True Christians Will Spread the Gospel Among All Nations (24:14)
Whereas Jesus says that other phenomena do not mark the end (v. 6), here he explicitly declares that the spread of the gospel does mark the end. The world controls many other factors, but this is the one factor the church itself determines: we must complete the commission of discipling all nations before this age will come to a close (28:19-20; compare Acts 1:6-11; Rom 11:25-26; 2 Pet 3:9-15). This prerequisite for the end does not imply that all peoples will be converted, but that the kingdom will not come in its fullness until all peoples have had the opportunity to embrace or reject the King who will be their judge (Mt 25:31-32). Jesus' early followers recognized that he would rule a remnant with representatives from all peoples (Rev 5:9; 7:9), just as the world system would (Rev 13:7).
Perhaps just as Israel, because of disobedience, ruled the land promised to Abraham only twice in its history (Gen 15:18; 1 Kings 4:21; 2 Chron 34:5-7), so the Lord's return has been delayed and the world's suffering prolonged by the church's disobedience to the Great Commission (see 2 Pet 3:9-15; Ford 1979:76). While some generations have come much closer than others, the Lord will not return until he has found a generation of servants devoted enough to fulfill the worldwide missions task he has commanded.
Whereas Matthew 28:18-20 is a commission, 24:14 is also a promise that some generation will succeed in finishing the task others have begun. African, Asian and Latin American Christians are in the forefront of world evangelism today; Christ's followers among many peoples must labor together for the harvest. But this mission cannot be done in human strength. The first generation of the church experienced the most rapid exponential growth while lacking all the resources Western Christians think necessary to accomplish the task today, such as money, literature, mass transportation and communication. But they had what much of the Western church today lacks: a faithful dependence on the Holy Spirit (compare 10:20; Mk 13:11; Acts 1:8). With a world population five times what it was a mere century and a half ago, the stakes have never been as high as they are now. Let us pray for laborers for the Lord's harvest (Mt 9:38), that we may become that promised generation.
We should note the context in which this worldwide evangelism occurs: suffering (24:9-13; more explicitly in Mk 13:9-11, earlier applied by Matthew to his fuller discourse on evangelism). Many early Christians recognized suffering as a prerequisite for the end (Col 1:24; Rev 6:10-11; compare 4 Ezra 4:3-37), because Christians' suffering is inseparable from our witness. It is when we are least comfortable with the world that we most dramatically proclaim the kingdom of our Lord. Further, just as most mission fields in history were opened through the blood of martyrs, many peoples will not be reached today without Christians who are prepared to lay down their lives for the gospel Jesus has called us to proclaim.
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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