Whenever I ask a class for biblical support of God’s mission in the world, Matthew’s account of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18–20) is usually the first passage referenced. Of course, there is nothing wrong with pointing to this passage.
Whenever I ask for another passage, Acts 1:8 is often stated, then a general reference to Paul’s missionary journeys. Beyond these, I usually receive little additional support.
Looking for More “Missions” Texts
Why is this the case? Is this all there is in the Bible when it comes to God’s mission—just a few texts? If God has chosen to reveal himself throughout sixty-six books, then how is his mission only connected to a few sentences? Is this all the Bible provides on the topic? Have we allowed a few verses to be the primary support system for the church’s modern missions work?
While Matthew 28:18–20 is a rich text and incredibly important to the church’s task, there is so much more in the Bible related to God’s redemptive purposes in the world. In fact, the church’s global mission task would still be valid even if Jesus never spoke those words.
Seeing a Pattern of Mission
The glory of God in the gospel is spread to his image-bearers through sending and relationship. It is in and through relationship that the nations are blessed, with the expectation they will enjoy such benefits and leverage them for God’s glory among others.
There is a particular pattern that repeats itself throughout the Scriptures in relation to God’s mission: sending to the world → proclaiming hope through judgment → entering relationship → receiving blessing.
God takes the initiative and comes to his creation, or sends his representative(s). A message of hope is shared but reveals that this good news involves judgment and consequences for sin. Those who embrace God’s message by faith enter into relationship with him and his kingdom people, and they experience his blessings.
The entirety of Scripture’s story is about mission. From Genesis to Revelation, God’s purpose and work in the world reveals a God who receives glory through relationship and blessing. Consider how this plays out in some of the major eras of redemptive history.
Creation and Mission
At creation, he blesses man and woman. As his image-bearers, they were to populate the earth with other image-bearers who would bring him glory (Genesis 1:28). The earth would then serve as a temple where people would have intimate fellowship with the Creator, with mankind being a holy priesthood unto God.
After the fall, sin brings judgment, but God’s grace brings hope. God stills takes the initiative to come to his creatures but does so with a message of blessing through judgment (Genesis 3:14–15, 21). Relationship will be restored and blessing will come, but first there must be judgment and atonement for sin. The earth was still to be filled with God’s image-bearers (Genesis 6:1; 9:1), but the effects of sin would spread throughout the population living on a groaning planet (Romans 8:19–23).
Again, the pattern emerges from the Scriptures related to God’s purpose in the world: sending → proclaiming hope through judgment → entering relationship → receiving blessing.
Israel and Mission
While relationship with God brings such favor, his benefits (Psalm 103:2) were not given simply for selfish consumption but had global implications (Psalm 67). For example, his promise to Abraham included relationship and blessings that would relate to the blessing of the nations (Genesis 12:1-3).
Later, God comes to Moses and sends him to Egypt to deliver Israel from slavery. At Sinai, God enters into a covenant with his people. They were to be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6). This relationship would bring great blessings but also great responsibilities. Israel was to be a light to the nations, pointing God’s image-bearers to their Creator who alone was worthy of glory.
David’s Kingship and Mission
Shortly after David becomes king of Israel, God comes to him following this same pattern. The message of hope through judgment is communicated in that David will eventually die, but God will raise up his offspring to rule an eternal kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13). Through this Davidic covenant, blessings will come to be enjoyed and used for God’s glory.
Jesus, Church, and Mission
The long-awaited Davidic descendant arrived in the fullness of time (Galatians 4:4). He was sent to take on flesh (John 1:14), and his message was one of hope through judgment. The new covenant in his blood (Luke 22:20) would reveal the full extent of God’s judgment on sin, as well as the grace and blessing he was extending to the nations.
As the Father had sent the Son into the world to carry out his purpose, prior to the ascension, the Son would send his disciples out to proclaim his message.
Today, as the church is sent into the world to encounter image-bearers separated from God, the message of hope through judgment is communicated. People must die to self in repentance toward God and faith in his Messiah (Acts 20:21). Such action brings them into a new kingdom community in which both present and future blessings are a reality (Matthew 5:1-11; Acts 3:19–20; Revelation 22:17). This pattern of purpose repeats itself as those newly blessed in turn begin to steward well their blessings as they are sent into the world with the message of hope through judgment.
Pick a Book, Any Book
When Jesus spoke the Great Commission in Matthew’s Gospel, he was not creating something new. He was contextualizing the pattern of purpose from Genesis to Malachi for his disciples.
When the church was sent into the world in the book of Acts, she was not embracing something that began in the first century. The entirety of the New Testament reveals a continuation of an ancient mission.
Looking for a biblical foundation for God’s mission—apart from Matthew and Acts? No problem. There are 64 other books filled with such support.
This post was adapted from J.D. Payne, Theology of Mission: A Concise Biblical Theology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2021).