It is widely believed today that the gospel must be preached to all the world before Christ can come; when the Great Commission is fulfilled the Parousia, (Jesus’ coming or presence) is supposed to be near. This belief is based on Matthew 24:14: "This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world for a witness to all the nations, then comes the end".
First, what is "the end" Jesus alludes to? Is it the end of time? Look back at verse 3; the disciples ask "what shall be the sign of thy coming and the end of the age". The disciples did not ask about nor did Jesus tell about the end of time! They were asking about the end of the age in which they were living. That is the Old Covenant Age. They wanted to know when that age would end and the Messianic Age would come!
Comparison of Mark 13 and Luke 21 should settle this issue. There Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem and the disciples ask: "When shall these things be and what shall be the sign when all these things will be fulfilled?" Now in Mark and Luke the disciples ask the same questions, about the time and the sign. In Matthew, Mark and Luke Jesus gives the identical answers. Yet in Mark and Luke it is clear the disciples did not ask about any "end of time" but the fall of Jerusalem. It therefore follows that the disciples definitely associated the end of the age with the fall of Jerusalem. Were they wrong?
Jesus did not rebuke them for associating the fall of Jerusalem with the end of the age. Further, none of the Synoptic writers insert a "post facto" statement that the disciples later understood they were mistaken, as happened on other occasions. We therefore conclude that the disciple’s association of the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the age was correct.
This idea is corroborated by the fact that the Christian Age is endless. Paul states this in the clearest of terms, Ephesians 3:20-21. The prophets said the kingdom of Christ, which is the church of the living God, Hebrews 12:21ff would never pass away, Isaiah 9:6ff, Daniel 2:44, Luke 1:32-35, Hebrews 12:28. The disciples were not living in the church age; if they asked about the end of the Messianic Age they were asking about the end of something that has no end! Did Jesus tell the disciples about the end of an age that has no end?!?
In Matthew 24:2 Jesus predicted the fall of Jerusalem. His prediction prompts the disciple’s question about signs of the end of the age, vs. 3. In verse 14 Jesus gave a definite sign of the end of the age: the gospel of the kingdom would be preached in all the world "then comes the end". Was the gospel preached in all the world before the fall of Jerusalem? Millennialism says no; Inspiration says "Yes!"
The chart below lists the prophecy or command relative to the Great Commission, with the original Greek word for "world" used to define the scope of the command, and the New Testement passage giving the fulfillment.
|In all the "world"||In all the "world"|
|Matt. 24:14||Rom. 10:18|
|Greek – oikoumene||Greek – oikoumene|
|Into all the world||Into all the world|
|Mark 16:15-||Col. 1:6-|
|Greek – kosmos||Greek – kosmos|
|To all creation||in all creation|
|Mark 16:15||Col. 1:23|
|Greek – ktisis||Greek – ktisis|
|Teach all nations||Made known to all the nations|
|Matt. 28:19||RM. 16:26|
|Greek – ethnos||Greek – ethnos|
|Judea, Samaria, world||Into all earth|
|Acts 1:8||Rom. 10:18|
|Greek – ge||Greek – ge|
Every Greek word used by the Spirit in commanding the gospel be preached to all the world, earth, nations, is also used by the Spirit to describe the world, earth, nations to whom the gospel was preached in the first century. The modern claim that the gospel was never preached in all the world is therefore false.
Jesus said the gospel would be preached in all the world "then comes the end". The gospel was preached in all the world in that generation. The "end" must therefore have come in that generation. And that is exactly what Jesus said would happen in Matthew 24:29-34–his coming would be in that generation!
There are not two "ends" in Matthew 24; this interpretation is a fabrication necessitated by preconceived ideas of the nature of Christ’s coming that will not allow acceptance of his inspired time-table for his coming. Jesus said the gospel would be preached in all the world then would come the end of the age and his coming. The gospel was preached in all the world as predicted in that generation. Will you accept his word that he would and did come in that generation?
We have seen that the New Testament incontrovertibly says the Great Commission was fulfilled in the first century. Understanding the Great Commission will also help us understand the book of Revelation.
John’s vision was about things past, present and future, 1:19. The things future were "things which must shortly take place," and "the time is at hand," Rev. 1:1-3.
Revelation 14 and Matthew 24 are parallel passages from two different vantages points. Note the comparison:
|Matthew 24||Revelation 14|
|Gospel to all nations, vs. 14||Gospel to all nations, vs. 6|
|message of judgment, vs. 14-34||message of judgment, vs. 7|
|Jerusalem to fall, vs. 2ff||Babylon to fall, vs. 8|
|Christ’s coming on clouds, vs. 30-31||Christ’s coming on clouds, vs. 14|
|time of harvest, vs. 31||time of harvest, vs. 15-20|
|Christ’s generation, vs. 34||time has come, vs. 15; time at hand, 1:1-3|
Babylon, the Great City, was "where our Lord was crucified" Revelation 11:8. That was not Rome or apostate Christianity; it was Jerusalem! Jesus had predicted his coming in judgment of the Old World of Israel in his generation after the gospel had been preached in all the world. John, in that generation, recalls the commission and sees that the time for Christ’s coming was near "Behold, I am coming quickly, and my reward is with me" Revelation 22:12.
The completion of the Commission signaled the end of the age, Matthew 24:14 — not the end of time. The preaching of the gospel to all the world completed the revelation of God’s Scheme of Redemption. It is now the continuing mission of the church to manifest the gospel "once for all delivered to the saints" Jude 3. This continuing mission takes place in the "world without end," Ephesians 2:6-7; 3:20-21.
Understanding the world commission is vital to understanding the scope of the New Testament. The writers knew Jesus was to come when the gospel had been preached to all nations. The Lord’s patience in regard to his coming, II Peter 3:9, is to be seen in the light of the time required for the fulfillment of the commission. But the commission was fulfilled in the first century generation and Christ did come or his promise has failed. Contemporary interpretations that demand a modern fulfillment of the Commission to hasten "another" coming of the Lord are ignoring the Biblical testimony about the time for Christ’s coming and the fulfillment of the commission.