Messianic Expectation – part 3 of my growing understanding of a theology of mission

The following is a continuation of this post.

missio Dei and the Biblical World

This missio Dei flows throughout the grand story of scripture, from creation to consummation; it starts in Genesis chapter one and continues until Revelation chapter twenty-two. It is the divine interpretation of reality centered on the birth, life, death, burial, resurrection, ascension, return, and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is mission because it is God’s providential purpose for the entire universe, ultimately for mankind and its relationship to God. Thus, God’s mission is His initiative in redeeming the nations (Israel inclusive) and, subsequently, in restoring created order from the effects of the Fall.  The story of redemption begins in Genesis chapter three with the promised seed, or offspring, who will destroy the Serpent (later identified as Satan). Even so, the record of God’s activity begins with creation.

God acts and creates a good world ruled by good men and women (Gen 1:27-8) with humanity as the pinnacle of God’s very good creation. After finishing His creative act, God rests (Gen 2:2-3). In rebellion of God’s sovereign rule, the man and women he created chose to disobey their all-good God. So, God curses the man, the woman, the deceiving serpent, and the earth. The rest of the story of Scripture is the story of God’s love in overcoming the sin of mankind by His “New Creation”–a new humanity and a new created order. Thus, God is at work again. So Jesus can say, “My Father is working until now, and I myself am working” (John 5:17). And thus Jesus frames his ministry as doing His Father’s work (John 4:34; 17:4).

Before Jesus is incarnated in the “fullness of time” (Gal 4:4), the biblical narrative slowly reveals the mysterious identity of the coming “seed.” Intertwined with the revelation of the “seed” are God’s dealings with those of genealogies outside of the chosen line, otherwise known as the nations, or the Gentiles. The first several chapters of the Bible trace the line of Cain. After the flood, chapter 10 gives a table of nations with the lines of Ham and Japheth, as well as Shem. Chapter 25 is an extended genealogy of Ishmael; chapter 36 of Esau. Even though the nations are witnesses to God’s grace to the line of Shem, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and thus through David, they do not experience the covenantal blessings of the people of Israel except through joining themselves to the people of God, like Ruth for example. Rather, God’s promise to all humanity in Genesis 3:15 is continually restricted to an increasingly particular future offspring-a coming Messianic Davidic Servant King. The nations are largely witnesses of God’s wrath upon Israel due to their disobedience; also they experience God’s wrath as he directs the hearts of kings according to His own purposes. Of primary importance, though, the nations are the object of God’s future promise through the Messiah (see especially Isaiah, and the Servant songs therein).

As the story unfolds, one finds that the Old Testament is inherently eschatological (see for instance the emphasis on “the last days”, “the day of the LORD”, “that day”, etc). The faith of the Old Testament is in the coming fulfillment of God’s promises. The “big idea” of the Pentateuch is faith in the God who is faithful to His promises and covenant (Ex 19:5-6) to Abraham by sending a king (Gen 49:9-12; Num 23-24; Deut 32-33) and in the God who has chosen to bless all peoples of the earth through Abraham’s seed (Gen 12:1-3; 15:6; cf. Gen 26:4-5; Ex 32; Num 20:12-13; Gen 6:3; Deut 34). The Davidic covenant echoes these promises to Abraham and also points to a future king (not David himself because God promises to establish the kingdom of his “seed” forever). The prophets recognize that “God’s people” also includes the nations, but not until the Messianic King arrives (Mic 4:1-4; 5:2-4; Hos 1:10; 2:23; Is 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12; 66:21; Zech 2:11) and not until the Spirit is poured out (Joel 2:28-29; Is 44:3; cf. the expected Servant is one on whom the Spirit will rest, Is 42:1).

The fulfillment of the promises of God are prefigured in the experience of the people of Israel with God’s self-disclosing actions, but the people of Israel do not taste the fullness due to their disobedience to, and thus breaking of, God’s covenant; the fullness will be found only in the coming Messiah. In other words, though the knowledge of God is a key theme throughout scripture, this purpose of God is not to only increase people’s knowledge of Him upon the whole earth “as the waters cover the sea” (Isa 11:9; Hab 2:14) but to establish a community of faith that worships God–a community comprised of a restored Israel and the ingathered nations (Isa 66:18-24). Thus, whereas in the Old Testament, the nations knew God, primarily, in his judgment over them, in the New Testament, through Jesus, the nations become part of a community that knows God through his love and kindnesses (Rom 2:4). Therefore, in the Messiah, the remnant of Israel along with the nations will be restored to God. In other words, when the Messiah comes, the Christian mission to the nations will begin (Is 66:18-24).

Who are the people of God? The Old Testament introduces God’s election of Israel on behalf of the nations, a choice ultimately realized in the coming “seed”-the virgin-born Jesus of Nazareth. Thus, the people of God, whether in the Old Testament, or New, are looking for the Messiah. In the Old Testament, this is looking for his coming. In the New Testament, this is looking for his return. But whereas the worship of God by the Old Testament people of God was defined in relation to Jerusalem as a centripetal center, the New Testament people of God relates to Jerusalem centrifugally (Acts 1:8), going out from the physical center unto the ends of the earth. The Old Testament people of God wait in faith until the promise arrives.

One of the primary images of faith in the book of Isaiah is the prophet waiting for God to fulfill the Davidic covenant through the anointed Servant (25:9; 26:8; 30:18; 33:2; 49:23; 51:5; 60:9; 64:3). The prophets recognize that God’s people also includes the nations, but they must wait until the Messiah comes (Mic 4:1-4; 5:2-4; Hos 1:10; 2:23; Is 42:1-9; 49:1-13; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12; 66:21; Zech 2:11). The faithful remnant is waiting for the ingathering of the gentiles nations. Thus, the New Testament people of God includes people from all nations that are included by faith in the risen and returning Messiah. By being included in the Messiah, the New Testament people of God, or the church, shares in the mission of the Messiah. So, the mission of God is realized is the mission of His people. This mission, if we can call it that, for the Old Testament is waiting faithfully. In the New Testament, on the other hand, this mission is faithfully going to the ends of the earth.

It is abundantly clear from the Old Testament that the mission of the Messiah would be primarily the restoration of Israel and the salvation of the nations; therefore, in the church, both of these dual foci of Jesus’ mission are fulfilled (Eph 2). Jesus inaugurates the mission to Israel and Jerusalem as he calls his disciples to come to him; they are centripetally centered in Him (Matt 11:27-30), then they are centrifugally sent to make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:16-20). With the pouring out of the promised Spirit (John 13-17; Acts 1-2) the New Testament people of God, or the church, extends the messianic mission to the ends of the earth unto the end of the age (Matt 24:14; 28:20). Just as God the Son was incarnated to do the works of the Father, so Jesus’ disciples are sent to continue His works in the power of the Spirit.

Furthermore, with the Incarnation, Life, Death, Burial, Resurrection, and Ascension of Jesus, the eschatology of the Old Testament is fulfilled and redefined. The new eschatology (though still echoing prophetic themes of the Old Testament) clarifies the Trinitarian rule of all the nations in the new heavens and the new earth by the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ. With this rule, the curse of sin and death is finally destroyed and the curse upon the creation itself is removed (Rev 18-22).

Even so, this understanding of Christian mission does not mean a priori that mission is defined by evangelism and cross-cultural missions. Both are aspects of Christian mission, yet this mission is rooted in the missio Dei. Thus, a wholistic definition of the missio Dei can be made:

God’s ordering of creation and His initiative in redeeming and restoring the fallen world full of sinful humans through the ministry, and all that entails, of the God-man, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the ultimate consummation of created order in the return and reign of Jesus Christ along with a redeemed people over a new creation.

Thus, given a proper understanding of God’s providence and of the missio Dei, the Christian mission, or missiones ecclesiae, is best defined as a holistic transformation of rebellious humanity into a radically humble, obedient, and loving community of Holy Spirit indwelt people from every tribe, nation, and tongue worshipping the Lord Jesus Christ in catholic unity (Rev 5; 7).

Questions:

  • Did the nation of Israel have a mission in the same sense of the New Testament Church? Why or Why Not?
  • Does the people group focus in contemporary missiology lead towards unity or disunity in the body of Christ? What would be some alternatives?
  • Frost and Hirsch in their book “The Shaping of Things to Come” argue that the “Christendom” mode church has largely been attractional while the “Missional” mode church is to be apostolic. To what degree do you think the church is to have a centripetal, or attractional, mission? To what degree do you think the church is to have a centrifugal, or apostolic, mission?

Here’s the Last Part of this Series

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8 Comments

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  1. Just one quick remark: The eschatological expectation of the Old Testament is vastly different from that of the New Testament. Their expectaion is of the coming of the Messiah who would then save them from their enemies.

    If you are really interested in the topic you should do your best to find a copy of the following book by my friend, Adrio König: http://www.amazon.com/Eclipse-Christ-Eschatology-Christ-Centered-Approach/dp/0802803563/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1207058352&sr=8-1

  2. Arnau,

    Thank you for the recommended read. We have it at our Seminary’s library, so I will check it out today (the cost at amazon is over $60, so I will have to buy it later).

    I do want to respond to your remark. I agree that there is some difference between the eschatology of the Old Testament and that of the New. I disagree that Israel was only expecting one to save them from their enemies. This may have been the false expectation of the people of Jesus’ time, but I think a lot of the Old Testament has to be ignored for this to be the only expectation.

    I think there is equal expectation of God restoring Israel and the nations as One People under the righteous reign of the Davidic Servant King. I think this is the message of 1, 2 and 3 Isaiah (to put it in those terms).

    The problem with the Pharisees was not that they were reading the scripture and waiting in faith for the messiah. (How else could you consider excommunicating a person whom you knew was a cripple and then was fully healed? That would be like condemning your next door neighbor’s son whom you knew since birth was blind, but now could see. Not possible without a hard heart.) The Pharisees were not of the faith of Abraham.

    The New Testament writers were not reinterpreting scripture in light of the Christ event. They were bringing to life again the messianic expectation of the Old Testament.

    I could write about this all day, and I may have already ventured into waters to deep for me to swim. But admittedly, I would not be where I am today without the help of Old Testament Scholar John Sailhamer.

  3. Wes,

    This seems to me to be very thoughtful, and biblically accurate, description of the Mission of God, with which we, as his People, are called to join in.

    In regard to question #2, I think there is an inherent tension in reaching out to all humanity within the various contexts of their own cultural understanding, and the responsibility to disciple those who respond to the gospel in such a way that they embrace the unity of the Body of Christ, with all of its implications. In other words, we must “become all things to all men” in order to reach them in their own cultural context. But, we cannot leave them there. We must also seek to bring them to maturity, which means learning to transcend their cultural biases and prejudices, and a growing solidarity with the trans-cultural interests of the kingdom of God and the worldwide Body of Christ.

  4. David,

    Thank you for the response. I’m still contemplating that tension in my mind. I truly believe in contextualizing the gospel and I yearn for greater unity in the body of Christ. I’m still thinking through how it is best worked out… Oh Lord, let it be!

  5. Hey brother,

    Just one quick question, I was wondering if this was a typo or if you are suggesting that there was more than one female created in the beginning.

    “In rebellion of God’s sovereign rule, the man and women he created chose to disobey their all-good God.”

    I know that there are some who hold to the view that there were more human beings created besides Adam and Eve in the beginning. Just wanted to check.

    Great article. I really am enriched by reading your writings.

    Blessings,
    J

  6. J,

    Don’t let Wes fool you. He was telling me all about Lilith the other day. 🙂

  7. Best source for understanding the distorted messianic expectation of Jewish disciples of Jesus?

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