Eschatology is still big business. It’s not that a lot of people are making money with it, although some are, but because many Christians can’t seem to think in other terms. When things go bad, many Christians immediately conclude that we’re living in the last days even though this type of thinking has been around for many centuries with the same results. We’re still here fighting the same battles.
Turning to Bible prophecy as a remedy for what’s ailing us can have bad side effects. In some cases, we can be immobilized by constant claims that Jesus is coming soon to rescue us from what’s ailing us when the most likely message being sent by God is that we are responsible for the condition of the world.
This is true of all God’s reactions to our sin. God did rescue us in the person and work of Jesus Christ and sending us His Spirit. We need to learn the lessons of the past and apply them to our time. Fulfilled prophecy is one of those lessons. Amid hard times, God told us how we should live. Paul made it very clear in 2 Timothy 3. There is no talk of an eschatological rescue.
Why the End of the World Is Not In Your Future
Nearly every prophecy book being published today points to the Gog and Magog alliance as evidence that we are living in the Last Days, and the world is on the eve of an inevitable destructive war and the death of billions. Ezekiel 38 & 39 are being used by today's prophecy writers as a prophetic blueprint for our time. These same prophecy writers almost never tell their readers that there is a long history of failed predictions based on these two chapters. Finally, here's a book that explains the meaning of these two seemingly mysterious chapters by using the Bible instead of today's newspaper headlines!Buy Now
Because so many Christians are preoccupied with the last days, it’s necessary to deal with some of their arguments. The following question was put to me. What follows is my response:
In Luke 21:24, after the prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem, it says, “and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled.” The man on the street reading this without a theological bias and the person reading this with a literal interpretation would clearly think there is a time gap involved here.
The “gap” this person is referring to is the time between the destruction of Jerusalem that took place in AD 70 and some yet future time when the Gentiles—the nations—ravage Israel again. Supposedly we are living in that “in-between time” that’s nearly 2000 years long.
He is assuming a distant future fulfillment when none is implied. It’s certainly in the future for those who heard Jesus’ prophecy around AD 30, but not necessarily in the distant future. The fulfillment of the “times of the Gentiles” occurred when the Gentiles—represented by the Roman armies that made up “the nations” at the time (Rom: 16:25-26; 1 Tim. 3:16; Acts 2:5) and depicted as four kingdoms in Daniel 2–3—acted as God’s agent(1:1–2) in the destruction of the temple and the judgment on the city of Jerusalem.
Futurists understand the “trampling” to end when there is a mass slaughter of Jews during the Great Tribulation after the “rapture” of the church. This makes no sense. Why would God wait nearly 2000 years to restore Israel and then turn a single generation of Jews over to the nations to be slaughtered (Zech. 13:7–9)? But this is the futurist position.
John is told to “rise and measure the temple” (Rev. 11:1). The temple was still standing, which means Revelation was describing events that would take place before the temple was destroyed in AD 70. See Kenneth L. Gentry’s Before Jerusalem Fell: Dating the Book of Revelation and the Beast of Revelation. Notice Rev. 11:2: “And leave out the court which is outside the temple, and do not measure it, for it has been given to the nations; and they will tread under foot the holy city for forty-two months.” The text does not say “until Israel becomes a nation again.” The New Testament does not say anything about a rebuilt temple or the prophetic significance of Israel becoming a nation again.
Notice what Jesus says in Luke 21:31–32: “Even so YOU, too, when YOU see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I say to YOU, THIS GENERATION will not pass away until ALL these things take place.” This includes the events of 21:24. Luke 21, Mark 13, and Luke 21 are fulfilled prophecy.
Now we’re talking about something yet future—after Jerusalem is no longer trampled underfoot by the Gentiles.
Milton Terry wrote the classic work Biblical Hermeneutics, a standard study on biblical interpretation that has been around for more than 135 years. Here’s what he wrote about the time of the Gentiles:
The statement of Luke xxi, 24, that “Jerusalem shall be trodden down by the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled,” is supposed to involve events which did not take place in that generation. The “times of the Gentiles” (kairoi ethnown [nations from the Greek word ethnos from which we get the word “ethnic”]) are assumed to be the times of the opportunities of grace afforded to the Gentiles under the Gospel. But to understand the words in this sense would be, as Van Oosterzee observes, to interpolate a thought entirely foreign to the context. “The times of the Gentiles,” says Bengel, “are the times allotted to the Gentiles to tread down the city;” but there is nothing in the passage or context to authorize his further remark that “these times shall be ended when the Gentiles’ conversion shall be fully consummated,” and that the treading down by Romans, Persians, Saracens, Franks, and Turks is to be understood. These kairoi [times] are manifestly times of judgment upon Jerusalem, not times of salvation to the Gentiles.
The most natural and obvious parallel is Rev. xi. 2, where the outer court of the temple is said to be “given to the Gentiles,” by whom the holy city shall be trodden down forty-two months, a period equivalent to the “time and times and half a time” of Rev. xii, 14, and of Dan. vii, 25; xii, 7. This is a symbolical period of judgment (see above, p. 384 [in Biblical Hermeneutics], but does not denote ages and generations. It is three and a half—a divided seven, a short but signal period of woe. The “times of the Gentiles,” therefore, are the three and a half times (approximating three and a half years) during which the Gentile armies besieged and trampled down Jerusalem. (Milton S. Terry, Biblical Hermeneutics, unabridged ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, n.d.), 445.)
Terry is not alone in his interpretation. Heinrich Meyer in his Critical and Exegetical Commentary on Mark-Luke (Trans. Peter Christie (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, 1884), 530–531.) argues in a similar way that “till the times of the Gentiles shall be fulfilled” refer to “the time that the periods which are appointed to the Gentile nations for the completion of divine judgments (not the period of grace for the Gentiles, as Ebrard foists into the passage) shall have run out. Comp. Rev. xi. 2. Such times of the Gentiles are ended in the case in question by the Parousia ([Luke 21:] 25f., 27), which is to occur during the lifetime of the hearers (ver. 28); … hence those καιροί [times]are in no way to be regarded as of longer duration.”
John Lightfoot (1602–1675) argues in the same way:
“Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled”: and what then? in what sense is this word until to be understood? Let everyone have his conjecture, and let me be allowed mine. I am well assured our Saviour is discoursing about the fall and overthrow of Jerusalem; but I doubt, whether he touches upon the restoration of it: nor can I see any great reason to affirm, that the times of the Gentiles will be fulfilled before the end of the world itself. (John Lightfoot, A Commentary on the New Testament from the Talmud and Hebraica, 4 vols. (Oxford: The University Press, [1658–1674] 1859), 3:199.)
Lightfoot bolsters his argument by stating that Luke clearly shows that these events were to take place before “this generation,” that is, the generation to whom Jesus was speaking (Matt. 24:33), would pass away as Jesus states unequivocally in Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32.
Even after this judgment coming of Jesus, the world remained. We are going to be in for some hard times. It’s most likely, if history is any indicator, that we are not going to be taken out of this world. There’s work to be done.
Eschatology 101: Bible Prophecy Essentials
With so much prophetic material in the Bible — somewhere around 25% of the total makeup of Scripture — it seems difﬁcult to argue that an expert is needed to understand such a large portion of God’s Word and so many ‘experts’ could be wrong generation after generation. If God’s Word is a ‘lamp to our feet and a light to our path’ (Psalm 119:105), how do we explain that not a lot of light has been shed on God’s prophetic Word and with so little accuracy?Buy Now