A Witness Unto All Nations
Matthew 24:14 – And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then shall the end come.
There are about 200 nations in the world today, and there are Christians in every one of these nations. But Jesus was not talking about today’s political entities, nor was he talking about the kingdoms of his day, most of which no longer exist.
The Greek word for nations in this verse is ethnesin, derived from ethne, which is the root of the English word “ethnic.” This word means more than simply “nations” in the political sense. It refers to ethnic and cultural groups – groups of people who share a distinct ethnicity, language, and/or culture. Anthropologists simply call these groups “people groups.”
Anthropologists estimate there are 11,000 distinct people groups in the world today. If we define a people group as “reached with the gospel” if just 2% or more of its individuals have heard the gospel message, missionaries estimate that 6,000 different people groups are currently unreached.
We don’t know exactly how closely the ethne groups that Jesus spoke of match the people groups defined by modern anthropology. But in light of Matthew 24:14, the fact that the end of the age has not yet come seems to suggest that not every ethne has been reached with the gospel message yet.
No one knows when Jesus will return, but according to Matthew 24:14, he will not return until ethne – every people group – has been reached with the gospel message. This is not surprising when we consider the character of God, who takes “no pleasure in the death of him that dieth” (Ezekiel 18:32) but “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4 NASB). For the sake of those who have not yet heard the gospel, God is holding back the coming wrath for a little while so they will have a chance to hear the gospel and repent before it is too late (2 Peter 3:9).
It has always been God’s plan to reach every people group in the world with the gospel message, and bring people of every ethnicity, nationality, language, and culture into his Kingdom. This is such an essential part of God’s plan of salvation that the end of the age will not come until every people group has been reached (Matthew 24:14).
The Great Commission
Jesus commands us to reach every people group in The Great Commission:
Matthew 28:19 – Go ye therefore, and teach all nations (ethne), baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost
Why does God want us to reach “all nations” with the gospel message? Because God’s plan for salvation extends to all people of the earth. The sacrifice of Jesus Christ paid the price for all sins of all people for all time. At the moment he died, the Temple veil was suddenly torn (Matthew 27:51, Mark 15:38, Luke 23:45). This veil divided the inner courts – which were for Jews only – from the outer courts the Gentiles were relegated to. The tearing of the Temple veil symbolically destroyed all division between Jew and Gentile, and by extension, it tore down all racial, class, and gender divisions.
Galatians 3:28 – “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
This is very unusual for a religious faith. Most religions are proudly rooted in a specific culture – for example, Hinduism is deeply rooted in India and Shintoism in Japan. As a result, these mono-cultural religions rarely gain any ground outside of their native culture. But Christianity is a truly global faith not tied down to any one specific culture or country. There are Christians in the big cities of China who worship quite differently than Christians in a rural African village. Nevertheless, both are Christians by faith in Jesus Christ, both are on equal footing before the Lord, and both will be our brothers and sisters for eternity in the Kingdom of God. Through obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ, disciples in all parts of the world are carrying out Christ’s redemptive work in the world today.
It has always been God’s plan to redeem not just some cultures but ALL cultures into His Kingdom for his glory. Our Heavenly Father is the God of diversity – proof of this is clearly manifested in the vast diversity of his Creation!
Why aren’t we reaching all people groups with the gospel?
It’s not because of a lack of resources. If all of the churches of the world devoted just a portion of their resources to global outreach, there would be more than enough resources available to reach every people group in the world with the gospel message.
But according to some estimates, the average church spends just 2% of its resources on foreign missions. The problem is not a lack of resources, but a lack of willpower. American churches spend millions of dollars promoting Christianity in a country that already has dozens of churches in every town and city. Meanwhile, there are 6,000 unreached people groups in the world, and over a billion people who have never even heard the name of Jesus.
- In Africa, millions of people influenced by animism live in spiritual bondage, trying to appease spirits through witchcraft.
- In India, millions of people influenced by Hinduism worship many gods and goddesses without knowing the Name of the one true God.
- In the Middle East, North Africa, and Indonesia, millions of people influenced by Islam are taught that the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was a mere illusion that never actually happened.
- In countries influenced by communism such as China, Vietnam, Cuba, North Korea, and the former Soviet Union, millions of people are indoctrinated with an atheistic worldview that leaves no room for the existence of God.
- In Europe and North America, millions of people influenced by secular humanism trust in their own self-sufficiency, in science, technology, and human reasoning, and think that the modern world has no need for God.
Satan’s Policy of Containment
Each culture in the world faces its own unique challenges for evangelism. We are engaged in a spiritual war, but Christ has already guaranteed us the victory. Regardless of the circumstances, when Christians led by the Holy Spirit step out in faith to do the work Christ has called them to do, there is nothing that can stop them. Even the worst persecution ultimately results in the message spreading further and faster. Satan knows that he is not powerful enough to stop the gospel message from spreading. So Satan is desperate. Satan can’t stop the gospel from moving, but he can at least distract us from moving it into new territory.
Perhaps Satan is satisfied with a policy of containment. As long as the gospel message stays within areas already saturated with Christianity, the unreached nations will remain unreached, and the end of the age will not come. Satan knows that once every people group has been reached with the gospel, this present evil age will come to an end. And for Satan, the end of the age means the end of his existence. He is fighting this tooth and nail.
I’m certainly not suggesting that it is wrong to witness to people from our own culture, in our own local communities. Jesus commands us to preach the gospel to all nations, and that includes our own nation! Evangelism must begin wherever we are currently planted. It must begin there, but it must not end there.
Churches should act counter-culturally and cross-culturally to intentionally reach unreached people groups with the gospel message. There are a myriad of ways to go about doing this. But the first step is to recognize that it needs to be done.
What can we do to reach those who have never heard of Christ?