Jewish (and Anti-Jewish) Bubbles Worth Bursting (Part 1)
In the past fifteen years I have written many books and posts about prophecy, but recently my mind has again been deeply stirred over the controversial issue of Israel and the Jews. Emotions soar when people discuss these matters, and for some reason, it’s often hard to think straight. “Israel is God’s chosen nation,” many adamantly proclaim, “and we must support her no matter what!” To such (all too often), even the itsiest, bitsiest, teeniest, tiniest word of criticism against the Jewish State smacks of anti-Semitism. Others take the opposite (and truly anti-Semitic) view by accusing most (or all) Jews of being nothing more than arrogant, money hungry con artists wholly bent on global dominance.
Both extremes are false, dangerous, and unbiblical.
Before going any further, allow me to clarify a few not-so-minor details. First, I’m Jewish, and so are many of my relatives, whom I love deeply. I’m also a Christian, and thus my supreme loyalty is to Jesus Christ and New Testament teachings. I am also an American who appreciates the basic principle enshrined in our national pledge, “…with liberty and justice for all,” which I apply to every human being, whatever their color or creed, including both Israelis and Palestinians. Jews are people, just like everyone else, and as a group, they should neither be idolized, nor maligned. Got it? With this in mind, I urge you to “Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things” (2 Tim. 2:7).
My focus here is The Book of Acts, the first history book of the Christian Church. On the Day of Pentecost there were gathered “Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven” (Acts 2:5). At this point, these “Jews” were not Christians, yet they were still “devout men” who followed the moral principles of Judaism faithfully. On that momentous occasion, Peter, another Jew, preached a stirring sermon about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was also Jewish (see verses 22-36). As a result, “three thousand” Jews were baptized and “added to the church” (verses 41 and 47). As the gospel message advanced, it was Jews who first promoted it. It was also Jews who wrote most of the New Testament. In fact, the early Christian Church was almost entirely a Jewish Church. Thus Christianity itself should be grateful for Jewish influences.
Before ascending to heaven, Jesus instructed His disciples to begin their preaching “in Jerusalem” (Acts 1:8). Jerusalem was a key city, and out of it many Jewish converts were gained. Yet other things happened “in Jerusalem” that are often overlooked. Dark things, and they came from certain Jews.
The irrefutable fact is that during the time of the public ministry of Jesus Christ, some Jews accepted Him as Israel’s Messiah, while others rejected Him. In The Book of Acts, a fierce battle waged between these two Jewish groups. As Peter, James, John, and others worked tirelessly to spread the Good News among their fellow Jews inside Jerusalem, they were bitterly opposed, often violently, by a highly organized and deeply revered Jewish assembly called “The Sanhedrin.”
Shortly after Pentecost, as Peter and John publicly preached to the other Jews, “the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them…laid hands on them, and put them in custody” (Acts 4:1,3).
The next day these same rulers, “as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, gathered together at Jerusalem” (verses 5,6) to decide what to do with these Christian troublemakers. Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin, questioned, and finally forbidden to preach in Jesus Christ’s name (verse 18).
“You better not,” these Jewish leaders warned. “Or else!”
Now, if you were living back then, whose side would you be on-that of the Jewish authorities, or of Peter and John? From an American standpoint, it’s obvious that the Sanhedrin of those days didn’t believe in religious liberty; and from a Christian perspective, one lesson is clear: Israel’s leadership can make terrible mistakes .
Do you doubt this? Don’t forget that it was that same leadership that not only arrested, tried, and condemned the Son of God, but that also shouted, “Let Him be crucified!” before Pontius Pilate (see Matthew 27:23).
Peter and John were then released without much trouble. Shortly thereafter those Jewish disciples, along with other Jews, had a prayer meeting. Psalm 2 was quoted, which reads,
The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ (Acts 4:26).
Amazingly, those Jewish disciples of Jesus Christ then applied Psalm 2 not merely to the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate (a Gentile), and King Herod (a half-Jew), but also to the current Jewish authorities inside Jerusalem. They prayed,
For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together (Acts 4:27, emphasis added).
Thus it was “the people of Israel” too that were seen as fulfilling an ancient prophecy; and surprisingly, that fulfillment placed them, not on God’s side, but “against” Him (verse 26). But notice carefully that this prayer was not a wholesale condemnation of all Jews, for it was Jews who prayed it. Again, in this situation, it was Jews against Jews. To me, these salient details should be sufficient to burst two Jewish bubbles: 1) the misguided myth that Israel’s leadership should be supported no matter what, and 2) the anti-Semitic notion that all Jews are evil.
Both are lies that originate with Satan, “the father” of lies (John 8:44). Tragically, not long after that prayer, the Sanhedrin stuck again. The New Testament reports,
Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison (Acts 5:17).
Once again, the Sanhedrin foolishly acted “against the LORD” (Acts 4:26). But this time, God Himself responded by sending an angel to rescue His Jewish servants from their Jewish oppressors. “At night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, ‘ Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life'” (Acts 5:19,20). When the Sanhedrin found out, “they were furious and plotted to kill” the disciples (verse 33). How blind can you get? But then one of their own number, a godly “Pharisee named Gamaliel” (verse 34), gave a passionate plea right inside the Sanhedrin, and persuaded them otherwise (verses 34-40).
This is most instructive. Yes, there were Jews who accepted Jesus, and Jews that didn’t, but there were also other Jews-even within the Sanhedrin-who were still “devout” and believed in common sense. And in this case, Gamaliel’s reasoning prevailed. Nevertheless, the Sanhedrin still warned the disciples, beat them , and then “let them go” (verse 40).
How amazing! Here are exceedingly religious Jewish leaders, who think they are serving God, beating the Lord’s true Jewish servants. In Part 2 of Jewish Bubbles, we will look at more eye opening lessons about Jews and Israel in the Book of Acts.
Believe me, there are a lot of them.
To be continued…