“You will be witnesses of me . . . to the most distant part of the earth.”—ACTS 1:8.
JESUS’ words recorded at Matthew 24:14 are so familiar that many of us know them by heart. And what a truly remarkable prophecy it is! Imagine what the disciples must have thought when they first heard it! The year was 33 C.E. The disciples had been with Jesus for about three years, and now they had come with him to Jerusalem. They had seen his miracles and had listened to his teachings. Though they delighted in the precious truths that Jesus had taught them, they were well-aware that not all shared their delight. Jesus had powerful and influential enemies.
On the Mount of Olives, four disciples sat with Jesus, listening intently as he spoke of the coming dangers and challenges that they would face. Earlier, Jesus had told them that he would be killed. (Matthew 16:21) Now he made it clear that they too would experience brutal opposition. “People will deliver you up to tribulation and will kill you,” he said. “And you will be objects of hatred by all the nations on account of my name.” That was not all. False prophets would mislead many. Others would be stumbled and would betray and hate one another. Still others, in fact “the greater number,” would allow their love for God and for his Word to cool off.—Matthew 24:9-12.
It was against such a negative backdrop that Jesus made a statement that must have caused the disciples to marvel. He said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations; and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14) Yes, the work that Jesus began in Israel—to “bear witness to the truth”—would continue and expand to global proportions. (John 18:37) What a truly stunning prophecy! To extend that work to “all the nations” would be challenging; to do so in the face of “hatred by all the nations” would be nothing short of miraculous. The accomplishment of this immense task would magnify not only Jehovah’s supremacy and power but also his love, mercy, and patience. In addition, it would give his servants an opportunity to show their faith and devotion.
Jesus left his disciples in no doubt that they had on their hands a monumental work. Before his ascension to heaven, Jesus appeared to them and said: “You will receive power when the holy spirit arrives upon you, and you will be witnesses of me both in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the most distant part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Of course, others would soon join them. Still, the disciples were few in number. How comforting it must have been to know that God’s powerful holy spirit would empower them to accomplish this divine assignment!
The disciples knew that they were to preach the good news and “make disciples of people of all the nations.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) But they did not know how thorough a witness would be given, and they did not know when the end would come. Neither do we. These are matters for Jehovah alone to determine. (Matthew 24:36) When the witness is given to Jehovah’s satisfaction, he will bring an end to this wicked system of things. Only then will Christians discern that the preaching work has been accomplished to the extent Jehovah purposed. Those early disciples could hardly have envisioned the magnitude of the witness that would be given in this time of the end.