Why did Jesus say he was sent by the Father?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: What is the significance of Jesus referring to Himself as being “sent” by the Father?

Answer: I’m not sure I can do your question justice, but I have a few ideas about this… so, let me share them. If it turns out you were looking for something else, it’s okay to send another question. Just be more specific.

In biblical Greek, the word for “apostle” is apóstolos (ἀπόστολος), and it comes from the more basic word (apostéllō [ἀποστέλλω]) which means “to send on a mission.” So, an apostle is “one who is sent on a mission.” When this verb applies to Jesus, it means the same thing. Just as Jesus sent out the twelve with their mission to heal the sick in Matthew 10, so the Father sent Jesus with the mission to save the world in 1 John 4:9.

“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions …. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:5–8, NIV, emphasis mine)

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” (1 John 4:9, NIV, emphasis mine)

It is important to note that the one being sent is like an ambassador in that he has the authority of the sender. But also, he speaks for the sender and not for himself. In this, we are ambassadors for Christ. When we speak, we are speaking on Christ’s behalf — and so much so that God is making his appeal directly through us.

“For I [Jesus] did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.” (John 12:49, NIV)

“Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, NIV, emphasis mine)

“We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20, NIV)

A sister concept to “send” is to “give” … but they are different in important ways. For example, look at God’s use of the concept give (gave) in John 3:16.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV, emphasis mine)

John 3:16 is often called the Gospel in a nutshell because it has all the elements of the Gospel within it. It’s got the Father (God), his motivation (love), his action (giving), the action’s object (his Son), the Son’s object (everyone [the world]), the tension (belief) and the hoped-for result (eternal life).

But the tension in John 3:16 (belief) is more closely tied to God’s sending than to his giving. What kind of works does God want us to do? He wants to believe in the one he has sent.

“Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:26–29, NIV, emphasis mine)

Jesus here identifies himself as “the one [God] has sent” … which was quite a claim to make publicly among the Jews. But John 3:16 came right after a private session with Nicodemus. Sure, Nicodemus was a Jew… but he came alone… and at night. He was an earnest seeker.

Jesus honored him with a glimpse into the imminent new age. “You must be born again” (3:3) he told this Jew… in spite of the fact that being born again would be a Christian motif. But when Jesus said he had been sent, this had messianic implications. As such, this targeted the Jews.

So, here’s a couplet to remember: send believe, give receive. Jesus was “sent” to the Jews, and their challenge was to believe. But he was “given” to the world, and our challenge is to receive.

“Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—” (John 1:12, NIV, emphasis mine)

Jesus was “sent” to his own people — to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 15:24) — and his own received him not (John 1:11). But he was “given” to save the world (John 3:16)… not just the Jews. But how did God give him? By sending him to Israel… so, his messianic intentions and the salvation of all humankind are inextricably related.

But the Jews rejected Jesus, of course… and that rejection caused his death on the cross. This death was the culmination of God’s giving. So, although the sending and the giving were different elements that had different objectives, they worked together to accomplish salvation for all people (Romans 3:22).

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