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Mission in the Biblical Narrative

Mission is one of the central themes that propels the narrative of Scripture. To understand “mission,” one must consider its function within the entirety of the biblical narrative. This understanding begins with God, who creates (Gen 1), and it moves toward the formation of Yahweh’s chosen people, Israel. As recipients of His covenant and commandments (Deut 5:1–6:9; Mark 12:28–34), Israel is charged by Yahweh with the mission to live as a blessing to the nations (Gen 12:1–3; Acts 1:7–8).

The definitive event in the formation of God’s missional people is the incarnation of God in Jesus Christ whose life, teachings, and deeds proclaim the reign of God. His death and resurrection atone for all that separates creation from God (Gal 3:15–4:7).

Following Christ’s ascension, the Holy Spirit empowers Jesus’ followers to live their calling as missional participants with God (Acts 1:1–11). As such, the Church comes into being as a boundary crossing (Acts 15), reconciling people (2 Cor 5:11–21) who are charged with the task of seeking God’s will on earth (Matt 6:9–15). As the narrative of God’s redemption through Christ, the Bible ends with God’s restoration of all creation (Rev 21–22).

Reading the Bible as an Invitation to Mission

The Bible is mishandled when read as just a collection of random stories, a historical account of the formation of religious groups, or even a moral code. In actuality, the Bible is a product of God’s mission, rendering to us the story of His mission through His people. As we read the Bible, we are wise to invite the Holy Spirit to form us as participants with God and the community of His people in His redemptive mission. Jesus Christ preeminently exemplifies the character of this mission for us. As God’s people, we continue the mission He inaugurated, empowered by His Spirit.

Mission of God (missio Dei)

Mission finds its origin in God’s loving character freely reaching out to create and redeem creation. It is oriented toward God’s kingdom, as Jesus proclaims it (John 3:16–21; 17). The God of Scripture is a missionary God, and His mission involves the enthroning of His reign on earth (Matt 6:9–15). The Christian faith confesses that God has revealed Himself through Scripture to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And because God reveals His character through Scripture and perfectly in Jesus Christ, the means of this self-revelation are creation and redemption.

Mission of Humankind

Recognizing that mission originates in the person and character of the Triune God, we can observe other dimensions of mission throughout Scripture. From the very beginning, we see humanity included in the mission of God (Gen 1:27–31; 12:1–3; Matt 28:16–20). God delegates the authority to work and to take care of creation to humanity; the care and stewardship of creation is a part of our mission as Christians.

Mission of Israel

The biblical narrative continues against the backdrop of sin’s entrance into the story (Gen 3) as God forms a distinct people with a mission to be a blessing to the nations (Gen 12:1–3). Israel’s mission flows from this: God chose a people to embody His purposes for creation and so be a light to the nations. The Hebrew Bible (ot) narrates the history of Israel’s response to this divine calling.

Mission of Jesus Christ

God enacted the mission of Jesus to both restore Israel and serve as the agent of His salvation to the ends of the earth (Luke 24:40–49). Jesus took upon Himself Israel’s missionary vocation (Matt 5:17–20). He clearly asserted that His will was to do the will of His Father; the Father’s mission determined Jesus’ mission (John 4:27–38). As “God with us,” Jesus embodied the mission of God, making it radically visible to us. In Jesus’ obedience, even to death, the mission of God reached its climax (2 Cor 5:19). Accomplishing God’s purpose for humanity and conquering sin, Jesus opened the way to a new world. When His earthly ministry was over, He left His followers with the mandate to continue the mission He inaugurated and established (Matt 28:16–20).

Mission of the Church

The nt describes mission not as merely one of several functions given to the Church, but as the very existence of the Church itself. Sent to the world to preach Christ (Acts 1:7–8) by and with the authority of the Triune God (Matt 28:16–20), the Church’s mission is to bear witness to God’s reign through the proclamation of the gospel in various forms: through loving communion within the Church (1 Cor 12–14), humble service within and outside the community of faith, prayer and worship of God, signs and wonders that point toward the eschatological restoration of all things, and through forming disciples of Jesus (2 Cor 5:11–21; Eph 4:1–5:21).

Mission is the committed participation of God’s people in God’s purposes for the redemption of creation (Gal 6). As such, mission does not belong to the Church—it belongs to God. All authority for missional engagement comes from God, and congruence with the Bible’s narrative account of mission is the rubric for discerning faithful missional expression (John 15).

Mission and the Future of Creation

The Bible gives us insights into the restored future awaiting creation, a future in which God’s reign is fully realized. This future reality gives us reason for hope and motivation to work toward the redemption of creation.

In our own time, standing as we do between Pentecost (Acts 2) and the return of Christ, our central task as God’s people is to live united in the love of our neighbors and God through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Mission is about salvation—reconciliation with God, one anther, and all creation through Christ. Mission, one of the central, driving themes of the Bible’s narrative, is about God and His will being fully realized. Through His call to mission, God graciously invites us to actively participate in this realization.

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