When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.
-Acts 28:23-24 (NASB)
Today’s (as I write this) sermon and Sunday school lesson at church was on Acts 28:17-31, the end of the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. Pastor Randy has spent more than three years and given seventy-two sermons on the Book of Acts and next week, he launches into a sermon series on, no, not Romans, though I was looking forward to it, but on the Ten Commandments starting out in Exodus 19. That promises to be full of interesting information and my Sunday school teacher, who was not exactly thrilled with the idea initially, is going to have his hands full with me.
But I digress.
At one point early in his sermon, Pastor said that God keeps all His promises, including His promise to return the Jewish exiles to the Land of Israel, His promise to raise Israel as the head of the nations, and His promise to rebuild the Temple. Pastor said if we can’t trust God to keep His promises to the Jewish people, we can’t trust that He will keep His promises to us.
Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation. For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
-Romans 10:1-4 (NASB)
And then he said that the Jewish people chose to follow Rabbinic Judaism rather than the plain meaning of the Biblical text. Pastor had such a great start, too.
It would be difficult to convince most people at church that what we call Rabbinic Judaism (is there any other kind of religious Judaism?) today is an extension of Pharisaism and that the first century Jewish religious stream of “the Way” is simply Pharisaism with a “Messianic twist” and an unusually liberal policy about admitting Gentiles. It would be almost impossible to convince them that God may well have imbued the sages with the authority to make binding halachah for their communities, and thus that God continues to be involved positively with Jews practicing Judaism in the present age. I guess that’s yet to come.
One of the things that was driving me nuts, both in the sermon and in Sunday school, was the constant mention of Christianity. Christianity didn’t exist in Paul’s lifetime. It was a variant religious discipline within larger Judaism, just as was practiced by the Pharisees, Sadducees, Essenes, and the Qumran Community. They all shared a common core Judaism but outside of that, had widely differing beliefs and to a degree, practices.
In Pastor Randy’s notes, he had one of the three main themes of the Book of Acts as “the hostility of the world towards Christianity.” I rewrote it in my copy of the notes to say “hostility toward God” since “the world,” and by that I assume Pastor meant the pagan Greek and Roman world, wouldn’t have noticed a difference between “the Way” and any other form of Judaism.
One other good thing Pastor said was regarding the quote from Romans 10:4:
For Christ is the end of the law…
The word translated in English as “end” is the Greek word “telos” which Randy translated as “goal” or “purpose” and which can be expressed as “the reason for,” thus we could say:
“For Messiah is the purpose of the Torah for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
Messiah is the purpose for, the goal, the reason for the Torah, the target, the focus that gives Jewish observance of the mitzvot its clearest meaning as the conditions of obedience to the Sinai and New Covenant and the lived experience of Jewish devotion to God.
I know how I understand what all that means, but I wonder what Pastor understands since in our previous conversations, he seemed to indicate that the Torah was passing away in this “transitional period” of Jewish and “Christian” history and was soon to be extinguished?
I wonder what the people in the sanctuary were thinking as they listened to him? Nothing radical if Sunday school class, which studies the sermon material, is any indication. I suspect (hope) that Pastor’s sermon series on the Ten Commandments will expand on this topic, but here too, I know Pastor’s perspective. He believes that the Ten Commandments can be generally applied to Christianity but not the entire set of Torah commandments (which are organized into 613 commandments in modern Judaism based on the teachings of 12th century sage Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides or the Rambam). Further, he believes the Torah commandments no longer are an obligation for the Jewish people, particularly Jewish believers in Christ.
However, I agreed with Pastor when in his sermon he said how we Gentiles are grafted into the root through the faith of Abraham, which connects nicely with how I see what bridges the gap between Gentiles and the New Covenant blessings.
And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, “The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, saying,
‘Go to this people and say,
“You will keep on hearing, but will not understand;
And you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
For the heart of this people has become dull,
And with their ears they scarcely hear,
And they have closed their eyes;
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
And hear with their ears,
And understand with their heart and return,
And I would heal them.”’
Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”
-Acts 28:25-28 (NASB)
We find after listening to Paul’s evidence from the Torah and the Prophets establishing Yeshua is Messiah, that some of the Jewish leaders in Rome were convinced and came to faith and others did not. Since they didn’t all agree, Paul quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 which one person in Sunday school class pointed out was the statement God made to Isaiah after commissioning him as a prophet to Israel to bring them to repentance. Isaiah was to speak of repentance but God told him point-blank in advance that no one was going to listen.
So apparently it was the same in Paul’s day as well, except that some did repent. I wonder if some individual Jews repented in the days of Isaiah but that it was not enough to save the nation from God’s wrath?
But what does that say of the Jews in Paul’s day let alone in ours?
What then? What Israel is seeking, it has not obtained, but those who were chosen obtained it, and the rest were hardened; just as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
Eyes to see not and ears to hear not,
Down to this very day.”
And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
And a stumbling block and a retribution to them.
“Let their eyes be darkened to see not,
And bend their backs forever.”
I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they?
-Romans 11:7-11 (NASB)
Verse 11 continues:
May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.
I won’t get into the whole “provoking jealousness” or “zealousness” thing right now since I’ve written about it before, but I want to compare two conditions:
Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen.”
-Acts 28:28 (NASB)
For I do not want you, brethren, to be uninformed of this mystery—so that you will not be wise in your own estimation—that a partial hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in; and so all Israel will be saved; just as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
He will remove ungodliness from Jacob.”
“This is My covenant with them,
When I take away their sins.”
-Romans 11:25-27 [see Isaiah 59:20,21; 27:9 (see Septuagint); Jer. 31:33,34] (NASB)
So on the one hand, the Jewish people, most of them anyway, were temporarily hardened against coming to faith in Messiah, and on the other hand, a time will come when all Israel will be saved.
In Isaiah 6:10, God states that if Israel would turn (make Teshuvah), God would heal them, but I’ve read a paper by Dr. Mark D. Nanos titled ‘Callused,’ Not ‘Hardened’: Paul’s Revelation of Temporary Protection Until All Israel Can Be Healed (PDF) in which he states this “hardening” can be compared to calluses on the hands, which are a temporary protection after injury (I lift free weights regularly at a local gym so I know about calluses on my hands) and which can be softened and eventually healed.
Paul was pulling from Jeremiah 31 which famously contains some of the New Covenant language:
They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”
-Jeremiah 31:34 (NASB)
It all comes back to the New Covenant and how we can understand it applying to Israel and the nations.
And just for emphasis, lest anyone be mistaken:
Thus says the Lord,
Who gives the sun for light by day
And the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night,
Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar;
The Lord of hosts is His name:
“If this fixed order departs
From before Me,” declares the Lord,
“Then the offspring of Israel also will cease
From being a nation before Me forever.”
Thus says the Lord,
“If the heavens above can be measured
And the foundations of the earth searched out below,
Then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel
For all that they have done,” declares the Lord.
-Jeremiah 31:35-37 (NASB)
Cutting through the metaphorical language, God is saying that one of the blessings of the New Covenant for Israel, all the Jewish people, is that they will always be a people and a nation before Him and He will never cast them off or reject them.
It doesn’t get much plainer than that.
In his sermon, Pastor said that Acts 28:17-21 was just the latest in Paul’s declarations of innocence that he had said or done nothing against the Torah of Moses, the Jewish customs, and the Temple (See Acts 13, 22, and 23). In other words, he never, ever taught the Jews in the diaspora not to circumcise their sons and to not observe the mitzvot in the manner of the their fathers. Paul also kept the commandments in obedience to the Covenant Israel made with God, and in spite of what men like John MacArthur have said, there is no concrete evidence that this was some sort of “transitional period” in the Bible between Jewish observance of the Torah commandments and being “Law free”. We have every indication that Paul never saw any sort of change in a Jew’s duty to God based on the New Covenant, and a careful reading of all of the New Covenant language in the Prophets indicates that the conditions of the New Covenant are identical to the conditions of the Sinai Covenant, that is, the mitzvot of Moses.
One of the questions in the Sunday school teacher’s notes is:
How is God bringing His good out of the blindness of the Jewish nation? Has He forsaken them? Have you or I? (Rom. 11:1 & 25-29, Zech. 12:9-31:1)
I asked the teacher if he was talking about the Jews in Paul’s time or in ours and he said “ours”. My response was that I was aware of a number of Jewish people who had come to faith in Messiah within their own context.
I’m sure everyone in class missed the “within their own context” part or at least no one mentioned it or asked what I meant by that. What I meant by that, in case you can’t guess, is that I’m aware of Jews who are disciples of the Master who live fully realized Jewish lives, observant to the mitzvot and the customs of their fathers and zealous for the Torah of Moses, given its full meaning through faith in Moshiach.
“You see, brother, how many (tens of) thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law…”
-Acts 21:20 (NASB)
As it was then, may it be so now.
The message is so close and so nearly apparent to the Christians I study with at church that I still can’t believe people aren’t tripping over it, but somehow they still can’t quite see it. They still feel all this means that in the end, the Jewish remnant is going to convert to Christianity and that they will still be a Jewish people and national Israel (as such), but there will be no practice and lived experience of Judaism, the traditions, the mitzvot, the Torah as a continuation of a Jew’s duty and obligation to the God of their fathers and in obedience to the Sinai and New Covenants.
I try to steer the class a little bit closer to the realization of a continuation of lived Jewish experience among Jewish disciples of Messiah each week, but in order to put it right under their noses (so to speak), I’d have to hijack the class, and that’s not going to happen. More realistically, I’d have to teach a class, because the answer to all this can’t be properly expressed in response to the questions asked by another teacher in a lesson that is less than sixty minutes long.
Acts 28:23-25 describes a day-long “sermon” if you will, given by Paul to the leading Jewish people in Rome. He cites both the Torah and the Prophets to prove his case, convincingly enough to bring some to faith. What did he say? I don’t know, but in class, I said I wished Luke had written it all down, just as I wish he had written down all the Master said during that fateful journey on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35).
The answers are there if we just knew where to look and especially, if we knew how to interpret from the perspective of the Master, Paul, and their Jewish audiences. I said out loud in class (and there were a couple of guests visiting the church who were passing through from South Carolina on their way to California to see their kids, so it was kind of “cheeky” of me) that I study the Bible and Christianity through a Jewish (I didn’t say Messianic Jewish) lens because it’s impossible to understand Jesus without understanding the Old Testament from a Jewish perspective.
Of course, it’s more complicated than that, but basically, I’m trying to tell these folks that they can study the Bible using standard Christian theology and doctrine all day long and still hit a wall in their ability to learn and comprehend based on the limitations contained in Christian tradition.
I don’t know if they’ll ever have an “ah ha” moment when the light bulb goes off over their collective heads and they actually “get” what I’m saying. If they ever do, they’ll either become highly curious and want to know more or (and this is probably more likely), they’ll figure I’m a heretic, an apostate, or a cult member, and boot me out of the church.
Pastor Randy said that the mistake the Jews of Paul’s day made was to pursue Rabbinic Judaism and not the plain meaning of the Biblical text, but in reading Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36 and the other prophets who speak of the New Covenant, this is the plain meaning of the text!
The last question in the Sunday school teacher’s notes is:
Do you and I allow rejection to affect our ministry or love for others?
Pastor asked something similar at the end of his notes about how it is the responsibility of every believer to proclaim the Gospel and what are we actually doing about it?
What am I doing about it? Certainly, I’m blogging incessantly but that’s not enough since by and large, I’m reaching an audience that already has a conceptualization of the Bible similar to my own. One of the responses to his question the Pastor gave was to direct us to ask God to give us a “burden for the lost.”
But what about the “lost” in the Church? What about all those Christians in all those churches who read a truncated Gospel or worse, those who don’t read the Bible at all and just depend on their Pastor or their teachers to tell them what the Bible is saying? Even under the best of circumstances (and at the church I attend, the perspectives on the Bible, Jewish people, and Israel are pretty good), they still will get only part of the story. They’ll never understand why Paul went to the Jew first and only afterward to the Gentile. They’ll never understand that the Good News of Moshiach is even better news for Jewish Israel than it is for the Gentile nations. They’ll never get that the “better promises” (Hebrews 8) are better for Israel and that it is only through God’s redemptive plan for Israel that we people of the nations have any hope at all.
Paul said he was in chains in Rome for the “hope of Israel”. We are here because of that hope, too. But the Church will never know the full extent of what that hope means unless they open their eyes. To that degree, Isaiah 6:10 could have been talking about the “lost of the Church” as well as Israel.
Only by grasping the meaning of the New Covenant blessings for Israel and then what they mean to a grafted in Gentile humanity will our hearts become sensitive, our ears learn to hear, and our eyes begin to see, and when we return to the Jewish King, God will heal us too, after He heals His people Israel.