“Jesus left the temple and was going away, when his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. But he answered them, ‘You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.’
“As he sat on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when will these things be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘See that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.
“Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name’s sake. And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 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.’” (Matthew 24:1-14 ESV)
Jesus Will Return When the Mission is Accomplished
Here’s what I want us to see. Jesus’ answer to when the kingdom will come in fullness isn’t primarily about the earthquakes and wars and heresies. What is the sign? What is the tipping point? “This gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world… and then the end will come.” Proclaimed to all nations? Where have we heard that before?
The past two weekends we studied Jesus’ final words in Matthew, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:19–20)
Jesus defines the time after his resurrection as a mission to make disciples. Go and make disciples. Clear and understandable. From now on, your big deal is to make disciples. Notice the scope of the mission. Make disciples of all nations. Take this gospel of the kingdom to the ends of the earth which Jesus doesn’t define geographically, he defines sociologically. All ethne. All ethnicities. All people groups. He isn’t sending us to Antarctica to evangelize. There are no ethne there. Just penguins. His concern isn’t the geography of the world but the people of the world. Or as we teach our children, “Jesus loves the little children/All the children of the world/Red and yellow/Black and white/They are precious in His sight/Jesus loves the little children of the world.” The ethne is a broad description of the people groups of the world. All nations. Not just Israel. But all people groups. All tribes. All languages. This is the answer to the disciples’ question, are we there yet? When will the end come?
Jesus says the end will not come until the gospel has been preached to the all the peoples of the world. Then the end will come. The end is Jesus’ return, his earthly reign, and final judgment.
The end is coming and Jesus is returning. The Bible says we are living in the last days. They are the last days because ever since the resurrection, the presence of the future kingdom is here now. We are living in the time between the arrival of the kingdom through Jesus’ incarnation and its final consummation with his return. The kingdom is here now. It’s not here like it’s going to be here. Someday it will be here fully, visibly, physically, victoriously.
Living in the Time in Between
I remember when Jennifer and I found out we were pregnant for the first time. We found out accidentally at a doctor’s appointment. We were in shock. We were excited. We were terrified. The first person we told was the waitress at Olive Garden because we were sitting jabbering on in a semi-psychotic state. For months we waited. There were signs that the baby was here. Jennifer’s belly got bigger. At night we would giggle at the protrusions that would appear from her belly. A foot. A head. The baby was here. No mistaking it.
Yet the baby wasn’t fully here. She wasn’t born yet. While the signs of our daughter’s presence were unmistakable, they were nothing compared to what happened when she was fully here. You moms know the joy of seeing fully what was only seen obscurely. Pregnancy is a precious gift. A baby in your arms is the happiest day of your life.
In terms of history and what is coming, the story of the church is like a kingdom pregnancy. It started small with a few disciples in Galilee. For 2,000 years the presence of the kingdom through the church is unmistakable. Human history has been defined largely by it. There is most definitely an alternative kingdom at work in this world. It’s here but it’s not all here, because the gospel hasn’t been preached to all peoples.
“Why did he not come in AD 500? Because the Church had not evangelized the world. Why did he not return in AD 1000? Because the Church had not finished its task of world-wide evangelization. Is He coming soon? He is- if we, God’s people, are obedient to the command of the Lord to take the Gospel into all the world.” (George Eldon Ladd)
“The point rather is that as long as the Lord has not returned, there must be more people groups to reach, and we should keep on reaching them.” (John Piper)
Have you considered that Jesus not coming back should motivate us to mission? If he’s not here, we’re not done. This doesn’t mean all ethne will be evangelized. Clearly that doesn’t happen. Our job is the proclaiming; God’s job is the saving. We are to be faithful to the mission.
Are we there yet? No. Are we close? Only God knows. Too often Christians think about Christ’s return and they are all about their charts and graphs. Or they try and see signs of Jesus’ imminent return. So they watch world events or some astronomical occurrence. Recently it was all about the blood moons. Oh look! Jesus is coming back! The kingdom is about to arrive.
What we have missed is that Jesus’ absence means we have work to do. It should motivate us, like a pregnant mom who knows the child is coming. It motivates her to get the crib ready. Prepare the changing table. Stock up on supplies. The waiting motivates the working.
Let’s do that. Let’s use the waiting to motivate the working. Are we there yet? No. But here is what I can tell you. We are closer than we have ever been before. “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
© 2017 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.
 C. Herbert Woolston, “Jesus Loves the Little Children,” 1969.
 George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom, p. 135.
 John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad, p. 205.
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