A prophetic declaration by Jesus buried in Luke 21 is often overlooked in discussions and teachings of Bible prophecy, but it may be the single most compelling verse of Scripture pointing to the nearness of end-times fulfillment. In fact, this powerful proof of the soon return of Christ is not even a full verse; it is the last half of verse 24: "Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."
So how does this statement indicate the nearness of Christ's return? To answer that question, we need to fully understand what it is saying.
It helps to realize that Jesus made this statement in A.D. 33, just a few days prior to His crucifixion. When he did, He was looking toward A.D. 70, the culmination of the Jewish wars when the Roman armies put down the rebellion of Jews under the Roman rule of Israel. Rome sent an army, led by future Emperor Titus, to destroy Jerusalem, which was being held by the Jewish Zealots. In the process, the second temple was also destroyed.
This began the fulfillment of Jesus' prediction that "Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles." What He had in mind, of course, was that Jerusalem would be under Gentile control. This occurred from A.D. 70 all the way until June of 1967.
It was then, during the Six Day War, that Israel miraculously regained Jerusalem. While the city of God had been under Gentile control for 1,897 years, the fulfillment of the second half of Jesus' prophecy for Jerusalem came true at that time—1967!
Some Bible prophecy teachers dispute that the second half of this declaration was fulfilled in 1967. This is because of their understanding of "the times of the Gentiles." Many understand that term to refer to a long time period, begun at the time of the Babylonian captivity of southern Israel and ending at the return of Christ. Those who hold to this view point to Daniel's vision of four Gentile empires as the starting point and to Paul's statement in Romans 11:25 "until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in" as the ending point.
Neither that starting point, nor that ending, of "the times of the Gentiles" fits with Jesus' declaration in Luke 21:24. Other than four Gentile empires being surfaced, there is absolutely no connection with Luke 21:24. Though it is possible that Jesus' use of the future tense in this verse refers to a continuation of Jerusalem's control by the Gentiles beyond the time at which He pronounced it, it is also likely that Jesus indicated a future starting point for Gentile control, such as A.D. 70. That seems much more likely since both John the Baptist (the forerunner of Christ) and Jesus had warned of Jerusalem's destruction by the Romans. That was a major event signaling a definite change in how God would work with the Jews. The destruction of Jerusalem was clearly a judgment of God upon Israel for her rejection of God's Son (cf. Matthew 22:2-7), and it was a signal that God was turning toward the Gentiles with the gospel of Christ. In fact, thirty-six years earlier, God began reaching out to the Gentiles with the gospel via the apostle Paul, but it was the destruction of Jerusalem that was the definite and clear announcement that "the times of the Gentiles" had begun.
Thus, in connection with Jerusalem, "the times of the Gentiles" refers to God turning toward the Gentiles with the gospel for salvation. Thus, the beginning of that focus did not occur back in Daniel's day; instead, it began in A.D. 70. But when would that focus end?
The key concept that answers that question is the word "until" in Luke 21:24. It is a translation of the Greek word achri. The English word "until" is a good translation of that word; for it refers to a continuance ,without interruption, until a change occurs. Taking that understanding into Luke 21:24, we can see that what Jesus had in mind was a continuation of Gentile control of Jerusalem until that changed; and it did in June of 1967. (While it has been mentioned that the Jews temporarily gained control in the Bar Kochba rebellion in A.D. 132-135, historical evidence that they did NOT gain control over Jerusalem, only a portion of it. See http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Bar_Kochba.) Thus, "the times of the Gentiles" were fulfilled in 1967.
So what is the significance of that? It is very great. It means that since 1967 God has been turning toward Israel for salvation. The Bible shows us that Israel will attain salvation (see Romans 11:26) by the end of the seven-year tribulation period, the final seven years leading to the return of Christ to the earth. This means that God has been preparing for that for forty-four years; and that most likely means we are drawing very close to that event.
That is significant to believers in Christ for eternal life. After all, the Bible also shows us that Jesus will remove the Church, which is made up of all those living on the earth who have believed Jesus for their eternal destiny, immediately prior to the beginning of the seven-year tribulation period (the seventieth "week" of Daniel). Thus, we can expect His appearance in the air for us very soon! That means we should keep looking up!
[John Claeys serves with John Claeys Ministries through writing, speaking, and radio ministries and is the author of Apocalypse 2012: The Ticking of the End Time Clock—What Does the Bible Say?, a riveting look of the events leading up to the return of Christ. See www.JohnClaeys.com for more information.]