Matthew 24:14 says this:

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

So, does that mean that Jesus can’t return until everyone who is alive, all around the world has heard the Gospel message?

Not exactly.

In the Lutheran Study Bible we read the following entry for that verse:

“The world will have the chance to hear the Gospel before Jesus returns in glory. This is not only a testimony to God’s all-encompassing grace but also to Jesus’ universal lordship and role as judge.”

“Jesus prophesies about things leading up to the end of the world. Today, stories of military conflicts, political intrigues, and natural disasters continue to fill the news. All this should remind us of the nearness of the end of this age. In that we may rejoice! Though the world is indeed increasingly evil and hostile to God, Christians are ever nearer the great day of Christ’s return.”

So, the first things that come to mind when we hear this verse are God’s grace and patience. We don’t start with a calculator and technicalities, but with the fact that God desires all to be saved and he won’t return until all have heard the good news that Jesus has died and risen again for the forgiveness of sins!

When it comes to “the whole world/earth” and “all nations” side of this verse there are two ways that statements like that are interpreted in Scripture.

Let’s start by taking a look at the Greek word used for “world” or “earth” in this passage. We find this: oikouménē (from 3611 /oikéō, “to inhabit, dwell”) the land that is being inhabited, the land in a state of habitation, the inhabited world, that is, the Roman world.” Then if we look at the word for “nations” we find this: éthnos (from ethō, “forming a custom, culture”) – properly, people joined by practicing similar customs or common culture; nation(s), usually referring to unbelieving Gentiles (non-Jews).

So, the first way that this can be understood is, how we would think of it, “The entire world. All of the people on the earth would have to hear about Jesus.” Does that mean that if a woman is pregnant Jesus cannot return because not EVERYONE in the inhabited world has heard the Gospel yet? No. We wouldn’t take this passage in such a way, nor are we supposed to. We do, however, live in a world of mass communications and the Gospel has made it to just about everywhere at some point in history.

The second way people understand this passage is to look at that word that is used and to take this as Jesus saying, “All people in the known Roman world” or “all of the non-Jewish people in the known world”. When we look at some of the other events that Jesus predicts in this passage and how they are fulfilled, it seems likely that the interpretation, “the Gospel being spread throughout the Roman empire will be a sign that Christ is ready to return” is a good interpretation.

Either way, no one knows the hour that Christ will return, but we definitely have seen the Gospel spread all around the world to all places that are inhabited and we have seen as all of the signs have happened and are still happening today. We live in a broken world so we continue to pray, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus!” Jesus can return at any moment, so we continue to pray and await that moment when we will enter into eternal glory with him. We also continue to proclaim the Gospel to all who are around us so they can know the good news of forgiveness and peace.

Have thoughts or questions about this response or if you have a question, please just let me know.