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(how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference)

Why did Jesus instruct his disciples not to preach the kingdom of God to Gentiles and Samaritans?

This issue came up in some teaching I did recently. Why did Jesus instruct his disciples not to go in the way of the Gentiles or to the towns of the Samaritans but only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5-15)? Doesn’t that contradict the “great commission”, when the disciples are sent out into the whole world to make disciples of all nations? Students tended to resolve the problem by arguing that the kingdom was offered first to Israel as God’s chosen people and then to everyone else. That seems to me to be at best half right and to entail a mistaken notion of the kingdom of God.

The underlying assumption seemed to be that kingdom is roughly equivalent to salvation. It is a wonderful new thing that is held out to humanity on the grounds of the death of Jesus, and it is only really an accident of “salvation-history” that the Jews got first bite of the cherry.

This gets both kingdom and salvation wrong. The mission of the disciples in Matthew is meaningful only on the assumption that “kingdom” is and remains an integral part of Israel’s story. It is not something extraneous that is offered to Israel first like a cream cake, which they turn down because they are dyed-in-the-wool legalists, and it’s then passed round to the Gentiles, who scoff it gratefully. In fact, I would say, the story of Israel is the story of kingdom. Or it’s the story of how to fail and succeed at cake making.

The lost sheep of the house of Israel

The disciples are not to go “in the way of the Gentiles”; nor are they to enter any city of the Samaritans. They are to go only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 10:5-6). Mark and Luke do not have this explicit restriction, but it is clearly presupposed (Mk. 6:7-13; Lk. 9:1-6; 10:1-12).

The Good Shepherd, The Catacomb of Domitilla, 350-75 A.D.

Scholars debate whether the phrase “lost sheep of the house of Israel” means that all Israel is lost (an epexegetical genitive) or only part of Israel (a partitive genitive). In context, however, the “lost sheep” are the crowds which are coming to hear Jesus in the synagogues, upon whom he has compassion “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”; and the disciples are workers sent out to reap this harvest (Matt. 9:35-38). The likely allusion to Ezekiel 34:5 (“So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd…”) means that these are sheep which have been abandoned by the worthless shepherds of Israel. So Jesus sends his disciples to proclaim the kingdom to those who have been failed by the current leadership in Jerusalem, but the point presumably is that all Israel has been failed by the current leadership.

The geographical restriction is reinforced by the saying that they will “not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes” (Matt. 10:23). We should also note the limited time frame here: Jesus’ expectation is that the Son of Man will come before the disciples have been able to proclaim the impending reign of God in every town of Israel. Their evangelistic mission, therefore, is confined not only to one geographical entity but also one generation (cf. Matt. 16:28).

Jesus and the nations

In the course of their mission the disciples will be “dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles” (Matt. 10:18), but this presupposes the political situation in Israel under Roman rule. It does not have in a view a mission to the nations.

Later Jesus will say to his disciples that he himself was sent “only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). When the Canaanite woman asks for help, he tells her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Her stubborn faith wins him over, but the exception proves the rule: she merely benefits incidentally from the preaching of the coming reign of God to Israel—from the overspill from Israel’s healing.

The faith of the centurion is also exceptional, but it may point forward to the participation of Gentiles in the celebration of the reign of God when it comes. At the moment when the “sons of the kingdom”—that is, those Jews who expected to be “first”—are thrown into the outer darkness, “many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11). The centurion is not saved by his faith, but he believes that the God of Israel is doing something significant in Israel through Jesus, and he is repaid for that belief by the healing of his servant. If, then, the many who will come from east and west are not actually Jews of the diaspora, they are those Gentiles who, like the centurion, believe and celebrate the fact that YHWH has saved his people from annihilation through Jesus.

In a rather different eschatological scenario, Jesus says that when the Son of Man judges the nations at his coming, those Gentiles who attended to the material needs of the disciples during their evangelistic mission will inherit the kingdom (Matt. 25:34-40). This cannot be construed as a salvation of the Gentiles by faith; rather, they are rewarded for their compassion. As with the faith of the centurion, it is a secondary response to what God has done for his people.

The visit of the magi following the birth of Jesus is also sometimes put forward as evidence that the particularism of the disciples’ mission was only temporary. But the magi come only to pay proper homage to the new born “king of the Jews”—the “ruler who will shepherd my people Israel” (Matt. 2:1-6).

The great commission

The “great commission” has the same limited temporal horizon as the earlier mission—Jesus promises to be with his disciples until the end of the age of the second temple Judaism (Matt. 28:20). The difference is that this takes place after the resurrection. Because “All authority in heaven and on earth” has been given to Jesus, he sends them out into the wider Greek-Roman world to “make disciples of all nations”. Their mission must now take account of the fact that the Son of Man has been given the authority anticipated in Daniel’s vision:

And royal authority was given to him, and all the nations of the earth according to posterity, and all honor was serving him. And his authority is an everlasting authority, which shall never be removed—and his kingship, which will never perish. (Dan. 7:14 LXX)

If the Son of Man is to have authority over the nations, then it is fitting that he should have disciples not from Israel only but also from the nations. Paul has a similar argument in Romans 3:28-30 with respect to justification by faith: God’s people will be justified by faith rather than by works of the Jewish Law in order to demonstrate to the world that YHWH is God not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles.

The post-resurrection situation is also in view in Jesus’ assertion in the apocalyptic discourse that the “gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole oikoumenē as a testimony to all nations” (Matt. 24:14). Again, it must be stressed that this “gospel of the kingdom” is the proclamation of what YHWH is doing in Israel for the sake of his name in the world. This is not a gospel of personal salvation. It is not the assurance that one day God will put the world to rights. The task of the disciples is to tell first Israel and then the nations, in the period leading up to the war against Rome, that through all these events YHWH is bringing about his own purposes for his people.

The kingdom of God and the story of Israel

So the disciples are sent to out to proclaim to Israel that within a generation YHWH will judge his people. He will turn everything upside down and inside out. Those on the top will be overthrown, those at the bottom will be lifted up. Those on the inside will be cast out, those on the outside will be brought in to celebrate the inauguration of a new age with the patriarchs. This is the coming kingdom of God, from Israel’s perspective—the dramatic and decisive transformation of the condition of God’s people.

But the transformation of Israel by the living and true God will inevitably have implications for the nations of the Greek-Roman world. Sooner or later the nations will recognize that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (cf. Phil. 6:9-11). In the meantime, this future eschatological event will be anticipated by the baptism of Gentiles in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, who will become disciples of the one who will eventually be confessed as Lord by all the peoples of the oikoumenē.

Comments

Could you briefly explain what ‘salvation’ meant to Jesus in this context - first for Israel (who certainly expected a more immediate and political reprieve) - and how Paul applied it to the gentiles. Do the Gospels suggest another kind of salvation that came by faith in what Jesus achieved, requiring their spiritual allegiance to gain citizenship to this new Kingdom, or do the gentiles simply benefit by it passively (at least until it becomes undeniable)?

If I’ve understood you correctly, here’s how I see it…

Salvation for Israel meant i) not being finally destroyed in the prophesied war against Rome (with the consequent effect that YHWH had failed to keep the promises made to the patriarchs); and ii) the inauguration of a new reign of God over his people. This is Jesus’ somewhat restricted horizon.

When this new political-religious reality is proclaimed across the Greek-Roman world, it turns out that Gentiles find it more believable than the Jews do, and begin instinctively—that is, by the Spirit—to worship the God who is doing these things in and through his people. The inclusion of these Gentiles in the redeemed community is formally confirmed by baptism. They are “saved” by the salvation of Israel. They have faith in what YHWH has achieved by raising Jesus from the dead, and they reap the benefits of that faith. But I think that this is barely foreseen in the Gospels (see above).

But it becomes apparent—perhaps already in Matthew 28:18-20—that the resurrection of Jesus and his exaltation to the right hand of God meant that sooner or later the nations of the Greek-Roman oikoumenē would be “judged” and would confess Jesus as Lord, to the glory of Israel’s God. At this “judgment” those Gentiles who had believed in Jesus would be found to have been justified for having held to their conviction about God’s new future in the face of severe social opposition.

If this doesn’t answer your question, let me know, and I’ll try again.

Thank you for the explanation and for the link to your earlier article, which gave some more perspective (especially the comments).

So if I understand correctly, the good news of the kingdom of God (Mark 1:14-15) was i) that God would once again be installed as King over Israel (judging, protecting, governing) and simultaneously ii) inaugurated/revealed as King over the nations, and giving them the keys to the kingdom which had hitherto been locked from the inside (purposely but artificially kept apart by the law). With the temple-hanging torn, the gentiles could share in the same promises and benefit from God’s judgement, protection and governance as full members of God’s household, rather than dogs depending on scraps.

I guess I am still struggling in some ways to make the mental leap to post-Christian understanding, going from the tribalistic understanding that Christianity inherited from Israel’s narrative to a more humanistic (or cosmic!) understanding of the gospel.

Johannes, that’s a very interesting comment, the third paragraph in particular.

Rather than “tribalistic” I would argue that what Christianity inherited from Israel was a nationalist-going-on-imperialist idea of kingdom—the belief that the God of national Israel would become God of the nations hitherto subject to Greco-Roman imperialism.

The historical fulfilment of that eschatology was European Christendom, but we are now in a post-Christendom, post-imperial, and more or less post-nationalist world, and the church as a result is having to construct a new self-understanding and sense of purpose in an increasingly humanist-cosmic environment.

“Kingdom” no longer makes sense in the old nationalist-imperialist terms, so I argued in Re: Mission that it is now precisely the larger human enterprise that determines our own eschatological horizon. The challenge is to tell the whole story in a way that safeguards the biblical eschatology as a matter of historical reality, including the continuing sovereignty of Christ, but also embraces a broader new creation eschatology.

We’ve been here before with your argument that Jesus only had in view Israel and its history in the gospels, Andrew. There is too much evidence, even in some of the instances you cite, that the message of the kingdom in the gospels was breaking out of its Israel container and would indeed be received by the gentile world (which was the true driving force behind Israel’s history). The message is not just in what Jesus said, but what he actually did - which had a large gentile focus in the gospels.

But what is the message of the kingdom? You say that in the post resurrection mandate of Jesus to the disciples in Matthew 28:

Again, it must be stressed that this “gospel of the kingdom” is the proclamation of what YHWH is doing in Israel for the sake of his name in the world.

This is where the crediblity of the thesis is strained. What changed the world, according to you, in the 1st century is a message about what God had done in Israel, and only for Israel. Out of that comes a somewhat separate and unconnected message that Jesus is also Lord of the nations. So how is this assertion made credible to the nations? You say:

But the transformation of Israel by the living and true God will inevitably have implications for the nations of the Greek-Roman world. Sooner or later the nations will recognize that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (cf. Phil. 6:9-11).

Would you be convinced by this message - that Jesus has come with a message of the kingdom for Israel, but that “sooner or later” the nations would see that he also now has authority over them too?

Why should gentiles want to become believers on the basis of such a flimsy assertion, and why would they want to be baptised “in anticipation of this future eschatological event”?

If the explanation of the kingdom lacks credibility, perhaps it needs looking at again for a more credible explanation.

I noted 2½ instances in Matthew where Jesus has the Gentiles in view. I am in two minds about the words to the centurion. You claim that there is ample evidence beyond those examples, but you give no details. What do you have in mind?

What changed the world, according to you, in the 1st century is a message about what God had done in Israel, and only for Israel. Out of that comes a somewhat separate and unconnected message that Jesus is also Lord of the nations.

I don’t think it’s unconnected. We see the argument in the Psalms, the Prophets and Paul that when the God of Israel does something on behalf of his people, the nations take notice. Paul cites a number of Old Testament examples in Romans 15:9-12.

Would you be convinced by this message - that Jesus has come with a message of the kingdom for Israel, but that “sooner or later” the nations would see that he also now has authority over them too?

It’s not a question of whether I would be convinced. It’s a question of whether first century Gentiles—in particular, god-fearing Gentiles—were convinced by the argument.

But to suggest that the claim that YHWH had taken control of his people and was transforming their status in the world by raising Jesus from the dead is a “flimsy assertion” seems to me very strange. It is only a small step beyond that (inspired by the Psalms and the Prophets) for Paul to see in the resurrection and exaltation of Israel’s messiah solid reason to believe that YHWH was about to judge the Greek-Roman world (Acts 17:31). I don’t think the argument lacks credibility. I think it is thoroughly biblical.

May I chip in with what is probably a fairly naive question. To describe where it comes from and why unease has been triggered… I was reading Eusebius’ tribute to Constantine as background to a thread on Martin Scott’s blog. But was also listening to David Bentley Hart on certain Patristic issues. In so many of your blogs, Andrew, the hugely persuasive continuity of intention that follows the ‘people of God’ theme is beginning to give me pause over the apparently intentional theological discontinuity at the hands of the Fathers. Breuggemann has made similar points in terms of the Christian appropriation of the Jewish narrative. But it is in the work of the Fathers, in short order, that almost everything is redefined often in ways that served to make it impossible for Jews to embrace the redefined grace and kingdom and salvation and metaphysics and… almost certainly, their own scriptures. Was it really as deliberate as this feels, do you think?

Chris, I must say, I hadn’t considered that possibility before. My reading of the Fathers is limited, but it seems to me that through to the middle of the second century an apocalyptic narrative about suffering and eventual vindication is kept alive but with reference only to the New Testament. Already in this period the Old Testament ceases to function as narrative; it serves instead as a source of allegorical or typological prefigurations for Christian beliefs. Then, as the church establishes itself in the Greek-Roman world, the apocalyptic narrative fades and the constructive dialogue with Hellenistic thought takes over.

There is certainly polemic against Judaism during this period, but I’m not in a position to say whether the suppression of narrative was intentionally anti-Jewish. I would imagine that this would be at most an unconscious by-product of the necessary apologetic task. So I tend to see it more positively: by this point the biblical narrative about kingdom had served its purpose, it had brought the church to the point where it was a viable alternative to paganism. Then a different challenge presents itself—to construct a theologically grounded worldview for European Christendom.

Thanks, Andrew. This is more or less where I was going until I began to realize how little connection was being built. It seems odd to me that the events of 66-70 feature so little in the early Christian accounts but, in a similar way to the discussion over the way the church saw Constantine, I was thinking that if the fall of Jerusalem was as devastating as it seems there must have been that sense of finality that somehow cut the moorings and would have been hugely susceptible to the shape-shifting qualities of Hellenistic ways of thinking.

If Jesus knew he was going to be raised from the dead and receive “All authority in heaven and on earth,” why did he talk about a future mission limited to Jews in Matthew 10, only to talk about a future mission to all nations in Matthew 28?

I know that Jesus instructed the Disciples not to go into Samaria in Matthew and see your reasons. Can you discuss how this relates to when He was compelled to go through Samaria in John 4 and met the woman at the well? I’ve heard a teaching on this from a perspective that it wasn’t yet time for the Word to go out from the Jews to the Gentiles but that in this instance, with their passion and asking, he went into the city after meeting the woman at the well and stayed for 2 days, thereby pulling into that time an event that had been meant for a future time. This showed that God will pull into our time things that are slated for a future time because of our passion and love for Him. Thoughts on this teaching?

Hi Luanne,

I don’t have much of an answer to this. It’s always going to be tricky getting John and the Synoptic Gospels to agree over details. There’s no reason to think that John had Matthew 10:5-15 in mind when he related the story of Jesus and the woman at the well. It is curious, though, that John, Matthew and Luke all have the saying about the fields being white for the harvest in these conflicting contexts.

Personally, I would let the contrast stand as reflecting the different outlooks of John and the Synoptic Gospels. But we might also note that Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well is “accidental”, like the meeting with the Syrophoenician/Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30. This is rather different to the programmatic restriction of the disciples’ mission to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

How much of the 2,300 days would be allotted to (or cut off for) Daniel’s people, the Jews, and their capital city, Jerusalem (Daniel 9:24)?

Answer: Seventy weeks were to be “determined upon,” or cut off, for the Jews. The seventy prophetic weeks equal 490 literal years (70 x 7 = 490). God’s people would soon be returning from captivity in Medo-Persia, and God would cut off 490 years from the 2,300 years and allot them to His chosen people as another opportunity to repent and serve Him.

What event and date were to mark the starting point for the 2,300-day and 490-year prophecies (Daniel 9:25)?
Answer: The starting event was a decree from Persian King Artaxerxes authorizing God’s people (who were captive in Medo-Persia) to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city. The decree, found in Ezra chapter 7, was issued in 457 B.C.–the seventh year of the king (verse 7)–and was implemented in the autumn. Artaxerxes began his reign in 464 B.C
The angel said that 69 prophetic weeks, or 483 literal years (69 x 7 = 483), added to 457 B.C. would reach to the Messiah (Daniel 9:25). Did it?
Answer: Yes, indeed! Mathematical calculations show that moving ahead 483 full years from the fall of 457 B.C. reaches the fall of A.D. 27. The word “Messiah” means “anointed” (John 1:41, margin). Jesus was anointed with the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:38) at His baptism (Luke 3:21, 22). His anointing took place in the 15th year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar (Luke 3:1), which was A.D. 27. And to think the prediction was made more than 500 years before!

Then Jesus began to preach that “the time is fulfilled” (referring to the 483 years which were to reach to the Messiah). He thus audibly confirmed the prophecy (Mark 1:14, 15 Galatians 4:4). So Jesus actually began His ministry by clearly referring to the 2,300-day prophecy, stressing its importance and accuracy. This is awesome and thrilling evidence that:

A. The Bible is inspired.

B. Jesus is the Messiah.

C. All other dates in the 2,300-day/490-year prophecy are valid. What a firm foundation on which to build!

We have now considered 483 years of the 490-year prophecy. There is one prophetic week, or seven literal years, left (Daniel 9:26, 27). What happens next? When does it happen?

Answer: Jesus is “cut off” or crucified “in the midst of the week,” which is three and one-half years after His anointing, or the spring of A.D. 31. Please notice how the gospel is revealed in verse 26: “After threescore and two weeks shall Messiah be cut off, but not for himself.”

Praise God, when Jesus was cut off, it was not for Himself. He “who did no sin” (1 Peter 2:22) was crucified for our sins (1 Corinthians 15:3 Isaiah 53:5). Jesus’ priceless life was lovingly and willingly offered to save us from sin. Hallelujah, what a Saviour! Jesus’ atoning sacrifice is the very heart of Daniel chapters 8 and 9.

Since Jesus died after three and one-half years, how could He “confirm the covenant with many” for the full final seven years, as the prophecy in Daniel 9:27 mandates?
Answer: The covenant is His blessed agreement to save people from their sins (Hebrews 10:16, 17). After His ministry of three and one-half years ended, Jesus confirmed the covenant through His disciples (Hebrews 2:3). He sent them first to the Jewish nation (Matthew 10:5, 6), because His chosen people still had three and one-half years remaining of their 490-year opportunity to repent.

When the 490-year period of final opportunity for the Jewish nation ended in the fall of A.D. 34, what did the disciples do?
Answer: They began preaching the gospel to other people and nations of the world (Acts 13:46). Stephen, a righteous deacon, was publicly stoned in A.D. 34. From that date onward the Jews, because they rejected Jesus and God’s plan, were no longer God’s chosen people or nation. Instead, God now counts people of all nationalities who accept and serve Him as spiritual Jews. They have become His chosen people–“heirs according to the promise.” Spiritual Jews do, of course, include Jewish people who individually accept and serve Jesus (Galatians 3:27-29; Romans 2:28, 29).

Source:
https://www.amazingfacts.org/media-library/study-guide/e/4995/t/right-on…

“But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes.” – Matthew 10:23

Jesus told the Pharisees (Jews) that he came for the lost house of Israel. First, Jews are not Israelites and dishonored Jesus and his Father. Pursuant to 1 John 2:22, the Pharisees are unsaved and Jesus told them as much by his disclosure they were the seed of Satan. Read the above verse carefully. Do you really this it would take anyone 2,000 years to go through all the cities in Judea? Jesus was talking about all the cities on earth where the 10 lost tribes were scattered.

Lastly, the Bible has been trifled with a lot. The book of Esther is not an inspiration of God. Esther is the pagan goddess Ishtar and Modecai is Molock. There is not one verse about God in the whole book and the book is historically inaccurate.

god is only coming back for the lost tribes of isreal whom are isrealites scattered among the nations. God say he only knew Jacob which later became isreal. Throughout the bible God cont.. to state that he favors Isreal and also states that the other nations are nothing. Esau will become slaves when the messiah returns because the oppressor will become the oppressed. No matter how we try to twist the scripture around to make ourselves feel better its not going to change the fact that God is coming to judge the world and his people will be saved. He never said all nations would be saved because he only died for the lost sheeps which were scattered among all nations. Shollom

So in what sense was Abraham to bless the nations in his seed? Why does the Bible begin and end with creation? Why is Israel given the role of a nation of priests on the mountain? Why does Ezekiel talk of the tree whose leaves are for the healing of the nations? To be sure, Israel is God’s new humanity that bears his salvation. But the covenant between Israel and God is for the nations. The scriptures tell the story of Israel appropriating this for themselves because they had a wondering heart. So Ezekiel and Jeremiah promised a new heart. Genesis 15 tells of how he had to bear both sides of the covenant for his promises to Abraham to be fulfilled. All of this points to Jesus in the New Testament who becomes the New Israel- the intermediary who represents both God and man so that the nations are known through his people.