Question / Comment - Does the gospel have to be preached to all nations before Jesus can return? Or can Jesus return today?
I have a question. I heard someone say recently that the gospel has to go out to all nations and peoples before Jesus can return.
Is this right? Are we close to that? Or can He come at any stage?
thanks for the question. It is an interesting one. I remember going to a church service as a young believer and listening to a missionary. One of the things he said (and I still remember it now, nearly 30 years on while not remembering anything else he said!) was
"I can tell you one thing for sure - Jesus CANNOT come back tonight. Nor tomorrow. Nor the next day. Why? Because the Bible says that He can only come back when all nations have heard the gospel and we are not there yet."
I remember, as a young believer, sitting there thinking 'hmmm... but even the early church lived with the hope of His imminent return. They weren't saying 'He can't come back yet!'
Where do they get this thought from?
People who teach this generally get it from the famous chapter on end times, Matt 24. Jesus said:
Mat 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.
So yes, the gospel will be preached and heard in the whole world before 'the end' comes... but 'the end' here speaks of His second coming at the end of the tribulation, when He comes WITH His bride. It is not talking about the rapture and His coming FOR His bride. That event can come at any moment. We always have to be watchful and ready for we do not know the day nor the hour. This coming of the Lord for His church was what Paul and the other Apostles and the early church of the 1st Century both longed for and expected! Even though they were busy getting the gospel out to both Jews and Gentiles, yet they still lived and taught, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that His coming was 'at hand'. They would meet each other and say 'Maranatha!' which means 'Our Lord, come!' And that was their expectation. And rightfully so. A few verses that speak of this hope and expectation:
1Co 1:7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed.
1Co 16:22 If anyone does not love the Lord, he is to be accursed. Maranatha.
Jas 5:7-8 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains. You too be patient; strengthen your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is near.
1Pe 1:13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action, keep sober in spirit, fix your hope completely on the grace to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.
Rev 22:7 "And behold, I am coming quickly. Blessed is he who heeds the words of the prophecy of this book."
You also see this in the key verses about the rapture. They are all spoken/written 'in the present'. In other words there was an expectation that those alive at the time would see Jesus' return:
Joh 14:2-3 "In My Father's house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. (3) "If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.
1Th 4:15-18 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. (16) For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. (18) Therefore comfort one another with these words.
1Co 15:51-52 Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, (52) in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.
When looking at the weight of scripture we see that the Church was looking and waiting for Christ, Not any other sign or person (like the Antichrist). See 1 Cor. 1:7; 16:22; Phil. 3:20; 4:5; 1 Thess. 1:10; 4:15-18; 5:6; 1 Tim. 6:4; Titus 2:13; Heb. 9:28; James 5:7-9; 1 Peter 1:13; Jude 21; Rev. 3:11.
So the early church, as every church should, lived with the hope of His soon return. There is nothing that HAS to take place prophetically before His comes FOR His bride. But Matt 24:14 will be fulfilled as well. The gospel will go out to the whole world. Mission societies have been working with that goal and are targeting unreached people groups. And the goal is getting closer. But again, it doesn't have to occur before the rapture can happen. Even in the tribulation we have 144,000 Jews, servants of the Lord who are set apart and sealed for His service. In the same chapter (Rev 7 - and possibly linked to the work of the 144,000) it speaks of people being saved and coming out of the great tribulation from every tribe and tongue, people and nation (Rev 7:9). So the Gospel does reach all those people throughout the whole earth. Revelation also speak of an angel in the heavens preaching the gospel during the tribulation. And to whom? Again, to every people, language and tongue!
Rev 14:6-7 And I saw another angel flying in midheaven, having an eternal gospel to preach to those who live on the earth, and to every nation and tribe and tongue and people; and he said with a loud voice, "Fear God, and give Him glory, because the hour of His judgment has come; worship Him who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters."
While we are still here our 'commission' is the great commission given by Jesus Himself -
Mat 28:19-20 "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
We should be giving people the good news of what Jesus did on the cross and who He is. We should be using our gifts and talents to help in 'making disciples' in whatever way the Lord calls. But this doesn't change the fact that Jesus can come at any moment and we (like the early church did well before the gospel had gone to the whole world) should be eagerly awaiting His imminent return - where we will meet Him in the clouds and be taken back to the place He has prepared for us! (John 14:1-3, 1 Thes 4:14-18).
And while there are no specific prophecies that have to occur before Jesus could return, the Bible does give general signs of the end and the Lord's return... and can we see them now? We sure can. Big time. Be ready and watchful, and about His business. He can return today!
For more on the general prophetic signs see here.
Hope this helps. God bless.