To the Lost Sheep of Israel

Why did Yeshua tell His disciples to avoid Gentiles and preach the Gospel only to Jews?

A solitary sheep in the mountains. (Image: Bigstock)

As Yeshua sent out the twelve disciples to proclaim the good news, He limited their field of ministry to working among the Jewish people. He told them not to go among the Gentiles, or even “in the way of the Gentiles,” and he told them not to enter any Samaritan towns:

These twelve Yeshua sent out after instructing them: “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. (Matthew 10:5-6)

Yeshua Himself had previously ministered among the Samaritans, so His instructions did not intend an absolute rejection of Gentiles and Samaritans. Rather, He wanted His disciples for that present period of time to stay focused only on the Jewish people. For the present time, He considered Himself to be on an urgent rescue mission, calling the nation to repentance in order to avert the coming calamity of exile.

Only after His resurrection did He expand the mission to the Gentile world. At that time, He told them to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matthew 28:19), and He told them, “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Even after the Gentile mission had been under way for years, the apostles continued to prioritize the Jewish people, and they summarized that order of priority with a saying which expressed the Master’s policy: “To the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).

Why did He feel it necessary to warn the disciples against going on the road to the Gentiles? Were the disciples, at that early time, already considering taking the kingdom message out to the Gentile world? No, but the land of Israel contained several Gentile cities and populations such as Decapolis cities like Hippus and Scythopolis and Roman cities like Caesarea. Each of those predominantly Gentile cities contained Jewish populations as well. The Master told His disciples to stay in Jewish venues speaking to Jewish people and to stay off the roads that led to the Gentile cities.

Still speaking in the language of sheep and shepherding from Matthew 9:36, He told His disciples to go to the “lost sheep of Israel.” Who were the lost sheep of Israel? They were the sinners, tax-collectors, harlots, and backslidden among the Jewish people—the “secular Jews” of the day who had abandoned Torah and the religion of their fathers. For Yeshua “did not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matthew 9:13).

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