The Great Commission--Part 2
Jul 11, 2009
Those who believe that the Great Commission applies only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel generally point to Jesus' statements that appear to teach this.
In Matthew 10:5 and 6, toward the beginning of Jesus' ministry, He sent the disciples on a missionary journey and told them:
(5) Go not in the way of the ethnos, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; (6) but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
We are not told precisely where the disciples went, whether to foreign lands or not, so we will not speculate on this here. The point is that this statement is sometimes taken as a command that is applicable for all time. But if that were so, then Philip disobeyed Jesus by preaching in one of the cities of the Samaritans. Acts 8:5 says,
(5) And Philip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them.
This evangelistic tour was later confirmed by Peter and John (vs. 14), showing us that Jesus' earlier statement was no longer applicable. It was simply the case that the disciples were to go to "the house of Israel" FIRST. In fact, such priorities are maintained in Acts 1:8,
(8) . . . and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth."
The other time when Jesus spoke of the lost sheep of the house of Israel was in Matthew 15. This was in an entirely different context, which is often misunderstood. In that chapter Jesus was speaking of the traditions of men and comparing them to "dung." He then immediately took His disciples to Phoenicia "into the district of Tyre and Sidon" (Matt. 15:21) in order to expose one of the big "traditions of men" that was yet lodged in the heart of the disciples.
There they met a Canaanite woman (vs. 22), who begged Jesus for help. He ignored her, and the disciples said, "Send her away." Jesus then told them in verse 24, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." In other words, it appeared that Jesus affirmed the view of the disciples that He was exclusively sent only to Israel.
Yet the Canaanite woman persisted. So Jesus insulted her, saying, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs."
The Canaanite woman still persisted, for she had great faith in Jesus' ability to help her:
(27) Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.
By this time, about 12 jaws had hit the ground. I can imagine Jesus chuckling to Himself, because this despised Canaanite woman had left the disciples speechless. Jesus then commended her for her faith, healed her daughter, and then turned around and went back to Galilee.
(29) And departing from there, Jesus went along by the Sea of Galilee . . . .
The fact is, the only reason that Jesus took His disciples to the area near Tyre and Sidon was to help this Canaanite woman. And it was to illustrate the principle that He had just been teaching in regard to the traditions of men in the hearts of men, which had nullified the law of God.
The point is that Jesus' statement in this story was used as bait to draw the disciples into exposing the dung in their own hearts. The whole purpose of the trip was to show them precisely the OPPOSITE truth, in order to prepare them for a future ministry to Samaritans, Canaanites, and other ethnic groups. Rather than teaching exclusivity, Jesus was exposing the exclusivity in the hearts of the disciples.
So if the traditions of men had put away the law, what does the law have to say about this? Lev. 19:33-36 says,
(33) When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. (34) The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself; for you were aliens in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. (35) You shall do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. (36) You shall have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin. . ."
God was telling Israel that their experience of being oppressed in Egypt (on account of their being strangers, or aliens) should be a lesson to them NOT to treat aliens unjustly or without love. In fact, "equal justice for all" is the first law of judges. In Exodus 23:1-9, which focuses upon equal justice, the final verse focuses upon the aliens, saying,
(9) You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt."
In fact, as Lev. 19:34 says, we are to treat aliens "as the native among you."
This is the divine law. The Jews in Jesus' day, including the disciples themselves, had assumed an unlawful attitude toward those of other ethnic groups. They interpreted the Scriptures according to the "dung" in their hearts--that is, heart idolatry--and had thereby made void the law of God.
Having said that, the law of God certainly does not allow aliens to bring their idols into the land. The law does not allow the freedom to worship false gods. This is unacceptable in the Kingdom of God. But if aliens do come in and are willing to worship the biblical God, they are to be treated as equal citizens of the Kingdom with full rights and equal access to justice, should anyone do them wrong.
The New Testament continues this idea. What has often been perceived as a fundamental change in the mind of God is actually a rejection of the traditions of men and a reversion back to the law, which is the expression of God's mind and will.
The law speaks of aliens who come to live in Israel. Ephesians 2 speaks of this as well, saying,
(13) But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (14) For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall [in the courtyard of the temple], (15) by abolishing in His flesh the enmity which is the law of commandments contained in ordinances [i.e., the commandments of men], that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace."
The law never commanded Moses to build a dividing wall to keep women and aliens farther away from God. Neither did David or Solomon receive any such revelation when building the Temple. This was purely a tradition of men, based upon a faulty interpretation of the law. Jesus came, not to destroy the law, but to correct their interpretations of the law and thus abolish that great barrier in the temple, that great symbol of the Holier-than-thou mentality.
One may argue that the two groups being united in Ephesians 2 are Israel and Judah. Certainly, this is a partial truth, because Israel had been cast out in 721 B.C. and had been "gentilized" for centuries. Those lost sheep of the house of Israel (who were never Jews, or Judahites) had been divorced by God (Jer. 3:8) and cast out of the land. They were called prophetically, Lo-ammi, "Not My People" (Hos. 1:9). Yet the prophecy of Hosea tells us that the day would come when this would be reversed (Hos. 2:23).
Isaiah says that in the restoration of Israel, "others" would also be regathered to Christ as well (Is. 56:8), because God's temple will be "a house of prayer for all people" (Is. 56:5). It was to be a temple with no barrier to keep other ethnic groups from drawing near to God.
This is the prophetic backdrop to the Great Commission.
This is the final part of a series titled "The Great Commission." To view all parts, click the link below.
Dr. Stephen Jones