Just before He returns, Christ says, the earth will be dominated by gentile nations. Who are these gentiles, and what will be the result of their influence?
When His disciples asked Jesus Christ what the sign of His second coming would be, He told them that terrible and troubling times would exist just before He returned. Jesus spoke about increasing religious deception, natural disasters, disease and pestilence, religious persecution, revolutions and wars (Luke 21:7-17).
He went on to say the fighting would culminate with Jerusalem being surrounded by armies. And He said, “Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (verse 24, emphasis added throughout).
Who are the gentiles?
So who are these gentiles Jesus Christ spoke about? Can they be identified today?
The word gentile comes from the Latin word gentilis (Merriam-Webster.com). It was used in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible in the fourth century and has been retained in the English translations as “Gentiles.” It was used to translate the Hebrew word goyim, which appears in verses like Isaiah 11:10 and means “peoples or nations” that were non-Israelite or non-Jewish. The Greek equivalent to goyim is ethnos, which is translated as “Gentiles” in the New Testament.
Simply put, the gentiles are the nations that are not of Israelite descent. In other words, the gentiles are people who are not descendants of Jacob, whose name was changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28).
Jacob’s 12 sons became the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel, and the descendants of those sons are Israelites even to this day—though many don’t realize it.
In biblical terminology, those who are not Israelites are gentiles.
The apostle Paul recognized this distinction when he spoke to the first-century gentile Christians. While not of Israelite descent, they were now “fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God” because of their conversion (Ephesians 2:11, 19).
God created all people of the same blood and with the same ultimate potential to be saved (Acts 17:26; 1 Timothy 2:4). He loves all people, but He chose to work first with the children of Israel, giving them knowledge and blessings so that they could become a model nation to help others come to God (see “Why Did God Choose Israel?”). As we will see, sadly, Israel failed in its intended role, and Bible prophecy outlines how both the descendants of Israel and the other nations will eventually learn to obey God.
The connection between Israelites and gentiles
An important key in understanding Bible prophecy is the identity of both ancient and modern-day Israel, and the relationship between God and those Israelites. The prophesied times of the gentiles Jesus Christ was referring to in Luke 21 will directly affect the modern descendants of Israel. In verses 20-24 Christ speaks of those in Judea, including those in Jerusalem, being defeated by the gentiles. Judea basically refers to the modern nation that calls itself Israel, made up mostly of descendants of Judah, Levi and Benjamin, three of Jacob’s 12 sons.
When God delivered ancient Israel from Egypt (a gentile nation), He warned them that if they rejected and forsook God, He would allow them to be militarily overthrown and taken into captivity by gentile nations. Israel did forsake God, and its people were eventually taken away into captivity by the Assyrians and Babylonians around 721 B.C. and 586 B.C.
In these last days, the modern descendants of Israel have been blessed by God because of His everlasting promises to Abraham (see “Blessings of Abraham: How They Came to the United States”). Yet God warns that if they forsake Him, they, too, will be punished for their sins.
It is during this prophesied times of the gentiles that the modern descendants of Israel will be punished because of their rejection of God.
The times of the gentiles in history
Through the prophet Daniel, God says that it is He who allows certain people and nations to come into power (Daniel 4:17). And the apostle Paul adds that God has predetermined when they will come into power and have dominance (Acts 17:26).
God revealed to Daniel that there would be four major empires that would play a role in prophecy before Christ’s return (Daniel 2:28-43). All four of these empires would be led by gentile nations. These four gentile empires are represented by four beasts (Daniel 7:1-3).
The first of these empires was Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian Empire, then the Medo-Persian Empire, followed by the Greco-Macedonian Empire, and finally the Roman Empire.
We have traditionally understood prophecy to refer to 10 revivals of the Roman Empire and a false church that would be directly involved with the last seven revivals (Revelation 13:1-3; for more on this, see “Who Is the Beast?”).
After the Roman Empire fell in A.D. 476, the first three revivals were led by the Vandals, the Heruli and the Ostrogoths. But it was with the next revival, under Justinian in 554, that the Catholic Church began its political influence over the empire.
This papal influence continued under Charlemagne, Otto the Great, Charles V and Napoleon. The most recent revival began in 1870 with the reunification of Italy under Garibaldi and ended with the defeat of the World War II Axis powers of Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (led by Hitler and Mussolini) in 1945.
There is one more revival to come, and that will be just before Jesus Christ returns. But before that, there will continue to be world-encompassing Israelite influence.
The times of Israel
Part of the promise God made to the patriarch Abraham was that his descendants would have national greatness. And when God delivered the Israelites (Jacob’s descendants) from Egypt, He was prepared to give them national greatness then. But the Israelites failed to obey God, and so the promises of national greatness were delayed.
Early in the 19th century, first the British Empire and then the United States became the dominant actors in the world. From that time until now, these two peoples—the recipients of the birthright promise made to Abraham—have dominated the world scene. (To learn more about the heritage of these peoples, read “Who Are the United States and Britain in Prophecy?”)
It’s important to note that even though the promise of national greatness was sure to come because of Abraham’s obedience, keeping that greatness was conditional. Those conditions were—and still are—that the modern Israelites follow God’s laws.
One doesn’t have to look far to see that both the United Kingdom and the United States are disobeying God. And God will punish the modern descendants of Israel for their sins just as He punished their ancestors. Bible prophecy shows that it will be gentiles who will subdue modern Israel. And that will occur during the times of the gentiles Christ spoke about.
The coming times of the gentiles
The United Kingdom and the United States are declining in power. It is now gentile nations like China and Russia that are increasingly becoming world powers. Gentile terrorists based in several Middle Eastern nations are hurling violent acts against Israelite nations—especially the United States, Britain and the Jewish state of Israel.
The European Union is slowly moving toward the point where it will be a force to be reckoned with on the world stage. Apparently, out of this European power will come the 10th revival of the Roman Empire—a gentile power that will not only dominate much of the world but will also militarily conquer and overcome the modern descendants of Israel just before the return of Jesus Christ (Daniel 7:23-25; Deuteronomy 28:47-52, 64-68).
Because of the national sins of modern Israel, God will remove His blessings and protection from them, which will allow the gentile nations to not only dominate the world, but bring cruel and unimagined brutality to the earth! This prophesied time will be so bad that unless Christ intervenes, all life will be destroyed (Matthew 24:21-22).
An evil time
The prophet Ezekiel spoke of this horrific time: “It will be a day of clouds, the time of the Gentiles” (Ezekiel 30:3). And the prophet Amos said, “For it is an evil time” (Amos 5:13).
God says that He will send the “worst of the Gentiles” to punish His people Israel at this time (Ezekiel 7:7-9, 24). The brutalities of the terrorists we are witnessing today are only a small foretaste of what is prophesied to come.
The inhumane treatment of the Jews during World War II is well documented, and many wonder how anybody could treat others so cruelly and mercilessly. Yet the prophesied brutality—especially to the modern descendants of Israel—will be even worse during this coming time (see “Jacob’s Trouble: What Is It?”).
Satan will then use gentile powers as instruments of his wrath toward God and the modern descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel, as well as the saints of God. This traumatic time, called the Great Tribulation, will be heavily influenced by Satan.God says, “Because you [Israel] did not serve the LORD your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything, therefore you shall serve your enemies, whom the LORD will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in need of everything; and He will put a yoke of iron on your neck until He has destroyed you. The LORD will bring a nation against you from afar … a nation of fierce countenance, which does not respect the elderly nor show favor to the young” (Deuteronomy 28:47-50).
Jesus Christ said that it will be the worst time in human history (Matthew 24:21).
Christ’s intervention to save the world
The Bible reveals that at the time of the end Satan the devil will once again try to overthrow God (Revelation 12:7-9). Satan’s attempt will fail, and he will be cast back to the earth and be extremely angry (verse 12).
Satan will then use gentile powers as instruments of his wrath toward God and the modern descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel, as well as the saints of God. This traumatic time, called the Great Tribulation, will be heavily influenced by Satan.
The final revival of the Roman Empire at this time will be a European union, also referred to in prophecy as the king of the North. The Bible says that the king of the South (most likely a Muslim power from the Middle East) will attack the king of the North. This European power will come down and defeat the king of the South (Daniel 11:40-43).
Jerusalem will be in the middle of the battle between these two powers. Prophecy states that half of Jerusalem will go into captivity, and a significant religious site will be desecrated by the European power (Zechariah 14:1-2; Revelation 11:1-2; Daniel 11:31; Matthew 24:15).
Then other gentile nations from the east and north will produce a 200-million-man army and come to fight the king of the North (Daniel 11:44; Revelation 9:16-17). These massive armies will be on the verge of battle—a battle that would potentially end all human life on earth. But just before this happens, Jesus Christ will return to save mankind from self-destruction (Matthew 24:21-22)!
Peace at last
It is at Christ’s return that the times of the gentiles will end. Jesus Christ will swiftly defeat all of the nations who will turn and fight against Him, and He will from that time on reign forever as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Daniel 2:44; Revelation 19:11-16).
The end-time gentile dominance under Satan’s influence will bring unimaginable pain, suffering and death to mankind. But fortunately this time will only last 3½ years. Jesus Christ will return and end the misery on earth. He will then usher in the Millennium—1,000 years of peace and prosperity for both Israelites and gentiles.
It is important to note that these prophecies of the ascendance of gentile nations and the decline of Israelite nations prior to Christ’s return primarily involve people who have not been called by God at this time. Those whom the Father is calling (John 6:44) now include people from all nations and ethnic backgrounds. These people are collectively called “the Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16).
We encourage you to read more about these events that will lead up to the return of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the wonderful Kingdom of God on the earth. You can find many of them in the section on “Revelation.”