Did you know that God’s global mission — what many Christians have traditionally called the “Great Commission” — is, in reality, a fulfillment of His promise to the patriarch Abraham?
God’s sovereign plan inextricably links the Old and New Testaments. His promise to Abraham forms the basis of Jesus’ command to make disciples of all nations and looks forward to the ultimate fulfillment of both the promise and the command as pictured in John’s vision in Revelation.
To see the connection, let’s look at three biblical “snapshots.”
Snapshot #1: Abraham’s Promise
The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” – Genesis 12:1–3 (emphasis added)
God’s promise to Abraham was an advance announcement of the gospel. As the Apostle Paul later wrote,
Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” – Galatians 3:8
And what does this advance announcement tell us about God’s plan for the redemption of humanity? First, it tells us that His plan would be worked out through Abraham’s family, name, and legacy. Second, we are assured that the promise is primarily one of blessing — a gracious gift. Third, we are given a vision of the promised blessing extending to all peoples on earth.
Snapshot #2: Christ’s Command
Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” – Matthew 28:18–20 (emphasis added)
When Jesus gave this command, He was restating and clarifying the global mission that God announced in Genesis. The blessing of the gospel was to be fulfilled by making faithful, obedient disciples of Jesus. The term “all peoples” from Genesis 12:3 is clarified here to mean “all nations,” from the Greek word ethnos, or “ethnicity.” As the Messianic descendant of Abraham, Jesus was personally fulfilling the Abrahamic promise through His death and resurrection and the sending of the Holy Spirit to empower His followers.
Snapshot #3: John’s Vision
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. And they cried out in a loud voice: “Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” – Revelation 7:9–10 (emphasis added)
I have often meditated on the words and picture portrayed in this passage. God has clearly and dramatically revealed the breadth and depth of His promise to Abraham and of Christ’s command. Every nation (“ethnicity”), every tribe, every people group, and every language is represented. Not one is missing. It is enough to take our breath away. It is more than enough to bring tears of joy to our eyes.
God gave the Apostle John a front-row seat to witness the fulfillment of a promise and a command that were uttered thousands of years ago. How did that great multitude get there? Certainly through the faithfulness of countless missionaries — especially, in our day, by the effective work of native missionaries.
One last thing. The great gathering of people in white robes is so large that “no one c[an] count” the number of the redeemed! This should fill us with both awe and humility. Awe, because ultimately, this is God’s doing. Humility because we have been given an opportunity to participate in the global plan of God through prayer and financial support.
Header image: Stock photo.