It is my opinion that missionary work received it’s call into existence not in Matthew 28:19-20 but in Genesis 1:26-28. Missions is more than a New Testament idea. I believe that we’re given the full picture of missions in Genesis 1.
Some people call Genesis 1:28 the ‘Cultural Mandate’ while others call it the ‘Dominion Mandate.’ The name doesn’t matter here, what does matter is what Adam was told to do in this mandate.
1:26-28 says, “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’”
In this mandate Adam was commanded to do 4 things:
1) Fill the earth with the image of God through procreation
2) Subdue the earth
3) Exercise authority and dominion over the creation
4) Accomplish these tasks with the assistance of his helpmate, Eve.
Now we know how Adam did don’t we? In all these things the he failed. Remember what the serpent said? “You will be like God if you eat this fruit.” He wanted it, and grabbed it, and proved to be disobedient. Through this sin Adam tried to grasp equality with God by grasping for the fruit of the tree of knowledge.
Now, you may think that the Mandate may have disappeared after Adam, but it didn’t. Listen to what Noah was told by God in Genesis 9:1-2, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth. The fear of you and the terror of you will be on every beast of the earth and on every bird of the sky; with everything that creeps on the ground, and all the fish of the sea, into your hand they are given.” Did you hear that? All the same elements from Adam’s mandate are back in Noah’s mandate. Now the question turns to: Did Noah fulfill all these things? Not fully, because of the actions of his son Ham (who was the father of Canaan). Because of what Ham did, Noah cursed Ham’s son Canaan for his actions; and blessed his other sons Shem and Japheth.
After Noah, we read of Noah’s descendants, the incident at Babel, and then Abraham. And with Abraham we see a dynamic turn of events. Remember Adam and Noah were given commands in Genesis 1:28 and 9:1-2 while Abraham receives something else. God didn’t tell Abraham to do certain things like He told Adam and Noah. Rather, Abraham (who was known as Abram at the time) was given a promise, not a command. God told him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand of the seashore, and that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed.
To confirm this covenant promise, in Genesis 15 God has Abraham cut an animal in two pieces, so that the two could walk through to confirm the covenant. In that day, this is how you formed a treaty/covenant. You would cut an animal in two and walk through the pieces together. This would symbolize the binding oath between two parties by stating, “If either one of us breaks this covenant, what has been done to this animal will be done to me.” After Abraham prepared the animals, God did something unexpected. He caused a deep sleep to come over Abraham, and then God alone walked through the animal parts. Why did God do this? He wanted to show Abraham that this covenant did not depend on his own actions, but on His own. And more so, if either party, God or Abraham breaks the covenant, the curse of the covenant would fall upon God alone. This is called a self-malecdictory oath.
Can you see how rich the OT is with the gospel? We know that Israel broke this covenant with God, and God kept His Word by causing the curses of the covenant to land on His Son in full measure. God killed His Son because His people did not keep the covenant.