Mission and Mark 13

The other morning we were looking at Mark’s Gospel and, in particular, chs. 11-13. Chapter 13 involves some hotly debated views on what precisely is being referred to. Is it the destruction of the temple, or the second coming, or both?

Regardless of one’s views on this one thing is clear from what Jesus says. In whatever context they find themselves Jesus’ disciples (whether the apostles, Mark’s original audience or the church today) should get on with the missionary task he gives us:

And the gospel must first be proclaimed to all nations. (13: 10, ESV)

Joachim Jeremias on Jesus’ Promise to the Nations

Jeremias was a German scholar writing in the mid-twentieth century whose best-known work is probably his volume on Jesus and the Parables. He write extensively on New Testament matters including a short 1958 work entitled, Jesus’ Promise to the Nations, which aims to investigate the missional dimensions of Jesus’ eschatological sayings. I’ll reproduce here the contents plus Jeremias’ forward and conclusion to give you the idea:


I. Three important negative conclusions
   a. Jesus pronounce a stern judgement upon the Jewish mission
   b. Jesus forbade his disciples during his lifetime to preach to non-Jews
   c. Jesus limited his own activity to Israel

II. Three important positive conclusions
   a. Jesus removes the idea of vengeance from the eschatological expectation
   b. Jesus promises the Gentiles a share in salvation
   c. The redemptive activity and lordship of Jesus includes the Gentiles

III. The solution to the problem

IV. Conclusion: What about the Mission?


The present work has a twofold aim. It is in the first place a New Testament study, and secondly an examination of the basis of missionary activity. Following the suggestions of Sundkler, it seeks, first of all, to draw attention to a neglected element in the message of Jesus, and attempts ot show how large a place in the eschatological sayings of Jesus is given to the Old Testament conception of the pilgrimage of the nations to the Mountain of God.
At the same time the author also hopes that this work may have some significance for the inner logic of missionary activity, and for its Biblical basis. There can be no doubt that the exposition of the ‘negative’ element in the first part of this work, enables us to get a clear view of the immense extent of the promise which Jesus held out to the nations. The events of Easter ushered in the dawn of that final day in which the fulfilment of this promise to the nations and to Israel began to take effect. The special glory of the missionary endevour lies in the fact that it is a very palpable part of the final consummation inaugurated at Eater.


What about the Mission?
What conclusions for the modern missionary task may be drawn from the strictly eschatalogical outlook of Jesus? Has it been rendered superfluous by acceptance of the fact that according to the preaching of Jesus it will be by God’s act of power that the Gentiles will be brought in to the Kingdom of God in the final consummation? Far from it. WHat is significant for the missionary task is the realization to which we have been brought, that it is firmly rooted in God’s redemptive activity. In Jesus’ sayings about the Gentiles we find: 1. an unparalleled insistence on humility. Man can do nothing. It is not our preaching that brings about the ingathering of the Gentiles. Even Jesus himself did not make the world Christian, but he died on the Cross. God alone does it all. The fundamental note and inmost core of the message of Jesus, resounding in all his sayings about the Gentiles, is confidence in the reality of God and the vastness of his mercy.
But at the same time the sayings of Jesus about the Gentiles are: 2. a revelation of the overriding importance and value of the missionary task. Easter saw the dawn of the Last Day. The Gentile mission is the beginning of God’s final act in the gathering of the Gentiles. The Gentile mission is God’s own activity. As God’s eschatological activity it is an anticipation of the visible enthronement of the Son of Man, and as such it is ‘the actual sign’ of the period between Easter and the Parousia. The firstfruits of the Gentiles are signs, an earnest of the fulfilment, foretastes of the final consummation. Just as justification, the gist of the Spirit, sonship, the communion of the Lord’s Table, are God’s gracious gifts for the period of waiting for the consummation, so too are the Gentiles whom God brings into the Church of Jesus Christ. The missionary task is part of the final fulfilment, a divine factual demonstration of the exaltation of the Son of Man, an eschatology in process of realization. It offers the possibility of co-operating with God in his gracious anticipation of the decisive hour of redemption described in Isa. 25: the Gentiles accepted as guests at God’s Table (v. 6), the veil torn from their eyes (v. 7), and death abolished for ever (v. 8).

I came across this book thanks to my good friend Richard Johnson, who runs Qoheleth Resources, the second hand theological booksellers. He sends out a weekly sheet with loads of bargains so I’d recommend getting on the mailing list.

Jesus, the Gospels and mission

As part of a course on the Gospels, General Epistles and Revelation we spent time this morning ‘Responding to the Gospels’. In previous weeks we have covered the background to the Gospels and each Gospel in turn. Today I gave the class a few different options for reflecting on the Gospels, after which we shared our insights and reactions. Here are my instructions for some of the optional activities:

1. Reflection on The Return of the Prodigal Son
Read Luke 15
Reflect on Rembrandt’s painting
Flick through Henri Nouwen’s book
Think about how the two brothers and the father are portrayed
How do they relate to one another?
How is their lost-ness portrayed?
With whom do you identify?
Look for details; the Father’s hands; the son’s knife, the embrace

2. Jesus in Art
How has Jesus been portrayed in art? How have different eras and cultures depicted him? How might these help us to reflect on the person and work of Jesus, perhaps in new ways?
A number of art books are available. Also, they look for images on the web; a good place to start is www.wikipedia.org/wiki/Depiction_of_Jesus

3. Quotations from Philip Yancey’s The Jesus I Never Knew
There is a pile of Yancey’s quotations at the front. Pick some and chew them over. Look up the relevant passages in the Gospels. Several copies of the book are available so read around the quotes for further inspiration.

4. Revisiting the text
Revisit a passage, theme or issue in the Gospels that has interested/confused/inspired/frustrated you. Get some commentaries and other resources and spend some time working it through.

5. Spiritual theology and the Gospels
Have a look at what Eugene Peterson has to say about the Gospels as part of his Spiritual Theology series (nb. Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places, and Tell it Slant).

6. Meditation
Read, reflect on and pray through part or all of John 13-17. What do we as individuals or as a church need to learn from this immensely rich passage?

I happened to have a spare copy of Henri Nouwen stunning book, The Return of the Prodigal Son, which I am giving away to the member of the class who writes the best comment on this post in relation to ‘Jesus, the Gospels and mission’. Let the contest begin!!