The Mission of God and the Story of the New Testament

Watch the Video

Listen to the Audio

Read the Notes

The Mission of God

  • We can often think of mission in a very human-centred way – as though we are doing God a favour by getting involved.
  • But mission is primarily God’s mission – about filling the earth with his glory.
  • It’s God’s mission and we get to play a part in it.
  • To recap the story so far, God created the universe as a place for his glory to dwell. Eden is like a temple and the idea is that little by little, the temple will grow and the whole earth will be filled with his glory.
  • After a few chapters of disaster, God chooses Abraham and promises that through his offspring, he will undo all the problems. There were a few highs and many lows over the centuries.
  • Eventually the people were exiled for failing to be God’s representative people.
  • There are huge promises of what God would do when they return from exile but none of them seem to happen. The temple is nothing compared to what it used to be and God’s glory isn’t in it.

God’s Mission in the Gospels

  • On of the main themes of the gospels is that actually the glory of God has returned to Jerusalem (for example, in John 1:14, the use of the word ‘glory’ is temple language). In Jesus, God’s glory returned to the temple – but it doesn’t look a thing like people expected.
  • God’s mission is back on course because his glory is back in the temple.
  • There is also a sense in which the exile never really ended. The gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke all start with prophecies from the context of the end of the exile. The exile didn’t end when the people returned from Babylon. The exile ends with Jesus.
  • Jesus’ message was that the Kingdom is at hand. He was showing people what it looks like when God rules the world, and this sends the message that the mission is on track.
  • Jesus was doing something very different to what his Jewish contemporaries expected. They thought that the Messiah would come, rebuild Herod’s temple and then the glory of God would come.
  • Jesus was teaching his disciples that he needed to go to Jerusalem, be beaten and killed and then rise again. For his hearers, this was a complete contradiction to come out of the mouth of the Messiah.

“We have the Messiah, who was supposed to bring God’s victory, hanging on the instrument of Roman victory.” (Dan Hayter)

  • In the cross, you have one of the biggest ironies imaginable. Far from it being a defeat, it was the biggest victory of all time.
  • Jesus was accomplishing everything that the Messiah was supposed to do.
  • Isaiah 52 (which highlights everything that the Messiah was supposed to be) flows straight into Isaiah 53. In order for the Messiah to win the victory that was prophesied, he also needed to be the suffering servant.
  • The cross and the kingdom went hand in hand in Jesus.
  • The victory was won through the cross and then confirmed three days later as Jesus burst from the tomb.
  • At the end of the Old Testament, God’s mission appeared to be nowhere. By the end of the gospels we see that it is gloriously back on track.

God’s Mission in the Church

  • Acts is the story of what Jesus did through the early church (see Acts 1:1).
  • Jesus said that he would go to the Father, and instructed his followers to wait for him to send them the Holy Spirit and then they were to go out and be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth.
  • The whole book of Acts hangs on this. Chapters 1-7 are about the gospel of God succeeding in Jerusalem and Judea. In chapter 8, the gospel is preached in Samaria. From chapter 13 onwards, we see the gospel going out to the ends of the earth.
  • By the end of the book, Paul is preaching the gospel unhindered in the centre of the known world.
  • The book of Acts finishes on an open-ended note. It is succeeding, but it isn’t finished yet.
  • The question is how God’s people can fulfil the mission of God. It is through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost – the primary reason the Holy Spirit was given was to equip the church to fulfil the mission.
  • Pentecost is a much bigger deal than we think it is – it is the start of a totally new age. The temple is no longer a building, nor even the body of Jesus but the church.

“Paul writes, ‘you are the temple of the living God’. Paul says this, not to the Philippians he loved so much, not to the Thessalonians in the midst of their suffering and danger but to the recalcitrant, muddled, problem-ridden Corinthians. This is not, in other words, a sober judgment based on the noticeable holiness, or gospel-inspired love or joy, of this or that church. It is simply, for Paul, a fact: the living God who had said he would put his name in the great House is Jerusalem, has put his name upon and within these little, surprised communities, dotted about the world of the north-eastern Mediterranean. Unless we are shocked by this, we have not seen the point.” (N.T. Wright)

  • The Corinthians were not a particularly holy church – but God put his presence with them (and when we look around our church gatherings, we see the place of God’s presence).
  • The church is the temple of God – which is exactly why they can fulfil the mission. As the church do their job, they get bigger, which means that the temple gets bigger – which has always been the point – then the temple fills the earth.

God’s Mission Accomplished

  • What happens when everybody has heard the gospel and God’s mission has succeeded?
  • There will be a day when every tribe and tongue will have heard the gospel, and then the end will come.
  • In Romans 15:22, we see Paul gripped with such a passion to see the gospel go to the ends of the earth, that he wanted to go where nobody else had preached.
  • He understood that the who Biblical story was leading to the good news going to the ends of the earth because he realised that this is what it would take for God’s glory to fill the earth.
  • Eventually, the whole world will have heard the gospel (see Revelation 7).
  • At this time, the final enemy will be destroyed. When we talk about Christian hope, we often say things like, ‘When we die we will go to be with Jesus in heaven.’ This would be good for us but actually mean that God’s mission has failed. The mission is heading towards God’s people being physically raised from the dead and the whole of creation being restored. Death is swallowed up in victory.
  • In Revelation 21, the New Creation is described in terms that are reminiscent of a temple.
  • We haven’t returned to Eden. We have returned to what Eden would have been if Adam hadn’t failed in his commission. Adam failed to get rid of the serpent, but Jesus crushed the serpent’s head and carried the mission to completion.


  1. What are good ways to engage non-Christians with the idea that the Kingdom of God is both now and not yet.
  • You see this conversation happening in the gospels themselves.
  • It gives a framework to help people make sense of things, even if it doesn’t comfort them in a particular moment.
  • The story gives hope.
  • We need to walk the Biblical tightrope between stating the promise of the kingdom and not over-promising as though it’s all here now.
  • There is hope. God is with us now, so there can be a breakthrough. But there will be a day when sickness isn’t even a thing.
  • The New Testament teaches both of these truths, so we should preach both with conviction. We should keep the emphasis on the future hope.
  1. If the earth is the ultimate arena for God’s glory to dwell, should we talk more about caring for the planet? If so, how?
  • As a group of churches, we haven’t emphasised ecology issues very much.
  • There is some kind of continuity between this creation and the new one (and also some discontinuity). See, for example, Jesus’ resurrection body.
  • From the mandate in Genesis 1, there is a call to steward the earth well.
  • The two dangers that we  face are turning ecology issues into everything, or disregarding them altogether.
  • Physical matter matters to God.
  • In a way, it is similar to caring for the poor. In the first few chapters of Acts, people care for the poor in a way that echoes a lot of the promises of Deuteronomy. It is a fulfilment of what God wanted his people to do.
  • This shows that regardless of whether the new creation is a completely new world, there is precedent for seeing that material things matter in this world.
  1. If the Gospel needs to reach the ends of the earth before the end will come, what about countries that were once reached but now are not?
  • The impression from the Biblical imagery is that all the nations at the same time will have some kind of representative church.
  • We should be wary about answering questions that the Bible itself doesn’t explicitly address.
  1. Can you expand a bit more on the idea that when Jesus comes, the exile has ended?
  • The three prophets who particularly spoke about return from exile were Ezekiel, Jeremiah and Isaiah (particularly in the poem found in chapters 40-55).
  • In Luke 3, John the Baptist is preparing the way for Jesus and quotes from Isaiah 40 and Isaiah 52. These were promises about the end of the exile that it wouldn’t have been possible to claim had already been fulfilled.
  • The gospel writers are taking these promises and pointing them at Jesus.
  • The messenger in Isaiah 52 walks over the mountains saying, ‘your God reigns’. At the start of his ministry, Jesus was walking over the mountains of Israel saying, ‘the kingdom of God is at hand’.
  1. What difference does all of this make for our evangelism?
  • Depending on who you are talking to, the way you preach the gospel will be a bit different (for example, in Acts when the gospel was preached to Jews it was usually a summary of the Old Testament followed by an explanation of how it is fulfilled in Jesus, whereas in Athens it started with cultural things with which the Athenians were familiar, and connected Jesus to that).
  • When you are familiar with God’s big story, it helps you to see how every different person’s story relates to it.
  • Without this, the way we introduce the gospel can end up being very formulaic, whereas in Acts the way it was preached (and the aspects of the message that were focussed on) varied greatly.
  • For example, the idea of God’s mission ending with death being defeated is a very powerful message for a person who has a fear of death.
  • You are trying to show how every person’s story relates to God’s big story.
  1. What would it look like if we truly understood that we are God’s temple?
  • It is not possible in this age to fully grasp what it means, but we can understand it to a certain extent.
  • It makes a different to our gathered worship. We shouldn’t think of ourselves as inviting the Holy Spirit to come (as though he wasn’t present already). We should think about the truth that we are already the dwelling place of God.
  • It makes a difference to our ethics. Paul uses the idea that we are God’s temple to discourage sexual immorality. The idea is that if we are God’s temple, then we shouldn’t put impurity into that temple.
  • It also makes a difference theologically. This is not just an abstract point. Good theology changes the way you think and the way you live. A lot of people tend to connect with stories. It can help you to see your place in God’s story.
  1. When we’re church planting, what percentage of people in our town should we expect to be saved in order to say that the whole world is reached?
  • The word used for all the ‘peoples’ of the earth isn’t equivalent to modern day nations. It is talking of something larger than a single family, but smaller than a clan.
  • Jesus speaks more about the gospel being proclaimed to and heard by all nations than of a certain percentage being saved.
  • Have faith to see many saved. Theologically, the Bible doesn’t give a number but the word used suggests not just one or two people – it is speaking of the kind of impact that cannot be ignored.
  1. If preaching to the ends of the earth is the point, then why do we bother sitting in London (or wherever we are)?
  • This should be a challenge to us all.
  • We should all be passionate about reaching the ends of the earth, but this doesn’t necessarily mean we should all move there.
  • Though Paul was passionate about reaching the nations, when he wrote to the churches he wasn’t instructing them all to come. But he did try to catch them up in his mission (for example, he asked the Romans for financial support for his mission to Spain).
  • Paul wrote that he had been given grace for it. There needs to be some kind of grace/gifting/calling to go.
  • As churched, we need to be thinking about how we support apostolic mission to the ends of the earth.