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This limitation fits the historic priority of Israel in salvation history (compare Rom 1:16; 2:9-10; 15:8-9), was practical (these disciples were not yet equipped to cross cultural boundaries) and would have undoubtedly not been objectionable to the first disciples themselves (compare Acts 10:28). Jesus did see a future hope for the Gentiles in the Scriptures (see comment on 8:11-12), but he limited his own mission primarily to Israel. In this text, however, Jesus' orders may address geography more than ethnicity (NIV mistranslates "way of Gentiles" as among the Gentiles); Jesus merely prohibits taking any of the roads leading to Hellenistic cities in Palestine (Manson 1979:179). Since Samaria and Gentile territories surrounded Galilee, Jesus' orders de facto limited his disciples' mission geographically, restricting their activity to Galilee (see Gundry 1982:185).
In contrast to other commandments in this chapter, however, Matthew indicates that Jesus later revokes this limitation (24:14; 28:19-20), specifically clarifying that this one command was a temporary measure during his earthly ministry. Indeed, by highlighting that the gospel's first recipients are Jewish, hence that even Jewish people may reject the kingdom and be treated as Gentiles (10:14-15), this limitation implies a supraethnic view of the kingdom that ultimately necessitates the Gentile mission.