Answering Islam - A Christian-Muslim dialog

Jesus' Ministry – Limited, Universal or Both?

Callum Beck

A summary of the Biblical and Qur'anic evidence showing that Jesus' ministry, like Muhammad's, had both a particular and universal intention.

I.   Jesus' Ministry According to the Bible

  1. Is limited to Israel
    1. Mt 15:21-26 = Mk 7:24-27. "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."
    2. Mt 10:5-6. Jesus sent the twelve disciples to the lost sheep of Israel only.
    3. Jesus' ministry on earth, and that of his disciples while he was here, was confined mostly within the bounds of Israel, and they ministered almost exclusively to Jews. Note particularly verses such as Lk 13:16 & 19:9-10.

  2. Is to the whole world
    1. Even in the Matthew references above (#’s 1, 2) Jesus ministers to the Canaanite woman and her daughter (Mt 15:28 = Mk 7:29-30), he tells his disciples that they will witness before Gentiles (Mt 10:18). Moreover, though his ministry was primarily to Jews it was not confined solely to them. Jesus did journey into the Gentile areas of Tyre, Sidon, and the Decapolis (a mostly Gentile area); spent time in the half Jew, half Gentile province of Samaria (Mk 7:24, 31; Lk 9:52; Jn 4:4-5); and he did minister to non-Jews (more details on all of this below). Obviously then Jesus' words in Mt 10:6 & 15:24, while true, are not to be taken in an absolute sense such that they exclude any possibility of Jesus' ministry also being to a larger target group.
    2. Jesus spoke positively of, healed, and preached to some Samaritans (who were half Jew and half Gentile) - Lk 9:51-56; 10:29-37; 17:11-19; Jn 4:1-42.
    3. He sent his twelve disciples to a Samaritan village to prepare things for his visit there (Lk 9:52). He sent the Gadarene demoniac to preach in the Decapolis (Mk 5:18-20).
    4. He healed Gentiles and taught at least a few Greeks - Mt 4:23-25; 8:5-13 = Lk 7:2-10; Mt 15:27-28 = Mk 7:28-30; Jn 12:20-22. The Gadarene demoniac, whom Jesus healed, was probably also a Gentile, as he resided in an area where pigs were raised and came from the mostly heathen area known as the Decapolis - Mt 8:28-34 = Mk 5:1-20.
    5. Of the few compliments he gave (I could only find seven), three were to non-Jews - Mt 8:10 = Lk 7:9; Mt 15:28; Lk 17:17-19. Cf Mt 11:7-11 = Lk 7:24-28; Mt 18:4; 26:10,13; Jn 1:47.
    6. He often accused the Jews of having less faith than the Gentiles, and spoke of God's special care for the Gentiles - Mt 3:9 (the words of John the Baptist); Mt 10:15; Mt 11:21-24 = Lk 10:12-15; Mt 12:41-42 = Lk 11:30-32; Mt 21:42-43; Lk 4:25-30.
    7. He cleansed the temple at least partially for the sake of the Gentiles - Mk 11:17. Cf Is 56:6-7; Jer 7:11.
    8. According to Jesus' own words, his mission is universal:

      1. His death is meant to accomplish the redemption of all mankind - Mt 20:28 = Mk 10:45; Jn 3:16; 4:42; 12:32; etc.
      2. His gospel message was to be preached to all mankind - Mt 10:18; 24:14; 28:18-20; Mk 13:10; 14:9; 16:15; Lk 4:25-30; 24:47; Jn 17:20-21: Acts 1:8.
      3. His kingdom includes people of all nations - Mt 8:11-12; 21:43; 25:31-32; Lk 13:28-30; Jn 10:16; 11:52.

    9. The genealogy of Jesus includes two Gentile woman, Rahab and Ruth (Mt 1:5). Also the magi from the east played a major part at the birth of the new born king (Mt 2:1-12). Thus both his lineage and the signs accompanying his birth intimate that his future ministry would impact all nations.
    10. According to Old Testament prophecy, the mission of the Christ was to be universal - Gn 12:3; Is 2:2; 9:1; 40:5; 42:1,4 = Mt 12:18,21; 49:6; 60:1-3; Mc 4:1-5; 5:4; Zc 9:9-10; etc.

  3. Is to the Jew first then to the Gentiles
  4. Is 49:5-6; Lk 24:47; Ac 1:8; 3:25-26; 11:15-18; 13:46-48; Ro 1:16; 2:9-11; 15:8-9.

  5. Conclusion
  6. Jesus' ministry before his death, resurrection and ascension was primarily to the Jews, though far from being restricted to them. After these events he sent out his disciples, whom he had thoroughly prepared, into all the world with his message of good news of salvation by grace (Mt 28:18-20, etc). That is why Jesus knows, when he hears that the Greeks are pressing to see Him (Jn 12:20-22), that his hour of death is imminent (12:23-24, 27). For Jesus must suffer, die and be glorified before his universal message of salvation (12:32) can be carried to the Gentile world.

II.   Jesus' Ministry According to the Qur'an

  1. Is limited to the Jews - 3:49; 43:59; 61:6. Cf 7:59; 17:2,4.
  2. Is to the whole world
    1. Jesus is a sign to all peoples - 19:21 (al-nas, cf 7:158); 21:91 (al-Aalameen, cf 21:107). Cf 2:124; 43:46-47.
    2. Jesus is held up as an example for the Arabs - 43:57.
    3. The Bible is for all mankind - 3:3-4, 187; 6:89-91.
    4. The Qur'an refers to Christians many times (e.g., 2:62,113; 5:85; 57:27). Probably few, if any, of these were from the tribes of Israel. Such being the case, are we then forced to conclude that the Qur'an is in error for calling non-Jews Christian? Or is it the traditional Islamic interpretation of the extent of Jesus' ministry that needs correcting?


III.   Muhammad's Ministry According to the Qur'an

  1. Is limited to the Arabs
    1. As an Arab he is sent to his people who had no prophet before he came - 2:151; 3:164; 6:92; 26:214; 28:46-47; 32:3.
    2. The Qur'an is therefore in Arabic so the Arabs cannot claim that God did not send a revelation to them - 2:136; 6:155-157; 12:2; 13:37; 16:103; 20:113; 26:195,198; 41:44; 42:7; 43:3; 46:12.
    3. The Qur'an says Muhammad is only a warner - 11:12; 13:7 22:49; 35:23; 38:65; 46:9. If we apply these words literally, i.e., Muhammad is no more or no less than a warner, we could use it to deny other Qur'anic teaching about Muhammad. Such as, he is a bearer of good tidings (7:188) or the messenger of Allah and Seal of the Prophets (33:40). This interpretation, of course, is as invalid as the attempt to force Mt 15:24 to say that Jesus is no more and no less than a prophet to Israel.

  2. Is to the whole world
    1. His mission is to all mankind - 7:158; 14:1; 21:107; 34:28.
    2. The Qur'an is for all mankind - 12:104; 38:87; 68:52; 81:27.
    3. He is more than just a warner - 7:188; 33:40,45,46; 35:24; etc.


IV.   Bibliography

Hahn, Ernest. Jesus, Israel and the Gentiles. FFM: Toronto, 1979.
Most of the information contained here is a summary of this booklet.

V.   Notations Used In This Study

Gn = Genesis
Is = Isaiah
Mc = Micah
Zc = Zechariah
Mt = Gospel of Matthew
Mk = Gospel of Mark
Lk = Gospel of Luke
Jn = Gospel of John
Ac = Acts of the Apostles
Ro = Romans

The books in the first column are found in the Old Testament (Taurat and Zabur), while those in the second column are found in the New Testament (Injil). They can easily be located in your Bible by consulting the table of contents at the beginning of the Bible. A reference such as Mt 10:5-6 would then refer to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 10, verses 5-6. If an equal (=) sign is used that means another book cites this same passage. Underlined passages highlight the verses most relevant to this study.

References to the Qur'an give the Surah number first, with the verse number after the colon (:). The references follow the versification system used by Yusuf Ali.