With the hope of a restored Israel so prominently expressed in Jesus' mission, one might have expected some explicit reference to the return of the scattered exiles of Israel. Such an expectation could/would of course be included within the talk of repentance/return and the symbolism of the (restored) twelve (tribes). But it is surprising in that case that Jesus gave no clearer indications on the subject: the call to return is one which was repeated through Israel's history, not limited to a particular situation in that history; no attempt was made to include a diaspora Jew among the twelve. What about 'the lost sheep of the house of Israel' ? But the commission of Matt. 10.6 hardly has the diaspora in view, since in the preceding sentence the disciples are forbidden to go 'on the way of/towards the Gentiles' (10.5).129 And we have already noted the possibility that the similar allusion in the story of the Syrophoenician woman (Matt. 15.24) may at best suggest that Jesus extended his mission to greater Israel (§§9.9f). So too the imagery of the 'sheep without a shepherd' (Mark 6.34/Matt. 9.36) seems to be directed more against the failures of Jewish leadership130 than to gathering in the scattered outcasts. It is true that Luke has set the parable of the lost sheep in parallel to the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15.4-7, 11-32), with the latter's reference to the younger son's time in a 'far country' (15.13), but any equivalent inference has to be read into the former. All in all, once again, we have to conclude that little or no attempt has been made in the Jesus tradition to include the thought that Jesus' mission aimed to restore Israel by bringing exiled Israel to repentance as in Deut. 30.2.131
In sum, although the evidence becomes increasingly tenuous, the initial
127. 1 Cor. 3.9, 16; 6.19; 2 Cor. 6.16; Eph. 2.21; 1 Pet. 2.5.
128. Rom. 5.2; 12.1-2; 15.16; Phil. 2.25; 1 Pet. 2.5; Rev. 1.6; 5.10; 20.6.
129. See Jeremias, Promise 19-21; discussion in Davies and Allison, Matthew!, 168-69.
considerations are enough to establish the conclusion that Jesus was understood by his first disciples to have been engaged on a mission to and on behalf of Israel as a whole. His goal was the prophetic goal of recalling the people to return to their God. He chose twelve to be his inner group of disciples to represent Israel renewed (new covenant) and recalled to its destiny. He had a special concern for the sheep separated from the flock of Yahweh. The assumption, we can only infer, was that of the prophets: that Israel would flourish as a community only when as a people it genuinely turned to and trusted in God.
But would that ensure the coming of the kingdom, or would it be proof that the kingdom had come? We need to fill out the picture further.
Was this article helpful?