This post was first written on the 15th May 2016, towards the end of my first semester at bible college and following completion of my first ever arts essay at university level.
As many people will know by now, as has been the case for a couple of years at this point, I have become passionate about mission, the unreached, social justice, the great needs in this world. My thoughts have more and more been turning towards Asia, where I spent just under two weeks last year in Nepal and I don’t think my heart has been the same since.
In what follows here I intend on demonstrating this through scripture, through edited excerpts from an essay I wrote for bible college (focusing particularly on Genesis and Exodus) and through my understanding of what the bible says. But first, let’s start at the very end of the bible; in the book of Revelation.
Note: This is going to be quite a long post, and heavy on the scriptures as this is able to prove my points much better then my own thoughts do.
The New Testament
Revelation – Before the Throne
“After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!””
~ Revelation 7:9-10 ESV
This is the end game of God. This is what all of history is leading towards, all missionary endeavours and all the workings of God in the hearts of men and women. This is the end goal of Yahweh, the purpose of the death and the resurrection of the Lamb and the important work of the Holy Spirit in hearts today. A great multitude of people that no one could number from every nation, not just the chosen people of Israel, from all tribes and peoples and languages before the throne and before the lamb. The word used here in the Greek is panta ta ethnē, all ethnic groups (or people groups).
If this is the end goal of God, then the overarching purpose of God here is abundantly clear; all people, both Jews and Gentiles, are to be His people. He is concerned as much for the Gentile as He is for the Jew.
Acts of the Apostles and the New Testament Church
As we continue walking backwards through the pages of scripture, we come across the final commission of Jesus to His disciples, which is most commonly known as the Great Commission. I bring this under here instead of under the ministry of Jesus for one reason – firstly, because this is His final command before His ascension to heaven and secondly, because the apostles very clearly misunderstood the command.
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.””
~ Matthew 28:18-20 ESV
Very clearly here Jesus also uses the words (or a variation of the words) panta ta ethnē, meaning all ethnic groups. He tells them to go therefore into all nations, baptising and teaching. As first century Jews, surrounding by Gentile people’s who hadn’t heard the message, opportunity was right on their doorstep. The problem we see though is that because they misunderstood even in the simplest terms that the gospel was for all people, they didn’t share it with all people. Peter’s interaction with Cornelius is one such example. By this point, Saul had met Jesus on the road to Damascus and been radically transformed to be the main missionary to the Gentiles, but Jesus still had work to be done.
It goes like this. Peter has a vision:
“And he became hungry and wanted something to eat, but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heavens opened and something like a great sheet descending, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him: “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” But Peter said, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.” And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven.”
~ Acts 10:10-16 ESV
Cornelius’ servants come and find Peter, who now goes with them because of this vision.
And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered. And he said to them, “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation, but God has shown me that I should not call any person common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me.”
~ Acts 10:27-29 ESV
After hearing the words of Cornelius and how an angel has revealed this to him:
So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”
~ Acts 10:34-35 ESV
It is clear that Peter and by extension the remaining 11 apostles hasn’t understood the overarching purpose of God and the gospel. He hasn’t seen that it has been for all people in all places. God Himself makes it clear to him when the Holy Spirit comes upon those who hear his message. Peter goes on to relay the message to the rest of the apostles and disciples, many of whom will end up dying for God and the gospel in Gentile nations. One dies in Ethiopia; another in modern day India – they grasp the reality of the message as a message for Gentile as well as for Jew.
The Ministry of Jesus to Gentiles
Throughout the ministry of Jesus, there were times where He made it abundantly clear that His initial mission is the lost sheep of Israel. The chosen people are His first port of call. This was especially the case when dealing with the Gentile Canaanite woman where He appears to be racist (take note that she doesn’t appear insulted, nor rejected, nor discouragement but instead persevered and understood much deeper realities then did the disciples from Jesus – but this could be another blog post entirely). Her daughter was tormented by a demon and she was looking for help.
“He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.”
~ Matthew 15:24-28 ESV
You can almost feel His disciples chests’ swelling up in their national pride of being the chosen people of God. Canaanites are the lowest of the low of their society. “Look at Jesus tearing down that Canaanite woman”. But He then turns it around and ‘appears’ to change His mind – “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire”. You can almost imagine the shock for His followers. The point is this: all the Gentile interactions of Jesus (and there are a number) prove a point – His message is initially for Jews but His final purposes is for all.
We have the woman at the well, a Samaritan. Also a no-go for Israel but Jesus intentionally stops, talks and makes Himself known to her, not only breaking gender barriers but cultural – and the only person who He totally reveals Himself as the Messiah. He uses a Samaritan as an example of how to treat our neighbours in a parable, where a lawyer was testing him.
“But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.””
~ Luke 10:29-37 ESV
Go and do likewise. Like that Samaritan in my parable who we Jews are not to associate with. Another Gentile we meet in the story of the Centurion of Capernaum, coming after Jesus because his servant is paralysed.
““Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, suffering terribly.” And he said to him, “I will come and heal him.” But the centurion replied, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I too am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. And I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes, and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes, and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” When Jesus heard this, he marveled and said to those who followed him, “Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found such faith.”
~ Matthew 8:6-10 ESV
Yeah Lord.. If you are who you say you are, you can do it from right here with a word. You don’t need to come to my home. But this Gentile says more. The centurions words reveal what he really believed: “I recognise that you are under the authority of God”. This Gentile, said Jesus, had more faith then anyone He had yet found in Israel.
We see that Jesus, although His message was first and foremost for the Jew, He is also concerned for the Gentile. He always worked for their good in light of their faith in Him, all of which comes to bear under a few prophecies in the Old Testament and God’s purposes for the chosen people Israel. Of which we will now turn to for the remainder of this blog post.
The Old Testament
Jonah – the reluctant prophet
Jonah is an interesting one. A Jew called by God to be a missionary and not just a missionary to anyone but to one of the people’s hated by the Jews because of their military domination of them. Jonah was a man called to the Assyrians. This is by far my favourite Old Testament story showing God’s concern for Gentile people.
“Now the word of the Lord came to Jonah the son of Amittai, saying, “Arise, go to Nineveh, that great city, and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me.””
~ Jonah 1:1-2 ESV
So Jonah gets up and runs away from God and Nineveh, gets eaten by a big fish and decides that maybe Nineveh won’t be that bad after all. Jonah’s message is heard and the people of Nineveh repent:
“The word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water, but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.” When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them, and he did not do it.”
~ Jonah 3:6-10 ESV
Jonah isn’t too happy because he wanted destruction on Nineveh, something many Jews would have wished upon them – but Yahweh, obvious in His concern for the Assyrian people called on them to repent through Jonah and when they did, relented of His destruction. It’s seriously easy to see God’s concern in the New Testament for Gentile people’s, but it’s even more noteworthy to see that yes, there is major consistency here. Let’s go back even farther.
It’s worth noting here (I won’t go into too much depth as the post is already over 4000 words) that Daniel worked closely with the Gentile Kings of Babylon and Persia, interpreting dreams and visions during the exile, an unexpected role for a Jew in a place such as Babylon and Persia. Esther married a Gentile king and saved her people through intervention with him. Isaiah said in Isaiah 52:10 that “The LORD has bared he holy arm before the eyes of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” All the ends of the earth, that is, all peoples will see the salvation of God.
The Exodus from Egypt
Especially following the Exodus from Egypt under the hand and provision of Yahweh, we begin to see the plan of God for the people of Israel unfolding.
“You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
~ Exodus 19:4-6 ESV
As the treasured possession of Yahweh, Israel was to be a movable property, a jewel, God’s own. As a kingdom of priests, especially following receipt of the Law, the function of the people in relation to the Kingdom is made known. Her role as a nation of people is to play a mediator role, interceding and mediating before Yahweh for the nations. The third ministry of the people of Israel, as a holy nation, implicated they were to be set apart wholly for the purposes of God, in both their lives and their application of service to Yahweh. Through these three areas, Israel was called to display the grace and work of Yahweh in the world and in some cases there was success, such as Daniel above, Esther, Elisha’s interactions with Naaman the Syrian and the Shummanite woman and Joseph who shall be outlined below but in many cases, such as Jonah, there was reluctance or great failure, which eventuated in their judgement and exile.
The people were chosen by God as a special possession, definitely. But they were chosen to be a conduit of God to the nations, which hearkens back to God’s first promise to Abraham. But first, let’s look at Joseph, who explicitly exemplifies the purposes of God to the Gentile nations, one of the few instances in their history where this was achieved.
Genesis – Joseph
The story of Joseph, where his brothers sold him into slavery in Egypt. If you know the story, you will know that Joseph becomes the governor of all Egypt second only to Pharoah himself. He helps the entire land and lands around them through a famine affecting their world. Joseph understands that he is not there by his brothers doing – but by the sovereign will of God who is concerned for the nations as much as He is the family of Abraham. Joseph was God’s moveable possession whom He sovereignly moved, who mediated for the nations around him and for his own people and was set apart wholly for the purpose of Yahweh.
“So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”
~ Genesis 45:4-8 ESV
The work of Joseph for the Pharoah of Egypt not only saved his own family but also all of Egypt and many nations surrounding them, knowing that God sent him before them. Yet again, why Joseph does what he does here, while he probably doesn’t realise it himself (as he doesn’t mention the survival of the Egyptians in the text), is important and goes back to the promise of Abraham.
Genesis – Abraham
“Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your fathers house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonours you I will curse and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
~ Genesis 12:1-3
The blessing that was received by Abraham, according to Walter C. Kaiser Jr., is under “a purpose clause: “in order that you may be a blessing”… Everything he was given was a gift to be shared for the enrichment of others”.
The words here are “so that you will be a blessing”, and it is these words that had been forgotten by God’s chosen people, whom He chose to be His conduit of blessing to the world around them. In him all families of the earth were to be blessed because of the promise of God – not just the family of Abraham – but all families. All nations. All peoples.
The All-encompassing Purpose of God
God made express His global, universal, all-reaching, all-encompassing purposes for the inclusion of Gentiles from the very beginning with Abraham. This post is too long already to speak of the likes of Ruth the Moabite or Rahab the prostitute from Jericho (both of whom Jesus is descended from), all of the Prophets or the interactions of King Solomon. It is certain that God remains consistent through scripture, His plans including the blessing of the Gentile through the chosen people of Israel. Most often, their failure is evident and brought upon them judgment and exile.
Their exile forced them into the Gentile nations – becoming God’s moveable possession. Many took on mediatory roles in those nations, such as Esther in Persia who mediates for her people and for the Persians in her role as the Queen. Daniel is the interpreter of dreams for the kings of Babylon and Persia, and his friends display God through their bold denial of idol worship. The people of Israel forgot the intention of God – and He forced them into a place where they had no other choice but to work out His purposes.
The coming of Christ is of course the final product of God’s promise to Abraham, where all families of the earth shall be blessed through him, Christ being the descendant of Abraham. It is by Christ and through Christ that both Jew and Gentile are blessed and can have relationship with God.
And it is by faith that we enter into the promise to Abraham as Gentiles – it is by faith that we become the chosen people of God. Paul understood this looking back over the promise, seeing that those who believe in the come Messiah are in fact the seed of Abraham. This is exactly what he goes to teach the Gentile Galatians in his letter to the Galatians:
“Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.”
~ Galatians 3:7-9 ESV
“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
~ Galatians 3:25-29 ESV
So what does this actually mean for us as Christians in the 21st century? It means that, as the offspring of Abraham, with the promises of God and our faith professed in Jesus Christ, we are under the exact same purpose clause as the chosen nation of Israel; to “extend our blessing to the nations”.
I for one am aware (and have written much about it in the past) that not all nations are yet blessed through the people of God. There are still places locked to Christian activity. There are still people’s who haven’t heard the good news of the gospel. There are still places where human trafficking runs rampart and poverty is reeking havoc.
God’s purposes has always been for the entire world to know Him. From Abraham to today, He has worked in many different ways, eventuating in the coming of His Son as the total and final blessing in whom all peoples were to be blessed. Do we truly realise just how blessed we are by God? This brings into bearing the reality that we are literally, as is often said, “blessed to be a blessing” – because it is through us and by us that the purpose of God and the promise of God to bless all the nations will come to fruition.
My hope for my life, as I continue to move forward in exploration of mission in Asia, is to be increasing in generosity, in boldness in sharing the gospel, in ferocity in fighting human trafficking and slavery. We are children of the promise, and part of the all-encompassing purpose of God for the world. Let’s not miss it like the people of Israel did.