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.
The book of Acts is the most obvious New Testament writing to clearly discuss the topic of God’s global mission because it describes the gospel being taken from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth. Yet, the worldwide expansion of God’s kingdom was not a new theme that suddenly seized Luke’s mind when he wrote his companion volume to the Gospel of Luke.
In Acts 1:1, Luke described his first book—the gospel of Luke—as a narrative of “all that Jesus began to do and teach.” This implies that the worldwide proclamation of the good news in Acts was simply a continuation of what Jesus began to do in Luke’s account of Christ’s earthly life.
Christ’s Announcement of His Mission
One of the clearest examples of the missionary theme in Luke’s gospel is found in Luke 4:16–30 where Luke presented the scene of Jesus’s sermon in the synagogue at Nazareth. In a dramatic moment, Jesus stood to read in the custom of the synagogue, unrolling the book ostensibly to Isaiah 61:1–2 where he read: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18–19).
After he sat down, Jesus explained that he was, indeed, the fulfillment of the prophet Isaiah’s words. Thus, he defined his mission. The violent response of the hearers showed that they understood the full import of Jesus’s claim to be the promised, Spirit-anointed Messiah.
“The worldwide proclamation of the good news in Acts was simply a continuation of what Jesus began to do in Luke’s account of Christ’s earthly life.”
Appointed and Empowered by the Spirit
The text’s beginning with the anointing of the Spirit suggests God’s appointment and empowerment. The anointing of the Spirit was the foundation for all that followed in Christ’s earthly ministry. The description Jesus gave of his ministry from its inception, then, was that of accomplishing and publishing the news of redemption for sinful human beings—a program repeated often in Luke’s gospel.
The Purpose of the Spirit’s Anointing
Christ was not anointed by the Spirit solely for the accomplishment of messianic signs, wonders, healings, and miracles, however. The Spirit’s anointing was, just as importantly, for the proclamation of the message. Christ evangelized the poor, preached release to the captives, and announced the year of the Lord’s favor. Accomplishment of the messianic task could, by no means, happen apart from making the good news known verbally.
The Audience of the Mission
Christ defined his mission further and rather explicitly in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”
The scope of Christ’s announcement was without limit. This appears to be intentional and is also consistent with what we see in the birth narratives of Luke’s gospel. Both John the Baptist’s father, Zachariah, (Luke 1:68) and Anna the prophetess (Luke 2:36–38) proclaimed that Jesus represented redemption for Israel. The aged wonder Simeon added that Jesus was “a light for revelation to the Gentiles and glory to your people Israel” (Luke 2:32).
The Great Commission in Luke
Finally, the global mandate that is so central to the book of Acts can also be seen at the end of Luke’s gospel. In Luke 24:46–48, Jesus explained to his disciples that “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” He then added, “You are witnesses of these things” (ESV).
“The New Testament believer who is not also about the business of proclaiming this good news to the nations has missed the very heart of the gospel.”
The Cross Is Not the End of the Story
According to Luke’s gospel, the plan of God for redemption did not end at the cross. Rather, it continued to the worldwide proclamation of the good news for all people. The gospel of Luke is overtly and bluntly missionary just as we saw demonstrated in Jesus’s programmatic sermon in Luke 4.
Therefore, the New Testament believer who is not also about the business of proclaiming this good news to the nations has missed the very heart of the gospel.
All Scripture citations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible translation unless otherwise noted.