Jesus declared that the “end” will not come until “this gospel of the kingdom of God has been proclaimed to all nations.”
Discussions about the Second Coming always raise the question – What “signs” will precede that day? And invariably, wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, famines, and similar catastrophes are proposed as harbingers of the end. But Jesus gave a most definitive answer – The completion of the Church’s mission. In other words, preach the gospel.
After his final visit to the Temple, Jesus predicted its destruction and that of the city of Jerusalem. Because Israel had rejected her Messiah:
- “All these things shall come upon this generation. Behold, your house is left to you desolate… Truly I declare to you, there shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down” – (Matthew 23:34-39, 24:1-2).
In response, the disciples asked Jesus two questions. When will the predicted destruction of the Temple occur, and what will be the “sign” of the coming of the Son of Man and the “consummation of the age”?
His immediate response was the dire warning – Beware of false messiahs and false prophets that would deceive many. The disciples would hear of wars, earthquakes, international conflicts, and famines, but such events are NOT signs by which one can calculate the end – Disasters must occur but the “end is not yet.” And, if anything, the coming deceivers would point to these very things as “signs” of the end and his return, thereby raising false expectations about that day’s imminence – (Matthew 24:4-8, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).
Human and natural catastrophes happen regularly in the world, and therefore, his followers must “not be alarmed” when they do occur. Such events are not chronological markers by which one can calculate the end. At most, they are a “beginning of birth pains,” harbingers of the inevitable end of the age. And nowhere did Jesus predict that the frequency and intensity of earthquakes, famines, and wars would increase as the end drew near.
To the first question, he answered, within “this generation.” That is, the generation that was contemporary with him. That occurred when a Roman army destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem in A.D. 70, exactly as predicted – (Matthew 3:7, 11:16, 12:34-45, 16:4, 17:17, 23:33-36, 24:34).
Regarding the timing of his “arrival,” no man knows the day or hour of his coming except God alone; therefore, his disciple must always be prepared for its unexpected and sudden arrival. Knowledge of the “times and seasons” belongs only to the Father. Those who claim such knowledge arrogate to themselves the knowledge that even Jesus did not possess – (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:33, Acts 1:7-9).
As to the requested “sign,” Jesus gave one explicit goal that must be achieved before his arrival in glory, the “proclamation of this gospel of the kingdom in the whole habitable earth, for a testimony to all nations.” Only “then will the end come.” The message of the kingdom is good news to all who hear and embrace it. But it must be witnessed by all nations before the Son of Man arrives to judge the world – (Matthew 24:14).
In the clause, the Greek demonstrative pronoun or “this gospel” (houtos) is quite emphatic. It is “THIS gospel of the Kingdom” that must be proclaimed; presumably, the same one preached by Jesus.
This is the task assigned to the Church by its Lord. His disciples must “go and teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you; behold, I am with you even unto the end of the age.” And that task must be completed before the end – (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:6-8).
And how do we know when the task is done? According to Jesus, when the end does arrive! Thus, the fact that the “end” has not arrived is irrefutable proof that the task remains unfinished.
The human desire to know when Jesus will arrive is understandable. The desire for certainty about the future drives attempts to discern the “times and seasons,” and to calculate the date of his return. However, all past attempts to do so have failed without exception. Date-setting always results in disappointment and failure.
The words of Jesus are clear. His Father alone knows the timing of the end. Not even the “Son of Man” has that information. In the interim between now and his “coming,” the Church must remain busy completing the task assigned to it by the Son of Man. It is as simple as that.