Jesus declared that the “end” will not come until this gospel of the kingdom is proclaimed to all nations.
When the future return of Jesus is discussed, the question naturally arises – What “signs” will precede it? Will its proximity be marked by wars, earthquakes, and other catastrophes? Fortunately, Jesus provided a definitive answer to this question – The completion of the church’s mission to testify to the whole earth.
When Jesus departed the Temple for the last time, he predicted its complete destruction. In him, Yahweh had visited His people. However, because Israel rejected her Messiah:
- “All these things will come upon this generation. Behold, your house is left to you desolate… Truly, I am declaring to you that there will not be left one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” – (Matthew 23:34-39).
In response to his prediction of the Temple’s demise, the disciples asked 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”?
THE END IS NOT YET
Christ responded by warning that “many” deceivers would come and “deceive many,” charlatans who would propagate false information about the “end.” Disciples would hear about wars, earthquakes, international conflicts, and famines, but these things were NOT indicators of the end’s imminence.
Disasters must occur but the “end is not yet.” Deceivers will point to such events as “signs” of the end, and in the process, they will raise false expectations about its nearness. And church history attests to the accuracy of this prediction – (Matthew 24:4-8, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).
Human and natural catastrophes occur regularly, therefore, disciples must “not be alarmed” when they do. But 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 destruction of the present world order.
As to the first question, he answered – “this generation.” In other words, the generation that was contemporary with him. And that occurred when a Roman army destroyed the Temple and the city of Jerusalem in A.D. 70, exactly as he predicted – (Matthew 3:7, 11:16, 12:34-45, 16:4, 17:17, 23:33-36, 24:34).
As to the timing of his “arrival,” no man knows the day or hour except God alone. Consequently, his disciples must always be prepared for its unexpected and sudden arrival. Knowledge of the “times and seasons” belongs only to his Father. Those who claim such knowledge arrogate to themselves the knowledge that even the Son of Man does not possess – (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:33, Acts 1:7-9).
As to the requested “sign,” Jesus named one 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 proclaimed by Jesus is “good news” to all who hear and obey it. But it must be witnessed by all the earth before the “Son of Man arrives on the clouds” to judge the nations, and that task has fallen to the church. Those who heeded the call will be rewarded, but those who refused to so do will be rejected – (Matthew 24:14).
In Christ’s declaration as recorded in Matthew, the Greek demonstrative pronoun used in “this gospel” (houtos) is emphatic. It is “THIS gospel of the Kingdom” that must be proclaimed, presumably, the same message that he preached.
And this is the task that he assigned to his followers – “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 it must be completed before the end when Jesus will arrive with all glory and power – (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:6-8).
HASTENING THE END
So, how does the church know when the task is finished? According to Jesus, when the end arrives! The very fact that the “end” has not arrived is irrefutable proof that the task remains incomplete.
The human desire to know when Jesus will arrive is understandable. The desire for certainty about the future drives our attempts to calculate the date of his return. However, all past attempts to do so have failed, and miserably so. Date-setting always results in disappointment.
His words remain clear to this very day. ONLY God knows the timing of the end, and not even the “Son of Man” has that information. In the interim between now and then, his disciples must remain focused on completing the task assigned to them by Jesus just before his departure to heaven.