But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and as far as the remotest part of the earth. (Acts 1:8, NASB)
Through the agency of the Holy Spirit, the New Testament Church came into being as an evangelizing, teaching, worshipping, and serving fellowship of the people of God. The Church takes up the destiny of the true Israel and becomes the missionary people of the kingdom of God. The Church is an essential part of the plan of God for the salvation of the nations. She is sent into the world in the power of the Spirit to bring the nations to faith and obedience (Romans 16:26).
However, the early Church was slow in bringing the Gospel to the nations in the beginning. Having received the Commission from the Lord already on several occasions, the disciples did not rush out to evangelize the nations. Only when persecution scattered the believers throughout Judea and Samaria did they begin preaching in the regions (Acts 8:1, 4). They first confined their witness to the Jews, but later on, in the Book of Acts, we see the mission to the Gentiles started and finally carried out and made central in their lives and ministry.
About the priestly calling of Israel in Exodus 19: 3-6, Peter has a new understanding that Christians are now the ones who are to perform the priestly calling, to be the ones standing in the gap between God and the nations (I Peter 2:9 ff.).
The Book of Acts provides the history of the earliest out-workings of the Church’s obedience to the missionary command to make disciples of all nations. The Apostle Paul is the well-known and greatest apostle to the Gentile nations. Aside from the Lord, he is the best example of someone who had a heart for the nations.
About Israel’s mandate for mission, Paul attempted to bring back God’s original plan, e.g., for the Jews to bring the blessing of salvation to the Gentile nations. However, the Jews rejected Christ and the Gentile Church.
We also see that in Acts 17:26-27, Paul taught that God had directed the times and places of the people groups or the nations in such a way that they would seek God and find Him. Paul had a clear understanding of God’s heart and His plan to bless all the nations of the world by the blessing of salvation. His Epistles were written in the context of mission. His ambition was to preach the Gospel to places where Christ was not known or to the unreached peoples and nations who are the objects of God’s concern (Romans 15:18-23). Paul considered a people group or nation reached when a church is already planted among them, churches which are self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating. After he had planted churches from Jerusalem to Illyricum, he was ready to move on to the unreached areas.
An important aspect in mission that Paul understood is the connection between the Church and Abraham.
What is the link? In Galatians 3, Paul first repeats how Abraham was justified by faith and then continues: “so you see that it is men of faith who are the sons of Abraham” and who, therefore, “are blessed with Abraham who had faith” (v.6-9). What then is the blessing with which all the nations were blessed (v. 8)? In a word, it is the blessing of salvation. We were under the curse of the Law, but Christ has redeemed us from it by becoming a curse in our place, in order “that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith” (v.10-14). Christ bore our curse that we might inherit Abraham’s blessing, the blessing of justification (v. 8) and the indwelling Holy Spirit (v. 14). Paul sums it up in the last verse of the chapter (v. 29): “If you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”
Paul explains that we, the Church, are Abraham’s descendants by faith. God blessed us with the blessing of salvation so that we can be a blessing to other nations or people groups as well. God’s promise to bless the nations can only be made through Abraham’s descendants, the Church. If by faith we belong to Christ, we are Abraham’s spiritual children and have the responsibility to reach all the nations of the world.
EFCC International Mission Director