Some Muslims contend that Jesus' ministry was only for the Children of Israel and not for all mankind, as Christians believe. On the basis of this argument, they attempt to persuade Christians to become followers of Muhammad, since they claim he alone was a universal prophet for all people for all time. To support their claim, these Muslims are quick to cite the following verses from the New Testament:
These twelve (disciples) Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel."
He (Jesus) answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."
It is important to realize first of all that Jesus was born of the lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He was the fulfillment of the promise that God had made to Abraham many centuries earlier. Because of obedience and submission to God's will, God's promise to Abraham was two-fold. First, God promised to bless his lineage, namely Isaac, Jacob (Israel), and the Children (descendants) of Israel. Secondly, God promised that from this lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would rise up a blessing for all nations, meaning all mankind. (see Acts 3:25-26 and Galatians 3:8,14).
In this promise to Abraham, both the descendants of Israel, and the Gentiles (all non-Israelites) were to be blessed. This was confirmed many centuries later when Jesus was born. When the baby Jesus was taken to the temple for dedication, a devout elderly man who had been praying there was moved upon by the Spirit of God. He took the child in his arms and proclaimed these words in prayer to God:
For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light (1) for revelation to the Gentiles, and (2) for glory to Your people Israel.
From the passage above, we understand Jesus' ministry to be likewise two-fold. First of all, because he was born of the Children of Israel, his first mission was to reveal himself and God to the Israelites. They were God's chosen people -- the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Even the Qur'an bears witness to this distinction:
And commemorate Our servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, possessors of power and vision. Verily, We did choose them for a special (purpose) -- proclaiming the message of the hereafter.
Surat-us Sad (38):45-46
Children of Israel, call to mind the (special) favour which I bestowed upon you, and that I preferred you to all others (for My message).
Surat-ul Baqara (2):47
Unfortunately, over the course of time, the Children of Israel had grown hardened and indifferent to the things of God. As a result, it was necessary for Jesus to minister personally among them with signs and wonders in order to confirm to them that he was the long-awaited Messiah, the Blessed One, the Anointed One whom God had sent to redeem His chosen people. For this reason during his personal ministry, Jesus instructed his disciples to go only to the Children of Israel. They were to hear the message first. This was to be their privilege because they were the people of God's covenant, the promise of blessing. Following the death and resurrection of Jesus, one of his disciples addressed the Israelites as follows:
And you are heirs of the prophets and of the covenant God made with your fathers. He said to Abraham, "Through your offspring (descendants), all people on earth will be blessed." When God raised his servant (Jesus the Messiah), He sent him first to you to bless you by turning each of you from your wicked ways.
It is important to realize that the second part of Jesus' mission was most significant. That mission was to give his life a ransom for the sins of all mankind (1 Timothy 2:4-6). This was the blessing that was for all nations -- the good news that Jesus, by the shed blood of his suffering on the cross, paid the penalty for the sins of mankind, and that whoever accepts this blessing of salvation is assured eternal life with God!
This is what is written: The Christ (Al-Masih) will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.
The Scriptures are clear that this salvation in Jesus the Messiah is available for all people, both Jews and Gentiles of all nations. Remember, during Jesus' earthly and personal ministry he instructed his disciples to go only to the Israelites. But after the second part of his mission was completed (his atoning death on the cross), notice what he then instructed his disciples:
You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
... go and make disciples of all nations (all people).
Jesus himself confirmed the universal nature of his mission when he declared these words:
I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.
Again Jesus is referring to himself as that special blessing or revelation of mercy for all people, for all mankind. The Qur'an likewise points to the universal mission of Jesus. God Himself is quoted as saying:
... and (We wish) to appoint him (Jesus) as a Sign unto men ("ayat-al linnasi"), and a mercy from Us.
Surat-u Maryam (19):21
Notice, it does not say, "a sign only to the Israelites" as some Muslims would have us believe. In fact the Arabic indicates a "sign to mankind!"
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