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  • Writer's pictureBradley Bell

Missions in the New Testament

In the previous article we walked through an overview of missions in the Old Testament. If you didn’t get a chance to reach it, I want to encourage you to start there. Not only is the New Testament the fulfillment of the Old Testament, the mission of God actually makes no sense without the Old Testament. 

In the previous article we also talked about how the words “missions” and “missionary” aren’t in the Bible, but we do see the words “sending” and “sent ones”. As we walk through the New Testament, let’s continue to follow the movements of the sending God.

Sweet Delights

As we follow these movements I want you to keep in mind the analogy of a baby’s first birthday. What does our culture often do on that occasion? We give the baby…birthday cake! Then we all stand back and watch as the baby experiences the glory of excessive sugar for the first time. This then opens the child to a wide world of sweet delights to come. Our taste buds were made for such good things! 

In a more profound way, we were also made for the sweet delights of God’s global mission. I love to sit back and watch as a Christian begins to experience her or his unique identity as a sent one. It then opens them to a wide world of cross-cultural relationships and service. Such good things!

Now let’s begin our survey.

The Sending God in Flesh

If you remember, we left off the Old Testament in the book of Malachi, where the Lord promised to send himself to save people from all nations. But before that he would also send a messenger to prepare the way. That messenger we know as John the Baptist. John himself testifies to this very things when he says in John 3:28,

I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.

As a sent one, John proclaims Jesus as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”. What’s he doing here? If you remember this theme from the Old Testament, he’s testifying to the world of God’s saving presence in their midst. This is precisely what’s being communicated to us later in Galatians 4:4-5:

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

Brothers and sisters, behold the sending God in flesh! Take your mind back to the Old Testament:

  • Jesus is the Lamb who was slain before the foundation of the earth

  • He is the Word that brought creation into being

  • He is the only one in perfect relationship with God, people, and all creation

  • He was sent to fill the earth with God’s glory

  • He is the ark that will provide salvation from the coming judgment

  • He is the chosen seed through whom God will bless all the families of the earth

  • He is the redeemer to form God’s ever-growing global family

  • He is the blessing that will lead all the peoples to praise God

  • He is the house of prayer for all nations

  • He is the King with a kingdom that never crumbles

  • He is the suffering servant whose sacrifice will save people from their sins

  • He is the witness that will draw a great ingathering of nations

This is the climactic moment of the whole Bible! 

You see the people of Israel were often referred to as the “son of God”. Jesus came as the true Son who would not fail in his mission as the ultimate Sent One. His work is summed up in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4:

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures

This is what we call the gospel. It’s the reality that Jesus was sent to die in our place, rise with power over death, and set free from sin all who would believe. You see, we are all driven by problem-solving, but we are most compelled by beauty. This is the most beautiful reality in the mission of God, the love that we will behold and experience for all eternity. 

And this is important because it frames the door through which we enter God’s global mission. It is not marked by the task of going in guilt and fear like the first man and woman, but by the reality of being dearly loved, adopted sons and daughters.

The Sending God in Trinity

Jesus then ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. This is important because it is from heaven that Jesus will continue to carry out his mission with all authority. (If Jesus doesn't have authority over all nations and powers, then the mission is lost!) How does the sending God do it? We begin to see it in Acts 1:8:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.

Notice, this is exactly what Isaiah had prophesied, that God’s people would be his witnesses, testifying to the world of God’s saving presence in their midst, sharing in his power and authority. Then in the very next chapter of Acts something happens that makes it possible for us to be witnesses. We read there,

And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:2-4

This may seem like a strange scene—unless we read it with the Old Testament in mind. Not only does this reflect the fire that fell on Mount Sinai when God formed Israel as a people, but also serves as the bookend to the story of the Tower of Babel. There, if you remember, God dispersed the people by dividing their languages. Here God is using those divided languages to proclaim the gospel, form a new chosen people, and begin an ingathering of all nations

This then makes sense of some things that Jesus had spoken to his apostles earlier (apostles by the ways comes from a Greek word that means “sent one”). After his resurrection Jesus appeared to them and said,

Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you. John 20:21

The sending God does what? He sends us! He restores us to be his sent ones again. And think about this: this is not just about activity. This is about identity. If God is a sending God by nature, then you are a sent one by nature. Not just when you go on your first missions trip. You are a sent one right now. You have a unique place in the Great Commision:

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.” Matthew 28:18-20

Notice that at the center of this is the Trinity. The Father has sent the Son. The Father and Son has sent the Spirit. Now Father, Son, and Holy Spirit has sent…you (the church)! Sent to be fruitful and multiply by making disciples everywhere that there aren't yet disciples; crossing cultural boundaries for the sake of an ever-growing global family. 

The Sent People

This is what’s happening when the gospel moves out of Jerusalem and begins going to Gentiles in Acts 8 through the rest of the book. Perhaps most worthy of note in these chapters is the church at Antioch, which is the first with both Jews and Gentile background believers. From this diverse body we read,

While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. Acts 13:2-3

Barnabas and Saul go as cross-cultural missionaries to make disciples and plant churches. But don’t miss that God here also commissions all of Antioch to be a sending church. You see, not only is every Christian meant to be a sent one, but every church is meant to be a sending church

Now, beyond the book of Acts we don’t seem to seem to see much about missions in the rest of the New Testament. However, the mission of God was always meant to flow through his chosen people. So as we read all the New Testament letters we need to keep in mind that—just as he did with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—God is working through really messy churches

Eventually we come to the last book of the Bible, Revelation. As a vision of the end times that draws directly from the Old Testament prophets, we see the beautiful culmination of God’s mission. One of these scenes is in chapter 7:9-10. John writes, 

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

The beautiful global family from everywhere has been sent everywhere and brought in all God's people.

Another scene arrives at the end of the book, where John sees a new creation coming down out of heaven, and he writes,

I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.” Revelation 21:3

It's like the parade of nations at the opening ceremony of the Olympics—except in perfection! It's a people testifying forever to God’s saving presence in their midst. Mission accomplished!

Sweet Delights Forever

The last scene I want to leave you with comes from chapter 19:6-7. John writes,

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready

Let me ask you a question. At least in American culture, what is it that we eat at a wedding reception? Cake! You see, your awakening to the sweet delights of God’s global mission is ultimately preparing you for a day when you will feast on the sending God’s goodness, in the midst of eternal cross-cultural relationships and service. Living as a sent one now foreshadows the day when Genesis 3-6 will be fully undone, and you will be in perfect relationship with God, one another, and all creation. 

Just imagine—what if you begin to see the New Testament with this perspective?

Unto that end, here’s a next step for you. Read through the book of Acts, paying attention to the themes of sending and sent ones. 

And stay tuned for the next article: "Church on Mission".

This content was originally scripted for an Intro to Missions video series.

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