PICTURING MISSION IN THE
OLD TESTAMENT ANGLE
"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me, therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you and surely I am with you always to the very end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-2)
The very word of Jesus in Matthew 28:18-20 is the catapult in doing Christian missions today. Many Christian organizations are being built up for the very purpose of going out to all nations. Their main task, which they call "mission", is to reach out for people of different tongues and tribes by employing different techniques and strategies available at their disposal in catching the attention of the people so the gospel may be effectively shared. They are called "missionaries" commissioned by Jesus to do the “Great Commission”.
A lot of people think that this missionary mandate does not exist in the Old Testament. Many disregard the Old Testament as their reference in doing their mission. Almost a majority points out that this great commission originates in the New Testament only. As one scholar observes, “There is a popular misconception that the Old Testament does not have a missionary mandate and that it is a book dedicated only to the Jews and their history.”
Does God give this “Great Commission” as a new mission to his people? If so, what then is the significance of the Old Testament with regards to doing the "Great Commission"? It is the purpose of this paper to trace back mission in the Old Testament and show that mission is not just a New Testament concept. As the Christians of today, we ought not to disregard the Old Testament when it comes to mission. This is to test if Blackaby's statement is true when he said that God has been on mission throughout the history. It is necessary to understand the very purpose of doing mission by tracing it back from the very beginning, when God fashioned the heaven and the earth.
II. The Purpose of Creation
The entire Bible revolves around God. As we can see, even in the beginning, God was already there. The narrative of creation begins with God. It was his intention to create something for His pleasure. After he had finished creating, He looked back and marveled at His creation saying, "It was good." He finds pleasure in every work he had made.
The narrative of creation unmistakably highlights the distinctiveness of the creation of man. Normally, when God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in it, the narrative begins from "And God said..." and shifted to "Then God said." This could be observed as a change of tone in the narration. “All the days of creation climax in the creation of man and woman,” Kaiser notes. Man, crafted so uniquely, is indeed the highlight of the creation process. It entails that when God created man, He did not just create man for the sake of creating him. He did it for a purpose, for His mere pleasure. This pleasure is God-centered that benefits all under His reign. Rick Warren expresses that "You are not an accident." Indeed! Out of God's incomprehensible love, man and woman were born.
"So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Gen.1:27)
Notice that the narrative states that God created man in His own image. It is so amazing that out of His Sovereign will, He chose to create man in His own image and did not choose the animals, trees or any other creation. Instead He chose man and clothed him in His image, the very quality of God that positioned man to be above other creation. No one of the entire creation of God, except man, is so privileged to possess it, not even the angels. This very act of God signifies how valuable man is to Him. This, I believe, is one of the mysteries in the creation narrative. In this, there is no doubt about the revelation of God's unique character, His sovereignty over all creation, full of grace and love.
The first couple enjoyed the privilege of being with God: meeting with Him, communing with Him, and having fellowship with Him. In this scene, God was pleased and delighted by the works of His hands, especially as He sees His creation worshiping Him. The obedience of the creation exalts and worships God being their Creator. “By freedom, God sought to establish man and woman in a wholesome relationship to His sovereignty,” unlike a robot with a remote control intended for manipulation. “The narrative of the Creation highlights the peaceful fellowship our first parents shared with God” , a perfect relationship wherein sin has no place but only a perfect and harmonious relationship between the Great Father and His children.
III. The Purpose of Mission
Mission is often recognize as a new mission commanded by Jesus and this “Great Commission” can be found nowhere in the Old Testament. This is a misconception about the mission that the children of God must need to understand today. Contrary to what others are saying, the mission was born in the Old Testament. The Fall of man is the very reason why mission exists.
It started in Genesis when Adam and Eve disobeyed God by eating the forbidden fruit. The fall of man was a choice not to worship His Creator. As a result, God was displeased by this very act. For it is God’s pleasure to see His creation obeying Him because through obedience, the people worship God. Now, “mission exists because worship is not. Mission is not God’s ultimate goal, worship is.” The very act of the first man displeased God, his Creator. Yet despite of this, God did not choose to eliminate the entire humanity and create another man where He could start all over again but made a plan to rescue mankind. “The couple failed the test of obedience that God had design for them because they yielded to the temptation of the tempter, as a result, a curse fell not only to Adam and Eve, but also on the ground, its products, the created order and all humanity.” The gravity of Adam and Eve’s sin was too intense and had a ripple effect that made the entire human race suffer. Yet, we must not point our finger to Adam and Eve but this should become a moment of reflection to all because, in reality, we are just like Adam and Eve, having that choice to obey or to disobey, we have chosen to walk in disobedience. The story of Adam and Eve is, actually, also our story.We were given a chance to do the right thing by obeying God. We are all Adam and Eve in that sense, and God had entrusted to us something. To be like them is ours to make.
The narrative about the fall of man in the Garden did not end there. It’s just the beginning of the great plan of God. In Genesis 3:15 God said that He would put an enmity between the “Seed” of the Serpent and the “Seed” of the woman. And we can find in the succeeding verse about the promise of the coming of the ‘Man’ that would crush the head of the Serpent and rescue Adam and Eve from the fall. “It maybe fairly stated that Eve thought the birth of his first son would be the answer to the promise of Genesis 3:15 and that this male descendant would be divine.” Unfortunately, Cain, her firstborn was not the answer. Even the narrative of the Flood tells us about God’s preservation of humankind by giving special promise to Shem in Genesis 9: 27 that God would dwell in the house of Shem. “The promise to dwell was the most encouraging, for it assured mortals that despite God’s transcendence, He would come to planet earth to take up his residence with the line of Shem.” Another event wherein God shows Himself as doing the mission could be seen in the narrative of the Tower of Babel wherein God confused the language of the people. One might ask, how can this narrative become a part in the redemptive plan of God? The narratives in the Garden, Flood, and Tower of Babel show how man used his God-given gift – freewill – to exalt himself, not God. Throughout history man is doing the same, so pre-occupied in his ”Self-Exaltation” mission. That’s the reason why God Himself became a missionary because His people are doing another thing. Mission was not established because the creation worships their Creator, rather mission was established so that all creation will turn to and worship their Creator. Despite the busyness of man doing his “Self-exaltation” mission, God, out of His great compassion, gave us the Promise of Redemption. It is the heart of God to rescue man and haul him back towards that intimate fellowship He had intended for us to enjoy, the perfect relationship man could ever have, with God. The world is sinking and it does not even recognize that it is sinking, but the Eye of Grace that sees intervenes to man’s tragic destination he’s heading.
IV.The Purpose of Israel’s Election
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:2-3)
The call of Abraham was the beginning of man’s involvement in doing the mission with God. God entered into a covenant with Abraham and promised him something special. That promise is a promise that he will be a great nation, he will be a blessing and his name will be great (Genesis 12:2). As a result, Abraham will be a blessing to the peoples of the earth. This blessing is more than wealth that man could ever possess. No silver or gold could ever equal this God-initiated covenant and the promise of the very presence of God. “Do not be afraid, Abraham. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Genesis 15:1, italics mine).
The blessing is the very presence of God. Material wealth and possessions are over spills of God’s presence. There is no other blessing than to be the child of the Most High. There is no greater joy than to hear His voice saying, “You are my son [or daughter], today I have become your Father” (Psalm 2:7).
God fulfilled His promise of blessing to Abraham. Abraham’s descendants became numerous and became a nation, a nation who would be a blessing to all the nations of the world. Gallagher and Hawthorne excellently picture this blessing like a chain. Abraham became a blessing by becoming a mediator for Sodom and Gomorrah, presenting his argument before God not just for Lot and his family but for the entire city. Even though the city became ashes, the point is he used that blessing he received to bless Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16-9:28). We can see that even his son Isaac, blessed by God also, became a blessing to the Philistines by digging a well (Genesis 26:12-22). Jacob blessed Laban and his household (Gen 30: 27) and blessed the Egyptian pharaoh (Gen 47: 7-10). Joseph, Abraham’s grandson, has blessed Egypt and the neighboring countries (Genesis 39-50) during the severe famine that strikes the land.
Another highlight in the history is the exodus narrative, which is “the most celebrated event in the entire Hebrew Bible and… most important for later identity of Israel and Judaism”. God showed Himself to the people of Israel by doing great signs and wonders for the people of the world to know that there is only one God, the Almighty God of Israel. As a result, some Egyptians and people of other nations feared God.
If we are to trace back history, this blessing did not end here. It is the faithful, continuous act of God in fulfilling His promise to Abraham. God has chosen Abraham and became the nation Israel; Israel was blessed much to be a blessing to the world. “We must not think that the choosing of God to Abraham and his descendants is a sign of favoritism or snobbery character of God that he does not care to other people or given them up.” Their election is a privilege to share in the works of God in redeeming his creation. The blessing of God does not intend for Israel to shelve it by himself alone. Israel is so much blessed for her to bless others. Thus, the blessing of God is one of His ways in connecting others through the involvement of his chosen people. It is God’s purpose to consecrate others by the involvement of His consecrated ones. It is God’s purpose to elect others to become a part of His kingdom through the involvement of His elected ones.
The mission in the Old Testament is the same as that of the new. It just varies in the styles of reaching out people but the mission is still the same. “Israel was to be God’s missionaries to the world – and thereby so are all who believe in this same gospel.” The God who created the universe is a missionary God and wants His people to be involved and to be active in doing the same mission. He is bringing the good news of salvation to all. “I will also make you a light for the Gentiles that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6). Just as God becomes the light to the whole world, His chosen people will also become a light to the Gentiles that they might come to the knowledge of the Lord that there is no other God but the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. There is no surprise then when Jesus said, “You are the salt of the earth” (Matthew 5:13) and “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). He was not talking unidentified or strange words that are foreign to the people. He was speaking the language the people already know. The word in Isaiah 61:1 proclaims, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach the good news to the poor,” indicates that Isaiah understood his purpose as being a Jew.
What then is the significance of knowing this? How can we view this in our present situation? One can fully act well if we view mission in the Old Testament in Jesus and his disciples’ view.
This Great Commission is not a mission that only appeared in the New Testament, but it finds its root in the Old Testament. Knowing this very heart of God fuels our heart to burn in doing the same mission He did and is doing until now. God chose the Israelite to reveal His plan for humanity. He did reveal it first to the Israelite and set them apart to reach out for other nations. This revelation caused them to hope and wait for the “Man of Promise” who would come to their aid – the Messiah who would redeem them from their fall and would crush the Serpent’s head to be their exalted King and them as citizens of the Kingdom. The fulfillment of this reached its completion upon Jesus’ crucifixion in the mountain of Golgotha, when Jesus breathed his last breath and said “It is finished.” Then on the third day, our victorious conquering Jesus whitewashed the sting of death. Jesus, the gospel that had been preached as a “Man of Promise”, is the same gospel that is being preaching thus far. Thus, we should not look at the “Great Commission” in Matthew 28: 18-20 as a new commission given. Instead we must see it in a perspective that this “Great Commission” was not given only to the Jews but also to the Gentiles, as they become part of the Kingdom God has intended. It is important that everyone who becomes part of the Kingdom must do the same. Boyd exclaims, “He set in motion the creation of new humanity by giving us His power and authority to proclaim and demonstrate the Kingdom just the way He did.” Thus, doing this mission is not an option.
One must not view himself as a missionary because he has a degree or he is a pastor or a deacon and that the church ordained him. This mission is not only to those who have a proper training or to those who went to Bible schools or seminaries but it is open to all regardless of educational background, age or race. As long as one person is subject to the King, he is a missionary – a missionary who needs to do his given mission and this mission is not an impossible mission, but rather possible. It is a possible mission because the Holy Spirit is with us as our partner in making this mission possible. “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach the good news” (Isaiah 61:1). “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts1:8).
The King commissioned us to go and make disciples of all nations. The King is also the one who blessed us with so much blessing so that we could be a blessing and a light to the nations, that we may bring the message of salvation to the ends of the earth. Then we can see that in the ultimate end, worship of God will be achieved when every nation, every tongue, every tribe, every people and every land will come to gather at the feet of the Lamb, bowing down before Him and exalting Him saying, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty.” We do mission so that everyone who has breath will praise his Creator. Yes, we do mission for the salvation of others. Yet at the end of the day we would realize that mission is God’s definitive act of gathering His lost sheep and involving them to participate. That is, the mission we do is actually God’s mission, not ours. The mission that God gave “reveals the living God of the Bible to be a missionary God.” God is the missionary Father, the Son is the missionary Savior, and the Holy Spirit is the missionary Enabler.
Collins, John J., Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Kaiser, Walter C. Jr., Mission in the Old Testament: Israel As a Light to the Nations (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Acaemic, 2009).
Kaiser Walter C.Jr, Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1978).
Lasor,William Sanford, David Allan Hubbard and Frederic Wm. Bush, “Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament” 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996).
Warren, Rick, Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002).
Winter, Ralph D. and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., Perspective on the World Christian Movement (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1981).
 All scriptures that are used in this paper are quoted from the New International Version (NIV).
Walter C. Kaiser, “Israel’s Missionary Call” in Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., Perspective on the World Christian Movement (Pasadena: William Carey Library,1981) p.10
 Henry T. Blackaby and Avery T. Willis Jr., “On Mission With God” in Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., Perspective on the World Christian Movement (Pasadena: William Carey Library,1981) p. 74.
 Walter C. Kaiser, Toward an Old Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1978) p.76
 Rick Warren, Purpose Driven Life (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2002)p.22
 Stanley A. Ellison, “Everyone’s Question: What is God Trying to Do?” in Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., Perspective on the World Christian Movement (Pasadena: William Carey Library,1981) p.18
 William Sanford Lasor, David Allan Hubbard and Frederic Wm. Bush, “Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament” 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company,1996) p.26
 John Piper, “Let the Nations Be Glad!” in Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., Perspective on the World Christian Movement (Pasadena: William Carey Library,1981) p.65
 Walter C. Kaiser Jr. Mission in the Old Testament: Israel As a Light to the Nations (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Acaemic,2009) p. 16
 “Ibid.” p16
 “Ibid.” p17
 Sarita D. Gallagher and Steven C. Hawthorne, “Blessing as Transformation” in Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., Perspective on the World Christian Movement (Pasadena: William Carey Library,1981) p.36-37
 John J. Collins, Introduction To The Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004) p. 107
 John R. W. Stott, “The Living God is a Missionary God” in Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., Perspective on the World Christian Movement (Pasadena: William Carey Library,1981)p.4
 Walter C. Kaiser Jr. Mission in the Old Testament: Israel As a Light to the Nations (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Acaemic,2009) p. 16
 Gregory A. Boyd, “Go at War” in Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., Perspective on the World Christian Movement (Pasadena: William Carey Library,1981) p.107
 John R. Stott, “The Living God is a Missionary God” in Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, eds., Perspective on the World Christian Movement (Pasadena: William Carey Library,1981) p.9
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