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The Times of the Gentiles

September 19, 2021 Speaker: Dr. Rick Gregory Series:

Topic: End Times, Suffering Verse: Luke 21:20–21:24

Theme: The suffering of God’s people is regulated by God’s power and grace.

Introduction: Obedience to God brings His blessing and all the benefits of His promises. Disobedience to God brings His judgment and all the consequences of the promises of His vengeance. These are unalterable truths on which all of us can absolutely rely. As Israel adulterated herself through lewd adultery with idol after idol, God demonstrated His faithfulness to His promises by judging Israel through deportation to Assyria and then Judah to Babylon. Since those days, the world has been in a time known as the “Times of the Gentiles” during which Israel has been occupied, oppressed, abused, and used by Gentile nations in successive occupation – Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, Turks, Ottomans, and so on. Even today, despite their restoration as a nation, they remain vulnerable to the Gentiles who will one day rise in unity against her through the leadership of the Antichrist who will dominate and occupy Israel. It is our belief that this will occur after the Church has been removed through the Rapture, and the restraint of the Holy Spirit through the church is removed catapulting the Antichrist into prominence and power – the zenith of Gentile power concentrated against Israel. Jesus describes this time calling it “The Times of the Gentiles” and gives detail concerning how Israel ought to respond as it unfolds, and promises the suffering of God’s people will be regulated by God’s power and grace …

I. The Anguish in Israel’s Distress – 21:20-22

A. The Indication of Fury – v. 20 

  • Jesus continues to provide clarity in the expectations of believers moving forward in God’s purposes for Israel.
  • As discussed in the last section, the near fulfillment of what Jesus is prophesying is the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
  • He is telling the Jews who were contemporary to Him of what God was going to immediately do in judgment of them for their rejection of Him.
  • Yet, the desolation they will know would last for an undisclosed period of time – something that we understand has been almost 2,000 years … and counting.
  • There remains an ultimate fulfillment of these prophecies that remains future, when Israel will again be the focus of God’s wrath and men’s fury during a time known as “the 70th Week of Daniel,” “The Great Tribulation,” – Matthew 24:21; or “The Time of Jacob’s Distress” – Jeremiah 30:7.
  • It is our conviction that the events described by Jesus in this section will find their fulfillment at a time after the current people of God – the Church – will be Raptured freeing God to focus once again upon Israel and His promises to them – 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17; John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-53.
  • As such, we understand that the Church will be spared the anguish associated with the Tribulation Period – 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10; Revelation 3:10. 
  • In both 70 AD and in the ultimate fulfillment yet to happen, Jerusalem (and the Jews) will be the focus – “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then recognize that her desolation is near.”
  • God will use the armies of the enemies of Israel to execute His wrath against them for their continued and obstinate rejection of Him – Psalm 22:28; Jeremiah 25:8-9. 
  • Jesus informed us that this “desolation” would continue from the time of their rejection of Him until they confess Him as the Messiah - cp. Matthew 23:37-39; Romans 11:7-12, 25-27.

B. The Instruction to Flee – v. 11 

  • However, before Christ returns to establish the Millennial Kingdom, to the godly remnant of Israel Jesus provides instruction – “Then those who are in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those who are in the midst of the city must leave, and those who are in the country must not enter the city …”
  • In other words, those who fear God should distance themselves as far as possible from Jerusalem because of the combined wrath of God and the fury of God’s enemies – “because these are days of vengeance so that all things which are written will be fulfilled.”
  • Matthew provides even greater detail for us to consider – cp. Matthew 24:15-21.  
  • The suddenness of their peril and the anguish that is to be endured is so great that they will literally be having to “run for their lives.” 

II. The Abomination in Israel’s Distress – 21:23-24a

A. The Hostility of the Antichrist – v. 23

  • The Tribulation Period will begin with Israel thinking that their Messiah had finally come – in a man who brings them peace through a covenant he establishes with them – cp. Daniel 9:27.
  • However, “in the middle of the week he will put a stop to the sacrifice …” – a pivot by the Antichrist who goes from being the hero of Israel to the greatest enemy that Israel has ever known.
  • He will perform the unthinkable – something known as “the Abomination of Desolation” – cp. Matthew 24:15-16. 
  • This is event that was prefigured by the Seleucid King Antiochus Epiphanes as prophesied by Daniel and described by both Josephus and several apocryphal books which describe him as pretending to be the defender of Jerusalem at first, but then “entered Jerusalem under the pretense of peace. He then waited until the Sabbath and ordered his army of more than 250,000 to carry out wholesale slaughter against the Jews. They met with very little resistance because of the Jews’ rigid observance of the Sabbath laws. Antiochus then deliberately set several Jewish apostates (enemies of Israel’s covenant with Jehovah) in power over the occupied city …. He set out deliberately to defile the temple, and this he did by sacrificing a pig (an unclean and forbidden animal, according to Lev. 11:7) on the altar and forcing the priests to eat its flesh.”
  • It is anticipated that the Antichrist who Antiochus pictures will do a similar thing called in the Scriptures as “the Abomination of Desolation.”
  • Luke declares: “Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days; for there will be great distress upon the land and wrath to this people”
  • “distress” [ἀνάγκη] – describes a state of trouble, calamity, or pressure. It can even mean “torture.”
  • The hostility of the Antichrist will spare no one – not even a nursing mother will escape the hatred, vitriol, and hostility of the man of lawlessness. , 

B. The Horrors of the Tribulation – v. 24a

  • The slaughter performed at the command of the Antichrist will be horrific – “… and they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations, and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles …”
  • Unfortunately, less than 1/3 will be able to escape – 2/3 will be destroyed – cp. Zechariah 13:8-9.
  • Matthew provides the superlative nature of all these things by declaring that they are unprecedented – cp. Matthew 24:21.

III. The Allocation of Israel’s Distress – 21:24b

A. The Permission for Israel’s Distress

  • Clearly, the Lord is saying that His purposes are clearly served by the career of the Antichrist and the judgment that comes through him.
  • Jesus declares that Israel’s subjugation will continue “… until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”
  • The use of Gentile nations to “trample under foot” the people of Israel began at the deportation of Israel to Babylon and will continue until the nation is restored in the Kingdom at Jesus’ return.
  • Throughout this time, God has used a variety of Gentile nations to “trample” Israel “under foot.”

B. The Parameters of Israel’s Distress 

  • However, even as the phrase implies, there is a terminus to the freedom that God will give to the Gentiles.
  • As was declared by God, those who abuse Israel – even with His consent will have to answer for their treacheries – cp. Jeremiah 25:11-12; 50:17-18.
  • God allowed the Babylonians to have their way with Israel for 70 years, but then God avenged Himself against it; in like manner, God will avenge Himself against the Antichrist who He used during the Tribulation Period.
  • From the time that the Antichrist began his treachery against Israel at the mid-point of the seven-year Tribulation until Christ Jesus returns to judge him will be 3 ½ years – described in a variety of ways:
  1. “times, time, and a half of time” – Daniel 12:7
  2. “forty-two months” – Revelation 11:2
  3. “1260 days” – Revelation 11:3
  • Even though these things will not impact us as we will already be in glory due to the Rapture of the Church, all biblical prophecy does not apply to us.
  • Nevertheless, it provides us with the awareness of God’s intentions and brings sobriety to our lives knowing what the end of the age will bring.
  • This ought to motivate us to two things: 
  1. Pursue personal holiness – 2 Peter 3:11-18.
  2. Pursue personal evangelism – 2 Corinthians 5:11.

So What?

The credibility of God depends upon the precise fulfillment of the prophecies Jesus provides in these verses - if we trust Him at all, we must trust Him in all.

The horrors that Israel faces are evidences of God’s displeasure in the sin of sinners and                                                His commitment to avenge Himself against sin. 

As hostile as the Antichrist will be toward Israel, he will be unable to vanquish them because of God’s faithfulness.

The hope of all sinners, including Israel, is God’s mercy through Jesus Christ – our motivation to persuade men.

Our joy is to fix our hope in the redemption in Christ and to purify ourselves through His grace as we await His return.