How Does the Old Testament Fit in with the Great Commission?

Have Christians Forgotten?

Recent stats suggest that Christian awareness of the Great Commission has fallen on hard times. Barna Research has stated that only 24 percent of churchgoers know what it is.1 Even Christian leaders around the world are unsure of its importance—is it optional or essential?2 Once thought the one-hit wonder of missions in the Bible, the song of Matthew 28:18–20 has fallen off the church’s playlist.

If this is the case for the finale of Matthew’s Gospel, then perhaps all hope is lost for an Old Testament basis for mission. But I think this is an opportunity. Jesus’s commission found in the Gospel of Matthew has never been the only word about mission in the Scriptures. For too long it has had to carry too much of the weight. Now is the time to embrace a whole-Bible theology of mission, for the Bible is a book with a mission, including the Old Testament. If you are reading the Old Testament and not seeing global mission, then you are reading it poorly.

The Mission of God and the Witness of the Church

Justin A. Schell

The Mission of God and the Witness of the Church takes readers on a canonical journey to examine fundamental questions about the mission of God and his loving desire to commune with his people. 

Don’t believe me? Just ask Jesus.

Then he said to them, “Everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:44–48).

Jesus says that the Old Testament is about his coming, suffering, and rising, as well as the proclamation of this good news to all nations. In order to help rejuvenate your understanding of and your teaching and preaching on mission from the Old Testament, let’s start at the beginning, for God’s mission is on page one of Scripture.

Mission in the Garden

God creates Adam and Eve, and after blessing them, he gives them a global mandate: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it” (Gen. 1:28). Fill the earth with people made in the image of God, fellowshipping with and glorifying their maker. It’s a global mission.

Adam and Eve sin and are removed from the garden, but God’s plans haven’t changed. Even after the flood, Noah exits the ark and hears, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 9:1). But this begs a question: How will a post-flood rebellious people, now scattered around the world at the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1–9), be brought back into the relationship originally designed for humanity?

Elected Abraham and Israel

The answer: God chooses one family. But this family wouldn’t exist for itself. All of the blessings that God pours on this family are meant to then flow to all peoples. “Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go . . . to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed’” (Gen. 12:1–3).

This promising of blessing the nations through Israel was repeated to Isaac (Gen. 26:4) and Jacob (Gen. 28:14). This blessing of Abraham is quoted and referenced again and again through Scripture. It is the backbone of God’s missional work. He chooses a people who will be his witnesses to the ends of the earth, all because he is committed to redeeming men and women from all nations. That’s how Paul summarizes this blessing of Abraham in Galatians 3:8—it is the gospel for the Gentiles.

Paul reminds us that God has said to the patriarchs, I will bless you in such a way that the blessing flows to the nations. And that is what happens throughout the rest of the Old Testament.

God’s intention, even before the fall, was a world filled with men and women in communion with him.


God hears the groaning of his people, so he comes to their rescue. He blesses them. And the next thing you know, many other peoples are leaving Egypt with them (Ex. 12:37–38). When the Israelites arrive in the promised land forty years later, the Canaanites are still talking about what the Lord had done to rescue his people. And thus, Rahab is swept up into the family of God, even into the family tree of the Messiah (Josh. 2:8–11; Matt. 1:5). Yahweh explicitly tells Pharaoh that global mission was at the heart of the Exodus (Ex. 9:16).

In the Land

Moses tells us there is a missional intent to the righteous law of God given to Israel (Deut. 4:5–6). David tells us that the defeat of Goliath would ring out in all the earth (1 Sam. 17:46). Solomon tells us that the temple would be a place for foreigners to come to be blessed by Yahweh; it is a house of prayer for all the nations (1 Kings 8:41–43; Isaiah 56:7; Mark 11:17). They are blessed to be a blessing. Solomon’s wisdom and wealth would show the Queen of Sheba how great Yahweh is (1 Kings 10:6–9). In each of these examples, the Lord is blessing Israel, but the blessing is never meant to stay with Israel.

The Psalms

Even the Israelites’ songbook, the Psalms, was full of missionary hymns like Psalm 2, Psalm 67, Psalm 87, and Psalm 96, among others. Psalm 67:1–3 summarizes this missionary mandate of God’s people:

“May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us, Selah
your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!”

Let the blessing of God, poured out on his people, flow out for the salvation of the nations. Selah indeed!


Even in exile the Lord was blessing Israel in ways that would bring about salvation for the nations.

He blesses Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, preserving them in the fiery furnace of Babylon, and Nebechudnezzer responds, “Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who has . . . delivered his servants . . . . Therefore I make a decree [to] any people, nation, or language . . . for there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way.” (Dan. 3:28–29).

He blesses Daniel, delivering him from the lion’s den of the Medes and Persians, and then “King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: ‘Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion people are to tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end.’”

The Prophets

God’s intention, even before the fall, was a world filled with men and women in communion with him. That was always the plan. So it’s no surprise that the Messiah’s mission would be a global mission for all nations. We read of this mission in Isaiah 49:6: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to bring back the preserved of Israel; I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

It is too light, too small a thing to restore only Israel. I will save men and women from all nations. That is the mission of the Messiah. So it’s no wonder that after his incarnation, death, and resurrection, he would summarize the Old Testament as he did in Luke 24. No wonder he would commission his blessed people to be a blessing in texts like Matthew 28:18–20, Mark 16:15, John 20:21, and Acts 1:8. In those forty days with his disciples, again and again he declared, as it were, I bought them, now go get them. You are blessed, now be a blessing.

That was always the plan.

May God bless you as you preach God’s mission from the Old Testament. May God bless you as you seek to make disciples of all nations. May God bless your church as you renew your engagement in global mission. May God bless you so that all nations will know Christ.



Justin A. Schell is the author of The Mission of God and the Witness of the Church.

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