Home > Biblical Theology, New Testament, Old Testament > God’s Purpose for the Nations, Part 3

God’s Purpose for the Nations, Part 3

We saw in the previous post how God’s plan has always included people from all nations.  Although the means to achieving this was through Abraham and the people of Israel, God’s plan was always global and cosmic.  In this post we will show the fulfillment of the major plot points we highlighted from the Old Testament.

1.) Even in the early chapters of Matthew we see God’s plan for restoring humanity with the visit of the Magi (Matt 2:1-12) and the prophecy of Isaiah 9:1-2 (Matt 4:13-17).  You can visit a previous post I wrote to see a more detailed treatment on these two passages.  Moreover, we see in Matthew Jesus’ pronouncement that many will come from the east and the west and recline at the table of Abraham (Matt 8:1-13).  Those who will recline are the Gentiles because they believe in God by faith.  Remember it is by faith that one stands in right relationship to God, not ethnicity.  Also, in Matthew 12:42 Jesus states that he is greater than Solomon.  When the Queen of the South came to see Solomon, she really was coming to see Jesus, because he is better than Solomon.  Moreover, just as Solomon was a blessing to the nations (the Queen of Sheba), so Jesus who is better than Solomon is the true king in which all the nations of the earth will be blessed (cf., 2 Sam 7:19).  However, this blessing to the nations will be greater and far more reaching than it was during Solomon’s reign.  Likewise, the house Jesus builds will be comprised of people, not stones and mortar (cf., Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-10).

2.) In John 2:13-25 Jesus not only states himself as the true temple (the true meeting place with God for men), but he also cleanses the temple.  Jesus, as the true temple, transposes Israel’s hope of gathering around the glory of the Lord at a physical temple, to gathering all people to and around himself as the true temple (Luke 2:32; 49).  He is the place in which men will meet God, not a building.  From the temple of God (Jesus) will flow streams of water, which means life (cf., Ezek 40-48; John 7:37ff).  As Jesus now becomes the center of God’s meeting place with men, his presence is no longer found on this mountain or that mountain.  Those who approach God, must do so in spirit and in truth.  Jesus must prepare this temple.  Jesus is not cleansing the temple simply because he was mad, but by cleansing the temple he is demonstrating that this new temple (God’s people) will have to be pure and that it will include all peoples of the earth that will worship the Lord in spirit and in truth (cf., Isa 56:7; Jer 7:11; Matt 21;13; Mark 11:17; John 4:21-24). However, the cleansing necessary was not through a physical temple, but through the greater temple, Jesus (i.e., Jesus atonement; John 2:19; Heb 7-10).  As God displaced or cleansed Adam and Eve from his presence (his garden-temple), Jesus was cleansing the temple in preparation for a new temple, his people, who will meet God through himself and, in turn, God will meet his people through his Son (John 14:23).

3.) The final words of Jesus prior to his ascension point that God’s plan of restoration is for all of humanity (Matt 29:18-20).  The promise of restoration is tied to Jesus’ authority over heaven and earth as the promised king.  In the first chapter of Acts we see the limited and exclusive view of the apostles as they ask when God will restore the kingdom to Israel.  The apostles have yet to fully understand that God’s plan of restoration includes all peoples.  Jesus, in answering their question, corrects their view.  First, he states that it is not for them to know the times or the epochs which the Father has fixed by his own authority (Acts 1:6).  Jesus is not denying the restoration of Israel, for that had already begun with the preaching of John (Matt 17:11-13).  Second, he states that they will be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth (Acts 1:8).  In other words, the disciples needed to understand that the restoration of Israel involved and expanded to a worldwide, and even cosmic dimension.  A strict “Israel only” view of restoration needs to be corrected.  God’s redemption goes far beyond ethnic boundaries and is to go to all peoples of the earth, just as God always intended.

Understanding that their mission as the twelve chosen by Jesus to complete the work of the kingdom of God, the disciples recognized the necessity from the OT to select another apostle because of the death of Judas (cf., Psa 69:25; 109:8).  By selecting another who was with them from the beginning, they realized the importance of having twelve apostles to carry out God’s kingdom work. The twelve disciples, as the new Israel, would now fulfill God’s original intent of the twelve tribes of Israel to be a blessing to the nations.  In other words, the twelve were to carry out successfully God’s purpose where Israel in the OT had failed.  The twelve were to bring the good news of the kingdom to all of humanity, so that God might rule over his people as he had always intended since the beginning of creation.

4.) As humanity had been scattered throughout the world at Babel (Gen 11), so now God was re-gathering the nations to himself by virtue of the Spirit (notice in Acts 2:5, “devout men from every nation under heaven”).  Not only was God restoring all of humanity, as we will see later in the book of Acts, but he was re-gathering his people, ethnic Jews, as he had promised in the OT. Singleness of language was not what characterized this unified people, but participation in the Spirit. In the Spirit there is harmony, unity, and peace, unlike what happened at Babel.  Now the nations of the earth do not unite to rebel against God, but to joyfully submit to his king, Jesus Christ.  God overcomes the curse of Babel by granting the gift of the Spirit and the miracle of tongues. Tongues served as a sign that God was moving beyond Israel to all nations (Isa 28:11-12).

5.) We see the worldwide expansion of God’s kingdom promises following the stoning of Stephen  (Acts 8:12).  At Pentecost we see how the promises of God to Israel are now extended to the God-fearing Gentiles as well.  Pentecost was a celebration of harvest in the Jewish religion (Exo 23:16), so now God was going to perform the anti-typical realization of the festival spoken of in the OT.  God was going to perform a spiritual harvest. We now see the promise of restoration spread from Jerusalem and Judea to Samaria (Acts 8:1, 4-24) and the uttermost parts of the earth.  Though the initial giving of the Spirit was to Jews, we see the same Spirit given to the descendants of Noah’s three sons.  God’s redemption is reaching all peoples of the earth.

a.) Shem (Jews such as Peter and Paul). Obviously the message of salvation first comes to the Jews. By saving Jews and bringing them into the kingdom, God is keeping his promise of restoration and his promise to the fathers (cf., Rom 3:1-3; 11:28-29).

b.) Ham (The Ethiopian Eunuch; Acts 8:25-40; cf., Deut 23:1). Originally the descendants of Ham were not included in the promises of God.  Moreover, eunuchs in the OT were forbidden to participate in Israelite worship.  The eunuch is reading from Isaiah 53.  He is familiar with Jewish customs, but needs help understanding who Isaiah is speaking about.  Phillip preaches Jesus to the eunuch from the OT.  The eunuch believes and, in doing so, takes the good news of Jesus to Africa.

c.) Japheth (Cornelius the centurion; Acts 10:34-48). Cornelius is a God-fearing Gentile who believes the promises of God.  God sends Peter to him, but not before explaining to him that all things are considered clean by God.  God illustrates the inclusion of the Gentiles through clean and unclean foods.  The command of clean and unclean always meant to serve a greater purpose in Israel’s history, holiness versus unholiness.  God was now showing that all things are clean because of what Jesus did.  He makes all things holy who trust in him.  Peter does not fully understand until he goes to Cornelius’ home.  Upon preaching the gospel, Cornelius and his house receive the Spirit, just as the Jews did.  Peter now sees that God does not show partiality, but his promises are for all people regardless of ethnicity (Acts 11:1-30).  We see the worldwide expansion of the kingdom take form with the conversion of Paul.  Paul, who formerly persecuted the church, is chosen by God to take the message of the kingdom to the Gentiles (Acts 9:1-31; cf., Gal 1:13-14; Phil 3:4-6).

6.) If Jesus is the Christ and this salvation is for Gentiles too, then how exactly do they fit into the picture?  The early Christians wrestled with the relationship between the Jew and Gentile.  If God dealt with Israel all these years, was it not necessary for Gentiles to take upon themselves the laws and customs of Moses?  At some level many early Christians did not recognize that God’s purposes of renewal and restoration were both global and cosmic.  However, the early church settled this issue in Acts 15:1-21.  There were some believing Jews who were insisting that believing Gentiles observe the Mosaic Law and receive circumcision.  Peter, in light of his post-Cornelius event, declares that God has given to the Gentiles the same Spirit as he gave them. Peter’s statement is significant in that he recognizes that the gift of the Spirit is what distinguishes a child of God.  Thus, it is not wise to lay the law upon the Gentiles, if they experience the same freedom the Jews have by baptism of the Spirit.  James and the other elders agree and recognize that the inclusion of the Gentiles apart from the law is in accordance with the establishment of Christ’s kingdom.  Quoting from Amos 9:11-15 James states two important things.

a.) The tabernacle or house of David is being rebuilt by Christ (Acts 15:16).

b.) The rebuilding of this house includes Gentiles (Acts 15:17-18).

Therefore, the council concludes not to trouble Gentiles and recognizes their equal status before God.  As we read the epistolary literature we see that the issue of Jew and Gentile relationships continue to dominate much of the NT era.  The writings of Paul decisively make it clear that Jews and Gentiles are not only equal before God for judgment, but are also equal before God for salvation and blessing (Gal 3-4; Eph 2-3).

7.) In the book of Revelation we see God’s purpose for the nations brought to full completion (Rev 21-22).  The nations will enter the presence of God, bringing their glory with them (Rev 21:22-27; cf., Zech 14:16-21).  The nations here is not the pagan unbelieving nations, but the redeemed people of God from every nation (cf., Rev 5:9; 7:9).  The curse is taken away and Eden is restored with the presence of the tree of life (Rev 22:2).  The healing fruit of the tree symbolizes God’s perpetual nourishment and provision for his people.  The city of God is laid out like a square just like the most holy place in the OT (Holy of Holies, Exo 26:15-25; 1 Kings 6:20), which signifies that God’s place is with all his people (Rev21:16).  All God’s people will see his face and his name will be on their foreheads (Rev 22:4).  So intimate will be this relationship with God that he will wipe every tear from our face (Rev 7:17; 21:4).  For all eternity this new humanity, born of God, will find its purpose in serving, knowing, and worshiping the Lord. 

Just as we looked at the Old Testament and cited that many other texts could be considered to support God’s purpose of restoration for the nations, so we could cite many more other New Testament texts.  While this is not meant to be an exhaustive treatment, hopefully I have demonstrated at some level from a biblical-theological perspective that God’s plan has always included the restoration of all of believing humanity.  Jesus is the promised seed in which all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gal 3:16ff).  Jesus is the promised king in which man will find his salvation and peace.  God’s promise of restoration is not just for humanity, but for all of creation (Rom 8:21) and for all those who trust in Jesus.  Our inheritance is not a piece of land in the Middle East, but like our father Abraham we are heirs of the whole world (Rom 4:13; cf., Matt 5:5).  Like our fathers before we look for a heavenly country and a city whose architect and builder is God (Heb 11:8-16).  Let us rejoice for God’s purpose for the nations is accomplished in Jesus Christ and let us declare, worthy is the Lamb for he was slain and he purchased for God with his blood men from every tribe and tongue and people and nation (Rev 5:9). 

  1. April 2, 2007 at 1:14 pm

    Chad –

    Excellent study. You have reminded us that the Gentiles have always been in view of God’s redemptive purposes. I would add only two other texts which further support this idea from the OT.

    In Psalm 72, Solomon writes of the reign of the King. This Psalm is too rich to go into here, but everyone should look at it. All of the kings of the earth will come and bow before the King of Israel. They will all be subject to his rule, which will be from sea to sea. The Psalm ends by wanting that the whole earth be filled with God’s glory. The Psalm has universal implications which accord with the promise given to Abraham.

    Also, Psalm 87 has clear plans for the nations. Rahab is code language for Egypt. All of the major nations are represented in this Psalm. The Psalm says that they are born in Zion!! Furthermore, God writes in the register “of the peoples: this one was born in Zion.” This Psalm indicates the inclusion of the Gentiles into Zion.


  2. Chad
    April 2, 2007 at 10:24 pm


    Thanks for bringing our attention to those two texts. It is amazing to me why people (namely dispensationalists) still miss the global nature of God’s work. Obviously, many people will affirm God’s global work in the NT, but as we explained, God’s salvation was always meant for people from all nations.


  3. April 3, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    Chad –

    Its true that people recognize God’s global work in the NT, but some dispensationalists still fail to see that the nations are brought into Israel (in the Matthew 2 Christ sense of that word). The Gentiles are bonafide members of Zion though faith in Christ, which is the way Jews become bonafide members of Zion. Neither of these nations plays “second fiddle” to the other. In Christ, they have become one. Thanks again for this study.


  4. Chad
    April 3, 2007 at 6:22 pm


    Much agreed.


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