So, as I’ve mentioned before, I’m studying Acts this year for my personal studies, and that means occasionally stumbling upon something that I just have to share. Take this account, for example; the setting is Paul’s second missionary journey. He’s in Macedonia preaching to Jews and Greeks but, as his custom is, the Apostle always takes the Gospel to the Jews first. He enters into the synagogue, expounds to them Jesus, and frames his sermons from an Old Testament prophetic perspective. As it often happened, however, many Jews rejected the message of Jesus, at which point Paul pivoted to preaching to Gentiles. That’s all well and good until the Jews got angry that the Messiah they rejected was now being embraced by nasty, smelly, non-Jews…
But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.
There’s a stark contrast here between the non-believers and the believers. The non-believers are the Jews; the believers are a mixture of Jew, Greek proselytes, and Greek pagans. On the one side is a small segment of the population, angry and bitter. On the other is a melting pot of people, races, and cultures, all united under the banner of Jesus. It’s a beautiful thing to see so much diversity in Christianity, but the Jews who reject it don’t think so. They cause a great disturbance as a result of so much conversion. What’s their deal? Why can’t they just say “we don’t want that, so we’re going to leave you alone”?
Let’s frame this situation with an illustration:
Imagine having the bud of a flower. It’s nice as it is, but it’s not fully matured yet. it hasn’t finished becoming all its meant to become. One day it will blossom into a beautiful flower but in the meantime all you have is this bud. Now let’s suppose that you have this bud of a flower for a very long time. You pass it on to your kids, and they pass it on to their kids. You love this bud, your descendants love the bud, your people even even develop a whole culture around the bud, forming traditions around it, etc. Now imagine someone comes along and says, “hey let’s let this bud blossom into a flower!” A lot of people who built their entire lives around the bud would say “no, I’m comfortable with it just like it is.”
That’s Jews and the Law of Moses.
The Law of Moses is just a bud that was always meant to blossom into Christianity. Everyone knows that when a bud becomes a flower it’s no longer a bud. The remnants are still there, but they have transformed, bettered themselves, finished their work, etc. The Jews wanted to hold on to what they knew, even if it meant rejecting its final (more beautiful) form.
In the verse quoted above, the King James says the Jews were motivated by envy. That’s a bad translation: What these Jews had was not envy; they didn’t want Christianity. They rejected Christianity. They hated Christianity. At the same time, they hated the idea that Christianity, in their eyes, was built on the foundation of Judaism. They saw it as an offshoot religion, co-opting Abraham, Moses, David, et al. The idea that a bunch of stinking Gentiles would embrace a religion built on the foundation of “their religion” infuriated them.
Their attitude was “Judaism is ours and we aren’t sharing it with Gentiles, and we don’t want to see even a bastardized version of it shared with them either!”
Of course, Paul would say to that: “But you’re holding onto just the bud. I’m offering the whole flower, fully blossomed and perfected!” And they would insist the bud is fine just as it is, and it’s not going to be shared with some unclean Gentiles. Thus, their sin was not envy, but jealousy. They saw Judaism slipping away from them, growing from bud to flower, transforming into its final form, and they were determined to keep that from happening. They wanted the bud, they were used to the bud, they liked the bud just the way it was…and they didn’t want to share it either.