Key text: “For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ… Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God” (Acts 18:28; 19:8).
Main point: Although disciples such as Priscilla, Aquila, Apollos and Paul were enormously successful co-laborers in their mission to the Gentiles, they never stopped reaching out to the Jewish community with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In our politically correct society, the word “tolerance” has undergone a radical redefinition in meaning. Tolerance is now defined in postmodern terms as embracing the right of every belief or idea as true even for those holding contradictory views. In other words, one is supposed to respect another’s view as true even while holding an opposite viewpoint. In this way, people are taught to respect the culture, religion and tradition of all people and sub-groups everywhere.
Today, it is taboo to argue differences, but we are instead urged to embrace our common humanity through mutual respect while abandoning any notion of absolute truth. Evangelical Christianity is repugnant and “intolerant” to this way of thinking because it dares to proclaim only one truth and challenges the validity of other religions as to their truth claims.
The word tolerance should mean that one is to respect the rights of others as to their human dignity, value, and freedom, despite legitimate disagreements concerning political, social and moral issues. Also, religious tolerance does not place all religious beliefs on the same level of truth. It allows the freedom of every individual to worship according to their beliefs without the fear of persecution from the state. Tolerance was never meant to be the judge and jury of truth, only the protection from persecution of people who hold different ideas, not the ideas themselves.
Ideas or truth claims must be tested and verified by the real-world criteria of evidence, consistency and experience. All religious truth claims are not equally valid – and Christianity substantiates its unique message. The gospel that the early disciples preached is superior to all other religions’ truth claims in evidence, consistency and experience.
It was the truth of the gospel over against Judaism that moved the early disciples to evangelize as many Jews as would hear the message. The apostle Paul grieved for his people Israel because without the gospel they would perish (Romans 9:1-3; 10:1-4). Paul knew of only one new covenant gospel message that was the fulfillment of old covenant aspirations. There are not two covenants coexisting, but only one!
Paul made it clear that the Jews are now saved in the same manner as the Gentiles through the one and same gospel message (Galatians 2:14-16). Apollos was a messianic Jew from the Dispersion who believed in Jesus as the hope of Israel, but had only a fragmentary knowledge of the gospel. Priscilla and Aquila were co-laborers of Paul (Acts 18:18-19) who took the time to fine-tune the gospel message for Apollos. He became a powerful preacher and debater in proving from the Scriptures to his fellow Jews that Jesus was the Christ (verses 24-28).
In his missionary journeys, it was Paul’s custom to preach the gospel first in the synagogue before moving on to his primary target group, the Gentiles. He also met some Jews who needed to know about the gospel fulfillment of John the Baptist’s message (19:1-10). Today, Messianic Jews are those who recognize Jesus as Israel’s promised Messiah and have accepted the gospel message of Jesus as Lord and Savior of the world. Most Messianic ministries are new covenant Jews reaching out to other Jews with the gospel. Although such believers may be uniquely positioned to reach Jews, they are not the only ones who can effectively share the gospel with Jews. All believers are entrusted with that task and are members of the one and same body of Christ (Romans 11:13-32; Ephesians 2:16).
Questions for Bible study
1. Acts 18:24-28
a. Who arrives in Ephesus? Verse 24. Can you describe at least four things about him? These events take place at the start of Paul’s third missionary journey (see verse 23). Alexandria, Egypt, was a famous scholarly city with a large Jewish population and famous for its allegorical style of interpretation, as taught by Philo.
b. What four other facts are presented about this man? Verse 25. What do you think is meant by the way of the Lord and the baptism of John? “The way” is a Christian designation – short for salvation through Christ alone and the lifestyle associated with it (Matthew 7:14; John 14:6).
c. What is Apollos doing? Verse 26. Who heard him, and how do they respond to Apollos? Why? The fact that the woman is mentioned first suggests that she was the principal teacher of the two.
d. Where does Apollos want to go next, and what was provided for him? Verse 27. How effective was he on his arrival? One manuscript tradition specifies that it was Corinth in Achaia where he first arrived. One thing is certain: he did spend time in Corinth. See 19:1; 1 Corinthians 3:4-6.
e. What is Apollos best known for? Verse 28. Apollos was an eloquent powerful preacher in the allegorical tradition of Alexandria. In their debates in the early centuries of the church, the church fathers used this method in interpreting the Old Testament as Christ centered. Although the method can easily be overextended, it was very successful in that early era.
2. Acts 19:1-10
a. While Apollos is elsewhere, what is Paul doing, and whom does he find? Verse 1. The word “disciples” by itself usually means Christian disciples, but here it probably refers to John’s disciples. However, Apollos was already a believer in Jesus.
b. When Paul senses that something is lacking, what does he ask them? Verse 2. What response do they give? These Jews were still anticipating the coming of a nameless Messiah and did not know that Joel’s prophecy had already been fulfilled. See Acts 2:1-18.
c. What inquiry does Paul make next? Verse 3. What surprising reply is given? It is probable that these “disciples” got their information second-hand – from other Jews who had heard some of John’s message, for even John the Baptist spoke of the Holy Spirit (Luke 3:15-18).
d. What necessary and vital instruction does Paul give them? Verse 4. Although John preached the good news of the coming Messiah, Paul preached the fulfilled good news of salvation in Jesus through faith as the only way. Compare with Acts 4:12.
e. What new covenant results are seen after the gospel is preached? Verses 5-7. This proves the necessity for old covenant Jews to move into new covenant fulfillment. Pentecost and Ephesus serve as signs to the Jewish community to believe in the name Jesus.
f. How did Paul reach out to other Jews? Verse 8. The kingdom (rule) of God is present in Jesus in the here and now as well as in the future.
g. What positive and negative results does Paul encounter? Verses 9-10.
1. Have you ever attended services at a Jewish synagogue? How about a Messianic church? If you are going through these lessons with a discussion group, share your experience with the others.
2. Have you ever shared the gospel with a Jewish person? If not, why not? Do you think the Jews need to hear the gospel of Jesus? Why?
3. Is it acceptable for Messianic Jews to share the good news of Jesus with other Jews? What about for Gentiles to try to convert Jews? What is the best approach in reaching Jews today?
4. How should one view the relationship between the old and new covenants? Is it any different for the Jews? (Do not confuse culture with covenant.)
5. Do you think there are some Messianic Jews like Apollos who may need help in understanding the fuller implications of the gospel over against the old covenant Mosaic Law? Explain.
The early disciples were mostly Jewish Christians whom God used as instruments to evangelize both Jews and Gentiles. Today, Gentile Christians are at the forefront of evangelism along with a mall but growing number of Messianic Jews!
Author: Lorenzo Arroyo