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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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MISSION.—The following article deals with the mission of the Lord Jesus Christ only as presented in the Gospel narratives. The Lord Jesus frequently manifested consciousness of being commissioned by God. Now the general (πέμπω) and now the specific term (ἀποστέλλω) for sending is used in reference to His work, the latter word signifying an intimate connexion between sender and sent (Cremer, p. 529). As God’s trusted messenger He felt that there was a decree (δεῖ) for Him to execute (Luke 2:49; Luke 4:43; Luke 9:22 etc.), that He had His Father’s authority (John 5:43; John 8:42), and that as the Father had sanctified Him and sent Him into the world (John 10:36), it was not for Him to do His own pleasure (John 6:38). The Fourth Evangelist, deeply impressed with the idea of the commission received by his Lord, mentions the fact repeatedly, and in one place stops to brood over the mere name of a place because it suggests a mission (John 9:7). Instead of considering Himself as being merely one among a number of Divine messengers, Jesus knew Himself to be the Messenger-Son (Mark 12:6-7). The Lord’s consciousness refers to (1) the objects of His mission, (2) the means to be adopted to gain His wondrous ends, (3) the extent, and (4) the credentials of His mission.

1. The objects of the mission.—These are exhibited in various forms. Prophecy has to be fulfilled (Mark 12:10-11; Mark 14:21; Mark 14:27; Mark 14:49, Luke 4:21; Luke 10:24; Luke 24:27, John 5:46; John 13:18). It is the function of Jesus to be the King (Psalms 2), the Son of Man (Psalms 8, Daniel 7:13-14), the Servant of Jehovah (Isaiah 42, 53), the founder a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34); and thus to glorify God (John 12:28; John 17:4) and save men (Matthew 1:21, Luke 2:11; Luke 19:10, John 3:17; John 10:10; John 12:47; John 17:2; John 20:31) by attracting men to Himself (Matthew 11:28, John 5:40; John 12:32) and by giving Himself as a sacrifice (Mark 10:45, John 1:29; John 6:51; John 10:15; John 12:24).

2. Means to the ends of the mission.—The nature of these aims required that the Heavenly Apostle (Hebrews 3:1) should manifest the Kingdom and the character of God, together with the greatness of man’s calling. The sacrificial death at Calvary sums up all the revelations. The speech, the life, the death of the Lord Jesus are the means whereby He discharges His unique mission to mankind.

(a) To succeed, it was imperative that Jesus should ensure the recognition of the sovereignty of God. The Kingdom of God must be established upon the earth (Matthew 4:17, Luke 19:11 ff.). Where there are minds that gladly defer to God’s will, there the Kingdom is. Submission may be incomplete (Matthew 13:24-30; Matthew 13:47-48) and transient (Matthew 13:20-22). In Jesus alone were the claims of God fully and constantly heeded: therefore the leadership of men is His prerogative (Matthew 23:10). He called men to Himself in order to make them loyal to the heavenly throne. God’s subjects renounce evil habits (Matthew 4:17), enjoy pardon (Luke 24:47), possess sincerity (Matthew 7:21-27), are plastic and trustful as children (Matthew 18:2-4, Luke 18:16-17, John 3:3), are willing to render costly service in meekness (Matthew 20:25-28); they transcend national distinctions (Matthew 8:11) and set all interests below those of the Kingdom (Matthew 6:33; Matthew 13:45-46, Luke 9:57-62; Luke 18:29-30). The presence of the Kingdom is known by its conquering power (Luke 11:20). Its growth cannot be accounted for unless the activities of God are adduced; albeit man’s cooperation is required (Mark 4:26-29). A river (as the Nile) may not originate in the land that it waters, and yet may be indispensable thereto; similarly Christ’s Kingdom is the blessing the world needs most, and its coining must be uppermost in prayerful minds (Matthew 6:9-10), yet it takes its rise in the unseen heaven (John 18:36). Diseases, defects, excreseences of all kinds—physical, mental, spiritual—are foreign elements (Matthew 13:27-28, Luke 13:16). It was the function of the Lord Jesus to reveal verbally and in His life the nature of God’s reign. His loving and unswerving devotion to the Father’s will is the central orb of the moral world, and all human wills should be planets ruled and lighted by His filial homage. Union with Him, harmony with Him, would bring about union and harmony among the races of mankind, and earth according to the great prayers (Matthew 6:9-10, John 17:20-21), would be a province of heaven. In all its particulars—its purity, might, obedience, joyful loyalty, friendliness, prayerfulness, catholicity—the Kingdom of God is the life of Christ expanded. It was His task to give mankind, on the scale of His earthly experience, a clear and distinct conception of subjection to the authority of God. The Kingdom is where He is; it is He working through the wills, intellects, affections of His people. The laws of the Kingdom are those to which Christ conformed His purposes and deeds. The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-12) are songs that first were sung in His own heart. Hence a description of the Kingdom is a description of the character of Jesus from the point of view belonging to duty and common service. If the precepts of the gospel—which were indeed citations from His own hook of life as child, friend, artizan, preacher, sacrifice—were heeded in home and Church and State, we should see the Kingdom of God an organism with Christ as its soul, devout, righteous, beneficent.

(b) He to whom the human will ought to be surrendered must he known to be supremely worthy of reverence, trust, and love. Inasmuch, then, as knowledge of God is essential to eternal life, it was one of the aims of Christ to impart this knowledge (John 17:3). God had often been represented as the Father of the Chosen People, and here and there individuals had thought themselves to be sons of God; but in the teachings of Jesus the Divine Fatherhood is asserted and illustrated so copiously, that some chapters of the Gospels consist almost solely of variations to the music of these good tidings (Matthew 5, 6, 7). Jesus made men think of God trustfully as well as reverently, with love as well as with awe. The revelation could be made only by the Son of God (Matthew 11:27, Luke 10:22), and it was contained in Himself (John 1:18; John 14:7-10). The love and obedience of the Son have as their counterparts the Father’s love and instructions; and so the paternal and the filial dispositions are mutually illuminating. The purposes of the Father are executed by the Son, and therefore to come to Jesus, to receive and honour Him, are acts that reach to God (Luke 9:48, John 5:22-23; John 13:20). The message is the Messenger. Not merely does a veil fall from before the Divine character; for Jesus, standing where the veil had stood, manifests the eternal righteousness and pitying love that cannot be content unless men are rescued from unrighteousness and wrath. Salvation is man’s progressive advance (John 17:3 γινώσκω) to God, his growing communion with the Father, his increasing faith, love, and reverence. The Saviour invites men to come by penitence and trust to Himself, that they may become one with Him and, through Him, with the Father (Matthew 11:28, John 17:21). whose holiness He discloses.

(c) The fulfilment of Christ’s mission required the revelation of man. What is the moral condition of men? What is man in God’s idea? What can make man’s sin to be seen and hated? What can make God’s thought and purpose concerning man attractive to sinners? Inasmuch as penitence, faith, hope, love are essential elements of a true life, to create them was included in Christ’s gracious task. To produce the consciousness of guilt was an indispensable preliminary. His speech made sin exceeding sinful, and in His conduct there were presented such contrasts to man’s misdoings that the evils were exposed. A sense of sin actually was produced (Luke 5:8; Luke 7:37 ff; Luke 19:7-8), and men learned to trust God’s Son and to desire to be taught His life (Luke 11:1). He encouraged men to hope that His experience of pleasing the Father (John 8:29) might become theirs, seeing that they could become as intimately related to Him as the branches are related to the vine (John 15:1-8). The appearance of the Son of Man was a gospel, because, while it condemned sin, it affirmed moral evil to be an intrusion into man’s nature, and it invited the sinful to receive forgiveness and enter into union with that victorious life which from the first had overcome the world (Matthew 4:1-11, John 8:29; John 16:33; John 17:4). Corrupted man rejected and killed the Holy One, thereby disclosing human guilt and need; man, as God intended him to be, and as he may become by ‘believing in him’ (John 2:11; John 3:16), is revealed in Christ’s meekness, devoutness, filial obedience and fraternal service. ‘The Son of God’ gives men authority to become God’s sons (John 1:12-13), thereby causing men fully to unfold their manhood.

(d) The mission of the Saviour involved His death.—His death was a chief part of His work. The Evangelists record sayings which prove that the great sacrifice was present to our Lord’s mind at an early stage of His ministry, so that there is no need to regard the explicit references to the death by violence made near Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:31 ff.) as indicating a new outlook to the Lord’s own mind. The tragic note that is heard early in the Fourth Gospel (John 2:19-21; John 3:14-15; John 6:51) is not left to the last in the Synoptic accounts (Matthew 9:15, Mark 2:19-20, Luke 5:34-35). Moreover, the saving purpose of the sacrifice (Matthew 26:28, Mark 10:45; Mark 14:24, John 10:11; John 12:23-24; John 12:32-33), its necessity (δεῖ Mark 8:31, Luke 24:26), and its voluntary character (Matthew 26:53, John 10:18), are affirmed. ‘Through death to life’ is illustrated in His experience. The enjoyment by Him of a fuller life in countless redeemed ones is conditional upon His uttermost self-renunciation (John 12:24). The life of the Saviour passes to men through His surrender, and it enters into them so far as they adopt its principle. The way of sacrifiee is thus the way whereby the Saviour gives and the saved receive (Matthew 16:24-25). The New Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31-34) is connected with the shedding of the Lord’s blood (Luke 22:20), and it is necessary that the saved should participate in this fundamental law of Christ’s being (John 6:53-57). It was the Son’s gracious will to come to earth on an errand which meant exposure to temptation (and therefore exposure to the possibility that He might not return to heaven) in order to destroy sin and to allure mankind to the paths of rectitude and peace. It was not the purpose of the Lord to ascend to God unless He could do so as the head of a new race,—a race healed (John 3:14-15), vivified and nourished by His sacrificial offering (John 6:51-58). This death, with its victory over death, and its sequel—the return to the Father—were intended to provide, through the gift of the Holy Spirit, those saving resources whereby the true life is initiated (John 16:7-11) and sustained (John 14:16; John 14:26, John 15:26, John 16:13-15).

3. The extent of Christ’s mission.—While the regeneration of men was His first concern, His numerous miracles evince His care for man’s physical needs. As all departments of life were to be purified and enriched by His example and teaching, so all men were to feel that they could be saved by His grace. It has been supposed that Jesus had no outlook beyond the Chosen People, and that the universalism of the Gospels is an interpolation; the catholicity which the Church subsequently manifested being read back into the teachings of the Lord. This conjecture is applied to the Fourth Gospel, to the world-wide commission (Matthew 28:18-20, Mark 16:15), and to the universalism of St. Luke. True it is that at first the area of labour was restricted (Matthew 15:24), but this was a necessity of the situation, and is no indication that the Gentiles were to be excluded from salvation. Sin is not local or racial, and Jesus hated it; and man, as man, was loved by Him. Any devout Jew would think that somehow the Gentiles were to reap advantage from the Messianic reign (Luke 2:30-32), and though it was deemed absurd to suppose that preference could be given by the Messiah to heathen men (John 7:35), even the Pharisees were zealous in making proselytes (Matthew 23:15). Why should it be thought incredible that Jesus hoped ultimately to win men of all nations? Was not exclusiveness distressing to Him? Was He not ready with a reference to mercies granted to the woman of Zarephath and to Naaman the Syrian (Luke 4:25-27)? The outer court of the Temple was the only part of the sacred structure to which a Gentile had access, and all the Evangelists report that Jesus insisted that this enclosure should be kept clean and quiet ‘for all the nations’ (Matthew 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:14; John 2:16). Jesus rejoiced in the centurion’s faith—not found by Him in Israel (Luke 7:9), and the Syrophœnician woman cheered His heart by her trust and loving ingenuity (Matthew 15:28). At first the disciples were forbidden to preach to Samaritans (Matthew 10:5), though, when they were fully equipped, the restriction was withdrawn (Acts 1:8): He Himself laboured in Samaria (Luke 9:51-56, John 4), and called attention to the beneficence of one Samaritan (Luke 10:33-35), and to the faith and gratitude of another’ (Luke 17:15-19). It is quite in harmony with the Saviour’s love for the outcast and despised, the publicans and sinners amongst the Jews (Matthew 9:9-13, Luke 7:37-50; Luke 15:1-2 ff., Luke 18:9-14; Luke 19:1-10), that He should foresee the approach of all men to Himself (John 12:32), and anticipate a time when He should be the Shepherd of one flock consisting of sheep gathered from far and near (John 10:16). The interest manifested by the Magi (Matthew 2) and by the Greeks (John 12:20-21) is not alien to Christ’s mission. Moreover it is clearly declared that strangers will become workers in the vineyard (Matthew 21:41), and that before His throne all nations are to be assembled for judgment (Matthew 25:31-32). ‘The Saviour of the world’ (John 4:42) has grace and power wherewith to meet the needs which belong to every man in every age and country; for He is the Light (John 1:9, John 8:12, John 9:5, John 12:46), the Water (John 4:10, John 7:37), the Bread (John 6:35; John 6:48-51), the Life (John 11:25, John 14:6).

4. Credentials of the mission.—Jesus entered upon His task with the confidence that He was anointed with the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18). John the Baptist declared that he saw the Spirit descending upon Jesus, and that he had been prepared for this sign (John 1:33-34). The testimony thus borne by the last of the Old Covenant prophets is referred to by the Saviour together with other credentials,—as the witness of His works, that of the Father and that of the Scriptures (John 5:32-47). Messengers came from the Machaerus prison, saying, ‘John the Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that cometh, or look we for another?’ In that hour Jesus wrought miracles which He adduced, together with His habit of announcing good tidings to the poor, as proofs of His Messiahship (Luke 7:18-22). The deeds were signs (σημεῖα) that the Divine messenger could quicken body and soul (Mark 5:41-42, Luke 7:14-15, John 11:25; John 11:43-44); cure physical and spiritual diseases; render efficient withered powers (Mark 3:1-5, John 5:5-9); add faculties, contrary to what might be expected, as in the case of the man born blind (John 9); redress evils caused by circumstances—for instance the fever due to the Capernaum district—(Luke 4:38-39); cleanse all the fountains of life, as in cures wrought for lepers (Mark 1:40-42, Luke 17:12-14); bestow abilities, receptive (Mark 8:22-25) and communicative (Matthew 9:32-33). While the miracles were wrought in pure kindness, they afforded evidences to the thoughtful of the validity of Christ’s claims (John 3:2; John 7:31; John 10:37-38; John 14:11; John 15:24), and they were intended by the Lord to give assurance to men of His redeeming grace (Mark 2:10-11). The very term employed for saving processes (σώζω) will serve equally for temporal and spiritual blessings (Matthew 1:21, Mark 10:26, Luke 7:50, John 3:17), even as the Worker shows Himself in reference both to the inner and the outer life to be the Great Physician (Mark 2:17). Some persons were allowed to have extraordinary aid to the belief that Jesus came from God, for they were with Him when He was transfigured, and heard a voice saying, ‘This is my Son, my chosen: hear ye him’ (Luke 9:35); nevertheless there was adequate support for the faith of all men in the remarkable interest Jesus took in the neglected (Luke 7:22-23; Luke 15:1 ff.), in His readiness to pray (John 17:1) and to serve (Mark 6:34, cf. v. 31), and in the union of qualities of character which are rarely found together. The credentials of Christ’s mission are in Himself. The grandeur and simplicity of His life, the meek and beneficent use of marvellous powers, the sinless One’s friendship with sinners, the strength and gentleness, the zeal and patience, the ardour and purity of His character—prove that He came forth from the Father (John 6:68-69; John 16:27). Believers in Him discover with more and more clearness, as they trust Him more and more fully, that His gracious promises are fulfilled. He is to their consciences the Goodness,—to their intellects the Truth,—to their hearts the supreme Beauty, the Way, the Truth, the Life.

Literature.—Cremer, Lex. s.v. ἀσοστέλλω; Wendt, Teaching of Jesus, ii. 184 ff.

W. J. Henderson.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Mission'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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