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Many bible-versions have in Matthew 10:5–6 such wordings as “do not go into the way of the gentiles and do not enter a city of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. That passage with its context talks about how Jesus sent out the twelve apostles to prepare the way for him, but some writers have claimed that those verses refer to some people or nations in our day. This article takes a closer look at that passage and matter and considers who and where those lost sheep” were, and where the apostles went on that mission. Even certain related scriptures such as Matthew 9:36 and 15:24 will be considered here.
This article is a part of a series on what biblical prophecy says about the fate of the ten lost tribes of Israel.
Some Anglo-Israelist writers have wanted people to believe that verses 5 and 6 in Matthew 10 refer to proclaimers of Anglo-Israelism in the 1900s and 2000s, instead of the twelve apostles whom the context talks about. They have claimed that the word “Israel” in that verse refers to Britain and USA, and not to the land of Israel (Judea and Galilee) which is where Jesus on that occasion sent his apostles. (According to those writers, the Anglo-Saxon people are Israelites, “the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh”.) They have further claimed that the words “before the Son of man comes” in Matthew 10:23 refer to what we today view as “end time”, and that the mention of “the towns of Israel” in that verse refers to cities in Britain and USA.
Let us consider that matter. To begin with, we must check who it actually was that Jesus sent on the mission which Matthew 10 refers to. This is quite easy, because that chapter mentions even the names of those who were sent.
Matthew 10:1 And he got together his twelve disciples and gave them the power of driving out unclean spirits, and of making well all sorts of disease and pain. 2 Now the names of the twelve are these: The first, Simon, who is named Peter, and Andrew, his brother; James, the son of Zebedee, and John, his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew, the tax-farmer; James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, who was false to him. 5 These twelve Jesus sent out and gave them orders, saying, Do not go among the Gentiles, or into any town of Samaria, 6 But go to the wandering sheep of the house of Israel, 7 And, on your way, say, The kingdom of heaven is near. (BBE, highlighting added)
As you can see, that passage does not refer to people of our day. It is so clear and specific that it even states the names of the men who were sent on that mission, and notes, “these twelve Jesus sent out”.
Verse 5: “Gentiles” = non-Jewish people. “Do not go among the gentiles” – the apostles were to go only to the Jewish people in the land of Israel, in Judea and Galilee. [a] “Samaria” – in New Testament times, the area between Judea and Galilee was called Samaria. It is thought that in NT times, that part of the land of Israel was populated by a mixed people who had been brought in from Babylon and other places.
[a] Later in this article, it will be shown what the word “Israel” refers to, in Matthew 10 and in the New Testament in general. Also, it will be shown that by the words “lost sheep”, Jesus referred to the Jews in the land of Israel (Judea and Galilee). Those people were, both physically and spiritually, “distressed and scattered, as sheep not having a shepherd” (ASV). We read about this in the context, at the end of the preceding chapter:
Matthew 9:35 And Jesus went about all the towns and small places, teaching in their Synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom and making well all sorts of disease and pain. 36 But when he saw all the people he was moved with pity for them, because they were troubled and wandering like sheep without a keeper. (BBE)
During the mission which Matthew 10 refers to, the apostles journeyed the land of Israel. The NT does not give us any details regarding that tour or mission, but we have Luke 9:6–10 which records the apostles’ departure, and their return. Luke 9:6, “and they went away, journeying through all the towns, preaching the good news and making people free from diseases in all places”, and verse 10, “and the twelve, when they came back, gave him an account of what they had done” (BBE). So, the mission of Luke 9:1–10 was finished, and it appears that Matthew 10 and Luke 9 refer to the same mission.
The mission of Matthew 10 was discussed above. Verses 2–4 show who were sent – the twelve apostles. So, we know the timing: The first century. Having noted this, let us now consider verse 23 and the meaning of the words “before the Son of man comes”.
Jesus said to the apostles, “you will not have gone through the towns of Israel before the Son of man comes” (Matthew 10:23, BBE). The reason why they could not do that before Jesus himself visited those towns, was simply that he did not give them so much time. Clarification: The first verse in the next chapter shows that after he had sent those men on that mission, he started his own tour to the same towns. We read:
Matthew 11:1 And it came about that when Jesus had come to the end of giving these orders to his twelve disciples, he went away from there, teaching and preaching in their towns. (BBE)
This is even more clear in Luke 10:1 which is regarding the seventy whom he sent in addition to the twelve. We read:
Luke 10:1 […] the Lord made selection of seventy others and sent them before him, two together, into every town and place where he himself was about to come. (BBE)
Note the words “every town and place where he himself was about to come”. So, Jesus sent those men to “prepare the way” for him, but he did not give them so much time that they could visit all of those towns before he himself came to them.
And again, all that was regarding things and people in Judea and Galilee, a mission which Jesus gave to the twelve apostles and also the seventy. In the first century. Matthew 10 has nothing to do with other countries, or with things or people of our day.
Later, after his death and resurrection, Jesus sent the eleven remaining apostles on a different and much wider mission, “to all nations”, Matthew 28:19.
A number of Anglo-Israelist writers have caused people to believe that in the New Testament, the word “Israel” or the phrase “house of Israel” do not refer to the land of Israel (Canaan) and to the Jews who lived there in the first century, but instead to some other land or lands, some other people, and some other time.
Those writers have built their claims by noting that after the reign of king Solomon, the nation Israel was divided into two parts, where the northern part has sometimes been called “the house of Israel” and the southern part “the house of Judah” (whence the word “Jews”). But, those writers have failed to mention the fact that even the people of the “house of Judah” (the Jews) continued to be viewed as Israelites, and were called so. Also: In NT times, the Jews lived even in Galilee in the northern part of the land of Israel, and not only in Judea in the south.
Let us consider some New Testament passages, in order to see how the word “Israel” is used in the NT.
First, regarding the use of the word “Israel” as a reference to a location.
Matthew 2 records that Joseph, Mary and Jesus had to flee to Egypt. Later, they were able to return to the land of Israel:
Matthew 2:20 Saying, Get up and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: because they who were attempting to take the young child’s life are dead. 21 And he got up, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. (BBE)
As you can see, the phrase “the land of Israel” indeed refers to the land of Israel.
The following contains some examples of how the word “Israel” is used in the New Testament, in regard to people.
John 1:47 records how Jesus, who himself was a Jew and an Israelite, used the word “Israelite” of the Jew Nathanael. 2 Corinthians 11:22 records how the apostle Paul who was a Jew, called himself and other Jews Israelites. It is the same elsewhere in the NT. See for instance Matthew 8:10 and 9:33, Luke 1:80, John 1:31, Acts 4:8, 5:35, 13:16 and 21:28, and so on. In all those passages, the word “Israel” refers to the Jews and the land of Israel.
Again: When Jesus sent the twelve apostles to the towns of Israel, it was to Judea and Galilee he sent them. It was the same with the seventy. This was in the first century. The Anglo-Israelist claim that Matthew 10 would refer to some other land or lands, or some other time, has no basis in reality.
Matthew 10:6 records that when Jesus sent the twelve to prepare the way for him in the towns of Israel (Judea and Galilee), he spoke about “the lost sheep of the house of Israel”. The context, the last part of the preceding chapter, talks about the Jews as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”, Matthew 9:36, NRSV.
In those days, the Jewish nation was in a bad shape – “harassed and helpless”, just as the NRSV has it. Their land was under harsh occupation. They were under heavy oppression and taxation.
Jesus the Good Shepherd cared for his “sheep”. Matthew 9:36, “he was moved with compassion for them”. Matthew 10:8 and Luke 9:2 and 10:9 record how he sent his disciples to heal those people. And of course, he himself visited the towns of Judea and Galilee and healed countless people, and proclaimed the Good Tidings.
Compare these passages:
Matthew 9:35 And Jesus went about all the towns and small places, teaching in their Synagogues and preaching the good news of the kingdom and making well all sorts of disease and pain. 36 But when he saw all the people he was moved with pity for them, because they were troubled and wandering like sheep without a keeper. (BBE, highlighting added)
Matthew 10:6 But go to the wandering sheep of the house of Israel, 7 And, on your way, say, The kingdom of heaven is near. 8 Make well those who are ill, give life to the dead, make lepers clean, send evil spirits out of men; freely it has been given to you, freely give. (BBE, highlighting added)
In short: The “lost sheep” which Jesus spoke about, were right there in the towns of Judea and Galilee. That is where he visited and helped them.
In Matthew 10:6 and 15:24, the Greek word which a number of translators have rendered as “lost”, is apolôlota, a form of the verb apollumi. In KJV1769, it is translated 33 times as “perish” (examples: Matthew 8:25, 18:14), 26 times as “destroy” (example: Matthew 12:14), 22 as “lose” (examples: Matthew 10:39, 16:25), and a few times in miscellaneous ways, including “be lost” (example: Luke 15:4). In the case of Matthew 10:6 and 15:24, that word is used in connection with people, the Jews in the land of Israel, and the fact that in those days, their situation was really bad. As the Latin Vulgate version has it, oves quae perierunt, “sheep that are perishing”.
Please note that even though on the occasion which is recorded in Matthew 10 Jesus sent the apostles only to the Jews in the land of Israel, in the case of Matthew 28 he sent the eleven remaining apostles on a new and much wider mission, directed to people of all nations (Greek panta ta ethnê, all peoples, all ethnic groups). This was after Jesus’ death and resurrection.
Matthew 28:16 But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had given them orders to go. 17 And when they saw him they gave him worship: but some were in doubt. 18 And Jesus came to them and said, All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go then, and make disciples of all the nations […] ( BBE, emphasis added)
As you can see, this was in contrast to the earlier mission which was only to the Jews. This new mission for the apostles was directed to people of all ethnic backgrounds.
Matthew 28:16 shows who were sent on that new and wider mission, and when. It was the eleven remaining apostles that Jesus sent on that mission. This was in the first century.
Now, since Jesus sent those men to “all nations” (verse 19, in the Greek text panta ta ethnê, referring to people of all kinds of ethnic groups), we can expect that they indeed did go to people of various nations and races. On the practical level, this obviously referred to the part of the world which those apostles knew and could reach. And, as we know, later Jesus sent even Paul to proclaim in that area.
So, where did the apostles go, in connection with this new and wider mission?
We know where some of them ended up. Judas Iscariot did not go anywhere; he had betrayed Jesus and hanged himself. Acts 12:2 states that James the brother of John was killed, apparently in Judea. The apostle Paul’s travels are to a certain extent recorded in the New Testament. 1 Peter 5:13 tells us that on one occasion, the apostle Peter had gone to Babylon. (Not “Rome” as some have claimed.) John 21:18–19 indicates that in the end, Peter was to be crucified, but we do not know where that eventually happened. Also, Revelation 1:9 tells us that at one time, the apostle John was on an island by the name Patmos (apparently, in the Aegean Sea by Greece). But other than that, we simply do not know where each of the apostles travelled. And again, this is not regarding the earlier mission of Matthew 10 which was directed to Judea and Galilee, but regarding the later mission which was directed to people of all kinds of ethnic groups.
A note: There are many stories and myths, Catholic and perhaps even other, in regard to where the apostles supposedly went. Apparently, a number of towns and places have even claimed that they have some apostle’s tomb. But, has anyone seen any authentic and reliable old documents that could in a dependable way inform us in regard to where those men actually travelled? No. There is no reliable information of that kind.
In one branch of Anglo-Israelism, some preachers have claimed, in effect, that the prophet Ezekiel was a failure and did not do the job God told him to do, and that those preachers are now, more than 2500 years later, doing what Ezekiel supposedly “failed” to do. A part of that dogma connects in a complicated way Matthew 10 with the mission of the prophet Ezekiel.
The article rya072.htm has more on the “Ezekiel message” dogma and its origin. It also shows what the word “Israel” and other similar names and phrases actually refer to, in the case of the book of Ezekiel.
That question is considered in the article rya012.htm. It has also some notes on what we can learn in the Scriptures, in regard to how the tribes of Israel would be doing in our day.
Links to the other 14 parts in this series on the tribes of Israel are found in the “recommended reading” section, below.
Please send or mention the address to this site to others. Please also link to this site. The address to the table of contents page is biblepages.net/contents.htm
An explanation of the short names for the bible-translations that are quoted or mentioned at this site. → rsa092.htm
On the words “gentiles”, “pagans” and “heathen” and what they actually mean and refer to. → rga012.htm
What happened to the saints of the New Testament? Why is there no record of their doings, after the middle of the first century? → rga042.htm
The other parts in the ‘tribes’ series:
What biblical prophecy says about the fate of the ten lost tribes of Israel. → rya012.htm
Leviticus 26:19, “and I will break the pride of your power”. How and when was the ancient Israelites’ pride broken? → rya022.htm
On the meaning of Genesis 22:17, the words “and your seed shall possess the gate of his enemies”. → rya032.htm
On what the concept “birthright” meant and referred to, in regard to inheritance, in ancient times. Also, some notes on the patriarch Jacob’s birthright, and that of his son Joseph. → rya042.htm
On the meaning of the words “seven times” in Leviticus 26:18, 21, 24 and 28. Does the wording in the Hebrew text mean “seven times more” or “sevenfold” as many translations have it, or “2520 years” as some writers have claimed? → rya052.htm
Jeremiah 30:7, “the time of Jacob’s trouble”. On what chapter 30 in the book of Jeremiah means and refers to. → rya062.htm
On the prophet Ezekiel and his mission, and the “Ezekiel message” dogma. → rya072.htm
Did the ten lost tribes of Israel move to Europe? Are the white north-west Europeans Israelites, as some say? → rya092.htm
Is the line of David the king of Israel still ruling somewhere on Earth? → rya102.htm
The meaning of the words “branch” and “twig” in Ezekiel 17:22. Some notes on Anglo-Israelist dogmas regarding king Zedekiah’s daughters. → rya112.htm
The prophet Jeremiah – where did he die? Did he go to Ireland, as some have claimed? Also, what about the “stone of destiny” which some writers talk about? → rya122.htm
Did people of the ten lost tribes of Israel travel to Greece, Denmark and Ireland? Some notes on certain Anglo-Israelist dogmas. → rya132.htm
Regarding Anglo-Israelism: What if it is instead Russia with her Slavic sister nations that are the ten lost tribes of Israel? → rya142.htm
Ethnic groups which could eventually belong to the lost tribes of Israel. → rya152.htm
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