“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.”
In this parallel passage to Luke 21 (from Matthew 24) Jesus told his listeners that prior to the end coming, i.e. the end of the Temple and the Jewish age (that was the topic and was the center of the questions, whether we like it, believe it, admit to it, or not); the gospel had to be taught throughout “all the world” and “as a witness to all the nations.” Does “all the world” mean every tiny little corner of the globe?
It seems this very phrase is used by Luke of the census or tax enrollment commanded by Tiberius on “all the world” while Quirinius was governor of Syria (Luke 2:1) where it obviously refers to the Roman world. I must suppose that at the very least in Matthew 24 those same words indicate every hospitable and civil society in the whole of the Roman Empire of the day. Does “all the nations” mean every single nation? I further suppose that it must mean “all” bearing in mind the same reasoned restriction. The Romans had a zero tolerance policy to inhospitable societies as concerned them.
Yet the skeptic will then say, “That just isn’t possible.” But it is only impossible if we confine the will of people to do things within our own very special set of rules.
Thousands of Christians left Judea due to persecution and famine and (don’t forget) war, with some going to Africa, some into the East and surely some having headed towards Europe and the North. Paul had intended to go to Spain at some point. But in the subjugated Roman world (and that is what is being referred to), would it not have been possible that some of these unknown zealots may have gone out of the boundaries beyond the Roman, exploring to the mountainous far edge of Persia and India, to the Xin or later the Han, into other “unknown” eastern kingdoms, to the deepest parts of Central and Southern Africa and up to the frozen reaches at the northernmost edge of Europe and over the tundra to Siberia? Of course it was possible. The only things acting to withhold them would have been their means and their will.
Modern grave robbers (archaeologists) have found several red-headed mummified remains dressed in Euro-garb out on the edge of the Gobi and through common dating it seems they had beaten old Marco Polo to China by more than 500 years. Weren’t they warned that the teachers of the day had said that it couldn’t be done and didn’t happen? It said as much in my anthropology and History of Western Civilization texts just 40 years ago. Perhaps they forgot to file a flight plan or to check in with the local constabulary.
And a mocker will say, “Next you will tell us that Christians sailed the Atlantic before Eric and the Norsemen?” I won’t say that; but the Mormons teach such things. I will paraphrase Galileo, who stated that God has not given us the gift of intellect in order that we might fore go its use.
If you know nothing of the world across the big pond (or if there actually is a world on the other side); and you couldn’t possibly get there anyway – then it, for all practical purposes, doesn’t exist in the known world or in your world. If the society across the mountains is totally godless killing all who enter, and there is no one there that cares one whit for any human life; what purpose would there be in seeking them out to spread to them the good news? Did not Jesus tell his disciples, “Cast not your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet and then turn and happily rend you?” I wonder what that meant.
Where Christ had said, “Go into the entire world and teach the gospel to every living creature…” the nutcase known to the world as St. Francis of Assisi inferred from what was said that he meant to include cows, pigs, chickens, and all of the animal occupants of barnyard, pasture, hill and dale. However, that clearly was not the intent; and the irrational interpretation did not make it so.
That said, the apostle to the nations stated that the gospel had in fact been taught to “all peoples” with the deed accomplished by the time he had concluded most of his letters to the churches (Col. 1:23). Was that hyperbole, as some state? Was he lying, or did the Spirit of God trick him into recording inaccuracies? Did God exaggerate as many of us are so prone to doing?
We like to bracket things and put limits on people and on their ability to accomplish things. We can’t figure how they could have gotten out there (and so quickly) mainly because we are fairly comfortable right where we are, and in many cases, not just a little bit lazy. We can’t fathom how anybody could be so moved to get so much done so fast (within just two generations). But that says more about people like you and me than it does about our considerable ancestors. Some people can’t figure how the Egyptians built a few hundred pyramids without getting help from aliens. Yet they managed, and their grandest pile of rocks took only about twenty years to stack up and cap. This society went from the earth to the moon in under a decade.
If you want to do something badly enough, or if you feel it is your duty and that you need to get it done no matter what, with some means at your disposal, chances are you’ll get moving and get on with it. You’ll probably surprise yourself and everybody around you. If you believe in the salvation of the Son of God, maybe just maybe, you’ll tell all the people you run into about the good news, and some of the more-than-ready sorts will hit the road with “the grafted-in word of God that is able to save your souls.”
They were called evangelists and itinerant preachers; and many were just common everyday garden variety Christians who simply couldn’t hold it in and keep it to themselves afraid that they might burst. They actually joyously believed it deep down; and were not content sitting on the pew with their eyes closed and their heads down, looking for caveats and excuses, while waiting for the preacher to shut up so that they could get over to the restaurant for lunch.