Last week, we looked more closely into Acts 17:11, where Paul preaches Christ and Him crucified from the Old Testament to the Berean Jews. In Acts 17, there are three categories of people: the Christians (represented by Paul and his ministry companions), the Jews and the Gentiles. Through Paul’s ministry, we see how God reaches out to both groups of people with the gospel and how he has a strategy for each group. This week we explore the circles of context of this passage.
Refer to my Romans 9-11 practice sheet and explanation video. [Please look at the links under Bible Resource Tools.]
BIBLE RESOURCE TOOLS
If you’ve ever read Romans chapters 9-11 and have had a difficult time understanding all that Paul had shared in those chapters, please take a journey with me through this very important discourse about God’s heart for the Jewish people.
YES, GENEALOGIES ARE IMPORTANT
Have you ever read your Bible and skipped over the genealogies? This person begat that person and so on and so on. The Jews took care to get their genealogies correct for a good reason. They documented lineages for priestly service and tribal identities. Inadvertently, the Israelites would also keep track of the progress of the prophesied seed of their Messiah, without even realizing it.
God gave the first mention of the gospel, when He prophesied of a seed of the woman who would come to “bruise the serpent’s head.” (Genesis 3:15) We know this seed to be Jesus Christ. The devil wasn’t happy about this news. He would only bruise a heel, whereas this seed would break his authority and rule over mankind by crushing his head.
DID PAUL PREACH TO THE BEREANS ABOUT THE SEED OF THE WOMAN?
In Acts 17:11, Paul shares the gospel with the Berean Jews from the Old Testament to prove that Jesus was their Messiah. He may have used Genesis 3:15 as the starting point of his journey through the Old Testament. Paul would seek to “open their eyes” to see all of the prophecies and “types and shadows” of Jesus Christ from their own scriptures.
As one of his teachings, he may have traced this seed throughout the lineage of Christ. We see through the twists and turns of Israelite history that God had been able to preserve the seed. Though the enemy had tried to discover and destroy this seed, God alluded him at every turn. It says in the Bible that God outwits the crafty. (Job 5:12)
THE DEVIL TRIES TO TRACE AND KILL THE SEED
The devil’s first attempts:
- Cain kills Abel. Adam and Eve then have Seth, who replaces Abel.
- The time of Noah is evil. Noah builds the ark in faith to save eight people who continue the human race.
God would eventually choose Abraham to continue this special lineage. God promises Abram a son. But, trouble soon follows. Abram shortly thereafter goes into Egypt due to a famine. Sarai, because of her beauty, attracts the attention of the Pharaoh, who ends up taking her into his palace. Yet, another chance for things to go wrong and for the promised seed to be compromised. God delivers them out of the situation, though, and nothing is lost. Phew! (Genesis 12)
As we continue to follow this seed, some serious curve balls are thrown at the line of Christ.
After the seed travels through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Jacob prophesies that a king will arise from the tribe of Judah. Jacob, leaning on his staff in his old age, speaks over his sons. They may have wondered: where will the seed go to next?
The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall be his. –Genesis 49:10
Despite God’s choice of Judah, Judah’s line would’ve been cut off, if it weren’t for the actions of Tamar, Judah’s daughter-in-law. In other words, he wouldn’t have had a son to pass on the lineage. (Read Genesis 38) God was watching out for the seed.
DRAWN FROM THE WATER
During the time of Moses, the Israelites were slaves in Egypt. A new king had risen up who did not know Joseph. He ordered slave masters to be put in charge over the Israelites, due to his concern over their growing population. The Egyptians made the lives of the Israelites a bitter hardship. But the more they oppressed them, the more they multiplied and spread out.
The king of Egypt, then, pressured the Hebrew midwives to throw the newborn baby boys into the river. The Hebrew midwives wouldn’t listen and quietly disobeyed. Moses would be drawn out of the very waters that otherwise would’ve spelled his doom. God knows how to use divine Judo against His opponents. Moses’ name means “drawn out of the water.” He would be adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter no less and raised up as a prince of Egypt, only later to be used by God to bring the downfall of that empire. (Read Exodus 2)
GOD THROWS A CURVE BALL AT THE DEVIL
Sometimes, I think the devil is more “religious” than God is. In other words, he may reject someone as a candidate, because of their past, their weaknesses, their lack of training, etc. The great thing about God is that He doesn’t rule anybody out. He outwits the devil by using the most unlikely people.
When Joshua led the nation into the Promised Land, the first city they came up against was Jericho. Joshua sends out two spies to scope out the land. Rahab, the prostitute, helps them hide and eventually escape, in exchange for mercy. She’s heard stories of how God delivered the Israelites from Egypt and their enemies along the way. She responds in faith and asks for a family salvation and deliverance. By the time the Israelites come to take down Jericho, she’s already tied the scarlet cord in her window. She’s a picture of one who has been saved from the world. (Read Joshua 2)
Delivered, Rahab eventually joins the community of Israel. She will have a son named Boaz, who will become the kinsman-redeemer in the book of Ruth. Boaz marries the widow Ruth, who then gives birth to the grandfather of King David. (Read the book of Ruth)
God knows how to outwit the crafty. He worked through some very unlikely people to bring forth King David and eventually Jesus Christ. God actually used foreigners to bring forth the Jewish messiah.
THE LITTLE BROTHER WHO’D BECOME KING
Before King Saul fell away from God’s grace, God had already planned to make David the next king of Israel. He would be a man after God’s own heart. The seed that had already come through the line of Rahab, Boaz, Obed and Jesse has now made it to David. But, first he would have to be chosen as king. The prophet Samuel visits the house of Jesse to anoint one of his sons and almost anoints the wrong son, due to his appearance.
Eliab, the eldest son was was tall, dark and handsome, reminiscent of Saul. David had been overlooked by his family and wasn’t even there initially to stand before Samuel. God rejects all of the sons present and eventually David is brought before him. He is chosen by God and anointed by the prophet Samuel. Yet, another unlikely candidate.
God promises King David an eternal throne. A descendant of his will rule as the Messiah. (Read 2 Samuel 7) Most of Israel knew David’s son would be their much-awaited Messiah.
The angel Gabriel confirmed this promise to Mary, when he announced the birth of her son.
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end. –Luke 1:32-33
REVERSAL OF FORTUNE
During the time of Esther, Haman, the highest official in the king’s court, convinced the king to issue an edict throughout his kingdom, resulting in the destruction of the Jews. He claimed they were a people who would not submit to the king. This, of course, was a lie. Haman was an Amalekite, like his people, a bitter enemy of the Jews. (Easton Dictionary)
Antisemitism existed in that time period also. God would save the Jews through Esther’s brave intervention. The king sent out a follow-up decree telling the Jews that they could rise up and defend themselves, which they did. God saved the day again and preserved the seed. (Read the book of Esther)
THE DEVIL SCATTERS THE SEED
We have already spoken about how Assyria invaded the northern kingdom of Israel and scattered the northern tribes. It was customary for Assyria to scatter and assimilate the people groups they conquered. This would leave only the nation of Judah to the south. It would be the Israelites’ last stand.
Later, when the Babylonians conquered Judah and Jerusalem and took the Israelites captive, it looked like it was almost over for them. The seed would perish. We find out only later how the seed survived in Jesus Christ, their promised Messiah.
A GLORY TO ISRAEL AND A LIGHT TO THE GENTILES
Jesus would bring salvation to both the Jews and the Gentiles by being both the Jewish Messiah and the Savior of the world.
He says, “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant, To raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth. –Isaiah 49:6
All along God desired to restore Israel, bringing them back to himself. He also would reach out to the Gentiles with the gospel of salvation through His Son Jesus.
ONE GENEALOGY FOR THE JEWS
The Biblical authors wrote the four gospels with different audiences in mind. Matthew wrote his gospel to the Jews. Matthew shows how prophecies from the Old Testament are fulfilled in Christ in order to prove that Jesus is the Messiah.
He shares the genealogy of Jesus Christ as his first piece of evidence. (Read Matthew 1) Matthew knew it would be important to the Jews, because Jesus came from the line of King David. Matthew also reminds us how we serve a Jewish Messiah!
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the SON OF DAVID, the SON OF ABRAHAM. Abraham begat Isaac; and Isaac begat Jacob; and Jacob begat Judas and his brethren… –Matthew 1:1-2 (Caps mine)
Matthew goes back to DAVID, because the Messianic king would come from his line. He also goes back to ABRAHAM, because God promised that in his seed the nations of the Earth will be blessed. (Genesis 12:2-3)
This genealogy traces the seed from Abraham all the way to Joseph, Jesus’ adoptive father.
ONE GENEALOGY FOR THE GENTILES
Luke traveled with Paul on his missionary journeys as his Gentile doctor. He wrote the Gospel of Luke with Gentiles in mind. He would also write the book of Acts.
He begins his gospel by stating that he has “carefully investigated everything from the beginning… to write an orderly account for… the most excellent Theophilus.” (Luke 1:3)
Theophilus means “friend of God,” which includes all of us who have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. I add this tidbit, because I love God’s use of names to illustrate points.
Another example would be the name Barabbas. During Passover, it Pilate was willing to release one prisoner doomed to death. He gave the crowd a choice between Jesus and Barabbas. Of course, the religious leaders called for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be crucified.
Barabbas means “son of a father.” Or you can even say, the son of every man. So, “the son of every man” was set free because Jesus took his place on the cross. (Okay, God isn’t into metaphors? Think about it. People will say you can’t take anything metaphorically, unless there’s a known figure of speech. I disagree. I think God’s communicating something here.)
Going back to the genealogy.
The Bible also adds little details that show the sovereignty of God poking through in the writing.
Before Luke begins his genealogy, he writes something peculiar.
He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph. –Luke 3:23
Luke, in his investigations must have interviewed Mary. He knew how Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit.
Luke’s account of Jesus’ genealogy begins with “the SON OF ADAM, the SON OF GOD.” (Luke 3:38)
Why did Luke bring the genealogy all the way back to Adam and God, whereas Matthew began Christ’s genealogy with Abraham?
Luke and his Gentile audience were not Jews and, therefore, would not be included in the line of Abraham. But, they would be included in the line of Adam, who was the first man and the father of all mankind. And, just because they weren’t part of the commonwealth of Israel, they still were created by God and had a connection to him.
The Holy Spirit wanted both Jews and Gentiles to know that Jesus Christ was the Savior for both groups of people. The seed of the woman prophesied about in the garden of Eden would crush the devil’s head for both Jew and Gentile.
As Gentiles, we can thank the Jews for stewarding this seed. Throughout the history of the Old Testament, they had prayed for this seed, they believed for this seed, they fought for this seed. Of course, God had expertly worked through the nation of Israel to bring forth the seed. It’s largely because of the Jews that we have Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.
BIBLE STUDY HOMEWORK
- Psalm 122 calls the people to pray for the “Peace of Jerusalem.” Find a prayer guide online or elsewhere to give you pertinent prayer points, so you can pray in an informed way for Israel, Jerusalem and the Jews. Pray for God’s heart for the Jewish people and the nation of Israel.
- Watch a documentary about Israel and Jerusalem. Be aware of the source, but get familiar with the nation and people of Israel.
- Read up on or study the diaspora, or dispersion of the Jewish people, throughout the nations of the world. Get a good book or video series about Jewish history, especially from 70 AD to modern times. Knowing more about Jewish history will help you understand more about the Jews. It may also grant you more compassion for them, as you learn about their wanderings, persecutions and struggles throughout history.
- Study Genesis 12 and 15 more closely. Do some observation on the chapters and take down notes.
- Flip through the Gospel of Matthew and/or the Gospel of Luke. Stop and look more closely at passages that interest you, keeping in mind the audience for these books of the Bible. Can you discover other things that would suggest that Matthew wrote to the Jews and Luke wrote to the Gentiles? Can you find specific stories/passages to use in Matthew to minister more effectively to Jews? In Luke, to minister more effectively to Gentiles?
What does Matthew include that Luke doesn’t? Or what does Luke include that Matthew doesn’t?
- Read through the blog post again and read the passages I’ve included as references. Pick one or two passages to study more deeply.
- Did knowing “the circles of context” help you to understand the Biblical storyline better and how everything fits together?
- Find a passage and practice making circles of context for that passage. Go back to the blog post on Observation, if you need a reminder on how to do this work.
SPECIAL NOTE: Next week, we’ll work on interpretation, spiritual principles and application points for Daniel 1: 3-8. Please feel free to practice those skills along with me by doing your own work on that passage.