And then the end will come! That is pretty definitive, and on the lips of Jesus. It will come after ‘this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations’ (Matt. 24:14). And it seems the ‘then’ did not envisage a protracted period of time. This will happen and then the end.
Lifting material from a previous post I think Paul considers that (at least) part of the task was already completed. Here is the extraction from that post:
Paul seems to have thought that in his lifetime Matt. 24:14 (‘to all the nations’) was already fulfilled (and of course Jesus said all these things in a generation). Here are four examples of this perspective:
But I ask, have they not heard? Indeed they have; for
“Their voice has gone out to all the earth,
and their words to the ends of the world” (Rom. 10:16-18).
At the end of Romans 10 Paul jumps between addressing the Jewish and the Gentile situation; here he is addressing the Gentile situation. The message has (not will eventually) gone throughout the whole earth and to the extremity of the oikoumene. That final word was a very common way the civilised world of Rome was described. The oikoumene was the Roman world, and here he adds the ‘extremities’ of it, suggesting that this was indeed the whole earth.
There is a second text in Romans (16:25-26, though it is not in every manuscript I include it here, for it accords with Paul’s perspective, and even if it was added it represents an early perspective):
Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles.
To ‘all the Gentiles’ (ta ethne: same word as in Matthew 24:14). Indeed rather than refer to ethic groups it was the most common way that those who were not Jews were described. The Gentile world was the ‘ta ethne’ world.
Then there are two in Colossians.
You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel that has come to you. Just as it is bearing fruit and growing in the whole world, so it has been bearing fruit among yourselves from the day you heard it and truly comprehended the grace of God (Col. 1:5-6).
The ‘whole world’, and in a book that is fairly ‘cosmic’ the use of the word kosmos is quite fitting here.
[P]rovided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven (Col. 1:23).
Which has been proclaimed to every creature (literally ‘all creation’); same as in the disputed passage of Mark 16:15 where we read on the lips of Jesus:
And he said to them, “Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.”
So Paul uses ‘the whole earth’, ‘the extremities of the oikoumene‘, ‘all the ethne‘, ‘the whole kosmos‘, ‘all creation’. That is a fairly strong perspective and I don’t think we can really push Jesus’ words in a different direction. We might wish to use them as a missiological imperative, but it does not seem to be what Jesus meant in that context.
Might not fit with our ideas but we have to come to see that in some way ‘the end’ is past; or some kind of end has already taken place. An age has ended, could this be what Jesus is referring to when he addressed his first disciples:
And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
In Jesus’ teaching about the ‘end’ there is a continual focus on ‘this generation’, and we have to see the years of 66-70AD (the Jewish Wars) as being so critical. I find it hard to believe that they are not central to any understanding of Jesus’ teaching about the ‘end’. Something definitively ended in those years of great crises. (As per the original Exodus the entry to the land 40 years later started something for the nation, so in this situation 40 years after Jesus’ exodus something truly came to an end.) The ‘coming of the son of Man’ (or maybe better ‘the sign of the coming of the Son of Man’ fit into that context. The original vision in Daniel 7 is of one ‘like a son of man’ coming to the Ancient of Days and that to the Son of Man was given
dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.
His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed (Dan 7:14).
In Matthew 24 (and parallels) the sign of the Son of Man having received this kingdom would take place immediately after the suffering of those days, with the Son of Man coming (not to earth) but in the cloud – the same as in Daniel 7. Jesus received all authority (past tense) not will receive all authority. Those references are past tense, hence Jesus could say to the assembled Jewish authorities that
“You have said so. But I tell you,
From now on you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of Power
and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matt. 26:64).
Something of an end has taken place, and I understand why there are those who suggest every aspect of the end has already taken place. I still look to a future ‘end’, in that way I am very conservative, and have written in the previous posts about what I do not see (future antiChrist, millennium etc.) as I do not see those as being very conservative! No offence intended should you passionately see them in Scripture, I don’t. And I do not see them as very important. The end has always been about a Person not a series of events. By insisting on certain things will take place, a kind of ‘signs of the times’ we can be in danger of looking for the signs and missing the activity and presence (after all parousia means presence) of the one who is the ‘End’, the first and the last.
I think understanding the nature of the Person has to greatly shape us with regard to how we see the end. I say that because the misunderstanding of what God would come to do seemed to be why the many Jews of Jesus’ time missed the opportunity of seeing him as their Messiah.