Belief in the imminent return of Christ is one of the most asserted positions in the Christian world. Preachers have proclaimed for many years that nothing more has to happen in the world to meet the prophetic criteria of the Scriptures before Christ returns to claim His own and the Church is raptured out. How then do we reconcile that with the statement of the above verse? It seems to imply that Christ cannot return because there are still peoples and nations (ethnic groups) that have not heard the gospel.
We know there will be representatives in Heaven from every one of them. Revelation 5:9, 7:9 and 15:3-4 all teach that the eternal plan and purpose of God is to draw some from every kindred, tongue, people and nation. Yet it is estimated that 6,918 people groups have still not been reached with the gospel. Does this mean that Jesus cannot yet return? The obvious answer is “no.” But how do we reconcile the apparent conflict?
First, we must realize that people groups not reached today may have been reached at some point in the past. For example, consider that today, one of the largest unreached people groups in the world is the Turkish people. Approximately 99% of them are Muslim. Yet consider the first-century ministry of the Apostle Paul and others there (Asia Minor). The Church thrived there in the regions of Galatia, Colossae, Ephesus, Pergamos, Thyatira, Smyrna, Philadelphia and even Laodicea. If Jesus returned today, there would be many believers from various ethnic groups in Turkey gathered around the throne of God.
Secondly, we must realize that the world has gotten smaller. People are migrating across the globe to other countries. There is no doubt that some from today’s highly restricted unreached nations have migrated to other parts of the world and have heard the gospel. I have personally met several of them in my travels. There are large groups of people still inside restricted nations who have come to faith in Christ because of satellite radio and television. If Jesus returned today, there would be many believers from among these groups at the Throne of God.
Finally, we must consider the end times. From Revelation 7, we learn that after God has taken the church out of the world and the tribulation has begun, He will call out 144,000 witnesses from Israel who will have opportunity to proclaim the gospel around the globe. Perhaps they will have the task of “reaching the rest.”
It could well be that if Jesus returned at this moment, there would be representatives from every kindred, tongue, people and nation gathered at the Throne to worship and thank Him for His provision of salvation.
So, if there really is nothing left to be fulfilled before Christ comes, then what is our task in the present? It is dictated by two things we can know with certainty. First, Jesus has not returned yet. Second, the task He gave is still binding upon us. We are to be living in obedience to the last commission we received, fervently and passionately striving to preach the gospel where Christ has not been named. (Romans 15:20). Our present responsibility is to be pressing forward with the message of salvation to those who are still waiting, while we anxiously look for that blessed hope.