Editor’s Note: The history of missions is replete with examples of God using his Word to call his followers to engage in his redemptive work around the world by praying, giving, going, and sending. The aim of this article series (part one here) is to help Bible students, teachers, and readers recognize the theme of global missions throughout Scripture.
Jeremiah’s prophecy displays God’s global redemptive mission from beginning to end. The book starts with a focus on the nations when the Lord told Jeremiah that he consecrated him as a prophet to the nations before his birth (Jer. 1:5). Moreover, the Lord placed Jeremiah over nations and kingdoms to build them up and tear them down through his prophetic word (Jer. 1:10).
Jeremiah: A Prophet to the Nations
Throughout his prophecy, Jeremiah portrayed the Lord’s relationship with the nations from various perspectives. Sometimes Jeremiah highlighted God’s impartial judgment of all the nations (including Israel and Judah). At other times, Jeremiah highlighted the Lord’s use of the nations (such as Babylon) as an instrument of judgment against his own people. Yet, at other times, Jeremiah highlighted God’s intention to draw the nations to himself. This latter theme is the focus of this article.
God Rules the Nations
Through Jeremiah, God expressed his general concern for the nations. The Lord is called the King of the nations, the one who rules over their affairs (Jer. 10:7). He warned the nations not to follow Judah’s sinful example (Jer. 6:18-21). God is described as the one who orders their steps and their relationships with one another (Jer. 28:14), as well as the one who pays attention to their deeds and ways of life. God did not ignore the nations but cared for them, even calling upon the exiled Judeans to bless the city of Babylon both socially and economically while they were living in exile there (Jer. 29:4–9).
“Jeremiah envisioned God’s global mission as one of drawing foreign nations to himself and incorporating them into his covenant people.”
Jeremiah’s Vision of Gentile Inclusion
Throughout his prophecy, Jeremiah envisioned God’s global mission as one of drawing foreign nations to himself and incorporating them into his covenant people. Specifically, he looked beyond the time of Judah’s exile and saw the nations recognizing the Lord’s kingship over the world, leaving behind their hard-heartedness and honoring the Lord’s name (Jer. 3:17). He foresaw all the nations glorying in the Lord (Jer. 4:2) and being blessed just as God had promised to Abraham (Gen. 12:3).
Elsewhere, Jeremiah depicted the Lord’s compassion on Israel’s and Judah’s enemies (Jer. 12:14–15). Through Jeremiah, the Lord promised to incorporate the nations into his people if they would learn the ways of his people and swear by his name (Jer. 12:16). In another text, Jeremiah described a future time when the nations would see the futility of their idolatry and turn to the Lord (Jer. 16:19–21). Jeremiah’s repetition drove his point home: the Lord would, indeed, redeem the nations and bring them into his covenant family.
God’s Way of Relating to the Nations
Jeremiah 18:7–8 portrays one method by which God would accomplish his mission to the nations. In these verses, Jeremiah stated that the Lord threatened the nations with the prospect of judgment. But if they would repent, the Lord would relent of the disaster he threatened against them.
Moreover, along with the previous verses from Jeremiah about Gentile inclusion, other Old Testament passages indicate that individuals from other nations could join the Lord’s people and be mercifully welcomed into God’s covenant family (for example, Rahab in Josh. 2; 6:22–25). Jeremiah portrayed the nations as outsiders observing Israel and Judah’s history (Jer. 31:10; 33:9). As they watched it unfold, the invitation was open for them to avoid God’s judgment by turning from their sins, joining God’s people, and participating in God’s redemption
The New Covenant for Jewish and Gentile Believers
The book of Jeremiah highlights God’s redemptive mission from another direction: the promise of the new covenant. In Jeremiah 31:31–34, the Lord promised to inscribe his Law on the hearts of his people, to be their God forever, to grant each covenant member a personal relationship with him, and to forgive all their sins. The New Testament demonstrates that this covenant is not just for ancient Israel and Judah. It is a covenant mediated by Christ (Heb. 12:24) for all who would come to him—Jews and Gentiles (Heb. 7:1–10:25, particularly Heb. 8:6–13).
The new covenant, unlike the old covenant, was intended for men and women from every nation (Eph. 2:11–22). God’s purpose from ancient times has always been to bless people from every nation (Gen. 12:3) and bring them into a covenant relationship with him.
Moreover, other New Testament passages reveal how the nations would hear about God’s covenant promises after Christ’s resurrection and how they would participate in the new covenant. Before ascending into heaven, Christ called his disciples to go to the nations to make disciples from them, to baptize those disciples, and to teach them everything that Jesus commanded them. He promised that he would be with them to accomplish this mission (Matt. 28:19–20). In the words of Jeremiah, Jesus commissioned his disciples to go to every nation to proclaim the promises of the new covenant and to invite the nations to enter into the new covenant sealed by his blood (Luke 22:20).
In Acts 1:8, Luke described the Great Commission in terms of a promise (the presence of the Holy Spirit with the disciples) and a call to be witnesses. Jesus intended for his disciples to leave their homelands to proclaim the promises of God’s new covenant even to the end of the earth. However, Jesus did not only intend this commission for his original disciples. He calls the church of today to engage in the task of taking the gospel to every nation by praying, giving, and going. Christ calls us to proclaim the glorious promises of the new covenant spoken first by the ancient prophet, Jeremiah: God’s promises of salvation and the forgiveness of sins.
Robb Coleman is a PhD student in Old Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and assists a pastoral training ministry in Medellin, Colombia. He and his wife have one biological daughter and serve as foster parents in the North Carolina foster system.