There was a plot using fake news to prevent the faith in Jesus as the Messiah from spreading among the Jewish people. And it worked. Until this day, the exact same false narrative is being used to prevent the Jewish people from even considering the Messianic claims of Jesus.
With profound prophetic insight into how effective and far-reaching this fake news plot to blind the eyes of Jews was to become, Luke spends most of the final chapters of the Book of Acts describing how the Apostle Paul addressed this false narrative being spread by some religious Jews who opposed Jesus.
The strategy was simple.
Accuse the Jewish followers of Jesus of preaching against Moses, the Torah, the Temple, Jewish traditions and the Jewish nation. In other words, anything Jewish, and thus turn the Jews who believe in Jesus into enemies of the state.
We learn early on how the plot begins to unfold. “They (Jewish leadership) prompted some men to say, ‘We heard Stephen speak words of blasphemy against Moses and against God.’ They stirred up the people, elders, and scribes and confronted Stephen … they presented false witnesses who said, ‘This man never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that Jesus will … change the customs that Moses handed down to us’” (Acts 6:11-14).
These same false accusations are repeated throughout Acts.
Claiming that those who follow Jesus were abandoning the word of God in the Torah, as well as the thousands of years of Jewish tradition and customs, proved to be an effective strategy. So effective that until this day most Jews (and many Christians) believe that when we believe in Jesus we must forsake our Jewish customs, Moses, the Torah and our people.
So, did the Apostles, Paul, the New Testament, and the early Jewish believers teach that we must abandon the Torah, Moses, Jewish traditions?
First of all, watch how Paul steps up, without hesitation, to refute this false narrative. While imprisoned in Caesarea and standing before the Jewish leadership, and the Roman Procurator Festus, Paul declares, “I have committed no offense against the law of the Jews or against the Temple or against Caesar” (Acts 25:8). The Apostle kept the Jewish laws and traditions even when there was a high cost to doing so.
Similarly, when Paul was in a Roman prison, he called together the leaders of the Jews, “and he said to them, ‘Brothers, I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers’” (Acts 28:17).
It is interesting that Luke, a Gentile, and author of the Book of Acts, finds it important to record the false accusations and Paul’s responses in his final chapters. Rather than seeing the Jewish customs as a threat to his own faith in Messiah, he clearly appreciates the necessity for Jewish believers to keep the traditions. Sadly, this is not always the case even for many modern Messianic Jews. See my article “Is the Future of Messianics Jewish?”
Paul saw himself as a Jew until end of his life
When there was an uproar in Jerusalem because Jews thought that Paul had taken Trophimus, a Gentile from Ephesus, into the Temple (there is no evidence that he did), Roman soldiers grabbed him to protect him and Paul explained, “I am a Jew from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Now I beg you to allow me to speak to my people” (Acts 21:39).
During the same incident, Paul asks his Roman protectors to let him address the Jews. “When they heard him speak to them in Hebrew, they became even more silent. Then Paul declared, ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but raised in this city. I was educated at the feet of Gamaliel in strict conformity to the law of our fathers. I am just as zealous for God as any of you here today (Acts 22:2-3).
Paul and Silas were in Philippi and delivered a fortuneteller girl, and everyone in the city was upset because she was a source of income. They arrested them and said, “These men are Jews and are throwing our city into turmoil” (Acts 16:20-21).
How did they know they were Jews? Simply because Paul, the Apostles and all the Jewish believers kept the Jewish traditions, even decades after Jesus had finished his task on this earth.
Zealous for the law? It’s a good thing
Listen-in to this fascinating discussion between Paul and the leading brethren in Jerusalem.
“You see, brother (Paul), how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. But they are under the impression that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe our customs. What then should we do? They will certainly hear that you have come. Therefore, do what we advise you. There are four men with us who have taken a vow. Take these men, purify yourself along with them, and pay their expenses so they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that there is no truth to these rumors about you, but that you also live in obedience to the law (Acts 21:17-24).
The Jewish believers’ commitment to the Torah and Jewish traditions was not a ploy to gain protection under the umbrella of Judaism, which Rome classified as a “legal religion.” Nor was it a tactic to evangelize the Jews (aka “to the Jew, become a Jew.”). For them, faith in Jesus the Messiah is the fulfillment of what it means to be a practicing Jew and was part and parcel of their covenantal relationship with the God of Israel through their Messianic Jewish faith in Jesus.
In these final chapters of Luke’s history of the early Church, we find the Jewish believers adhering to the commandments to celebrate the Jewish festivals like Passover (20:6), Pentecost or Shavuot (20:16), Shabbat and Yom Kippur (27:9).
In his final chapter (28), Luke presses home the truth that faith in Jesus and the Jewish laws and traditions were essential to the faith and lives of the early Jewish believers.
He tells of Paul defending his faith to his fellow countrymen as being rooted in “the hope of Israel,” grounded in the Torah, and assuring them that he has “never spoken against the Jewish people” (vs 19-20, 23, 28).
Paul and the early disciples refused to budge on their commitment to their Jewish faith and traditions even after decades of persecution, rejection and reams of fake news. It was only after it had become clear to Paul, and the other believers who were suffering for their faith, that Jewish resistance to the Messianic claims of Jesus were hardening, that Luke records Paul’s difficult decision in his final verse. “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” (28).
Today, perhaps more than ever now that we are here in the Land of Israel, we must emphasize the crucial and unbreakable connection between the revelation that Jesus is our Messiah and our love of Torah and the thousands of years of our Jewish traditions and heritage and our people. Let’s break the fake news cycle and bring the good news.