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A Biblical Theology of Missions

(The Mission of God in the Old Testament)

Many today have a wrong concept of missions and mission theology. Most pastors or theologians dont even
have to study the theology of missions it is considered a different field, not relevant for them. It is studied
only by those who feel called to missions as a career. Many see it as a side issue, not that important in view of
all we have to do. It is for a few fanatics, not the run-of-the-mill Christian. Besides, with so many problems
right here in our own country, isnt it a little foolish and presumptuous to be running off to do missions work?

Most Christians would at least admit that there are some Bible verses that teach missions. However, hardly any
realize that the truth is, instead of saying the Bible gives some basis for missions, we should be saying that
missions is the basis for the Bible! Our God is a missionary God, and He has a mission!

Missions is the progressive objectification of the eternal and benevolent purpose of God with roots in His very
being and character, which embraces all ages, races and generations.

Missions is the historic effectuation of Gods salvation procured on behalf of all mankind in Christ Jesus
because of His incarnation, death and resurrection. It offers forgiveness of sins and new life and dynamic to all
who believe in Him as eternal Son of God and Savior of mankind.

Missions is the practical realization of the Holy Spirit operating in this world on behalf of the eternal purpose
of God and the actualization of salvation procured through Christ Jesus in the lives of countless individuals,
families, tribes and people. Thus missions relates to the triune God.

Missionary theology is not an appendix to biblical theology; it belongs at its very core. No doctrine of God,
Christ or the Holy Spirit has been expounded completely according to the Bible until it has established the
triune God as the outgoing God of mission, the God of saving purpose and relationship to mankind who
undertakes a program for the progressive realization of His purpose. No thought of God is true to His revelation
of Himself that does not rest on the fact that He so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that by
believing in Him the world should be saved through Him. (A Biblical Theology of Missions, George W.
Peters, pages 21, 22 of electronic version)

I. The Mission of God in the OT


A. Most see Mat. 28:18-20 (The Great Commission) as the beginning of the missions mandate of God
1. Surely that is where the first mention of going to the world is made.
2. The Jews never had a missions mandate, did they?
3. Besides, the Great Commission was added on as the last words of Christ before His ascension. So it
couldnt have been that important, right? Well, that may be what some think, but is it right?
B. Gen. 1-11 is the story of the whole human race
1. Here we are told of the creation of the universe and of mankind.
2. We learn of the Fall, and the passing of sin and death on to the entire race a universal problem.
3. We also have here the proto-evangel (Gen. 3:15) the first mention of the coming Savior of the whole
human race. There is no racism here, no favoritism, no exclusivism.
4. So we see here how God lost man, lost fellowship with him, lost His reign over man to the usurper,
satan. But we also see how God announced His plan to redeem man and crush the serpents head.
From the start then, we see the mission of God, His concern for man, the kingdom, the mission to
redeem all nations.

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5. We see Gods character, His love for all, His grief over sin, His desire to cover and restore. He is a
suffering God, actively involved in mans affairs, not an aloof God who doesnt care, and who lets
man go his own way without a rescue attempt.
6. In the story of Noah, we see universal judgment, and a universal offer of salvation.
7. At the tower of Babel, we see God break up mans corporate hardness of heart and rebellion, the
scattering of the nations, in order to have mercy upon them, and work with them family by family.
C. The call of Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3)
1. Many see this as favoritism, as if God said, Alright, if they wont all come to me, then Ill just
abandon them, choose one man, and work only with him, rejecting the rest.
2. But this is not at all the purpose of Abrahams call! Instead, election of the few is always for the
purpose of saving more. The few are called and given a responsibility to reach the many. Abraham is
called, so that thru him God might work to reach the rest.
3. We see this in Gods call to Abraham. He called him to leave his country and family, to become
Gods believing follower, an example for the world, a witness in a far-away land.
4. God makes a covenant with Abraham and pledges the following:
a. I will bless you most Christians stop here, they want to be blessed (without really understanding
even what is meant by the word blessing.)
b. I will make you to be a blessing (so theres a reason God touches us, gives to us. It doesnt stop
there; its meant to extend beyond us.)
c.In you all the families of the earth will be blessed (God had all nations in mind from the very
beginning!)
5. God fulfilled His promises to Abraham:
a. He gave him a land, a posterity, and a promise.
b. Though it took most of his lifetime before its fulfillment, Abraham did receive a measure of the
promise.
c. He walked with God and was accounted as righteous, blessed with faith, communion with God.
d. He eventually did get a son, though it wasnt till his old age.
e. He was given the land, though he never owned anything during his life.
f. His descendants got the land, grew in numbers, were in covenant with God partial fulfillment.
g. Then Christ came the Seed who was to inherit the promises.
h. Thru Christ, multitudes from all nations became children of Abraham, the universe became their
inheritance, and the blessing of forgiveness (Acts.3:25,26), righteousness, and the Holy Spirit
Himself came to them (us.) Gal. 3:7-14
i. Thru this we can see Gods intentions in calling Abraham he intended thru him to bless the
nations, all the families of the earth, not just the Jews! From the beginning, He has been a
missionary God!
6. The covenant with Abraham is so important, God repeated it. (Gen. 18:18; 22:18; 26:4; 28:14)
7. God is not racist, partial, or unfair. He chooses instruments, vessels He can use to bless others. It is
necessary to call the few to reach the many.
8. His election of Abraham, of the Jews, was not to keep others from the blessing. Instead, He intended
that they should be a holy nation of priests, called to share His Word with the world.

II. The Nation of Israel as Gods Missionary People


A. Gods promises to Abraham continued to be fulfilled to/thru his descendants, the Jews.
1. God blessed them with a sense of His special presence with them, guiding them into His purposes
for them. Isaac and Jacob had special visitations from God, special guidance and provision.
2. Though they had to go into Egypt and become slaves, it was for a purpose. The nation of Egypt
got a witness from God through godly Joseph and others.
3. Their numbers multiplied exceedingly as God prepared a people.
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4. Then God chose Moses and sent him to liberate His people.
B. Through Moses, God revealed Himself powerfully for all time.
1. Ex. 9:13-16 God raised up Pharaoh, sent Moses, the judgments, so that all might hear of Him and
come to know Him.
2. The missionary God sought to reveal Himself to man, in order to bring people from all nations to
Himself. He did this through both judgment of the Egyptians and blessing of the Jews.
3. We know from the Bible that people all over the place heard of what God did in Egypt (Moabites,
the people of Jericho, others heard of Gods deliverance and His judgment.)
4. To this day the Exodus is spoken of, a movie of it is shown every year, everybodys heard of it!
5. Why did God do this? Ex. 19:4-6 He wanted a nation of priests who could represent Him to the
nations, mediate His covenant for all the world! They were to be a priest nation, and priests dont
represent or intercede just for themselves. They were to be priests for all the nations.
6. Just as Abraham was blessed to be a blessing, so Israel was blessed by God in order that they might
become a blessing for all nations.
C. This theme continues as Israel enters the Promised Land.
1. Josh. 4:23,24 God parted the Jordan as He did the Red Sea as a sign of His presence and provision
for Israel, but also to let all nations know who He was!
2. The land was the fulfillment of Gods promise to Abraham, and a strategic location for reaching
all the world, (located, as it was, on the trade routes between three continents.)
D. Years later, under David, the same theme shines out.
1. 1Sam. 17:46 Why did God help David to defeat Goliath? So that all the earth would know there
was a God in Israel!
2. David was also a type of Christ, the Messiah, the godly king who reigned for God in
righteousness, conquering Gods peoples enemies and bringing them peace, victory, and prosperity.
3. 2 Sam. 7:19b shows how Davids reign as king was meant to illustrate and typify Gods rule over
His people through Messiah. He would be the Shepherd King, leading us beside still waters and
making us lie down in green pastures, guarding and protecting us, guiding and providing for us.
4. Now we can see why Jesus was always called both the Son of David and the son of Abraham!
E. Solomon, Davids son, also had a part in developing Gods mission.
1. He built the temple of the Lord in Jerusalem.
2. Even though his focus was centripetal, not centrifugal (inward not outward), look at the mission
heart of God expressed through him (1Kings 8:41-43).
3. The temple was to be a place where foreigners (not of Israel) could come to know the living God.
4. Israel was to be a nation of priests, the temple a place for all peoples. The mission heart of God!
F. Missions in the Psalms (see chart on separate page)
1. Even the well known Psalm 51:10-13, the psalm of forgiveness, shows something of why that
forgiveness is asked for and received, Then will I teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will
be converted to you. (vs. 13) Gods heart, expressed thru David, is longing to reach all peoples
and bring them to Himself.
2. Psalm 67 the epitome of missions! It speaks of the blessing of God coming upon His people
why? Vs. 2, That your ways may be known on the earth, your salvation among all nations.
3. Again we see the idea of being blessed in order to become a blessing.
4. All peoples are included here, the nations (LXX says ethne as in Mat.28:18)
5. Ps. 72 speaks of Gods Messiah King, who will reign over all the earth and bring all things to the
fullness of blessing, the shalom of God.
G. The Book of Jonah Missions clearly revealed in the OT!
1. More will be said about Jonah later on, but for now, what a clear expression of Gods missionary
heart! There could be no clearer presentation, no stronger proof of Gods intentions.
2. This is OT, during the time when supposedly Gods plan was strictly centripetal theyre all just
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to come to Israel, Israels not to go to them, right? Wait a minute!
3. God calls His prophet specifically to go outside Israels borders and take His word to a totally
pagan society. The Assyrians were like Nazis of their day, cruel, racist, violent, war-like, and
persecutors of Israel!
4. The prophet is typically ethnocentric; doesnt want Nineveh spared, the Assyrians saved, Gods
mercy poured out. He doesnt want people other than Jews to be saved. Hes a good prophet to his
own people, but feels no obligation to go outside to anyone else.
5. God is so concerned for Nineveh, he forces Jonah to go there, even stirring up a storm to stop him
and a huge fish to provide him the first submarine transportation! In doing this He provides a sign
for the Ninevites as well, so that they might believe.
6. The whole ships company comes to believe in the living God of Israel thru Jonahs disobedience!
7. All of Nineveh from the king on down apparently repents and believes Gods message and they
are spared.
8. Thus, Gods love and grace, His intention to save is clearly shown, though Jonahs attitude is the
exact opposite! He is all for Israel being blessed, but cares nothing for those outside his homeland.
9. Here is clearly revealed the fact that God is a missionary God, concerned for all nations, not
wanting anyone to perish but all to come to repentance. This is missions par excellence in the OT!
H. There are many other OT examples of Gods heart for the nations and not just the Jews.
1. Abraham was a witness for God to the Philistines and the Egyptians as well as the Canaanites,
(though admittedly, he wasnt always such a faithful witness!)
2. Moses certainly was to Egypt as well as the nations of Canaan and others who have heard the
story.
3. David was to the nations around him Hiram spoke of Gods love for His people in giving them
such a king. What he provided for his people showed the blessings of God to all who cared to
look.
4. Solomon provides us with the story of the Queen of Sheba who came from 12-1400 miles to hear
his wisdom and perhaps learn of his God as well. All who traveled through Israel saw the
blessings of God and carried news of this to their destinations and homelands.
5. Various prophets spoke not only to Israel, but also to other nations (Jer.27:3, Jonah, Is. 19:19-25)
6. Even through captivity and other calamities, God used His people to witness of Him (the slave girl
of Naaman, Joseph in Egypt, Daniel and his friends in Babylon, Ezekiel too, the numbers of other
Israelites carried captive who spoke of their God)
7. Thru these experiences, God spread abroad the knowledge of Himself to all the world. Thats why
there were Magi who came to Jerusalem with knowledge of the Messiah, thats why Paul found
synagogues everywhere in the Roman empire, etc.
8. A whole chapter of Dan. (4) was written by Nebuchadnezzar, a pagan king! Cyrus also has a small
section in Ezra and 2 Chronicles.
9. The point? God is God of all nations, not just the Jewish one. He intended that His word and
knowledge of Himself should be spread abroad to all the earth, and that all families should thus be
blessed.
III. The Failure of Israel to Fulfill Gods Missionary Purposes for Them
A. Israel never did really understand their calling
1. They didnt even attain to all God intended for them as a people, much less take that blessing to
the nations.
2. They misunderstood the call to holiness as a call to isolation (a difficult distinction and balance).
3. Instead of influencing the nations toward God, they let the nations influence them to sin and
idolatry. They didnt realize what a great blessing they had, how privileged they were. Instead, they
wanted to have what the nations had nothing!
B. Though there was a partial fulfillment, it was only that partial.
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1. Much of their witness was only accidental, not purposeful on their part.
2. They gave a distorted image of what God was like.
3. Many times, they only witnessed when in captivity, after sinning so badly they had to be punished.
4. Their witness was a negative one this is what happens to those who disobey God!
C. Sin destroyed the effectiveness of Israel as Gods witnesses and missionaries
1. The sin of idolatry wanting the gods of the nations when they couldve had the living God as
friend!
2. All the other sins that entered in as a result of that primary failure lust, greed, oppression of the
poor, violence, etc.
3. Sin broke their fellowship with God, marred the image of God in them, kept them from having
Gods heart for the nations of the world, and kept them from the victory in life He would have given
them as a witness to the world.
4. Sin clouded their vision of what God wanted for them and the world.
D. Ethnocentrism was always a problem for Israel (and still is for us today).
1. It was so easy for election to turn into elitism (were the only ones God loves you are just goyim,
unclean Gentiles, outcasts).
2. Instead of realizing their calling was a great responsibility, they saw it as merely a privilege that
made them immune to judgment and guaranteed them the favor of God.
3. This explains Jonahs resistance to going to Nineveh. It also explains why the Pharisees so opposed
what Paul was doing years later, and why Peter so resisted going to the house of Cornelius in Acts 10.
4. Admittedly, it is very understandable, especially in light of the punishment Israel had gone thru for
becoming worldly and mixing with the Gentiles. They wanted to remain holy and separate, but they
failed to make a separation in their thinking and see this in the proper light. Yes, they were to be
separate and holy, but this did not mean God loved only them, or that He had no calling for the
Gentiles.

God has always been the God of all the nations, not just of the Jews. From the beginning of mans history
on earth, God has purposed to reach out and redeem any who are willing. The problem of man is not limited
to one race, but is universal. The promise of God to redeem man and solve this problem was made to all the
human race, before the calling of Abraham and the Jews. He is a God of Mission, a Missionary God. The
OT plainly teaches that His purpose has always been to reach all the earth with His Word and restore
mankind to Himself. Israel failed miserably in this calling. Nevertheless, even in their disobedience, God
was at work and was able to accomplish His purposes and fulfill His promises. He bore witness of Himself
thru them in a partial way at least, revealing Himself to mankind. In addition, He prepared the way for the
greater fulfillment of His missionary cause which was to be revealed thru Christ Himself and the NT
revelation.