When Jesus walked the earth 2,000 years ago, what was the mission and purpose that drove His life? How should His purpose impact His followers today?
After Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman, the disciples returned with food from the nearby town. After they urged Jesus to eat, He made another statement that perplexed them: “I have food to eat of which you do not know” (John 4:32).
As they often did, the disciples misunderstood Him. They assumed someone else had brought Him a meal (verse 33). Jesus then spoke more plainly: “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work” (verse 34).
Jesus was talking about His purpose.
His purpose motivated everything He did. That purpose was so prioritized in His life that He considered it His sustenance. He had to do His Father’s work just as much as He had to eat to sustain His life.
Later He said, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent” (Luke 4:43, emphasis added).
We could call Him mission-driven. He clearly understood His purpose and directed His life, schedule and energies toward fulfilling it.
But what was the work He was driven to do? How should His work and purpose impact us today?
“Look at the fields . . .”
After talking about doing His Father’s work, Jesus shared an agricultural analogy: “Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’?” (John 4:35). In other words, a farmer at this time of the year had planted his seeds and was waiting out the summer months until the harvest would begin.
But there was no downtime in Jesus’ work. His time to work was now. Perhaps motioning toward a nearby group of Samaritans, He said: “Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!”
The harvest was people.
He stayed and preached to the Samaritans for two days, and amazingly, many believed His message (verses 39-40).
This was Jesus doing the work—His Father’s work.
What did Jesus preach?
Jesus visited many villages and cities and preached to the people. But what was the message that He preached?
Matthew tells us: “And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom” (Matthew 4:23).
The word gospel comes from the Greek word euangelion, which means “an announcement of ‘glad tidings’” (Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words, p. 303). Jesus came with a message of good news—the good news of the Kingdom of God.
The gospel of the Kingdom is the announcement that God will intervene to end suffering and establish His government and dominion on earth. Jesus Christ, assisted by the glorified saints, will be the King of the Kingdom. A significant part of this message is that those who hear it can live forever in that Kingdom—if they believe, repent and remain faithful.
Jesus’ message had four essential parts: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15).
Since the time was fulfilled, Jesus taught that the Kingdom is “at hand”—that it is truly coming and should be a top priority for us now. He urged people that if they believed this message they should act on it by repenting—changing their lives to align with God’s ways. Though many found His speaking compelling and believed Him, most were unwilling to take the steps of repentance and commitment.
To learn more about Christ’s gospel message, read “Messiah’s Message: Gospel of the Kingdom.”
What methods did Jesus use to fulfill His purpose?
With technology and modern marketing, there are many ways to spread a message today. Jesus, however, relied on the much simpler methods available to Him in the first century. He used those methods intelligently and zealously. Here are some of the methods He used:
- He preached to public gatherings. Jesus traveled to many towns and cities. He’d typically go to where people gathered for religious instruction—the local synagogue on the Sabbath (Matthew 9:35; Mark 1:37-38; Luke 4:31).
According to the rules of the synagogue, as a Jewish man, He was permitted to speak. When in Jerusalem, He would preach in the outer courtyard of the temple, where open teaching and discussion were permitted (Luke 20:1). He took full advantage of the platforms available to Him.
- He preached in smaller private gatherings. Sometimes Jesus would use less public venues to preach the gospel. In one example, when He was in Capernaum, He allowed people to gather within and around the house to hear Him preach (Mark 2:1-2). This provided Him with an opportunity to preach less formally and to directly answer people’s questions.
Jesus also made Himself available to people in even less formal situations, like while eating dinner in people’s homes. He undoubtedly wove the gospel message into casual conversations as the opportunity arose (Mark 2:15; Luke 10:39). Considering that people of all sorts were comfortable in His company, we know He was not pushy or condescendingly preachy in these settings.
- He had one-on-one conversations. Jesus would sometimes use one-on-one conversations to share His message. We have detailed accounts of three such examples: Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman and the rich young man (John 3; 4; Matthew 19:16-22).
- He captured an audience through healings and other miracles. Jesus healed out of His love and compassion for people. But His healings also served to draw attention to His message and gather an audience. At different times, large groups of people from across the region would gather to be healed, to see Him heal and to hear Him preach (Matthew 4:25; Luke 6:17).
When this occurred, He’d find an appropriate place to facilitate teaching them. In one instance, He found “a level place” (verse 17) where the crowds could sit and listen. In another, He taught His audience from a boat (Luke 5:1-3).
- He used His disciples to reach a wider audience. At one point, He sent His disciples out to spread the gospel on His behalf (Luke 9:1-2). Jesus carefully trained and commissioned a group of dedicated followers to continue doing the work after His departure.
Jesus used whatever means possible to do the work. He wasn’t obnoxious about it, didn’t push it on people and always shared His message free of charge (Matthew 10:8).
The transition from Christ to the Church
After Jesus’ ascension to heaven, a shift occurred in how the work would be done on earth. He now commissioned His Church to carry it forward.
After His resurrection, He appeared to the remaining 11 apostles and specifically tasked them to carry on His work:
“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Mark’s account records a similar instruction: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
That is just what the Church did and continues to do.
The book of Acts provides a record of how the Church of God, led by the apostles, spread the gospel and made disciples. They used the methods and platforms available to them—public gathering places, person-to-person communication and personal example.
They took advantage of the Roman road system and travel network to spread the gospel outside of the Holy Land to the far reaches of the Roman Empire. They kept in touch with each other through letters, or epistles, some of which became a major part of the New Testament. As a result of their faithful devotion to the mission, congregations were established throughout the known world.
To learn more about how the gospel of the Kingdom of God spread throughout the world, read “The Church: A Worldwide Work.”
The mission and purpose today
The Church of God in the modern era continues to preach the gospel of the Kingdom today. We teach the same message that Jesus and the early Church taught nearly 2,000 years ago.
Technological advances have allowed the Church to go beyond using word of mouth and traveling on foot.
Modern technology—beginning with the printing press—opened the door for the gospel to be disseminated in print to audiences out of earshot of a preacher. Eventually, radio and television technology allowed the Church to reach larger audiences. Today, the Internet and mobile technology allow words, audio and video to be spread to nearly every nation on earth.
Even though the methods have changed, God’s people continue with the same mission and purpose as they endeavor to . . .
Walk as He walked.