As Paul and Silas came to Thessalonica they went into the synagogue and over a period of several weeks they presented the gospel of Jesus Christ. There were quite a number of those who heard, both Jews and Gentiles who listened to them and believed the truth of the gospel.
But this annoyed and upset the Jewish leaders of the synagogue so much that they became jealous. They incited a mob led by some wicked men and set the city in uproar. They sought Paul and Silas but could not find them, so they took another man, Jason, and dragged him before the city authorities.
However what they said to the authorities as they made their accusations is an apt and accurate description of the truth of the gospel. They said in verse 6, “These men who have turned the world upside down…”
This is true in a number of ways. How did they turn the world upside down? What is the message that turns the world upside down? We will look at these things now.
If we begin by looking at what Paul and Silas did we see that the basis for the complaint from the Jewish leaders was totally inappropriate. In effect they were taking a stand not against Paul and Silas, but against God. Verses 2-3 show us the key to this issue.
2 And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.”
Paul and Silas reasoned, argued and proved what they were saying from the scriptures. The scriptures are the words of God given to man to guide our lives and it was from the scriptures that Paul and Silas proved Jesus was the Christ and Messiah who the whole Jewish nation had been waiting for.
It is in the power of the scripture, and more importantly knowing what it says and how the whole picture of the scriptures fit together that we see and understand what God is doing for us through Jesus Christ.
How they turned the world upside down
What were they preaching that caused the Jews to say they had “…turned the world upside down.” To turn something upside down is to reverse it, invert it, turn it on its head or spin it 180 degrees. What were they teaching that fit such a description and so outraged the Jewish leaders of the day?
Paul and Silas showed the people the way of life that comes through Jesus Christ. The path of the gospel is completely different to the Old Testament law taught by the Levites and the leaders of the Jews in their synagogues.
On one hand we see the focus of the law was that it defined sin, separating good from evil and teaching people what was right and wrong. But the people could not do it and so blood sacrifices were offered by the priests to receive forgiveness from their sins. Once a year a further sacrifice was offered by the high priest to cleanse the people of sin. The only ones who could come before The Lord in the temple were the priests from the tribe of Levi and only the high priest could enter the holy of holies in the temple and then only once a year. The people were bound under the law and confined under sin for which they could receive forgiveness only through continually offering blood sacrifices.
On the other hand Paul and Silas were teaching the gospel of Jesus Christ. Under this gospel we are set free from sin and set free from the law. There are no blood sacrifices necessary, for Jesus himself became the ultimate sacrifice. And there is no need for the priesthood to stand between man and God for Jesus himself now stands before God in the heavenly places and through Him we can stand before God with no other mediator but the risen Jesus Christ.
The old way of the Jews meant definition of sin and bondage to law mediated by a human priesthood where perfection could not be attained. The new way through Jesus Christ means release from sin and freedom from law to eventually be transformed into perfection through Christ.
It seems clear that these two positions are diametrically opposite each other and so the description of turning the world upside down is most appropriate. However I must add that while they seem opposed, they are not in opposition. They are two paths to God, but the way of Jesus is better leading to perfection and life through Him.
What this means for us
There is a challenge in the modern church that most people do not know even exists today. If you can see that the way of the law and the way of Jesus Christ are opposite sides of the same coin then you may also see the challenge that exists in the modern church.
Most Christians churches teach that you are under the law in one form or another and thus a sinner. This is the position of the old way the Jews taught in the old covenant. They say you are under the law of God, such as the Ten Commandments. But in Jesus we are set free from those laws and are called to follow Christ. We come to God based on faith and not works of the law. In Christ we are set free from sin and set free from law to worship God in spirit and truth.
The challenge then is how do we reconcile these two positions? How can we be sinners under law and be free from sin and law in Christ at the same time?
Just as you cannot mix oil and water and have them stay together in solution, it is impossible to mix the old and new covenants and have them hold together also. They are separate and different and must be approached differently. You are either in one or the other but you cannot be in both at the same time. In fact the bible indicates that to try and live under both covenants at the same time is like committing spiritual adultery. Consider these words from Romans 7:1-4.
1 Or do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to those who know the law-that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. 3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress. 4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
Verses 1-3 speaks about a woman in a marriage who is bound by the laws of marriage to her husband and that if she was to go and live with another man while still married to her husband she commits adultery. But if her husband dies then she is free from the laws of marriage and can go and marry someone else and not commit adultery. Then we see the pivotal word in this section at the start of verse 4… Likewise.
The word “likewise” tells us that in Christ Jesus it works exactly the same way as what was just written. Just as the woman was set free from the law of marriage by the death of her husband, so too we are set free from the laws of Moses by the death of Jesus Christ. The woman ceased to be in the first marriage to enter the second through her husband’s death. She was not and could not be in both relationships at the same time or she would be an adulteress. But she left the covenant of marriage to her first husband when he died to enter a new covenant of marriage to another.
Likewise, through the death of Jesus Christ we were released from the old covenant under the law to come into the new covenant belonging to the risen Christ. We were set free from one to belong to another, and like the married woman, if we try to live under both the old and new covenants together we are effectively living in spiritual adultery.
You can’t live in both. That is the challenge the church today faces. They need to work out what the scripture really says and understand the process by which we step out of one into the other, that is, how we leave the old to enter the new. And it is not that hard. It is a simple process that starts with baptism, which is why we always saw in the New Testament that when people first believed and came to Christ, they were baptised into His death.
The world has been turned upside down and can never be turned around again, nor would we want it to for the new way is the better way as it leads to perfection in Jesus Christ and a place in the kingdom of God that starts right now.
Want to know more or how this all works? Send me an email and I will be happy to explain it further.
(Image sourced from stock.xchng created by Robert Proksa (inverted the original))
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