We have record in the Christian New Testament Gospels (Matthew 28:18-20) that Jesus commanded his Disciples (those immediately in front of him at the time he spoke) to “go into all the world” on his supreme authority, in order to make yet other disciples, by teaching them what Jesus himself taught and by baptizing them in the name of the Trinity (Father, Son & Holy Spirit). Some of those disciples, Timothy for example, were charged by Apostles (Paul, for example) to teach yet others, who are faithful and will perpetuate the Apostles’ teachings (2 Timothy 2:2; 1 Corinthians 14:19; Acts 2:42-47).
Fundy Evangelicals and “the End”
Not only do we read of the great commission in the New Testament Gospels, but also, we read of Jesus’ according promises, regarding the beginning of the end, when his gospel is preached to all nations. Jesus is recorded as promising “the end will come,” when the gospel of his kingdom has been “proclaimed throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all ethnicities” (see Matthew 24:14).
For fundamentalist evangelicals, who think there can be no error in the Bible from the humans that recorded and copied the statements of Jesus, this promise obviously has yet to be fulfilled, because ‘the end hasn’t yet begun. Has it?’ Thus, they push and push with zealous fervor to reach those they classify as “unreached,” and that also includes the ethnicities, which already have been contacted by other Christian sects (but not of a conservative and/or fundamentalist evangelical brand). That is, it is not enough for Fundies that a people has received a witness from another orthodox sect of Christianity. They themselves have to do it, because only they have “true Christianity and true salvation.”
Moreover, the fundamentalists will say every generation must be reached, because they believe Christianity is only 1 generation away from apostasy, and each generation of fundamentalist believers has a personal, worldwide responsibility to reach its own generation. Resultantly, they see each generation before them as having failed; otherwise, the end will have begun… and every soul that was not reached in the past 2000+ years of Christianity is eternal blood on the hands of fundamentalist Christians everywhere. If one does not “believe great things from God, and attempt great things for God,” in order to ‘make ministry happen,’ then they might as well be Judas.
In that way, fundamentalist Christians are motivated through guilt and fear and visions of grandeur, fueled by insecurity (with God and each other) to bring about the Apocalypse through proselytizing. Thus, they strive to be “THE Generation.” Yikes!
BUT, for a balancing perspective, even conservative, evangelical textual scholars (e.g. Daniel B. Wallace) assert that—because we know scribal and copyist errors and consequent variants do exist in the Bible’s extant manuscripts—not even Jesus knew the timing of “the end” or of his second advent, which is directly and inextricably tied to his prophecy that the end will begin, only once every ethnicity has heard about the kingdom of God & Jesus.
Those who affirm Jesus’ hypostatic union, such as I do, will say the Father chose not reveal knowledge to Jesus about the timing of Jesus’ return, as recorded in Acts 1:7-8. He simply told his disciples not to worry about the timing of an institutional, physical kingdom but to get busy with the commission he had given them to go as witnesses of him, into even “the remotest part of the earth,” after the nearest locales and regions had received a witness.
What We Know Jesus Knew
This command, combined with Jesus’ admission of limited prophetic knowledge regarding the end of the age and his return (vis a vis, the full spread of the gospel to all ethnicities, per Matthew 24:24), brings up the question of how much Jesus knew, in regards to expanse of the globe’s land masses (what we call the 7 continents) and their according ethnicities.
As of 33 A.D. (in the 1st C. Jewish mind of Jesus), the “entire world” was the 70 ethnicities of the Jewish ancient world, over which the “sons of god,” (i.e. an administration of ruling spirits; gods) held influence, once granted to them by YHWH. (see Ps. 82; Deuteronomy 32:8; Unseen Realm by Dr. Michael S. Heiser; Journal for the Evangelical Study of the Old Testament, 1.1, Volume 1)
That is to say, since we know Jesus’ knowledge was (purposefully) limited in prophetic knowledge about the gospel going to all ethnicities, we can only safely think (by saying “uttermost part of the earth”) Jesus meant the 70 ancient ethnic nations, which 2nd Temple Jews recognized as “the whole world.”
What Jesus May Have Known
Even though Jesus admitted a limitation in his prophetic knowledge, regarding the timing and extent of the spread of his gospel, for the sake of argumentation, let’s assume that by saying “uttermost part of the earth,” Jesus possessed the most advanced knowledge of his day and meant ALL of the ethnicities / nations known to 1st C. cartographers.
There are 2 maps that help us know how the 1st C. ancients understood their world geography.
The first is a 19th century reconstruction of Eratosthenes’ map of the known world, c. 194 B.C. (about 190 years before Christ) Even though the Greek Eratosthenes had calculated the circumference of the earth, the land masses and contents of the world were not known as yet.
Perhaps equally helpful is the Ptolemy map (circa 150 A.D.).
A harmony of cartography, somewhat between these two golden standards for their eras, is most probably what the Apostle Paul used for his journeys. Again, between these two maps, we can synthesize what that 1st generation of disciples of Jesus used (or their sea navigators and trade route guides used) to traverse their world, in obeying Jesus’ command. Withstanding, both Jesus & the Disciples would not have known about what we call North or South America, most of Africa, Australia, the Arctic and Antarctic regions, or the Far East (Southeast or Northeast Asia).
[I’ll indirectly address farther down how State-churches of Europe took up this gap in knowledge and assumed themselves the heirs of “christianizing” (either conforming or eradicating) and colonizing every people on every continent.]
They did it!
Pentecost itself was a fulfillment of the new covenant promised to the Hebrew people, and the message and reality of reunification under YWHW was at once (in Jerusalem) spread to a multiplicity of the 70 ancient ethnicities (and their gods), recognized by 2nd Temple Judaism.
Indisputable Fact: that first-generation of Disciples DID indeed fulfill Jesus’ command TO THEM, and so, followers of “That Way” (first called Christians in ancient Antioch) were present all over the ancient, known world at that time… and to them, that certainly was “the uttermost parts of the earth.” As such, one can find Christian historical artifacts in nearly all of the locales represented by the above (linked) maps. In Acts, we read, “These who have turned the [Roman] world upside down have come here too” (Acts 17:6). [See this podcast, which traces the historic spread of Christianity in the first 3 centuries A.D.]
Again, that first generation, and most definitely the next 2 generations, fulfilled their commission, and so (according to Paul’s charge to Timothy), each nation is responsible for itself to perpetuate Jesus’ & The Apostles’ teachings among them. Today, we have the privilege of looking back at what they did and saying, “they did it.”
So, why did the end not begin?
What if the end did begin?
One should note that, by “the end will arrive,” Jesus referred to the start of an entire “Age” or eon (e.g. “end times”), which is prerequisite to an Age of his direct rulership?” (See article on Luke 21)
Another Indisputable Fact: after much persecution by 10 separate Roman emperors, Christianity became the state religion (mixed with paganism) of the Roman Empire, (circa 312 A.D., as declared by Constantine, see also BBC). Some will argue that Constantine merely recognized Christianity as legitimate. However, an edict of Theodosius (380), directly after Constantine, decreed anyone not holding to his Roman Christianity to be insane and to be treated as such under Roman law.
Extrapolation: Before 313-325 A.D., and the Council of Nicaea at Constantine’s command, an authentic, organic, communal Christianity existed in its original and intended form—an extended family, a spiritual organism. Sure there were attacks on the Apostles’ doctrine and on all Christians. From the beginning, it had imperfect people and spiritual hurdles to overcome. There was war on the saints, all the way up to Constantine’s edict. However, since 325 A.D., Christianity has been forced into and maintained in an institutional State-Church form, which is quite an exile, compared to the boundless and egalitarian faith community of its origins. Moreover, this State-church has been used as a weaponized ideology to colonize peoples, wherever the nations wielding it have gone.
Even from as recent as the late 20th C. into present day, conservative and fundamentalist evangelicals (along with Catholics of ECT and the old Religious Right / Christian Right / Moral Majority) abuse Christianity as something institutional & a means to install and enforce their quasi-theocracy in the “free world,” based on their erroneous views of the end times and lust for power, to the extent that they wish to establish Jesus’ kingdom for him.
Can it be said that the end (or captivity) of an authentic and organic form Christianity began the moment a religion by that name was officially institutionalized by Rome? Sure, the churches had been seeing such encroachments by this like “Diotrephes,” since the time of John the Apostles’ letters. But, with Constantine, Christianity became enfranchised in the senate and population of the “global” Roman Empire. It became “Christendom.”
From Rome to Now
From the death throes of the Roman Empire and into the Middle Ages, in Europe and all around the Mediterranean, the Roman Catholic Church either countered or produced other institutional, spinoff forms of Christianity (what I call “Churchianity”). Likewise, the Reformation of the 1500s threw off some of these institutional trappings but ultimately settled into yet another institutional form (i.e. Protestant denominations).
One bright spot in the Protestant Reformation was the formation of the Anabaptists, who stressed the drastic need for separation of Church and State, pacifism, the authenticity of a non-coerced faith, and for believers to form a more nearly egalitarian faith community (not an institution), among other beliefs seen as “radical” to the authoritarianism of European Christendom.
Collectively, the world has endured about 1,700 years of European Christofascism that the Americas and other continents inherited from Europe, through despicable and disgusting teachings during the ages of Empire and Exploration, & throughout the Enlightenment Era (Reformation) with its subsequent, bloody inquisitions and Democratic revolutions. Some examples of the worst, historical Christofascist teachings are the Doctrine of Discovery, Jean Jacques Rousseau‘s “civil religion” (1762 treatise On the Social Contract), the USA’s Manifest Destiny and Adolf Hitler’s “Nazified” German Evangelical Christianity
“When Christianity entered into the world, people were not Christians, and the difficulty was to become a Christian. Nowadays the difficulty in becoming a Christian is that one must cease to become a Christian.” –Søren Kierkegaard, CUP, 363
Ever since Constantine, institutionalized Christianity has been being weaponized by nations and states as a tool of European (western and eastern) colonization. It is thus a perverted religion and (as Søren Kierkegaard asserted in his day) nothing like The Way of Jesus, which effectively called for the destruction of slavery, empire, violence/war, class and economic divisions, racism and gender oppression… and complete unity under one new humanity, reconciled & unified together as a new creation of God, not in the name of a nation or empire or oppressive religion like that of the Judaism into which Jesus was born, … but oneness in Jesus’ name, with one, singular mantra “Love one another as [Jesus has] loved you.”
A good argument can be made that there have always been faithful and genuine believers spotted in every form of institutional Church over the millennia since 325 A.D., seeing the true Church is the Body of Christ, and its members in particular are unified spiritually by their mystical union with Christ. They have endured, despite sectarian lines drawn up by men and despite the varied and sundry teachings by which they castigate & persecute one another, as institutions and their “champions” do. On the other hand, these authentic believers, scattered throughout the world and ensuing their various institutions of Christianity, are known only to the Spirit; they are the true space and genuine subjects of Christ’s present, spiritual rule, until he himself consummates his already-inaugurated kingdom on earth; …and these believers, scattered about in every man-made sect (or perhaps exiting organized Christianity altogether) but loyal only to Jesus are a faithful remnant in a captivity, of sorts.
Putting It Back Together
If what I observe above is accurate, then Christians with this interpretation do not await or even push toward an apocalypse, nor are they motivated to bring in a physical kingdom for Jesus. Rather, they would see the world has been enduring an apocalypse for the last 1700 years under an oppressive, institutionalized “Churchianity,” (i.e. Christendom), an entity like all the other kingdoms of humanity. In the last 500 years or so, that Churchianity has been in death throes of its own, and perhaps an authentic, boundless Christian faith community is rising from its ashes.
If you are going around the world, preaching your particular brand of white, western Christian “gospel” and religion, aka “Churchianity,” then you are just a tool of your sect and of about 1700 years worth of colonizing Christofascism.
Perhaps the best thing fundamentalist evangelicals and all of Christianity can do is abandon their institutional Churchianity, give up the power, positions and politics; give the land and buildings and riches to the poor indiscriminately, and return to a boundless, classless, raceless, egalitarian, organic faith community that loves both neighbors and enemies alike… one that heals and makes peace, one that does not insist on its own rights or bind heavy burdens on people or shut the door of the kingdom in their faces, that does not, in Jesus’ words,
…traverse the sea and the dry land to make one convert, and whenever it may happen, you make him twofold more a son of Hell than yourselves. (Matthew 23:15)