Much of Jesus’ focus in outreach while He was on the earth was to reach “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt 15:24). It’s not that He didn’t care about the people of other nations or reach out to them too, but He knew that a part of His mission in that season was to go specifically to the exiled—God’s chosen people. But throughout His ministry to God’s chosen people, we see bold hints that the day will come where His gospel will eventually go to all of the other unchosen nations as well (Lk 4:22-27; Mt 15:21-28).
That time came after He was resurrected back to life. A grand work had been done and He wanted all nations to now become a part of God’s chosen people. If anyone would leave everything behind and follow Him, they too would be accepted into Israel, and thus inherit the great things that come with being a part of God’s people in this life, and the even greater things that come in the resurrection (Lk 18:29-30).
While laws had been in place throughout the Old Testament that allowed outsiders to become an Israelite, this possibility changed from a footnote of the law to the main focus of grace. And Jesus set that focus in place in His final words to us, which we call, “The Great Commission.”
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 28:18–20
Many of us have this verse memorized and have recited it so many times that we don’t always pay attention to what we’re actually saying or how it would have been heard when Jesus said it. But in light of our journey through Israel’s story so far, just imagine how strange this statement must have sounded to His disciples.
They were Israelites. They were the chosen ones. The other nations had been their oppressors—the unchosen ones. The disciples had just spent a lot of time close to Jesus ministering primarily to other Israelites. They had been on mission to restore the Kingdom of God, which consisted of Israelites. And now as Jesus gets ready to ascend into the Heavens, He tells these same disciples that their mission for the rest of their lives is to go into the rest of the world and invite everyone else to join Israel.
Yes, that includes the Egyptians that used to enslave them. That includes the remnant of Babylon that exiled them. That includes Rome that was currently persecuting them. Make disciples of all nations. Lay down your racism. Lay down your prejudice. If God can make Himself a servant to humanity and wash our feet, we can make ourselves a servant of all others, regardless of their race, gender, culture, or socio-economic differences.
Now as you might imagine, it took the early Christians some time to catch onto all of this, as evidenced by the struggles found especially throughout the book of Acts. This book documents the growing curve of understanding that the gospel was also for the Gentiles—the outsiders—the unchosen ones.