Bird argues that Jesus was attempting to achieve and enact the restoration of Israel, and in continuity with other strands of Jewish belief, Jesus conceived of the restoration of Israel as resulting in the salvation of the gentiles.
Jesus’ mission was Israel-centric, but he espoused a view of restoration that was indebted to certain strands of Israel’s sacred traditions where the gentiles are implicit beneficiaries of Israel’s salvation. Since this restoration was already being partially realized in Jesus’ ministry, it was becoming possible for gentiles to begin sharing in Israel’s salvation in the present.
Additionally, Jesus understood himself and his followers to be the new temple and the vanguard of the restored Israel who would appropriate for themselves the role of Israel and the temple in being a light to the nations. Thus, a gentile mission has its germinal roots in the aims and intentions of Jesus and was developed in a transformed situation by adherents of the early Christian movement.
This volume is commendable for its comprehensive interaction with both scholarship on the question and the relevant ancient sources. The book’s real contribution comes in the plausible explanation of how Jesus understood his role and mission developing naturally out of his understanding of the OT, with the early church then carrying the program forward. Jesus and the Origins of the Gentile Mission is a book whose thesis transcends the limitations of the disputed field of historical Jesus studies. That is to say, even those who think that discussions of authenticity are unnecessary will find Bird's thesis stimulating and helpful. This is an important book with an engaging and convincing argument...
—James M. Hamilton Jr, Criswell Theological Review, Fall 2007
There is much to commend in this very fine study, which provides us with what is now perhaps the most developed analysis of Jesus’ view of the Gentiles from the vantage afforded by the emerging understanding of Jesus as a prophet of Israel’s restoration...Bird’s greatest contribution is that he sets Jesus within a recognizably Jewish eschatological framework in which the salvation of the Gentiles is no longer simply a sequel to Israel’s salvation but is part of Israel’s salvation. Bird goes further than most in seeking to locate the inclusion of the Gentiles within the realized aspects of Jesus’ eschatology...Bird’s demonstration of the continuities between Jesus and the Gentile mission is thus to be welcomed as an important contribution to our understanding of the indispensable role of Jesus in the rise of early Christianity.
—Steven M. Bryan, Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, September 2008
Clearly written and persuasively argued, Bird’s thesis will evoke responses from a number of sides—questers for the historical Jesus, and theose concerned with synoptic relations, or with Second Temple Judaism. Bird acknowledges and works with that fact, so his claims are measured and circumspect. Although there are many points where one wants to argue detail with him—particularly his discussion of Ps. 118 and the Vineyard parable—this thesis resonates with, though is not identical with, results from narrative studies of Luke. Bird’s case will stimulate discussion and shed light on the question of how the Gentile missions flowed from the remembered Jesus.
—Peter Doble, JSNT Booklist, vol. 31.5, 2009