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The Gospel Preached in all the World

By Richard Gunther


   There have been many attempts to set a date for the return of Christ. I remember a zealous young man who visited my school many years ago, who drew a timeline on the blackboard and marked off the years and dates when he expected the trumpet to blow. Needless to say he was wrong. Since then I have come across many other well-meaning Christians who have also finalized certain dates, but they have been wrong too.  (For my own thoughts on this matter see my article ‘Signs of the End of the Age’)


   Not only Christians have been misguided in their attempts to finalise the day and hour. Many cults have gone to extraordinary lengths, basing their behaviour on some particular day in which they expect the great event to happen. In Wellington, for example, one cult was so sure they had picked the correct day, they prepared a ‘runway’ down near the waterside and ran along it, flapping their arms, apparently to ‘help’ the Lord get them off the ground in the Rapture!


   The whole Christian period, from Pentecost to today, is littered with disappointed predictions, so it never surprises me to find yet another zealous Christian with yet another theory.


   One day a member of a missionary society, called New Tribes, put it to me that Jesus cannot return until the gospel has been preached to every tribe and nation in the world. I do not know if this is the ‘official’ line of all the New Tribes missionaries, but as far as this individual was concerned, the one thing preventing, or delaying the return of Christ was the fact that individuals from literally every tribe had not been reached with the gospel.


   The text this person used to justify his belief was Mat. 24:14:


“This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come”.


   There are two important features of this verse which ought to be noted. First, the expression “in all the world” and second the words “as a witness”. It is also important to notice what Jesus did NOT say. He did not say that all the world would be saved, or that all the world would receive the gospel. All he said was that the gospel would go out into all the world as a “witness”. In other words, all the world could hear the gospel if it so desired.


   What Jesus meant, I believe, is that the witness of the gospel would be available to all the world in a general way, that anyone in the world who really wanted to know the gospel would have some access to it. God does promise to be ‘findable’ to all who seek Him, and there are many testimonies of this. I have heard of people in remote, isolated parts of the world praying for contact with God and receiving some miraculous sign, such as a single Bible in their own language suddenly coming to them, or a Christian arriving out of nowhere. When people call out to God, God ‘shifts heaven and earth’ to reply to them.


   I am reminded of a time when the Chinese government did a census. This was a vast and enormous undertaking, in a land as large as China, with its thousands of millions of people, yet the forms were printed and circulated, and the information was collected. This showed me that even a land as large as China could contact all its inhabitants with information. So even China, if it so desired, could present the gospel to every one of its inhabitants. Furthermore, the gospel is being broadcast into that land, (not, of course, by the atheist government), so anyone with a Radio may hear it. As well as this, China is now in contact with the Western world, and through the Internet is able to access all sorts of things, including the gospel. I am not trying to make a case out of a single country, but the general point is that if any country, now or in the past, really wanted to hear the gospel, it would not be impossible.


   But getting back to the Bible, we ought to look at the expression “in all the world”.


   “world” in Greek = oikoumene = habitable world, earth or land.


   When Caesar Augustus (Luke 2:1) decreed that “all the world” should be taxed, he meant the dominions under Rome’s jurisdiction. He did not mean all the people’s of the world outside Rome’s influence. He did not mean such people as the Mayan, or South American jungle tribes, Eskimos, Laplanders, Mongols, Chinese and so on. “all the world” meant, “all the Roman world”.


   Again, in Acts 11:28 the “great dearth” was predicted to strike “throughout all the world”, which meant “all the Roman world”, not the whole literal Earth.


   Again, in Acts 17:6 the Christians were accused of “turning the world upside down” (See also Acts 17”31, 19:27 and 24:5). Did the Christians literally turn the world upside down? No. Did the Christians turn every nation on the whole planet upside down? No. They affected only the inhabitants of the Roman world.


   Paul says, in Rom. 10:18, that in the days of Israel during Old Testament times, the words of the prophets had gone “into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world”. What these Hebrew expressions meant was that the words of the prophets had gone a long way, but certainly not as far as the north pole or South America.


   Again, in Col. 1:6, Paul says that the gospel had already gone into all the world! (world = Greek kosmos = the world as created, ordered and arranged). Please note that Paul is saying that, in his day, that is, nearly 2000 years ago, he considered that the gospel had already gone into all the world.


  Since Paul’s time there has been a Reformation and many large Christian gospel-distribution movements (such as the British and Foreign Bible Society, the many Missionary societies, the thousands of evangelists and so on, all reaching out into the world with the gospel.) Yet Paul said that even in his own day the gospel had already gone out into all the world.


   So it is untenable to believe that Jesus cannot come until the last tribe has been reached with the gospel. Jesus could come at any time.

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