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Matthew 24:9-14 (ESV):

9 “Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations for my name's sake. 10 And then many will fall away and betray one another and hate one another. 11 And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. 12 And because lawlessness will be increased, the love of many will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

  1. What is meant by 'all nations'?
  2. Is there room, in light of the historical evidence, to interpret this prophecy as having achieved fulfillment prior to A.D. 70?
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3 Answers 3

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There are two lines of evidence to answer this question.

Acts 2

The list of nations in Acts 2:5-10 includes a list of 16 nations - all within the Roman empire at the time.

Thus, there is good evidence that the Gospel was preached within the period covered by the book of acts to the entire Roman world. Indeed, this was so effective, that Constantine became "Christian" and "conquered in the name/sign of the Cross" (how genuine his conversion was is highly questionable) and demonstrates the huge influence Christianity had on the subsequent history of the Roman empire.

History

It is quite obvious that within Acts, there is no record of the Gospel being preached in places like "Germania", India, China, Japan, southern Africa, the Americas, Russia, etc. Secular records after the time of the NT show that some of these placers needed many more centuries for the Gospel to be preached.

CONCLUSION

The answer to the OP's question is:

  • "Yes" to all the nations in the Roman Empire
  • "No" to all nations on earth
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    Good answer, although something is missing: what of the two senses (Roman Empire or the whole earth) was intended by Jesus? Jun 23, 2021 at 22:29
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator - "whole earth" is not mentioned in the text. My personal view is that "all nations" means all nations of the world, even those outside the Roman Empire.
    – Dottard
    Jun 23, 2021 at 22:32
  • I see, so under your understanding, the gospel was not preached to all nations prior to AD 70, correct? Jun 23, 2021 at 22:37
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    @SpiritRealmInvestigator - that is correct. God is very patient - see Matt 24:14 - the end comes only after the Gospel is preached completely.
    – Dottard
    Jun 23, 2021 at 22:38
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    @Dave - it doesn't say that every nation heard the gospel, it says that Jews from every nation heard it. Verse 41 says So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. If the distribution was more or less even, it means that each nation had a few hundreds. If I preach a message to 100 Chinese, does that mean that I've preached the message to the whole nation of China? If I preach something to 100 Hindus, does that mean I've preached to the whole nation of India? Are 10 Russians the same as the entire nation of Russia? Jun 24, 2021 at 4:48
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What is meant by 'all nations'?

If one interprets it as hyperbole, it means the Roman world at that time.

Is there room, in light of the historical evidence, to interpret this prophecy as having achieved fulfillment prior to A.D. 70?

Yes.

On the other hand, if one interprets it literally, then there is a future fulfillment. Four chapters later in Matthew 28:

18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

This alludes to Matthew 24:

14 And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.

Here the context shows that all nations is associated with the end of the age which is a future fulfillment.

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  • Interestingly enough, many Chinese-style characters (especially ones in traditional Chinese) reflect the Gospel and the Bible, if you look for it. Google Images search for "the gospel in chinese characters" This is a potential sign that, even if it didn't reach the whole world before AD 70, it probably did reach further in the Ancient and Medieval times than is commonly thought. Jun 24, 2021 at 2:48
  • Right. Thanks for the link :)
    – Tony Chan
    Jun 24, 2021 at 14:04
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YES - that happened immediately - the ‘day’ the ‘church’ started. Day 1. The initial ‘intent’ or audience of Matthew 24 was addressed to the Jews, who had via history been dispersed throughout all the other nations. Those ‘nations’ heard the gospel at Pentecost. On Pentecost, all [able] Jews needed to travel to Jerusalem, from every nation. So they were ‘conveniently’ present when the gospel was first preached. We read ...

ACTS 2:1 When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place

And the fact that all nations were present is read a little further down...

ACTS 2:5 Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.

These men all heard the gospel. Men of, from all nations. Exactly as we read in Acts 2. And they returned and ‘proclaimed’ the gospels. They went back to their nations and ‘preached’ Jesus, as they had both heard, and seen evidence of while in Jerusalem.

The statement “and then the end will come” is referring to the ‘age’, the ‘age of the end’. And in the Jewish mind/thinking at that time, this ‘age’ referred to the ‘age after Torah’ - the one we are in now, the ‘age of the Gentiles’, which we call the church age, which started at Pentecost 2000 years ago, as prophesied by Jesus in Matthew 24.

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