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 24:14

New Testament scholar George Eldon Ladd, writing in the 1950s, comments:

The subject of this chapter is, When will the Kingdom come? I am not setting any dates. I do not know when the end will come.

And yet I do know this: When the Church has finished its task of evangelizing the world, Christ will come again. The Word of God says it.

Why did He not come in A.D. 1oo? Because the Church had not evangelized the world.

Why did He not return in a.d. 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.

. . .  “How are we to know when the mission is completed? How close are we to the accomplishment of the task? Which countries have been evangelized and which have not? How close are we to the end? Does this not lead to date-setting?”

I answer, I do not know. God alone knows the definition of terms. I cannot precisely define who “all the nations” are. Only God knows exactly the meaning of “evangelize.” He alone, who has told us that this Gospel of the Kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a testimony unto all the nations, will know when that objective has been accomplished.

But I do not need to know. I know only one thing: Christ has not yet returned; therefore the task is not yet done. When it is done, Christ will come. Our responsibility is not to insist on defining the terms of our task; our responsibility is to complete it. So long as Christ does not return, our work is undone. Let us get busy and complete our mission.

. . .  Here is the motive of our mission: the final victory awaits the completion of our task. “And then the end will come.” There is no other verse in the Word of God which says, “And then the end will come.”

When is Christ coming again? When the Church has finished its task.

When will This Age end? When the world has been evangelized.

“What will be the sign of your coming and of the close of the age?” (Matt. 24: 3). “This gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations; and then, and then, the end will come.” When? Then; when the Church has fulfilled its divinely appointed mission.

Do you love the Lord’s appearing? Then you will bend every effort to take the Gospel into all the world. It troubles me in the light of the clear teaching of God’s Word, in the light of our Lord’s explicit definition of our task in the Great Commission (Matt. 28: 18-20) that we take it so lightly. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” This is the Good News of the Kingdom. . . .  All authority is His. “Go ye therefore.” Wherefore? Because all authority, all power is His, and because He is waiting until we have finished our task. His is the Kingdom; He reigns in heaven, and He manifests His reign on earth in and through His Church. When we have accomplished our mission, He will return and establish His Kingdom in glory. To us it is given not only to wait for but also to hasten the coming of the day of God (II Pet. 3:12). This is the mission of the Gospel of the Kingdom, and this is our mission.

George Eldon Ladd, The Gospel of the Kingdom: Scriptural Studies in the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1959), ch. 9, “When Will the Kingdom Come?”

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Comments:


22 thoughts on “When Will Christ Return?”

  1. Hi Justin,

    There is an alternative interpretation to this verse: an angel in Revelation 14:6–7 will fulfill this condition to the Lord’s return in his warning. See more on this here:

    http://www.alankurschner.com/2012/08/07/how-will-matthew-2414-be-fulfilled/

  2. Greg says:

    I think we may be playing with an anachronism here. In our time, we understand “world” to mean the entire planet. But Paul writes that the gospel is already known throughout the world, Col 1:6. He uses the same word in the same way in Rom 1:8, though in a different context. Paul seem to think of “the world” as something equivalent to the Roman Empire.

    If we understand Matthew 24:14 in this way, the end that comes is probably the end of the OT era, the fall of Jerusalemn in AD 70. This seems to me to be the interpretation most consistent with Scripture and the context of the passage which, only a few verses earlier, is a response to the disciples question about when one stone would not be left upon another as Jesus foretold.

    1. The preterist interpretation does not work either since it is a hopeless attempt to argue that the “Roman Empire” equals “to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language, and people” Rev 14:6.

      1. MarkO says:

        Alan,
        Greg pointing out something very important in biblical interpretation: do not forget to take into account the initial audience and author’s intent. If we read passage of ancient Scripture from a western pov, from a modern pov and from a recent eschatological pov (ie., Dispensationalism which originated circa 1830) then we will as Greg points out, “be playing with an anachronism.”

        Giving serious attention to the original audience and the original author’s viewing angle we will be more likely to arrive a spot on interpretation. Also, in the interest of “literal” interpretation we should note that Matt 24:14 does not say “end of the world” or “end of all time.” It simply says “the end” which leaves us asking which “end” is He speaking of? It is the END of the age, the Mosaic age or OT era as Greg notes. How can we know this for sure?

        We can know that this “end” is not the apocalyptic end of the world because in the disciples initial question they were asking about “the end of the AGE?” They were not even aware of the doctrine of the Second Coming yet since it had not yet been fully disclosed to them at this point. Their question about the end of the AGE is with reference to end of Old Covenant era which if they had been reading Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel others they would have understood that at some point there was a transfer from a Mosaic era to a Messianic era – within time and history (not at the end of all time and history).

        Again, giving full attention to the initial audience is key to correct interpretation vs. seeing the text thru western, modern or a recent theological system.

        Another important evidence that this “end” is not the end of the world is that Scripture itself bears witness to this spreading of the Gospel.

        Here it is –

        Acts 2:5-11 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from EVERY NATION under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that EACH OF US hears them in our native LANGUAGE? 9 Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,[b] 10 Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome 11 (both Jews and converts to Judaism); Cretans and Arabs—we hear them declaring the wonders of God in our own tongues!”

        The witness of church history combined with Scripture also confirms that by the end of the 1st century the Gospel had reached beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire as far as Spain and the far east. The fact the Gospel continues to this day going around the world is much like the nuclear fall out from a bomb. The Evangelion bomb was dropped on the world in the 1st century. The initial deed is done, the bomb was dropped a long time ago. It’s over, but it had such a cataclysmic impact that it brought down an empire and like waves of radiation it rolls onward and onward to this day.

        Praise God it’s fall out has reached you and me. Let’s keep it going.

        1. MarkO,

          I agree we need to take the audience and the author’s intention into consideration. But these are visions given to John that challenges his and his audience’s people-groups assumptions: “to every nation, tribe, language, and people.” So it incorrect to limit this scene to the Roman Empire.

          Or take a similar expression in the same book: ““a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,” (Rev 7:9). Here is where preterism falls apart. Is John excluding the barbarians from the north or those beyond the eastern Roman empire from this great picture of all of God’s people? The burden of proof is on the preterist to demonstrate this.

          Again, not to mention it is a _vision_ that John is seeing in heaven, so we should be talking about God’s _intention_, which of course challenges John and his audience’s people-group categories.

          You can be sure John’s categories have been challenged–and changed!–after his visions given to him.

          1. MarkO says:

            When Jesus spoke of the “end of the age” and when Peter shows how the Gospel is spread to “every nation” and Paul attests to the same thing none of them at the time they said this were having “a vision” or a dream or in a trance. This is plain spoken speech which shows that the Gospel reached BEYOND the Roman empire within their time.

            Prophecy fulfilled in the past gives us great confidence in our time. PTL!

        2. MarkO said,

          “They were not even aware of the doctrine of the Second Coming yet since it had not yet been fully disclosed to them at this point.”

          This is circular reasoning. By that logic, Jesus could never give them new revelation!

          How opportune for Jesus to give his disciples new revelation about his future coming than shortly before his death, resurrection and ascension?

          In Matthew 23:39, Jesus told the Jewish leaders he was leaving them: “For I tell you, you will not see me from now until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” This announcement and Jesus’ prediction of the temple’s destruction prompted the disciples to ask two questions: “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” (Matt 24:3). The disciples’ two questions suggest that they viewed the destruction of the temple buildings and the consummation of the age to be a single complex event occurring about the same time.

          Jesus’ answer will shift away from their question about the destruction of the temple buildings because he has a larger eschatological purpose in mind. Someone may ask why does Matthew then record this first question if Jesus does not answer it? Perhaps it is to correct their preconceived schema of how things will unfold. This was not unusual.

          During his ministry, it was common for Jesus to ignore a question, reply with a question, or give an unexpected answer. And in this case, he will take this opportunity to teach his disciples that deceptive temptation and great tribulation will have to come first for those who desire to be in his kingdom.

          1. MarkO says:

            a very key phrase in Matt 24 is “this generation.” Again, we must read the passage as it was intended for the INITIAL audience.

            “generation” does not refer to a race or future ethnic group of people. I find that the word “generation” as used in Matt refers to those people alive at the time Jesus said what He said.

            1. And if you read it according to its initial audience and context, you will see that Jesus is not using “this generation” is some amoral sense. See:

              see Neil D. Nelson, Jr., “‘This Generation’ in Matt 24:34: A Literary Critical Perspective,” The Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38/3 (1996): 369–85.

              I would recommend reading it.

        3. MarkO said,

          “Again, giving full attention to the initial audience is key to correct interpretation vs. seeing the text thru western, modern or a recent theological system.”

          Actually, the early church taught this. Are you aware that the Didache expounding on Matthew 24 teaches that the resurrection is placed after the future Antichrist? They interpreted Matthew 24 in a futurist fashion, not preterist:

          http://www.alankurschner.com/the-early-church-teaching/

          1. MarkO says:

            Good point about the Didache. From their vantage point Matt 24 would have been “futuristic” BUT from our vantage point Matt 24 (at least up to verse 35) is past.

            Of course, the Didache is an extra-biblical witness, helpful, but not inspired. The verses I quoted about are inspired.

            1. Now you are equivocating. You claimed that my interpertation was “modern.” So I then pointed out an ancient (very ancient) document that supports my position. And not is does “not really matter” because “the Didache is an extra-biblical witness, helpful, but not inspired. The verses I quoted about are inspired.”

              Moreover, it is not inspired, but it says a lot that the first interpretation in church history on Matthew 24 refutes any notion of preterism.

              1. MarkO says:

                The Didache is only a non-inspired opinion. Luke’s witness in Acts 2 concerning “every nation” is inspired.

                ummm, I think I’ll stick with Luke on this one since his witness BOTH inspired and earlier than the Didache.

              2. R. Delaney says:

                MarkO, you’re hilarious.

                You challenge Alan’s interpretation as anachronistic and modern, then when he presents a counter example to refute your defeater for his position, you say…”well, I’ll stick with Luke on this one.” Lol

                The correct interpretation of Luke is what is in dispute. Alan could say the same thing and “stick with Luke” too.

                I’m amillennial, so I think you’re both wrong, but at least Alan is presenting a cogent argument.

  3. MarkO says:

    also note another Scriptural evidence:

    “…if you continue in your faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that HAS BEEN proclaimed to EVERY creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.”
    Col 1:23

    No one in the 1st century, even the most devout followers of Jesus, would have imagined or hoped that the Gospel could have spread as far and wide as it did within ONE generation. Amazing! …without weapons, without the printing press, without the internet, without the telephone, without universities and without a denominational fund to bankrolls the work of missions. Wow! Following Jesus is exciting.

  4. Sphen says:

    The Jubilee Calendar sheds some light on the timing of Christ’s return:

    http://www.120jubilees.org/

  5. Marisme says:

    Not to discard any of the biblical intrepretations on the topic (and there is no lack of them), thought I would share my musings. Plus, it’s a great poetic theme and academics should here from the other side of the brain.

    “Because all authority, all power is His, and because He is waiting until we have finished our task. His is the Kingdom; He reigns in heaven, and He manifests His reign on earth in and through His Church. When we have accomplished our mission, He will return and establish His Kingdom in glory”
    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    Thinking About Armageddon

    There we go again
    trying to figure it all out
    the decade, the year
    the manner in which all things
    will end

    We assume we are closer than before
    with space and time partners in our fall
    and possibilities determined
    with the shutting of the door

    But, what if time is a circle
    traveling like a yo-yo on a string
    poised in our expanding space
    a guest of the divine?

    Perhaps space is a dimensional pub
    providing God a place to down a beer
    while marking our progress
    in learning how to love?

    In the mind of God
    could all things change
    with the granting of grace
    that for us is so strange?

    In the mind of man
    could all things be blurred
    with truth itself distorted
    by our reading of His word?

    Is the time of man really sealed
    in a coffin made of stone
    or does life balance gracefully
    in a heart of mercy we long to know?

    We want to pin it all down
    with our own need to know
    forgetting that it is God
    who alone is in control

  6. Ladd appears to conflate the *preaching* necessary before the end of the Jewish age with the *discipling* necessary before the end of the Christian age. Two very different things.

    Expanded thoughts: http://mothwo.blogspot.com/2012/08/discipling-nations.html

  7. MarkO says:

    R. Delaney,
    {One final explanation for me on this post and then it’s time for me to move on.}

    This is my point in the simplest terms:

    – the prophecy: Jesus foretells that the Gospel will reach the world (not the cosmos, but the oikoumena; this later word was used to refer to the inhabited regions of the Roman Empire) before the Temple is destroyed (see Matt 24 for the foretelling of its destruction)

    – the fulfillment: Luke records in Acts the progression of the fulfillment of the above prophecy by Jesus. Acts 2 is a simple example, among several in Scripture, of how the Gospel did indeed spread across the world. It says “every ethnos under heaven.” If I read this literally – and I do – it means that at that the time in Jerusalem every ethnic group was represented there. They heard the Gospel. Many believed and took it back to their homeland.

    btw – I hold to an Amil eschatology as well.

    hope that helps.

  8. MarkO says:

    R. Delaney,
    one more thing before I log off.
    You might find helpful as I did this book called
    ‘Matthew 24 Fulfilled’ by John Bray

    http://www.amazon.com/Matthew-24-fulfilled-John-Bray/dp/B0006RRATG
    or from here as an ebook
    http://www.americanvision.com/products/Matthew-24-Fulfilled-%28e%252dBook-PDF-Download%29.html

    I don’t agree with everything, but he makes many good exegetical points.

    One more resource:
    The Destruction of Jerusalem by George Holford
    http://www.bible.ca/pre-destruction70AD-george-holford-1805AD.htm

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Justin Taylor


Justin Taylor is senior vice president and publisher for books at Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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