Missions: From Creation to Eternity
There is a mission, an objective, that is clearly stated in the Scriptures for the church. But that mission, while it is clearly defined in the New Testament, didn't begin in the New Testament, which is what a lot of people think. They think that the mission that Jesus gave to His disciples, as usually articulated in Matthew 28:19, 20 and called the great commission, does not really begin in Matthew 28. This is just the church age version of a mission that began back in Genesis chapter three.
There is a twin objective in the church age for every believer, and thus for every local congregation. That is expressed by evangelism and edification. It is through the evangelistic efforts of individual believers that God has chosen to bring unbelievers to a knowledge of who Jesus Christ is and what he did on the cross. It is not going to happen apart from the use of human beings to do that. And that is one of the great privileges that we have, that God can use us to explain the gospel to those who are lost, who are confused, who are searching, so that they can hear the truth, that they can be saved by faith alone in Christ alone, that they can be freed from the shackles of religion and from the servitude of sin, and that only comes by putting out faith alone in Christ alone. That is accomplished through every believer. We can be involved in that aspect of evangelism, either directly or indirectly. We can be involved directly because it is our responsibility to communicate the gospel to whomever is around us, to whomever God gives us the opportunity. We never know who it will be or what the circumstances will be. We are saved for a purpose and part of that purpose is evangelism directly, but also indirectly. We do that through missionaries.
The second objective is edification. That is, the training of the members of the body of Christ to do the work of ministry—Ephesians 4:11, 12, that the gifts of pastor-teacher and evangelism are given to the church for the purpose of equipping believers to do the work of the ministry.
In essence missions is world evangelization, taking the gospel not just to the person who lives next door to us but to other cultures and countries, and it is not just a matter of helping them understand how to be saved but in many cases it is teaching them the entire counsel of God with the end result in mind that they are going to be able to establish indigenous churches in their nations with their own native pastors.
God created man in His image. That means that the human race was created to have a relationship with God. Man was created in such a way as to be able to understand God and to be able to communicate with God. This set mankind apart from all of the other creatures. When it comes to understanding what separates man from all other creatures it is this aspect, the image of God. Man is not an animal (which is what evolution teaches). What sets man apart is that we are created in the image of God and designed to have a relationship with Him. In the garden of Eden God took the initiative to develop that relationship with man, because in order to have a relationship with God you have to know about God. Man can't understand who he is without reference to God. If you are created in the image and likeness of God then you can't know who you are without reference to who God is and that initial purpose. But as we all know that pristine condition of perfection in the garden of Eden fell apart when man sinned. They disobeyed God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. That is when missions began, that is when God took the initiative to communicate who he is and what His plan of salvation was from the very beginning. After Adam and Eve disobeyed Him it was God who appeared in the garden and began to look for them, calling out their names. They, of course, ran and hid. Nevertheless, God maintained the initiative, seeking them out, and then once He has exposed what the failure was and the consequences of that sin, He detailed that in the latter part of Genesis chapter three. The key verse for our purposes is in Genesis 3:15, the first mention of the gospel, that there would be good news.
In addressing the serpent God said, "I will put enmity between you and the woman." This indicates that there would be a history-long battle between the human race and Satan, and that we would be in the midst of this battlefield. Therefore utilizing military analogy is perfectly appropriate. There is an objective to take in the battle for the human race. "…between your seed and her seed." And here is where we have the first hint of the victory that God is going to exercise over the serpent. From the very beginning the end has been set and determined that Satan would lose and be defeated. "…he [the seed of the woman] shall bruise your head (indicating a fatal wound on the serpent), and you shall bruise his heel." There will be a temporary wounding of the seed of the woman, which is what occurred at the cross. It was not be permanent, He would rise from the dead. There would be resurrection and victory over death and in that would be the permanent defeat of the seed of the serpent.
As we go through those early chapters of Genesis we see that God continues to exercise the initiative toward mankind, but mankind in negative volition rejects God again and again and again until it culminates in this situation that we find in Genesis chapter six where the heart of man did evil continually and God decided it was time to judge the human race. That was because of the intrusion of the demons, the sons of God, in Genesis 6:3, but what made that possible was because the human race as a whole had rejected God. So God once again in grace is going to exercise initiative to reach out to the human race and for 120 years Noah proclaimed the gospel. He is called a preacher of righteousness. It was only Noah, his three sons and their wives, who responded positively to the gospel. That is not a mark of great success by human standards. We want to measure things in terms of numbers and quantify them but according to God's standards what makes you successful is faithfulness to His plan and His will. It is the faithfulness in communicating the message. God's grace was extended for 120 years. Grace means going the extra mile, not just doing something once for the benefit of somebody but continuing to do that, to press on and persevere in communicating the gospel. Noah did that, but finally it reached the point of where there was no response and judgment came. That is the other part of the message, that there is always judgment on sin. All the human race was wiped out except eight who got on the ark.
Then once again God is going to reach out to mankind. They got off the ark, they offered sacrifices, God re-establishes His covenant with Noah, and He redefines the terms of that covenant. Once again, they are to multiply and fill the earth. As they go forth they don't do that and there is a failure at the tower of Babel. Because man is using his collective strength, all using the same language to ally themselves together against God, God decides to solve the problem; that it is better to have a divided human race. They can't get together in mutual cooperation to rebel against Him and promote apostasy and idolatry, and he divides the languages. Now we have an even further barrier to the communication of the gospel. Not only is there the problem of sin and the hardness of the human heart, but now there is the problem of language, the problem of cross-culture communication because as languages develop they communicate differently. Logic is different, and logic is embedded in the very nature of language.
So God instituted a new plan, and that was to call out one individual and through that one individual he would bless all nation spiritually. So he is going to call out one particular group to be the missionary agency for that age, and that was through one individual, Abraham and his descendants. God called out Abraham to be a world-wide blessing. Genesis 12:2, 3: "I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed." The missionary program that God had in mind in the Old Testament wasn't the same as in the New Testament. In the New Testament we are to go out, but in the Old Testament the idea was that the people in the nations would be coming to Israel and they would learn from the Jews in their own land about God's plan and purposes. The Jews would stand as a witness, both in terms of their culture and in their life as well as their message. This is seen in Galatians 3:14: "in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith." So from the very inception even Paul recognizes and teaches that the purpose for calling Abraham was not just to focus on the Jews but to use this one group to reach the rest of mankind.
Exodus 19:3-6, we have the next stage of the development when the nation is brought forth from Egypt and they are going to be taken to the promised land and establish this new nation. "Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, 'Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.'" It is this one verse, Exodus 19:6, that gives us a view of who Israel is among all the nations. If you think about "all the nations," by analogy, they (Israel) were to have one tribe within the nation, the tribe of Levi that would serve as the priestly tribe, and it was through Levi that the people would be taught the Law, and it is through the priests in the tribe of Levi that the people would be able to come to God. Well just as Levi served in that priestly function to the nation, so the nation Israel was picture serving in that same function for all of the other nations. It would be the nation Israel that would teach all the other nations about God; it was the nation Israel that would bring the Gentiles in the nations around them to a knowledge of who God is.
This is seen most clearly in the Psalms. There are a number of psalms that have three elements in them. First of all, there are calls in numerous psalms for all the nations to praise God. The word there for "nations" is what we would call Gentiles. Psalm after psalm emphasizes this. Second, there is an emphasis on calling the nations to proclaim the works of God. Cf. Psalm 9:11: "Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion. Declare his deeds among the peoples." The Jews were to declare the works of God among all of the other nations. This is also seen in Psalm 105:1. A third element that we see in many of the psalms is that all of the nations are to sing praises to God. This is seen in Psalm 18:49; 96; 57:9; 108:3. Cf. Psalm 22:27: "All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him." The calling of the Jews didn't limit God to Israel. It was for a greater purpose of taking the gospel to all the nations. But it wasn't by sending the Jews out, it was by setting, as it were, a nation whose light because of their obedience to the Lord would illuminate the world. Psalm 46:10: "Be still, and know that I am God! I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth." Psalm 96:2, 3: "Sing to the LORD, bless his name; tell of his salvation [the gospel] from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples." An entire psalm, Psalm 67, focuses on the Jews' responsibility to take the gospel to the nations. They were to cry out for God's blessing for the purpose that God's ways be known among all the nations. Because of the way God would bless Israel all the nations would know about God and would come to fear Him. So that was God's missionary program in the Old Testament.
We see this in 1 Kings 8:59-60: "Let these words of mine, with which I pleaded before the LORD, be near to the LORD our God day and night, and may he maintain the cause of his servant and the cause of his people Israel, as each day requires; so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other."
In the prophets: Isaiah 11:10, 12: "On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples; the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious…He will raise a signal for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth." This is looking forward to the future Millennial kingdom but the emphasis here is that throughout the Old Testament God is focused not just on Israel but on salvation of all peoples. This is not fulfilled until the Millennial kingdom.
Then when we come to the New Testament we see that this continues in the same way but a slightly different version. Before, everyone was to come to Israel to learn about God, now church age believers are sent out. John 20:21: "Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." This is part of that commission. Every gospel expresses the mission that God sent the disciples on in a slightly different way. Mark 16:14, 15: "Later he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were sitting at the table; and he upbraided them for their lack of faith and stubbornness, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. And he said to them, 'Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.'" Luke 24:47, 48: "and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things." Matthew 28:18-20: "And Jesus came and said to them, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'"
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" tells us that no matter what happens, what the opposition is, what the difficulty is, whatever persecution may arise, that Jesus Christ is in control. He is the one who is in authority, and even if it means that we give our lives in the cause of the gospel Jesus Christ is still in control. He then says, "Go therefore." This is a mistranslation, it is not a command, there is not an imperative there. The word for "go" is a participle form meaning when you are going, as you go, as you go forth and throughout life, as you leave you are going to go. The participle does pick up an imperatival nuance that kind of bleeds over from the main verb, but the main imperative here isn't to go, it is to make disciples. That word "disciple" means to make students of all the nations. Then He breaks it down into two categories: "baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit," and that concept of baptism in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit is what we see as we go through the book of Acts and see how the apostles understood that. In Acts chapter 5 with the Ethiopian eunuch, as soon as he is saved Philip says Let us go and get baptized. Later on in Acts chapter 19 as soon as those disciples of John then Baptist who were Old Testament saints had become New Testament believers, when they heard the gospel from Paul, Paul immediately asks them what baptism they were baptized with. They said John's baptism. So Paul says they should be baptized in the name of Jesus and they are baptized again. This was symbolic of what happened at the instant of salvation when a believer is identified with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ; what the New Testament describes as the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit. Water baptism in the early church was a picture of positional truth, a visual aid. What Jesus us summarizing here in this statement has to do with what happens at salvation. Hearing the gospel, responding to the gospel, which focuses on the evangelism aspect of the mission of the church. The second participle, "teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you," is the second aspect of the mission: edification. So the main command is to make disciples, to make students. Then you have two participles of means, baptizing and teaching. How do you make goods students? First of all you get them saved; secondly, you teach them what the Word of God says.
Jesus restated this one last time before He ascended into heaven. Acts 1:8: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." That verse, by the way, sets up the whole outline structure for the book of Acts.
Taking the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth did not end with Acts 28. It continues today and we are part of that tradition, to continue to take the gospel to those who have never heard. So a healthy local church is going to have a vision related to the mission that God has given. The objective is evangelism, not only in terms of our own lives but in terms of the training and preparation of men and women who can take the gospel to cross-cultural situations throughout the world. That takes a mental commitment to begin with. A local church needs to have that vision. We need to be involved in evangelism but also edification, that desire to grow and mature in the Word. We have to have a vision for teaching, not just the milk of the Word but the meat of the Word, the depth of the Word, the entire counsel of God that addresses everything in creation: not just salvation, not just our spiritual life, but how we as believers are to think in terms of divine viewpoint toward everything in life. That is the mission of the church.
The church at Philadelphia was advancing in spiritual maturity. They kept Jesus' word. This shows that they were a mature congregation. As we press on to maturity we have to recognize our responsibilities in terms of our priesthood on the one hand and our ambassadorship on the other hand. This involves not only just sitting here and learning the Word but also taking that to have an impact in the world.