Q&A: Jesus, the Jews and Islam - Matthew 15:24

Jesus, the Jews and Islam - Matthew 15:24

Question

According to Islam, Jesus was only a prophet to the Jews and not the Gentiles. Is this true?

Answer

Matthew 15:24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."

Muslims understand this to be mean that Jesus was a prophet for the Jews only, and that his disciples were therefore also only sent to the Jews. From this they argue further that the teachings of Jesus are not for Gentiles and that the Gospel cannot therefore be a universal religion like Islam.

Let us look at the context of the verse. Jesus healed the Syrophoenecian woman's daughter, who a Gentile! Jesus delivered a demonized Canaanite (Mark 7:24-37). Later, we see Cornelius coming to faith after Peter preached of Jesus (Acts 10, especially Acts 10:34-48). Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15; Rom. 1:5-6). As John sates, "He is the atoning sacrifice for our [elect Jews] sins, and not only for ours [elect Jews] but also for the sins of the whole world [elect Gentiles]" (1 John 2:2). Apparently, there was a ministry to Gentiles well before Mohammed.

So, if Jesus (in part) and the early Church ministered to Gentiles, what did Jesus mean by, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel?"

Prior to the resurrection, the "dividing wall" (Eph. 2:14) between Jew and Gentile still stood, and at this point Jesus' mission was to "Israel" as defined by the Old Testament ordinances. In Matthew 15 Jesus ministered to a Canaanite woman's request only after clear evidence that she no longer thought of any claim to the covenant mercies; rather, she hoped to benefit from the overflow of the blessings promised to Israel (an overflow seen even as Gentiles were saved in the Old Testament Rahab the Harlot, foreign servants that dwelt with Israel, etc). After the resurrection, though, the engrafting of the Gentiles began on a more full-scale level by the command of Christ himself (Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8). This was God's eternal plan (Abraham the father of many nations - Gen 17:5, 15-16; Rom. 4:17). God as the divine Potter is free not only to choose Jews, but Gentiles as well:

Romans 9:24-26 . . . even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? As he says in Hosea: "I will call them 'my people' who are not my people, and I will call her 'my loved one' who is not my loved one," and, "It will happen in the very place where it was said to them, 'You are not my people,' they will be called 'sons of the living God.'"

Beginning in the early Church (Acts 1:8), part of God's restorative plan for elect Israel is to provoke them to jealousy.

Romans 11:11, 13-14 . . . because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I take pride in my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them (cf. vs. 25-27).

Clearly the early Church and even Christ himself ministered to Gentiles (even in the OT Gentiles were saved: Melchizedek in Gen. 14:18; and probably Jethro in Exodus 3:1; Rahab the harlot in Josh 6:25; Heb 11:31, etc.) well before the existence of Mohammed.

Please see Christianity and Islam Contrasted

Reference:

Richard Pratt, General Editor. Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2003.

Answer by Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr.

Dr. Joseph R. Nally, Jr., D.D., M.Div. is the Theological Editor at Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill).