“When you are persecuted in one town, flee to the next. I tell you the truth, the Son of Man will return before you have reached all the towns of Israel.” – Matthew 10:23
Jesus expressed His mission to the Jewish nation so strongly that some have concluded the He envisioned no mission beyond Israel. But careful consideration of all His words and actions reveals that it was a strategy – as Paul later expressed it, his mission was —
“For I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes—the Jew first and also the Gentile. But there will be glory and honor and peace from God for all who do good—for the Jew first and also for the Gentile.” – Romans 1:16; 2:10
Jesus’ concern for Israel showed in the instructions to the twelve disciples as He sent them out on their first preaching mission —
“Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: “Don’t go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel—God’s lost sheep.” – Matthew 10:5-6
The reason is obvious. The need was urgent, more so for Israel than for the Gentile nations, whose time of judgement would come later. Indeed, in the very same context is the prediction that the preaching ministry of the disciples would be extended to the Gentiles…
“You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me.” Matthew 10:18
But they must concentrate upon the Jewish cities first, because their time of opportunity was short.
Luke tells of a later preaching mission in which seventy others sent out two by two. Just as the twelve apostles symbolically represent the twelve tribes of Israel, the seventy symbolize the Gentile nations. In Genesis 10, the descendants of Noah listed seventy in number.