Was Christ sent only to the lost sheep of Israel?

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By BibleAsk Team


The Lost Sheep of the House of Israel

The phrase “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” is mentioned in Matthew 15:24. The verse reads: “But He answered and said, ‘I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.'”

This statement occurs in the context of an interaction between Jesus and a Canaanite woman who sought His help for her demon-possessed daughter. To gain a deeper understanding of this verse and its implications, it’s essential to examine the broader context and the overall message of Jesus’ ministry.

The Context of Matthew 15:24

The episode begins in Matthew 15:21, where a Canaanite woman approaches Jesus, crying out for mercy on behalf of her tormented daughter. The disciples, perhaps influenced by cultural biases, ask Jesus to send her away. However, Jesus engages with her, leading to the statement in verse 24.

“Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour” (Mathew 15:25-28).

During Jesus’ time, there were deep-seated cultural and religious divisions between Jews and Gentiles. The term “lost sheep of the house of Israel” reflects the metaphorical language used in the Old Testament to describe the people of Israel as a flock under God’s care. Jesus, as the Messiah, acknowledges His primary mission to the Jewish people.

Jesus first words align with His initial focus on the Jewish audience. Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus ministering primarily to the Jewish communities, preaching in synagogues, and addressing the needs of His fellow countrymen. This aligns with the fulfillment of God’s covenant promises to Israel.

Progression of Jesus’ Ministry

While Jesus’ ministry starts with a focus on the lost sheep of Israel, it gradually expands to encompass all people. After His resurrection, Jesus commissions His disciples to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). The book of Acts chronicles the spreading of the Gospel beyond Israel to the Gentiles, marking a significant shift in the mission.

  1. Matthew 8:10-12: In the healing of the centurion’s servant, Jesus commends the Roman centurion’s faith, saying that many will come from east and west and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness.
  2. Matthew 28:18-20: After His resurrection, Jesus gives the Great Commission, instructing His disciples to make disciples of all nations. This signifies a universal scope for the Gospel mission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”

Theological Interpretation

  1. Fulfillment of Prophecy: Jesus, as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecies, initially fulfills the promises made to Israel. His ministry serves as a realization of the covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
  2. Universal Salvation: The eventual inclusion of the Gentiles in God’s plan reflects the universality of salvation. The Gospel is not confined to a specific ethnicity but is intended for people of all nations (Titus 2:11).

Parable of the lost sheep

In addition to Matthew 15, Jesus also used the analogy of the Lost Sheep as a parable. This parable is found in the New Testament, specifically in the Gospel of Matthew 18:12-14:

"12 What do you think? If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying? 13 And if he should find it, assuredly, I say to you, he rejoices more over that sheep than over the ninety-nine that did not go astray. 14 Even so it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish."

In this parable, Jesus uses the analogy of a shepherd with a hundred sheep, one of which goes missing. The shepherd leaves the ninety-nine sheep to search for the one that is lost. When he finds it, he rejoices greatly. This parable illustrates God’s love, care, and concern for each individual, emphasizing His willingness to seek out and save those who are lost. It also underscores the importance of repentance and redemption in the eyes of God.

Conclusion

While Matthew 15:24 emphasizes Jesus’ initial mission to the lost sheep of Israel, it is essential to view this statement in light of the entire Gospel narrative. However, Jesus’ ministry evolves, and His mission expands to include all people, transcending cultural and ethnic boundaries. The progression from a specific focus on Israel to the universal scope of salvation underscores the transformative nature of Jesus’ mission and the inclusive message of the Gospel (John 1:29).

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