by David E. Aune
Mark 13:10 and its more frequently quoted Synoptic parallel, Matthew 24:14 (“This gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed throughout the entire inhabited earth for a testimony to all nations. Then shall the end come.”) are part of the great Olivet Discourse of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Mark 13:10 and its more frequently quoted Synoptic parallel, Matthew 24:14 ("This gospel of the kingdom shall be proclaimed throughout the entire inhabited earth for a testimony to all nations. Then shall the end come.") are part of the great Olivet Discourse of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is here primarily that the prophetic ministry of Jesus is seen. Every biblical interpreter who has attempted to unravel the meaning of these eschatological passages has found great difficulty in separating allusions to the historical event of the later apostolic age from the "indeterminate" eschatological events belonging to the time immediately preceding the end of the age.1
When the accounts of Matthew and Luke are parrallel to that of Mark, it is generally agreed that they are dependent on Mark as a literary source.2 The recognition of the priority of Mark, together with a comparison of the differences in the Synoptic accounts, where two or three of the evangelists record the same data, should lead us to a greater understanding of the original intent of the words of Jesus. The ensuing discussion assumes the full verbal inspiration of the evangelists.
The various interpreters of these passages have come to a number of conflicting conclusions. Generally speaking, the fulfillment of this prediction of Jesus has been viewed as occurring either in the past, or the present, or the future.
1. The past. Of those who view the fulfillment of Matthew 24:14 as having occurred in the past, Henry Alford is the most significant among old expositors. He was convinced that the Gospel had actually been preached to all nations before the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Among modern evangelicals, Ralph Earle approximates this position in the new Wesleyan Bible Commentary "Has this sign been fulfilled yet? The answer depends on the interpretation of nations … How far is the division into ethnic groups to be carried? All tribes have not heard the gospel, but some would claim that all nations have. If this sign is not actually fulfilled, one could say that it is approximately so."3
2. The present. One of the significant events that must precede the end of the age is the worldwide proclamation of of the Gospel. In this regard, Matthew 24:14 is a frequently quoted missionary text. It is popularly interpreted to mean that "the command of Jesus to go with the gospel to all parts of the world is being fulfilled as missionaries encircle the globe."4 (Italics mine.) According to Matthew’s account, it seems apparent that the immediency of the return of Jesus is qualified by an event that must precede His coming. In order to maintain the imminency of Jesus’ return, this view concludes that only God can say when the "witness’ has been sufficiently borne."5
3. The future. In addition to those who see the fulfillment of Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10 in the past and present, there are also those who relegate it to the future. Representative of dispensational interpretation, Arno C. Gaebelein views Matthew 24:14 as referring to the preaching of the gospel of the Messianic Kingdom throughout the world after the rapt-Lire of the Church.6 Dispensational interpreters generally view Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10 as primarily addressed to Jews, and having no application to the Church or the Church age.7
4. Two aspects. The position of this article is that Mark 13:10 contains two aspects of fulfillment, one of which belonged to the apostolic age, while the other belongs to the imminent future of the Church. Both of these aspects were present in the original discourse of Jesus, and can be recovered by a careful comparision of the Synoptic gospels. This article is an attempt to clarify the original meaning and intent of this saying of our Lord, and to relate it to the present world mission of the Church.
"And it is necessary that the gospel be proclaimed to all nations first" is a literal translation of Mark 13:10. Matthew has clarified this eliptical statement in 24:14 by the addition of the phrase "and then end shall come." Aside from this, the primary difference between Mark and Matthew is Matthew’s omission of the impersonal verb dei ("it is necessary," "one must," "one ought"), which is used by Mark in conjuction with the verb "to be proclaimed." This verb dei is found 102 times in the New Testament, and is frequently impregnated with profound theological meaning. The uses of this word within the New Testament have been summarized by Walter Bauer: (1) Divine destiny or unavoidable fate. (2) The compulsion of duty. (3) The compulsion of law or custom. (4) The inner necessity produced from a given situation. (5) The compulsion caused by the necessity of attaining a certain result. (6) The compulsion of what is fitting or proper.8 In this article the English translation of this word will be found in italics.
The theological significance of this term is only to be found in connection with Bauer’s first classification of usage. In addition, the biblical view of God is such that blind, impersonal fate is eliminated from the necessity of those historical or eschatological events that procede from the mysterious purpose of God. There are two important aspects of divine necessity that are combined in this term as it is found in Mark 13:10. (1) The eschatological purpose of God. (2) The necessity of prophetic fulfillment. They differ from each other in that the former is expressed within the prophetic prediction itself, while the latter is a judgment that prophecy uttered ages before must have its necessary and complete fulfillment. For example, as will be seen later, the life and suffering of Jesus combined both aspects of divine necessity.
THE ESCHATOLOGICAL PURPOSE OF GOD
The Olivet Discourse is actually an eschatological discussion that was prompted by a question regarding the future of the Temple of Jerusalem. Often called the "little apocalypse," this discourse bears a close affinity to the apocalyptic genre of literature as exemplified by the. two biblical apocalypses, Daniel and the Revelation of John. In Daniel 2:28, Daniel informs the king that God has made known to him "the things which must occur in the last days." Through special revelation Nebuchadnezzar was given divine insight into the foreordained will of God. This Danielic phrase is used by John in Revelation 1:1 to introduce his entire book: "The revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show to his servants what must soon occur."9 Significantly enough, this same phrase is found in Mark 13:7 and parallels. In all three cases, eschatological events are in view. These events must necessarily happen since the certainty of their occurrence is grounded on the inscrutable and unalterable purpose of the God who acts in history. When, therefore, we find in Mark 13:10 that "the gospel must be proclaimed," we are confronted with "divine necessity, according to which this eschatological happening must take place."10 World evangelization, accordingly, must not only be seen as an obedient response to the Great Commission, but also as the inner necessity and inevitability of the firm purpose of God in the world.
THE NECESSITY OF PROPHETIC FULFILLMENT
The divine necessity that consciously dominated the earthly life of Jesus is frequently reflected in the gospel accounts. In Mark 8:31 (cf. Matt. 16:21, Luke 9:22), for example, Jesus reveals to his disciples that it is necessary that the Son of man: (1) Suffer many things. (2) Be rejected by Jewish leaders. (3) Be killed. (4) Rise again after three days. In Luke 4:43, Jesus claims that he must preach the gospel, because it was for this purpose that he was sent. In Luke 13:33 Jesus says, "But it is necessary that I travel today and tomorrow and the next day, because it is not fitting that a prophet should perish outside Jerusalem." Jesus places his entire ministry under the mandate of divine necessity in John 9:4. What then is the nature of this necessity that so dominated the life and thought of Jesus?
The answer is found in Luke 24:25-27, where Jesus Himself during a post-resurrection appearance to the disciples, explains to them the necessity of recent events: "And he said to them, 0 foolish and too dull to believe all that the prophets have spoken. Was it not necessary that the Messiah" suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the prophets he explained to them that which pertained to himself in all the scriptures." The inevitability of the historical events surrounding the life and ministry of Jesus was grounded on the will of God as revealed through Old Testament predictions. In Luke 24:45-47, the prophetically anticipated events of Christ’s life are linked to world evangelization. Not only are the events of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection seen as necessary fulfillments of prophetic predictions, but also the fact that "repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations," is to be seen as the required fulfillment of Old Testament anticipation.
Throughout the early history of the Church the Old Testament was the chief means of proving the truth of the claims of Christianity. The opening verses of Acts 17 show Paul arguing with the Jews of Thessalonica, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and to rise from the dead . . ." Similarly, in Romans 1:1-6, Paul moves from the Old Testament prediction of the Gospel to the logical conclusion of world evangelization. One of the great periods of crisis in the growing Church was experienced during the extension of the Gospel from the Jews to the Gentiles. The inherent universality of the Gospel of Jesus Christ had broken the narrow, nationalistic confines of Israel as an ethnic people of God and became applicable to all nations from which the new spiritual people of God were to be drawn.
The same term translated "nations" in Mark 13:10 is frequently translated "Gentiles" throughout the New Testament. In making this statement in Mark 13:10 and Matthew 24:14, Jesus was viewing the nations in contrast with Israel. The term nations, then, is not to be interpreted in an exhaustive sense (i.e., every tribe, political entity, or ethnic group), but rather as the universal spread of the message of God in contrast with its previous confinement to Israel alone. It was to be expected that the Gospel would be proclaimed to Israel; what was totally unexpected, and, therefore in need of confirmation from the Old Testament, was the extension of the Gospel to all nations. This is the "mystery" of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:1-6, and which he treats at length elsewhere in the New Testament (cf. Acts 28:23-28, Rom. 9-11)."12
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF MARK 13:10
The discussion to this point has been concerned with the theological significance of Mark 13:10. It is now appropriate to ask ourselves whether or not this saying of Jesus has been fulfilled. To paraphrase Luke 24:47, Have repentance and for. giveness of sins been preached in Jesus’ name to all nations?
In order to answer this question properly, the accounts of all three Synoptic gospels must be taken into consideration. In dealing with such passages as the Olivet Discourse of Jesus in Mark 13 and parallels, we are struck with both the similarities and differences between the three accounts. Although these Gospels all contain the words of our Lord, the very fact that there are three quite similar accounts should cause us to reflect on the reasons for the differences. The obvious answer is that each of the Gospels, while written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, was yet written with a different purpose in mind, and perhaps for a particular audience. Generally speaking, Mark’s account of the words of Jesus is more ambiguous and difficult to interpret than either Matthew’s or Luke’s. In his reproduction of the original discourse of Jesus, Mark has retained the obscurity and ambiguity that is inherent in the nature of prophecy, and Jesus at this point was speaking as a prophet. Matthew, on the other hand, exhibits an interest in events that immediately precede the consummation of the age, and it is particularily this aspect of the teaching of Jesus that interests him. An example of this Matthaean emphasis is the use of the word parousia. ("coming"), found in Matthew 24:3, 27, 37, 39, while no counterpart of this term is found in either Mark or Luke. Luke tends to emphasize the more immediate historical events that were predicted by Jesus. While Matthew 24:15-22 and Mark 13:14-20 speak of an enigmatical "abomination of desolation," Luke 21:20-24 clearly refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in A. D. 70.
The proper interpretation of Mark 13:10 can be arrived at if we allow the emphases of both Matthew and Luke to aid our interpretation. Mark 13:10 actually contains two aspects that need fulfillment, one of which has been fulfilled, while the other still waits for a future fulfillment. From the perspective of the disciples who heard the Olivet Discourse, these two aspects of the near future and the distant future were all but indistinguishable from each other.
1. The aspect that has been fulfilled. Although Luke does not parallel Mark 13:10 in his account of the Olivet Discourse, we have seen above that he does base the divine necessity of world evangelization on the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (Luke 24:47). In Acts 2:5, before the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, Luke informs us that "there were dwelling in Jerusalem, Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven." Luke also records that in Peter’s Pentecost sermon the assembly is told that they must "repent, and be baptized . . . in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of … sins." The striking correspondence between the prediction of Luke 24:47 and the fulfillment in Acts 2:5, 38 is such that it is quite evident that in Luke’s view, the Day of Pentecost was the occasion upon which the Gospel was proclaimed to all nations. In this respect the view of Henry Afford is quite correct; there is a sense in which the prediction of Jesus in Mark 13:10 and Matthew 24:14 was fulfilled before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. This fulfillment is underlined by Matthew’s use in 24:14 of the word oikoumene, variously translated "world" or "inhabited world," but which in reality was an equivalent for the Roman Empire (cf. Acts 24:5).
2. The aspect that awaits fulfillment. Matthew, on the other hand, emphasizes the nearness of the parousia of Jesus to the completion of the evangelical task of the Church, for as soon as he has said, "This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations," he adds, "and then the end will come." Matthew and the other apostles clearly thought in terms of an I Jesus. From our own perspective we realize that this impression was intentionally conveyed by Jesus Himself, for He intended His Church to live with the imminent hope of His return.
In both Matthew and Mark, the preaching of the Gospel to all nations is regarded as a sign (Matt. 24:3; Mark 13:4). This means that "it is not the case that the coming of the Kingdom depends upon the success of this preaching; it depends rather upon the fact of preaching."" The completion of the evangelical mission of the Church is not dependent on the success of that misson, but rather on the mysterious will of God. Exactly when the parousia will occur, no one knows, but the fulfillment of one aspect of our Lord’s prophecy in Mark 13:10 before A. D. 70 means that no historical event awaits fulfillment before the parousia may take place. The Church is to be faithful to her missionary obligation "until the fulness (full number) of the Gentiles be come in" (Rom. 11:25) and "until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled" (Luke 21:24).
Mark 13:10 and its synoptic parallels have rich theological teaching, and are indispensable to the formation of a theology of mission. The divine perspective on the evangelical task of the Church is here set forth with particular clarity and forcefulness. Not only is the mandate of world evangelization seen in the light of God’s eschatological purpose for mankind, but it is also viewed as the necessary fulfillment of prophetic predictions in the Old Testament. The Great Commission is not to be viewed as an adjunct to the Gospel, but rather as its logical conclusion. It was through the Old Testament that the earliest Church learned that the universal mission of the Church was as fully anticipated as was the Gospel of Jesus Christ itself.
If we view Mark 13:10 as having been fulfilled entirely in the past, the divine necessity of world evangelization has little or no application to the present task of the Church. If, on the other hand, we limit its fulfillment entirely to the future, the imminency of Christ’s return would be qualified by the provision that the Gospel first reach mankind universally. Our interpretation of this passage as embodying both perspectives of fulfillment not only allows the expectation of the imminent parousia of our Lord, but also views the present mission of the Church in all of its theological significance as a divine necessity.
1. George Ladd, Jesus and the Kingdom: The Eschatology of Biblical Realism (New York, Evanston and London: Harper and Row, Publishers, 1964), p. 318.
2. The best evangelical discussion of this subject is found in Donald Guthrie, New Testament Introduction: Gospel and Acts (London: Tyndale Press, 1965).
3. Ralph Earle, "The Gospel According to Matthew," The Wesleyan Bible Commentary, ed. Charles W. Carter, III (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1964), p. 101.
4. Charles B. Cunningham, Simple Studies in Matthew (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 94.
5. Keith L. Brooks, Matthew: The Gospel of God’s Kingdom (Chicago: Moody Press, 1963) p. 72.
6. Arno C. Gaebelein, The Gospel of Matthew New York: Loizeaux Brothers, 1961), p. 486ff.
7. J. Dwight Pentecost, Things to Come (Grand Rapids: Dun am Publishing Company, 1958) p. 278. Cf. Homer A. Kent, "The Gospel According to Matthew," The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, ed. Charles Pfeiffer and Everett Harrison (Chicago: Moody Press, 1957), p. 971-72.
8. Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Early Christian Literature, trans, and adapted by William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gin rich (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1957), P. 171.
9. The same phrase is found in Revelation 4: 1 and 22:6.
10. W. G. Kummel, Promise and Fulfillment: The Eschatological Message of Jesus (London: SCM Press, Ltd., 1961), p.84.
11. when Christos is accompanied by a definite article, it is best translated by the title "Messiah," rather than as a proper name.
12. Cf. W. Harold Mare, "Paul’s Mystery in Ephesians 3,"’ Bulletin of the Evangelical Theological Society , VIII (1965), pp. 77-84.
13. scar Cullmann, Christ and Time, trans. Floyd V. Filson (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1950), p. 160.
Copyright © 1967 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.