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‘Why Foreign Missions?’ 5. Jesus’ Ministry Includes the Gentiles in Matthew’s Gospel

The link between Israel’s mission and the Church’s mission to the nations was explored in regard to allusions to certain Old Testament texts in the previous section.[1]  It might also be observed in Matthew’s Gospel by focusing on Jesus’ identity and ministry to the Gentiles.  Much of this evidence is reported in David Bosch’s excellent study of Matthew’s understanding of mission, listed here:[2]

1. Four ‘non-Israelite’ women in Jesus’ genealogy: Tamar (Mt. 1.3); Rahab (v. 5); Ruth (v. 5); the wife of Uriah (v. 6))
          2. The visit of the magi (Mt. 2.1-12)
          3. The centurion in Capernaum (Mt. 8.5-13)
          4. The Canaanite woman (15.21-28)
          5. The Gospel will be preached to all nations (Mt. 24.14; 26.13)
          6. Roman centurion and those with him see Jesus as ‘Son of God’ (Mt. 27.54)
          7. Jesus will save God’s ‘people’ from their sin (Mt. 1.21)
8. God’s kingdom will be taken away from the Jewish leaders and given to a people who produce the fruits of the kingdom (Mt. 21.43)
9. Jesus dwelling in Galilee involves a dwelling amongst Gentiles, for Galilee is called Galilee of the Gentiles (Mt. 4.15)–and this is also where the disciples are commissioned at the end of the Gospel to go to all nations (Mt. 28.18-20)
10. The summary of Jesus’ ministry includes news of him reaching Syria (Mt. 4.23-25)[3]
11. Jesus’ disciples are called the salt of the earth and the light of the world (Mt. 5.13-14)
12. Mt. 12.18-21 quotes Isaiah 42.1ff, with its reference to the servant’s universal mission
          13. Mt. 13.38 speaks of a ministry of sowing in the field of the world
14. Jesus’ cleansing of the Temple’s forecourt from the tables for selling sacrifices and exchanging money might be understood as a clearing of the Temple so that the Gentiles will have a place (Mt. 21
          15. Jesus’ willingness to enter Gentiles’ homes (Mt. 8.7)

Four more points beyond those from Bosch are relevant:

          16. Jesus’ casting out demons from two people in Gadara (Mt. 8.28-34);[4]
17. Jesus’ speech to his disciples about ministering only in the towns of Israel includes a reference to ministry before governors and kings as a ‘testimony’ to them and to the Gentiles;[5]
18. The parable of the sheep and the goats–the nations being judged (Mt. 25.31-46);
19. The healing and second feeding of a multitude, which may be a ministry among Gentiles (Mt. 15.29-39).

Cohering with the fact of Jesus’ ministry to Gentiles, Jesus’ activity also involved both fellowship with the unclean and making the unclean clean.  Thus Jesus’ activity among the Gentiles prior to the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s Gospel makes sense of both allusions to certain Old Testament texts and what is said of Jesus’ ministry.

The impetus for mission beyond Israel was foretold in the Old Testament (previously discussed), found its beginning in Jesus’ own activity (as noted here), and carried on into the mission of the early Church.

[1] I have explored other missional, intertextual relationships between Matthew and the Old Testament in two publications: ‘Some Geographical and Intertextual Dimensions of Matthew’s Mission Theology,’ in Bible and Mission: A Conversation Between Biblical Studies and Mission, co-edited with I. Howard Marshall, Peter Penner, Robin Routledge (Schwarzenfeld: Neufeld Verlag, 2008); 'Narrative Dynamics in Isaiah's and Matthew's Mission Theology,' Transformation 21.4 (Oct., 2004): 238-255.
[2]David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991), 60-62.
[3]Bosch adds the summary of Jesus’ ministry in Mt. 9.35-38 and suggests that the plentiful harvest points beyond Israel as well.
[4]The name of the territory is uncertain as there are alternatives in the manuscripts.  However, as the presence of pig herders suggests, the event took place in Gentile territory.
[5]This parallels Mt. 24.14: the good news of the kingdom will be preached throughout the world as a testimony to all the nations (note Is. 55.3; Zeph. 3.8).