The Bible teaches that the Kingdom will be established gradually (Deut 7:22). The church's enemies will not all be overcome at once. God will leave some opposition to keep it on its toes, but gradually as the church becomes stronger and stronger all opposition will be worn down. It will be just like Joshua taking the land. There will be some major victories which demoralise the opposition, but it will take longer to clear away all opposition.
The major victories will be associated with changes in the season. The New Testament age consists of six "times" or "seasons" on earth. The six seasons are as follows:
- Time of the New Order (Heb 9:10)
- Times of the Gentiles (Luke 21:24)
- Time of distress, wrath (Dan 12:1; 8:19;11:36)
- Time when the Saints receive the Kingdom (Dan 7:22)
- Times of Fulfilment (Eph 1:9,10)
- Little Time (Rev 20:3)
Note the pattern: time, times and half a time (repeated twice).
There are four epochal events that mark the transition from one to season to another. They are:
The Fall of Jerusalem (AD 70) 1 to 2
The Fullness of Israel during 3
The Man of Sin 5 to 6
The Parousia after 6
There is a very clear time line (click to enlarge it).
The seasons and epochal events are described in detail below
The Time of the New Order - The First Season
The forty-year season between the ministry of Jesus and the Destruction of Jerusalem is called the Time of the New Order. Hebrews 9:10 says that the temple sacrifices are "external regulations applying until the "time of the new order". Jesus death on the cross made the temple sacrifices redundant, so it marked the end of the Old Testament age and the beginning of a new order.
Jesus ascended into heaven and rules the church from the right hand of the Father. He has poured out his Spirit on the church so that he can accomplish his purposes. This had two consequences. Firstly, Jerusalem was in God's plan was redundant. The temple had been the centre of sacrifice; but now Jesus death on the cross put an end to sacrifice forever. Jerusalem had been the throne of the King of Israel. Now Jesus had been ascended to sit at the right hand of God as King of the whole earth. Secondly, God established the church do his work in the world. Christians were appointed as kings and priests (Revelation 1:7). The cross, resurrection and ascension brought a radical change and ushered in the new order.
During this first season, the old order continues in parallel with the new order that Jesus had established. Although the Jewish temple system had been made redundant, it continued to function along side and in opposition to the Holy Spirit and the church. The first epochal event brought the old order to an end.
The Destruction of Jerusalem - the First Epochal Event
The first epochal event in the New Testament era was the Destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. Jesus predicted this event in Matthew 24:1-35, Mark 13:1-31 and Luke 21:5-33. Jesus' awful prophecies were fulfilled. A Roman army surrounded Jerusalem and started a terrible siege. The Jewish historian Josephus described this time and it was a terrible tribulation. Conditions were so severe that mothers ate their babies to survive. However, Christians who had needed Jesus warning left the city before the siege began and fled to safety in the mountains.
The destruction of Jerusalem marked the beginning of a time of punishment (Luke 21:22). The Jews had rejected Jesus. The destruction of Jerusalem was a judgement on the city that had crucified the Son of God. The Romans destroyed Jerusalem and the Jews were scattered among the nations. Therefore, the destruction of Jerusalem marks the beginning of the times of the Gentiles.
The Times of the Gentiles - The Second Season
This is the Season we are in now
The Destruction of Jerusalem marked the beginning of Times of the Gentiles. In Luke 21:24, Jesus said that Jerusalem would be trampled until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled (cf Rev 11:4). Jerusalem is still being trampled by other nations. The epochal event that ends this season has not yet occurred, so we are currently living in the Times of the Gentiles.
Paul explains the reason for the Times of the Gentiles in the book of Romans. In Romans 10:21, he describes Israel as a disobedient nation. Although a few have been saved, as a nation they are shut out from God. They have been hardened (11:25), become enemies of the gospel (11:28), committed to disobedience (11:31) and broken out of the vine (11:17).
This is the reason why the battle has been so hard for the last two millennia. Part of the team is missing. The church is not complete, so it has not been functioning at full power.
When Jesus died upon the cross, the devil was totally and fully defeated. He was cast out of heaven (Rev 12:13) and can only continue to function on earth if he can deceive people into rejecting the gospel. However he does have one last legal right on earth. Because Israel is under judgement (Matt 23:39), Satan has had the right to execute its judgement by working evil that will affect them. Furthermore, because the Jews had been scattered among the nations, he has been able to work in all the nations.
During the Times of the Gentiles, Satan has a legal right to operate against the Jews. He has the right to use the nations of the world for this task, so whenever he wants to do great evil in a nation, he incites it to attack the Jews. This increases his authority in that nation. For example, Satan incited both Hitler and Stalin to attack the Jews. This enabled him to do great evil through these men and the nations they ruled.
The rejection of Israel has given Satan a legal right to continue working in the world, despite his defeat. Because he has had this freedom to work in the world, the Kingdom has not come to its proper fulfilment. Therefore, we can expect the rise and decline of the Kingdom to continue until the times of the Gentiles are finished. However, when the Jewish judgement comes to an end, Satan's last legal authority on earth will be gone. His power to do evil will be severely curtailed. This is why Paul says that the Fullness of the Jews will bring great blessing to the world (Rom 11:12). The end of the times of the Gentiles will bring a rapid decline in evil and open the way for an equally rapid advance of the Kingdom of God.
Fullness of Israel - the next Epochal Event
The epochal event that follows the times of Gentiles is called the Fullness of Israel (Rom.11:12). Traditionally, this event has been labelled the "calling of the Jews". However "fullness" is the biblical term, so I prefer it. The Bible is clear that the Jews have not "stumbled beyond salvation" (Rom.11:1-11). They have only been shut out for a time. They will eventually come back under the blessing of God. The Jews will be "grafted into the vine" (11:23) and "saved" (11:26), because their "calling is irrevocable" (11:29). The Fullness of Israel will not just bring blessing to them, it will mean "riches for the world" (11:12) and "life from the dead" (11:15).
The important question is how the Fullness of Israel will come about. The key is to understand that their problem is "seeing". Romans tells us that their eyes have been blinded so they cannot see the truth and their hearts have been hardened in part (11:25). To come to salvation their spiritual eyes will have to be opened.
Zech.12: 10 speaks of a time when God will pour his Spirit out on Israel so that their eyes will be opened and they will see Jesus as he really is. Ezekiel 39:29 says that God will no longer hide his face from Israel, but will pour out his Spirit on the house of Israel. A great outpouring of the Spirit will bring about the Fullness of Israel (not the Second Coming of Jesus).
This will bring about a time of great blessing - "riches to the world" (Romans 11:12). Satan's last authority on earth will be gone and he will be routed. This is not a change in game plan. The Jews receive salvation like everyone else, by repenting and believing in Jesus (Mat 23:39).
Before the Fullness of the Jews, however, there will be a very short season of trouble. Israel will receive the salvation of Jesus during a time of distress.
Time of Distress - the Third Season
The season that follows the Times of the Gentiles is called the Time of Distress. Daniel was told that during a Time of Distress for the nations, multitudes from his nation would receive salvation (Dan 12:2,3). It is also described as a time of wrath (Dan 8:1; 11:36). The time when the Holy Spirit is poured out on Israel will also be a time of great trauma on the earth. Many nations will be attacking Israel. There will be disasters around the world. Therefore, this short period at the end of the Times of the Gentiles which leads up to the Fullness of Israel is called the Time of Distress. However, although it is a difficult time, God will also pour out his Spirit during this time. Moreover, because God is merciful, it will be cut short; it is only half a time.
The transition is gradual and is not marked by an epochal event. We can be encouraged that the Time of Distress is a very short season.
Time when the Saints Possess the Kingdom - the Fourth Season
The next season after the Time of Distress is the Time when the Saints Possess the Kingdom. Once the fullness of the Jew's come in, the team is complete. Satan will have lost his power, so a time of great victory for the church will follow.
This season is named in Daniel 7. Daniel had a vision of the Ancient of Days (God) and one like a son of man coming into his presence (Dan.7:9,13,14). This is the ascension, when Jesus entered heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father. He was given a Kingdom that would never end.
Dan 7:18,22,27,28 describes a subsequent period when the saints possess the Kingdom.
But the saints of the Most High will receive the kingdom and will possess it forever-yes, for ever and ever. The Ancient of Days came and pronounced judgment in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came when they possessed the kingdom. But the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever. Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom.
Sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. This is a picture of people of God being given authority to establish his Kingdom. The game plan is still the same. The Kingdom advances rapidly by the proclamation of the Word of God in the power of the Holy Spirit.
This is a transitional season. The rapid advance leads to the times of fulfilment.
Times of Fulfilment - the Fifth Season
The name of the Times of Fulfilment is given in Ephesians 1:9,10 (notice the plural word times). At first glance this appears to be a reference to the Second Coming. However, the event is the mystery, which God purposed in Christ. In Ephesians 3:10, this mystery is explained as the church achieving victory over the rulers and authorities (the mystery is not the Second Coming).
During this season our mandate to fill and manage the earth will be completed. Our commission to make disciples of all nations will be successful. All God's promises will be fulfilled; that is why this is called the Times of Fulfilment.
The Times of Fulfilment could go on for several thousand years.
The Man of Sin - the Third Epochal Event
The coming of the Man of Sin will end the Times of Fulfilment of the Kingdom of God. He is described in 2 Thes.2. This man is not the beast of revelation nor is he the antichrist. He is a man who leads a rebellion against God at the end of the age. He will be destroyed at the Second Coming of Jesus.
The Little Season - The Sixth Season
The season ushered by the man of sin is called the "little season" or "Short Time" Rev (20:3). God will release Satan for one last time. God is so gracious that he wants to give Satan one last chance to repent. However, he will not take this opportunity, and will go out to do evil. This will bring darkness upon the earth and trouble for the church. This season will be a very short time; that is why it is referred to as half a time.
Parousia - Final Epochal Event
The short time will be cut short by the Parousia of the Lord Jesus Christ. His appearance will light up the sky from one end to another. Those who believe him will be caught up to be with him in the air. The elements will melt and the heavens and earth will pass away.
The Parousia will usher in the final judgment. All men will be raised to stand before Jesus the Judge. Those who belong to him will go to live with him for eternity.
Understanding the Times
I believe we are now close to the end of the Times of the Gentiles and moving into the Time of Distress. The will be followed by the calling of the Jews. This will lead to a great leap forward for the Kingdom of God. (For a more detailed study of God's plan see Times and Seasons
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