Review and Introduction:
Last week we closed out with Doug Moo’s observation:
- “Israel’s exclusion from God’s people as a result of the gospel does not constitute a departure from the OT. Quite the contrary, Paul here implies: Israel’s stumbling over Christ was predicted in the OT” – Doug Moo.
To help tease this out, we looked at Paul’s personal experience.
- He witnessed first hand the stumbling of the Jews over Jesus Christ.
- He witnessed first hand believing Gentiles coming to Christ and being joined to the remnant of Israel.
One example was Acts 13:43-48.
- Acts 13:43–48 (ESV) — 43 And after the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who, as they spoke with them, urged them to continue in the grace of God. 44 The next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. 46 And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, “It was necessary that the word of God be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it aside and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we are turning to the Gentiles. 47 For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, “ ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’ ” 48 And when the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.
In today’s text, Paul takes up again his concern for his unbelieving Jewish brother and sisters.
- His words are a bit of a reprise of his earlier lament.
- Romans 9:1–3 (ESV) — 1 I am speaking the truth in Christ—I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit— 2 that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
And though Paul restates his concern of their unbelief.
- We will see that he doesn’t let his concern belittle the severity of their problem.
Paul’s Assessment – The Good News:
Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. 2 For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God…(vss. 1-2a)
Paul expresses his hope for unbelieving Jews.
- Meaning, as we have seen, the Jews who are vessels of wrath.
- The Jews who stumbled over Christ.
He tells us that his “heart’s desire” and “prayer” is “that they may be saved”.
- He wants them to be joined to Christ the Messiah.
And importantly, Paul actively petitions God on their behalf.
- He prays for them.
- Importantly, he hasn’t given up on them.
In fact, Paul tells us that he can “bear them witness” – he can testify…
- They have “a zeal for God” – a “commendable zeal” of the unbelieving Jews (Doug Moo).
Paul certainly has first hand knowledge of this zeal.
- Acts 22:3 (ESV) — 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day.
But what exactly does it mean to have “a zeal for God”?
- Paul really was affirming their zeal.
- He “…does not dispute the authenticity of Israel’s zeal for God” – Tom Schreiner.
- It was legit and admirable.
Secondly, Paul was acknowledging that the unbelieving Jews were passionately committed to…
- “…following a venerable tradition of zeal for God that was illustrated in the life of…” many zeal filled Jews of the OT and 2nd Temple period – Tom Schreiner.
Elijah is one such OT example:
- 1 Kings 19:10 (ESV) — 10 He said, “I [Elijah] have been very jealous [LXX – “zealous”] for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”
Doug Moo sheds more light on this tradition of zeal.
“‘Zeal’ emerged as an especially commendable characteristic in the [2nd Temple] period, when the very existence of the Jewish faith was threatened by foreign enemies and internal unconcern” – Doug Moo.
A great example of this is the Hasmoneans found in 1 Maccabees 2:19-27.
- A Greek ruler, Antiochus, occupied Israel and its temple.
- He was forcing the Jews to abandon cultic devotion to YHWH.
- 1 Maccabees 2:19-27 – 19 Then Mattathias answered and spake with a loud voice, Though all the nations that are under the king’s dominion obey him, and fall away every one from the religion of their fathers, and give consent to his commandments: 20 Yet will I and my sons and my brethren walk in the covenant of our fathers. 21 God forbid that we should forsake the law and the ordinances. 22 We will not hearken to the king’s words, to go from our religion, either on the right hand, or the left. 23 Now when he had left speaking these words, there came one of the Jews in the sight of all to sacrifice on the altar which was at Modin, according to the king’s commandment. 24 Which thing when Mattathias saw, he was inflamed with zeal, and his reins trembled, neither could he forbear to shew his anger according to judgment: wherefore he ran, and slew him upon the altar. 25 Also the king’s commissioner, who compelled men to sacrifice, he killed at that time, and the altar he pulled down. 26 Thus dealt he zealously for the law of God like as Phinees did unto Zambri the son of Salom. 27 And Mattathias cried throughout the city with a loud voice, saying, Whosoever is zealous of the law, and maintaineth the covenant, let him follow me.
This is the kind of zeal that Paul was commending.
- And yet, in spite of this commendable zeal, there was a serious problem.
Paul’s Assessment – The Bad News:
“…a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness” (vss 2b-3).
Apparently, not all “zeal for God” is created equal.
- So, Paul qualifies their zeal.
- He says it is “not according to knowledge”.
- Obviously a problem.
So, if it isn’t according to knowledge, what is it according to?
Unfortunately, their “zeal for God” is according to ignorance.
- Paul says they are “ignorant of the righteousness of God”.
- Spiritually speaking, their ignorance is spiritual blindness.
OK…so what is “the righteousness of God” they are blind to?
- It is the “activity of God whereby he brings people into relationship with himself” – Doug Moo.
Given this, we can say that Paul’s critique of the unbelieving Jew is that:
- They lack knowledge of how it is that God puts people right with Him.
Yet, they certainly knew that they needed to be right with God.
- So the natural consequence of the need to be right with God…
- With the blindness as to how God made them right…
- Is that they came up with their own path to righteousness.
Paul puts it this way:
- They were zealously “seeking to establish their own” way to righteousness.
And what was their way?
- Michael Bird describes it this way:
- It was a “…a zeal for God’s law, its correct interpretation, its instruction, its preservation under pagan domination, and even its promulgation to the entire world” – Michael Bird.
And it included having the badges of membership in the people of God.
- Jewish ethnicity, circumcision, Sabbath observance, etc.
About their way, Bird says:
“It shows a lack of awareness about the Torah’s intrinsic limitations and an accompanying denial of Israel’s own disobedience to the Torah” – Michael Bird.
And their way, plus their ignorance (spiritual blindness) of the right way of God’s “righteousing” activity, had devastating consequences.
- Paul says, “they did not submit to God’s righteousness”.
When Paul says this he has a very specific meaning in mind.
- They did not submit to Christ as Messiah.
- As Paul said last week, this was their stumbling over Christ.
It is Christ who ultimately, is the “righteousing” and saving activity of God.
- So ignorance of God’s righteousness is ignorance of Christ.
- Being blind to God’s righteousness is being blind to Christ.
Doug Moo puts it like this:
- “…the Jews have not recognized the manifestation of God’s righteousness in Christ and have sought rather to establish their own…” – Doug Moo.
Ultimately, this blindness – this misinformed zeal – leads directly to being an enemy of Christ and His church.
- Paul would know.
- Philippians 3:6 (ESV) — 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church…
To Saul (Paul before Christ) and any other zealous Jew…
- Opposition to Christ and His followers was on par with…
- Mattathias’ opposition to Antiochus.
This opposition to Christ, in fact, is directly behind Jesus’ words with the Pharisees in John 8.
- John 8:41b–44a (ESV) — 41b We [the Pharisees] have one Father—even God.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me. 43 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. 44a You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.
Jesus makes the startling claim that:
- To oppose and reject Jesus – God’s “righteousing” activity…
- Is to oppose and reject YHWH.
To finish out his thought, and make a transition to the stuff of verse 5 and following…
- Paul makes one further assessment about God’s “righteousing” activity in Christ.
Paul’s Assessment – Christ the Telos:
“For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes”
- Christ is the “telos” of the law. (Bird)
What in the world does this mean?
Christ and OT:
For starters, Christ’s own words have to be included in any attempts to understand Paul.
- Matthew 5:17 (ESV) — 17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.
The idea here, according to BDAG is this:
- Jesus has come to bring the law “to a designed end” not abolish it.
In other words, whatever Paul means, he (as we have said before)…
- Is not throwing the law under the bus.
- Jesus didn’t and Paul isn’t.
The OT was the beginning of what Jesus fulfilled.
- You can’t have one without the other.
So given this quick comparison between Jesus’ and Paul’s words…
- We can arrive at one clear teaching of Paul.
The OT is necessary to “get” Christ.
“Jesus and Paul…caution us against severing Christ from the law. For he is its fulfillment and consummation and he cannot be understood or appreciated unless he is seen in light of the preparatory period of which the law was the center” – Doug Moo.
Christ and “Telos” – End and Goal:
Doug Moo says:
- “He is picturing the Mosaic law as the center of an epoch in God’s dealings with human beings that has now come to an end. The believer’s relationship to God is mediated in and through Christ, and the Mosaic law is no longer basic to that relationship” – Doug Moo.
Moo goes on to say:
- “Paul is implying that Christ is the ‘end’ of the law (he brings its era to a close) and its ‘goal’ (he is what the law anticipated and pointed toward)” – Doug Moo.
And he continues:
- “As Christ consummates one era of salvation history, so he inaugurates a new one” – Doug Moo.
Whatever relationship righteousness had to the law…
- It is now found, as God planned, entirely in Christ.
The law’s role in this is over.
- As Paul says, righteousness comes to “everyone who believes” in Christ.
- This is the new era.
Michael Bird seems to agree with this take:
“I suggest that the main idea is that the Messiah has brought the law to its intended goal, namely, covenant renewal. By doing so, he terminates the law as the mechanism for relating to God, so that righteousness is now available to all on the basis of faith and not on the basis of performing works of the law” – Michael Bird.
Which he then follows up with:
- “Christ is the end of the law in the sense that Christ is the climax of the Mosaic covenant by being the agent of the covenantal renewal to which the law itself pointed. The Messiah is the new ‘stone’ for a renewed people of God, made up of believing Jews and Gentiles” – Michael Bird.
BTW – In next weeks lesson, we will seek to redeem the law from Christian caricatures. And come to grips with Paul’s love of the law.