Fill the Earth 8: Mission Fulfilled

Fill the Earth 1-page-001Last time we saw how Jesus reinstates God’s mission by commissioning the church to go out on a geographically-expanding mission, which is described in the same terms as God’s creation mandate to Adam (Acts 6:7; 12:24). Here in this final segment we will see how God’s mission, which is for his kingship to be represented to the ends of the earth, is fulfilled as redeemed, allegiant followers of Jesus fill the earth in the new creation.

The Church Fulfills All the Mission Roles of the Old Testament

First, the NT describes the church’s mission as the creation mandate to Adam. In Col 1:6 Paul says,

“All over the world this gospel is bearing fruit and growing [i.e., ‘being fruitful and multiplying’], just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood God’s grace in all its truth.”

We have already seen how this language of “being fruitful and multiplying” was used in Acts to describe the spread of the word of God. Here we see a similar idea: the “gospel” is being fruitful and multiplying “all over the world.” Paul then notes that the Colossians heard this gospel from Epaphras, and then in vv. 9-10 he says,

“For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God.

Here Paul uses the same two verbs as in v. 6 to describe the believer’s qualitative growth in holiness and knowledge of God. This is particularly significant, as when we looked at the decline of humanity in Genesis 6, the text says that as man began to multiply on the earth, the wickedness of man multiplied on the earth also. Therefore numerical proliferation is not enough to fulfill God’s mission; it must be accompanied by “knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding.” And God provides this by his Spirit.

Paul hints at this as we keep reading:

“being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (vv. 11-12).

Here Paul makes clear that it is God’s might, and not our own, that enables us to endure with knowledge of His will. This is what Adam had failed to keep when He fell — God’s will. Paul then says that God has freed us from the penalty of this fall through Christ:

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins” (vv. 13-14).

If you remember our discussion of “being fruitful and multiplying” in the creation mission, you’ll remember that it occurs in the context of humanity created as God’s image. Paul goes on to include this language of “image of God” in his discussion as well:

“He [i.e., Jesus] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy” (vv. 15-18).

So connecting these ideas:

  1. Jesus is the image of God, and He has succeeded.
  2. Jesus is the head of the church, whom He has commissioned through the gospel to be fruitful and multiply.

Since the spread of the word of God is empowered by the Spirit of God, it is God who is portrayed as at the helm of this missional endeavor.

Second, the NT describes the church’s mission as fulfilling the call of Abram. In Gal 3:6-9 Paul says,

“Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham. The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”

We’ve already seen that Paul considers Christians to be Abraham’s descendents and therefore “true Israel.” Here we see that the promise to Abram in his call (“all nations will be blessed through you”) was a forecast of the church’s gospel mission to the Gentiles (i.e., the nations).

Third, the NT describes the church’s mission as fulfilling the call of Israel. In 1 Pet 2:9, Peter describes the church by alluding to Israel’s call in Exod 19:4-6:

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”

In Exodus, Israel was to be a priestly kingdom because the whole earth belonged to God (“for all the earth is mine” [Exod 19:5]), and they were to represent Him. Peter says that the church is a priestly kingdom so that they might declare the praises of God – i.e., represent His kingship.

Revelation: A Vision of Mission Fulfilled

The most prominent picture of the fulfillment of God’s mission comes in the final vision of the book of Revelation: ch. 21. This vision presents the new creation — “a new heaven and a new earth,” as John says — which will be the eternal home of all believers. Our eternity will be spent on a physical creation, which is depicted in this chapter as a city. Several elements of this city — the new “Jerusalem” (v. 10) — are relevant for our discussion of mission.

First, this city includes the entirety of God’s people. In vv. 12 and 14, the gates and foundations of the city are labeled with the names of the founding groups of both OT Israel and the NT church. This means that the New Jerusalem is the eternal home of both faithful OT Israel and the faithful NT church.

Second, this city is depicted as a worldwide Holy of Holies. V. 16 says:

“The city lies foursquare, its length the same as its width. And he measured the city with his rod, 12,000 stadia. Its length and width and height are equal.”

This cubic shape reminds any reader of the OT of one particular place that is explicitly described as cubic: the holy of holies (1 Kgs 6:20). The new creation, therefore, is portrayed as a worldwide temple — God’s special, most holy presence, is everywhere.

Third, God’s people are depicted as priests in this temple. In vv. 18-20 John lists 12 stones that adorn the foundations of the city walls. These 12 stones just happen to be the same 12 stones that in Exodus 28 are said to adorn the breastpiece of the Israelite high priest (8 are word for word, 4 are synonyms). This means that those people whom the city’s foundations represent—the 12 apostles—are being depicted as high priests, those who minister in the temple of God.

Fourth, this city is the location of the nations’ end-time migration. V. 24 says,

“By its light [that is, the lamp of the Lamb] will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.”

The New Jerusalem will be home to all the nations who walk by the light of the Lamb, that is, those who trust in Jesus as Savior.

So to summarize: In the vision of the New Jerusalem, we see:

  1. The entire world filled with God’s people.
  2. The entire world presented as the Holy of Holies — i.e., the temple.
  3. God’s people functioning as priests in this temple.
  4. All nations coming to this temple.

In short, God’s mission is here fulfilled, since His kingship is represented to the ends of the earth.

Christian Participation in this Mission Now

Where Should We Be Going?

IF, as we have argued, God’s mission in the world is for His kingship to be represented to the ends of the earth, and IF the way this is accomplished is by God’s people filling the earth as His representatives, and IF the means by which God’s people fill the earth is by the gospel “being fruitful and multiplying” to all nations, THEN the church must be strategic in ensuring that all people-groups around the world hear the gospel.

What is a “people-group”? I have discussed this issue here, but I will re-define this term here again:

A “people group” is a large grouping of persons united by a variety of elements such as language, religion, ethnicity, location, class, and situation. The Lausanne Movement has defined people group as “the largest group within which the Gospel can spread as a church planting movement without encountering barriers of understanding or acceptance.”

THEREFORE, given the preceding, the church must not neglect gospel presence among unreached people groups, that is, people-groups where there are insufficient numbers of Christians and Christian resources so that the group may be evangelized.

How Are We Doing?

Penny-obverseAs I mention in that other post, there are currently around 16,750 people groups in the world, a little over 6,900 of which are classified as unreached. Currently, only 2.4 % of missionaries minister among unreached people groups, and less than 1% of Christian giving goes toward supporting missions to unreached peoples. This means that for every dollar given toward the work of the gospel, less than a penny goes toward representing God’s kingship where He is currently not recognized. This would seem to suggest that we are not investing our resources well in the spread of God’s kingship to the ends of the earth.

How Can We Get Involved?

First, we need to recognize that God calls all of His people to participate in His mission. This has essentially been the burden of this whole series.

Second, we need to recognize that God gifts His people in different ways in order that we might participate in His mission. In Eph 4:7 Paul says that “grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” That is, we have been gifted in different ways in order to participate in the work of God’s kingdom. In vv. 11-12 Paul gives some examples:

“And he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be shepherds, and some to be teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ”

Essentially, God bestows various gifts to all of His people, that they may use those gifts to build the church. With regard to missions, we could say that, since God has given grace to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift, He has given some to be goers, some to be pray-ers, and some to be financial senders in order to engage in the work of missions, for building up the body of Christ to the ends of the earth.

The question for each one of us, therefore, is not, “Do I feel called to missions?” All of God’s people are called to missions, since we were all made to represent His kingship to the ends of the earth. The real questions are, “How has God gifted me to participate in missions?” and “Am I participating?” Our responsibility is to discern how we fit into God’s worldwide mission, and to demonstrate our faith in God by acting accordingly.


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.


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.

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.

Fill the Earth 5: Mission Failed

Fill the Earth 1-page-001In our last segment we saw how God organized his mission by rescuing Israel from Egypt and communicating his torah to them. If Israel would exhibit their faith in God by obeying his torah, He would enable them to fulfill the creation mission (e.g., Lev 26:3, 9). By their obedience to God’s kingly word, they would serve as a witness to the nations, who would observe their wisdom and realize the grandeur of their God (Deut 4:5-8). What we will see in this segment, however, is that like Adam, Israel disobeyed God’s word and therefore  failed in their mission as God’s royal representatives, and therefore like Adam they were exiled from God’s special presence.

An Early Hint of Mission Failure

Before Israel entered the Promised Land, we see an early hint of how their disobedience to God’s kingly word would serve as a bad witness to the nations. In Numbers 13, God tells Moses to send 12 spies to survey the Promised Land. When these spies return, they (except Caleb [v. 30]) give a bad report and declare that Israel cannot overtake the people there. Israel believes the spies and thus distrusts God’s ability to give them the land, so God threatens to wipe the nation out and start over with Moses (Num 14:11-12). In response, Moses says this:

15 If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, 16 ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness” (vv. 15-16).

Moses’ reason for why God should not destroy Israel is that other nations would think that He was unable to bring them to the Promised Land. This is an early hint of mission failure: by Israel not treating God as king, the nations would draw false conclusions concerning God and His sovereign rule.

Warnings of Mission Failure

Last time we looked at several passages in the torah that explained how obedience would result in the fulfillment of the mission. Now we’ll survey passages that warn what will happen if Israel disobeys God’s word.

First, whereas obedience would lead to military victory, disobedience would lead to military defeat. According to Lev 26:14-17:

14 But if you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, 15 and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will bring on you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and sap your strength. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. 17 I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you.”

Second, whereas obedience would lead to fulfillment of the creation mission, disobedience would result in a reversal of the creation mission.

“I will send wild animals against you, and they will rob you of your children, destroy your cattle and make you so few in number that your roads will be deserted” (Lev 26:22).

58 If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law, which are written in this book, and do not revere this glorious and awesome name—the Lord your God . . . 62 You who were as numerous as the stars in the sky will be left but few in number, because you did not obey the Lord your God. 63 Just as it pleased the Lord to make you prosper and multiply you, so it will please him to ruin and destroy you. You will be uprooted from the land you are entering to possess” (Deut 28:58-63).

In our study of Genesis 4-11, we saw that humanity’s primeval rebellion against God involved the opposite of the creation mission: murder and centralization. Here we see a different version of this same idea: Israel is warned that rebellion against God will result in God bringing about the opposite of the creation mission as a punishment against them.

A History of Mission Failure

When we get to the historical books of the OT, what we basically see is a history of mission failure. This begins immediately after Israel gets into the Promised Land, right after Joshua’s generation dies.

10 After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals” (Judg 2:10-11).

When this text says that this generation did not “know” the Lord or what He had done, it doesn’t mean that they had no cognitive awareness of who Yahweh was. It means that they did not acknowledge the Lord or the grace He had shown to Israel, which led to idolatry (i.e., giving their allegiance to false gods).

If we were to read the whole story, we would see that it is essentially a history of rebellion and failure that ends in exile (cf. 2 Kgs 17:7-18). This history as it relates to the creation mission is summarized well in Ps 107:38-39:

“He blessed them, and they multiplied greatly, and he did not let their herds diminish. Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled by oppression, calamity and sorrow.”

This was due to Israel’s rebellion–their failure to treat God as King by obeying His royal decree. Therefore, like Adam, Israel too was ejected from God’s special presence.

This state of affairs was anticipated by Moses in the book of Deuteronomy, even before Israel had entered the land:

“And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, and return to the Lord your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous [lit. ‘multiplied’] than your fathers. And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today.” (Deut 30:1-10).

As this passage shows, God will exile them, but He also will not leave them there. Looking forward to Israel’s restoration, we see at least four things emphasized in this text.

  1. Repentance will involve obedience (v. 2).
  2. This repentant obedience will result in restoration (vv. 3-4).
  3. This restoration will result in multiplication (v. 5).
  4. God is the one who will enable this repentant obedience that leads to multiplication (vv. 6-8).

Restored for the Sake of Mission

Jeremiah ministered in the years leading up to the exile and into the exile, and he spoke of the time when God would restore Israel from exile using language from the creation mission:

“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

In this passage we see two things of particular importance. First, God will bring His people back so they can fulfill the creation mission–“they shall be fruitful and multiply” (v. 4). Second, God will “raise up for David a righteous Branch” who will reign as king (v. 5). Israel’s kings (the ‘shepherds’ in this passage) had led them astray, so what they needed was a righteous king to lead them in living out their faith through obedience to God’s word. Therefore, as we begin to expect God to fulfill His mission, we see that He is going to raise up a descendent of David to lead His people in doing so.

Ezekiel also ministered during the exile, and like Jeremiah he too had a lot to say about God’s future restoration and its relation to the mission. Through him God says,

23 And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. 24 I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land” (Ezek 36:23-24).

Notice here that God will redeem his people so that his holiness be vindicated in the sight of the nations. This reminds us of Numbers 14, where Moses was concerned that if God destroyed Israel, the nations would think He wasn’t powerful enough to give them the Promised Land. Eventually, for the sake of His holiness, God had to exile them, since they were unrepentantly defiling the Promised Land that He gave them. However, by bringing Israel back to the land, God was showing the nations that he wasn’t defeated by any other god, but rather was exacting punishment on His people. God would vindicate himself before the nations by exiling His people and then restoring them.

He goes on to describe how things will be different after this restoration occurs:

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. 28 You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. 29 And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. 30 I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. 31 Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. 32 It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel”

Here we have at least four things going on.

First, God will perform a heart-cleansing on His people (vv. 25-26); this will soften and enliven their hearts. Second, God will put His Spirit in them to cause them to obey (v. 27). God will ensure that His mission will succeed through His people because He himself will instrumentally enable their obedience. Third, God says that His people will experience repentance (v. 31). Fourth, God reiterates that He will do this restorative work for His own namesake, which is implied in v. 32.

This last point reminds us that redemption is not primarily for us. Rather, we are redeemed for the glory of God’s name to be recognized all over the earth. God’s people are being restored and enabled to keep His commands so that His kingship will be represented to the nations (i.e., to the ends of the earth). In short, God’s people are saved in order to fulfill His mission. A few verses earlier Ezekiel says this very thing:

For behold, I am for you [O mountains of Israel], and I will turn to you, and you shall be tilled and sown. 10 And I will multiply people on you, the whole house of Israel, all of it. The cities shall be inhabited and the waste places rebuilt. 11 And I will multiply on you man and beast, and they shall multiply and be fruitful. And I will cause you to be inhabited as in your former times, and will do more good to you than ever before. Then you will know that I am the Lord” (Ezek 36:9-11).

Therefore, coming out of exile, we are expecting God to vindicate His name among the nations by restoring His people. According to the prophets, this restoration will involve:

  1. God providing His people with a righteous, Davidic king to lead them (Jeremiah)
  2. God putting His Spirit within His people, enabling them to obey Him (Ezekiel)
  3. God’s people being fruitful and multiplying, thereby fulfilling the original creation mission (both).

This expectation sets the stage for the ultimate Son of David to come, redeem God’s people, pour out His Spirit on them, and unleash them to be fruitful and multiply in a way that will bring about the success of God’s mission.

Perspectives from the Road

IMG_1165I’m currently on my first support raising road trip, which has taken me up to our old stomping grounds in the Chicago area. I drove up last week, and as you can see from the picture to the right, I had one slight problem on the road – my front right tire blew out on the interstate – which generated an automotive version of that airplane turbulence that we all hate. Thankfully, I was able to get over to the shoulder safely and get the tire fixed quickly.

However, while the trip didn’t start off as smoothly as it could have, the rest of it has gone quite famously. I’ve been able to connect with a lot of old friends, share with many about what God is doing in Japan, visit Crossway Publishers and record a video intro for my forthcoming Exodus study, and had the privilege of preaching at Missions Sunday for our former church up here, New Covenant Church of Naperville.

IMG_7644In the midst of all this fun, though, I have to confess that I really miss my family. I’ve been looking forward to this trip, to be sure, but I’m looking forward even more to going home and seeing Caroline and the kids.

Speaking of which, I also have to say that I’m extremely grateful for the service my wife is performing at home while I’m gone. It’s easy for people to recognize what I’m doing as I’m up preaching in the church and getting videoed in a publishing studio, but she is the one doing the most important (and much more difficult!) work of taking care of our children by herself. And to top it off, all three kiddos have gotten sick while I’ve been gone. I’m so grateful for her doing this quiet and faithful service. If you think of them this week, please pray that the Lord would bring everyone back to full health — and that I don’t pop any more tires on the ride home!

Fill the Earth 4: Mission Organized

Fill the Earth 1-page-001After humanity fell into sin and had their mission frustrated, God resumed his mission by calling Abram and promising to bless all the nations of the earth through him. As the book of Genesis closes and the book of Exodus opens up, we see God beginning to fulfill this promise and organizing his mission through Abram’s descendents, the nation of Israel, who have relocated to Egypt because of famine.

The Call of Israel and the Creation Mission

When Israel was in Egypt, they experienced an initial fulfillment of the creation mission. As Exod 1:6-7 says,

“Now Joseph and all his brothers and all that generation died, but the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land (lit. ‘the earth) was filled with them.”

Here we have a description of Gen 1:28 (“Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth…”) being fulfilled among God’s covenant people.

This initial fulfillment of the creation mission is what then led to the Egyptian slavery of Israel. The new king of Egypt says: “Come, let us deal shrewdly with them lest they multiply and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country” (Exod 1:10). The Egyptians want to stifle God’s people in their fulfillment of the creation mission.

However, the more Egypt oppressed Israel, the more they multiplied. As v. 12 says, “But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites.” The Egyptian oppression ends up having the opposite effect–rather than curtailing Israel’s growth, their oppression serves to catalyze it.

When Israel cried out in their oppression, God responded by remembering his mission. Exod 2:23-24 says,

“During that long period, the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.”

God’s covenant with the patriarchs was to give them the land of Canaan and multiply their offspring like the stars in the sky (Gen 15), and through them to bless all the nations (Gen 22:18; 26:4; 28:14). As we’ve seen, this covenantal promise is a reassertion of the creation mission.

Therefore, Israel was freed from slavery in order to accomplish God’s mission. After God sends Moses to liberate Israel from slavery in Egypt, he brings them to Mt. Sinai. The narrative at Sinai begins with this address by God:

“You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, , you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”

In being a “kingdom of priests,” Israel was to serve as a mediating body between God and the nations. The reason for their priestly service is what is underlined above: all the earth belongs to God, and therefore he has called Israel to represent him to the nations. The way that Israel was to do this is what I’ve italicized: they were to obey him. We saw the critical role that obedience played in the call of Abram, and here this role is reiterated for Israel–by obeying God as King, Israel would model to the nations what it means to live under his lordship.

And again, as we noted last time, Israel’s obedience was not a matter of legalism or works righteousness but was to be an expression of their faith. The torah that God gave Israel at Sinai did not require perfection–in fact, it assumed failure (cf. Leviticus). What it required was a humble and repentant disposition that sought God’s forgiveness when failure came.

The Torah and Mission

Often times people mistakenly think of the commands of the Pentateuch as some sort of moralistic list of do’s and don’ts. However, when properly understood in the storyline of God’s mission, we see that the torah is really a playbook for mission.

First, Israel’s obedience to the torah would lead to fulfillment of the creation mission. This is expressed most clearly in Lev 26:3, 9:

“If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands… I will look on you with favor and make you fruitful and multiply you, and I will keep my covenant with you.”

Here we see an explicit allusion to the creation mandate of Gen 1:28 that is a direct result of the people expressing their faith by obeying God’s commands.

Second, Israel’s obedience to the torah would serve as a witness to the nations. In Deut 4:5-8 Moses says,

“See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the LORD my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. , who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the LORD our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?”

This was a primary way that Israel could serve as a kingdom of priests–show forth to the nations the greatness and wisdom of God by obeying his kingly word.

Third, if Israel failed to obey, they would be destroyed and therefore not fulfill the mission. This is expressed in a variety of places, including Deut 8:19-20.

The Conquest of Canaan and the Creation Mission

In addition to Israel’s call reflecting several aspects of the creation mission, various connections also exist between their commission to conquer Canaan and the creation mission.

First, parallels between Eden and Canaan connect the conquest to the creation mission. Both Eden and Canaan are said to be places of “rest.” God gave Adam rest in the Garden (“The LORD God took the man and caused him to rest (Heb. nuach) in the Garden of Eden” [Gen 2:15]), and God will give Israel rest in Canaan (“[Y]ou have not yet reached the resting place (Heb. menuchah) and the inheritance the LORD your God is giving you” [Deut 12:9]). In various places Canaan is also compared to the Garden of Eden. For example, Isa 51:3 says,

“The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD” (cf. Ezek 36:35; Joel 2:3).

Second, the charge for Adam to ‘subdue’ parallels Israel’s charge to ‘conquer.’ In the creation mission, Adam was to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue (Heb. kabash) it” (Gen 1:28). The only other way the verb kabash is used in the Pentateuch is to describe Israel’s conquest of Canaan. When speaking to the tribes who received their land allotments east of the Jordan, Moses commanded that they must cross the Jordan with the rest of Israel and help in conquering Canaan. He said, “When the land is subdued (Heb. kabash) before the LORD, you may return and be free from your obligation to the LORD and to Israel” (cf. 32:29; Josh 18:1). This explicitly connects the conquest with creation-missional activity.

In short, just as Eden was the staging ground for Adam to engage in mission, so was Canaan the staging ground for Israel to do so. Both were to be subdued as part of the process of God’s people being fruitful and multiplying and filling the earth.

If Israel would obey God’s word, he would give them victory in battle (e.g., Deut 28:1-2, 7), which applied especially to the conquest of Canaan. In Josh 1:6-9, the Israelite army is thrice told to “be strong and courageous” (vv. 6, 7, 9). However, the middle section (vv. 7-8) has extensive instructions on the importance of holding fast to the torah when engaging the enemy. In short, Israel’s success in “subduing” the land was contingent not upon their military tactical capability but on their faith in God as expressed through their adherence to his word.

God’s people rightly engage in mission, representing him to the scattered nations of the world, not by their own ability or ingenuity, but by holding fast to his word and expressing their faith by their repentant obedience. However, as we’ll see next time, Israel failed to live with this repentant disposition and therefore did not succeed in the mission God gave to them.

Knowing the Bible

If you’re lookiCoverng for a Bible study to help you engage the biblical text and challenge you for  application, I encourage you to check out Crossway’s new Knowing the Bible series.

Each volume in this series explores a whole book of the Bible in 12 lessons. Each lesson takes you through the passage at hand and focuses on three aspects of the text:

(1) Gospel Glimpses (where do we see the grace of God revealed in this passage?)

(2) Whole-Bible Connections (how does this passage connect with the broader sweep of redemptive history?)

(3) Theological Soundings (what core doctrines are reflected in this passage?)

Several volumes have already been released, and several more are scheduled to be published next June (including the Exodus volume by your truly!). These studies provide both inductive questions and instructive teaching to help you understand the text better, and can be used in both individual and small group settings. And at only $8.99 a volume, they won’t drain your wallet either!

Love, Humility, and Unity in Theological Debate

How should we engage in theological debate? Scolding

When I was fresh out of college, I developed a rapid desire to know the Bible and theology better. I began to read books, listen to lectures, study Greek on my own, and enter into conversations on theological message boards. However, while my knowledge of the Bible and understanding of theological doctrines grew substantially, my wisdom in debating these things did not.

As I engaged people of differing views, my posture tended to be overly confident of my own position and quickly dismissive of others’ positions, and my rhetoric often included a not-so-subtle undercurrent of attempting to make others look and feel stupid for believing what they did. Had they even read the Bible, let alone studied it carefully? Did they really take God’s word seriously? They must not, because if they did, they would certainly agree with me.

Since that time I have been graced with the opportunity to complete both a master’s and a doctoral degree in biblical studies, and standing here at this point in my theological journey I now see that my behavior at the beginning was both foolish and arrogant. I’ve also observed that my aggressive proclivities as a young armchair theologian are not unique to me, but in fact plague theological debate, especially as it occurs on the internet. And while I am all for believers seeking to “teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1), I’m convinced that several priorities are often neglected when Christians debate theology.


The first Christian priority that often exits the stage of theological discussion is love. The usual comeback from overly-zealous theologizers against the charge that they are being unloving is that “love” should not be confused with “niceness.” After all, Jesus turned over tables in the temple and Paul did not always pen niceties when chastising others for theological error (e.g., Gal 5:12!). The problem with appealing to these events, however, is that while these are examples of divine and apostolic “tough love,” this is not the way Scripture instructs us to respond to error.

In Gal 6:1, Paul says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” Since theological error is a “sin,” as our doctrinal policemen are quick to remind us, it is incumbent upon those who take it upon themselves to offer correction to do so gently, not harshly, abrasively, or offensively. This coheres with what Paul says in his most famous passage on love:

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing” (1 Cor 13:2).

Although modern day aggressive theologizers normally don’t claim the gift of prophecy, they usually do believe that they have arrived at the most knowledgeable position concerning Scriptural teaching. However, according to Paul, even if one has attained “all knowledge,” if they do not exhibit love (i.e., gentle love [Gal 6:1]), they are nothing. So while love is bigger and broader than simply being “nice,” in the context of theological debate, being “nice” seems to be a necessary manifestation of “love.”


The second priority that is often lacking in theological debate is humility. Having traveled the path from being an uneducated armchair theologian to being an ordained doctor of the church, I’ve found it most interesting that overconfidence and arrogance seem to be much more prevalent at the lower levels of theological discourse. That is, you’ll encounter much more rigid dogmatism on blogs and message boards than you will in doctoral seminars or at the Evangelical Theological Society.

One of the reasons for this is that, as you persist in formal biblical study, you are exposed more and more to the vast array of theological positions (held by people who are not stupid!) and plausible interpretations of various texts. This makes you more cautious about dismissing someone else’s view too quickly and instills a healthy amount of humility concerning your own position. This is not to say that there is isn’t one correct position or one correct interpretation of any given text. This isn’t even to say that you can’t be confident in your own understanding of Scripture. But this exposure does force you to evaluate other views very carefully and express yourself judiciously.

One of the most helpful concepts in this regard is Richard Pratt’s “cone of certainty.”

Cone of Certainty-page-001For many who debate theology aggressively, each doctrine is often held just as staunchly as the next. This can result in them claiming that virtually every differing view is an attack on the gospel itself, whether it pertains to the deity of Christ, positions on the sacraments, or interpretations of the millennium. On this approach, beliefs are either totally embraced or totally rejected in a fairly binary fashion.

And yet it should be obvious that Scripture is not equally clear on all matters. Therefore, as this diagram illustrates, our certainty concerning any theological doctrine should fall somewhere along a cone-shaped continuum. Certain beliefs will fall at the top of the cone, where our certainty is greater, while others will fall toward the middle or bottom, where our certainty is less.

Also, as the cone shape suggests, we should have fewer beliefs up in the top of the cone compared to the bottom. This means that, relatively speaking, there are fewer concepts that we tether “to the heart of the gospel” and over which we divide with others, and more concepts that we hold to more “humbly.” So while we may argue vigorously for the deity of Christ, holding equally tightly to supralapsarianism over infralapsarianism is probably not warranted (and if you don’t know what those are, don’t worry!).

Wisdom lies in one’s discernment of where along this spectrum any given doctrine falls and then interacting with others over that issue with correspondent humility.


Connected to both love and humility is the church’s call to unity, which, like the prior two, often falls by the wayside in theological debate. Concerning Christian unity Jesus could have scarcely been clearer:

“My prayer is not for them alone [i.e., the disciples]. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and  am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21).

Here Jesus prays that His followers would be united together along with Him and the Father so that the world believes that the Father sent Jesus into the world. That is, the unity of the church is to be a testimony to the world of the incarnation and ministry of Jesus himself. This implies that such unity is visible to the world and not simply the de facto unity that exists among true believers through the Spirit.

In response, aggressive theologizers will often say, “There is no unity unless we’re united in the truth!” While this is true to a certain extent, what lies behind this statement is an insufficient understanding of intellectual humility as discussed above. Unity must revolve around truth, to be sure, but the real question is, “Which truths are necessary to unite Christians?” Doctrines like Jesus’ deity, man’s need of forgiveness, salvation by grace through faith, etc. are obviously necessary elements for true Christian unity. Other theological items further down our cone of certainty may or may not be necessary for true unity to exist. But because Jesus prays for the visible unity of the church, we are obliged to prioritize the pursuit of unity as we debate theology.


I don’t pretend to have mastered any of these above stated priorities. However, at 35 years of age I do believe I have a firmer grasp of my own intellectual finitude than I had when I was 25. While we may disagree with each other over various theological topics, we are called to do so while lovingly and humbly pursuing a unity that the world can see, which will testify that Jesus has indeed come into this world.

Fill the Earth 3: Mission Resumed

Fill the Earth 1-page-001After humanity’s mission is frustrated because of sin throughout Gen 3-11, culminating in their rejection of the creation mandate at the Tower of Babel, God confuses their language and disperses them across the face of the earth, thereby creating the nations. God then resumes His mission by calling one man–Abram–and promising to bless the scattered nations of the world through him.

The Call of Abram1

Gen 12.1-4 discourse-page-001

In these verses we see several important things.

First, this call is structured around two imperatives: “Go” and “be a blessing.”  Logically, the second imperative is contingent upon the first. That is, in order for Abram to “be a blessing,” he must first “go.” This is why the ESV renders the last part of v. 2 as a result clause: “so that you will be a blessing.” And interestingly, these two imperatives can be viewed as the inverse of the decline of humanity in Gen 4-11 that we saw last time. To “go” is the opposite of centralizing, and to “be a blessing” (with its connotations of fruitfulness and vitality) is the opposite of murder.

Second, we see a narrowing and a broadening throughout these verses. That which Abram must give up by going is increasingly narrowed (“country” = nation, “kindred” = extended family, “father’s house” = immediate family), while the recipients of the blessing that results from his going increasingly broaden (Abram himself [“I will bless you”], those who bless Abram [“I will bless those who bless you”], and finally “all the families of the earth shall be blessed”).

For us, this should lead us to ask, “What might I need to give up in order to help spread the promised blessing of Abram to the nations, which is now fulfilled in the gospel of Jesus (Gal 3:8)?”

Third, this call of Abram contrasts with the Babel account. In ch. 11, the “whole earth” is in focus as humanity rebels against God (vv. 1, 4, 8, 9 [2x]), which contrasts with the worldwide focus of Abram’s call to bless “all the families of the earth (12:3). While the Babel builders are concerned to “make a name for themselves” and refuse to go to the ends of the earth (11:4), God tells Abram that if he will “go,” He will “make his name great” (12:2).

And lastly, God’s call of Abram is portrayed as His gracious response to the sin and rebellion of Babel. There is a repeated pattern in the Primeval History of sin-judgment-grace.

Adam & Eve sin by eating the fruit. God judges them by casting them out of the Garden. Grace is shown by promising a Redeemer who will crush the serpent’s head (3:15).

Cain sins by murdering Abel. God judges him by sentencing him to wander the earth. Grace is shown by the mark placed on Cain to protect him from blood vengeance.

In Noah’s time the whole earth is full of the sin of violence. God judges them by sending the flood. Grace is shown as Noah and his family are saved in the ark (6:8).

The Babel builders sin by centralizing rather than spreading. God judges them by confusing and dispersing them. Grace is shown as God calls Abram and promises to bless the nations through him.

Fourth, it’s important to see that Abram obeyed God’s call (v. 4). Discussions of Abram’s call often conclude at v. 3, but as the next section will show, Abram’s obedient response is critical for God’s promise to bless the nations.

The Role of Obedience in the Call

Repetitions of the promise to Abram emphasize his obedience. In the following three repetitions of the Abrahamic promise (that “all nations on earth will be blessed through him”), emphasis is placed on Abram’s obedience as the reason the nations will be blessed.

  1. Gen 18:18-19: “Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him. For I have chosen him, so that he will direct his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing what is right and just, so that the LORD will bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
  2. Gen 22:16-18: The angel of the Lord says, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and surely cause your seed to multiply like the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
  3. Gen 26:4-5: The Lord speaking to Isaac: “I will cause your seed to multiply like the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.”

However, human effort is not the ultimate cause of God’s mission succeeding. We know from Paul that it was Abram’s faith that was the operative element in these passages.

“The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’ So those who have faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith” (Gal 3:8-9).

Yet Scripture does emphasize that Abram’s faith was reflected in his obedience, and this is how God chooses to accomplish His mission. James focuses on this when reflecting on Abraham’s life:

“You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did” (Jas 2:20-22).

Here James recalls the near-sacrifice of Isaac (Gen 22), which is one of the places we looked at above that reiterates God’s promise of blessing to the nations. So while we should never rely on our obedience for salvation, we must recognize that God chooses to work through our obedience in accomplishing His redemptive mission in the world.

The Call of Abram and the Creation Mission

Other passages in the patriarchal narratives show that this covenantal calling of Abram and his offspring to bless the nations is a reassertion of the creation mission (“Be fruitful and multiply”).

Two of these passages we’ve seen already:

  1. Gen 22:16-18: The angel of the Lord says, “I swear by myself, declares the LORD, that because you have done this and have not withheld your son, your only son, I will surely bless you and surely cause your seed to multiply like the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me.”
  2. Gen 26:4-5: The Lord speaking to Isaac: “I will cause your seed to multiply like the stars in the sky and will give them all these lands, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because Abraham obeyed me and kept my requirements, my commands, my decrees and my laws.

Other passages include:

  1. Gen 17:1-6: “When Abram was ninety-nine years old the Lord appeared to Abram and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless,that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. No longer shall your name be called Abram, but your name shall be Abraham, for I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.”
  2. Gen 28:3-4: Isaac to Jacob: “May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and cause you to multiply until you become a community of peoples. May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien, the land God gave to Abraham.”

Notice in these various examples that now, instead of being phrased as an imperative (“Be fruitful and multiply”), it is said that God will make them fruitful and cause them to multiply. That is, God will actively enable His chosen people to carry out the creation mission. Their responsibility, modeled by Abram, was to have faith in God’s word and reflect such faith by their obedience.

God is going to bless Abram’s line and make them fruitful and multiply them so that they can extend His blessing to the nations. By bringing blessing and knowledge of God to the nations scattered over the earth, Abram’s descendents would “fill the earth” with redeemed and restored images of God.

1  This discourse structure is adapted from Wright, The Mission of God, 200, and my following discussion leans heavily on Wright’s insights found on pp. 201-208.

The Third Commandment: “Taking” God’s Name in Vain?

Third command-page-001As rendered in the ESV, the third command of the Decalogue reads as follows:

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Exod 20:7).

Most people view this command as prohibiting one from speaking God’s name in a flippant or disrespectful manner. Taken as such, applications of this command in sermons and blog posts usually exhort people not to curse, particularly by saying things such as “God D***,” “OMG,” “JC,” and so on. God’s name is holy, and therefore we shouldn’t speak it in a frivolous way. This is true enough, but is this what this commandment is really talking about?

Is This Talking About Improper Speech?

It is an interesting phenomenon that this command has become so widely understood as pertaining to improper speech when the verb used is not a verb that describes speech. The verb translated above as “take” is nasa in Hebrew and means “take” in the sense of “lift, carry, or bear.” It does not mean “speak,” “say,” “pronounce,” or any other speech-oriented action.

Therefore, given our inclination to hear “speak” when we read “take,” it is perhaps better to think of this command as saying,

“You shall not bear the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who bears his name in vain.”

This then raises a further question: What does it mean to bear the name of the LORD?

Bearing God’s Name as His Representative

Clarity comes to this question when we look at the only other occurrence in the Pentateuch of someone “bearing” (nasa) someone else’s “name.” We find this in the instructions for the priestly garments in Exodus 28.

12 And you shall set the two stones on the shoulder pieces of the ephod, as stones of remembrance for the sons of Israel. And Aaron shall bear their names before the Lord on his two shoulders for remembrance.

29 So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord.

The two stones of v. 12 each had six of the names of the twelve tribes written on them (vv. 9-10), and the breastpiece of v. 29 had twelve stones which also had the twelve names on them (v. 21). By wearing these garments and “bearing the names” of the twelve tribes, Aaron served as their representative when he entered the holy place on their behalf.

Therefore, the act of “bearing the name of the LORD” in the third commandment is best understood to refer to “serving as God’s representative.”

This idea of “bearing the name of the LORD” is present several other places in the Bible. For example, after giving Moses the instructions for how Aaron was to bless the people (well known as the “Aaronic blessing/benediction” [Num 6:24-26]), God said, “So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them” (v. 27).

In short, God’s people “bear His name” in that they represent Him as His people.

Bearing God’s Name Vainly

According to the third command, the way that we are not to bear God’s name is “in vain.” The word translated “vain” here can mean “futile, false, purposeless, or empty.” Understood this way, the force of the command is clear: we are not to “bear God’s name” (i.e. serve as His representatives) in a way that is false or empty. Basically, by our actions people are not to get the wrong idea about our God.

On the one hand, if we advertise ourselves as Christians (ones who bear the name of Christ!), yet act in ways that Jesus would not approve of, others will see us and draw inaccurate conclusions about the God we claim to serve. We are representing God falsely to the watching world.

On the other hand, if we are Christians but don’t represent God at all to others (i.e., we hide our light under a bushel), it could be said that we are bearing God’s name emptily (i.e., we are representing Him to no purpose). However, the semantic range of “vain” in the third command not only prohibits us from representing God falsely but also from not representing Him at all.

Conclusion: Broader Than Cursing

From this short analysis it is evident that the third commandment is not simply prohibiting people from cursing or using God’s name flippantly. It seems reasonable to conclude that refraining from using God’s name in this way is one small application of this command, since it is hardly representing God well to use His name as an expletive.

However, the implications of “not bearing the LORD’s name vainly” extend far beyond improper speech. They pertain both to our overall behavior (i.e., by our words and actions we are not to misrepresent God to others) and to our propensity toward an apathetic, inward-focused faith (i.e., by our words and actions we are to be representing God to others).

For Further Reading/Viewing

** For a stimulating analysis of this command I highly recommend the essay, “Bearing the Name of the LORD with Honor,” by my doctoral supervisor, Daniel Block, found in his book, How I Love Your Torah, O LORD! It will be evident that the discussion above is greatly indebted to his work. One of Block’s other doctoral students, Carmen Imes, is currently working on a dissertation examining this meaning of the command. If you’d rather watch a video lecture than read, I’d recommend this lecture on the third command provided by the Ivy League ministry Christian Union.