(This is part two of a two part post. Part one may be found here.)
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 Coming of the Messiah, the Church’s Mission, and the Final Consummation
Jesus the Messiah, Savior, and Lord
All four Gospels present Jesus of Nazareth as the fulfillment of OT Messianic promises and expectations. Matthew casts Jesus as the son of Abraham and David (Matt 1:1) and as Immanuel, “God with us” (Matt 1:23; cf. Matt 28:20). Throughout his Gospel, Matthew shows that Jesus fulfilled OT Messianic predictions in virtually every detail of his life and ministry. Mark presents Jesus as the powerful Son of God (Mark 1:1) who died giving his life as a “ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Luke traces Jesus’ ancestry back all the way to Adam (Luke 3:23,38) and casts Jesus as the compassionate healer and friend of sinners (e.g., Luke 19:7). John presents selected Messianic signs of Jesus as proof that Jesus is the Messianic Son of God (John 20:30–31).
The Gospels concur that Jesus limited the scope of his mission to Israel while occasionally ministering to Gentiles at their initiative. Yet the people of Israel rejected Jesus’ Messianic claims, leading to his crucifixion. At the same time, Jesus predicted a worldwide extension of his ministry, instructing his disciples that the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations before the end will come (Matt 24:14; Mark 13:10). Subsequent to his resurrection, Jesus charged his followers to go into all the world and disciple the nations (Matt 28:18–20; cf. Luke 24:46–48; John 20:21). The Gospels also agree that Jesus’ death is universally significant, extending salvation to Gentiles as well as Jews (e.g., John 3:16).
The Early Church and Paul
The book of Acts narrates how, after Jesus ascended, God gave the Spirit to all believers and how the early church went about its mission. In keeping with Jesus’ command, believers served as witnesses, first in Jerusalem and Judea, and then also in Samaria and all the way to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). In a major paradigm shift, God’s people no longer displayed their faith in God merely to attract outsiders; they actively went to reach out to unbelievers everywhere. This stands in contrast to OT Israel as well as second temple Judaism, neither of which can accurately be described as a missionary religion (the prophet Jonah’s ministry to Nineveh notwithstanding).
Key events in the history of the early church include Peter’s Pentecost sermon (Acts 2), Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 7), Paul’s conversion (Acts 9), Peter’s vision prompting his mission to Cornelius (Acts 10), Saul and Barnabas’s mission from Antioch to the Gentiles (Acts 13), and the Jerusalem council (Acts 15). In its outreach to the Gentiles, the early church actively moves in fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise (Gen 12:1–3) and in obedience to Jesus’ commission of his followers to go into all the world to make disciples (Matt 28:18–20). Nothing could hinder the progress of the gospel from Jerusalem to Rome, the empire’s capital (Acts 28:31).
From the time of Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, the gospel became the singular focus of his life. In a major paradigm shift, Paul realized that if Jesus was the crucified and exalted Messiah, the divine curse fell on Jesus for the sake of others “in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:13–14). God entrusted Paul with God’s “mystery,” the end-time revelation that now Jews and Gentiles alike are gathered together into one body, the church (Rom 16:25–26; Eph 2:1—3:13; Col 1:25–27). While Paul’s ministry was directed primarily to Gentiles, he taught that a future remains for ethnic Israel in God’s redemptive purposes (Rom 9–11).
The Rest of the NT, Including Revelation
Mission is less prominent in the General Letters, or at least the missionary connection is generally less direct. Documents such as Jude, 2 Pet, and 1–3 John call believers to defend against heresy the “faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people” (Jude 3). The author of Hebrews contends that now that Jesus has come, there is no turning back to the OT system. This has important implications for the Jews who can no longer trust in the sacrificial system but must believe in Jesus’ vicarious once-for-all sacrifice on the cross in order to be saved. Peter describes believers as exiles and foreigners in this world (1 Pet 1:1,17; 2:11) and calls them to view suffering from an eternal perspective (1 Pet 1:3–6). This addresses the dimension of mission as the church’s witness to the truth by living God-honoring, spiritually set-apart lives in the midst of the unbelieving world and, if necessary, even by martyrdom.
The book of Revelation, finally, shows people from every nation gathered in heaven to worship God and Jesus, “the Lamb” (Rev 4:10–11; 5:6–9). This fulfills God’s covenants with Abraham and David and completes the journey from the original creation to the new creation, where redeemed humanity will live forever in the presence of God and where, in keeping with the prophetic vision, he will be their God and they will be his people (Rev 21:3).