A little less than 2,000 years ago, a Galilean man in the small province of Judea made one of the most bold and astounding prophecies in all of human history. He claimed His personal message of hope and redemption would be preached to the ends of the earth. When He made this claim, He was a Jewish carpenter on the outskirts of the ancient Roman Empire. Even in nearby Jerusalem, only a small number of people had heard His message. His followers were ordinary – a handful of fishermen and tax collectors. He didn’t hold high office. He wasn’t a member of high society. He wasn’t a celebrated military conqueror, and he didn’t live in a palace. In fact, at first glance, there was little about Him to indicate such a thing was possible.
Nevertheless, Jesus of Nazareth didn’t back away from His claim. Responding to questions about the end of the age, Jesus told His followers to look for a specific sign. He said His message, known as the Gospel (or “Good News”), would be preached throughout the entire world. Not just the surrounding towns or the nearby nations. The whole world. Jesus said His message would be preached far and wide so that every nation would hear it. And then? And then the end would come (Matthew 24:14).
Think about that. What a bold statement. A man of seemingly limited means proclaims His message will reach the ends of the earth. This is before the telegraph. Before radio. Before television and the Internet. This is long before any form of mass communication. In those days, messages spread mostly by word-of-mouth, and written communication traveled at the speed of sailboats and horses. Yet Jesus was clear. His message would spread to the four corners of the earth.
I wonder what His followers thought when He said this? The idea must have been daunting. The Roman Empire, which was their known world at the time, included 60 million people spread over 1.3 million square miles. The idea of reaching all those people must have seemed impossible. And keep in mind, their idea of the world was limited. To them, the world consisted almost entirely of the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. That’s the only world they knew. The first followers of Jesus knew nothing of North America, South America, Australia, Japan, and large parts of Asia and the pacific.
Think about that. The almighty Roman Empire had yet to reach the ends of the earth. But a Jewish carpenter would? What do you think the people of His day thought? What kind of odds would they have placed on such a man spreading His message to the whole world? I think most of them would have bet against it. After all, the odds were against it. In fact, outside of Jesus and a handful of His followers, I doubt anyone believed it.
Yet one man outside of Jesus and His inner circle did consider the possibility. And in doing so, he showed the world exactly who Jesus is.
Not long after the resurrection of Jesus, the Jewish high priest and his officials arrested Peter and the apostles. When they refused to stop preaching in the name of Jesus, the high council decided to kill them. But one man among them objected. His name was Gamaliel, a Pharisee and expert in religious law. We later find out he was a mentor to Paul (Acts 22:3). This is what he said:
“Men of Israel, take care what you are planning to do to these men! Some time ago there was that fellow Theudas, who pretended to be someone great. About 400 others joined him, but he was killed, and all his followers went their various ways. The whole movement came to nothing. After him, at the time of the census, there was Judas of Galilee. He got people to follow him, but he was killed, too, and all his followers were scattered. So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” (Acts 5:34-39)
In his wisdom, Gamaliel knew if the message of Jesus came from God, then any forces aligned against it would fail. In other words, if Jesus was who He said He was, His message would spread to the ends of the earth.
The Power of the Gospel
The message Peter and the apostles preached was this: “Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:42). Gamaliel was right to say if this message is from God, then those opposed to it would fail to stop it. History shows they failed. Why?
Because Jesus is the Messiah. That’s the very reason the Gospel spread so quickly in the early church.
The people of that time knew for a fact Jesus arrived at the precise time in history when the Messiah was supposed to come (Daniel 9:25). They knew Jesus opened the eyes of the blind and the ears of the deaf (Isaiah 35:5). They knew He suffered on the cross for their sins (Isaiah 53). They knew His Roman executioners gambled for His clothes (Psalm 22:18). They knew Judas betrayed Him for thirty pieces of silver (Zechariah 11:12), and they knew He was buried in a rich man’s tomb (Isaiah 53:9). How did they know all of this? Because they were witnesses! Jesus fulfilled messianic prophecy after messianic prophecy. He was and is the Messiah, and as Gamaliel noted, no power on earth could possibly stop the spread of that message.
Today, those first century witnesses are gone, yet the Gospel continues to spread. Why? Because Jesus transforms lives. He redeems sinners and tax collectors. He reforms prostitutes, drug addicts, and alcoholics. He humbles the proud and strengthens the weak. He gives hope in a hopeless world.
An Overlooked Sign
Two thousand years later, the Gospel is preached in every nation, the Bible is translated in hundreds of languages, and the message of Jesus is delivered by thousands of ministries through radio, cable TV, satellite, and the Internet. Every day, missionaries carry the Gospel to people who have never heard it before.
But as amazing as this is, many people take it for granted. They don’t see the worldwide spread of Christianity as a big deal. But it is. For the first 1,500 years after Jesus, you could only find a few Christians outside of Europe, western Asia, and the Mediterranean. The Gospel wasn’t preached in China. It didn’t make it to Japan. You couldn’t hear it in North America, South America, or Australia. It simply wasn’t heard worldwide.
Even after 1,900 years of Christianity, many regional world populations had yet to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But today? Today, only a tiny minority of the world’s seven billion people haven’t heard the Gospel. Nearly 2,000 years ago, a Jewish carpenter said His message would be preached to the entire earth. That’s bold. Our generation is about to see His bold claim become reality. The words of Jesus are coming true right before our eyes. And this time, we are the witnesses.
Now, think about this. Do you remember the second part of Jesus’s prophecy? That’s right. This was a two-part prophecy by Jesus. He said when the whole world hears His message, He’ll return. He said when we see what we’re seeing right now, He’s coming back:
“And the Good News about the Kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations will hear it; and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:14).
You can count on Jesus. When Jesus makes a promise, you can be sure His Word will become reality. We can see the first part of His prophecy coming true. We are eyewitnesses. The message of Jesus is reaching the whole world. And when it does, He promises to return. Because you can count on Jesus’s Word, you can on this – He’s coming. And Jesus is coming soon!