According to Jesus. the end will not come until this gospel of the kingdom of God is proclaimed to all nations.
When the subject of the Second Coming is raised, inevitably, the question of what “sign” or “signs” will precede it is asked. And invariably, wars, earthquakes, tsunamis, famines, and similar catastrophes are pointed to as harbingers of the end. But Jesus himself gave us the definitive answer – The completion of the mission of the Church.
After his final visit to Herod’s Temple, Christ predicted the destruction of the Temple complex and the city of Jerusalem. 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 23:34-39, 24:1-2).
In response, the disciples asked two questions. First, when will the predicted destruction of the city and Temple occur; and second, what will be the “sign” of the coming of the Son of Man and the consummation of the age?
His immediate response is a dire warning – Beware of false messiahs and false prophets that will deceive many. His disciples will hear of wars, earthquakes, international conflicts, and famines.
But such events are NOT indicators of the end. Disasters must occur but the “end is not yet.” And, if anything, deceivers and false prophets point to these very events as “signs” of the rapidly approaching end and thereby they raise false expectations about its imminence – (Matthew 24:4-8, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).
Human and natural catastrophes happen regularly in the world, therefore, followers of Jesus must “not be alarmed” when they do occur. Such events are NOT chronological markers by which one can calculate the end. At most, they are a “beginning of birth pains,” harbingers of the inevitable end.
Moreover, nowhere did Jesus predict that the frequency and intensity of earthquakes, wars and such will increase as the end draws near.
To the first question, his answer is – within “this generation” – the generation that was contemporary with him. And 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).
Regarding the timing of his “arrival,” no man knows the day or hour except God alone, and therefore, his disciples must always be prepared for its unexpected arrival.
Knowledge of the “times and seasons” belongs only to God, and any man who claims such knowledge arrogates to himself information that even the Son of Man does not possess – (Matthew 24:36, Mark 13:33, Acts 1:7-9).
As to the requested “sign,” Jesus gives us one explicit goal that must be achieved before he returns in glory, the “proclamation of this gospel of the kingdom in the whole habitable earth for a testimony to all nations.” Only “then will the end come.”
The message of the kingdom is good news to all those who hear and obey it. But the church must bear witness to it before ALL nations before the Son of Man will arrive to gather his saints to himself and judge the nations – (Matthew 24:14).
In the Greek clause, the demonstrative pronoun for “THIS gospel” (houtos) is emphatic. It is, “THIS gospel of the Kingdom” that must be proclaimed; presumably, the same one preached by Jesus.
And that is the task he has assigned to his Church. His disciples must “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.” This mission must be finished before the end can arrive – (Matthew 28:18-20, Acts 1:6-8).
And how do we know when the task is done? According to Jesus, when the end does arrive! The fact that the “end” has not arrived is irrefutable proof that the task remains unfinished.
The human desire to know when Jesus will arrive is understandable. The desire for certainty about the future drives our attempts to discern the “times and seasons” and calculate the date of his return. Nevertheless, all past attempts to do so have failed; date-setting always results in disappointment and failure.
The words of Jesus are clear. His Father alone knows the timing of the end. Not even the “Son of Man” has that information. In the interim between now and his “coming,” the Church must remain busy completing the task assigned to it. That is what matters far more than having accurate information about signs and prophetic timetables.
And this raises and very probably answers the question – Why the (apparent) delay of over 2,000 years in the return of Jesus? Because the church has yet to complete its mission, and therefore, he is waiting for us to proclaim the good news of the kingdom of God to all nations.