Has the Gospel been preached to all the world? Is ‘the end’ about to come?
When you’re speaking with someone who is new to the topic of Fulfilled eschatology, (the understanding that all Bible prophecy, including Jesus’ coming, was fulfilled by 70AD) there is one objection that often comes up.It goes something like this, “Well the Bible says that the coming of Jesus can’t happen until the Gospel is preached to the whole world!”
And this is true. The Bible does say that. In fact, it says it several times, in several ways.
But the Bible also says something else that most Christians miss – even most pastors and theologians today. And it’s something you should know. Would you believe that the Bible says the Gospel WAS PREACHED to the 1) WHOLE WORLD, to 2) ALL NATIONS, to 3) ALL THE WORLD, to 4) EVERY CREATURE UNDER HEAVEN and even to the 5) ENDS OF THE EARTH — all BEFORE 70AD?
Read it for yourself.
This shows that, yes, Jesus’ prophecy about the Gospel being preached to ‘all the world’ – as HIS AUDIENCE understood it – was fulfilled. But, like many misunderstood fulfilled prophecies, it was fulfilled according to the way THEY understood their terms, in 1st c Palestine, not the way WE define those same words today, in 21st c America. This is why it’s important to remember original audience relevance. We must continue to try and put ourselves in their sandals and progress in our understanding of what THEY thought Jesus taught. We must continually ask, “What did THEY think this meant? In what sense do THEY interpret this passage?”
Indeed, the Gospel had been preached to what THEY considered to be the whole world. And “the end” that THEY were anticipating – that is, the end of the Old Covenant world – came to pass, in 70AD, when the very center and symbol of that world, Temple and Jerusalem, were destroyed. This is why all the New Testament writers said the Last Days were back THEN. They were not talking about the New Covenant age beginning with a pronouncement of last days of history or the world. What sense would that make? They were talking about the Last Days of the Old Covenant AGE, which ended in 70AD.
The “end” that Jesus said would come after the Gospel reached “all the land” was a COVENANTAL END. It was the end of our redemption from the curse of Adam and the consummation of our New Relationship of life in God in the way of Jesus. This is why Jesus called it the “End of the Age”. He meant the ‘End of the Old Covenant Age’ that THEY were in, which was the age of keeping the Mosaic law, sacrifices, circumcision, kosher and incomplete atonement. That burdensome life was not the way it was meant to be. They dreamt of freedom, of complete atonement and peace with God. The hope of Israel was Exodus and everything it stood for; to be resurrected from that age of bondage with, in and through their atoning Messiah.
There is no reason, from the text to believe that Jesus was ever talking about the ‘end of the world’, neither in that passage, nor any other passage. Despite poor Bible translations which misinterpret ‘end of the age’ for ‘end of the world’, a look at the Greek reveals that Jesus was always talking about the end of the Old Covenant AGE – NOT the material world. Jesus was anticipating a new world order, a new spiritual reality, a Kingdom of God’s children finally at peace with God, FREE from Mosaic law and sacrifice. We are citizens of that Kingdom now. That Old Covenant age passed away with a roar and flames of fire at the destruction of the Temple. And this happened just as and when Jesus said it would in his Olivet Discourse — TO that first generation of saints to whom the New Testament teaching was delivered (Mt 24, Mk 13, Lk 21). Once again, original Hebrew audience relevance and context are key to understanding what kind of “end” and what scope of “world” THEY were talking about.
Does a fulfilled view of this prophecy negate one’s desire to preach the Gospel in the wider world today? Of course not, as evidenced by the powerful and prolific ministries of people with a fulfilled view. But it effects our motivation and our message. We don’t need to act as if we’re sharing God with people to hasten a mysteriously “delayed” coming of Jesus. (As if good news is telling people that they get to wait indefinitely with us for something good or awful that may or may not ever occur in their lifetime. How is that good news?). Instead, we can joyfully and confidently go forth sharing a returned, present and reliable Jesus; One who is HERE WITH US right now. One who has glorified us as Sons and Daughters. One in whose resurrection life we live and move. One who is working in and through us amidst the ups and downs of life on earth NOW. We can be confident in this because He did what He said He would do… and when.