(This article is an excerpt of my book, The Coming Kingdom of God.)
The popular teaching that Jesus cannot return until the gospel is preached to the whole world is false. It is an error based upon a single Scripture that is interpreted in isolation from the rest of the Bible. In other words, it’s the classic interpretation error of not letting the Bible interpret itself.
In Mark’s famously abbreviated style, He writes in Mark 13:10: “And the gospel must first be preached to all nations.” Let’s look at the same verse in Matthew 24:14:
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.
Jesus said this in the middle of His teaching on the great tribulation. This is the verse most popularly used as the basis of believing Jesus cannot return until the gospel has been preached to every nation.
Some drill down further and say this includes every people group (e.g., Amazonian Indians). I do not believe this is a correct use of the Scripture.
Before I explain why I do not believe this, I do acknowledge that this interpretation has done much to energize world evangelism to non-Christian nations and ethnic groups. Nonetheless, good results don’t necessarily equate to truth.
Besides its good result of mobilizing the body of Christ for evangelism, it also demobilizes its readiness for the coming kingdom of God. Let’s think this through.
Jesus Can Return At Any Moment
The Bible plainly teaches that Jesus can return at any moment. And it is for this reason that it strongly urges watchfulness and readiness. That was the main message of the parables of the faithful servant and evil servant, and of the wise and foolish virgins.
Jesus also used the examples of Noah’s flood and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah as warnings of His sudden appearance.
Even Mark, who leaves out so much, dared not leave out Jesus’s warning:
But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is.Mark 13:32
Seriously consider the example below that the Lord used to illustrate His warning:
It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch.
Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!Mark 13:34-37
Jesus emphasizes two things. One, no one knows when He’s coming. Two, we should be on alert.
We Should Be Alert and Watching for the Coming of the Lord
One of the big problems of teaching Jesus cannot return until the gospel is preached to every nation is it totally undermines the possibility of Jesus returning at any moment—unless the gospel has reached every nation, or as some say, people group.
But we’re told this is not the case, and consequently, Jesus cannot return today. Of course, this turns down our alert posture.
Another big problem with the “Jesus cannot return now” doctrine is neither Matthew nor Mark said this. Mark said only that “the gospel must first be preached to all nations,” and Matthew added, “then the end will come.” Understandably, “the end” has been interpreted as the end of the age, which, of course, is the coming of the Lord.
Three things, however, should be considered as we say Jesus cannot return now.
First, there is only one verse in the entire Bible of over 31,000 verses that could possibly be used to say Jesus cannot return on account of the gospel not being preached to the whole world. That is Matthew 24:14.
I admit that Mark 13:10 could be used to bolster that argument. Thus, making it two Scriptures. But really that’s two versions of one statement. Besides this, there are several long passages that teach the Lord can return at any moment.
For those who value the rules of good Bible interpretation, is it valid to use a single Scripture to teach that Jesus cannot return now when other multiple longer passages teach that He can? When did it become acceptable to create a foundational doctrine with a single Scripture or two?
Second, Jesus said the gospel must be preached, but He didn’t say by whom. Or rather, He didn’t say we would be the ones to carry that final sermon over the finish line.
An Angel Preaches the Gospel in the Final Days of the Great Tribulation
I say this because an angel preaches the gospel to the entire world during the great tribulation:
Then I saw another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach to those who dwell on the earth—to every nation, tribe, tongue, and people—saying with a loud voice, “Fear God and give glory to Him, for the hour of His judgment has come; and worship Him who made heaven and earth, the sea and springs of water.”
Whether the church ever succeeds in preaching the gospel to every nation (as God defines it), we know that an angel does do this.
Question: Does Jesus come back because the angel preaches the gospel to the world? Or does the angel preach the gospel to the world because the tribulation is reaching its climax and Jesus is on the way?
It is because Jesus is on the way. Jesus is the one who sends the angel! You see, we’ve got this thing turned upside down. This alone is enough to stop telling people Jesus can’t come back until the gospel is preached to the entire world.
We evangelize not because we’re trying to bring Him back by doing so. For God has appointed the day and hour of His return. Rather, we evangelize because He has called, obligated, and honored us to participate in His redemptive work.
Third, the doctrine of the rapture is that Jesus returns for His church prior to the tribulation. This is similar to Him preserving Noah and Lot from His wrath when He poured it out on the ungodly.
But to prove that Jesus comes back for the church before, during, or after the tribulation is not my aim here. There are hundreds of books that argue those positions.
My intent here is simply to show another reason we should not say Jesus cannot return until the gospel is preached to the entire world. As far as I know in Scripture, there is no necessity for the gospel to be preached to the entire world before a pre-tribulation rapture can occur. Although this is necessary for the post-tribulation rapture.
If the pre-tribulation position is correct, and I believe it is, it fits in perfectly with passages of Scriptures that warn us to be ready for the Lord’s return at any moment—irrespective of whether the gospel has been preached to the entire world.
(This article is an excerpt of my book, The Coming Kingdom of God.)
- When Do We Receive Eternal Life?
- Should We Seek Treasure in Heaven?
- Jesus Knows When He Will Return
- Will We Rule With Christ?
- Yes! You Should Know The Times And Seasons
 Some people refer to only the last 3 ½ years of this age’s final seven years as the great tribulation. I understand and do not necessarily dispute this exactness. Yet, the entire seven-year period is a period of great tribulation. Therefore, here I use the term as it is most popularly used.
 Matthew 25
 Revelation 7:9 says, “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, people, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands…these are the ones who come out of great tribulation…”
We do not know if the angel who preached the gospel had anything to do with this. But we do know there are representatives from the entire world among the saved. Proof that the whole world is reached with the gospel.
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