The commentaries in the Talmud, written before the onset of Christianity, clearly discuss the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah 53 and Psalm 22 and puzzle over how these would be fulfilled with the glorious setting up of the kingdom of the Messiah. After the church used these prophecies to prove the claims of Christ, the Jews took the position that the prophecies did not refer to the Messiah, but to Israel or some other person.
The Jews believed that the Messiah, the prophet which Moses spoke about, would come and deliver them from Roman bondage and set up a kingdom where they would be the rulers. Two of the disciples, James and John, even asked to sit at Jesus’ right and left in His kingdom when He came into His glory. The people of Jerusalem also thought He would deliver them. They shouted praises to God for the mighty works they had seen Jesus do and called out, “Hosanna, save us,” when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey (Matthew 21:9). They treated Him like a conquering king. Then, when He allowed Himself to be arrested, tried, and crucified on a cursed cross, the people stopped believing that He was the promised prophet. They rejected their Messiah (Matthew 27:22).
Note that Paul tells the church that the spiritual blindness of Israel is a “mystery” that had not previously been revealed (Romans chapters 9–11). For thousands of years, Israel had been the one nation that looked to God while the Gentile nations generally rejected the light and chose to live in spiritual darkness. Israel and her inspired prophets revealed monotheism—one God who was personally interested in mankind’s destiny of heaven or hell, the path to salvation, the written Word with the Ten Commandments. Yet Israel rejected her prophesied Messiah, and the promises of the kingdom of heaven were postponed. A veil of spiritual blindness fell upon the eyes of the Jews, who previously were the most spiritually discerning people. As Paul explained, this hardening on the part of Israel led to the blessing of the Gentiles who would believe in Jesus and accept Him as Lord and Savior.
Two thousand years after He came to the nation of Israel as their Messiah, Christ is still (for the most part) rejected by the Jews. Many Jews today (some say at least half of all living Jews) identify themselves as Jewish but prefer to remain “secular.” They identify with no particular Jewish movement and have no understanding or affiliation with any Jewish biblical roots. The concept of Messiah as expressed in the Hebrew Scriptures or Judaism’s “13 Principles of Faith” is foreign to most Jews today.
But one concept is generally held as universal: Jews must have nothing to do with Jesus! Most Jews today perceive the last 2,000 years of historical Jewish persecution to be at the hands of so-called “Christians.” From the Crusades, to the Inquisition, to the pogroms in Europe, to Hitler’s Holocaust—Jews ultimately believe that they are being held responsible for the death of Jesus Christ and are being persecuted for that reason. They, therefore, reject Him today.
The good news is that many Jews are turning to Christ today. The God of Israel has always been faithful to keep a “remnant” of believing Jews to Himself. In the United States alone, some estimates say that there are over 100,000 Jewish believers in Jesus, and the numbers are growing all the time.
In Luke 21:24, Jesus speaks of future events, including the destruction of Jerusalem and His return. He says that “Jerusalem will be trampled underfoot by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” (ESV). A similar phrase is found in Romans 11:25, which says, “A partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in” (ESV). Does the Bible tell us what the phrase “times of the Gentiles” means?
The Old Testament does not contain this exact phrase, but there are references that seem to match up. Ezekiel 30:3 points to “a time of doom for the nations” in connection with the Day of the Lord. Daniel’s series of visions deals with Gentile world powers and their role in God’s plan for the earth. Nebuchadnezzar’s image of gold, silver, bronze, iron, and clay (Daniel 2:31–45) represents successive Gentile kingdoms that will dominate until Christ returns and establishes His reign. Daniel’s vision of the four beasts (Daniel 7:1–27) likewise speaks of four kings, or nations, which will dominate for a time until Christ comes to rule forever. The vision of the ram and the goat (Daniel 8:1–26) gives more detail about these Gentile rulers and the time involved in their dominion. In each of these passages, the Gentiles have dominion over the world, including the Jewish people, for a time, but God will ultimately subdue them all and establish His own kingdom once and for all. Each prophecy culminates with a reference to Christ’s kingdom, so the “times” of these Gentile rulers would be all the years between the Babylonian Empire of Nebuchadnezzar and the glorious return of Christ to establish His kingdom. We are now living in “the times of the Gentiles,” that is, in the era of Gentile domination.
When we examine the book of Revelation, we find similar references to the time of Gentile dominion ending with the return of Christ. In Revelation 11:2, John indicates that Jerusalem will be under Gentile rule, even though the temple has been restored. The armies of the Beast are destroyed by the Lord in Revelation 19:17–19, just before the millennial reign of Christ is initiated.
Looking again at Luke 21:24, we see that Jesus mentions a time in which Jerusalem is under the dominion of Gentile authority. Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem in 588 BC began that period, and it has continued through the present time. Romans 11:25 gives us a hint as to God’s purpose in the times of the Gentiles: the spread of the gospel throughout the whole world. The organization and inventions of the pagan world powers have actually aided the evangelism of the world. For example, in the first century, it was the widespread use of the Greek language and the network of Roman roads that allowed many people in far-off lands to hear the gospel.
One theme of Romans 11 is that, when the Jewish people rejected Christ, they were temporarily cut off from the blessings of a relationship with God. As a result, the gospel was given to the Gentiles, and they gladly received it. This partial hardening of heart for Israel doesn’t preclude individual Jews from being saved, but it prevents the nation from accepting Christ as Messiah until His plans are finished. When the time is right, God will restore the entire nation, and they will come to faith in Him once again, ending “the times of the Gentiles” (Isaiah 17:7; 62:11–12; Romans 11:26).