This statement comes from the speech Christ gave on the Mount of Olives.
(Matthew 24, Luke 21, and Mark 13)
He had been speaking to His disciples and followers sometime around ad30 about the things they would go through in the coming decades before the end of the age. He tells them to look for certain signs of His Coming in judgement to end the age. He lists many signs and instructs them to persevere through the coming persecution and tribulation that they would experience.
We read a statement he makes in Matthew 24 and it says...
"But he who endures to the end shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come." Matt 24:13-14
Now the first word that really gets people confused is the word "world". Let's break that word down into its proper translation before we go any further...
The word is "oikoumene" G3625
This word is used in scripture typically to represent a portion of the earth. An area of land. The Roman empire and all the subjects of the empire. It's main usage does NOT represent the entire world as in cosmos. 2000 years ago these people had no clue about the world as you and I know it today. They had zero resources for global travel and no tv's to turn on at night to bounce over to the other side of the globe for 30 minutes. We see the same word "oikoumene" used here...
"And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the WORLD (oikoumene) should be taxed." Luke 2:1
Are we to understand this as Caesar taxing the entire world as in native Americans on the other side of the planet? Of course not. This was a specific area of the earth or land in which the Roman Empire would be taxed. Here is a good way to look at it....
world = known land
Now that we have established proper understanding of the word "world" in that it should be understood as local land rather than entire world, we need to take a look at other references to this gospel being preached. These references came years AFTER Christ gave this instruction on the Mount of Olives. Roughly 20-30 years later when writing to the believers at the church of Colosse Paul said......
"because of the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, of which you heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel, which has come to you, as it has also in all the world, and is bringing forth fruit." Colossians 1:6
How is it possible that in only 20-30 years, Paul had already preached the gospel "in all the world" as he said? Impossible of course. Paul never ventured any further than the Roman Empire but yet he says it had already been done. That is because it was a local area being referred to.
If I said to you "the whole world knows my business", what would you take that to mean? Does literally every single human in the world know my business? Including but not limited to eskimos and jungle tribes? The real meaning is simply that those within my known world, all know my business. To me, it seems as though it's the whole world because it everything I know. Everything I am. Same concept.
"if indeed you continue in the faith, grounded and steadfast, and are not moved away from the hope of the gospel which you heard, which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, became a minister." Colossians 1:23
How could the gospel have literally been preached to EVERY creature under heaven in just 20-30 years. Every creature? Does this include animals? We have to make sure we understand CONTEXT or else we will get ourselves into sticky situations. More examples...
So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, have they not heard? Yes indeed “Their sound has gone out to all the earth, And their words to the ends of the world.” Romans 10:17-18
Again, to the end of the literal world in just 20-30 years? Paul stayed in certain towns for years before moving on to another place. How is this possible?
The point is that we need to recognize context.
There was a REAL and APPROACHING END that was coming fast. The goal was to preach the gospel to as many as they could in that localized area before that end would come. That end was the same end that would come before some of those men standing there died, Jesus said. (Matt. 16:27-28) The end was the end of Jerusalem and the scattering of them throughout the nations in judgement.
Now, does this negate the need to tell people about Jesus today? Of course not! If you are adopted as a son or daughter of the most High God, you're instructed to go out and heal the nations. (Rev 22) You are the "leaves" that are on the tree of life in the New Jerusalem. Those leaves go out and "heal the nations". That healing comes through the name of Jesus Christ and belief in what He did to bring restoration to the broken relationship between man and God.
The immediate application and context was for the first century believers to preach to the local "world" aka known land. They were to preach until the time of the end came. The end of that age. You and I live in the New Covenant age where all men can come and drink freely of His goodness.
Let's guide people into the city not made with hands, the New Jerusalem whose gates will never close where "men will worship Jesus Christ generation upon generation world without end." (Ephesians 3:21)
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