If you were to ask the average Christian, “What was the mission of Jesus?” you’d no doubt hear that Jesus came to die on the cross for our sins, so that we might have eternal life. I believe this is true, profoundly and wonderfully. But I also believe it’s not the full story. The mission of Jesus, though ultimately centered in the cross and though leading to life after death, is far more inclusive than many of us have been led to believe. In this post and the next, I’ll give a quick overview of the mission of Jesus as seen from the perspective of the Old Testament mission of God, that which Jesus came as Son of God to fulfill.
Hundreds of years after the Hebrew prophet Isaiah delivered the message of the coming kingdom of God, another man recognized as a Jewish prophet emerged on the scene, bringing a message reminiscent of Isaiah’s. In a nutshell, he proclaimed: “At last the time has come! The Kingdom of God is near! Turn from your sins and believe this Good News!” (Mark 1:15). Could this man, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth, be the one whom God sent to “bring good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns” (Isa 52:7)?
One sabbath day, Jesus went to the religious gathering place in his hometown. He was given the scroll containing the prophecies of Isaiah. Turning to the 61st chapter, he read:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has appointed me to preach Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the downtrodden will be freed from their oppressors, and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come (Luke 4:18-19).
There was nothing particularly unusual about the fact that Jesus read this text. It was well-known and beloved among the Jews of Jesus’ day, who hoped for God’s kingdom. But then Jesus did a most exceptional thing. As those who had gathered stared at him, he said: “This Scripture has come true today before your very eyes!” (Luke 4:21). With this simple sentence Jesus made an audacious claim. In effect, he said, “I am the one appointed by the Holy Spirit to fulfill this prophecy of Isaiah. I am the long-expected Redeemer of Israel, the Servant of God who will bear the sin of humanity. I have come to complete God’s mission of reconciliation.”
The passage from Isaiah 61, which Jesus applied to himself, highlights several essential features of his mission. First of all, he was sent by God in the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:18). Even though Jesus was the divine Son of God, he was empowered by the Holy Spirit for his ministry. Even though his birth was a miracle of the Spirit, at his baptism by John in the Jordan River, Jesus received the Spirit in a dramatic way (Luke 3:21-22). From that time onward he was guided by the Spirit (Luke 4:1).
Second, Jesus was sent to proclaim the good news (Luke 4:18). At the core of his earthly ministry was the proclamation of God’s reign. The Gospel of Mark provides a concise summary of Jesus’ message: “At last the time has come! The Kingdom of God is near! Turn from your sins and believe this Good News!” (Mark 1:15). Notice that Jesus’ own preaching was not primarily about himself, but about the coming of the long-awaited kingdom of God, that which the prophets had promised and for which the Jewish people prayed every day.
What is this kingdom of God? In the Old Testament, the kingdom of God was not somewhere up in the sky, or something we experience only after death. Rather, it was God’s reign or rule on earth, a reign that would continue into eternity. The establishment of God’s kingdom on earth brings reconciliation between people and God, and extends that reconciliation throughout the world. Hatred and injustice are replaced by the love and justice of God. Sickness and death are consumed by God’s wholeness and eternal life. Human rebellion against God’s reign is replaced by loving obedience. (For much more on Jesus’ preaching of the kingdom of God, see my series: What Was the Message of Jesus?)
Tomorrow, I’ll continue my quick overview of the ministry of Jesus.