Key Sign of the End

Jesus declared the “end” will not come until “this gospel of the kingdom of God is proclaimed to all nations” – Matthew 24:14

Sun Burst - Photo by Huper by Joshua Earle on Unsplash
Inevitably, when the subject of the return of Jesus is raised, we ask: 
What “signs” will precede it? Will wars, earthquakes, famines, and similar catastrophes mark his soon return? Fortunately for us, Jesus provided a most definitive “sign,” an event that must occur before the “coming of the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven”; namely, the completion of the Church’s mission - [Photo by Huper by Joshua Earle on Unsplash].

After his final departure from the Temple, the Lord predicted its complete destruction. Because Israel had rejected her Messiah:
  • All these things shall come upon this generation. Behold, your house is left to you desolate… Truly I declare to you, there shall not be left one stone upon another that shall not be thrown down - (Matthew 23:34-3924:1-2).
His prediction prompted the disciples to ask two questions: first, when would the destruction of the Temple occur? Second, what would be the “sign” of the “coming of the Son of Man and the conclusion of the age”?

Jesus responded with a dire warning: Beware of false messiahs and false prophets that would come and deceive many. The disciples would hear of wars, earthquakes, international conflicts, and famines; however, such events were not indicators of the proximity of the “end.” Such disasters would occur, but the “end is not yet.” However, deceivers would point to these very things to raise false expectations about the future - (Matthew 24:4-8, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

Human and natural catastrophes occur regularly, therefore, the disciple of Jesus must "not be alarmed" when they do transpire. Such events are NOT chronological markers by which one can calculate the timing of the “end.” At most, they constitute a “beginning of birth-pains,” harbingers of the inevitable “end of the age.”

To the first question, he answered, within “this generation.” That is, the generation that was contemporary with him. This occurred when a Roman army destroyed the Temple and Jerusalem in A.D. 70, exactly as he predicted – (Matthew 3:7, 11:16, 12:34-45, 16:4, 17:17, 23:33-36, 24:34).

To the second question, he responded: “No man knows the day or hour of his coming, except God alone.” Therefore, his disciples must always be ready for its unexpected and sudden arrival. Knowledge of the “times and seasons” belongs to the Father alone. Those who claim such knowledge arrogate to themselves the knowledge that even the “Son of Man” does not possess - (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:32-24, Acts 1:7-9).

As to the requested “sign,” Jesus gave one explicit goal that must be achieved before his return, the “proclamation of this gospel of the kingdom in the entire world for a testimony to all nations.” Only “then will the end come.” The message of the kingdom is good news to all who hear and heed it. But it must be proclaimed to all nations before the “Son of Man” arrives in glory:
  • (Matthew 24:13-14) – “But he that has endured throughout, the same shall be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed in all the inhabited earth, for a witness to all the nations, and then will come the end.
That is the task Jesus assigned to his Church, to “go and teach all nations to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you; behold, I am with you even unto the end of the age” - (Matthew 28:18-20).

Ocean Sunset - Photo by Yousef Espanioly on Unsplash
Photo by Yousef Espanioly on Unsplash

In like manner, just prior to his ascension, the disciples asked him when he would restore the kingdom to Israel, and Jesus responded:
  • (Acts 1:6-8) - “It is not for you to know times or seasons, which the Father has put in his own authority.” Instead, the disciples were to tarry in Jerusalem until they received the Holy Spirit, then they would become “my witnesses in Jerusalem, all Judea, and Samaria, even unto the uttermost parts of the earth.
The knowledge about “times and season” belongs to the Father, and to Him alone. Rather than calculate end-time chronologies, disciples of Jesus are summoned to busy themselves proclaiming the “good news” of his kingdom throughout the earth – “to the uttermost ends of the earth” - until the mission is completed. Only then will the “end come” - (Luke 21:24, 24:46-49, Romans 11:25-26).
And how does one know when the task is done? According to Jesus - When the end arrives!

Based on the logic of Jesus’ declaration, that the “end” has not arrived is irrefutable proof the task of gospel proclamation remains unfinished. No one can ascertain the progress of this mission. God alone knows that, and only He will determine when the full complement of the elect has been gathered.

His declaration is as much exhortation as it is prophecy, an admonishment to the church to engage tirelessly in gospel proclamation until he arrives in glory. The completion of the mission is the “sign” of the end, but one that cannot be used to calculate its nearness.

Often Christians ask: Why the two thousand-plus years “delay” in the return of Jesus? If Jesus defeated Satan, sin, and death on Calvary, why after so many centuries do sin and death still dominate the world? The declaration of Jesus answers this question – Because the mission of the Church remains incomplete.

Peter made a similar point in his second epistle. In the “last days,” scoffers would appear, asking, “Where is the promise of his coming? For from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation.”

While such questions might appear reasonable, they are based on human ignorance, the failure to understand just who God is:
  • The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is long-suffering toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come as a thief – (2 Peter 3:3-12).
Any “apparent” delay in the parousia of Jesus, in fact, reflects the mercy and long-suffering of God, as He waits patiently to reap the full harvest of the earth. But it also demonstrates the failure of the Church to execute its mission. If anything, the way to “hasten the day of the Lord” is for the Church to expend all her efforts proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ.

It is high time for believers to accept the clear teachings of Jesus on this matter, to get over the fact that we do not and cannot calculate the date of the end, and to get on with the task at hand. What matters, in the end, is to be found busy about his business on the day when Jesus arrives in power and glory.


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