In Matthew 24:14 Jesus said the Gospel of the Kingdom of God would be preached in all the world, and then the end would come. What does this mean? Did Jesus mean it must be preached to every remote tribe or village on every continent and island on the planet? Did he mean it had to be preached to every people-group, as is assumed by many today? If Jesus cannot come, until the Gospel is preached according to his command, then it should be obvious in the text what Jesus meant. Otherwise, how would the disciples know what to do? So, what does the text actually say?
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come. (Matthew 24:14 KJV)
The Greek word that is translated into our English word ‘world’ is oikoumene (G3625) and means, according to Strongs Concordance, “earth, world – specifically the Roman Empire.” Many people today believe Christ intended the Gospel to be preached all over the globe. Perhaps, ultimately, this would be so, but this perspective is not what Jesus said would be done before the end would come. All Jesus said was the Gospel had to be preached to every nation in the Roman Empire. Why is that so difficult to believe?
Let’s look at how this word is used elsewhere in the New Testament. In Paul’s epistle to the Romans he began by telling them that their faith was spoken of throughout the whole world (kosmos, G2889 — Romans 1:8 ). This is a different Greek word than what Jesus used, but it is a synonym! Later in his letter, however, Paul, speaking of the ministry of the word of God he says:
But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. (Romans 10:18 KJV)
Here the word is oikoumene (G3625), the same word Jesus used. In Colossians 1:5-6 Paul said the Gospel was preached to the Colossians, just as it had been preached in all the world (kosmos – G2889), and in verse-23 of the same chapter Paul says the same Gospel that the Colossians heard was preached to every creature under heaven. In Romans 16:25-27 Paul ends his letter to the Romans by saying that the Gospel had already been “made known to all nations for the obedience of faith.”
According to these few Scriptures, the Gospel was preached to the entire world in fulfillment of Jesus words in Matthew 24:14. Just after this was done, Jesus came to judge his people, the Jews, through the Romans armies in their war with the Jews. These things were fulfilled in the 1st century, according to the scriptures. There is absolutely no reason to presume they must be fulfilled a second time. In fact, Matthew 24:21 would belie dual fulfillment of the Olivet Prophecy. Jesus spoke of his day using idioms understood very clearly by folks during that time, However, these idioms are misunderstood and their meaning abused by Christians in our own day, who make Jesus’ words into something they are not, putting Jewish idioms into a literal context of their own making.
When Augustus Caesar took as census of all the world in Luke 2:1, it would be ridiculous to assume that he also took a census of the American Continents and all the islands of the Pacific. Yet, the Greek word for world, which Luke used in this verse (oikoumene – G3625), is the very same that Jesus used in Matthew 24:14. Why would we presume Jesus meant something different in Matthew, than what is claimed in Luke, when both accounts use the same Greek word?
One final scripture should refute this idea that Jesus meant the whole earth, meaning planet, must hear the Gospel before he comes. In Acts 11:28 a Messianic prophet came to Antioch, while Paul was there, and predicted there would be a famine throughout the whole world (oikoumene – G3625), same word Jesus used. The predicted famine came in the days of Claudius Caesar. It affected the whole Roman Empire in varying degrees, but the prophecy did not mean the entire globe would be affected.
These things are idioms, which were clearly understood by the folks in the 1st century AD to mean their generation and the world, as encapsulated in the Roman Empire. Jesus’ words must be taken in this context. Otherwise, we must conclude that the very people who preached the Gospel and wrote it down to preserve it for us didn’t understand the words of Jesus as much as we do! That is to say, they who were commissioned by Jesus, walked and talked with him, were filled with the Holy Spirit on Pentecost—do we say these people could be taught by us! How arrogant could we be?