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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