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JOHN MARK GOES HOME (The 1st Mission Trip)
In our last lesson, we learned how Paul, Barnabas, and Barnabas’ nephew John Mark all set off to spread the Good News that Yahweh’s promised Messiah has finally come. This is the trip which Christian teachers refer to as Paul’s First Missionary Journey. It’s not that Paul hasn’t already been traveling about preaching to people, but this is the first trip that Luke gives a detailed description of in the book of Acts.
In our last lesson, we learned about what a successful time these men had on the island of Cyprus. There they were warmly received by the Roman governor of the island, plus Paul got to shut the face of a troublesome Jewish sorcerer who was trying to block the missionaries from getting to really talk with the governor. After this encouraging beginning, our three travelers get back on a boat and sail to the mainland. Their first stop is at a coastal city named Perga [PER-guh] which is in a Roman region named Pamphylia [pam-FILL-ee-yah]. From there the plan is to travel onto the region of Pisidia [pih-SIH-dee-uh] to a city named Antioch [ANN-tee-awk] (remember that there are two Antiochs in the Roman Empire).
Now when you’re just looking at dots on a map and thinking of our modern day traveling options, this missionary trip seems like a breeze. But in these times, traveling was a much more arduous affair. Traveling by boat was no cruise ship experience, plus the Jews feared the sea as being a source of evil. They believed that the world of the dead was located under the ocean, with gates to that fearful place being located on the ocean floor. How comfortable would you be swimming across a pool if you could see the gates of Hell sitting open on the floor below? Sea travel was one of those necessary evils that the ancient peoples had to deal with if they wanted to trade. But crack open the book of Revelation (which was speaking to Jews) and you’ll find all kinds of scary monsters slinking out of the ocean to do bad things to people. The sea was a scary source of evil in superstitious Jewish minds, so you can imagine how emotionally draining even a short hop on a boat could be for someone who was particularly focused on the possibility of sea dragons and evil spirits.
Now once you’re back on land, you can stop fearing being sucked under by monsters and the gates of Hades, but then there’s the issue of terrain. There were no jets in this time. Traveling was largely done by foot or on the rocking back of some slow moving animal like a donkey or a camel. In such conditions, traveling uphill was a real drag, and Antioch of Pisidia was very much uphill from Perga. At this point, John Mark decides that he just isn’t up to climbing the steep, forested slopes of the Taurus Mountains. So he calls it quits and announces that he’s going back to Jerusalem. Our missionary trio just became a duo, and we’ll later learn that Paul was quite ticked by this desertion.
PAUL’S SERMON IN ANTIOCH OF PISIDIA (The 1st Mission Trip)
Now after a bunch of rugged trekking, Paul and Barnabas reach Antioch of Pisidia. Located on a main traveling highway, this was also the administrative center for the Roman province of Galatia. In America, we have one country that is divided into 50 states and each state is divided into counties to make governing easier. If we think of the Roman Empire as the country, then Galatia is one of its states and Pisidia is a county within that state. Antioch of Pisidia would be like the state capital. This isn’t some obscure mountain village. This is a main hub of commerce, and a strategic place to present the news that Yahweh’s Messiah has finally shown up in Israel. Of course the best way to get started is to begin visiting Jewish house churches or synagogues. So this is what Paul and Barnabas do. When the Sabbath rolls around—which was like our Saturday—they went to church. And once Paul flaunts his Pharisee credentials, naturally he’ll be invited to speak.
Remember that Pharisees and Sadducees had very different opinions about how many Scriptures qualified as being “Divinely inspired.” The Sadducees only recognized the Torah as being worthy of this title. The Torah is also known as the Law or the Books of Moses, because it contains the five books that Moses wrote (Genesis through Deuteronomy) and because those books introduce a large body of Old Covenant Laws. If Jewish synagogues had been invented by Sadducees, then the only Scriptures being read in them would be the Torah. But because it was the Pharisees who invented synagogues, and because the Pharisees recognized the whole Old Testament as being Divinely inspired, the tradition was to kick off a synagogue session by reading passages from both the Torah and the Old Testament prophetic books. This combo pack was what the Jews called the Law and the Prophets. So if you read one passage from Exodus and another from Isaiah, you just read from the Law and the Prophets. In Matthew 22, after Jesus gave those famous two commands of “love God” and “love other people,” He concluded by saying:
“All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” (Matt. 22:40)
It was a Pharisee who asked Jesus what the greatest command was, so Jesus replied using a reference to how the Pharisees defined holy Scriptures as being not just the Law, but the Law and the Prophets. See how it works? It’s interesting to note these little differences as you go along. What you’ll find is that among Jewish commoners, the influence of the Pharisees was much greater than that of the Sadducees.
Now back to Acts. It’s Sabbath day in Antioch of Pisidia and Paul and Barnabas have joined a Jewish synagogue. It’s a room full of Jewish men—there were no women allowed at these meetings. One of the regular leaders has just dished out a classic Pharisee sampling of Scripture: one passage from Moses, one passage from the prophetic books. That leader now calls on his notable guests to say a few words. Of course Paul is the guy everyone wants to hear from because Paul is the Pharisee and this whole synagogue thing is a Pharisee invention.
:: Problems with Jesus’ Lineage
On the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any message of encouragement for the people, you can speak.” (Acts 13:14-15)
Naturally Paul leaps at this chance. Standing up, he launches into a speech which he begins by reminding his fellow Jews of how Yahweh gave them the Promised Land as their inheritance. Paul then reminds everyone how Saul was the first king of Israel, and how Saul ended up being replaced by David. It’s critical to bring up David because Paul wants to convince these men that Jesus is Yahweh’s promised Messiah. Everyone knows that the Messiah was supposed to be a biological descendant of David. Since the Jews tracked ancestry by the father, when they looked at Jesus walking around in a human form and wanted to know what His ancestry was, they asked who His father was. Joseph could trace his family line back to David, therefore Jesus was viewed as also being a descendant of David. The irony here is that Joseph didn’t contribute any genetic material to Jesus’ earthsuit, therefore Jesus’ genetic ancestry would have to be traced through Mary.
When Jews really wanted to make a point to associate someone with a certain lineage, they would talk about the mother’s ancestry. You’ll find this happening with Jewish kings and their harems. After a Jewish king gets many women pregnant, Jewish historians sometimes felt the need to point out which of the king’s sons had better breeding by pointing out what the mother’s ancestry was. But this was the rare exception—for the most part, just talking about the father’s ancestry was sufficient.
What’s fun about Jesus is that He didn’t have a biological father, and this really threw the Jews a curve ball when it came to defining Jesus’ ancestry. Jesus claimed to be Yahweh’s Messiah, and Yahweh was quite clear that His Messiah would be a descendant of David. If Jesus wasn’t really a descendant of David, then it would be impossible to accept Him as the Messiah without saying Yahweh was a liar, and no one wants to do that. So Jesus had to be a descendant of David. Only He wasn’t. Even though Joseph was an indisputable descendant of David, no thinking Jew could count that as being worth anything when there was no biological relationship between Joseph and Jesus. The only way to save this extremely awkward situation is if Mary was an obvious descendant of David. So was she? Nope. How do we know? Because of the way everyone avoids discussing Mary’s ancestry.
Of the four Gospel writers, only Matthew and Luke try to take on the very sticky subject of Jesus’ lineage. Of course they want to prove to everyone that Jesus is a clear descendant of David, so they start by laying out a clear demonstration of how Joseph descended from David. But then they both get pinned into the same impossible dilemma of trying to link Joseph to Jesus. This wouldn’t be so urgent if Mary was a known descendant of David. If Mary’s ancestry had worked with Old Testament prophecies, they could ignore Joseph and flaunt the fact that Mary was Jesus’ only biological parent. But instead what you find is everyone being ominously silent on the subject of Mary’s ancestry—a clear indicator that her ancestry was not helpful to proving why Jesus qualified as being the promised Messiah.
So how do you make Jesus sound Davidic when you know that He’s not? You don’t have a lot of options. After proving how Joseph descended from David, Matthew jags over to Mary and tries to imply that the mere fact of Mary being married to Joseph somehow qualifies Jesus as sharing in Joseph’s lineage.
“…and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, and Mary was the mother of Jesus who is called the Messiah.” (Matt. 1:16)
This argument is pathetically weak, and Matthew knew it, but what else could he do? He doesn’t want to talk about Mary, because Mary isn’t a descendant of David. Meanwhile, Luke also struggles to sell the idea of Jesus being a descendant of David. He can’t help admitting that the whole idea of Jesus being biologically linked to Joseph was just an illusion.
“Now Jesus Himself was about thirty years old when He began His ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph…” (Luke 3:23)
From here, Luke zooms in on Joseph and traces his lineage back to David, Adam, and finally Yahweh. Both of these attempts to link Jesus to Joseph’s lineage are utterly ridiculous, and all they do is make it obvious that Mary wasn’t a descendant of David, thus giving us yet another example of Yahweh being His unpredictable Self.
Now in Acts 13, Paul doesn’t want anyone to get bogged down with technicalities like Jesus not being a true descendant of David. Paul is trying to sell Jesus as being a fabulous fulfillment of Old Testament Messianic prophecies, even though He really wasn’t. So Paul just runs with the illusion that Jesus was Joseph’s biological son, thus He qualified as a true descendant of David.
“From David’s descendants, according to the promise, Yahweh brought the Savior, Jesus, to Israel.” (Acts 13:23)
Not really, because Jesus’ earthsuit couldn’t be proven to have a genetic connection with David. That’s just one of many Messianic prophecies that Yahweh never fulfilled, along with that bit about His Messiah physically ruling on a throne in Jerusalem. The truth is that Jesus thoroughly flunked many Messianic predictions, and yet He was still the One that Yahweh declared to be His Messiah. Our Gods love throwing us curve balls like this. They make up rules, then They suddenly change those rules and demand that we keep up. It’s a test of submission. We’ll either go along with Their changes or we’ll throw a fit and say that God Almighty can’t do whatever He wants whenever He wants.
Jews who were paying attention to what Yahweh said in the Old Testament had very good grounds for rejecting Jesus. Jesus claimed to be a second God—something that Yahweh claimed was an impossibility in the Old Testament. Jesus didn’t free Israel from Roman oppression, He didn’t abolish evil from the world, and He certainly didn’t reign from Jerusalem. He wasn’t even a true descendant of David. When we stop to face just how far off the mark Jesus was from what Yahweh told the Jews to expect, we learn some very important lessons about just how wild and unpredictable our Gods can be.
Now after making the unfounded claim that Jesus was a descendant of David, Paul then rushes on to remind everyone about how John the Baptist foretold Jesus’ coming. What’s significant about this is that John was a modern day prophet to these Jews that Paul is talking to, and John gained a lot of notoriety by baptizing people in the Jordan River. Because John was urging Jews to get serious about seeking Yahweh, he sounded credible—like he really was a true prophet of God and not just some self-serving blowhard. When John then identified his cousin Jesus as being the promised Messiah, that really grabbed people’s attention. News of John’s affirmation of Jesus spread all throughout the Roman Empire, thus Paul can mention John here in Antioch and his audience knows who he’s talking about. Paul now gets to the real heart of his message: Jesus was the Messiah and the Jews rejected Him, thus the Jews are now in trouble with Yahweh.
:: Paul Misapplies Psalm 2
“Brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and those among you who fear Yahweh, the message of this salvation has been sent to us. For the residents of Jerusalem and their rulers, since they did not recognize Jesus or the voices of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled their words by condemning Jesus. Though they found no grounds for the death penalty, they asked Pilate to have Jesus killed. When they had fulfilled all that had been written about Jesus, they took Him down from the tree and put Him in a tomb. But Yahweh raised Jesus from the dead, and Jesus appeared for many days to those who came with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now His witnesses to the people. And we ourselves proclaim to you the good news of the promise that was made to our ancestors. Yahweh has fulfilled this for us, their children, by raising up Jesus, as it is written in the second Psalm:
“You are My Son; today I have become Your Father.” [Ps. 2:7] (Acts 13:27-33)
Whenever Paul starts quoting Scripture, you should expect problems, and his attempt to turn Psalm 2 into a conversation between Yahweh and Jesus is beyond absurd. Psalm 2 has nothing to do with Christ. Psalm 2 was written by David when David was boasting about having Yahweh’s favor. As king over a prosperous Israel, David is enjoying stomping on the necks of the nations around him and making them pay heavy taxes to Israel. Naturally those other nations view David as a mean tyrant and they are making plans to try and launch some kind of joint military attack against Israel in order to get David off their backs. Psalm 2 is David’s response to these plans. He essentially says, “Dream on, punks. You’ll never take me down because I’ve got the favor of Yahweh and He can mop up the floor with all of you.” It has nothing to do with Christ (see Taking Christ Out of Psalm 2: David Exults in Having Yahweh’s Favor). But you’ll see it popping up in Hebrews 1, Hebrews 5 and Acts 4 as everyone leaps upon this line of Yahweh declaring someone to be His son.
Now remember that Paul doesn’t recognize Jesus as God, which is why he won’t give Jesus the credit for raising Himself back to life. Paul always says that Yahweh raised Jesus, because Yahweh is the only God who Paul acknowledges. Paul isn’t trying to get these Jews to worship Jesus as Yahweh’s Equal because that would be totally blasphemous. Instead, Paul wants them to acknowledge that Jesus is the Messiah and put Him on the same level as they do famous Jewish heroes like Moses, Elijah and Abraham. Well, this is quite a leap to make because most Jews have a very low opinion of Jesus. After all, their spiritual leaders hated Him, and surely that meant He must have been a lemon.
Imagine how you’d regard a man today if all of the Christian leaders you respect were insisting that he was a blaspheming servant of Satan. If the leaders who you trust and care about pleasing are all rejecting someone, you’d be quite tempted to just side with them and not give much thought as to what the guy being rejected had to say. This is how it worked with Jesus. Despite the fact that He performed so many miracles among the Jews, He was intensely hated by most of Israel’s spiritual leaders, thus many people wrote Him off as a crumb. Now here Paul is talking to a crowd of Jews in this synagogue that is far away from Jerusalem and he’s trying to convince them that the Jesus who was executed for blaspheming against Yahweh was really Yahweh’s Messiah. That’s going to be a hard message to sell, and at this point Paul could really use some biblical back up. The problem is that the Old Testament doesn’t contain any conversations between Yahweh and Jesus. In fact the Old Testament is really going to be pretty useless in trying to prove that Jesus is the Messiah because Jesus flunked so many Messianic prophecies. What do you do when the Bible doesn’t say what you need it to say? You start lying your face off and hoping that no one will question your authority, because you’re a Pharisee, and Pharisees were supposed to be experts on the Old Testament. Pretending that Yahweh is chatting with Christ in Psalm 2 was the first lie Paul threw out, but now he starts firing off more one liners which he is pretending are comments from Yahweh about Christ.
:: Paul Misapplies Isaiah 55
Yahweh raised Christ from the dead so that Christ will never be subject to decay. As Yahweh has said: “I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.” [Isa. 55:3] (Acts 13:34)
Nope, this doesn’t work. Yahweh isn’t talking to Christ in Isaiah 55. Instead, He’s calling on rebellious Jews to repent and resubmit to His Authority while He’s still willing to take them. This chapter starts with Yahweh speaking, then the prophet Isaiah interjects with some of his own thoughts, then Yahweh speaks again. When the prophet Isaiah pipes up in Verses 6-7, he gives a good summary of what Yahweh is saying:
Seek Yahweh while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to Yahweh, and He will have mercy on them, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. (Isa. 55:6-7)
God’s promises are always conditional. If these stubborn Jews will repent out of their spiritual rebellion, then Yahweh promises to bless them:
“I will make an everlasting covenant with you, My faithful love promised to David.” (Isa. 55:3)
This is just one of many positive things Yahweh promises if the Jews repent. Isaiah 55 is all about urging rebels to repent and enjoy the blessings of God’s favor. Then at the end of Isaiah 56, the cheery promises turn into dire threats towards those who refuse to repent. The warnings continue on through Isaiah 57, which ends with this famous line:
“There is no peace,” says my God, “for the wicked.” (Isa. 57:21)
The point is that none of this has anything to do with Christ. Certainly there are other chapters in Isaiah which are speaking about the coming Messiah, but Isaiah 55 isn’t one of those chapters (see The Prophetic Books of the Bible: Who’s Talking?). Yet what does Paul care about context? He knows that his audience isn’t going to recall the context of his one liners, so now he leaps over to Psalm 16 and tries pretend this is also a foreshadowing of Jesus’ resurrection.
:: Paul Misapplies Psalm 16
So it is also stated elsewhere: ‘You will not let Your holy one see decay.’ [Ps. 16:10]
Now when David had served Yahweh’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. But the Jesus whom Yahweh raised from the dead did not see decay. (Acts 13:35-37)
David wrote Psalm 16, and when he wrote the line that Paul is quoting, he was thinking about eternal salvation. Here’s David’s thought in context:
I will praise Yahweh who counsels me—even at night my conscience instructs me. I keep Yahweh in mind always. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my spirit rejoices; my body also rests securely. For You will not abandon me to Sheol; You will not allow Your holy one to see decay. You reveal the path of life to me; in Your Presence is abundant joy; in Your right hand are eternal pleasures. (Ps. 16:7-11)
David understands that Yahweh’s promises are conditional. He understands that eternal rewards are only offered to those who sincerely care about pleasing Yahweh on earth. Because David is serious about pleasing Yahweh, he has legitimate grounds for claiming confidence that Yahweh will reward him after death, and that’s what he’s claiming here in Psalm 16.
Yahweh has always wanted people to understand how easy He is to succeed with. He doesn’t teach us to live in constant angst that we might somehow end up in Hell. Instead, He teaches us that succeeding with Him is a simple matter of soul attitude. God wants us to care about pleasing Him. If we don’t care, we simply need to ask Him to help us care and He gladly will. God meets us more than halfway in our relationships with Him. He does 99% of the work. He doesn’t stand back and say, “Don’t come to Me until you’re perfect.” Instead, He says, “This is what I want from you. Ask Me to help you do it and I will.”
In David’s day, Sheol referred to one of two after-death possibilities. The bright side was to be rewarded by Yahweh. The dark side was to be cast into the dark, lonely, fearful, shadowy realm of Sheol. The modern Christian’s understanding of Hell is filled with drama and terror—rather like you having a screaming meltdown when some hideous, giant monster suddenly leaps into view and starts chewing your leg off. Compared to Jesus’ imagery of a fiery lake, gnashing teeth and constant wailing, Sheol seems really toned down. And yet Sheol is creepy in a whole different way. You might picture being doomed to eternally wander alone in some dark, misty forest. The point is that no one wanted to end up in Sheol. Sheol was understood to be a form of eternal damnation. Yet here in Psalm 16, David is expressing confidence that he’s not going to be banished to Sheol. Instead, he is expecting to enjoy some blissful time in the Presence of Yahweh. We Christians are expressing the same kind of hope when we talk about going to Heaven.
But then along comes Paul, and he totally mangles David’s sentiment. David was saying, “When I die, I’m not just going to rot in the ground and I’m not going to be banished to Sheol—I’m going to be with Yahweh because I am pleasing Him.” But Paul says, “Hey, David said he wasn’t going to rot, but obviously he did. So clearly David wasn’t talking about himself in Psalm 16—he was referring to Christ. Christ didn’t stay physically dead like David did. Yahweh raised Christ from the dead, and that just proves how special Christ is. Christ is the ‘holy one’ that David refers to in Psalm 16. It’s really a Messianic prophecy—David was predicting the resurrection of Christ.”
Well, no, this is total baloney. David was referring to himself as Yahweh’s “holy one” in Psalm 16. Under the Old Covenant, Yahweh commanded His followers to be holy—and by that He meant “be devoted to pleasing Me” (see Learning from Yahweh: What It Means To Be Holy). By referring to himself as Yahweh’s holy one, David isn’t on a head trip, he’s simply saying, “I’m someone who really cares about pleasing Yahweh.”
:: Paul Misapplies Habakkuk 1
Now after misapplying three separate passages of Scripture, Paul pretends that he has laid out solid biblical support for why everyone should accept Jesus as the promised Messiah.
“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Everyone who believes in Jesus is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. So beware that what is said in the prophets does not happen to you:
‘Look, you scoffers, marvel and vanish away, because I am doing a work in your days, a work that you will never believe, even if someone were to explain it to you.’ [Hab. 1:5] (Acts 13:38-41)
To scare his audience into taking him seriously, Paul rips a line out of Habakkuk 1, in which Yahweh is telling the prophet Habakkuk that He is about to do something drastic. By lopping off Yahweh’s words in mid-speech, Paul makes this threat sound mysterious. And yet in the original Habakkuk passage, Yahweh says exactly what He’s going to do in the very next verse.
“Look at the nations and watch—be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own.” (Hab. 1:5-6)
Yahweh’s going to enable a fearsome group of folks known as the Babylonians to start gobbling up the nations all around them and establish a mighty kingdom for themselves: this is the bad news that Yahweh is sharing in Habakkuk 1. But the real shocker comes when He says that the Babylonians are even going to be allowed to spank Israel. Even though Habakkuk is upset with how sinful and wicked his fellow Jews are being, he really doesn’t like the idea of Yahweh using icky Babylonians to spank Israel. Habakkuk finds that program very unfair, and he says so, before finally getting over himself. That’s the book of Habakkuk. It has nothing to do with Christ, and given how specific Yahweh is being in Habakkuk 1 with His prophecy about the Babylonians, it really doesn’t work for Paul to try to turn part of this passage into some vague threat to his generation. But it’s Paul, so we should expect these kinds of shenanigans.
:: Paul Misrepresents Salvation
Now because Paul is such a horrible spiritual example, you really need to be thinking and asking God for wisdom whenever you’re dealing with him. Here in Acts 13, Paul has just made some statements about salvation which we need to take a closer look at. He said:
Everyone who believes in Jesus is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. (Acts 13:39)
Is this true? No, it’s not. In the first place, when Paul talks about believing in Jesus, he just means respecting Jesus as a human who you have high regard for. He is not talking about submitting to Jesus as God Almighty. Paul rejects the Divinity of Jesus. He promotes Jesus as being just a human. What makes Jesus special is that He was chosen by Yahweh for a really special assignment—the whole Messiah thing. Well, Noah was called to build an ark. Abraham was called to leave his home and travel to parts unknown. Joshua was called to take over the Promised Land. Moses was called to stand up to Pharaoh. Jesus was called to die on a cross. By the time we make Jesus just one more in a long line of humans who have received special callings from Yahweh, we’re not going to be submitting to Him as God—we’re just going to be admiring Him as we would some mega pastor or the pope or some Christian rock star—er, worship leader.
This is one of the reasons Paul’s salvation theology is such garbage: he doesn’t teach people to submit to Jesus as God. He just says we have to “believe” in Jesus. Well, no, merely believing in Jesus like we believe in Santa Claus won’t help us. Jesus is God whether you believe in Him or not. The issue is how are you going to get Jesus to accept you into His good graces. There’s only one way: you must submit to Jesus and Yahweh and the Holy Spirit as the Supreme Authorities over all things. Your submission has to go way past, “Gee, Jesus, I think You’re a nice Guy and when I’m in the mood, I’ll pay attention to You.” The kind of submission Jesus demands from us is the kind which inspires our soul to say, “I’m the created speck, You’re the Almighty Creator. You infinitely outrank me in every area. I sincerely want to please You with my life.”
As you examine Paul’s teaching on salvation, you’ll find that he attaches way too much importance to the issue of atonement. Here in Acts 13, he says that merely believing in Jesus will cause Yahweh to instantly forget about every sin we ever committed. In the book of Romans, Paul really fleshes out this idea and says that after Jesus clears our record of wrongs, all we have to do to keep our salvation is be perfect. We just have to not sin. It’s easy. It’s also humanly impossible. And yet in New Testament Israel, Pharisees and Sadducees both passed themselves off as being morally perfect in the eyes of God. So to Paul, sinless living is a cinch and really quite doable (see Salvation According to Paul: If You Sin, You’re Damned (Romans 7-8)). The big aha moment he’s having as a Pharisee is that he can’t just waltz into Heaven on his own merits. That’s what he was planning to do, but now that Jesus has made such a big fuss over dying for people’s sins, in order to please Jesus, Paul figures he has to admit that he had some sins which needed to be atoned for. He doesn’t really believe this—as a Pharisee, he viewed himself as perfectly keeping Yahweh’s Laws. But after Jesus zapped him with blindness on the road to Emmaus [uh-MAY-us], Paul is realizing that Jesus really was a somebody after all (see Lesson 77). Somehow, someway, a normal Jewish guy has managed to get His hands on some very potent power after death. Paul wants some of that action, so Paul is very interested in schmoozing Jesus. Since Jesus is promoting Himself as the ultimate atonement sacrifice, Paul must now pretend he actually needs atonement, even though he secretly thinks he was morally perfect before Jesus showed up. So he is now going around telling everyone to acknowledge that they, too, need Jesus to atone for their sins. It’s all a big pretense on Paul’s part. Pharisees simply didn’t view themselves as needing anyone to help them with their salvation. And while they strutted around Israel promoting themselves as icons of righteousness, Pharisees were a million miles from submitting to God on a soul level. Now, as he goes around promoting Christ, Paul is still leaving submission out of the picture. He’s saying that all people have to do to get saved is admit they are sinful and believe that Jesus took care of their sins for them. Then they have to respect Jesus as Yahweh’s right hand Guy and go around promoting Yahweh as God and Jesus as a really great non-God. If we do this, Paul says that when we die, Jesus will have to share all of His power, glory and honor with us. We’ll get to be Jesus’ equals in eternity—co-heirs and co-rulers with Him. And of course once we demote Jesus to being just another human, Paul’s theory makes sense. But if we recognize Jesus as being a Supreme God, then Paul’s teaching becomes utterly blasphemous (see How the NT Epistles Define Christ: Not God, Just Another Flawed Human).
The Jews Paul is talking to are going to have to do a whole lot more than just say, “Whoops! Guess we shouldn’t have crucified Jesus,” if they want to end up on the right side of eternity. They need to submit to Jesus as Yahweh’s Divine Equal. But of course such an idea is ludicrous to an Old Covenant Jew, which is why none of the apostles in Acts are promoting it. Submitting to Christ as a second God is not a concept for these people. Christ is just the human who sits at the right hand of the only God in existence: Yahweh. The Holy Spirit is just another title which is used for Yahweh—He’s not a God in His own right. This is how these Old Covenant Jews are seeing it, which is why their teaching about salvation is so filled with error.
A MIXED RESPONSE
Now once you humanize Jesus and make salvation a simple matter of believing that Jesus atoned for your sins, you take a lot of the offense out of the Gospel message. It’s submitting to God which bothers us. But getting a free pass to Heaven by saying nice things about Jesus? That’s not so hard. When Paul finishes his speech, the Jews in the synagogue like what they’ve heard. Paul’s new spin on salvation sounds a lot better than the heavy emphasis on works that Pharisees are known for preaching. In fact, it’s quite strange for any Pharisee to make salvation sound so available to the common people. Usually Pharisees like to hold salvation out of reach by saying it will only be granted to those who are behaviorally perfect. If these guys let Paul talk longer, he would get around to the works side of his salvation requirements. But right now he’s making things sound extremely easy: just believe in Jesus and you’re in. No striving. No serious soul commitments. Just change how you’re viewing some Guy who is no longer around. What’s not to like? These Jews want Paul and Barnabas to return next Sabbath and talk more about this new salvation plan. Paul agrees. The next Sabbath, a huge crowd has gathered to listen to this Pharisee who is making salvation sound so shockingly easy.
Round 2 doesn’t go so well. The turnout is so large that Jewish leaders get jealous. So they start arguing with Paul in front of the crowds and making him look questionable. Paul gets mad. He’s not going to keep wasting his time with these punks.
Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of Yahweh to you Jews first. But since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles! For this is what Yahweh has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’” [Isa 49:6]
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of Yahweh; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. (Acts 13:46-48)
The book of Isaiah has four “Servant Songs” in it—passages in which the prophet starts talking about what it’s like to be chosen out to serve Yahweh in a prophetic capacity. These passages are found in Isaiah 42, 49, 50 & 53. So who is the servant who is being described in each of these passages? It was not uncommon for Jewish prophets to talk about themselves this way—the prophet Jeremiah pauses several times in his writings to reflect on his trials and stresses as a prophet of God. The language in some of Isaiah’s Servant Songs can easily be applied to the prophet himself, as Isaiah received a lot of persecution for being so public about his personal devotion to Yahweh. In some passages, the servant being described seems to be a metaphor for the entire nation of Israel, and in other places it seems like a clear reference to Jesus. If you want to know the best way to interpret these passages, you need to ask God for His opinion, not just coast with what some human has to say.
Here in Acts 13, Paul and Barnabas are exalting themselves by quoting from a well-known Servant Song passage in Isaiah. They’re claiming to have some special calling from Yahweh. If Paul’s theology wasn’t so full of God-bashing sentiments, this scene might come across as being less than obnoxious. But given how much Paul exaggerates his own importance in Yahweh’s work, it sounds quite egotistical for him to stand in front of some huge crowd claiming that God is counting on him to bring salvation to the ends of the earth. It should be God, not mere mortals, who is being credited for saving people. We really don’t need Paul to carry some torch of truth to us when we already have Yahweh, Jesus and the Holy Spirit communicating directly to our souls. Paul is a major glory hog, and his pompous little speech here in front of the crowds is quite the turnoff. But it’s a great way to get the Gentiles to start fawning all over him, which they do, now that he’s acting like Mr. Generous for letting them sample something which was really meant for superior Jews.
This business of Paul claiming that he had to speak to the Jews first is total rubbish. Yahweh and Jesus love all people. They don’t consider the Jews to be the cream of humanity. But Paul does, and he will never tire of reminding Gentiles that they really don’t belong in God’s family. In Romans 11, Paul teaches that Gentiles are just inferior yucks who Yahweh “grafted in” to His chosen people for the purpose of attracting more Jews to Himself because the Jews are the only ones who He really wants (see More Lies from Paul: God Loves Jews More Than Gentiles). Paul grossly misrepresents Yahweh all throughout his writings, which is why you really need to be asking God for guidance as you read. If instead you just swallow all of the rot that Paul throws at you, you’ll end up thinking that God really does shun people based on their genetics.
Now Paul is a big believer in predestination. Even though Yahweh emphasizes the importance of choice all throughout the Old Testament, Paul teaches that from the beginning Yahweh destined some of us to burn and some of us to get saved, thus choice becomes irrelevant. Notice the wording Luke uses here:
When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of Yahweh; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed. (Acts 13:48)
Now does God know the end from the beginning? Of course He does. But the problem with Paul’s teaching is that he makes choice sound irrelevant—something he really expands on in Romans 9 (see Understanding Divine Election: Jacob I Loved, Esau I Hated). Since Luke thinks Paul is amazing, Luke believes everything Paul says, thus we find Luke describing these Gentiles like automatons who believed because they were pre-programmed by God to believe. They didn’t really choose God—they were “appointed for eternal life,” thus they became big fans of Paul and Barnabas and “honored the word of Yahweh” which Paul claims to have spoken. And yet is Paul really speaking for God while he elevates his own importance, discounts the Divinity of Christ, and yanks verses of context? Not hardly.
Since ethnic Jews in these times have a very low opinion of Gentiles, Paul doesn’t win any points with Jewish leaders by getting Gentiles to cheer for him. Instead, the Jewish leaders in Antioch decide that they want Paul to leave, so they start badmouthing him to the powerful people. Soon the powerful people drive Paul and Barnabas out of the city, and of course the men interpret this as yet more evidence of how righteous they are. As they’re driven away, they take off their sandals and shake them at the people, which was an ancient Jewish equivalent to a modern American giving someone the finger. It’s like saying, “I’m done with you. Burn in Hell.” And on that mature note, they travel on to the city of Iconium [i-CONE-ee-um] to start all over again by showing up at Jewish synagogues. Will the people in Iconium be more receptive than the folks in Antioch? We’ll find out in our next lesson.
UP NEXT: Know Your Bible Lesson 82: The Stoning of Paul
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