I wrote in the end of my last post that I would describe in more detail what I believe is a Biblical mandate to bring the gospel to every people group on earth. Or to put it another way, that the Lord’s desire is that the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ would be proclaimed to all peoples, down to distinct people groups. It is not sufficient to limit “missions” as simply an effort to reach as many individuals as possible in places different from our own. Of course seeing lives changed by the power of the cross is what we all want to see, and I am not belittling the ministries of outreach that happen around our city, or around the world to peoples that would be considered as “reached”. That must happen, it needs to happen. I am not saying that this is an “either, or” scenario, but rather a “both, and” scenario. But the fact still remains that only 1% of all missionary activity is aimed toward unreached peoples, and I feel this is something we all need to take a hard look at why it is this way, and then pray and ask the Lord if we are looking at “missions” the way He has revealed it through His word. Because of the magnitude of this topic, we will take a couple of posts to look at this idea of unreached peoples.
In the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus tells His disciples to “make disciples of all nations”, and He then gives them the promise that “I am with you always even to the close of the age”. That promise is given to sustain the command to make disciples of all nations. This was not just for the apostles, as they died in one generation, but rather for the church because the promise given extends to “the end of the age”. This commission is for the church who will endure to the end of the age. To fully understand what the missionary task is for the church, we need to look at the phrase “make disciples of all nations”, and more specifically, the words “of all nations”, which in the Greek is translated ‘panta te ethne’. Of the 18 times this phrase is used in the N.T. in only one circumstance would it demand the meaning of “gentile individuals”. The rest of the 17 uses of that phrase would suggest the meaning of distinct people groups.
In Genesis 12:1-3, God makes a promise to Abram in which He states that in him “all of the families of the earth will be blessed”. The word for “families” translated in the Septuagint is phulai, which is our word meaning “tribes”. So the blessing here is intended to reach down to a small grouping of peoples. This same verse is quoted in the N.T. in Acts 3:25, and the Greek for “all the families” is pasai hai patriai, which is another reference to “people groups”. The writer of Acts understood that the promise given to Abraham was not just for gentile individuals, but for distinct people groups. We read throughout the O.T. and find verse like Psalm 96:3 “Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among the peoples”. Or Psalm 117:1 “Praise the Lord, all nations! Extol Him, all peoples!”, or Psalm 67:1-2 “May God be gracious unto us, and bless us, and make His face to shine upon us,(WHY) that Thy way may be known upon earth, Thy saving power among all nations”. When we read these verses we can see very clearly that the promise of salvation is to come to every tribe, and tongue, and nation. This O.T. hope was the very foundation for the Apostle Paul’s work as a missionary, he understood the promise of Abraham was to go to every people group, and that was what he aimed to see accomplished – that was his goal. We’ll look at Paul and the way he viewed the great commission, as well as other N.T. examples of this “All Nations” phrase in my next post. In the meantime, I would encourage you guys to look over some of these passages yourself, particularly in the O.T., and ask the Lord to show you more of this promises for the “Nations” to be blessed. I’ll leave you with this. In Exodus 19:6 the Lord says to Israel, “…and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation…”. What did the Lord mean by calling Israel a kingdom of priests? What was Israel to do regarding the nations around them, and how does that fit in with what we have been discussing?
Think about it.