Matthew 24:14 contains a phrase often used in the end time Churches of God:
"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".
One of the "sure signs" of the supposed apostleship of Herbert W Armstrong was that he fulfilled this verse. However, like so many lofty end time claims, does this really add up? Is God really that dependent on an individual here or there to do "the work"? A far more logical explanation beckons.
Jesus Christ knew that the Church would always be small and hidden, and often persecuted. He also knew that His message would be falsified and turned into something totally other than what He preached. This is known to us today as "traditional Christianity". On top of this, He knew that His true Church would more often than not be in bad shape. Five out of seven Church era descriptions in Rev 2 and 3, including the final one during which the end will come, are far from flattering. How then could this prophecy of Mt 24:14 be fulfilled?
The answer is simple: it wasn't fulfilled by any particular man, rather it was fulfilled by God.
Prior to the invention of the printing press in the mid 1400s, owning a personal Bible was for the very few and the very rich. One of the main endeavours printers turned their hand to with their new invention was the publication of the scriptures. Starting in the 1500s, numerous quality translations were made (including the first English language translation), which in turn were published by these same printers. Prior to this, believers depended on their pastors/priests to tell them what the Word of God actually said, as almost all copies of scripture were in Latin, the original language of the Roman Empire and later the Roman Church. This is one reason why the 1500s were such a momentous turning point in history.
From this time onward, the translation and publication process began involving more and more languages and increasingly, wherever men went preaching their form of Christianity, they brought with them and distributed copies of the scriptures. Regardless of the message these people taught (some truth and some error, without doubt), the people they preached to were left with the "witness" Christ foretold, that is, a copy of the scriptures containing "this gospel".
I think of my own experience. When I was a boy, my parents briefly attended a small Christian Church near to where we lived. I don't remember one sermon, one message, one doctrine or anything that these people taught, but what I do remember to this day is that at about 7 years of age I was given by them a copy of the New Testament. One night I read the Sermon on the Mount before bedtime and I remember being absolutely awestruck. It was so obvious, even to a 7 year old, that such deep and honest thought had to come from a being higher than a man.
Haven't we all met people in the Church who, long before they were called, long before they could put things together spiritually, were introduced to God's word and experienced the witness of God contained in the scriptures, convicting them of His truth?
In regard to publishing and distributing the scriptures, "he that is not against us is for us"
(Lk 9:50) makes perfect sense.
That's the simple answer: God saw to "this gospel" being written down, preserved and translated and over time being printed and dispersed around the world. Something like 95 percent of people are now able to read the scriptures in more than 2000 languages and doubtless there is not a nation on Earth where God's word cannot be found. Truly this "witness" to the world has been accomplished prior to the fulfillment of "then shall the end come".
For glory-seeking men to make others believe that this prophecy is fulfilled by them preaching the "true gospel" is total folly. All men make mistakes; all men get it wrong and when they do, they or their followers find that they have painted themselves into corners, not being able to take back their words.
An excellent example is the Trinitarian baptismal formula of Mt 28:19, which Herbert Armstrong used and had his ministers use when baptising new converts. In the years since HWA's death, the fact that this passage was inserted in scripture long after the first century has become widely understood. However, if one claims that HWA preached the same gospel Christ preached and "restored all things" that were lost since Christ's time, it becomes impossible to retrospectively find fault with any of HWA's doctrines and make amendments.
Another example is the calendar which tells us when to keep the Biblical holy days. Many original sources (Mishnah, Tosefta, the Talmuds) attest to the fact that the fixed, calculated Jewish calendar of current use was not yet in existence in Christ's day. HWA preached that it was included in "the oracles of God" (Rom 3:2), which was an error on his part, since Paul, the author of the book of Romans, could not have been referring to something that had not yet been invented.
Herbert Armstrong is often praised for having mailed out at his peak a maximum of 8 million copies of the Plain Truth magazine.
It is generally estimated that since the start of the 19th century, the Author of the scriptures has seen to the distribution of some 5 billion copies of His holy word.