Mission; part 1

By: Andreas J. Köstenberger

Taken from the NIV Zondervan Study Bible, general editor, D.A. Carson.Copyright © 2015. Use by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

The entire Bible traces the journey from the original creation to the new creation, from humanity’s rebellion against the Creator to God’s provision of redemption in the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The story of the Bible is therefore also the story of God’s mission to bring sinful humanity back to himself and to restore it to its original state of living in communion with him.

Creation, the Fall, and the History of Israel

Creation and the Fall

As the one who is eternal and the source of all life, God is shown in the Bible to be on a mission, grounded in creation. As the Creator, God made humanity in his image and placed the first man and woman on this earth as his representatives, charging them to populate the earth and manage it for him. By obeying God’s command, God’s vicegerents on earth would take his presence to the ends of the earth, extending his rule (Gen 1:26–31).

When Adam and Eve transgressed the boundaries set by their Creator and rebelled against him, the redemptive component of God’s mission was revealed. No longer did humans enjoy direct communion with God; they now needed to be liberated from sin and reconciled with their Creator. The story of God’s salvation is the account of his quest to reclaim a people who will take his presence to the ends of the earth once again. A ray of hope arose when God promised that Eve’s offspring would overcome the curse (Gen 3:15). The prospect of restoring all creation rested on God’s faithfulness to his promise.

The Flood, the Tower of Babel, and the Call of Abraham

Again God’s mission was potentially thwarted almost immediately. In keeping with the creation mandate, humans began to multiply and fill the earth. But rather than take God’s presence to the ends of the earth, they plunged into evil (Gen 6:1–4). God condemned their rebellion through a universal flood and renewed his promise of a new creation to Noah and his family (Gen 6:5—9:19). At the tower of Babel, God scattered humanity in judgment (Gen 11:1–9) but then called Abraham so that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through him and his descendants (Gen 12:1–3). God entered into an unconditional covenant with Abraham that was predicated on faith and had universal, worldwide implications (Gen 15:1–18; Rom 4:16–17; Gal 3:6–9,26–29). God’s covenant with Abraham is thus the framework for his dealings with humans during the remainder of biblical history, culminating in the new covenant instituted by Abraham’s ultimate offspring, the Lord Jesus Christ (Gal 3:16).

The Growth of Israel Into a Nation, the Exodus, and the Giving of the Law

Faithful to his promise, God made the children of Abraham into a great nation. In a series of mighty acts of deliverance, he rescued his people from bondage in Egypt by the hand of Moses (the exodus). As a nation that God formed and set apart to be holy (see the article “Holiness” on p. XXXX), Israel displayed God’s character to all the nations, mediating God’s presence and blessings to them and summoning them to participate in the renewal of all things by worshiping God alone (Exod 19:5–6). God also gave his people the law, which reflects his righteous character. Obeying the law brought God’s blessing, while disobeying it resulted in his judgment.

The Monarchy, the Davidic Dynasty, and the Exile

After 40 years of wandering in the wilderness, Moses died, and his successor, Joshua, led Israel into the promised land. God focused the earliest promise of an offspring (Gen 3:15) on a son of King David, whose dynasty would establish an eternal kingdom. During the reign of David’s son Solomon, various promises to Abraham and David were fulfilled: the promised land was conquered, Israel became a great nation, and the Jerusalem temple was built (1 Kgs 6–8; cf. Deut 12:5–11). In his prayer of dedication, Solomon articulates a vision that demonstrates mission as a key part of the priestly/cultic dimension of the OT as well as the covenant/legal dimension (1 Kgs 8:41–43,59–60; 2 Chr 6:32–33). Yet Solomon, and a long string of monarchs in the divided kingdom after him, fell into idolatry, and God scattered first the northern kingdom of Israel and then the southern kingdom of Judah across the nations (the exile). Later, by the edict of the Persian king Cyrus, a remnant returned, rebuilding the temple, the city, and its walls under the leadership of men such as Ezra and Nehemiah. But the nation never recovered its former Solomonic glory.

Jonah, the End-Time Pilgrimage of the Nations, and the Servant of the Lord

During the period of the divided kingdom, the prophet Jonah went reluctantly to preach to the people of Nineveh. But rather than representing a model missionary, he serves as an example of Israel’s lack of concern for the spiritual well-being of the other nations. Nevertheless, some OT prophets envision Jerusalem as the site of the end-time pilgrimage of the nations (Isa 2:2–4; 60:1—62:12; Mic 4:1–5), and the enthronement psalms feature Zion as the center of the worship of God (Pss 48, 93, 96–97, 99). Some apocalyptic passages also depict Zion as the center of the new creation (Isa 35:1–10; 65:17–18). Isaiah presents the servant of the Lord as one who would suffer vicariously and subsequently be exalted by God (Isa 52:13—53:12). The servant’s ministry would include both Israel and the nations as the means of fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham.

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