Lecture 1: Biblical Foundations -- Why world missions?

"God wants his name to glorified all over the world. This was His desire from the beginning of the world." -- Holly Johnson, Nazarene Bible College student

Lecture for the first week of the online course in "Global Evangelism"

Global harvest: Where in the Bible does it say that?

What is the mission of God's people? Do we have a worldwide mission to fulfill? Why is missionary work important?

What is the Biblical basis for Christian missions? How many times is missions mentioned in the Bible?

If you were to ask most Christians for a list of Bible passages having to do with missions, how many verses would they give?

Not many. No doubt the first missionary scripture to be mentioned would be the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 or the similar wording in Mark 16:15. Acts 1:8 would be mentioned and maybe Paul's "Macedonian call." Someone might think of Matthew 24:14 ("This gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world . . and then the end will come"). At that point, however, most believers would bog down and start looking puzzled trying to think of more missionary Bible verses.

The chapters in the Bible books are divided into a total of 32,000 verses. When people can think of only a half dozen missions Bible verses, does that give them the impression God doesn't place a high priority on missions?

Old Testament and missions

Actually, the very first verse of the Bible (Genesis 1:1) proclaims Yahweh as the God of the whole world. With that grand opening begins a story whose plot quickly takes a crucial turn (human sin). Immediately comes God's first -- though veiled -- promise to send a Redeemer (Gen. 3:15).

The covenant with Abraham: A crucial event that finds fulfillment in Revelation

The material in Genesis 1-11 is the introduction to the story. These first eleven chapters set the stage for the story. Then, in Genesis 12 God takes a giant step forward in the story by choosing Abraham. God says to Abraham: "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Gen. 12:3). That covenant is later repeated to Abraham, and then it is repeated to Isaac and finally to Jacob (Genesis 18:18; 22:17-18; 26:24 and 28:12-14).

The promise of blessing to all peoples through Abraham's family is a promise which the Apostle John would later see fulfilled. John describes that fulfillment in Revelation 7:9: "I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb."

Between that promise in Genesis 12 and the vision of its fulfillment in Revelation 7 the Bible is replete with indicators of God's passion that all peoples would know and serve Him.

At Mt. Sinai, the Lord told Moses to say to the people: "Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests" (Exodus 19:5-6). That is, the whole nation of Israel was chosen to be agents of reconciliation between God and sinful humanity. Several decades ago, liberal scholar Norman Gottwald titled his Old Testament introduction A Light to the Nations.1 That title was a recognition of how much those words from Isaiah 49:6 should define what God expected of His chosen people.

After the crossing of the Jordan River, Joshua told the Israelites that God "did this so that all peoples of the earth might know" (Joshua 4:24). As Solomon prayed the dedicatory prayer for the Temple he had just constructed in Jerusalem, he said that the Temple had been constructed "so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name" (I Kings 8:43).

If you will leaf through the book of Psalms, again and again you will see phrases like "ends of the earth," "all nations," "the whole earth," "the peoples," and "all the earth."

The prophets repeat the affirmation that the world, not just Israel, is God's focus. A prime example is Isaiah 45:44: "Turn to me and be saved, all you ends of the earth."

Centripetal and centrifugal
forcesRemember Jonah's story? Contrary to popular thought, the little short book is not a lesson in obedience. [ devotional thoughts on Jonah ] Jonah's story is the missionary book of the Old Testament. It portrays God's call for us to get our hearts in line with his love for all nations. [ more on Jonah ]

Throughout the Old Testament God seems to be calling His people to be involved in world evangelism using two forces: centripetal (attracting the nations to their Temple as the graphic shows) and centrifugal (going out to the nations as the graphic shows).

New Testament: Was the Great Commission the first time Jesus showed an interest in missions?

Just before Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave seven basic commands that have come to be known collectively as the Great Commission. They were: