The Church’s mission, or the idea that God’s people are to engage in missions,3 finds it start the moment Adam and Eve (after listening to the serpent) decided to rebel against God’s single prohibition in the Garden of Eden.4 As Moreau, Corwin, and McGee state, “As a result of their blatant denial of respect for their creator; God judges them and the serpent.” God’s instruction to Adam (written in Genesis 2:17) indicated that the consequence of violating God’s command was death that very day. Yet, when the first sin accrued, neither Adam nor Eve fell down physically dead. Neither does God completely cast off humanity in judgment without a picture of his love for future humankind or his plan of redemption. On this matter Calvin writes, “For then was Adam consigned to death, and death began its reign in him, until supervening grace should bring a remedy.” Genesis provides the first hint of this supervening grace when God says to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Moreau, Corwin, and McGee call this hint the “initial promise of salvation, knows as the protoevangelium.”
As the meta-narrative advances deeper into the Old Testament, God calls upon Abraham. Genesis 12:1-3 records this contact, which ends with an indication of the necessity of missions and a forthcoming redemption. Verse 3 states in part, “. . . in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” While not entirely clear at that point how all the families of the earth would be blessed, New Testament readers sit at a vantage point that affords them the ability to see this promise come to fruition. On numerous occasions, Old Testament writers look forward to this redemption, but they also serve as God’s agents to bring about his revelation of himself to other people groups. Leviticus 19:33 indicates that decedents of Abraham, the Israelites, were to love foreigners as much as the loved themselves. Kings 8:41-43 outlines how the Israelites were to share the revelation of God to foreigners and allow them to worship him in the temple. The key running through the passage is that “all the peoples of the earth” may know God’s name and worship him. In prophesying the restoration of Israel, Amos declares that all nations called by God will take part in that restoration. And Isaiah 56 shows that salvation is soon coming available to all people.
In light of Old Testament passages that show God’s love for all nations, it is important to see the role of the Israelites in God’s plan of redemption for all people. Too often, new students of the Bible will feel that God’s chosen people were the only ones he loved or blessed; but in fact, God’s people were and are actually called to be his missionaries and servants to the rest of the world. For example, Isaiah says that God has called his people, among other things, to be a light to the gentiles. “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” And in fact, Old Testament readers will find that Jonah—unwilling, but still under the command of God—went on a missionary journey to the gentiles in Nineveh. Ester too seems to demonstrate her God’s glory in a foreign land, as do Daniel, Hananiah (Shadrach), Mishael (Meshach), and Azariah (Abednego). As Moreau, Corwin, and McGee conclude, “Mission in the Old Testament involves the individual and the community of God’s people cooperating with God in his work of reversing what took place as a result of the fall.”
MISSIONS IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
The New Testament—coming by way of the fulfillment of promises made many years earlier—is not only the good news of Jesus’ gospel, it is also the call to missions. Even