to reach toward that consummation now.
The times of the Gentiles is a very definite period in history. And in the mind of God, in the sovereign, elected purpose and grace of God that begins at a certain place, it continues a certain course, and ends at a certain time. These times and places are very distinctly revealed in the Word of God.
First, its beginning: the times of the Gentiles trodding down Jerusalem and Judah, the land of Canaan, of Palestine, of the Jew. The times of the Gentiles began in the Babylonian captivity under the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. In the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Jeremiah – who lived in that day and was the prophet of Judah when Nebuchadnezzar came – Jeremiah lifted up his voice and said from God:
I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant,
And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son’s son,
until the very time of his land come,
And I haven’t time to read the long context of that prophecy from Jeremiah.
The times of the Gentiles refers to the land of Palestine, to Canaan, and in 606, in 598, in 587, according to the prophecy of the Word of God, the land was given into the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and his successors [2 Kings 24-25]. And that is the beginning of the trodding down of Jerusalem [Luke 21:24], of the capture of Palestine by Gentile powers. The times of the Gentiles began in about 606 BC, and they have continued to this present hour. But you are beginning to see the outreaching of history toward the final consummation of the age.
Now not only does God reveal the beginning of the times of the Gentiles, but God reveals the course of that Gentile history. I intended last fall to begin this series on the Book of Daniel; then I announced it at the beginning of last winter. Then, I announced it at the beginning of last spring; then, I announced that we’d begin in the summer, and I still haven’t started. I shall begin, in God’s goodness and grace, this fall. And I haven’t time even to touch the hem of the garment of the great prophecies that were given to Daniel about the course of this Gentile age. I just summarize it briefly. Then, I shall summarize the end of the age as it is revealed to Daniel and as it is minutely delineated in the Book of the Apocalypse, the Revelation, the last book of the New Testament.
In the second chapter of the Book of Daniel, God revealed to the king and then its meaning to Daniel the prophet, God revealed the course of this whole age. They saw – Daniel by interpretation and the king in a vision – he saw a great, giant image [Daniel 2:31]. The head of the image was gold, the breast and the arms of the image were of silver, the torso and thigh of the image was of brass, the two legs of the image were of iron, and the feet and toes of the image were part iron and part clay [Daniel 2:31-33].
And God gave the meaning of the vision to Daniel; and Daniel said it is a foreview of the course of the times of the Gentiles [Daniel 2:36-45]. The head represents the absolute dictator and monarch, Nebuchadnezzar. There’s never been one so absolute as he in the history of the world. The head is Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian kingdom. The breast and the arms of silver represent the Medio-Persian empire. The torso, the middle part of the body and the thigh, represents the kingdom of the Greeks.
The first kingdom began in 606. This kingdom began, the one of silver, the Medo-Persian, began in 536. This kingdom, the kingdom of the Greeks, began in 332 BC, under Alexander the Great. And that kingdom, said the great foreview of history in the vision, is to be followed by another kingdom, a Roman kingdom, represented by the two legs of iron, the eastern Roman empire and the western Roman empire. And according to the land of Palestine, it began in 62 BC, under the conquest of Judah by the Roman general Pompey. And that continued until the breaking up of the Roman Empire.
And according to the Word of God, there will never be a world empire again, never [Daniel 2:44-45]. There will never be a time when the United States can control world history. There’ll never be a time when Russia can, when China can. For the vision says, that after the Roman Empire, the nations of the world were broken up, represented by the feet and the toes, part of iron and part of clay [Daniel 2:42]. That is, some of them will be strong, called the great powers – like the United States and like Russia, who will now have their confrontation beginning in the morning – some of them will be strong. Some of them will be like clay; they will be very weak like these new emerging nations in Africa, in Asia, and in other parts of the world. And that will continue, says the prophet, until the time of the end and the consummation of the age.
And Daniel says, "And we looked and we looked until there was a stone cut out of the mountain without hands." And it came, "and it smote the image on its feet" [Daniel 2:34, 44]. Not the head, the breast, the torso, the legs, but the feet. That is, the great consummation will come at the end time when Jesus our Lord, personally appears. And the vision said that the stone grew, "and it grew and it grew, until it filled the whole earth" [Daniel 2:35]. And then, Daniel says that that means that the kingdom of God, when it is personally established by the Son of the Highest, shall endure for ever and ever [Daniel 2:44-45]. This is the triumph of the people of God. Now, in the second chapter of the Book of Daniel the end time is plainly delineated and if we had hours – and we shall wait until I come to the Book of Daniel and preach through it, to follow it meticulously.
But the end time of the times of the Gentiles is described in the ninth chapter of the Book of Daniel. There it is revealed to Daniel that four hundred ninety years, seventy weeks of years, are determined upon God’s people, upon Israel the chosen family, until the end of the age and the establishment of the kingdom of God in the earth [Daniel 9:24].
But in that seventy weeks, he divides it sixty-nine and then one, altogether different and separate [Daniel 9:26-27]. The sixty-nine weeks, four hundred eighty-three years, began with the decree of Artaxerxes Longimanus to rebuild Jerusalem [Ezra 7:13-26]. And, it continued for four hundred eighty-three years, until the Messiah was cut off, which is the exact date of the crucifixion of the Son of God.
But there remains another week, the last and the final week [Daniel 9:27]. And this week, the seventieth week, is the time that is revealed in the Apocalypse, in the Revelation. In the first three chapters of the Revelation is described the history, the course of the church in this world, the first Ephesian age, apostolic age, through the Philadelphia and finally the Laodicean age [Revelation 2:1-3:22]. In the beginning of the fourth chapter of the Revelation, the churches are taken away. They are raptured. They are snatched away. They are taken unto God [Revelation 4:1].
According to the 1 Thessalonian letter, beginning at the thirteenth verse in the fourth chapter, you have that glorious revelation of the mustērion [1 Thessalonians 4:13-18]. In the fifteenth chapter of the 1 Corinthian letter, you have it again. "Flesh and blood," said Paul:
cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither can corruption inherit incorruption.
But, I show you a mustērion; We shall not all sleep –
we are not all going to die –
but we shall all be changed, all of us, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead in Christ shall be raised, and we shall all be changed.
[1 Corinthians 15:50-52]
This is the rapture, the taking away, the snatching away, the catching up to glory of the people of God. One in a bed sleeping, one by his side, one taken and the other left; two working in a field, one taken and the other left, suddenly [Luke 17:34-36], without warning, any day, any time, the great end day of the times of the Gentiles.
Then beginning at the fourth chapter in the Revelation through to the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation, you have an outline of hē thilipsē hē megalē, "the Tribulation the great" [Revelation 7:14]. This is the final week of the Lord in His dealing with Israel. It is divided into two parts, three and a half years [Daniel 9;27]. And how many times in the Bible do you find these references? Three and a half years of time, times, and a half a time, of time, times and dividing of times, forty-two months, one thousand two hundred sixty days, that last week. And in that last week, God judges this earth, and He judges Israel His people. And that ends in the great, tremendous, indescribable battle of Armageddon [Revelation 6:16-17, 16:16, 19:19].
There were two things about the battle of Armageddon that I never could understand. One: I could not understand how, in Palestine, in Palestine, the powers of the world would converge, all of them, the east and the west, the north and the south. They shall be there in that great judgment day of the Lord. Then as I studied the Book of the Revelation and preached through it, it became very, very clear and very plain to me. The reason that these are going to be there is because of the enticements of the spirits of evil:
I saw three unclean spirits go out into the world, and they enticed the kings of the earth and gathered them together to the battle of the great day of God Almighty. And He gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon.
Armageddon; they are there.
The ninth chapter of the Book of Revelation says "the king of the East," that would be the king, the leaders of Asia, China, India, they will be there with an army, the ninth chapter of the Book of Revelation says, of two hundred million men there in Palestine – two hundred million men [Revelation 9:16], the army of Asia and Russia will come down from the north and Africa from the south, Egypt from the south, and we will be there from the west. It will be the last great conflagration.
That’s the first thing I couldn’t understand, until I began to study the Revelation. How is it that all of these armies are there? And the shaping out of the trends of history are definitely seen in every newspaper we read today and have been for some time. The evil of the world, the kingdoms of darkness bring them together. And the great confrontation will not be in Latin America. It will not be in Asia. It will not be in Australia. It will not be anywhere in Europe. It will be in Palestine: the final confrontation of the great powers of the world.
Then the second thing I couldn’t understand, I could not understand how it is that so many could be killed [Revelation 14:20]. Oh, the blood shed in that final great battle of the Lord God Almighty! For example, and time and again do you read of this in the Holy Book of God, in the sixty-third chapter of Isaiah:
Who is this that cometh from Edom, and with dyed garments from Bozrah? He that is glorious in His apparel, travelling in the greatness of His might?
Wherefore, says the prophet, art Thou red in Thine apparel, and Thy garments like one who has trod in the winepress stained with red?
And, He answers, I have trodden the winepress,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 surmount this day in ultimate and final victory, I will stain all of My garments.
A man that doesn’t understand the Bible, when he reads – like in the nineteenth chapter of the Revelation – the great intervention of Christ:
I beheld heaven opened, behold a white horse; and He that sat upon him was True and Faithful,
His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns,
And He was dressed in a vesture dipped in blood; and His name is called The Word of God.
And a neophyte, these cheap theologians will read passages like that and they spiritualize them. And they say, "And His garments are red with blood. That is, He is a savior. He died for our sins on the cross, He poured out His blood for our justification." There’s no syllable of truth in spiritualizing like that. Why are His garments dyed red? They are dyed red in the blood of His enemies. "Who is this that cometh from Edom and with dyed garments from Bozrah? [Isaiah 63:1]. I have stained My garments in the blood of My enemies," says the Lord God, "and His garments are red with blood" [Isaiah 63:3].
Now in the passage that you read, in the fourteenth chapter of the Revelation, the time of the reaping of the earth has come. Her grapes are ripe. Thrust in the sickle and reap [Revelation 14:15]. "And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even to the bridles of the horses, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs [Revelation 14:20]. A furlong is an eighth of a mile. Two hundred miles from Bozrah, where He first appears stained in blood, to Armageddon, the great central consummation of that battle, is exactly one thousand six hundred furlongs.
So I used to wonder, according to the Word of God, that blood will be so poured out from the armies and the nations of the world that for two hundred miles, from Bozrah down in Edom to Armageddon up there in Galilee, two hundred miles, it will be blood. And I used to wonder how could such a thing be? You see, the battles that I knew as a boy were those – and I’ve lived through it and remember it well – were those of the First World War. In the First World War, there were trenches: the Von Hindenburg line over here, and the French and ally line over here. And for four years, for four years, they shelled one another across "no man’s land." And once in a while, one would attack, and then another one would attack. And once in a while, they would confront their armies and their infantry. But always along that line, giving and taking, giving and taking, for four years.
Then I came to understand what God meant when he described the unbelievable profusion and outpouring of the blood of the armies of the nations when the United States of America dropped on Hiroshima that first atomic bomb. There will be no more, in the fighting of the great armies and nations of the earth, there will be no more trench warfare. It is of another day and era. When that great confrontation takes place between the West and the East, in the land of Palestine, it will be fought with jet planes and with guided missiles and with atomic bombs.
And there’s not a great nation in the world like France, and there’s not a great nation in the world like China that does not reach out toward the building of these atomic bombs; and the headline in the paper this morning, "China Now Has the Hydrogen Bomb."
Don’t you ever persuade yourself that men will have gunpowder and not use it to fight with! Don’t you persuade yourself that men will have TNT and not use it to fight with! Don’t you persuade yourself that men will have guns and tanks and not use them to fight with! And a prophecy was made that, if atomic fission was ever invented and discovered, it would first be used in a bomb. And before the world knew of atomic fission, a bomb had fallen upon Hiroshima, Hiroshima, in Japan.
So, the end of this age will come with a cataclysmic, catastrophic, consummating atomic, hydrogen bomb! Men will fight one another with those instruments of death. And that’s why the Bible revealed, thousands of years ago, that the blood in that warfare, the blood in that warfare would consume the lives of millions and millions and millions and millions of men. The United States will be in it, Russia will be in it, China will be in it; the ends of the earth will be in it. And it will consummate in a flood, as Daniel has prophesied [Daniel 9:26]. Well, we need hours.
Third, the church: the Jew, the Gentile, the church [1 Corinthians 10:32]. The church is a matter of election. Romans 11, "Blindness in part is happened to Israel until the fullness, plērōma, the full number, of the Gentiles be come in" [Romans 11:25]. The plērōma, between that sixty-ninth week in Daniel and that seventieth week in Daniel [Daniel 9:26-27], is a mustērion, hid in the heart of God: this age of grace. No prophet saw it. No Old Testament seer ever looked upon it. It was a secret, hidden in the mind of God, that there would be this age of grace in which we live [Ephesians 3:1-11].
And in this age of grace, there is a plērōma, of the Gentiles, being called out until the plērōma of the Gentiles be fulfilled [Romans 11:25]. That is the church of our Lord. The first chapter of Ephesians closes, "God hath made Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the pleroma, the fullness of Him that filleth all in all [Ephesians 1:22-23]. There is a plērōma, being filled in the elected grace of God [Romans 11:25]. "Oh, but, preacher, I don’t believe in election!" Then you don’t believe in God, you believe somebody else runs the world. Then you don’t believe in the Bible, for at the very heart and basis of the revelation of God is the sovereignty of the Almighty, who sits upon a great throne and guides the destinies of all creation [Revelation 4:2, 5:1].
And in the elected purpose of God, there is a plērōma of Gentiles. There are a certain number that are going to be saved [Romans 11:25]. Since the beginning of the preaching of the gospel at Pentecost [Acts 2:14-40], there has never been a whole nation saved. There has never been a whole city saved. There has never been a whole community saved. There is an election of grace. And when a man preaches the gospel he will never win everybody who listens to him. There will be an election. There will be somebody here, there will be a family there, there will be a youth there, there will be a child there who will feel the constraining mercies of God and will respond. And when the last one is saved, when the plērōma is come in [Romans 11:25], then the great consummation of the age is reached, and the Lord is going then to turn and deal with Israel. As it is written:
There will come [out of] Zion [the] Deliverer, and turn away ungodliness from Jacob,and all Israel shall be saved
This is My covenant with them, says the Lord, when I take away their sin.
As concerning the gospel, they have been rejected for our sakes: in this great plērōma, of the Gentiles, but as touching election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes:
For the gift and calling of God are without repentance, without change.
God purposes something marvelous and great for Israel. And when the plērōma of Gentiles, when the number known to God of Gentiles has come in, then God will take us to Himself in glory and the Lord will deal with Israel face to face.
That is why, that is why that Paul writes to us, "Make your calling and election sure" [2 Peter 1:10]. And how many times is that sentiment expressed in the songs that we sing in the church? Like that song, so popular on the jukeboxes, "When the saints go marching in, Lord, I want to be in that number," in that election, in that plērōma, "when the saints go marching in." Or, this song that I haven’t heard in an age:
In the book of Thy kingdom with its pages so fair,
Tell me, Jesus, my Savior, is my name written there?
Lord, my sins are so many, like the sands of the sea,
But Thy blood, O, my Savior, is sufficient for me;
For Thy promise is written in bright letters that glow,
"Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow."
Oh! that beautiful city with its mansions of light,
With its glorified saint, in pure garments of white!
Where no evil thing cometh to despoil what is fair,
Where the angels are watching, is my name written there?
And let me change the chorus, "Is my name written there?" Let’s make it an affirmation:
Lord, my name’s written there,
On the page bright and fair,
in the book of Thy kingdom,
Praise God, bless God, my name’s written there.
["Is My Name Written There?" Mary Ann Pepper Kidder]
In the company of the redeemed by His love and grace, I shall walk and fellowship and be numbered and say, "Here" and answer, "Present" when God calls the roll in heaven. This is our present hour of grace. God is calling out an election, you [1 Corinthians 10:32]. And if the Lord has spoken to you and if God has called you, you are of the elite of all of the ages of God’s sovereign grace. Mercy to us, grace to us, salvation to us, God’s love and goodness to us.
And while we sing this hymn of appeal, you, give your heart to Jesus. "I have felt God’s call, and I’m answering with my life." You come and stand by me. A family you, putting your life in the fellowship of the church. A child, "I’ve been saved, pastor. I have felt the call of Jesus in my heart, and I’m coming now. Here I am. I want to be baptized. I’ve never been baptized like it says in God’s book [Matthew 28:19]. I want to be baptized, and here I come." As the spirit of God shall press the appeal to your heart, make it this morning. Make it now. Do it while we stand, and while we sing.