Fill the Earth 7: Mission Reinstated

Fill the Earth 1-page-001Last segment we saw how Jesus fulfills the roles of both Adam and Israel. Whereas the disobedience of the prior two had invalidated their roles as God’s representatives on the earth, because of Jesus’ obedience, as we’ll see in this segment, He reinstates God’s mission by commissioning the church to go out on mission and represent God’s kingship to the ends of the earth.

Jesus Calls the Church to Mission

First, because of Jesus’ obedience, he sends his followers out on mission. After Jesus’ resurrection, He gives his followers the well-known Great Commission:

“And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore 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 observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’” (Matt 28:18-20).

Notice here that Jesus’ followers are to “make disciples of all nations” because “all authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to Him. Why has authority been given to Him? Paul tells us in Phil 2:8-10:

“Being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”

The reason that Jesus is highly exalted exalted is because of His obedience. Therefore, we may summarize the relationship of Jesus’ obedience and the church’s mission as follows:

  • Because Jesus was obedient, He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth.
  • Because Jesus has all authority, He commissions His followers to go and disciple the nations concerning His saving work.

This grounds the church’s mission in Jesus’ obedience, which means that the church’s success in mission is based on the faithfulness of Jesus rather than our own.

Second, Jesus’ mission for the church involves the call for repentance and forgiveness. In Luke’s account of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearance, He tells His followers this:

“Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:46-47).

Whereas Matthew’s version focuses on baptizing and teaching people to obey, Luke’s version emphasizes preaching repentance and forgiveness. These are essentially the same ideas, as baptism represents the washing away of sin in forgiveness (cf. Acts 2:38) and part and parcel of obeying Jesus’ commands is recognizing that we don’t always obey and thus need to repent.

Third, Jesus’ mission is for His church to spread geographically. We read of another post-resurrection appearance in Acts 1:8:

“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” (Acts 1:8).

The other passages we’ve looked at specify that Jesus’ followers should go to “all nations.” Here He specifies that they need to do so by expanding geographically. When we studied the tower of Babel, we noted that the nations were created because of humanity’s failure to represent God geographically. God dispersed the nations over the face of the whole earth because they did not “fill the earth” as God had commanded. This means that taking the gospel to “all nations” is not an end in itself, but is the means toward fulfilling that mission that the Babel generation rebelled against. Because the nations have been spread across the fullness of the earth, going to them with the gospel is the way we “fill the earth” as God’s people.

Confirming this is our next major point.

The Church’s Mission is Described as the Creation Mission

In the book of Acts, the language of the creation mission is applied to the spread of the word of God and the multiplication of disciples.

In Acts 6, after the seven so-called deacons are called, verse 7 says, “So the word of God was fruitful. The number of disciples in Jerusalem multiplied rapidly.” This is the way that God’s representation through His images spreads now – when they turn to Him as King in repentance and faith as the word of God is preached to them.

In Acts 12, Herod is trying to stifle the church’s growth through persecution. However, after he fails to give God glory when a crowd declares that he is a god, an angel of the Lord strikes him dead. After this, we read in verse 24, “But the word of God was fruitful and multiplied.” What is being contrasted here is Herod’s attempts to stifle God’s people and exalt himself as king and god, and the unstoppable spread of the word of God, which is the message that He is King.

In Acts 19, seven sons of Sceva, who were Jewish exorcists, “undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, ‘I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims'” (v. 13). After one of these evil spirits attacks them, v. 17 says, “And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled,” that is, Jesus’ name was held is high honor. This leads many to repent from their sinful magical arts (v. 18-19). Then we read in v. 20: “So the word of the Lord continued to be fruitful and prevail mightily.” In short, as people repent of their sin and turn toward Jesus in faith, God’s creation mission advances.

Since God’s creation mission involved humanity “being fruitful and multiplying and filling the earth,” it follows that the preaching of the good news must spread geographically. And this is exactly what we see when we examine the structure of the book of Acts.

The Book of Acts Follows a Geographic Spread

Acts is structured according to the threefold movement present in Jesus’ commission in 1:8.

“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” (Acts 1:8).

This description represents concentric circles expanding outward.

Acts1-8 map-page-001

In Acts 1-7, the geographic focus is Jerusalem. In Acts 1:4, Jesus tells the disciples, “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about.” The stories that follow are all set in Jerusalem.

In Acts 8-12, the geographic focus shifts to Judea and Samaria more broadly. After Stephen’s martyrdom, in Acts 8:1 we read,

“And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”

In these chapters Philip goes to the “city of Samaria” (8:5), where we read the story of Simon the Magician. Philip then goes “toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza” (8:26), where he converts the Ethiopian eunuch. Saul is converted along the way to Damascus, and after Barnabas convinces the church in Jerusalem that he is not a threat, we read this in 9:31:

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.”

Then in Acts 10, Peters converts Cornelius the centurion in Caesarea, which is in the region of Samaria.

In Acts 13-28, the geographic focus expands again to the ends of the earth as Paul and Barnabas begin the Gentile mission. The book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome, the center of the Gentile world at that time, “proclaiming the kingdom of God” (28:31).

The Spirit Empowers the Church in Its Mission

One aspect of Acts 1:8 that we haven’t yet emphasized is the first part: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you.” As the church expands geographically, preaching repentance and forgiveness, baptizing, and teaching Jesus’ commands, they will go forth in the power of the Spirit.

Jesus declares that the church’s mission will be carried out in the power of the Spirit. Jesus not only declares this in Acts 1:8, but He articulates this same truth at the ends of Luke:

“You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:48-49).

In the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit had not been poured out in such a way to empower the people’s mission. But after Jesus ascends and takes His seat of authority, He extends His kingdom through His people, by His Spirit.

The Spirit was outpoured at Pentecost for international mission. Acts 2 describes the Spirit coming on the apostles at Pentecost. At this event, the apostles are filled with Holy Spirit and begin speaking in other languages (v. 4). That these are recognizable, earthly languages is evident from v. 8, where the residents from all over the world say, “ And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language?

Verses 9-11 then gives a list that represents people from the entirety of the then-known world:

“Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.”

This is confirmed by what v. 5 says: “Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven.” With the outpouring of the Spirit, the apostles spoke of “the mighty works of God” in the various languages of the nations. This was a sort of foreshadowing of what their mission would entail. Through the witness of the church, people from all the nations would come to give glory to God.

Occurrences of tongue-speaking in Acts confirm this threefold, international, geographical expansion. Tongue-speaking occurs only three times in Acts, and these three occurrences follow the concentrically expanding geographical movement of the gospel.

Occurrence 1: Acts 2. This first occurrence is at the original outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost, which happened in Jerusalem.

Occurrence 2: Acts 10. This second occurrence is in Caesarea, which fits within “all Judea and Samaria,” when Peter preaches to Cornelius’ house. Peter goes and preaches the gospel, and in vv. 44-46 we read this:

“While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God.”

This is the first major Gentile conversion in the book, evidenced by the apostles response in 11:1.

Occurrence 3: Act 19. This final speaking in tongues happens in Ephesus (vv. 1-7), which corresponds with the final geographical segment, “to the ends of the earth.”

The point of these various tongue-speaking events is to show that the mission in Acts is happening by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Summary

Therefore, in summary, we may say that as the word of God is fruitful and multiplies, God’s people engage in a redemptive spread of the image of God by filling the earth with the gospel.

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Fill the Earth 6: Mission Redeemed

Fill the Earth 1-page-001To recap where we’ve been so far, the thesis that we’re trying to substantiate throughout this series is this: God’s mission in the world is for His kingship to be represented to the ends of the earth. In creation God commissioned humanity to “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen 1:28) and thereby demonstrate that the entirety of the earth is the realm of God’s kingship. So far we’ve seen that:

(1) God called Adam to fulfill this mission, but Adam fell because of disobedience and was exiled out of God’s presence in the Garden.

(2) God called Abram/Israel to fulfill this mission, but Israel also fell because of disobedience and therefore, like Adam, was exiled out of God’s presence in the Promised Land.

This brings us to the New Testament and the person and work of Jesus. What we’re going to see is that Jesus fulfills the roles of both Adam and Israel and was faithful where they were unfaithful. And as we’ll see next week, because of Jesus’ faithful obedience, He commissions and empowers His church to carry out God’s mission.

Jesus as the Last Adam

First, the Gospels all begin by drawing connections between Jesus and Genesis/Adam.

Matt 1:1: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The underlined phrase here only occurs 2x in the Greek OT, both times in the early chapters of Genesis (2:4; 5:1). Gen 5:1 is literally a mirror image of this verse: “This is the book of the genealogy of Adam.” So as soon as we open the pages of the NT, we are reminded of passages that discuss Adam and creation.

Mark 1:1: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word “beginning” here reminds us of how the book of Genesis begins: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen 1:1). Again, this is the same term used in the Greek OT at creation.

Luke 3 gives us a genealogy of Jesus, but whereas Matthew’s genealogy starts with Abraham and moves forward to Jesus, Luke’s begins with Jesus and goes all the way back to Adam:

23 Jesus, when he began his ministry, was about thirty years of age, being the son (as was supposed) of Joseph, the son of Heli, 24 the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, the son of Melchi, the son of Jannai, the son of Joseph, 25 the son of Mattathias, the son of Amos, the son of Nahum, the son of Esli, the son of Naggai, 26 the son of Maath, the son of Mattathias, the son of Semein, the son of Josech, the son of Joda, 27 the son of Joanan, the son of Rhesa, the son of Zerubbabel, the son of Shealtiel,[e] the son of Neri, 28 the son of Melchi, the son of Addi, the son of Cosam, the son of Elmadam, the son of Er, 29 the son of Joshua, the son of Eliezer, the son of Jorim, the son of Matthat, the son of Levi, 30 the son of Simeon, the son of Judah, the son of Joseph, the son of Jonam, the son of Eliakim, 31 the son of Melea, the son of Menna, the son of Mattatha, the son of Nathan, the son of David, 32 the son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz, the son of Sala, the son of Nahshon, 33 the son of Amminadab, the son of Admin, the son of Arni, the son of Hezron, the son of Perez, the son of Judah, 34 the son of Jacob, the son of Isaac, the son of Abraham, the son of Terah, the son of Nahor, 35 the son of Serug, the son of Reu, the son of Peleg, the son of Eber, the son of Shelah, 36 the son of Cainan, the son of Arphaxad, the son of Shem, the son of Noah, the son of Lamech, 37 the son of Methuselah, the son of Enoch, the son of Jared, the son of Mahalaleel, the son of Cainan, 38 the son of Enos, the son of Seth, the son of Adam, the son of God.

John 1:1: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This opening is even closer to Gen 1:1 than Mark 1:1, and John 1:3 then provides a creation context: “All things were made through him.”

All of this sets us up to read the Gospels as narratives of a divine restart. Each one goes back to the beginning to introduce Jesus as a second Adam figure.

However, whereas the first Adam disobeyed, the Gospels tell the story of Jesus’ perfect obedience. The first 3 Gospels all include the famous statement by God the Father, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22). As we will see, the Father is well pleased because of Jesus’ faithful obedience. And John similarly emphasizes Jesus’ obedience at various points. For example, in John 17:4, Jesus says to the Father, “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.” While the first Adam did not complete the work that God gave him to do, Jesus did.

The Epistles continue this parallel/contrast between Adam and Jesus. According to Paul, in Adam all people receive sin and death: “Sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men” (Rom 5:12). Because Adam represented all his offspring, when he fell into sin, so did we. Paul goes on to say that Jesus fulfills the same representative role that Adam had, referring to Adam as “a type of the one who was to come,” i.e., Jesus (v. 14).

However, through Jesus, instead of receiving sin and death, we receive righteousness: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (v. 19). Elsewhere Paul summarizes the same idea: “For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:21-22). This is why Paul can call Jesus “the last Adam” (1 Cor 15:45).

Jesus as True Israel

Just as Jesus fulfills the same role as Adam, so does He fulfill the same role as Israel.

In Matthew, Jesus fulfills the role of faithful Israel.

First, Matthew’s genealogy introduces Jesus as the son of Abraham. “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1). This introduction paves the way for Jesus to be portrayed as the faithful son of Abraham, a role that Israel was supposed to have.

Second, like Israel, Jesus was taken down to Egypt. After the Magi visit Jesus, an angel warns Joseph about Herod’s plot to kill Jesus and tells him to go to Egypt:

And Joseph rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I called my son‘” (Matt 2:14-15).

Notice that Matthew says this was to fulfill a prophecy. Matthew quotes Hos 11:1 here, but when we go back and examine Hosea, we see that this was not a “prophecy” in the sense of foretelling a future event:

“When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols” (Hos 11:1-2).

In the original context, Hosea is reflecting back on Israel’s exodus from Egypt some 700 years prior. The reason that Matthew says that Jesus is fulfilling this prophecy is because Jesus is reliving the history of Israel, as the following narratives confirm.

Third, like Israel, after coming out of Egypt, Jesus was baptized. In Matt 3:13-15, we read this:

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.'”

After coming out of Egypt, Moses led Israel through the wilderness to the Red Sea, which they passed through. Paul describes this Red Sea crossing as a baptism:

“For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:1-2).

However, Paul goes on to say that, “Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered over the desert” (v. 5). Because Israel disobeyed God (particularly by their lack of trust that He would give them the Promised Land in Num 13-14, which we discussed last time), He was not pleased with them. This sheds light on Jesus’ rationale for being baptized: “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15). Whereas Israel was unrighteous, Jesus is living righteously. And then, significantly, immediately following this we hear the Father’s statement of approval: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (v. 17). So the contrast here is clear:

Israel after their baptism: “God was not pleased with most of them” (1 Cor 10:5)
Jesus after His baptism: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17).

Fourth, like Israel, Jesus went into the wilderness. After Israel went through the Red Sea, they were eventually sentenced to wander in the desert for 40 years. After Jesus’ baptism, He too goes into the desert:

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry” (Matt 4:1-2).

These 40 days correspond to the 40 years that Israel wandered in the desert. Throughout this period, the devil comes to tempt Jesus, and if we look at these temptations, we see that they correspond to particular failures of Israel during their time in the wilderness. Each of Jesus’ responses includes a quotation from the book of Deuteronomy, which was written at the end of the 40 years in the desert. Significantly, the portions of Deuteronomy that Jesus quotes are the very points where Moses is recalling these particular failures of Israel, which correspond to Satan’s temptations of Jesus. In so doing, Jesus shows himself faithful to the word of God where Israel was unfaithful.

Temptation 1

Satan’s temptation
Matt 4:3: “And the tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’”

 

Jesus’ response
Matt 4:4: “Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Correspondence with Israel
Num 21:4-5: “They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” (i.e., manna).

 

 

Deuteronomy’s recollection
Deut 8:2-3: “Remember how the LORD your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.”

Temptation 2

Satan’s temptation
Matt 4:5-6: “Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. ‘If you are the Son of God,’ he said, ‘throw yourself down.’”

 

Jesus’ response
Matt 4:7: “Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

 

Correspondence with Israel
Exod 17:1-2, 7: “The whole Israelite community set out from the Desert of Sin, traveling from place to place as the LORD commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink. So they quarreled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ Moses replied, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?’ … And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the LORD saying, ‘Is the LORD among us or not?’”
Deuteronomy’s recollection
Deut 6:16: “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

Temptation 3

Satan’s temptation
Matt 4:8-9: “Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.”

 

Jesus’ response
Matt 4:10: “Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’”

 

 

 

Correspondence with Israel
Num 25:1-3: “While Israel was staying in Shittim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD’S anger burned against them.”
Deuteronomy’s recollection
Deut 6:13-15: “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land.”

 

All this shows that Matthew is depicting Jesus as reliving the formative period of Israel’s history, yet Jesus is faithful where Israel was unfaithful.

For Paul, those who put their faith in Jesus become true Israelites. Paul states this succinctly in Gal 3:29: “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” This means that the church–those who belong to Christ–are set up to accomplish the mission of Abraham. As we’ve seen, God promised Abraham that through his offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed (e.g., Gen 18:18; 22:18; 26:4), and that this promise was a reassertion of the creation mission (see here).

This is what Paul says in Rom 4:13, 16:

“It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith… Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.”

Therefore, those who are in Christ are heirs of the promise that God will enable them to represent His kingship all over the world. Jesus has redeemed God’s mission.