Why did Jesus tell his disciples to go only to the Jews?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question: Didn't Jesus say that he came only to the Jewsand even command his disciples not to preach to others? Eventually, they did, of course. Did Jesus change his mind? Is this a contradiction?

Answer: Jesus did indeed tell his workers, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans,” (Matthew 10:5), and his reasons were just as succinct. “…I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matthew 15:24). Since the Father sent Jesus only to the Jews, logic excluded everyone else as a target.

Please note that Jesus was not being mean by singling out groups to exclude. He was merely giving the disciples the information they needed to perform his Father’s will. The fuller impact of his ministry and the change in direction (if you will) plays out across the remainder of Matthew. But we must remember that people were in different categories then than they are now.

Today we have two (and only two) categories of people: Christians and non-Christians — the saved and the unsaved. But in Jesus' time, there were two different categories of people: Jews and Gentiles. Many people do not realize that there were no Christians alive during Jesus' earthly ministry. (These would soon be minted, however.) But these Samaritans formed sort of a special category. Historically, they were Jews who intermarried with the Gentiles — a big no-no in the day! For this reason, the Palestinian Jews shunned them as half-breeds, treating them worse than the Gentiles. But geographically, they were near neighbors, hence Jesus' caution not to go there. This is actually a little comical because the Palestinian Jews went out of their way to avoid contact with them anyway. 

By the end of Matthew, however, Jesus changed his marching orders from go only to the Jews to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”” (Matthew 28:19–20). That was great news, of course. Now all people would be afforded direct access to salvation through the risen Christ. But the question stands. What’s going on? Why the initial restrictions? And why the subsequent change?

When Jesus took on human form he also took on our common restrictions. Like us, Jesus worked his administrations one after the next, moment following moment, day following day. We must, therefore, always consider the point in time of any occurrences, because God deals with humanity in time and often reveals His will at points throughout time.

At the time of Matthew 10:5, Jesus had not yet completed his corporal testimony to the Jews, placing this verse before God’s next big revelation: The official work of reaching the nations would soon be assigned to a new (and until then an unknown) entity: The Church, the Body of Christ. But this entity could not appear until after Jesus’ resurrection and after his return to heaven. So, that verse places Jesus at a point on a timeline where God continued to give the Jews every opportunity to grab his flag and run — but right before they "officially" blew it. After Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the Jews (as a nation) did not follow-up their cheers with any action, and they simply ran out of time. Yes, it's all about time.

If the Jews had acted on Jesus’ messiahship, then they would have remained the standard-bearers for God…but the redemption story would have been much different. Jesus simply had to die to atone for our sin — there was no other way. To think that he died at the hands of his own people! We needed that sacrifice, but did Jesus really need that insult? Such was the price of our souls.

All of God’s dealings with people occur on a timeline, and Matthew 10:5 landed on a point in time before God redefined mankind and before He reassigned certain duties. Therefore, we must consider Jesus’ (initially) restrictive utterance as a necessary part of the greatest story ever told, and when telling it we must always consider its conclusion: "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations…”

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