The Times of the Gentiles refers to the time when Israel would be under dominion and oppression of non-Jewish nations. The Times of the Gentiles began when King Nebuchadnezzar sent his Babylonian armies into Israel in 586 B.C. and took captive many thousands of inhabitants to Babylon (2 Chronicles 36). Though the Jews once again returned to the Land Israel came under the control of various Gentile empires. In 70 A.D. Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans and the great majority of the population were dispersed throughout the world. This, in part, is what Jesus referred to prophetically in Luke 21:22,24, “For these be the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled … And 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”.
From 70 A.D. until May 1948 the nation of Israel, in the eyes of the world, ceased to exist. The Land had been renamed Palestine (Philistia) and Moslems occupied the territory. The re-establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was the beginning of the end the Gentile occupation of the Israel.
Israel is still not free from Gentile powers. Arabs and others control towns and villages, and Jerusalem itself is partitioned into Jewish, Moslem, and Christian quarters. There are the obvious symbols of Gentile presence seen in the Moslem Dome of the Rock and the Catholic shrines and churches. Israel will not be totally free from these powers until the Lord Jesus Christ returns to set up His Millennial Reign.
In Luke 21:32 we read, “Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass away, till all be fulfilled”. Some have supposed that since a generation is forty years in length that Jesus would have returned by 1988. Such time setting is unscriptural and continuously disappoints those that make such predictions. There are others who are convinced that a generation is anywhere between forty and seventy years. This would mean that Jesus would have to return before 2018. The key to understanding the Times of the Gentiles is found in what a generation means in Scripture rather than specifying some numeric value to the word.
Beginning with the first mention of the word in the Bible we read in Genesis 7:1, “And the LORD said unto Noah, Come thou and all thy house into the ark; for thee have I seen righteous before me in this generation”. Here we see that the word cannot refer to any precise number of years but rather to the people of the world at that time. Besides this we know that God gave the world one hundred and twenty years to repent before the flood came. The first mention of ‘generation’ in the New Testament also cannot mean a set number of years. In Matthew 1:1 we read, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ …”. It is impossible to see the word as meaning anything but the whole lineage of Christ covering almost four thousand years. Another meaning of the word can be seen in Matthew 3:7 where John the Baptist calls the religious leaders a “generation of vipers”. Therefore the word refers to a certain group of people without any reference to time. This is what Peter meant when he used the word on the Day of Pentecost, “Save yourselves from this untoward generation” (Acts 2:40). He could hardly be referring to salvation from the past forty years of history but from a corrupt world of sin and sinners. In this sense the word can mean the whole world that is under the power of Satan and sin. Also, if a ‘generation’ means a set number of years, what do we make of 1 Peter 2:9, “Ye are a chosen generation”? It is clear that Peter was referring to the fact that the Church is the creation of God through Christ, that out life comes from Him. Generation here means a special group of people who are created and generated by God.
Though ‘generation’ can mean a specific number of years, it is more likely that Jesus was referring to the world (people) living at the time prior to His second coming. If 1948 is the reference point for the beginning of the end, i.e. “the budding of the fig tree” (Luke 21:29-30) then it is possible that He will return before there is no one left to remember the re-establishment of the State of Israel. This interpretation also hinders actual date setting for the Rapture of the Church or the Second Coming of Christ. What we do know is that the Times of the Gentiles will close immediately Jesus stands again on the Mount of Olives, “And His feet shall stand in that day upon the mount of Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the mount of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley; and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north, and half of it toward the south” (Zechariah 14:4). On that very day He will establish His rule over all the nations of the world, thus ending Gentile control of Israel.