Have you ever wondered where the phrase “God’s Heart for the Nations” comes from? This article traces God’s heart for the nations from Genesis to Revelation. You will discover God’s heart in surprising places, such as the Exodus and the giving of The Law. The end of the article includes ways that you can get involved in God’s global mission to reach the nations.
Take a minute to think through a list of the top 10 major stories and people in the Bible. Your list will probably end up looking something like this:
- The Patriarchs
- The Plagues & Exodus
- The Law
- The Kings: David & Solomon
- The Exile
- The Prophets
Now what if I told you that the primary thread that binds all of these stories together is God’s heart for all nations to worship Him?
Don’t believe me?
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From the very beginning, God shows that He is a God of rich diversity and creativity.
Let there be vegetation… seed-bearing plants and trees… according to their kinds.Genesis 1:11, 21
Let the water teem with living creatures… according to their kinds.
Let birds fly above the earth… according to their kinds.
Get this. There are 391,000 plant species, 240,000 known marine species, and around 10,000 bird species in the world!
God desires to be worshiped throughout the world by this rich diversity of His creation, so He blesses HIs creation and says,
“Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.”Genesis 1:28
2. The Patriarchs
After the story of Noah and The Flood, the Biblical story moves on in Genesis 11 where God creates many “kinds” of people (nations) and “kinds” of languages after mankind tried to build the Tower of Babel.
At the time of the Tower of Babel, the world had one people and one language. Now anthropologists (people who study humanity) and missiologists (people who study Christian missions) estimate that there are around 17,000 people groups[source] and 7,100 languages[source] in the world today!
And God wants to be worshipped by them all!
In Genesis 12, God reveals His plan for Him to be glorified among this rich diversity of people when He tells Abram (Abraham) that he will be made into a great nation through his descendants (of faith) and
all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.Genesis 12:3
God’s plan to reach the nations is through His people – the spiritual descendants of Abraham who share Abraham’s faith in God.
This blessing is passed on Isaac
all the nations of the earth will be blessed by your offspringGenesis 26:4
and to Jacob, who was later renamed Israel.
All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.Genesis 28:14
The Biblical story then moves on to Israel’s son, Joseph, who was sold by his brothers as a slave to Egypt. After a period of Egypt being blessed with food by Joseph’s God-given dream interpretation skills and resulting planning for the famine, a later Pharaoh turns against the Israelites.
3. The Plagues & Exodus
We often think of the plagues and exodus being just for the benefit of the Israelites, but God’s stated purpose for them was so that
My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.Exodus 9:16
God’s purpose in the plagues and Exodus was so that other nations would hear about them and would realize that He is the one true God, turn to Him, and worship Him.
We also often think it was just ethnic Israelites that left Egypt, but we have to remember that people who converted to follow Yahweh were considered to be a part of “Israel”.
An ethnically diverse crowd also went up with [the Israelites], along with a huge number of livestock, both flocks and herds.Exodus 12:38
This is later made explicit in Isaiah:
And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant — these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer.
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”Isaiah 56:6-7
An example of this is Caleb, who was considered of the tribe of Judah (Numbers 13:6), was actually born a Kenizzite (Numbers 32:12) who are Edomites (descendants of Esau).
God not only wanted foreign nations to hear about the Exodus and give their allegiance to Yahweh, He also saved an ethnically diverse group of people in the Exodus!
4. The Law
The remaining books of the Pentateuch spend a lot of time on the law. What was God’s stated purpose for the law?
Observe [these decrees and laws] carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.Deuteronomy 4:6
The law wasn’t just for the Israelites, it was to show God’s wisdom to nations so that they would want to give their allegiance to Yahweh!
5. The Kings – David & Solomon
We all know that David “was a man after God’s own heart”. But have you ever connected God’s heart to David’s heart in Psalm 67?
May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine on us — so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.
May the peoples praise you, God; may all the peoples praise you.Psalm 67:1-3
There are numerous other Psalms where God’s heart for the nations shines through David and other Psalmists.
We might not think of David’s son, Solomon, as exhibiting God’s heart for the nations, but it’s there! First, God used Solomon to demonstrate His wisdom to the nations that came to learn from Solomon.
The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.1 Kings 10:24
But we can also see God’s heart for the nations shine through Solomon in his prayer of dedication of the temple fulfilling God’s desire for His temple to be a house of prayer for all nations:
“As for the foreigner who does not belong to your people Israel but has come from a distant land because of your name — for they will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm —when they come and pray toward this temple, then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.1 Kings 8:41-43
6. The Exile
Even in the exile, God’s people were to be fruitful and multiply which would show the Babylonians that Yahweh is still the One True God. He told the Israelites through Jeremiah
Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there; do not decrease.Jeremiah 29:6
And when the Israelites returned from exile, God promised to continue to multiply His covenant people.
Thanksgiving will come out of [the Israelites], a sound of celebration. I will multiply them, and they will not decrease; I will honor them, and they will not be insignificant.Jeremiah 30:9
God’s mission was always to fill the earth with people who worship Him!
7. The Prophets
God’s heart for the nations can be seen throughout the books of the prophets. Malachi 1:11 is one of the clearest examples:
For My name will be great among the nations, from the rising of the sun to its setting. Incense and pure offerings will be presented in My name in every place because My name will be great among the nations,” says Yahweh of Hosts.Malachi 1:11
After Jesus was born, Simeon praised God, saying
For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”Luke 2:30-32
Even though Jesus was “sent to the lost sheep of Israel”, He often ministered to Gentiles. Before going to the cross, Jesus quoted Isaiah in saying that God’s house was to be a house of prayer for all nations
Is it not written, My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations?Mark 11:17
Now, if the primary thread throughout the Bible is God’s desire to be worshiped by the rich diversity of His creation, it would make sense then that Jesus’ final command to His disciples would be about our mission to the nations.
And that’s exactly what we see in The Great Commission:
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations.Matthew 28:19
The word “nations” in Matthew 28:19 is translated from the Greek word ethne, where we get the English word ethnic group.
This means that the Great Commission is really Jesus’ command for His people to go and make disciples of all ethnic groups.
Said another way, if we want to obey the Great Commission, our discipleship needs to demonstrate God’s heart for the nations by having an ethnic group focus.
The New Testament is primarily about Jesus, as it should be. He is God and the only Savior!
But God, in His wisdom, decided to devote a large portion of the rest of the New Testament to one man – Paul.
We have to ask ourselves, “Why did God do that?” Who was Paul and why did God choose to feature him so prominently?
Jesus tells Ananias why He has chosen to appear to Paul:
This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.Acts 9:15
Subsequently, Paul refers to himself as “the apostle to the Gentiles”. Similar to our English word “nations”, the word “Gentiles” is also translated from the Greek word ethne.
That means that of all of the people in the world that God could feature in the New Testament, God chose to feature the “apostle to all ethnic groups”.
Paul says that the reason he received God’s grace and apostleship was for the nations:
We have received grace and apostleship through Him to bring about the obedience of faith among all the nations, on behalf of His nameRomans 1:5
After Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, Paul was on a mission to see all nations place their faith in Jesus.
Therefore I glory in Christ Jesus in my service to God. I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ. It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.Romans 15:17-20
Paul had proclaimed the gospel from Jerusalem to Illyricum (modern day Croatia), he was in the midst of ministering to the Romans, and he had plans to continue making his way west around the Mediterranean to Spain, where Christ wasn’t known.
If the primary thread throughout the Bible is God’s desire to be worshiped by all nations, it would also make sense then that we would see the culmination of this vision in the book of Revelation.
And that’s exactly what we see in Revelation 5:9 and 7:9
“You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.”Revelation 5:9
After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.Revelation 7:9
In Matthew 24:14, Jesus said what must take place before we see the fulfillment of this vision in Revelation:
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.Matthew 24:14
This begs Christians to ask the questions, “where has the gospel not been preached?” and “which ethnic groups have not received the gospel?”
Missiologists (people who study Christian missions) have classified the world’s ethnic groups into different categories. Ethnic groups that have not significantly received the gospel are called unreached people groups.
Ethnic groups that have had almost no response to the gospel are called frontier people groups.
The vast majority of unreached people groups and almost all frontier people groups are in what is called the 10/40 Window.
You can learn more about each of these topics by clicking the links above.
If our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’s primary mission is for all ethnic groups to worship Him by becoming His disciples, and if you are “in Christ”, then shouldn’t your primary mission be the same?
If you are ready to start making God’s mission your mission, below are a few ways that you can get started.
God has ordained prayer to be the key vehicle for His kingdom to advance among all nations. Our mission at Pray1040 is to make it as easy as possible for everyday believers to develop the habit of praying for the remaining unreached people groups (less than 2% Christian) and frontier people groups (less than 0.1% Christian).
Check out our Get Involved page to see all of the other ways you can get involved in God’s mission to the nations. The page is organized according to Perspectives’ 4 Practices and 4 Disciplines of World Christians:
4 Practices: Go, Send, Welcome and Mobilize
4 Disciplines: Prayer, Simplicity, Community, and Learning