AND Jerusalem shall be trodden down Of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24).
International attention has recently been focused on major events transpiring in the Middle East, and in particular, in the old city of Jerusalem itself.
The Jews and the Arabs, bitter enemies for a multitude of centuries, have just fought a war, which largely took place between two Sabbaths. Now that the Jews have retaken old Jerusalem for virtually the first time in nearly 2,000 years, new attention has been drawn to the Jews and their Messianic hopes.
The Jewish nation is endeavoring to maintain its expanded borders, and is shipping thousands of the Arab inhabitants across the Jordan River into the kingdom of Jordan. In spite of the United Nations' statement that the Jews must return Arab territories to their former rulers, the mayor of Jerusalem has received instruction from his government to annex old Jerusalem and to administer the old and new cities as one city.
The Jews have bulldozed the Arab homes in front of the foundations of the old Temple of Jerusalem, leaving a large public square so that the Jews can again have access to the "wailing wall." They plan to stay, they say.
This international situation raises a problem for Bible students. When Jesus was giving His famous eschatological Sermon on the Mount, which is recorded in Matthew 24 and similar parallel passages in two other Gospels, He spoke of certain events that affect Jerusalem. One, recorded in Luke 21:24, states: "And Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled."
Jesus was here stating that Jerusalem, destined from ancient times to be the noble city from which the world would be evangelized, had forfeited its opportunities and was soon to be overcome by the Gentile nations. Jesus also said that Jerusalem would be occupied by Gentile nations "until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." Was He here inferring that when the "times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" the Jews would again reinhabit the old city of Jerusalem? Does this prophecy about the Gentiles overrunning the ancient Holy City really call for the return of the Jews to Palestine?
The time-honored position of the Seventh-day Adventist Church has always been that the return of the Jews to Palestine is immaterial to Bible prophecy. William Miller in 1818 made the statement in his articles of faith: "That the theory of the return of the Jews was not sustained by the Word."—Quoted in Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 4, p. 463. From that time onward, we as a people have sustained this position.
However, in spite of the fact that there are millions of Jews in the major capital cities of the world, we cannot deny that in recent times multitudes of Jews have returned to Palestine and set up their own national polity.
The history of Israel from the times of Abraham and Jacob to the destruction of Jerusalem is familiar to all Bible students.
Following the destruction of their capital city, and the later revolt under Simon bar Cocheba, Jerusalem was turned into a Gentile city and named by the Romans, CoIonia Aelia Capitolina. In the 1300's small numbers of Jews began to return to their former parental homeland, and in 1870 a large group of European Jews formed a colony in Palestine, which by this time was under Turkish rule. In 1897 the Zionist movement was founded, and then the stream of Jewish immigrants began to increase. Through the action of Great Britain, the Balfour declaration marked out Palestine as the Jewish national home, and their modern state of Israel officially came into being on May 15, 1948.
For the Jewish nation to emerge, the Arabs had to be largely elbowed out, but not until a few weeks ago did the Jews regain old Jerusalem; the first time in nearly 2,000 years.
These events have caused many modern expositors to take the prophecies of Ezekiel and other Biblical writers and apply them to the modern restoration of Israel. Familiar passages are involved, such as "Behold, I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land" (Eze. 37:21), and "I have gathered them into their own land, and have left none of them any more there [in dispersion]" (chap. 39:28). Regarding Gog and Magog it is stated, "After many days thou shalt be visited: in the latter years thou shalt come into the land that is brought back from the sword" (chap. 38:8).
However, as we know, the prophecies toward the end of the book of Ezekiel are all conditional prophecies, conditional upon the obedience of the children of Israel. They were not obedient, and thus were later cast off forever as God's chosen race.
Jesus was aware in His day that the Hebrew race was about to forfeit its divine privileges, and on occasions this made Him weep. So He said: "0 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not! Behold, your house is left unto you desolate"
(Matt. 23:37, 38). And on another occasion: "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" (chap. 21:43).
In the events of the crucifixion of Jesus, and the persecution at the time of the stoning of Stephen, the Hebrew race was forever cut off from being God's chosen people. The "nation bringing forth the fruits thereof," the church of God scattered throughout the world, has become God's chosen people. As spiritual Israel, the church for the past 2,000 years has undergone the experiences outlined in the book of Revelation, and has emerged to the light of day in recent times as the great Advent Movement.
Because the Hebrew race has been cast off from God and replaced by the Christian church, the conditional prophecies of Ezekiel can never be fulfilled in God's original intention. Revelation's prophecies have replaced them. Because of this, Jesus in Luke 21:24 cannot be inferring then that the Jews would inhabit old Jerusalem again as a fulfillment of last-day prophecy. How then do we understand this verse?
In a closer examination we see that the word nation is used once, and Gentiles is used twice, yet the Greek uses only the word ftvog. This Greek word is translated more than 60 times in the New Testament simply as nation (or nations) and more than 90 times as Gentiles. Translating consistently in Luke 21:24 we read simply, "And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive of the nations; and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the nations until the times of the nations be fulfilled."
Never again, said Jesus, would Jerusalem be inhabited by a high and holy people, a people who loved and served God, after the time of the rejection of the Jews as God's people. Jerusalem could never be transformed into the New Jerusalem as God originally intended, but rather, it would be forever in secular hands. This would be the case until the "times of the nations be fulfilled." Daniel 2 tells us that Jesus comes as the stone cut out without hands to destroy the nations of this earth. Jerusalem will thus be forever the plaything of unconverted nations right down through history until the time of the Second Advent.