All the nations became rebels and apostates from God at the tower of Babel. Then, God, through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, specifically chose the nation of Israel to be his possession. Through Israel, he brought the promised Messiah into the world. Now he is continuing to redeem for himself people from every tribe, language, and nation.
What was not clear at the time of the patriarchs (though it was mentioned progressively throughout the Old Testament) was that all nations would eventually be redeemed and would return to God. Indeed, even in God’s covenant to Abraham, we see that he would be the father of many nations, and that through him all the nations of the earth would be blessed. But the mystery of how God would include the Gentiles was not fully revealed until the New Testament. It is both joyous and amazing to see the apostles come to this realization in Acts 15:13-18:
After they finished speaking, James replied, “Brothers, listen to me. Simeon has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take from them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written, “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’”
The basis for modern missions does not solely come from New Testament passages like the Great Commission in Matthew 28. New Testament missiology is built on the foundation of the Old Testament promises of God. Our task of making disciples all over the world is rooted in truths that go all the way back to the beginning and can be traced from Genesis to Revelation—including, significantly, the psalms.
The Mission of God in the Psalms
Poetry is a special means of communicating memorably. When God wants his people to know something, comprehend its gravity, and hold onto it for a lifetime, then he frequently communicates in the form of a poem. And biblical missiology is no exception to this principle.
Psalm 2 serves as an excellent example of theological weightiness packed into poetic form. Here we can see the basis of both New Testament Christology and missiology wrapped together:
I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you. Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” (Ps. 2:7-8)
The Son’s legitimate authority and rightful ownership over the nations, foretold in Psalm 2 and in other OT passages, is used explicitly by Jesus as the basis for our missionary efforts commanded in the Great Commission. “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations…” (Matt. 28:18-19).
The psalms contain the foundations of New Testament mission. By meditation on the psalms, we see the glory of Christ and receive our commission to magnify his name among all the nations.