The gospel preached to all before the end.

by K.W. Leslie, 16 October

Mt 24.14.

Last week I discussed the verse about not completing all the cities of Israel before the Son of Man comes, Mt 10.23 and how that’s neither part of Jesus’s Olivet Discourse, nor a prophecy of the End: It’s about Jesus sending out the Twelve to preach the gospel, Mt 10.5-7 and how he’d catch up with them at the end of this specific mission. Christians who project End Times stuff onto this passage are quoting it out of context—a common practice among End Times “prophecy scholars,” who aren’t actually scholars.

Some of the reason these “prophecy scholars” quote that verse is because of this verse, which is in the Olivet Discourse. They think it’s a parallel verse. It’s also found in Matthew, and to help you understand it better, I’ll also quote the verses right before it.

Matthew 24.9-14 KWL
9 “Then they’ll hand you over to tribulation and kill you.
You’ll be hated people to every ethnic group because of my name.
10 Then many will be tripped up,
will betray one another, will hate one another.
11 Many fake prophets will be raised up,
and will lead many astray.
12 Because of the exponential spread of lawlessness,
the love of many will grow cold.
13 One who perseveres to the end—
this person will be saved.
14 And this gospel of the kingdom
will be proclaimed to the whole civilization
as a witness to every ethnic group.
Then the end will come.”

The “prophecy scholars” claim the whole of the Olivet Discourse is about a great tribulation right before the second coming. It’s not. After Jesus told his students the temple would be destroyed, they wanted to know when, so he told ’em what’d happen before it was destroyed… in the year 70, during the actual great tribulation of the Roman-Jewish War. All this stuff was fulfilled by that war. If “prophecy scholars” know anything about the Roman-Jewish War (and too often, they don’t) they’ll claim Jesus’s prophecies are actually gonna happen again during the End Times; that the Roman-Jewish War is just a foreshadowing of what the Beast will do to the entire world. But Jesus’s prophecies about the Beast are in in Revelation, not the gospels. These “prophecy scholars” are trying to add details to what Jesus disclosed in Revelation—and hey, isn’t there a curse upon anyone who tries to add or take away from that book? Rv 22.18-19 Illegitimately adding the Olivet Discourse to End Times prophecy definitely sounds like something that’d activate that curse.

But back to the Discourse. Jesus says the gospel of God’s kingdom is getting preached to the whole civilization before the end comes. Does he mean the End-end?—the end of the End Times, the days before his second coming, the last few years before the millennium? Or does he simply mean the end of the temple, which is entirely what the Olivet Discourse is about? As you’ve likely guessed, I’m gonna say it’s that second thing.

“Hold up,” a hypothetical prophecy scholar is gonna object, “the gospel wasn’t preached to the entire world by the time the temple was destroyed. It hadn’t reached the Germans, nor the sub-Saharan Africans, nor the Chinese, nor the Russians, nor the indigenous Americans and Australians and Pacific islanders. Only the Roman Empire had heard the gospel. That’s it.”

Well yeah. That’s what Jesus said would happen.

The whole civilization. Not the world.

Most of the confusion about how this verse gets interpreted, comes from the way it’s historically been translated. Starting with the Vulgate:

Matthew 24.14 Vulgate
Et prædicabitur hoc Evangelium regni in universo orbe, in testimonium omnibus gentibus: et tunc veniet consummatio.

If your Latin sucks, it’s translated, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world, as a testimony to all gentiles, and then will come the end.” John Wycliffe rendered it similarly (although his verse numbers are a little off):

Matthew 24.14-15 Wycliffe
14 And this gospel of the kyngdom schal be prechid in al the world, in witnessyng to al folc; 15A and thanne the ende schal come.

The Geneva Bible only updated it slightly, and the King James Version copied the Geneva Bible word-for-word.

Matthew 24.14 KJV
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached through the whole world for a witness unto all nations, and then shall the end come.

Pretty much all translations have followed the KJV since, and likewise say the gospel will be preached to the whole world.

But the original text doesn’t say κόσμῳ/kósmo, “to the world.” It says οἰκουμένῃ/oikuméni, “to civilization.” To the organized, cultivated, developed world—and if you lived in the Roman Empire, you’d immediately recognize this to mean the Roman Empire. Not barbarians; whatever they have, it’s not civilization as you recognize civilization.

Greek dictionaries tend to make this obvious. Oikuméni comes from οἶκος/oíkos, which isn’t just a brand of yogurt; it means “house” or “home.” Greeks thought of the oikuméni as their homeland—the civilized Greek and Macedonian and Aegean and even Anatolean city-states which later made up the Greek Empire. And when Rome took over that empire, and were such Grecophiles they adopted everything Greek they could get hold of, the Roman Empire became the oikuméni. Arabia, Persia, India, and the other lands which Alexander the Great conquered but the Romans didn’t?—not the oikuméni anymore. Their homeland was the Roman Empire. And even though Jews didn’t like it, their homeland, in Jesus’s day, was the Roman Empire.

Not that we Christians shouldn’t preach the gospel to the entire world! But was Jesus saying the apostles have to travel all over the planet and expose ’em to Christianity before the Romans destroyed Jerusalem? Nope. Nor was he saying the coming “end” wasn’t really the destruction of Jerusalem, but his second coming, and he expects us to share the gospel with the entire planet by that time. He was simply telling them, “By the time the temple falls, the Roman Empire will hear the gospel.”

Which came true. Paul stood before Caesar Nero himself—twice!—and shared the gospel. Got killed the second time, but still. Nero banned Christianity, and as a result the whole empire was told to be on the watch for Christians… and generally what Christians might believe and practice, and in so doing, people learned about Jesus. It’s not the ideal way to publicize God’s kingdom, but it does the job. Persecution might be awful, but it spreads the gospel far more effectively than its enemies would wish.

So yeah, this prophecy has come to pass. It’s not an End Times prophecy at all.

Those who insist it’s the world.

But you know Christians totally claim it’s an End Times prophecy.

Mostly because they think it helps spur our evangelism efforts. “We gotta share the gospel with the whole world! Because Jesus said it’s only after every nation hears the gospel, that he’ll return!” Hence we have evangelists fervently trying to reach every last corner of our planet. Seeking out every last people-group, learning every last language, translating the bible into those languages, all so we can finish the job and trigger the End.

And yeah, we do have to share the gospel with the whole world. But not because it’s gonna trigger the End. That happens when God decides it happens, and it’s not for us to know when. Ac 1.7 Our job isn’t to fret about when; our job is to take the gospel to the world. Ac 1.8

But thanks to the End Times prognosticators who insist this is an End Times prophecy, and the evangelists who find it helps get people to overcome their fears and join them, this verse is regularly preached that way. Hence our English-language bibles, with very few exceptions, read the gospel’ll be preached to the whole “world,” not the whole civilization. The few exceptions don’t say civilization either: They tend to go with one of the alternate ways oikuméni can be translated: The whole “inhabited earth.” ’Cause obviously it makes no sense to share the gospel with the uninhabited earth.

But the translators keep missing the historical context of oikuméni. In part because they totally agree with those End Times prognosticators who take this verse out of historical context. To hell with historical context; if it’s about the future, it has no historical context. Who, other than God, knows the historical context of the future anyway?

And for those few who are preterist like me, and know it’s about the Roman Empire instead of the world: They don’t wanna annoy people who might buy their bibles, flip to their favorite proof text about why we gotta evangelize the whole world, and find it doesn’t say what they insist it says. Fastest way to tank your bible sales: Translate it in a way that doesn’t accommodate popular Christian culture—even if popular Christian culture is wrong. So they compromise Jesus’s teachings for profit. And Jesus will have to deal with them when they stand before him at the End. Good thing he’s merciful… but I still wouldn’t wanna be in their shoes.

Look. We don’t proclaim the gospel to every nation because we’re trying to trigger the End. We do it to obey Jesus. It’s part of his great commission, remember?

Matthew 28.19-20 KJV
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

Jesus wants to save the world, so we gotta go into all the world. We’ve done a pretty good job of obeying Jesus, too. Though not always for the right reasons; some of us are really trying to trigger the End, and can’t fathom why it feels like we’ve exposed just about everyone on earth to Christianity, yet the End hasn’t come. It is, of course, because Jesus will return when the Father is good ’n ready.

And like the great commission says, we aren’t only supposed to preach the gospel. We gotta make disciples. Billions of sinner’s prayers aren’t enough. Billions of growing relationships is what Jesus wants. Get on that.