The Devout Jew
The great Rabbi Maimonides comes the closest to expressing the core of Jewish beliefs in his Thirteen Principles. Principle #11 states that “God will reward the good and punish the wicked,” and Principle #13 states that “The dead will be resurrected.” So, if you believe in resurrection and after that the judgment, the key issue at stake is: When the resurrection occurs, how will God determine who is good and who is wicked?
In the first century the Sadducees were Jews who denied Principle #13, but the Pharisees strongly believed in the resurrection. And Saul, as a young rabbinic student in Jerusalem, was a Pharisee, a devout Jew who would give his life for the Mosaic Torah, who believed that Jesus was a false Messiah, a blasphemer, and that those who followed him should be killed. So, what turned this ultra-orthodox first century Jew who believed obedience to Jewish Law and tradition was the path to eternal salvation into the most prominent teacher of the Gospel of Jesus, the Messiah?
Paul begins his argument against his opponents in Galatia by reminding the Galatian believers about his former way of life.
“Now you’ve heard of my former life in Judaism, how I intensely persecuted God’s Church and tried to destroy it. I was advancing in Judaism beyond many my age and was intensely zealous for the traditions of my fathers.”
Try telling a Haredi Jew at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah who died for our sins and rose again, and we’ll get a feel for how the young Saul would respond to the Jerusalem followers of Jesus only a few weeks after the death and resurrection. There’s a good chance you’ll get a strong angry rejection and this would be a mild response.
What made the change in Saul’s core beliefs? It was Jesus directly appearing to him and talking to him on the Damascus Road. In this letter he is going to spell out what the ascended Jesus told him about how sinners can stand right before God and become members of his family.
LORD, move not only ultra-orthodox Jews but Jews of all kinds to actually do the research into first century documents, like Matthew, where Jesus expresses the highest regard for the Mosaic Law but also reveals that we can’t obey it; therefore, we can only be declared righteous before God by depending upon Jesus’ sacrifice for us and his resurrection.
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