Oct 3, 2012

Daniel and the Times of the Gentiles (Part 1)

Tony GarlandBy Dr. Tony Garland

Facebook RSS Contact Amazon

While reading the Gospels, we can encounter passages which puzzle us. One such passage concerns a statement made by Jesus in response to questions on the part of his disciples concerning the destruction of the Jewish Temple and the end of the age (Luke 21:5-7).

For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled. (Luke 21:22-24)

While it is beyond the scope of our present treatment to examine how Luke’s presentation here contrasts with those of Matthew (24) and Mark (13), most understand Jesus’ words in Luke as predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. at the hands of Rome.

As part of his answer, Jesus’ mentions the phrase, “the times of the Gentiles,” in association with the idea of the trampling of Jerusalem and the dispersion of Jews into all nations. Many questions spring to the reader’s mind: What makes these times particularly Gentile in nature? What does it mean for Jerusalem to be trampled? Does this time period begin at the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome as the passage seems to imply? If the times are to be fulfilled, what brings about the fulfillment? Why doesn’t Jesus elaborate further about what He meant?

It is my view that the last of the above questions: Why doesn’t Jesus elaborate further about what He meant?, holds the key to unlocking the meaning of the passage. One reason that Jesus doesn’t provide additional explanation is simply this: much of what Jesus says in the Gospels is anchored by revelation previously given in the Old Testament. Where Jesus is teaching concepts which find their origin in the Old Testament, He expects His listeners to be familiar with the basis of His teachings (Mt. 21:24; 22:29; Mark 12:24; Luke 24:27; John 5:39). And so it is with this passage and its parallel passages in Matthew and Mark. In fact, both Matthew and Mark make mention of additional information provided by Jesus in the context of this same teaching which establish part of the Old Testament context for understanding all three passages in the synoptics:

“Therefore when you see the 'abomination of desolation,' spoken of by Daniel the prophet, standing in the holy place" (whoever reads, let him understand), "then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.” (Mt. 24:15-16 cf. Mark 13:14)

It is not our design to launch into a consideration of the details of the above statement other than to note one very important point: Jesus is underscoring the importance of Old Testament revelation given in relation to the book of Daniel for understanding much of what He has to say in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. Thus, it is reasonable for us to expect we might gain a greater understanding of the mysterious phrase “times of the Gentiles” by considering the events of the book of Daniel—and especially the situation which led to Daniel’s captivity in Babylon and the fall of Israel to Nebuchadnezzar during the dominion of the Neo-Babylonian empire.

When we do this, we find that the key to understanding the times of the Gentiles is found in promises and expectations which God established for the Davidic throne which was to rule righteously on earth in the midst of the nations. This mysterious time, which Jesus mentions in Luke, relates to a period of judgment concerning occupation of the Davidic throne which began in the days of Daniel, Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Nebuchadnezzar hundreds of years before Jesus was born.

Destruction of Solomon’s Temple

The Significance of the Fall of Judah to the Davidic Throne

The final king to reign over Jerusalem prior to its destruction by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was Zedekiah, who reigned for 11 years as a vassal king subject to Babylon. Like all the kings following Josiah’s reign, he was evil. When a new Egyptian Pharaoh (Hophra) came to the throne in 588 B.C., Zedekiah took the occasion to rebel against Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar responded by the siege which led to the final downfall of Jerusalem, the destruction of the city and temple, and the deportation of the majority who were left. The siege began in the 9th year, 10th month, and 10th day of Zedekiah’s reign and lasted 18 months. The wall of Jerusalem being penetrated in the 11th year on the 4th month, on the 9th day of the month. [1] In fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecies that Zedekiah would be taken to Babylon but never see it, his sons were killed before him, his eyes were put out, and he was taken to Babylon where he died (Jer. 39:6-7; 52:9-11; 2 Kgs. 25:6-7 cf. Eze. 12:13; 17:16). After capturing Jerusalem, the Babylonians burned the leader’s houses and the temple and broke down the city walls.

It is an immensely significant event whenever the temple is destroyed because the temple is “God’s house” where the manifestation of his glory resides. It would be impossible to destroy the temple if it were not for the fact that God was “not home.” Because of Israel’s idolatry, Ezekiel records that God’s glory had previously vacated the temple. [2] To the Gentile enemies of Israel, the destruction of the city and temple would make it appear as if the God of Israel were impotent in the face of the superior Gods of the Gentiles, “When they leveled Yahweh’s temple to the ground and burned its ruins, the Babylonian troops served notice to all the world that their gods were mightier than Yahweh, no matter what titles the Hebrews gave him.” [3] Thus, one of the Themes of the Book of Daniel is to show that Israel’s God is sovereignly in control over all history, be it Jewish or Gentile. He only allowed this shocking event to occur because of the serious and persistent sin of Israel. [4]

From the perspective of the Jews, the unthinkable had happened, “Some, in a sense of superstition, and others, in a sense of belief in the providence of God, had held that such a calamity as the overthrow of God’s city and God’s Temple could never take place. Now the unexpected had happened.” [5] In the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, it seemed as if the kingdom of Israel had come to a close. After beginning with the struggles of Saul and David and reaching its apex under David’s son Solomon, the divided kingdom had initiated a protracted period of decline culminating in the fall of both the northern kingdom of Israel (after 200 years) and the southern kingdom of Judah (after over 300 years). Most significantly, no longer could anyone point to a throne in Jerusalem from which a Davidic king ruled. Jeremiah’s words to Jehoiachin had come to pass, “Say to the king and to the queen mother, ‘Humble yourselves; Sit down, For your rule shall collapse, the crown of your glory.’” (Jeremiah 13:18). [6]

(To be continued...)


[1] Concerning the significance of the 9th of Ab: “As to the month and day, the Jewish sources claim a striking identity between the destruction of the Second Temple and of the First Temple. 2 Kings 25:8 states that the First Temple was burned by Nebuzaradan on the seventh day of the fifth month, while Jer. 52:12 gives the tenth day of the fifth month. The rabbis reconciled these data by explaining that the Babylonians entered the temple on the seventh day of Ab (which is the fifth month), ate and did damage to it on that day and the eighth, and on the ninth day toward dusk set fire to it; it then continued to burn through the whole of that day which is presumably extended through the tenth. As to the recurrence of disaster at the identical time, they said, ‘The same thing too happened in the Second Temple.’ For a single day, the ninth of Ab was taken as the exact date: ‘On the ninth of Ab . . . the Temple was destroyed the first and the second time.’ . . . The date of the burning [of the Second Temple] is stated explicitly by Josephus: ‘the tenth of the month Loos the day on which of old it had been burnt by the king of Babylon’ (6.250). In the later correlation of the Macedonian calendar as it was used in Palestine . . . Loos was parallel to Ab, the fifth month. Therefore Josephus’s date of Loos = Ab 10 is identical with Jeremiah’s (52:12) date of the tenth day of the fifth month for the first destruction, and just one day later than the ninth day of Ab taken as the official date by the rabbis. . . . Along with Josephus’s eyewitness account of the destruction of the temple by the Romans, there is also an account by Rabbi Yose ben Halafta in Seder ’Olam Rabbah (30.86-97) . . . the passage reads: Rabbi Yose used to say: “Propitiousness is assigned to a propitious day and calamity to a calamitous day. As it is found said: When the temple was destroyed, the first time, that day was immediately after the Sabbath, it was immediately after the Sabbatical year, it was (during the service of) the priestly division of Jehoiarib, and it was the ninth day of Ab, and so the second time (the temple was destroyed).” . . . it is also of interest to note how the Mishna associates yet other untoward events with the same date of the ninth day of Ab: On the ninth day of Ab it was decreed against our fathers that they should not enter into the land (of Israel), [For this date see Seder ’Olam Rabbah 8.45-47, Milikowsky, Seder ’Olam, 473.] and the temple was destroyed the first and second time (by Nebuchadnezzar and by Titus), and Beth-Tor [or Bethar, modern Bettir southwest of Jerusalem, the scene of Bar Kokhba’s final defeat in A.D. 135] was captured, and the City (Jerusalem) was ploughed up (by Hadrian) [Taanich 4:6; Danby 200].”—Jack Finegan, Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1964, 1998), 106,110.

[2] There is an intentional parallel between the departure of God’s glory from the first temple to the Mt. of Olives in Ezekiel’s day (Eze. 10:18; 11:22-23) leading to the destruction of the temple by Babylon and Jesus’ departure from the second temple to the Mt. of Olives (Mt 23:38; Mt 24:1-3) leading to its destruction by Rome.

[3] Gleason L. Archer, Daniel in Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 7—Daniel and the Minor Prophets (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1985), s.v. “Purpose of Daniel.”

[4] “Indeed, it was essential for him to prove by his miraculous acts that he had allowed his people to go into captivity in 587 B.C., not through weakness, but rather to maintain his integrity as a holy God, who carries out his covenant promises both for good and for ill according to the response of his people.”—Ibid.

[5] H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Daniel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1949, 1969), 15.

[6] Charles H. Dyer, “Jeremiah,” in John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, eds., The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Wheaton, IL: SP Publications, 1983),1:1146.