If we are to understand the mission of God (Missio Dei, see last month’s post), we need to study what God has said about it. God has revealed himself, his purpose and plan in the Christian Scriptures. As Christopher Wright observes, “The only concept of mission into which God fits is the one of which he is the beginning, the center and end. … And the only access that we have to that mission of God is given to us in the Bible.” (The Mission of God, 2006, 534).
Biblical theology is not a practice of trolling through the Bible until one hooks a text to prove a point. Rather, Biblical theology seeks to follow the storyline of Scripture as God reveals himself and his plan. (See earlier post reviewing What is Biblical Theology?).
Evangelicals are committed to the unity of Scripture. Christopher Wright describes the Bible as the grand narrative:
Here is The Story, the grand universal narrative that stretches from creation to new creation, and accounts for everything in between. This is The Story that tells us where we have come from, how we got here, who we are, why the world is in the mess it is, how it can be (and has been) changed, and where we are ultimately going. And the whole story is predicated on the reality of this God and the mission of this God. He is the originator of the story, the teller of the story, the prime actor in the story, the planner and guide of the story’s plot, the meaning of the story and its ultimate completion. He is its beginning, end and center. It is the story of the mission of God, of this God and no other. – The Mission of God, 533.
The Bible begins with creation: “God created the world and humanity distinct from himself and yet totally dependent on him. … Genesis 1 indicates that God’s lordship is over the whole of creation including all humankind.” (Köstenberger and O’Brien, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, 2001, 26-27). Humankind are uniquely created in the image of God giving both dignity and responsibility. This good creation was marred by human rebellion. Hence God’s mission is “inextricably linked to man’s sinfulness and need for redemption and God’s provision of salvation in the person and work of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Köstenberger and O’Brien, 19). By this rebellion mankind is alienated from God. God calls Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3), blesses him and promises to bless all families of the earth through him. This promise to Abraham is the controlling paradigm for the Old Testament theology of missions. (For further reading see Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. (2008) The Promise-Plan of God, Grand Rapids: Zondervan).
God’s mission in the call of Abraham is unfolded in the covenant with David:
… the covenant with David looks back to the divine intention for Israel through Sinai. At the same time, this covenant is intimately linked with God’s saving purpose for humankind through Abraham, and thus to the reversal of the disastrous consequences of the fall in Genesis 1-11. It will be through the Davidic king who functions as Yahweh’s vicegerent that that the latter’s rule over the nations will be exercised. The ultimate fulfiller of this role is Jesus of Nazareth who, as son of David, was son of Abraham, and also Son of God. – Köstenberger and O’Brien, 40.
In Isaiah, God’s servant is prophesied as the one who will accomplish God’s mission to Israel and all families of the earth. Köstenberger and O’Brien observe:
The covenant made with Abraham, in which God promised to make of him a great nation and to bless all peoples of the earth through him (Gen. 12:1-3), will be effected through the ministry of the Servant of Yahweh. And this will lead ultimately to new heavens and a new earth (Is. 65:17; 66:22). – p.47
The Old Testament gives examples of Gentiles that are incorporated into Israel such as Rahab and Ruth. At the dedication of the Temple, Solomon refers to foreigners who will call upon the God of Israel that they may know and fear him as Israel does (1 Kings 8:41-43). Yet Israel is not called to cross-cultural missions as we are in the New Testament. They were to be examples of trust and obedience, but God’s plan of salvation had not yet been fully revealed.
The Old Testament helps us understand the human condition and God’s promise to redeem. We were created in God’s image for fellowship. Following our rebellion, God in his grace and love unfolds his plan to redeem us through Abraham’s offspring. The story is not complete in the Old Testament but is waiting for the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham in Jesus Christ. That will be the subject of a future post.
We have only scratched the surface here. I recommend further study in the books quoted from above.