Thursday, October 31, 2013

Matthew 24:14

Throughout his prophecy of what will happen, Jesus has repeatedly told his disciples that certain things were not a sign of the end. Wars and rumors of wars, for example, are not signs of the end (Matthew 24:6). Plagues, famines and earthquakes are just the beginning (Matthew 24:7-8). Afflictions, offenses, hatred, betrayals, persecutions, false prophets must all be endured before the end (Matthew 24:9-13). Finally, Jesus gives his disciples a sign of the end:
καὶ κηρυχθήσεται τοῦτο τὸ εὐαγγέλιον τῆς βασιλείας ἐν ὅλῃ τῇ οἰκουμένῃ εἰς μαρτύριον πᾶσιν τοῖς ἔθνεσιν, καὶ τότε ἥξει τὸ τέλος.

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the civilized world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)
The end comes only after the voice of warning goes to all nations.

Two questions, however, remain unanswered in the passage. What is this gospel that must be preached? The end of what? Each of those questions needs to be considered.

Matthew uses the term gospel four times (Matthew 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; 26:13), three of them in the phrase "the gospel of the kingdom." But for all that, he never tells us what it is, probably because he and his original readers already knew what it was. Probably the closest we get to understanding it is the final charge in Matthew 28:18-20, but that is probably a summary statement.

What end Jesus is referring to also needs to be considered. Many assume that the end is the end of the world. Some assume that it refers to the end of things as we know them. Hugh Nibley, in an unpublished manuscript entitled "The End of What", argued that it was the end of the Church. Another way of looking at the matter is to consider that τὸ τέλος means the end in the sense of the goal. So the goal is to have the gospel preached in all the world. The initial question was about the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, the appearance of Jesus, and the end of the world. It would appear that if Jesus took those questions in order (and they do not refer to the same thing), that the end in question is the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. This would seem to be supported by the next verse which talks about the abomination of desolation.

Whichever it was, the preaching of the gospel was the key prediction.