Exploring the First Century Church: Mission (Part 1)

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Jesus began his ministry with his baptism by John and calling disciples. Jesus ended his ministry telling those disciples to make more disciples by teaching and baptizing others. Jesus’ ministry didn’t just start and stop his ministry with mission. Jesus was constantly on mission and he wanted his disciples to do the same things they saw in him. We see that throughout Jesus’ discipling his followers but especially in the sending of the 12 (Luke 9:1-8) and the sending of the 72 (Luke 10:1-24) where Jesus tells them to do what they have seen him do and say what they have heard him say.


Who was Jesus’ mission to?
One of the things that stands out about Jesus’ ministry was that he was primarily focused on Israel and the Jewish people. We see this in what Jesus said in Matthew 10:5-7 to his disciples & 15:24 to the Syrophonesian (Gentile) woman,

These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matt 10:5-7



“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”- Matt 15:24


Jesus’ primary focus were the children of Abraham, fulfilling the old covenant given to Moses (Torah) and establishing a new covenant (Jeremiah 31:27ff & Luke 22:20). This same order is reflected in Romans 1:16 where Paul says the Gospel was “first for the Jews and then for the Gentiles”. You also see this reflected in Acts 1:8 where Jesus says they are to start in Jerusalem and Judea and then go to Samaria and the ends of the earth.


But we don’t have to wait until the book of Acts to see outreach to the Gentiles. Jesus also embraced the full promise that God gave to Abraham that he would bless many nations through him (Gen 18:18). In the Greek New Testament the word for “nations” and the word for “Gentiles” is the same word – ethnos (where we get ethnicity). In reaching out to Gentiles (non-Jews) and Samaritans (which happens more often in the Gospels than is often realized), Jesus understood and fulfilled his role in continuing the blessing God promised that would ultimately come to all nations. It wasn’t until after Jesus ascended and the Holy Spirit came that the apostles would further this mission as seen in the book of Acts (See Acts 1:8 and then Acts 10ff). That is where the apostles come in. The world apostle is literally the word for “sent one.” They are sent to make disciples because Jesus commanded them to “Go and make disciples.”


Here are a few of the non-Jews (Gentiles and Samaritans) that were impacted during Jesus’ ministry:

  • Jesus healed the centurion’s son in Luke 7:1-10
  • Jesus went into Gentile territory in Mark 5 to heal the demoniac and then sent him on mission to the Decapolis (Greek/Gentile towns) in Mark 5:20
  • Jesus goes to the Tyre, Sidon and the Decapolis to minister there in Mark 7. 7:24 says, “and he entered a house and would have no man know it…” is that because he was in a Gentile house?
  • The official in John 4:46ff was probably a Gentile
  • The Samaritan woman of John 4:1-45. When she invites the whole town to come and meet Jesus she is basically the first Samaritan missionary. The Samaritans call Jesus “Savior of the world” (4:42)


In some of those instances Gentiles came to him but often he went to them, on “their turf”…into Samaritan and Gentile territory. Jews were not supposed to do that much less go into homes there (Mark 7:24). Here are a few of the things Jesus said about reaching out to the whole world:

  • “You are the light of the world” – Matt 5:14. This was said to the people of Israel in the sermon on the mount. This was God’s intention for Israel to be a light to all nations.
  • John 8:12 – Jesus is the light of the world
  • “And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” – John 12:32
  • Jesus casts a vision for this followers to evangelize the world in Matthew 24:14, “ This gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come.
  • John 12:47 Jesus came to save the world.


John the Baptist testified at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry that Jesus was there to die for the world,  “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). Jesus knew his mission was to the whole world but it was to start with the house of Israel and move out from there to the entire world.


One of the common elements between the Gospels and Acts is that you see people on the move, encountering and impacting people as they go along their way. You don’t see them building churches in hopes people will come. It is more a “as you go along the road” approach. You see them talking to whoever God puts in their path. I wonder how much the church would grow today if we took more of that approach and less of the institutional “build it and they will come” approach. I believe going out is the biblical model because the people who need Jesus are out there and chances are they aren’t going to wonder into your worship service uninvited!


One of the things I love about the Church of Christ is our attempt to be like the early church. And yet where we have often missed it the most is with one of our highest callings…not just imitating their worship style but being on the mission they were on…reaching the lost, rescuing the dying, and impacting this world with the message of Jesus Christ! Let us devote ourselves to imitating that component of the early church and I believe we can reverse the decline we have seen in our churches.

One Response

  1. Yes the people of God should be missional and reaching out to those they encounter each day everywhere in any capacity. The Early Church had a zeal. The Jewish Christians held back the gift of eternal from the Gentiles for some time. God chose Paul as the Apostle to the Gentiles, then peeled off a few folks to deal with Gentiles as well. Finally it took the Jewish-Roman War of AD 66-70 to spread the church over the Earth as far as possible. The few who remained in Palestine held to the Law and a Jewish Messiah only and were called Ebionites. It finally died out for the biggest part. Frankly, I want to be like the early followers of Christ by refusing war and violence, sharing with the poor, and being a leaven for good in society. The Churc of Christ has played “the New Testament Church Game” for so long that their “New Testament Pattern” has become a be-all and end-all and has enough holes in it to drive a fleet of M1 tanks through it. I think the best think is to chuck the flawed NT pattern and just be the people of God now to the people around us. Offer grace and justice and peace, and not patterns and CENI interpretation.

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