Christ’s Sphere of Activity in His Prophetic Office

Paul E. Kretzmann

Christ sent to the house of Israel

A good many unprejudiced, believing Bible-readers have struggled with a feeling of offended surprise at the words of Christ to the woman of Canaan: “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Matthew 15:24. It may seem strange, also, that Christ commands His disciples: “Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not,” Matthew 10:5-6. It is a matter of record, furthermore, that Jesus spent His ministry within the boundaries of Palestine, touching the adjacent heathen countries only by way of passing through quickly, as in the story told above.

Prophecy regarding Christ’s universal reign

Over against these facts there seems to stand the testimony of the prophets, whose predictions as to the sphere of Christ’s activity are such as to cause one to feel that the entire earth is Christ’s sphere of personal effort. The prophet says: “I will also give Thee for a light to the Gentiles,” Isaiah 49:6. “And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and kings to the brightness of thy rising,” Isaiah 60:3. “He will teach us of His ways,” Isaiah 2:3. “The nations shall be blessed in Him, and in Him shall they glory,” Jeremiah 4:2. “All nations whom Thou hast made shall worship before Thee,” Psalm 86:9.

The Word of God to the Israelites

The contradiction is only apparent, however. St. Paul rightly says: “Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also,” Romans 3:29. The solution is easy if we remember two points. In the first place, Christ, in the case of the woman of Canaan, speaks of His own personal work. So far as His person was concerned, His ministry was limited to His countrymen, the Jews. In the second place, His instructions to His disciples indicate that it was God’s will that the work of the new covenant should begin at Jerusalem, Luke 24:47. Throughout the New Testament this fact, that God wanted to make the people of His choice the recipients of the Gospel-message first among all nations, stands out very strongly.

The Word of God to the Gentiles

But the work was not to be confined to the people of Judea or Palestine, Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8. Jesus Himself gave evidence of that. The first persons to give Him homage from outside of Bethlehem were the Magi from the East, Gentiles, by all accounts, Matthew 2:1-12. He Himself praised the faith of the centurion of Capernaum, Matthew 8:10. He converted the woman of Samaria and many of her townspeople, John 4. He was overcome by the faith of the Syrophenician woman, Matthew 15:28. He predicted the coming of the Gentiles into the fold, Matthew 8:11; Luke 13:29. He, finally, gave to His disciples the great command to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature, Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15. All of which goes to show that God wanted His work to be carried out in an orderly way, according to a preconceived plan.

Reconciled in Christ

“Now He, the Light of the world, is indeed come for the salvation of the whole world, but for the establishment of the kingdom of light and life by the preaching of the Gospel and by the working of miracles, wherein the coming of the kingdom of heaven is indicated, He is sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers, Romans 15:8, in order that the Shepherd of Israel might become the Shepherd of all nations in mercy. Salvation is of the Jews, John 4:22, and Simeon’s prophecy of the Savior of all people and of the Light of the Gentiles, to the glory of the people of Israel, must be fulfilled, Luke 2:32. He says indeed: ‘Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also must I bring’; but the Prophet of Galilee would not be a teacher of the Gentiles, but the voice of His calling should issue only through the mouths of the apostles, after He had completed the redemption of the world, in order that all the dispersed that by faith in Him would become children of God, might be brought together, John 11:52.” [Besser, Bibelstunden, Matthaeus, 446. 447].