Jesus commanded his Jewish disciples not to preach to Gentiles or Samaritans!
These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.– Matthew 10:5-6
That statement is in direct opposition to the Great Commission. What’s going on?
In addition, he made this exclusive statement: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”–Matthew 15:24
Some people really struggle with these ethnically exclusive statements and wonder if Jesus was exhibiting racism. Others look at these passages and ask if Jesus changed His mind. Commanding your disciples to stay away from the Gentiles, and then commanding them later to go to all the nations looks like someone who has changed plans. Did Jesus really mean it when he said these things? Jesus is not a liar, so let’s look at the facts and see if we can figure out what is going on.
Fact #1 During His three-year ministry, Jesus only traveled in and slightly around the land that was historically allotted to the 12 tribes of Israel. His traveling patterns look like someone who was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.
Fact #2 All of Jesus’s disciples were Jews. If he was making a strong effort at the time to reach Gentiles he would have perhaps tried to recruit one of the Gentiles who believed Him.
Fact #3 When people talk about how Jesus ate with the sinners (Matthew 9) they rarely mention that all of them were JEWISH sinners! People have often used this story as a rebellious excuse to throw all caution to the wind, and walk in to any situation without realizing that even in this atmosphere, Jesus was still being very judicious and discriminating.
How do we know that Jesus was not eating with Gentiles?
If Jesus and the disciples had been eating with Gentiles, then Peter would have never been hesitant, needing correction from God to go visit the Gentiles later in Acts 10. “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean”.–Acts 10:28
Bible dictionaries agree that the Pharisees would have certainly pointed it out if Jesus and His disciples were eating with “Gentiles”. There is a big difference in the Greek words for “sinners” and “Gentiles”. Jesus was not eating with Gentiles. When Jesus stayed in the Samaritan village, even they were half-Jew.
Fact #4 If Jesus had an earthly ministry that was clearly focused on Gentiles as well as Jews, then it is doubtful that we would have reports like this: Meanwhile, the believers who had been scattered during the persecution after Stephen’s death traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch of Syria. They preached the word of God, but only to Jews.–Acts 11:19.
Fact #5 Jesus plainly told the Samaritan woman that “salvation was of the Jews”–John 4:22
Jesus was not lying or being misunderstood when He said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”.
Does this make Jesus a racist?
True racism implies hatred, or feelings that one race is superior to another. Jesus did not hate people from other races. Jesus healed Gentile people. Jesus did not esteem one race as being superior or inferior to another. But He did prioritize his ministry to focus on the Jews. God’s preference of picking Israel as His Chosen race of people was not based on hatred or perceived superiority/inferiority. It was based on faith. Faith made the difference. God saw the potential for faith in Abraham. God promised to bless Abraham’s lineage, and Abraham showed great faith. God is not a racist, He is a promise-keeper. People that got in the way of the promise were sometimes dealt with harshly if they threatened the protection of God’s promise. However, whenever Gentile people showed faith, they were also healed, delivered, and saved.
Is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too.–Romans 3:29
Gentiles were not an afterthought in God’s plan. We Gentiles were not saved as the result of God changing His plans. At the very beginning of Christ’s ministry, John the Baptist declared, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”–John 1:29. Jesus said 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”. Gentiles were included all along. In John 10:16 Jesus said, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd”.
We Gentiles needed Jesus to be sent only to the lost sheep of Israel! If he didn’t focus and fulfill Jewish Law, fulfill every Jewish prophecy, and fulfill the strict role of Jewish Messiah, He could never be Savior of the Gentiles. He had to stay under the Law, and had to keep away from unclean practices. To do so, it was only wise to be distant from those who delved in unclean practices as prescribed in the O.T. Law. He kept Himself in this way for our sakes! Paul spoke later to the Galatian Gentiles saying, “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship”–Galatians 4:4-5
On the cross Jesus said, “It is finished”, and then the veil in the Temple was torn in half. Everything had been fulfilled and finished in Jesus’s role as being “sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”. The Law had been fulfilled and Gentiles would no longer have to subject themselves to Jewish circumcision and Law in order to be God’s people. The way had been made for us to now come by grace through faith in Christ’s work and fulfillment on our behalf. Jesus did not come to bring Jews and Gentiles under the Law. He came solely focused on freeing the Lost Sheep of Israel from the bondage of the Law in order to then bring finished hope to the Gentile world. He did the Gentiles a great favor by focusing on the Jews.
1 John 2:2–He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
Once He had fully become Messiah in every way, He could turn and say, “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 the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”.