A Snapshot Biblical Theology of Missions

If you visit the PND site regularly, this article is by a familiar face. Her earlier articles were under her maiden name, Meredith Cooper. About three months ago, I was happy to change that last name for her when we got married. Meredith is a gifted student of missions and here provides a snapshot biblical theology of missions in the Bible. Every Great Commission Christian should commit this to memory, because it is the foundation of all we do.

Missiology is, quite simply, the study of missions. It may seem odd that one would study missions, because we typically think of missions as active. It is something we do. However, actually taking time to study missions and to think about why we do it helps us work more effectively in the long run. It is important to understand what we believe and why (this is where theology as a whole comes in), because these are the beliefs from which we do missions. You do not have to be a seminary student to study theology or missions. Start studying the Bible and see for yourself the message of hope and salvation for the nations promoted throughout its entirety.

The whole Bible speaks of God’s mission.

The Old Testament presents a centripetal view of missions as God sets up His people Israel to draw the nations to Himself. Genesis especially provides the background and foundation of God’s mission in the rest of the Old Testament. After the Fall, in Genesis 3, God promises Adam and Eve a seed, one who would crush the serpent’s head. In Genesis 4, this is initiated in the birth of Seth, after which the people begin to call on the Lord. The line continues through Abram who exhibited saving faith in the promise of a seed in Genesis 15, which is referenced again in Genesis 17 at the birth of Isaac. In Genesis 22, Isaac is not sacrificed because God will provide a Lamb at a later time and a message of hope for the nations is proclaimed. This mountain was called “The Lord Will Provide,” indicating a future sacrifice for all people. Genesis 49 speaks of the nations being promised to Judah, and alludes to the coming sacrifice.

If you haven’t gotten the picture yet, there are numerous other Old Testament passages that build on this foundation set forth in Genesis. Exodus 12 illustrates God’s concern for the nations. The Psalms speak of the coming Messiah, one who would suffer (as alluded to in Psalms 22). Isaiah 9 and 11 introduce the coming child, one who would rule over the nations. Isaiah 52-53 present the suffering servant, the prophecy Christ would fulfill as he suffered and died on the cross. Micah 4 continues the mountain imagery, confirming the centripetal nature of missions in the Old Testament, where nations will flock to the one who will bring them salvation. This is just a small portion of passages from the Old Testament which illustrate God’s concern for the nations and His promise of a Savior. This Savior promised in the Old Testament is the same one we proclaim to the lost around us today.

The New Testament helps us to understand and interpret the Old Testament’s view of missions.  There are three main passages in the New Testament that illustrate how the Old Testament set up the bases for missions. Luke 24:45-47, Acts 26:22-23, and Galatians 3:13-16 show that the Old Testament promised a seed, one who would be the Messiah who would suffer, die, and rise, leading to a message of salvation for the nations. These are three main biblical bases for missions.

The New Testament presents Christ as the fulfillment of these Old Testament prophecies and contains a more outward focus for missions. Now, instead of drawing the nations in to Israel, all believers are sent out in the Spirit with the gospel to the nations. Matthew 28:18-20 is the central passage for missions. Believers are commanded to preach Christ and make disciples of all nations. Christ’s ministry in the gospels, while focused on the Jews, is for all people. Christ seeks to use his Jewish disciples to reach all people. His care for the nations, also known as the Gentiles, can be seen in his interactions with the Cannanite woman, the Samaritan woman, the centurion, and many others. In Acts 1:8, Jesus commissions the church to minister in Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth- to all nations. He gives them the Holy Spirit to empower them for this task. Acts 2 presents Pentecost as the reversal of Babel, where many languages are spoken but the people understand. Paul’s missionary journey in Acts 13 is to both Jews and Gentiles, and Acts 15 presents the way of Christ as for all people. In fact, all of Acts can be used as an illustration of God’s people taking the gospel to the nations. Finally, skipping all the way to the end of the Bible, Revelation 7 shows the culmination of God’s mission: a beautiful picture of the nations gathered to worship the Lord in the New Creation.

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.”

Clearly I have only scratched the surface of what the Bible says about God’s mission and our part in it. However, it is important to see the Bible as a unified whole. God’s mission is not just contained in the Great Commission passage, Acts 1:8, or even just the New Testament. The whole Bible speaks of mission and points to the savior promised from the beginning, the one we are called to proclaim to the nations.

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