Mission, Isaiah, Acts, and Romans

To continue the thought of the previous post: the book by David Pao is Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, Biblical Studies Library, J.C. B. Mohr, 2000 (Baker Academic, 2002). The key point of his study relative to Acts 1:6-8 is the framework of Acts in light of Isaiah 49:6. This is the second Servant Song in Isaiah and focuses on the mission objective (Isaiah 52:13-53:12 focuses on the how):

Isaiah 49:6
he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.

Notice that the Servant has two objectives: 1. restore Israel, and 2. be a light to the nations. When these are achieved, then salvation goes to the end of the earth.

In Acts 1:6, the disciples ask “Is it at this time you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” Jesus does not rebuke them for their question, nor does he say that their theology is mistaken. Rather, their theology is incomplete. Jesus focuses the disciples on the two fold objective (Israel and the nations), and they will be guided in that objective by the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit who guided him when he began his ministry (Luke 4:16-30). Their ministry will be begin in Jerusalem, then to Judea/Samaria, and finally to the end of the earth.

Pao notes that the phrase “to the end of the earth”, “the exact form of the phrase (with the singular εσχατου) appears only five times in the LXX, and twice in the Lukan writings, and nowhere elsewhere in ancient Greek literature not influenced by either Isaiah or Acts” (pg. 94). Thus, the mission outlined in Acts 1:8 is more than a geographic mission, rather a theological mission, and more particularly an Isaianic mission. Pao adds to this perspective by noting that Isaiah 49:6 is quoted in Acts 13:47. Barnabas and Paul had been commissioned by the church in Antioch, receiving the Holy Spirit for the mission ahead. The pattern of Barnabas and Paul (now Paul and Barnabas) has been to go to the Jews, but when they reject the message, to turn to the Gentiles, in fulfillment of Isaiah 49:6.

Now, what is interesting is that the restoration of Israel only happens as the second part (light to the nations) happens. And this bring us to Paul’s thematic phrase in Romans, “first to the Jews and then to the Greeks”. One can not happen without the other. Paul emphasizes this in Romans 11, when he writes:

Romans 11:25-26a
Lest you be wise in your own conceits, I want you to understand this mystery, brethren: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles come in, and so all Israel will be saved;

Thus, Paul’s missional understanding in Romans parallels the missional understanding of Acts – and both reflect the Isaianic mission (“restore Israel, bring light to nations – and bring salvation to the end of the earth”).

As always this post leaves many unanswered questions and raises even more. It is not definitive, but a starting point for further investigation.

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