Several truths which have implications for missions emerge out of the Old Testament Scriptures. We noted in our previous article that the Old Testament teaches that all the nations will ultimately come into the Kingdom of God. It is also plain from the Old Testament that God did not leave Himself without witness to the whole world. In the earliest period of Old Testament history we find this phenomenon. Enoch, the seventh from Adam in the line of Seth, prophesied: “Behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” (Jude 14-15) This of course is negative. But it does indicate that Enoch preached to the entire world of his day of the final redemption of the Church and of the punishment of the ungodly who rise up against God and His cause as represented by His people in the world. And this is ever and always the message of the gospel. This same truth must be preached on the mission fields today. God is coming to judge the nations and save His elect church!
Similarly we read of Noah that he was a preacher of righteousness (II Peter 2:5) and that he condemned the world by faith. (Hebrews 11:7) Also through Noah it is clear God left a witness of His righteousness to the world. That was a righteousness according to which God saved Noah and his family and destroyed the world with the flood. God didn’t just do that all of a sudden. God announced it through Noah’s preaching and building of the ark. The world knew what was coming! Again God did not leave Himself without witness to the world. That same righteousness of God must be proclaimed by the church in its mission today.
The Old Testament also reveals that there were those outside of the holy line in the narrower sense, that is, outside of the particularistic line of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Israel. There was Melchisedec who lived in Canaan at the time of Abraham. He was called a priest of the most high God. As such he stands in Scripture as the typical priest, for Christ is the priest forever after the order of Melchisedec. He represented God in his community. There was also Jethro, the Midianite and father-in-law of Moses. Rahab, and Ruth the Moabitess, are other examples. Hence the line of the covenant, though for the most part confined to Israel, did include “outsiders.” This is certainly prophetic of the New Dispensation when God would gather His elect out of all nations. There is as well in the Old Testament God’s revelation of an all-embracive covenant to Abraham. The “seed of the woman” of Genesis 3:15 can be traced from Seth, Enoch, Noah, Shem, to Abraham. And we know from the New Testament (Galatians 3:6ff.) that this “seed of Abraham” is really Christ (verse sixteen) and all who are in Him by faith. This is the one seed, the Church of all the ages. Nevertheless, already to Abraham God revealed something of this. When God called Abraham He said, “Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will show thee: And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” (Genesis 12:1-3) This promise, ‘”in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed,” God repeated often. (cf. Genesis 13:14-18; 15:5; 17:4-8; 17:15-16; 22:17-18) The whole idea, therefore, of the covenant with its spiritual seed implies the task of missions. God’s covenant embraces not just an, indefinite number of scattered individuals, but the covenant embraces a seed (not seeds as of many), a people, a new humanity. This is the elect race in Jesus Christ. These must be gathered by the Son of God out of all nations by the preaching of the Word.
There is an obviously universal and prophetic note to be found in the Psalms. This, do not forget, is still the Old Dispensation. There was at this time no preaching of the gospel to the nations. Yet there is a universal note and the suggestion that in the future the gospel will be preached to all nations. Among the many examples which could be cited is Psalm 96:1-4: “O sing unto the Lord a new song: sing unto the Lord, all the earth. Sing unto the Lord, bless his name; shew forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people. For the Lord is great, and greatly to be praised: he is to be feared above all gods.” That remains the task of the church in its mission to declare God’s glory among the heathen and his wonders among all people.
This universal note is sounded even more clearly in the prophets. Everything still finds its focus and meaning in Israel, but the universal idea is emphasized nonetheless. There is a “Day of the Lord” coming in which all shall know Jehovah and both down before Him. This is the vision of .the Old Testament Prophets, something no doubt which they did not even grasp in all its implications. The prophet Isaiah proclaims: “And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. And many people shall go and say, Come ye, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and he will teach us of his ways, and we will walk in his paths: for out of Zion ,shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:2-3) Similar passages are: Isaiah 11:1-10; Isaiah 25:6-9; Micah 4:1-2; Zechariah 8:20-23. It is striking that in all these passages the coming of the nations, the Gentiles, the heathen to Jerusalem (Mt. Zion) is spontaneous. There is no mention of any human agency. This does not mean that the Church is not instrumental in the gathering of the nations by means of the preaching of the Word. Not at all. The emphasis falls rather on the fact that God gathers and defends and preserves His Church out of every nation. Whatever else one may say about the work of missions he must say that it is preeminently God’s work! This is the fundamental principle of missions. Even in those passages where the agency, of the Church is mentioned the emphasis remains on the fact that the coming of the nations is God’s work. Isaiah 55:5reads: “Behold, thou shalt call a nation that thou knowest not, and nations that knew not thee shall run unto thee because of the Lord thy God, and for the Holy One of Israel; for he hath glorified thee.” The “thou” of the text is Israel, God’s servant who shall call the nations. But the nations shall run to Israel because of the Lord her God Who is the Holy One of Israel Who has glorified her.
All of these passages are prophetic of the coming of the Great Day of the Lord. The prophet Joel speaks of this: “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions: And also upon the servants and upon the handmaids in those days will I pour out my spirit. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord come. And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be delivered: for in mount Zion and in Jerusalem shall be deliverance, as the Lord hath said, and in the remnant whom the Lord shall call.” This word finds its fulfillment in the cross, resurrection, ascension, and pouring out of the Spirit of Christ as the Apostle Peter preached on Pentecost. (Acts 2) But again the work of salvation is entirely God’s. God pours out His spirit upon all flesh, God shows wonders in the heavens and in the earth, salvation shall be in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, even in the remnant whom the Lord shall call. The work is God’s.
The motive or purpose of the gathering of the Church out of nations is the manifestation of God’s glory, the honor of His name. Thus the Lord instructs the prophet Ezekiel: “Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; I do not this for your sakes, O house of Israel, but for mine holy name’s sake, which ye have profaned among the heathen, whither ye went. And I will sanctify my great name, which was profaned among the heathen, which ye have profaned in the midst of them; and the heathen shall know that I am the Lord, saith the Lord God, when I shall be sanctified in you before their eyes. ” God will save His people, not for their own sakes, but for His holy name’s sake. God will do it in order that His glory may be displayed before the heathen.
In sum ,therefore, there are three principles already obvious in the Old Testament Scriptures. The first is that while salvation is centered in Israel (Jerusalem, Mount Zion), it shall not be restricted to Israel. There is a day coming (the Great and Terrible Day of the Lord) when the Church shall be gathered out of all nations. In that Day “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be delivered.” The second principle is that this gathering of the church out of the nations, even though it takes place through the agency (preaching) of the church itself, is exclusively the work of God. God gathers His elect Church. Finally, the motive and purpose or goal of this gathering of the Church out of the nations is the manifestation of God’s glory and the honor of His name.
These principles must govern the Church in its mission work. In that work the Church is engaged in God’s work. And the Church is engaged in God’s work for the sake of the glory of His name. These same principles stand in bold relief in the New Testament. We shallexamine them in depth, D.V., in subsequent articles.