APPOINTED TIMES OF THE NATIONS
After discussing the destruction due to come upon the city of Jerusalem, Jesus made the statement: “And Jerusalem will be trampled on by the nations, until the appointed times of the nations [“times of the Gentiles,” KJ, RS] are fulfilled.” (Lu 21:24) The period indicated by the expression “appointed times of the nations [Gr., kai·roiʹ e·thnonʹ]” has occasioned considerable discussion as to its meaning and implication.
Meaning of “Appointed Times.” The expression “appointed times” here comes from the Greek word kai·rosʹ (plural, kai·roiʹ), which, according to Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (1981, Vol. 4, p. 138), “signified a fixed or definite period, a season, sometimes an opportune or seasonable time.” Liddell and Scott’s Greek-English Lexicon (1968, p. 859) gives the further definition of “exact or critical time.” Thus, kai·rosʹ is used to refer to the harvest “season,” “the season” of the fruits, and “the season” of figs (Mt 13:30; 21:34; Mr 11:13); “the proper time” for dispensing food (Mt 24:45; Lu 12:42); “the appointed time” for Jesus’ ministry to begin and the period of opportunity it brought (Mr 1:15; Mt 16:3; Lu 12:56; 19:44); and the “appointed time” of his death. (Mt 26:18) The demons, about to be cast out of certain men, screamed at Jesus: “Did you come here to torment us before the appointed time?”—Mt 8:29.
Kai·rosʹ is also used with reference to future times or occasions within God’s arrangement or timetable, particularly in relation to Christ’s presence and his Kingdom. (Ac 1:7; 3:19; 1Th 5:1) Thus, the apostle Paul speaks of “the sacred secret” revealed by God “for an administration at the full limit of the appointed times [kai·ronʹ], namely, to gather all things together again in the Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth.” (Eph 1:9, 10) In view of the meaning of the word kai·rosʹ as used in the Bible text, it can properly be expected that the expression “appointed times of the nations” refers, not to something vague or indefinite, but, rather, to a “fixed or definite period,” an “exact or critical time,” one having a definite beginning and a definite end.
“The Nations” and “Jerusalem.” The significance of Jesus’ statement is necessarily bound up in his reference to the ‘trampling on Jerusalem,’ which he stated would continue until the fulfillment of “the appointed times of the nations.” The term “nations” or “Gentiles” translates the Greek word eʹthne, which means “nations” and was used by the Bible writers to refer specifically to the non-Jewish nations. On this basis some have considered the prophecy to apply to the period of time during which the geographic site of the ancient city of Jerusalem would be under Gentile domination and control.
While the literal city of Jerusalem is obviously referred to in Jesus’ description of the destruction that was to come and did come upon that city in the year 70 C.E. when the Romans demolished Jerusalem, the statement concerning “the appointed times of the nations” carries the prophecy far beyond that point, as many commentators have noted. Thus, the well-known Commentary by F. C. Cook says of Luke 21:24: “It serves to separate the strictly eschatological portion [that is, the portion relating to the last days] of the great prophecy, from the part belonging properly to the destruction of Jerusalem.” So, it becomes essential to determine what significance the inspired Scriptures attach to “Jerusalem” in order to ascertain whether “the appointed times of the nations” relate only to the literal city of Jerusalem or to something additional and greater.
Jerusalem was the capital of the nation of Israel, whose kings of the line of David were said to “sit upon Jehovah’s throne.” (1Ch 29:23) As such, it represented the seat of the divinely constituted government or typical kingdom of God operating through the house of David. With its Mount Zion, it was “the town of the grand King.” (Ps 48:1, 2) Hence, Jerusalem came to stand for the kingdom of the dynasty of King David, much as Washington, London, Paris, and Moscow represent the ruling powers of present-day nations and are so referred to in news communiqués. After Jerusalem was trampled on by the Babylonians, its king being taken into exile and the land laid desolate, no member of the Davidic dynasty again ruled from earthly Jerusalem. But the Scriptures show that Jesus, the Messiah, who was born in the line of David, would rule from heavenly Mount Zion, from heavenly Jerusalem.—Ps 2:6, 7; Heb 5:5; Re 14:1, 3.
Beginning of ‘trampling.’ The ‘trampling’ on that kingdom of the dynasty of Davidic rulers did not begin with the Roman devastation of the city of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. It began centuries earlier with the Babylonian overthrow of that dynasty in 607 B.C.E. when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and took captive the dethroned king Zedekiah and the land was left desolate. (2Ki 25:1-26; see CHRONOLOGY.) This accorded with the prophetic words directed to Zedekiah at Ezekiel 21:25-27, namely: “Remove the turban, and lift off the crown. This will not be the same. . . . A ruin, a ruin, a ruin I shall make it. As for this also, it will certainly become no one’s until he comes who has the legal right, and I must give it to him.” The one who has “the legal right” to the Davidic crown lost by Zedekiah is demonstrated in the Christian Greek Scriptures to be Christ Jesus, of whom the angel, announcing his future birth, said: “Jehovah God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule as king over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of his kingdom.”—Lu 1:32, 33.
With Jerusalem’s fall in 607 B.C.E. the Gentile powers exercised domination over the entire earth. The Davidic dynasty and rule suffered interruption, and so Jerusalem, or what it stood for, would continue to be “trampled on” as long as God’s kingdom, as functioning through David’s house, was kept in a low, inoperative condition under the Gentile powers. Observing this connection with rulership Unger’s Bible Dictionary (1965, p. 398) comments: “Consequently Gentiles move on as ‘the nations’ to the end of their stewardship as earth rulers. The termination of this period will be the end of the ‘times of the Gentiles’ (Luke 21:24; Dan. 2:36-44).”—Compare Eze 17:12-21; also the description of Medo-Persia’s fall at Da 8:7, 20.
Relation to Daniel’s Prophecies. At least twice in this prophecy concerning the time of the end, Jesus referred to the contents of the book of the prophet Daniel. (Compare Mt 24:15, 21 with Da 11:31; 12:1.) In the book of Daniel we find a picture drawn of the domination of the earth by the Gentile powers during their “appointed times.” The second chapter of Daniel contains the prophetic vision (received by King Nebuchadnezzar) of the great image that Daniel by inspiration showed to represent the march of Gentile world powers, ending with their destruction by the Kingdom set up by “the God of heaven,” which Kingdom then rules earth wide. (Da 2:31-45) It is of note that the image begins with the Babylonian Empire, the first world power to ‘trample Jerusalem’ by overthrowing the Davidic dynasty and leaving “Jehovah’s throne” in Jerusalem vacant. This also confirms the start of “the appointed times of the nations” in the year of Jerusalem’s destruction, 607 B.C.E.
Dream vision of tree in Daniel chapter 4. Again in the book of Daniel we find a close parallel to Jesus’ use of the word “times” with regard to “the nations,” or Gentile powers. And again it is Nebuchadnezzar, the dethroner of David’s descendant Zedekiah, who was given another vision interpreted by Daniel as relating to divinely appointed kingship. The symbolic vision was of an immense tree; an angel from heaven commanded that it be chopped down. Its stump was then banded with iron and copper and had to stay that way among the grass of the field until “seven times” passed over it. “Let its heart be changed from that of mankind, and let the heart of a beast be given to it, and let seven times pass over it . . . to the intent that people living may know that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind and that to the one whom he wants to, he gives it and he sets up over it even the lowliest one of mankind.”—Da 4:10-17; see 4:16, ftn.
Related to “appointed times of the nations.” The vision definitely had a fulfillment in Nebuchadnezzar himself. (See Da 4:31-35.) Therefore, some view it as having direct prophetic application only to him and see in this vision merely the presentation of the eternal verity of ‘God’s supremacy over all other powers—human or supposedly divine.’ They acknowledge the application of that truth or principle beyond Nebuchadnezzar’s own case but do not see it as relating to any specific time period or divine schedule. Yet, an examination of the entire book of Daniel reveals that the element of time is everywhere prominent in the visions and prophecies it presents; and the world powers and events described in each such vision are shown, not as isolated or as occurring at random with the time element left ambiguous, but, rather, as fitting into a historical setting or time sequence. (Compare Da 2:36-45; 7:3-12, 17-26; 8:3-14, 20-25; 9:2, 24-27; 11:2-45; 12:7-13.) Additionally, the book repeatedly points toward the conclusion that forms the theme of its prophecies: the establishment of a universal and eternal Kingdom of God exercised through the rulership of the “son of man.” (Da 2:35, 44, 45; 4:17, 25, 32; 7:9-14, 18, 22, 27; 12:1) The book is also distinctive in the Hebrew Scriptures for its references to “the time of the end.”—Da 8:19; 11:35, 40; 12:4, 9.
In view of the above, it does not seem logical to evaluate the vision of the symbolic “tree” and its reference to “seven times” as having no other application than to the seven years of madness and subsequent recovery and return to power experienced by one Babylonian ruler, particularly so in the light of Jesus’ own prophetic reference to “the appointed times of the nations.” The time at which the vision was given: at the critical point in history when God, the Universal Sovereign, had allowed the very kingdom that he had established among his covenant people to be overthrown; the person to whom the vision was revealed: the very ruler who served as the divine instrument in such overthrow and who thereby became the recipient of world domination by divine permission, that is, without interference by any representative kingdom of Jehovah God; and the whole theme of the vision, namely: “that people living may know that the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind and that to the one whom he wants to, he gives it and he sets up over it even the lowliest one of mankind” (Da 4:17)—all of this gives strong reason for believing that the lengthy vision and its interpretation were included in the book of Daniel because of their revealing the duration of “the appointed times of the nations” and the time for the establishment of God’s Kingdom by his Christ.
The tree symbolism and God’s sovereignty. The symbolisms used in this prophetic vision are by no means unique. Trees are elsewhere used to represent ruling powers, including that of God’s typical kingdom at Jerusalem. (Compare Jg 9:6-15; Eze 17:1-24; 31:2-18.) A stump’s being caused to sprout and the symbol of “a twig” or “sprout” are found a number of times as representing the renewal of rulership in a certain stock or line, particularly in the Messianic prophecies. (Isa 10:33–11:10; 53:2-7; Jer 23:5; Eze 17:22-24; Zec 6:12, 13; compare Job 14:7-9.) Jesus spoke of himself as both “the root and the offspring of David.”—Re 5:5; 22:16.
The fact is evident that the key point of the vision is Jehovah God’s exercise of irresistible sovereignty in “the kingdom of mankind,” and this provides the guide to the full meaning of the vision. The tree is shown to have an application to Nebuchadnezzar, who at that point in history was the head of the dominant World Power, Babylon. Yet, prior to Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest of Jerusalem, the typical kingdom of God ruling out of that city was the agency by which Jehovah expressed his rightful sovereignty toward the earth. It thus constituted a divine block or impediment for Nebuchadnezzar in attaining his goal of world domination. By allowing that typical kingdom at Jerusalem to be overthrown, Jehovah permitted his own visible expression of sovereignty through the Davidic dynasty of kings to be cut down. The expression and exercise of world domination in “the kingdom of mankind,” unhindered by any representative kingdom of God, now passed into the hands of the Gentile nations. (La 1:5; 2:2, 16, 17) In the light of these facts “the tree” is seen to represent, beyond and above its application to Nebuchadnezzar, world sovereignty or domination by God’s arrangement.
Renewal of world domination. God, however, here makes clear that he has not forever delivered up such world domination to the Gentile powers. The vision shows that God’s self-restraint (represented by the bands of iron and of copper around the stump of the tree) would continue until “seven times pass over it.” (Da 4:16, 23, 25) Then, since “the Most High is Ruler in the kingdom of mankind,” God would give world domination “to the one whom he wants to.” (Da 4:17) The prophetic book of Daniel itself shows that one to be the “son of man” to whom are given “rulership and dignity and kingdom, that the peoples, national groups and languages should all serve even him.” (Da 7:13, 14) Jesus’ own prophecy, in which the reference to “the appointed times of the nations” occurs, points definitely toward Christ Jesus’ exercise of such world domination as God’s chosen King, the heir of the Davidic dynasty. (Mt 24:30, 31; Lu 21:27-31, 36) Thus, the symbolic stump, representing God’s retention of the sovereign right to exercise world domination in “the kingdom of mankind,” was due to sprout again in his Son’s Kingdom.—Ps 89:27, 35-37.
Seven Symbolic Times. In Nebuchadnezzar’s personal experience of the vision’s fulfillment the “seven times” were evidently seven years, during which he became mad, with symptoms like those of lycanthropy, abandoning his throne to eat grass like a beast in the field. (Da 4:31-36) Notably, the Biblical description of the exercise of world domination by the Gentile powers is presented through the figure of beasts in opposition to the holy people of God and their “Prince of princes.” (Compare Da 7:2-8, 12, 17-26; 8:3-12, 20-25; Re 11:7; 13:1-11; 17:7-14.) Concerning the word “times” (from Aramaic ʽid·danʹ), as used in Daniel’s prophecy, lexicographers show it here to mean “years.” (See Lexicon in Veteris Testamenti Libros, by L. Koehler and W. Baumgartner, Leiden, 1958, p. 1106; A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, by Brown, Driver, and Briggs, 1980, p. 1105; Lexicon Linguae Aramaicae Veteris Testamenti, edited by E. Vogt, Rome, 1971, p. 124.) The duration of a year as so used is indicated to be 360 days, inasmuch as three and a half times are shown to equal “a thousand two hundred and sixty days” at Revelation 12:6, 14. (Compare also Re 11:2, 3.) “Seven times,” according to this count, would equal 2,520 days. That a specific number of days may be used in the Bible record to represent prophetically an equivalent number of years can be seen by reading the accounts at Numbers 14:34 and Ezekiel 4:6. Only by applying the formula there expressed of “a day for a year” to the “seven times” of this prophecy can the vision of Daniel chapter 4 have significant fulfillment beyond the day of now extinct Nebuchadnezzar, as the evidence thus far presented gives reason to expect. They therefore represent 2,520 years.
It is a historical fact worth noting that, on the basis of the points and evidence above presented, the March 1880 edition of the Watch Tower magazine identified the year 1914 as the time for the close of “the appointed times of the nations” (and the end of the lease of power granted the Gentile rulers). This was some 34 years before the arrival of that year and the momentous events it initiated. In the August 30, 1914, edition of The World, a leading New York newspaper at that time, a feature article in the paper’s Sunday magazine section commented on this as follows: “The terrific war outbreak in Europe has fulfilled an extraordinary prophecy. For a quarter of a century past, through preachers and through press, the ‘International Bible Students’ . . . have been proclaiming to the world that the Day of Wrath prophesied in the Bible would dawn in 1914.”
The events that took place from and after the year 1914 C.E. are well-known history to all, beginning with the great war that erupted, the first world war in mankind’s history and the first to be fought over the issue, not of the domination of Europe alone, nor of Africa, nor of Asia, but of the domination of the world.—Lu 21:7-24, 29-33; Re 11:15-18; see LAST DAYS; PRESENCE.