The Olivet Discourse – The Spread of the Gospel

15Jun11

A ha! This is it!

This is the one point that in every class I have ever taught where someone approaches me and says that there is no way that this warning could have been fulfilled within the first century, let alone within a generation of Jesus’ pronouncement.

Matt 24:14 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.

There is no possible way someone can make the case that the gospel of the kingdom was proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony before 70 AD!

There is one thing you may or may have not noticed one thing about this blog. I have seldom reached into the “Greek” or “Hebrew” lexicon in our discussions. that is because I want to make this as simple as possible and it’s much too easy to slip into the minutia of original language. I believe the only time thus far was in the discussion of “this generation” and it had to do with the fact that two different words were used for the term “generation” and both had distinctly different meanings.

In the case of the term “world” there are even more words used in the Greek translated world. One is “cosmos” and it is used to describe the entire globe. This is often used in conjunction i\with the heavens as in “heavens and earth” denoting a more universal definition.

The other commonly used Greek word is “oikoumene” which is used in the case of “known world” or “inhabited earth.” This distinction is obviously important as not only does it refer to a different “landscape” but to a particular population group as well. Another popular place where the term “oikoumene” is used is in Luke 2

Luke 2:1 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world [oikoumene] should be registered.

The same term for world is used in this passage as well. In fact, the NIV in an attempt to more easily define the term “oikoumene” translates the term in the Luke passage as “Roman world.” It’s painfully obvious that the term refers to the Roman world or known world or you end up with Roman tax collectors on little boats travelling across the Atlantic in attempt to collect taxes from Eskimos, Haitians, Indians and on the Polynesian Islands.

Also we find this term used in the book of acts in two different instances.

Luke 11:28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius).

In this passage one would have to argue that there was a famine in Tennessee Valley, Hawaiian Islands and Bolivia as well. Again the NIV translates the term “Roman world” for clarity. And in describing Paul impact we read later in the book of Acts…

Acts 24:5 For we have found this man a plague, one who stirs up riots among all the Jews throughout the world and is a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.

Now, unless there were Jews are unaware living in upstate New York in 45 AD (well, unless of course you’re Mormon), one would have to assume the writer of Acts is meaning to refer to the “oikoumene” or known inhabited earth.

So, since the term has Biblical warrant to be defined as the known world, there is no need to expand it beyond those borders. Also remember, our operating timeline dictated by the words of Christ Himself was the generations to whom He was speaking, His immediate audience was the disciples and this prophecy is related to the Judean area specifically. So, even taking this into consideration the question still remains as to whether the Gospel was preached throughout the entire known earth as a testimony.

First note that the command is limited to the Gospel being preached as a testimony and not that every living creature under the heavens would hear the Gospel. It is whether different people from all over the earth had heard the Gospel. Simply put, as the passage dictates, will representatives from each nation hear the Gospel. remember, it states that it simply will be a testimony to the nations. As been our intention we will look at both the “internal” and “external” evidences for the claim. We will start with what Scripture says itself about this possibility.

Luke 2:5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.

Note that within 40 days of the Resurrection representatives from every nation under heaven heard the Gospel…and responded to Peter’s sermon!

Col 1:5 Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, 6which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and growing

Col 1: 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Rom 1: 8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed in all the world.

Rom 16:26 but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith

These and other passages clearly show that Gospel did reach the nations and actually quite quickly after the birth of the Church. Those representatives listed in the Acts passage returned to their homelands and brought the Gospel with them. Paul even references an upcoming missionary trip to Spain.

Romans 15:24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.

Spain was the furthest western point of the Roman Empire and Paul was planning a trip their. So even the furthest area were being impacted by the Gospel 25 to 30 years before the destruction of the Temple. Greek Orthodox history claims that the Gospel reached the furthest northern parts of Great Britain before the deaths of Peter and Paul.

Another consideration that we have yet to discuss is the use of Biblical Hyperbole. This expression denotes an exaggeration of sorts to make a point. It’s common language that we use today as well. If you just saw a movie you really liked you may find yourself saying, “That was the greatest movie I have ever seen,” when in actually it probably wasn’t and your expression was meant to simply prove the point that you truly enjoyed the film.

The Bible uses this type of language as well. We will spend more time discussing this topic in a later point, but I did want to reference some Old Testament passages that use similar language to Jesus’ in this instance. This is to show that this type of language was common and well understood to mean something great to prove a point.

2 Chron. 36:23 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him. Let him go up.’ ”

Psalm 118:10 All nations surrounded me; in the name of the Lord I cut them off!

1 Chron. 14:17 And the fame of David went out into all lands, and the Lord brought the fear of him upon all nations.

Habakkuk 1:6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.

Genesis 41:57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain…

The language style was common and was meant to be understood in such a way. So, the known world did have the Gospel, that we do know. But there is one other question worthy of discussion. Why? Why was it important for the Gospel to spread throughout the world?

The Church simply could not survive if it continued to be centered in Jerusalem. It would have eventually met the same fate as Biblical Judaism. We know that Christian left the city in multitudes and left only a few Church leader behind in the city to continue the ministry there. Those left behind included James, the brother of Jesus, who was eventually killed by the zealots by being thrown off the top of the Temple and and, after surviving the fall, was eventually clubbed to death.

Also Rome could not effectively eradicate a Church that so spread out and so fully infiltrated it’s society. It’s quick and early spread guaranteed it’s survival within an empire that would spend a large amount of energy attempting to destroy it.

Matt 24:14 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.

With this study we conclude the “birth pangs” section of the discourse and we will next turn our attention to the well known and often confusing section beginning with the “Abomination of Desolation” as the birth pang warning now transfer to the description of the coming events.

In other words…here comes the fun stuff!

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