Theology of Missions
If just anybody can have a grasp of the Divine blueprint as it is laid down in the already completed canon of the scriptures, the activity that becomes apparent immediately is missions. It has been the concentration of God’s activity since the fall of man. But before it can be realized as such, there has to be a quick overview of certain passages in the Scriptures which again and again keep on resurfacing as God continues to execute his plan slowly but definitively at certain points in history; and the Bible is very helpful and in fact the primary tool in this kind of enterprise. Take for example, the gospel narratives. The gospels contain the life story of Jesus written in different angles and with different themes which all tell of Jesus as the Messiah. All of the four gospel writers build their themes using Old Testament prophecies that long ago have depicted the Messiah – like what kind of person he would be, in what manner of arrival he would come, and what he would mostly accomplish for Israel or for the world, etc.
The writing of the gospels, and indeed, even the whole New Testament presuppose a comprehensive knowledge of the Old Testament. Without a thorough background of the Old Testament scriptures, it would be impossible for the gospellers to match everything and even identify the Messiah in Jesus. Like the other three gospel writers, Matthew wrote his gospel using plenty of references which can be found in the writings of the prophets. Describing in what manner of entry the Christ would come to this world, he said it would be by means of the virgin birth. He proved his point by saying, “that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet” (Matt.1:22). Reading the gospel of Matthew will at least make one realize that the writer was, to a large degree, very much dependent to the prophetic scriptures. Almost all of the events in the life of Jesus, as Matthew narrated them, happened because of what have been written about him. It has already been set – the whole life of Jesus and the details of it were all ordained by God long ago. If anybody in Israel was curious and wanted to know something about Jesus, all that person needed to do was check the Scriptures (Escalona 2008).
The Development of Missions
When God called Abraham from the land of his ancestors, God’s intention immediately becomes clear. He told Abraham, “In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen.12:3). At this point of redemptive history, God was improving upon what was previously prophesied. The “seed” of the woman in Genesis 3:15 – which until then was indistinguishable figure – in the words spoken by God to Abraham, it was made clear that the “seed” would descend through the line of Abraham. Not only that the “seed” would be a human descendant in the sense that he would come as the “seed” of the woman, but that specifically, he would come as one whose lineage could be traced back to Abraham. In the gospel of Matthew, and in the very introduction of it, the author painstakingly endeavored to present Jesus as an offspring of Abraham. For Matthew, this was the first criterion to be met before any person could ever be considered as candidate for Messiahship. And without any shadow of doubt, this first standard was met by Jesus. And so, God, throughout Old Testament history, was progressively developing his plan of redemption; and early on, he hinted that redemption would include the “blessing” of nations (http://www.xenos.org/classes/christianministry/missionsandevangelism/index.htm). The promise of what is now called the Abrahamic Covenant was passed down to Isaac and to Jacob (Gen.26:3-4, 28:13-14). The “blessing” promised by God in the Old Covenant was not intended for the nation of Israel alone. On the other hand, God has called and chosen Israel, not so that they could keep the blessing for themselves, but that all the nations of the earth are blessed through them. This means no other but missions. And indeed, missions is the central scheme of the Bible. A careful study of the development of the prophecies, from the “seed of the woman,” to the “seed” of Abraham, and even just up to the time of Isaac and Jacob, when the word of God continues to confirm the promise of blessing to the nations, in that short span of time in history, God’s intention was made clear. God’s chosen people – the church – would include peoples from different races and ethnic groups. What is this blessing of nations about? It is about salvation, and salvation involves the redemption of humanity – the establishment of God’s rule in the hearts of individuals.
Tracing the development of God’s redemptive plan from the Old Testament to the New Testament, one would notice the narrowing of all of the promises to their fulfillment in the person of Jesus Christ. The redemptive activities of God tapered down to just one person of the Messiah. In the New Testament, it is all Jesus – and the people who are in Christ. God’s blessing of forgiveness and sanctification of his people are being offered to all people. The Great Commission (Matt.28:18-20). contains the whole package of God’s present-day work of evangelizing and discipleship. Again, missions is highlighted. Jesus’ standing command on his people is to “go,” and it is nothing else but missions.
Since the Fall, God has been looking for man. It was not man who goes searching and groping for God. The reverse is true. When Adam and Eve fell, the voice of God was heard to be searching for the couple. They were hiding. Yet, in spite of the first couple’s defiance of God’s command, the Lord came seeking after them. This is the essence and rationale of missions: Humanity is lost. However, to say that humanity is “lost,” is to state the matter in a less accurate manner. God’s warning in the Garden of Eden gives a clue to what actually happened to the first couple when they chose to defy God: “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen.2:17). The “wages of sin is death.” When they sinned they died. And the first kind of death that immediately followed and became effective in Adam and Eve was spiritual. They separated themselves from God. So, the whole of humanity is spiritually dead because of sin, and in need of salvation. If not saved, man will face eternity in hell.
No Gospel, No Salvation
The gospel is the message of God’s salvation. It needs to be preached for salvation to be received. The urgency of gospel preaching is hindered when Christians entertain and have come to believe that people can be possibly saved without ever hearing of the gospel. Those who bought into this lie argue for the fact that God reveals himself even in nature. They want to believe that since God is the source of natural revelation there has to be enough salvific grace in it to save anybody – especially those who have died without ever hearing of the gospel message (Johnson 1996). This kind of argument, however, is insufficient and cannot be backed by Scriptures. First of all, what would be the point of the incarnation of Christ? Second, the Great Commission will lose its urgency if it is true that God saves people apart from the gospel. Third, what’s the use of Biblical revelation? Imagine the great care that God has invested when through the years, slowly and little by little, he unveiled and executed his plan of redemption to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, to the Israelites, and ultimately in the person of Jesus. Why would God point Eve to the promised “seed?” And why would he care to develop his plan as to make known to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that he would bless the nations through that promised seed? And why the use of illustrations such as the Tabernacle and the sacrifices? And the highest cost that God had to pay so that his redemptive plan could have reached finally its fulfillment in Christ? All of these will be of no use if it is true that natural revelation is sufficient for the salvation of humankind. The all-wise God is loving and compassionate that he planned and scrupulously executed every detail of that plan in order for his people to understand the means of his salvation. To neglect and disregard the progressive revelation of God as he has revealed it in the Scriptures in exchange to non-verbal and therefore non-instructive means of revelation is tantamount to rejecting his clear and detailed and more glorious offer of salvation in the gospel to which all of creation testify to. It is true that creation, to a certain degree, reflects the glory of God. But in no other – angels, man, and the whole of universe included – did God reveal himself perfectly, but in the person of Christ. The author of Hebrews says that Christ is “the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person.”
The total corruption of man because of sin must be highlighted in missions. God’s offer of forgiveness can only be appreciated in full when one has understood fully how much he needed that forgiveness. Man’s sin, the pardon of God, and salvation in Christ alone are the major themes of missions. If the need for the preaching of the gospel is understood in all of its theological scope, missionary activities will increase all the more, church leaders will appreciate and advocate missions, and the so-called rank and file Christians will involve themselves in this Divine endeavor.
1. Escalona, Alan. 2008, The Way Christian Ministry Sunday Program article.
3. Johnson, Gregory. Covenant Theological Seminary, Spring 1996. The Inadequacy of General Revelation.