The Missional Basis for the Bible

For many years I thought that the God’s purpose to be known, worshipped and obeyed by all nations and all people everywhere was initiated by Jesus after his resurrection from the dead…. And indeed Jesus did send his followers out to proclaim the good news and make disciples of all the nations, as the Gospel writers testify.

Matt 28:19,20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Mark 16:15,20 “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation…. And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them, and confirmed the word by the signs that followed.

Luke 24:46-49 and He said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. “You are witnesses of these things. “And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”

John 20:21 So Jesus said to them again, “Peace {be} with you; as the Father has sent Me, I also send you.”

Acts 1:8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth.”

These mandates, taken together, are commonly referred to as the Great Commission and emphasize the all nations theme.

… However later I discovered that God’s purpose to be known, worshipped and obeyed by all peoples everywhere is a major theme or thread that runs from Genesis to Revelation.  Indeed it is a theme that ties the entire message of the Bible together. This might be called the “backstory” or “metanarrative” that runs throughout the Bible.

It took me a long time to understand and appreciate this. When I was just catching the mission vision I heard David Bryant share that he once read through the Bible with a highlighter in hand, marking all the passages that mentioned God’s plan for the nations. He was surprised by the number of passages he highlighted. About 25 years later, as I too read through the Bible with a highlighter in hand, looking for those all-peoples passages, I was astounded by the number I found. A friend of mine did a similar thing, though he made a scroll with all the verses he found – and the scroll is at least 25 feet long!

It is impractical to give an entire list of these verses. But I do want to trace the “all-peoples” theme from Genesis to Revelation.

Color coding the missional themes of the Bible

I’ve chosen the following colors and font accents to highlight the different missional threads in the Bible.

All peoples, men nations Know Worship Obey Salvation Reign Messianic

Bold identifies commands

Flying under the Radar

The “flying under the radar” is an analogy that is useful in tracing the “all nations” theme in scripture.  Like an airplane “flying under the radar”, moving ever closer to accomplishing its mission, though not detected, so is God’s purpose to be known, worshiped and obeyed by all nations. We shall see that there are periods of time (some lasting 400 years) when we don’t see any evidence of this theme. Then the  theme surfaces – like a “blip” on the radar screen – followed by another period of silence.

Genesis 1-11

Genesis chapters one and two are creation accounts. Genesis chapters 3-11 then chronicles mankind’s failure to obey God. Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and ate from the tree. Cain killed Abel. Noah’s generation was so corrupt that all but six people were swept away by the flood. At the tower of Babel, because the people did not want to spread out over the earth, God confused their language, separating people into 70 nations or peoples. This sets the stage for a new chapter in God’s program to bless all the nations.

Before moving on, we must also recognize that amid this chronicle of humanity’s failure to trust, worship and obey the Lord, there is a brief foreshadowing of hope.

 Gen 3:14,15 The LORD God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.

 Genesis 12-50

The post-Babel narrative focuses on Abraham and his descendants. We will see that three times God promises to bless all nations associated with Abraham; then this promise is repeated to Abraham’s son, Isaac, and his grandson, Jacob.

Abraham

Gen  12:1-3 The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.  “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

Gen 18:18 Abraham will surely become a great and powerful nation, and all nations on earth will be blessed through him.

Gen 22:15-18 The angel of the LORD called to Abraham from heaven a second time and said, “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 make your descendants as numerous as 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.”

Isaac

Gen 26:4-5 I will make your descendants as numerous as 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.”

Jacob 

Gen 28:14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.

Genesis draws to a conclusion with Jacob blessing his sons. Of particular interest is Judah’s blessing.

Gen 49: 10 The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.

All this blessing will be channeled through Judah’s descendants. Here we see that not only would blessing come to all peoples through Abraham’s descendants, but also one of Abraham’s descendants would reign over the nations. Thus here in the closing pages of Genesis the important theme of God’s reign over the nations is introduced into the biblical narrative.  (See Balaam’s prophecy in Numbers 24:17-19; Psalm 60:7; 108:8; 110:2, though Psa. 110 is relevant as well as Psalm 2.)

Genesis Summary: God’s stated his intention to bless all peoples on earth through Abraham three times. This covenant promise was repeated to Isaac and Jacob. The Blessing to all peoples will come through Abraham’s descendants. This is narrowed to Isaac’s descendants (Ishmael and Abraham’s other descendants are eliminated), then Jacob’s descendants (Esau is eliminated) and finally Judah (his eleven brothers are eliminated.)

The Exodus

God’s purpose to be known, worshiped and obeyed by all peoples seems to drop off the radar for quite some time. Abraham’s descendants are in Egypt for 400 years.  Though during the Exodus, there is a blip on the radar.

I will send the full force of my plagues against you and against your officials and your people, so you may know that there is no one like me in all the earth. For by now I could have stretched out my hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth.  But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. Exodus 9:14-16

Indeed God’s great deeds against Egypt did result in his fame being proclaimed to the surrounding nations.

This theme surfaces again when the people are in the wilderness, when the people rebelled in response to the report of the ten “faithless” spies regarding the Promised Land (Numbers 13-14:9).

“Then the glory of the Lord appeared in the tent of meeting to all the sons of Israel. The Lord said to Moses, How long will this people spurn Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, despite all the signs which I have performed in their midst? I will smite them with pestilence and dispossess them, and I will make you into a nation greater and mightier than they.” (Number s 14:10b-12)

This was the last straw. God had had it with this people. He was ready to wipe them out because of their disbelief and start the nation-building process over with Moses.

Moses, though, began to plead with the Lord, and this is where we see the “all nations” theme emerge.

But Moses said to the LORD, “Then the Egyptians will hear of it, for by Your strength You brought up this people from their midst, and they will tell {it} to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, O LORD, are in the midst of this people, for You, O LORD, are seen eye to eye, while Your cloud stands over them; and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. “Now if You slay this people as one man, then the nations who have heard of Your fame will say, ‘Because the LORD could not bring this people into the land which He promised them by oath, therefore He slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ (Numbers 14:13-16)

Moses’ case before the Lord appeals God’s reputation among the nations. First, if God wipes out the people, Moses says “The Egyptians will hear of it…” and conclude that the LORD was not able to bring the people into the promised land.  The Egyptians will then tell it to the nations, who heard of God’s mighty deeds in Egypt. So Moses’ case is built on the premise that God’s reputation will suffer internationally if he wipes out the people. Moses then appeals to God’s character (14:18), repeating the Lord’s own words from (Exodus 34:6-7, cf. Exodus 20:6).

Moses’ appeal was successful.  The Lord said, “I have pardoned them according to your word.” Then follows this great “all nations” affirmation: “Indeed as I live, all the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord“ (Num. 14:21).  This affirmation is picked up by the psalmists (Ps 72:19 – And blessed be His glorious name forever; And may the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen, and Amen) and the prophets (Hab 2:14 “For the earth will be filled With the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea.” Cf. Isaiah 11:9).

God assures Moses, not only would his reputation be upheld, but his fame would spread through all the earth.

Again, the “all nations” theme “flies under the radar” for 400 years during the days of Joshua the time of the Judges –  the emphasis here being  upon the possession of the Promised Land.

David

It is not until the time of David that we see once again accent placed on God’s desire to be known, worshiped and obeyed by all peoples. This theme is evident in the Psalms attributed to David.

Ps 9:11 Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion; Declare among the peoples His deeds.

Ps 22:27,28 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, And all the families of the nations will worship before You.  For the kingdom is the LORD’S And He rules over the nations.

Ps 86:9 All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, O Lord; they will bring glory to your name.

1 Chronicles 16 is set within the occasion of David bringing the tabernacle into Jerusalem. The worship liturgy for this great event draws heavily upon Psalms 105, 96 and 106 and highlights the “all nations“ theme:

1 Chr 16:8 Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples.

1 Chr 16:23 Sing to the LORD, all the earth; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.

1 Chr 16:24 Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.

1 Chr 16:28 Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

1 Chr 16:30 Tremble before Him, all the earth;

1 Chr 16:31 Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; And let them say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.”

1 Chr 16:33 He is coming to judge the earth.

Solomon – The Dedication of the Temple

At the dedication of the temple, Solomon recognized God’s purpose to be known and worshiped by the nations.

“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name–for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched armwhen he comes and prays toward this temple,  then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.” (1Kings 8:41-43)

Other Psalms

A number of Psalms, not attributed to David, show that the people of Israel understood God’s desire to be known, loved, worshiped and obeyed by all nations.

Ps 67:1-2 God be gracious to us and bless us, And} cause His face to shine upon us That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations.

Ps 67:3 Let the peoples praise You, O God; Let all the peoples praise You.

Ps 67:4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy; For You will judge the peoples with uprightness and guide the nations on the earth

Ps 96:2 Sing to the LORD, bless His name; Proclaim good tidings of His salvation from day to day.

Ps 96:3 Tell of His glory among the nations, His wonderful deeds among all the peoples.

Ps 96:7 ¶ Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples, Ascribe to the LORD glory and strength.

Ps 96:8 Ascribe to the LORD the glory of His name; Bring an offering and come into His courts.

Ps 96:9 Worship the LORD in holy attire; Tremble before Him, all the earth.

Ps 96:10 Say among the nations,The LORD reigns; Indeed, the world is firmly established, it will not be moved; He will judge the peoples with equity.”

Ps 105:1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples.

Psalms 2 and 72, two messianic Psalms, also deserve mention because they emphasize God’s rule over the nations through his regent.

The Prophets

God’s desire to be known, loved, worshiped and obeyed by all peoples is a reoccurring theme in the prophets. Here are several examples.

Isaiah

Isa 2:2  In the last days the mountain of the LORD’S temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it.

Isa 42:6-7 “I am the LORD, I have called You in righteousness, I will also hold You by the hand and watch over You, And I will appoint You as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, To open blind eyes, To bring out prisoners from the dungeon And those who dwell in darkness from the prison.

Isa 45:22-24 “Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. By myself I have sworn, my mouth has uttered in all integrity a word that will not be revoked: Before me every knee will bow; by me every tongue will swear. They will say of me, ‘In the LORD alone are righteousness and strength.’” All who have raged against him will come to him and be put to shame.

Isa 49:6 he says: “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.”

Isa 52:10 The LORD will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.

Isa 52:14-15 Just as there were many who were appalled at him–his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness– so will he sprinkle many nations, and kings will shut their mouths because of him. For what they were not told, they will see, and what they have not heard, they will understand.

Is 56:6-7  “Also the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, To minister to Him, and to love the name of the LORD, To be His servants, every one who keeps from profaning the sabbath And holds fast My covenant; these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Daniel

The prophet Daniel is interesting in that through his testimony, God came to be known and praised by the rulers of Babylon and the Media-Persian Empires. It is interesting that chapters 2 through 7 of Daniel are written in Aramaic, the “language of circulation” in the Babylonian Empire, so that God’s deeds could be known by the peoples in the empire. In particular, there are two messianic passages in chapter 7 that explicitly evidence God’s purpose to be known, worshiped and obeyed by all peoples.

Dan 7:13-14  “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

Dan 7:27 Then the sovereignty, power and greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven will be handed over to the saints, the people of the Most High. His kingdom will be an everlasting kingdom, and all rulers will worship and obey him.’

The Minor Prophets

The entire book of Jonah highlights God’s desire to be known, worshiped and obeyed by the Assyrians in a poignant way.

This theme is evident in the other Minor Prophets as well. For example:

Micah 5:2-5a “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Therefore Israel will be abandoned until the time when she who is in labor gives birth and the rest of his brothers return to join the Israelites. He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.

Hab 2:14 “For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, As the waters cover the sea.

The post-exilic prophet Zechariah highlights the future reign of God and the fact that this will be a time when all nations come to Jerusalem to worship.

Zech 2:11 “Many nations will join themselves to the LORD in that day and will become My people. Then I will dwell in your midst, and you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me to you.

Zech 8:20-23  “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘{It will} yet {be} that peoples will come, even the inhabitants of many cities. ‘The inhabitants of one will go to another, saying, “Let us go at once to entreat the favor of the LORD, and to seek the LORD of hosts; I will also go.” ‘So many peoples and mighty nations will come to seek the LORD of hosts in Jerusalem and to entreat the favor of the LORD.’ “Thus says the LORD of hosts, ‘In those days ten men from all the nations will grasp the garment of a Jew, saying, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.”

Zech 14:9  And the LORD will be king over all the earth; in that day the LORD will be {the only} one, and His name {the only} one.

Zech 14:16  Then it will come about that any who are left of all the nations that went against Jerusalem will go up from year to year to worship the King, the LORD of hosts, and to celebrate the Feast of Booths.

The final prophet, Malachi, also draws attention to God’s desire to be known, worshiped and obeyed by all peoples.

Mal 1:11 My name will be great among the nations, from the rising to the setting of the sun. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to my name, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the LORD Almighty.

Following Malachi there are “400 years of silence” until the birth of Christ. But God’s missional purpose is being worked out, especially in the fulfillment of Daniel’s prophecies related to the Persian, Greek and Roman empires.  Much that happened in this period of time prepared the world to receive the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

In the next posting, I will look at how the missional theme runs through the New Testament.

To be continued…

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