Last 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:
- Jesus is the image of God, and He has succeeded.
- 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:
- The entire world filled with God’s people.
- The entire world presented as the Holy of Holies — i.e., the temple.
- God’s people functioning as priests in this temple.
- 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?
As 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.