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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary


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A task on which god sends a person He has called, particularly a mission to introduce another group of people to salvation in Christ. In the Christian context, the person sent is called a missionary. This person is charged with the task of spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ to people to whom he is sent. The mission of the churches is to send our missionaries to all parts of the world until everyone has had the opportunity to hear the message of Jesus and accept Him as Lord. Interestingly, the term mission is not found in the Scriptures, yet the concept of mission permeates the entire Bible.

Mission in the Old Testament While some scholars insist that the Old Testament has little, if anything, to say about mission, the more general understanding is that mission is an important Old Testament concept. Its foundation lies in the understanding that the transcendent God is also the God who is involved in history. He is the God who acts. The record of His involvement in history indicates that His work is both revelatory and redemptive. People know who God is by what He has done. Since the Fall (Genesis 3:1 ), God's primary activity has been redemptive, as the confessions in the Old Testament reveal (see Deuteronomy 6:20-24; Deuteronomy 26:5-9; Joshua 24:2-15 ). This redeeming activity of God is missionary because God sends His messengers to the house of Israel and His prophets as His spokesmen to all nations.

Clearly, God's mission concern is inclusive, not exclusive. As indicated in the listing of the nations in Genesis 10:1 , God's interest has been in all people, not just in Israel. When God called Abraham and his descendants, they were chosen, not to be exclusive vessels, but rather to be a means of blessing “all families of the earth” (Genesis 12:1-3 : Genesis 18:16-19; Genesis 22:9-19; Genesis 26:1-5; Genesis 28:10-14 ). Later, God told Israel that they had been elected as God's chosen people (Exodus 19:3-6 ). They are to be the recipient and guardian of God's special revelation (Hebrews 1:1-3 ) and the channel through which the Redeemer would enter the stream of human history (Isaiah 49:1-10 ). Still, the election was not an end in itself. God called Israel to be holy, separate, or distinct from other nations, but they were also to be priests to the other nations. To live among them and lead them to God was their purpose for being.

This truth was kept before Israel in three ways. The message of the prophets served as the first important reminder. For instance, Jeremiah was called to be a prophet to all nations (Jeremiah 1:3-10 ) and spoke out in judgment against them (Jeremiah 48:47; Jeremiah 49:6 ,Jeremiah 49:6,49:39 ). He also prophesied that all nations would be gathered in Jerusalem (Jeremiah 3:17 ). In like manner, Isaiah envisioned that all nations would be redeemed by coming to Jerusalem (Isaiah 25:1; Isaiah 66:18-24 ). Further, he warned them of God's judgment (Isaiah 12-25 ) and called upon Israel to be a “light to the Gentiles” (Isaiah 49:6 ).

The second reminder of Israel's responsibility in mission came through worship. The Psalms took into account that God was the Lord of all nations (see Psalm 67:1-2; Psalm 72:8 ,Psalms 72:8,72:17 ,Psalms 72:17,72:19; Psalm 50:1; Psalm 96:1 ). The architecture of the Temple provided a place for foreigners to worship in the court of the Gentiles (1 Kings 8:41-43 ), and the prayer of Solomon at the Temple dedication mentioned this fact (2 Chronicles 6:32-33 ).

Furthermore, the history of Israel reminded her of her mission responsibility through Rehab (Joshua 6:22-25 ) and Ruth (Ruth 1-4 ) becoming a part of Israel, although they were foreigners.

The Old Testament emphasized that the nations would have to come to Jerusalem to be saved. Jonah was shocked to receive a different kind of mission. God told him to go to Nineveh and call the people to repentance. He rebelled at helping the nation's oppressor escape judgment. Still, the Book of Jonah became the major Old Testament witness to God's love for and willingness to let foreigners relate to Him in worship.

Mission in the New Testament The New Testament brings to a crescendo the Bible's symphonic theme of mission. The mission begins with Jesus who was sent to earth to reveal the Father (John 1:18; John 14:9 ), to glorify Him (John 13:31; John 14:13; John 17:1 ,John 17:1,17:6 ), to bring the kingdom of God on earth (Matthew 12:22-32 ), and to make God's love and mercy known to a lost world. He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10 ). His mission was also inclusive. While Jesus' ministry was primarily for the Jews, He also met the needs of non-Jews. He healed the daughter of “a woman of Canaan” and praised the woman for her faith (Matthew 15:21-29 ). He also healed the servant of the Roman centurion (Matthew 8:5-13 ). On another occasion, He initiated a conversation with a Samaritan woman which led both to her conversion and to that of the entire community (John 4:1 ).

Through His teachings, Jesus made it clear that His mission was to continue after He ascended. Each of the Gospels and Acts contains an account of His mandate to His followers, telling them to go to all the world, make disciples, baptize them, and preach the gospel (Matthew 28:19-20; Mark 16:15-16; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21-22; Acts 1:8 ). Jesus assumed that the church would reach out beyond itself. This commission made a dramatic change in the emphasis of mission. Instead of looking to foreigners to come to Jerusalem as did the Old Testament, the church's mission is to go into all the world and not wait for the world to come to it. Not just selected prophets like Jonah but all the believers were to go and tell what they had seen with others.

The scope of mission was inclusive. The church was to cross all barriers—to reach out to all ethnic groups, clans, tribes, social classes, and cultures. The message of salvation was to be shared with all people everywhere.

The new disciples were to be baptized and taught. The purpose of the teaching was to do more than share information. It was to provide nourishment in the faith as well.

Since the Great Commission is a mandate, the church is expected to be obedient. Even so, it does not have to do the job alone. Christ has promised that He will be with the church until “the end of the world.” With this assurance, the church was obedient, for the gospel was presented first in Jerusalem (Acts 1-8 ), then in Samaria (Acts 8-12 ) and finally to all the world (Acts 13-28 ).

Jesus' presence would be felt through the Holy Spirit. In fact, the disciples were not to go out into the world until the Holy Spirit had come upon them (Acts 1:8 ). This is the only time in the Bible that a church is told not to be involved in mission. The reason are clear. The Holy Spirit empowers the church. He also convicts and converts sinners (Acts 5:14; Acts 11:21 ,Acts 11:21,11:24; Acts 18:8 ), performs mighty works of grace in believers (Acts 4:8-10 ), disciplines the church (Acts 5:13-14 ), sends forth workers (Acts 8:26; Acts 13:1-3 ), presides over the missionary council (Acts 15:1 ), restrains and contains workers (Acts 16:6-10 ), and exercises supreme ecclesiastical authority (Acts 20:28 ).

Empowered by the Holy Spirit, the church did mission by preaching Jesus (Acts 2:1; Acts 8:35; Acts 10:36-44; 1 Corinthians 2:1-2 ). The church's mission to the world was strengthened through its intimate fellowship and unity (Acts 2:44 ), and every effort was made to maintain this characteristic (Acts 6:1-7; Acts 15:1; and Paul's letters to the churches in Corinth and Galatia).

The missionaries Jesus sent out were instructed to go only to the house of Israel, to preach and to meet human need. They were not to be overly concerned about their physical or material needs, nor were they to spend an undue amount of time with those who willfully rejected their message (Matthew 10:1-15 ). After the resurrection, missionaries were arrested (Acts 4:1 and Acts 5:1 ), suffered (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 ), and died (Acts 7:1 ).

The apostle Paul was the most outstanding of these missionaries. God had called him as a missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 26:16-18; Romans 1:5; Ephesians 3:1 ), and he was sent out by the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1-3 ). The Holy Spirit led him in his ministry (Acts 16:6-10 ). He preached Jesus (1 Corinthians 2:1-2 ), met people on their own level (Acts 17:1 ), established autonomous, indigenous churches (Acts 14:23 ), and worked with others—often training them to do the works of the ministry (Acts 16:1-3 ). Paul further refused to be dependent on the work he established for his own livelihood, yet he was grateful when churches responded to his needs (Philippians 4:14-18 ). Significantly, he identified with those with whom he worked (1 Corinthians 9:19-23 ).

Mission was the heartbeat of the New Testament churches. See Confession; Election; Evangelism; Gospel; Holy Spirit; Kingdom of God; Paul; Salvation .

Bob Compton

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Mission(S)'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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