Our Bible study group will finish up studying Luke soon. We’ve been together for years and I have a pretty good handle on what they understand. We were studying Luke chapter 21 where Jesus is teaching his disciples what to expect in the future. He is preparing them for when He is crucified. The text has an orderly progression of the concepts. After discussing chapter 21 and because of discussing “until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled” in Luke 21:24; I mentioned God’s redemptive plan. It seemed like they didn’t know what I was talking about. “You know the arch of historical eras of the Bible. The nine Old Testament eras and the three New Testament eras?” I saw the confusion on their faces. Granted it had been a long time since we had covered the historical eras of the Bible. It was 2018 when I taught them my ‘Connecting the Dots of the Bible’ class and some of them weren’t in the group yet. Sometimes we get so focused on studying Scripture; in the minute details of it; in the key words we see; we forget the big picture. The big picture is God has a plan to redeem mankind. And we are part of that plan. We need to keep His plan forefront in our mind and take our place in it.
Before we get to God’s redemptive plan let’s go over what our group discussed in chapter 21. We had gone over each verse and concept. Now pretend you are a drone and going up in the air and looking down at the chapter as a whole. There is a very orderly progression.
Luke 21:5,6 - destruction of the temple in AD 70
Luke 21:7-9 - Do not be misled.
Luke 21:10-19 - things to come - persecution/ endure
Luke 21:20-24 - destruction of the temple in AD 70
Luke 21:25-36 - The Return of Christ - redemption is drawing near, be on guard, keep on the alert, praying
Now go back to Luke 21:24 and read the last part closely. "and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."
A key word in the Gospel of Matthew is the word "fulfilled." Matthew's audience was the Jews and he was telling them the Messiah had come! When I learned this, I started to underline "fulfilled" throughout the biblical text. Whenever we think of the word "fulfilled" we think of perhaps Matthew 5:17 that Jesus did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them; or Jesus fulfilling all of the messianic prophecies. We learn through the word "fulfill" that God has a plan. And His plan will be fulfilled. God operates through historical events, people, and our hearts and minds. "Fulfilled" is a key word in the biblical text and when we see it we need to ask what did God fulfill or what is He going to fulfill. Immediately Galatians 4:4,5 came to mind. But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive adoption as sons. God has a redemptive plan and He will fulfill it at the fullness of time.
When I read "the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled", I asked myself what will God fulfill? We had just studied the Parable of the Vine-growers in Luke 20:9-18. In that parable God is the “owner”/ Israel is the “vineyard”/ the “vine-growers” are the religious leaders/ the “slaves” are the prophets God sent/ the “son” is the Messiah, Jesus/ and “others” are the Gentiles. When the vine-growers reject the son, to whom does the owner give the vineyard to? The Gentiles! The stone which the builders rejected, this became the chief cornerstone.
Let's define "Gentiles." The Gentiles are anyone who is not Jewish. The Romans are Gentiles. The Greeks are Gentiles. The pagans are Gentiles. We are Gentiles.
Is God giving His kingdom to the Gentiles?
And if so, what about the Jews, His people?
This is an interesting concept and it is part of God's redemptive plan. I went to the text notes for Luke 21:24 in all my study Bibles to see what they said about "the times of the Gentiles." This is important to try to grasp because the Return of Christ will come after "the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."
My Life Application Study Bible for Luke 21:24 says:
The "period of the Gentiles" began with Babylon's destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC and the exile of the Jewish people. Israel was no longer an independent nation but was under the control of Gentile rulers. In Jesus' day, Israel was governed by the Roman Empire, and a Roman general would end up destroying the city in AD 70. Jesus was saying that the domination of God's people by his enemies would continue until God decided to end it. The "period of the Gentiles" refers not just to the repeated destructions of Jerusalem but also to the continuing and mounting persecution of God's people until the end.
(Didn’t we just read in Luke 21:12-19 that persecution of God’s people will occur and we are to expect it and endure? We are God’s people.)
My NIV Study Bible said:
The Gentiles would have both spiritual opportunities and domination of Jerusalem, but these times will end when God's purpose for the Gentiles has been fulfilled.
(God's purpose for the Gentiles is to come to saving grace.)
My CSB Study Bible said for Luke 21:23-24:
Wrath is God's anger against sin expressed as righteous judgment. The survivors of the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 were spread all over the known world, even more extensively than the Diaspora that occurred during the Babylonian exile hundreds of years earlier. From AD 70 until the emergence of the modern State of Israel in the mid-twentieth century, Jerusalem was controlled by Gentiles. The times of the Gentiles refers to the current opportune time in which Gentile nations embrace the gospel. Meanwhile, Israel is spiritually hardened and will remain so until near the end. (Romans 11:25-26)
(The times we live in now are people embracing the gospel.)
My ESV Study Bible said:
Until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled may suggest a time when Israel/ Jerusalem will repent and be restored to God's favor. (see Romans 11:11-32).
(I don't think there is any "may" about it because God has promised that and Romans 11:29 says for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.)
The period of the Gentiles began at the Babylonian captivity in 586 BC. Israel had been a united kingdom. They divided into Israel/ the Northern Kingdom and Judah/ the Southern Kingdom. The Northern Kingdom of Israel repeatedly did evil in the sight of God. He finally judged them with the Assyrians in 722 BC. Judah/ the Southern Kingdom fluctuated between doing what was right and doing evil in the sight of God. After a series of several bad kings who led the people to sin, God brought judgment against His people with the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Diaspora happened. God's people, the Jews, were scattered. Fast forward in time to Jesus and when the Jews rejected Him. God judged them with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. What was the result? They were scattered more.
What is God's plan?
Look at the covenant made with Abraham. This is called the Abrahamic Covenant. It is an unconditional everlasting covenant which means God will fulfill it. (Genesis 12; 15; 17) It gives several points, but it includes a promise of blessing and redemption. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed. This promise finds its fulfillment in the New Covenant - Jesus Christ the son of Abraham and our Redeemer who will one day "restore everything."
In two of the above text notes of my study Bibles for Luke 21:24, Romans chapter 11 is referenced.
To understand "until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" turn to Romans 11:11-32.
Romans 11:11 says salvation has come to the Gentiles.
Verse 13 says Paul is speaking to the Gentiles.
Verse 15 is critical! For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? Paul is talking about the Jews. It was because of their rejection that the world was reconciled to God. But when they come to accept the Gospel they will have life from the dead!
Verse 17 tells us some of the branches were broken off, Gentiles were grafted in among them and became partakers.
Verse 19 tells us "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in."
Verse 20 they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith.
Verse 23 tells us And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again.
Verse 24, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?
And verses 25 and 26 sums it up by that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved.
God's covenant with Israel is mentioned in Romans 11:27.
What do we learn? God's righteous plan to save both Jews and Gentiles. Israel's hardening is not the final word. God planned salvation history so that Israel's trespass would open salvation for the Gentiles, and the Jews in turn would be provoked to jealousy when they see Gentiles being saved and enjoying a relationship with God. Full inclusion looks forward to the fulfillment of God's saving promises to ethnic Israel. Paul argues from the lesser to the greater: if Israel's sin brought salvation to the Gentiles, then the blessing will be even greater when all Israel is saved. [Source of information ESV Study Bible]
Israel will return, God made a solemn covenant with Abraham and thus it will be fulfilled. Then Christ will return.
A very good way to learn God’s redemptive plan is to learn the historical eras of the Bible.
[I'd like to give credit for this chart, but I got it from a class I took many years ago and I've been unable to find the source.]
The 9 Eras of Old Testament History
1. Creation - sin enters the world and destroys God's original plan for man
7. Exile - the judging of Judah in 586 BC by the Babylonians
9. Silence - the Intertestamental Era has 6 eras to it and is the time between the Old Testament and New Testament when God prepared the fullness of time for His Son to come.
We see in the Old Testament that God forms His people, but we also see examples of Gentiles grafted into His people. He teaches His people about His character and how they should atone for their sins. He gives them mercy. When they are disobedient, He judges them. When they return, He forgives. They are saved by faith. He promises them a Savior. All of these have occurred.
The 3 Eras of New Testament History
The Church and Missions parts are still going on today.
This is God’s redemptive plan for mankind. He worked through the events of history and His Son to bring salvation.
Jesus comes and offers Himself as the atoning sacrifice for all of mankind. He offers salvation to those who believe. Each of us makes the choice to reject or accept His free gift.
Jesus as the Christ is rejected by the Jews and salvation comes to the Gentiles. Granted some Jews did believe and became Christians in the decades following the crucifixion. But for the most part the Jews rejected Jesus' claim to be the Christ. Christianity spread like wildfire and by the end of the first century it was almost entirely Gentiles.
Romans 11:11-29 tells us this is not the end of God's plan though.
Verse 11 The Jews' rejection of the gospel.
Verse 15 God's temporary and partial exclusion of the Jews. The loss of Israel leads to the salvation of the Gentiles.
Verse 17-23 In this metaphor the branches are individual Jews. Gentile Christians are grafted in. The whole olive tree represents the people of God. Grafting a wild olive branch into the cultivated olive tree is an unnatural procedure. It would be difficult horticulturally to graft broken branches back into the parent tree. However, all things are possible for God. God is able to graft in the Gentiles and to graft in the Jews again. The salvation of the Jews will be on the same basis as anyone's salvation - a personal faith in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead. Forgiveness of sin is based on their repentance and faith. Israel's hardening is partial, not total; and temporary, not permanent.
[Source: NIV Study Bible]
God's purpose is to sum up all things in Christ, to include both Jews and Gentiles in the New Testament church.
Therefore, the plan of redemption occurring right now is that after a period of disobedience by both Jew and Gentile, those who have faith will by His mercy be included in His kingdom. Paul is not teaching universal salvation. The Jew and the Gentile who come to faith in Christ will see God's mercy.
Jesus atones for sin and offers salvation.
… Partial hardening of Israel
… Gentiles grafted in
… The fullness of the Gentiles comes in and the Jews will be grafted back in
Then Christ will return.
Back to chapter 21 of Luke and now that we understand God's redemptive plan it should be clear. Jesus begins with the destruction of the temple in AD 70. He moves on to ‘don't be deceived.’ Then He talks about persecution will occur and this gives us an opportunity to give our testimony. He tells us to endure. He revisits the destruction of the temple and says the reason this has to occur (which it did in AD 70) and the reason was for the Gentiles to be grafted into God's kingdom. Paul tells us in Romans 11 that when the fullness of the Gentiles come, the Jews will be grafted back in to His kingdom.
Then Jesus moves on to He will return. What does He tell us to do until He comes again? He tells us to recognize the kingdom of God is near. That His words will endure forever. That we are to be on the guard and we are to keep on the alert. He tells us to pray.
And how do we fit into God's redemptive plan? From the bird's-eye view of God's redemptive eras we believe the gospel/ we become part of the New Testament church – the body of believers/ we do our part to expand the kingdom of God by living our lives to His glory and telling others of the good news.
Let's leave the drone’s bird's-eye view of God's redemptive plan and come back to the ground. Back to our daily lives. All the while keeping our focus on God.
We are told to love God and love our neighbors. We are told to seek justice, help the needy and the poor, treat others fairly, to be gentle and kind, to not be judgmental. We have compassion on others. We are told to be humble and to serve others. We are to live our lives giving glory to God. We are to be able to answer people when they ask about the hope in us. We are to positively influence our sphere of influence - those God brings in our path.
We set an example. We are honest. When we sin, we confess our sin and ask for forgiveness. We forgive others. We ask for His guidance. We pray for our needs and for the needs of others. Our lives become a living sacrifice to Him. We worship Him. Our hearts are filled with gratitude and thankfulness. We show others the hope we have. We have joy.
Now that we have come to belief, it is no longer about us and we should not be self-centered. We are part of His people. Part of His kingdom. We have become His bondslaves - bought with a price. We are His possession. He has claimed us. Represent Him well.
For us to live out our mission to God's redemptive plan, we focus on Him. And then we serve and show compassion to others. We remember they matter to God. If we do this, we are taking our place in His redemptive plan to give the kingdom of God to both the Jew and the Gentile.
We look forward to the day Jesus will return!
He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming quickly.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
And He will return when Jew and Gentile have come to redemption.
The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.
2 Peter 3:9
God’s redemptive plan is for you and for every other single person on this planet.
He wants none to perish.
His redemptive plan didn’t end when Jesus rose from the dead.
His redemptive plan didn’t end when you came to saving faith.
His redemptive plan is ongoing in this world. One person at a time.
When the fullness of the time comes then Christ will return.