The end of the age, according to Jesus as reported in Matthew 24, would come after the following eight events:
- False Christs will arrive (v5)
- There will be wars and rumours of wars, nation rising against nation (v6,7)
- There will be famines and earthquakes (v7)
- Christians would be delivered up to tribulation, killed, and hated (v9 – Actually, Jesus is specific here. It is those whom he is addressing that will receive such treatment!)
- Many will fall away and betray one another (v10)
- False prophets will arise and mislead many (v11)
- Most peoples’ love will grow cold (v12)
- The gospel will be preached in the whole world (v12)
It is easy to argue that such conditions apply now. It is just as easy to argue that the first seven of them applied within forty years of Jesus’ statements. In fact, they have applied in every single generation since that time to the present.
However the last condition is sometimes used to show that the end has not yet come:
Matthew 24:14 “This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.”
If the gospel has not yet been preached to the whole world, then the end could not have come yet.
The term ‘world’ is normally assumed to mean the whole planet. All the nations must therefore be every nation in every part of the globe.
However, the word oikoumene which is used is defined in Strong’s Greek Dictionary as: land, ie. The (terrene part of the) globe; specifically the Roman empire.
The dictionary link to the word at www.crosswalk.com defines it thus:
1. the inhabited earth
a. the portion of the earth inhabited by the Greeks, in distinction from the lands of the barbarians
b. the Roman empire, all the subjects of the empire
c. the whole inhabited earth, the world
d. the inhabitants of the earth, men
2. the universe, the world
This does not specify the use of the word in the context of Matthew’s gospel, but it does allow that Jesus at least could have meant something other than the world as we know it. As usual, precedence and context tell us more than the lexicon.
The word is used fifteen times in the New Testament. Take a look at all of them if you can. Some of the references are (all NASB):
Luke 2:1 Now it came about in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the (oikoumene) inhabited earth.
Acts 11:28 …there would be a great famine all over the (oikoumene) world.
Acts 17:6 And when they did not find them, they began dragging Jason and some brethren before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have upset the (oikoumene) world have come here also”
Acts 19:27 …and that she (Artemis) whom all of Asia and the (oikoumene) world worship should even be dethroned from her magnificence.
The word can also imply the complete world. These references, however, clearly show that we cannot apply such a definition in every case.
The question then becomes, “Where would the gospel be preached by the time of the end?”
Romans 16:25,26 Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery which has been kept secret for long ages past, but now is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God, has been made known to all the nations, leading to obedience of faith;
Though this is interpreted in many ways, the sense of it, when looking at the literal translation, is that the gospel, or at least the prophetic Scriptures, have been made known to all the nations. These are the same ‘all the nations’ as in Matthew 24:14. The question is, which of the two is to be taken in the literal sense of every nation on the globe, and why?
Romans 10:17,18 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ (or, God). But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have: “Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the (oikoumene) world”
Colossians 1:23 …the hope of the gospel that you have heard, which was proclaimed in all creation under heaven.
The term here is not oikoumene, but even stronger. All creation, or every creature, has had the gospel proclaimed to them, according to Paul.
According to the epistles, the whole world, all of creation, had heard the gospel of Jesus Christ. The whole world had, at the time of the epistles, had a census taken by Caesar, suffered a great famine at one time, were upset by the teachings of Jason and some of the brethren, and worshiped Artemis.
Isn’t it possible that Jesus meant that the gospel would be preached to the whole Jewish, or even Roman world just before the end?