|Note: This book is an excellent resource for seeing how many of the prophecies in the Bible has already long been fulfilled. That is the main reason we are posting it on our website. However, the author also believes and mentions in his book some beliefs we DEFINITELY DO NOT agree with. We do NOT agree with his teaching on Hell nor his beliefs that the gifts of the Holy Spirit have ceased.--Gary Amirault|
Published by New Light Publishing, Austin, Texas.
Printed and bound in the United States of America.
Printed on acid-free paper.
First EditionLibrary of Congress Catalog Card Number: 9467070Publishers Cataloging in Publication Data
Crews, David P
Prophecy Fulfilled - Gods Perfect Church / by David P. Crews
- 1st ed.
Includes Scripture Index.
1. Bible Prophecies Chronology
2. Bible Criticism, interpretation, etc.
3. Prophecy Christianity
4. Bible Study and teaching
ISBN 0-9641859-0-3: $19.95 Softcover.
This book is dedicated to the
Joel Marvin Bateman
You were my Teacher, my Elder,
my Grandfather, and my Friend.
Authorship Date of authorship He is coming with clouds Seven churches in Asia Judaizers and false apostles Ongoing Jewish Persecutions The time expectations John to prophecy again Jerusalem and the Temple intact Who was the sixth king? Who was 666? Symbol pictures of the war events Who was the woman? What is a millennium? A new heaven and a new earth
The world has ended - a new worldview An everpresent God The time and nature of Judgment This is life eternal Gods finished plan A victorious and ruling God What about sin, evil, and pain? The nature of Heaven The nature of Hell What happened to the Resurrection? The nature of Peace What about miracles and gifts? What about Israel? Living a righteous life -You shall be perfect The role of Christianity -But, what then shall we do? Spiritualizing the scriptures
I would like to thank all those who have listened, questioned, supported, challenged, encouraged, and reasoned with me concerning these matters. Particular thanks go to my family and especially my mother, Joelmae Crews, who has always encouraged me to search the scriptures to determine the truth of things being taught, and to never be afraid to ask the difficult questions about the beliefs we inherited from others. From her I learned the most powerful and important word in human language: attitude.
Special thanks also goes to my sister, Judy Brown for proofreading the manuscript, and to her and her family for the sincere encouragement they have provided over many years. Any manuscript errors that may remain are solely my own oversight.
I would like to thank my Christian brother and friend, Ken Zawilinski for encouragement given and for many hours of fruitful discussion and probing of the Word of God which we have enjoyed and which has so enriched our lives.
A heartfelt thanks is also extended to my friend, Clyde Aly, for support when I needed it with a true interest in these matters and many sincere and valuable discussions early on.
Also, a word of thanks to Ed Stevens for input and suggestions in the book design.
It is said that in everyones life there is at least one great teacher. I would not have found the path from confusion and frustration to focus and clarity of understanding without the influence and teaching of my Grandfather, Marvin Bateman. His unwavering conviction and self-taught scholarship, his wisdom and insights, and his voice echoes in everything I have said or written about Gods great Word, the Bible. My debt to him is compensated in part with this present work.
I give my greatest thanks always to the Lord God for his grace and patience with me and his inestimable gift of knowledge available to all who sincerely ask and seek for which I have so long labored and prayed. May the flames of his Word purify unto him all who hear the truth, for we know that he is a consuming fire.
In the final two chapters of the Bible, we are presented with a vision of Gods final plan for mankind. It is a vision many people call Heaven. It is a perfect place, a perfect life. It represents eternal life in the presence of God Himself. Some see this as a physical realm raised upon Earth and ruled by a physically returned Christ. Others see this as Gods spiritual realm that exists eternally after the physical earth is destroyed.
Almost everyone sees the present day Christian Church as a temporary structure that will give way some day to the final plan the true Kingdom of God.
Are these assumptions, handed down over the ages, correct? Or does Gods final vision exist even now? As Christians, are we still waiting for the Kingdom of Heaven to be prepared for us, or have we received a kingdom that cannot be moved? Are we looking for a new heaven and earth, or have we yet come unto the city of the living God.. .the heavenly Jerusalem.. .the general assembly and church of the firstborn? Are we inescapably sinful and world-stained, or are we, even now, the spirits of righteous men made perfect? Shall we be resurrected and judged in a final event of time, or do we presently stand without condemnation and even now take hold of eternal life?
This volume is a study of prophecy in the New Testament and how people have interpreted it. There is a way of interpreting these scriptures that ties up all the loose ends that somehow never seem to fit quite right. It is a way of looking at the prophecies in light of the history of the times in which the Bible was written and takes into account the events that were happening to the people who wrote the prophecies and those who first heard them. It uses past prophecies to model New Testament ones.
Finally, it replaces hope with the one thing that surpasses hope the receiving of what is hoped for. It is a prophetic solution that reveals a God who is present and a Church that is perfect.
All scriptural quotations in this volume are taken from one of two translations. Scriptures that are otherwise not designated are from the King James Version [KJV]. The other translation quoted extensively is the New International Version [NIV]. Although there are many worthwhile translations other than these two, these represent two general categories of Bible readers, those who are long familiar with the King James and consider it to be in some manner the authoritative translation, and the reader who is more comfortable with a modem language translation that speaks more directly and plainly to our culture and time. The NIV is one of the most popular of this kind of translation.
Neither the KJV nor the NIV are without errors and problems, and the same can be said for any other translation available today. Although this fact can be disconcerting to some, it is important to realize that no translation is perfect. When it becomes critical to the proper interpretation of the scriptures in question, the student of the Bible must repair to the original Greek texts to determine an authoritative answer. This does not mean that we must all become accomplished Greek scholars, however, for there exist many wonderful tools designed to help us with the Greek texts. References concerning these original texts in this volume will be to the Analytical Greek Lexicon Revised, by Harold K. Moulton, and A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, by Joseph Henry Thayer (both of which are authoritative Bible-based Greek dictionaries). Other references are to the Interlinear Greek-English New Testament, by George R. Berry (for general reference), and Youngs Analytical Concordance to the Bible, by Robert Young (supporting references). For more information on these volumes, see the Bibliography.
In this volume, no attempt will be made to consistently use the same translation within discussions of specific passages, but rather a judicious selection of translation will be used according to their relative accuracy and ease of understanding. Of course, this selectivity can be somewhat subjective, but the author has attempted to be fair and straightforward in this matter and the reader is encouraged to follow the example of the Bereans (Acts 17:11) and search the scriptures daily to see if these things are so.
Although the Bible texts we will be examining are generally printed as they are discussed, the reader is strongly encouraged to open his or her own Bible and examine the passages and their surrounding context as these studies proceed. Cross-referencing and context awareness is the essence of insightful and meaningful Bible study.
As a true Bible study, this volume proceeds on several working assumptions. In order for the foundation of the study to be clearly understood, these basic assumptions are stated here.
First, this study is based on the belief that the only way human beings can know anything about God and the Church is through the Word of God the Bible. Second, any tradition of men or teaching of men that can be shown to be in conflict with the Bible must be rejected, no matter how long held and no matter how many people hold that teaching or understanding. Third, it is believed and assumed that truth is singular in nature and that it is knowable. There is only one truth, not many, and that truth can be determined through diligent effort.
This is of great importance, since it is believed that what a person understands as fundamentally true will affect how that person lives their life and how they interact with the world of mankind. A persons perception of truth determines their expectations.
The fourth assumption has to do with the expectations that are commonly held in todays world, especially among Christians. It is the heartfelt intention of this work to illustrate a need to reexamine and to alter our expectations concerning Christianity our role in the world of people, our attitude toward this Earth, and our attitude toward God.
It is sincerely hoped that some honest Christians who have grown cool in their involvement with religion and the Church due to a sense of frustration with things taught and an inability to find coherent solutions to the scriptures, will find the information in this volume to be a catalyst to a new enthusiasm and dedication to God and his wonderful Kingdom.
It is necessary for any volume that examines fundamental assumptions about the Bible to be detailed and thorough in the examination process. The reader is invited and strongly encouraged to follow through all the studies as we progress through the texts, but the true heart of this matter lies in the implications for Christians today. This last section, if desired, can be read once the underlying concepts have been presented in the introductory chapters.
All emphases within Biblical quotations are added by the author.
A survey of all New Testament references
to the coming of Christ
When shall these things be?
Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.
For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
[1 Thessalonians 5:2]
We shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air
[1 Thessalonians 4:17]
But the end of all things is at hand.
[1 Peter 4:7]
the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
[2 Peter 3:10]
And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven .And the gates of it shall not be shut at all by day: for there shall be no night there.
And behold, I come quickly and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
When we read from the Bible, many prophecies and promises are evident. Reading the story of Jesus, we look through the eyes and hear through the ears of the people who were standing there with him and who heard him speak of the great Kingdom of Heaven which was to be established. When Christ spoke to his followers of his impending death on the cross, he also prophesied and promised to return to them once again. Jesus and others also spoke of his returning in another way: in vengeance against all who oppose him. It would be an end of things. What are we, the modem reader, to make of all these prophecies? When something is predicted in the scriptures, should we assume it is predicted for us and is yet to happen? Surely, the prophecies of the Old Testament are obviously fulfilled in the New Testament. Christ was the Messiah that was promised and prophesied. But, what of the prophecies in the New Testament?
Preachers, scholars, popular writers and speakers have produced countless books and sermons on subjects such as the impending second coming of Christ, the end of the world, a thousand year reign, a future realm of Heaven, and so on. These concepts have their source in the many prophecies found in the New Testament. Most people are particularly fascinated with these prophecies since, aside from the major theme of mans salvation, they are the one element of the Bible that seems to have the potential to directly affect us today. Perhaps this present generation is to witness the things the New Testament prophets foretold. Many have written and spoken about the Anti-Christ and the Beast, and the emergence of the modern state of Israel, and have attempted to show how current events and personalities match the signs and visions of prophecy. To these writers and teachers and to the many who accept their theories, these events indicate the imminent end of the world in our own times.
When one closely examines the prophecies in the New Testament, however, certain interesting things turn up that cause the careful student to pause and look even closer. For instance, most people have inherited a concept of heaven being a perfect and blessed realm inhabited by God which, if one is approved, one may enter upon physical death or at the end of the world. This is a place that is seen as inaccessible to men and women now in their earthly lives. In Ephesians 1:20, Paul is speaking of Christ:
[God] raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.
This seems normal and its what we expected Paul to say about Christ. He is in the heavenly places with God and we are here on Earth. Then, reading further, the student notices chapter 2, verses 5-6:
God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.
Here, Paul has stated that we as Christians are seated with Christ in heaven, and according to the apostle, this is not a future event! Even in Pauls time, this was an accomplished fact it was past tense to him! What can we make of this apparent conflict?
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul speaks of all Christians being made alive at the time of Christs coming (vs. 22-23). He goes on to describe some things that will happen when Christ comes, things we see naturally belonging to the events of the end of the world. Continuing in verse 24, he says:
Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God For he must reign till he hath put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
Yet, in the next verse, Paul quotes the original text of Psalms 8:6 as fact:
For he hath put all things under his feet.
and in Ephesians 1:22, he restates this as an accomplished fact:
And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church which is his body.
In 2 Timothy 1:10 says:
Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death
These statements seem to interfere with the timetable of this prophecy, for if all things have been placed under Christs feet and death itself has been destroyed, then the end must have come also!
In John 14:2-3, Jesus tells the apostles:
In my Fathers house are many mansions I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.
Many people look to this verse as a comforting promise. Jesus has gone off to heaven to prepare an eternal home for us for when we die (or for us to obtain after the end of the world). An essential part of this is the understanding that Christ and the Father are not really here now and we must remember him and wait for him to come again in order to be where he is. Yet, in many other places in the New Testament, we receive another message entirely. For instance, in 1 John 4:15-16, the apostle says:
If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the son of God, God lives in him and he in God God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.
and Hebrews 3:6
But Christ is faithful as a son over Gods house. And we are his house
It should be apparent that if we are Gods house and if he lives in us, God cannot be far away somewhere preparing a place for us to live! In John 12:48, Jesus speaks of the Judgment Day:
There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; that very word which I spoke will condemn him at the last day.
This seems to fit and confirm our traditional view of a great Judgment Day event that occurs at the last day or end time. But, then we read just above in verse 31:
Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out.
and in 1 Peter 4:17, Peter says:
For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God?
These verses link the judgment events with the events of the last day, while stating that the judgment had already begun!
In Matthew 16:27, Jesus is speaking to his disciples. He tells them a prophecy of his own future coming:
For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels, and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
This is straightforward enough, as it portrays the scene of the second coming and the great judgment that follows it at the end of the world. But, then Jesus (in the next verse) says something that seems strange:
Verily I say unto you, there be some standing here which shall not taste of death till they see the Son of man coming in his kingdom.
The verse is plain enough, but it seems to be wrong or distorted, for Jesus himself states that he will come and his Kingdom will come within the lifetimes of some of those very disciples he was speaking to!
These discrepancies, along with a great many more throughout the New Testament, have led some to reexamine what is commonly understood about the prophetic and predictive statements in it. Some liberal critics have taken such apparent contradictions and used them to attack the inspiration of the Bible. They say that because the authors (including Christ) were apparently wrong in their predictions, then they must have been uninspired. Christ apparently believed that he would return in his Kingdom within that living generation, and since he didn't, he must have been in error. This view is abhorrent to the believer and yet, it has been difficult to fully answer in the past without resorting to rationalizations.
There is a way to understand these time statements that makes the Bible consistent once again, and, in the process, answers many other questions and puts right many distortions that we find ourselves accepting because we thought we had no other choice. This approach causes the Bible to finally make complete sense. It is not a new approach or interpretation, but rather an old one that has been displaced in recent years by popular human traditions and dogmatic beliefs.
To discover and examine this approach, we must make an honest and sincere effort to let the scriptures develop their own consistency and simply let the Bible speak for itself. It is a process of momentarily setting aside our present interpretations, doctrines, and conclusions, no matter how earnestly or how long held or how apparently obvious they are, and simply read what the book says as if for the first time. This is never easy. Even when we are trying to be unbiased in our examinations, we still tend to interpret things based on previous assumptions.
Another thing that is crucial in studying these passages is a knowledge of the culture and the history of the times in which the prophecies were written. Taken out of historical and cultural context, the New Testament becomes full of riddles and seeming contradictions and the modern reader soon becomes confused and can become disheartened. When some verses or parts of the scripture (the book of Revelation is a prominent example) cannot be readily explained in modern terms and language, the typical reaction is simply to gloss over it, to accept what others say it means, or to assume it is impossible to figure it out and avoid reading it.
When we carefully examine the prophecies of the New Testament in an open and unbiased method, all of our research, all of our common sense, and the credibility earned by an emerging consistency lead us to one conclusion regarding New Testament prophecy. The final analysis reveals that the Bible has been totally fulfilled.
This means, simply, that all the prophecies in the Bible have been fulfilled. The things that were promised or predicted have come to pass, and we are living in whatever final situation is resolved by the Bible prophecies. This method of interpreting the Bible is sometimes termed a preterist interpretation (from the Latin word meaning past or before). It is also known as fulfilled eschatology, which simply means things of the end times fulfilled in the past.
In practical terms, this means that the second coming of Christ, the Judgment Day, the Day of the Lord, the establishment of the Kingdom of God, the attainment by believers of heaven and true peace, and all the visions of Revelation including the end of the world all have been fulfilled and are past.
At this point, of course, this conclusion is simply being asserted. To many modern Christians, such a viewpoint, at first glance, seems at a minimum to be strange nonsense, or wildly liberal and absurd at the worst. In fact, it is the most conservative of viewpoints and it will be shown that it is the most sensible and consistent by far.
It is the purpose of this volume to carry out an examination of the texts and the interpretation of them that has led to this conclusion. This is not an exercise without purposesomething only theologians or ministers should think about and determine. The implications of this interpretation are fundamental to present day Christianity and how we as Christians are to act and live in this world. To say that Bible prophecy has been totally fulfilled is to change the way we live, the way we worship our God, the way we study and have fellowship with one another, and the very image of our religion that we show to the unbeliever. These implications cover truly wide and fundamental areas ranging, as we have noted, from the return of Christ to the Judgment Day and the nature of heaven and hell. These important implications will be discussed in the latter part of this study.
If these assertions of a fulfilled New Testament seem like the incautious beliefs of someone quite out of the mainstream of Christian traditions, this volume is an open invitation to look for yourself to see if these things be so. The preterist viewpoint is not, as we have said, new. In various forms, it has been held, studied, discussed,and taught for hundreds of years by thousands of sincere Christians. The common alternative interpretation is sometimes referred to as futurist, where at least some parts of the prophecies refer to events yet future for us today. All futurist interpretations have, by their nature, a difficult time explaining all the prophetic passages and bringing the entire Bible into a well-joined and totally consistent whole. The interpretation presented here can claim to do just that.
This interpretation is not presented in a trivial or unstudied manner, and the implications for Christians today are too important not to examine these things thoroughly and carefully. With these purposes in mind then, let us begin to look at the evidence for a New Testament that is completely fulfilled.
A revealing place to begin is with a short passage in Matthew 5. Speaking to the multitudes, Christ is delivering what has come to be known as the Sermon on the Mount. In verses 17-18, he makes a remarkable and very important statement:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
For someone who wishes to understand Bible prophecy, this verse is crucial and very illuminating. Let us take a moment to analyze it, for it is easy to read through it and perhaps miss the implications it contains.
Think not that I am come to destroy the law or the prophets
Jesus is speaking to a large audience composed wholly of Jews living under the strict and exclusive constraints of the Law of Moses. Jesus Christ himself is a Jew, also living under the old Law. As we realize later, he is the only human who was ever able to keep the Law of Moses perfectly. The Law, at this time, was in full force and effect, and all Jews were obliged to abide by it. Jesus was telling his fellow Jews that his purpose in coming was not to destroy or overthrow that Old Law by revolution.
I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill
Christs purpose was much more important and effective than merely overthrowing the Old Law and its system of living. He was the Messiah that was prophesied and promised in the scriptures of the Old Testament which contained and defined the Law. He had come to them now to fulfill the Law of Moses and to fulfill the prophets, which means the things that they prophesied. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, would fulfill all the things that were prophesied in the scriptures concerning the Messiah that was to come.
Now, Jesus makes a remarkable statement of prophecy:
Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
A jot and tittle are references to the smallest of punctuation marks in the Hebrew language, and the inference here is that the Old Law of Moses would remain totally in effect until certain things took place. What are these things that were to take place?
1. All (prophecies) would be fulfilled.
2. Heaven and earth would pass!
If the prophecies have not been fulfilled, and if heaven and earth have not passed away, then Jesus Christ has plainly stated that the Old Law of Moses is still in effect!
Now, we know that the Old Law has in fact been fulfilled and taken out of the way. Paul told the Romans in Romans 10:4
Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
and in Ephesians 2:14-15, we read:
For he [Christ] himself is our peace, who has made the two [Jews and Gentiles] one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.
The Law of Moses was designed to bring the chosen people into righteousness, but for anyone who believes in Christ, Christ is the end of the Law and that person is under the new system of grace. Galatians 3:24 gives the same message: the Law was the Jews schoolmaster, but after the institution of faith in the Christ, the Law was made ineffective.
These and other verses make it clear that the Law of Moses was not in effect (not divinely authorized) after Christs death on the cross, and is not now. Many Christians today labor under the mistaken concept that the Old Law is still active for us. They wish to retain the Ten Commandments (while ignoring most of the other Jewish laws). The fact of the matter is that those things were abolished, although many of the moral laws were restated by Jesus and are by nature incorporated into his great law of love.
Since we know that the old Jewish Law has been fulfilled and abolished by Christ, then the only logical conclusion we can draw is that the two things promised by Jesus must have occurred! The first thing is that the prophecies were fulfilled, as we can confirm with verses such as Acts 3:18
Those things which God before had shown by the mouth of all his prophets that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled.
and John 17:4, where Christ prays to the Father:
I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.
The second thing is that the heaven and earth must also have passed away! Now, it is plain that the physical universe and the actual planet earth have not been destroyed. Part of the problem modern day believers have in understanding Biblical prophecy is our tendency to take such statements literally. The trouble we run into is that such prophecies cease to make any sense when we insist on a literal meaning for symbolic terms such as the heaven and earth of Matthew 5:18. Here for instance, if the heaven and earth refer to this literal planet and universe (which obviously still exist), then, according to Christ himself, the old Jewish Law is still and totally in effect down to the crossings of a t and the dottings of an i!
A fundamental rule of Bible prophecy will become apparent as this study progresses. This rule is that every time a prophecy is spoken, symbols are used rather than literal, plain references to the subjects or events of the prophecy. Symbols are simply words or terms (usually poetic or descriptive in form) that represent or take the place of the literal thing that the prophecy is talking about.
The heaven and earth of Matthew 5:18 is part of a prophecy and they are symbolic words that refer to the old Jewish religious/political authorities (the heavens) and the Jewish peoples who would not accept Christ (the earth). (We will examine these and similar symbols in more depth in Part Two.) It is the same imagery we find in Revelation 21:1, where John sees that the first heaven and the first earth were passed away, and a new heaven and a new earth took its place. This new heaven and earth was the church and the people of the church the Christians. This heaven and earth were and are everlasting (Hebrews 12:28).
Such imagery, while seeming strange to us today, was familiar to the Jews of the first century since it was commonly used in Hebrew writings like the Old Testament. Another important concept in understanding prophecy is the realization that we can use the prophetic symbols in the Old Testament for modeling in order to interpret New Testament symbols (see Chapter Six).
Now, since Jesus had told his disciples (all of whom were Jews) that they were to live under the Old Law for a while (until all the prophecies were fulfilled), they were naturally curious about that fulfillment. In the marvelous prophetic passage recorded in the 24th chapter of Matthew (with parallel versions in Mark 13 and Luke 21), Jesus tells them. Let us look at this prophecy, spoken from the lips of Jesus, and see what it says.
After reproaching the scribes and Pharisees in the previous chapter, Jesus had just left the great Temple of Herod in Jerusalem and his disciples gathered around him to marvel at the tremendous building that was Gods abode on earth. Jesus asks them (verse 2):
Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.
[Mt 24:2, NIV]
A little while later, his worried disciples came to him and asked him:
Tell us, when shall these things be? And what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?
From this question, many people have taken the whole of the rest of this chapter to refer to the final end of the world the end of the physical universe, the end of time as we know it, and the second advent of Jesus Christ. Many schemes of interpretation from many well intentioned brethren have been placed on the various events Jesus says will come to pass before the end of the world.
A student reading this passage in some of the modern translations such as the NIV, may not so easily assume an end-of-the-world interpretation, because the passage is more accurately rendered:
When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?
They were not asking about the end of the physical planet, but rather the end of the age. The Greek word here is from aion, which means an age, indefinite time, or dispensation, rather than the Greek kosmos, which refers to the land or actual world. The King James translators used the word world in the same way we might say the world of the Middle East meaning the world of peoples and cultures of that area.
The disciples, being familiar with Hebrew prophecy, knew that the Messiah was going to bring their society to some kind of culmination in order to establish his great kingdom the Kingdom of God. They simply wanted to know when Jesus was going to accomplish this promised feat, especially since he had just indicated the start of the process with the coming destruction of the Temple itself, which was the center of these peoples earthly life.
Jesus, in answer to their question, warns them to beware of false deceivers and then begins to list many signs and events that would come to pass. Let us look for a moment at one of these events, found in Matthew 24:14:
14 And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations, and then the end shall come.
Now let us ask the question: was the gospel preached in all the world? To a modern Christian, that seems obvious. There are many people in many places that have not received the gospel of Christ. Missionary efforts are ongoing to rectify that, of course, but it is an unending job. Certainly, the end has not come, so the verse seems to make perfect sense. Yet, let us read what Paul states in Romans 10:18
But I say, have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world.
and in Colossians 1:5-6, he says:
whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel; which is come unto you, as it is in all the world.
Lest there be any question of Pauls words and meaning, look at how he restates this concept in no uncertain terms in verse 23:
be not moved away from the hope of the
gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven.
Colossians 1:23, KJV.
Apparently, Paul believed that the gospel had been preached to all the world, even to every creature! What can he mean by this? It is obvious that he did not mean every human being on the planet had been preached the gospel of Christ. Even with their limited knowledge of the size and population of the globe, Paul and his contemporaries certainly were aware of the extent of the Roman empire and of the pagan civilizations outside that realm.
Keeping that question in mind, let us remember that this preaching of the gospel was a fulfillment of Christs prophecy in our study passage of Matthew 24:14. The final event of Christs prophecy says:
and then shall the end come.
Did the end of the world come upon them? Look at Pauls words in 1 Corinthians 10:11
Now all these things happened unto them for examples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.
and Hebrews 9:26
For then must he often have suffered since the foundation of the world: but now once in the end of the world hath he appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself.
When did Christ sacrifice himself for sin? Of course, it was on the cross, and this event took place, according to this verse, in the end of the world. Once again, the NIV and others translate the word world correctly as the end of the ages, and that is the proper sense of the passages quoted. To understand what has ended, however, it is helpful to ask ourselves, What world ended because of Christs sacrifice on the cross? Plainly, it was the world of people who lived under the old system of Law that Christ came to fulfill the Law of Moses. It was the world of Judaism that had ended. As we shall see, it ended not only in a legal and religious sense, but also in a dramatic physical destruction.
It is now easier to understand how Paul and others could report that the gospel had been preached to all the world. It had been preached to the world of the Jews! This was the world in question the world of the prophecy in Matthew 24:14.
Shortly, we will come back to the 24th chapter of Matthew for a more indepth look at the prophecies it contains. Now, let us take a more general look at the many New Testament references to a coming of Christ that refer to something other than his first coming as the human being, Jesus of Nazareth.
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