Motivations for Mission: Revisiting the Evangelical Interpretations of Matthew 24:14

EMQ » January–March 2021 » Volume 57 Issue 1


  1. Brother Uytanlet offers an interesting alternative interpretation of Matthew 24:14, and I appreciate his gracious tone. Unfortunately, his thesis contains at least one fatal flaw. After acknowledging that the question the disciples asked (Matt. 24:3) distinctly pointed to the end of the age, he claims that the use of telos proves that in Matt. 24:4–28, “Jesus replied describing the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple” but not the end of the age. However any reading of those verses reveals numerous signs and events that appear to have never happened prior to the destruction of the temple. Verses 4-13 and verses 24-27 describe many events far beyond anything known to have taken place during the few decades between Jesus’ resurrection and the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. Matthew 24:27 even refers explicitly to “the coming of the Son of Man.” Numerous commentators (such as D.A. Carson, in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 497-504) see these verses as relevant to the whole age prior to Christ’s return. Commenting, for example, on verse 9, Carson writes: “‘You’ quite clearly extends beyond the immediate disciples and includes all the followers Jesus will have.”
    Uytanlet’s word choice reflects a straw man understanding of Matt. 24:14’s function as inspiration for world evangelization. He mistakenly claims two false implications from “the assumption that the timing of Christ’s return is partly dependent on his followers’ involvement in mission.” His first false assumption claims: “It implies that Christians have, to some degree, control over the timing of Jesus’ return. We can make him come back sooner through proactive involvement in evangelism.” To say that our actions have some impact on what God does neither claims that Christians have some degree of “control” over God’s action nor that we can “make him” do anything. Rather, it simply reflects that God often chooses to take or not take certain actions based on what humans do.
    Think, for example, of Jonah’s preaching to Nineveh that it would soon be overthrown in 40 days. The Ninevites’ repentance brought a long delay in God’s judgment. Or consider Peter’s call to “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19). Throughout all history, God has responded accordingly to human actions of obedience or disobedience. His ultimate plan cannot be thwarted, but his sovereignty never negates the effects of human obedience or disobedience to his commands.
    Uytanlet’s second false assumption claims: “Consequently, human salvation becomes a secondary motivation for mission, and hastening of Jesus’ return is the primary.” This falsely assumes that mission can have only one motivation. It then adds the false assumption that if anyone believes gospel proclamation can hasten the Lord’s return, that necessarily becomes their primary motivation.
    Uytanlet opines: “this passage does not speak of worldwide evangelization as the cause of the ‘end,’ but as a necessary preliminary.” This again presents a straw man, as if anyone would claim worldwide evangelization as the cause of the end. I think all responsible believers would agree in viewing it as “a necessary preliminary.” He then concludes: “the gospel must be proclaimed until he returns. We must continue to do so, not to force Jesus’ return…” I know of no one suggesting we can “force” Jesus’ return. The prejudicial wording presents one more straw man.
    It seems Uytanlet has both undervalued the immediate context of Matthew 24:14 and misrepresented the views and motivations of those with whom he disagrees. I hope his misrepresentation will not deter others from the inspiration Matthew 24:14 rightly gives us for world evangelization.