Wednesday, 25 January 2023
But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. Acts 13:45
The previous verse noted that almost the whole city had come together to hear the word of God. With that remembered, it now says, “But when the Jews saw the multitudes.” There are two points to consider here. The first is obviously the sheer number of people who have gathered. What a difference this would have been to the few proselytes who had come to the synagogue to learn of their legalistic rituals and consider placing themselves under the bondage of the law.
The second point is that the word translated as “multitudes” is ochlos. It refers not only to the great number, but the implication is a great number of common people. As Strong’s says, “by implication, the rabble.”
The Jews had a few proselytes that were interested in their legalistic instructions and who were probably wealthy enough to buy favor. On the other hand, Paul and Barnabas had an immense crowd of common rabble who came to hear about the gift of God, His grace that could not be purchased.
What would have been the most galling of all to them is that their message then meant that this throng of people was on the same standing as the Jews. And yet, they had done nothing to merit it. They had not suffered through the history the Jews had endured, they had not been kept from delightful foods such as bacon or pork chops, they had not ever observed a Passover or a Day of Atonement, and yet Paul and Barnabas were saying that Jesus was their Passover, and He was their atoning sacrifice. It would be infuriating to them to hear such things. Therefore, “they were filled with envy.”
The word is zelos. Probably a better translation of it would be “jealousy” or even “indignation.” The word signifies burning emotion as if boiling over. Like the Pharisees who dealt with Jesus, they would have indignantly thought that they alone merited God’s favor –
“Then the Pharisees answered them, ‘Are you also deceived? 48 Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? 49 But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed.’” Luke 7:47-49
Those in the synagogue looked at the law as a means to an end. They were the stewards of that law, and they were also its teachers. And more, they were “Jews by nature,” God’s chosen and set apart people. They were not “sinners of the Gentiles” (Galatians 2:15). As such, they were surely filled with their own prideful and selfish indignation. Because of this, Luke continues to refer to them, saying, “and contradicting.”
The word is antilegó. It is formed from anti, against, and legó, to say. Thus, this means that they were actively speaking against the words of Paul and Barnabas in a contradictory manner. When Paul spoke of grace, they would have spoken of their works. When Paul spoke of salvation in Jesus, they would say, “But the law demands condemnation for those who don’t obey.” And more, Luke next says, “and blaspheming.”
The word signifies to speak lightly or profanely about sacred things. Their words spoke against Jesus, and Luke calls this blasphemy. They refused to respect the name of Jesus who was clearly shown by Paul one week earlier to be Israel’s Messiah. The Scriptures testified to it, and they refused to accept what Paul said concerning Jesus’ fulfillment of the Scriptures. Thus, their words are to be considered blasphemy. Therefore, “they opposed the things spoken by Paul.”
Not only had Paul provided his evidence on the previous Sabbath within the walls of the synagogue, but he now openly proclaimed them to those outside of it. This was too much for the Jews to bear. If what Paul said was true, it would mean their traditions and religion were no longer acceptable to God. It is reminiscent of the words of the Jews when contemplating how to deal with Jesus –
“Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, ‘What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 48 If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.’” John 11:47, 48
And like those Jews at Jesus’ time who then said that it was expedient for one man to die, these Jews wanted to again crucify the name of Jesus before these Gentiles.
Life application: To this day, the majority of the Jews in the world have rejected Jesus. Many of them don’t care about religious matters at all. Their lives are based on their Jewish nature, not on a relationship with God in some formal manner. However, most of those who go beyond the secular and involve themselves in the religious life of their people have an attitude just like those of the synagogue in Antioch of Pisidia.
They feel that they merit God’s favor because of who they are as a people (His chosen), for what they do to please Him (such as being circumcised in the flesh), and for what they don’t do (“Pork chops, heaven forbid!”). Their religion is not one of grace but of works. And yet, the first father that they look to, Abraham, neither had the law, nor did he do anything to receive God’s declaration of righteousness. He simply believed the word of the Lord.
As this is so, and as the law came after Abraham’s justification, the law cannot be what pleases God, even if it is His personal standard of holiness. David understood this. Despite being a man under the law, a law that demanded the imputation of sin for a violation of it, he also understood that there was a state of blessing that could be obtained apart from the law –
“But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, 6 just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works:
7 ‘Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
And whose sins are covered;
8 Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.’” Romans 4:5-8
The lesson of the Bible is that only when one trusts in the Lord and accepts His word at face value by believing what He says can he be pleasing to God. And the Lord has shown that Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes (Romans 10:4). If one cannot accept that, then he cannot be pleasing to God.
The gospel is so simple. Let us not add to it. Jesus has pleased God on our behalf. By faith in His work, we are reconciled to God. What can we add to that? Nothing! Only after that are our deeds considered acceptable to Him. Let us maintain the purity of the gospel when conveying it to others.
O God, thank You for Jesus our Lord. He has done all that is necessary to satisfy You. Now, we can trust in His merits and also be pleasing to You. May we never try to diminish the glorious work He has done by telling others that they need to “do” to be pleasing to You. Rather, they need to simply believe in His doing! Amen.