1 Kefa 2:1-10

The Living Stone and a Holy People

In my last post, we explored how Kefa says we are Called to Be Holy. In this post, we learn about The Living Stone and a Holy People.

Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice, of all deceit, hypocrisy, and envy, and of all the ways there are of speaking against people;

Ancient writers sometimes employed “vice lists,” indicating what people should avoid; Kefa employs a miniature vice list. Rid yourselves of the old ways also follows rebirth in James, Ephesians, and Colossians; together with other parallels to those letters, this similarity has suggested to some scholars a common baptismal tradition in the early church. It might also follow some teaching by Yeshua no longer available to us. [1]

 and be like newborn babies, thirsty for the pure milk of the Word; so that by it, you may grow up into deliverance.

Be like newborn babies, thirsty for the pure milk of the Word of God, which here can mean (1) the written Word, then only the Tanakh (1:24), (2) the Gospel (1:25), which implies the future Brit Hadashah, (3) Yeshua, (4) true doctrine (as in Hebrews 5:11–6:2), or (5) all of the above.

Babies were dependent on their mothers or nurses for nourishment by their milk; the use of cows’ milk was rare. It was believed that children were very impressionable at this nursing stage, and those who allowed them to be tended by nursemaids were advised to select the nurses with care. “Pure” milk meant that it had not been mixed with anything else; the term is used in business documents for sales of unadulterated foods. [2]

For you have tasted that Adonai is good. Here Kefa alludes to Psalm 34:8.

As you come to him, the living stone, rejected by people but chosen by God and precious to him, you yourselves, as living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be cohanim set apart for God to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to him through Yeshua the Messiah. This is why the Tanakh says,

“Look! I am laying in Tziyon a stone,
a chosen and precious cornerstone;
and whoever rests his trust on it
will certainly not be humiliated.”

Now to you who keep trusting, he is precious. But to those who are not trusting,

“The very stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;”

8 also he is

a stone that will make people stumble,
a rock over which they will trip.

They are stumbling at the Word, disobeying it—as had been planned.

In verses 4-10, Kefa describes our identity as the people of God with support from several passages from the Tanakh. The overall metaphor here is the idea of stones being fit together into a building. The chief stone on which all the others depend for proper alignment is Yeshua. By virtue of His resurrection from the dead, he is a living stone. During His earthly ministry, He was rejected by people but honored by God (2:4).

As it was then, so it is today. You have only two choices with Yeshua: accept Him or reject Him. Those who accept Him know He is the Lord’s honored cornerstone – the stone on which the whole house aligns. We are to live our lives with reference to Him, and we will never be put to shame (2:6). But for those who reject Him, He is a stone to stumble over; thus, they will trip over Him right into judgment (2:7-8). [3]

 But you are a chosen people, the King’s cohanim, a holy nation, a people for God to possess! Why? In order for you to declare the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

A chosen people, the King’s cohanim, a holy nation, a people for God to possess! In the Tanakh, these terms are applied to the Jewish people, Isra’el. Kefa applies them to the readers of his letter, who are Messianic Jews and Messianic Gentiles who truly identify with them. The Bible resolves doubts and questions about the election by stating its true purpose: in order for you to declare the praises of the One who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light, namely, God. The word Jew in Hebrew is Y’hudi, related to the words hod (praise) and todah (thanks). To be a Jew, then, is to be one who praises and thanks to God; the very name of the Jewish people reflects God’s purpose in choosing us. Gentiles grafted into Isra’el, and therefore sharing Isra’el’s spiritual life through her Messiah, are chosen for the same purpose.

10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; before, you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. ~ 1 Kefa 2:1-10 (CJB)

Sha’ul makes a midrash (allegorical interpretation) on these same phrases, applying them not to Jews, as does Hosea, but to Gentiles (Rom 9:24b–26). Here Kefa applies them to his Messianic Jewish and Messianic Gentile readers.

We will learn about A Call to Good Works in 2 Kefa 2:11-17 in my next post.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament.

[2] Ibid.

[3] The Tony Evans Bible Commentary.

1 Kefa 1:3-12

A Living Hope

In my last post, we began to unpack his first letter to the saints. In this post, we explore what Kefa describes as A Living Hope.

Praised be God, Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who, in keeping with his great mercy, has caused us, through the resurrection of Yeshua the Messiah from the dead, to be born again to a living hope, to an inheritance that cannot decay, spoil or fade, kept safe for you in heaven.

Praised be God, Father of our Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who …. This is the liturgical formula for commencing an ‘Amidah (Jewish benediction). For example, the initial b’rakhah (blessing) of the ‘Amidah begins, “Praised be you, Adonai, our God and God of our fathers ….” The who in this formula signals a list of praiseworthy things God has done. In this case, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope, to an inheritance … kept safe for you in heaven. In 1Kefa 2:9, Kefa writes that Believers are chosen people so that they may declare the praises of God, here in vv. 1–4, he makes himself an example by doing precisely that – declaring the praises of God.

Through the resurrection of Yeshua, you have been born again to a living hope. At Romans 6:4–11, 8:9–25, Sha’ul explains how it works. “Yeshua said …, ‘I AM the Resurrection and the Life! Whoever puts his trust in me will live, even if he dies; and everyone living and trusting in me will never die. Do you believe this?’” (Yn 11:25) Kefa did.

 Meanwhile, through trusting, you are being protected by God’s power for a deliverance ready to be revealed at the Last Time. That is when the Messiah returns (see v. 7 below).

 Rejoice in this, even though for a little while, you may have to experience grief in various trials.

I am sure many of us have experienced various trials and tribulations, especially this year.

 Even gold is tested for genuineness by fire. The purpose of these trials is so that your trust’s genuineness, which is far more valuable than perishable gold, will be judged worthy of praise, glory, and honor at the revealing of Yeshua, the Messiah. Without having seen him, you love him. Without seeing him now, but trusting in him, you continue to be full of joy that is glorious beyond words. And you are receiving what your trust is aiming at, namely, your deliverance.

Charles Stanley advises us that “God allows trouble or pain or suffering into your life for a season for His special reasons, and no one’s situation is exactly the same. When you are experiencing negative times, it is imperative to keep the purposes described in 1 Peter 1:6-7 in mind.[1] 

Donald Guthrie summarizes these verses:

Believers are born into a new way of life and become heirs of a heavenly inheritance (verses 3–4). But future hope is linked with present security despite trials and afflictions (5–6). These have only a refining effect on true faith, and they can, in fact, lead to inexpressible joy because faith has been fortified by love to Yeshua (7–9). [2]

10 The prophets, who prophesied about this gift of deliverance that was meant for you, pondered and inquired diligently about it. 11 They were trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of the Messiah in them was referring in predicting the Messiah’s sufferings and the glorious things to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that their service when they spoke about these things was not for their own benefit, but for yours. And these same things have now been proclaimed to you by those who communicated the Good News to you through the Ruach HaKodesh sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things! ~ 1 Kefa 1:3-12 (CJB)

Some scholars hold that the Tanakh prophets spoke only to their own times, that they always understood the significance of what they said, and that their utterances contained only moral content and were never of predictive value or intent. These verses contradict that opinion. (see Daniel 12:4, 8–9 & Jeremiah 32). Therefore people seeking the truth, like the Jews of Berea who checked the Tanakh every day to see if the things Sha’ul was saying were true (Ac 17:11), should search the Tanakh to see if it points to Yeshua the Messiah. The Messianic prophecies already fulfilled by Him show that it does.

We will begin to unpack 1 Kefa 1:13-25 ~ Called to Be Holy in my next post.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] A Divine Encounter in Times of Adversity: November 4 by Charles F. Stanely

[2] New Testament Introduction.

1 Kefa 1:1-2

Greetings

In my last post, we looked at some interesting commentaries for background information on Kefa’s writings to the saints throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). In this post, we will begin to unpack his first letter to the saints.

From: Kefa, an emissary of Yeshua the Messiah,

To: God’s chosen people, living as aliens in the Diaspora – in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, the province of Asia, and Bithynia


Location of Kefa’s recipients.

God’s chosen people, literally, “God’s elected ones,” meaning Israel, living as aliens in the Diaspora. Kefa directs his letter primarily to Jewish Believers (including Jewish proselytes who later accepted Yeshua) since he was an emissary to the Circumcised (Ga 2:7–8). However, the spiritual content of his Gospel, salvation by trust (vv. 3–9), was identical with that of Sha’ul, the emissary to the Gentiles (Ga 2:6–9). However, Gentiles who have not converted to Judaism but have trusted in the Jewish Messiah and thrown in their lot with the Jewish Believers are counted along with them, since by their trust such Gentiles have been grafted into Isra’el (Ro 11:17–24, Ep 2:11–16). [1]

chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father and set apart by the Spirit for obeying Yeshua the Messiah and for sprinkling with His blood: Grace and shalom be yours in full measure.

This verse names what Christian theology calls “the three persons of the Trinity”; and, even though non-Messianic Jews find it a stumblingblock, Messianic Judaism must not finesse the fact that God expresses distinct aspects of his absolute unity through the Father, the Ruach, and Yeshua the Messiah. Here it is the Father who has chosen and exercised His foreknowledge, [2] the Ruach who has set Believers apart from sin, and Yeshua the Messiah who is to be the object of obedience and is the One whose blood is sprinkled.

In the Tanakh and Jewish thought, God’s people were corporately chosen, because God foreknew them; Kefa applies the same language to believers in Yeshua. Obedience and the sprinkling of blood also established the first covenant (Ex 24:7–8).

Ok, we didn’t get very far, but that was intentional. I want to keep these posts in Kefa’s letters short and sweet. In my next post, we will begin to unpack 1 Kefa 1:3-12.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1]  Jewish New Testament Commentary.

[2]  Eaton’s Bible Dictionary describes God’s foreknowledge as: One of the high attributes essentially appertaining to God the full import of which we cannot comprehend. In the most absolute sense, His knowledge is infinite.

Introduction to 1 Kefa

In my last post, we completed our study of Kefa through the Gospels, Book of Acts, and Galatians. We started this journey back on May 24, 2020. It’s now time to begin to explore his writings to the saints throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). Before digging into his writings, I thought it might be beneficial to explore the background material that I have in my library.

Authorship

Although some commentators question Kefa’s authorship, others have argued forcefully for it; the situation presupposed in the letter fits Kefa’s lifetime. The tradition of Kefa’s martyrdom in Rome is virtually unanimous. By the late first century I Clement accepted the letter’s authenticity, and excavations indicate a second-century memorial in Rome to Kefa’s martyrdom. Given this tradition of his martyrdom in Rome, the likelihood that letters he wrote would be preserved, and the fact that most letters were either authentic or written long after the purported author’s death, the burden of proof is on those who wish to deny that Kefa wrote the letter. [1]

So strong is the evidence for the use of this epistle in the early Messianic communities that some scholars have regarded it as proved and maintained that it was considered to be canonical as early as this word had a meaning. [2]

Several early Messianic communities leaders – Irenaeus, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria – accepted 1 Kefa as authentic. Furthermore, there are examples of the early Messianic communities rejecting the practice of writing under an apostolic pseudonym as a forgery. They likely would have dismissed the letter if they had believed it to be falsely attributed to Kefa. In light of this, the book should be accepted as the Kefa’s work. [3]

The opening verse of the epistle claims it was written by Kefa, who was clearly the leader among Yeshua’s emissaries. The gospel writers emphasize this fact by placing his name at the head of each list of emissaries (see Mt 10; Mk 3; Lk 6; Ac 1), and including more information about him in the 4 gospels than any person other than Yeshua. Andrew, Kefa’s brother, brought him to Yeshua (see Jn 1:40–42). Kefa was married, and his wife apparently accompanied him in his ministry (see Mk 1:29–31; 1Co 9:5). [4]

Date

Another indication of probable dating is the teaching of 1 Kefa with regard to the government (see 1 Kefa 2:13–17). The approach is so conciliatory that it would better fit the period up to 64 CE than a later period. It seems difficult to imagine any writer urging submission to the infamous Nero after the commencement of his notorious blood-bath of 64 CE. [5] Most commentators date the writing as between 62 – 64 CE.

Background and Audience

It is widely agreed that Babylon (see 5:13) is a cryptic name for Rome, as in some Jewish works and undoubtedly in the book of Revelation. The situation of persecution described here fits Rome, and it would be appropriate for Kefa to send advance warning of that situation to Believers in Asia Minor, the stronghold of emperor worship. An audience in Asia Minor might consist mainly of Messianic Jews, but Kefa’s audience probably includes Gentile Believers. [6]

A fire devastated Rome in 64 CE but suspiciously left unscathed the estates of Nero and his friend Tigellinus. Like any good politician, Nero needed a scapegoat for his ills, and what appeared to be a new religion, understood as a fanatical form of Judaism begun by a crucified teacher three and a half decades before, filled the need perfectly. Romans viewed Believers, like Jews, as antisocial. [7]

Purpose

His letters are clearly designed for a specific group of Believers although scattered over a wide area. The keynote of the letter is hope and Kefa wishes to exhort these Believers to live in accordance with the hope they have received through Yeshua. He gives practical guidance to assist in their human relationships and particularly exhorts them to endure suffering in a joyful manner for Yeshua’s sake. His main purpose is, therefore, exhortative, but not infrequently he introduces theological considerations. [8]

Kefa loved to lead, but he had to go through a lot of brokenness to learn how. He thus wrote this book to Messianic communities to encourage them to persevere in spite of their own suffering, trials, and persecution. Kefa wanted Believers to know that new birth in Yeshua gives hope that will aid perseverance in spite of what we go through. Kefa blends doctrinal truth about our salvation with practical truth about how it is to be lived out in our various life situations – including in the relationship between husbands and wives. [9]

Believers are constantly exposed to a world system energized by HaSatan and his demons. Their effort is to discredit the Messianic communities and to destroy its credibility and integrity. One way these spirits work is by finding Believers whose lives are not consistent with the Word of God, and then parading them before the un-Believers to show what a sham the Messianic communities are. Believers, however, must stand against the enemy and silence the critics by the power of holy lives.

In this epistle, Kefa is rather effusive in reciting two categories of truth. The first category is positive and includes a long list of blessings bestowed on Believers. As he speaks about the identity of Believers and what it means to know Yeshua, Kefa mentions one privilege and blessing after another. Interwoven into this list of privileges is the catalog of suffering. Believers, though most greatly privileged, should also know that the world will treat them unjustly. Their citizenship is in heaven and they are strangers in a hostile, Satanic world. Thus the Believers’ life can be summed up as a call to victory and glory through the path of suffering. So, the basic question that Kefa answers in this epistle is: How are Believers to deal with animosity? The answer features practical truths and focuses on Yeshua as the model of one who maintained a triumphant attitude in the midst of hostility. [10]

In my next post, we will begin to unpack 1 Kefa.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (1 Peter).

[2]  New Testament Introduction by Donald Guthrie. This a very in-depth commentary.

[3] The Tony Evans Bible Commentary.

[4] The Macarthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible.

[5] The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (1 Peter).

 [6] Ibid.

 [7] Ibid.

 [8] New Testament Introduction.

 [9] The Tony Evans Bible Commentary.

[10]The Macarthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible.

Rabbi Sha’ul Mentions Kefa to the Galatians

In my last post, we learned about Herod Agrippa I’s Persecution of the Saints, including Kefa. In this post, we learn that Rabbi Sha’ul Mentions Kefa to the Galatians.

15 But when God, who picked me (Sha’ul) out before I was born and called me by His grace, chose 16 to reveal His Son to me so that I might announce Him to the Gentiles, I did not consult anyone; 17 and I did not go up to Yerushalayim to see those who were emissaries before me. Instead, I immediately went off to Arabia and afterwards returned to Dammesek. 18 Not until three years later did I go up to Yerushalayim to make Kefa’s acquaintance, and I stayed with him for two weeks, 19 but I did not see any of the other emissaries except Ya’akov the Lord’s brother. ~ Galatians 1:1519 (CJB).

2 Then after fourteen years I again went up to Yerushalayim, this time with Bar- abba; and I took with me Titus. – 6 Moreover, those who were the acknowledged leaders – what they were makes no difference to me; God does not judge by outward appearances – these leaders added nothing to me. On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the Good News for the Uncircumcised, just as Kefa had been for the Circumcised; since the One working in Kefa to make him an emissary to the Circumcised had worked in me to make me an emissary to the Gentiles. So, having perceived what grace had been given to me, Ya’akov, Kefa and Yochanan, the acknowledged pillars of the community, extended to me and Bar-Nabba the right hand of fellowship; so that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the Circumcised. 10 Their only request was that we should remember the poor – which very thing I have spared no pains to do. ~ Galatians 2:1,6-10. (CJB)

Sha’ul Rebukes Kefa

11 Furthermore, when Kefa came to Antioch, I opposed him publicly because he was clearly in the wrong. 12 For prior to the arrival of certain people from [the community headed by] Ya’akov, he had been eating with the Gentile Believers; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, because he was afraid of the Faction who favored circumcising Gentile believers. 13 And the other Jewish Believers became hypocrites along with him so that even Bar-Nabba was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that they were not walking a straight path, keeping in line with the truth of the Good News, I said to Kefa, right in front of everyone, “If you, who are a Jew, live like a Goy and not like a Jew, why are you forcing the Goyim to live like Jews?  ~ Galatians 2:11-14. (CJB)

Sha’ul’s confrontation with Kefa in Antioch illustrates dramatically that Sha’ul ranked equally with the other emissaries, indeed with Kefa the leading emissary.

Before Ya’akov’s community had come, Kefa had been eating with the Gentile Believers. It is unlikely that Sha’ul aired his rebuke before un-Believers. This is important, for it is not to be thought that Kefa had abandoned Jewish tradition and now ignored keeping kosher. His loyalty to kashrut had been such that nothing treif had touched his lips before seeing Cornelius.

When they came, he (Kefa) withdrew and separated himself because he was afraid of the Faction. Why? What did the leading emissary have to be afraid of? Even though his explanation of Cornelius’ conversion satisfied those of the Circumcision Faction the issue had grown more troublesome.

Sha’ul’s rebuke of Kefa serves as one of the most dynamic statements in the Brit Hadashah on the absolute and unwavering necessity of the doctrine of justification by grace through faith. Kefa’s apparent repentance acknowledged Sha’ul’s apostolic authority and his own submission to the truth.[1]

In my next post, we will begin to unpack Kefa’s letters to the Messianic Community.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible.

Herod Agrippa I’s Persecution of the Saints

In my last post, we learned that Kefa Returns to Yerushalayim to Brief the other Emissaries. In this post, we learn about Herod Agrippa I’s Persecution of the Saints, including Kefa.

It was around this time that King Herod began arresting and persecuting certain members of the Messianic community;

I wanted to pause for a moment to share some background on this King Herod. There are several such Kings in Isra’el’s history. Luke calls this ruler Herod, which is a dynastic name Agrippa I never used. Agrippa was born about 10 BCE to Aristopulus (son of Herod the Great) and Berenice. He grew up and was educated in Rome. As a result of his desire to live extravagantly and procure political favor, Agrippa spent most of his early adult life borrowing money and running from creditors. His financial situation even caused him to contemplate suicide.

Agrippa was a threat to the Messianic Community and its leadership: He attacked the community members and had Ya’akov, Yochanan’s brother, executed. When he learned that his actions were pleasing to the Jews, he had Kefa arrested during the feast of Unleavened Bread. While Kefa was in prison, an angel appeared and led him to freedom, causing Kefa to say that the Lord sent His angel to rescue me from Herod’s power. The next morning, when the guards discovered the empty cell and could not find Kefa, Agrippa order their execution. [1]

and he had Ya‘akov, Yochanan’s brother, put to death by the sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Judeans, he went on to arrest Kefa as well. It was during the Days of Matzah, so when Herod seized him, he threw him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each, with the intention of bringing him to public trial after Pesach. So Kefa was being held under watch in prison, but intense prayer was being made to God on his behalf by the Messianic community.

David Stern has this to share regarding verse 5:

Five-point teaching on prayer: Prayer must be (1) intense, not casual; (2) ongoing (was being made); (3) to God – in genuine contact with the living God, not with empty repetition and not in unbelief; (4) specific, not vague (on his behalf); and (5) communal (by the Messianic community) – the Believer is not called to an isolated life; even his private prayers should be not self-centered but reflective of his membership in the Body of the Messiah. [2]

The night before Herod was going to bring him to trial, Kefa was sleeping between two soldiers. He was bound with two chains, and guards were at the door, keeping watch over the prison. Suddenly, an angel of Adonai stood there, and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Kefa’s side and woke him. “Hurry! Get up!” he said, and the chains fell off his hands. The angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals,” and he did. “Throw on your robe,” he said, “and follow me!” Going out, Kefa followed him but did not realize that what was happening through the angel was real—he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 Having passed a first guard and a second, they arrived at the iron gate leading to the city. This opened to them by itself, and they made their exit. They went down the length of one street, and suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Kefa came to himself and said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord sent his angel to rescue me from Herod’s power and from everything the Judean people were hoping for.”

12 Realizing what had happened, he went to the house of Miryam, the mother of Yochanan (surnamed Mark), where many people had gathered to pray.

The house of Miryam. Believers met in each other‘s homes for prayer, worship, and fellowship, which arose from their mutual trust in Yeshua (see Acts 2:46, 8:3). Brit Hadashah-based prayer groups, home Bible studies, and house congregations reflect this emphasis today. Within Judaism, the chavurah (friendship-group) movement similarly fosters awareness of one another.

13 He knocked at the outside door, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. 14 She recognized Kefa’s voice and was so happy that she ran back in without opening the door and announced that Kefa was standing outside. 15 “You’re out of your mind!” they said to her. But she insisted it was true. So they said, “It is his angel.” 16 Meanwhile, Kefa kept knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. 17 Motioning to them with his hand to be quiet, he told them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison and said, “Tell all this to Ya‘akov and the brothers.” Then he left and went elsewhere.

“You’re out of your mind!” they said to her. Our God is real, and He answers prayers. Many of us can grasp this concept intellectually, but sometimes, we find it hard to believe when the evidence knocks at the door.

This Ya’akov is called the brother of Yeshua in Matthew and Mark. He was not a Believer during the Messiah’s earthly ministry. He came to faith later and became the leader of the Messianic Jews of Yerushalayim. Tradition considers him the author of the Brit Hadashah book of Ya’akov. Kefa had already turned over leadership in Yerushalayim to Ya’akov and was himself establishing congregations elsewhere.

Then Kefa left and went elsewhere. This is the last reference in the Book of Acts to Kefa’s ministry.

1When daylight came, there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Kefa. 19 Herod had a thorough search made for him, but they failed to find him, so he cross-examined the guards and ordered them put to death. ~ Acts 12:1-19a

In my next post, we learn that Kefa that Rabbi Sha’ul mentions Kefa in his letter to the Galatians.

Click here for the PDF version.

[1] Lexham Bible Dictionary.

[2] Jewish New Testament Commentary.

First Gentile Believers ~ Part 7

Kefa Returns to Yerushalayim to Brief the other Emissaries

In my last post, we learned that Cornelius, His Family, and Guests Are Baptized. In this post, we learn that Kefa Returns to Yerushalayim to Brief the other Emissaries.

The emissaries and the brothers throughout Y’hudah heard that the Goyim had received the word of God; but when Kefa went up to Yerushalayim, the members of the Circumcision Faction criticized him, saying, “You went into the homes of uncircumcised men and even ate with them!” (In case you missed it, we learned about the Circumcision Faction in my last post.)

In reply, Kefa began explaining in detail what had actually happened: “I was in the city of Yafo, praying; and in a trance, I had a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being lowered by its four corners from heaven, and it came down to me. I looked inside and saw four-footed animals, beasts of prey, crawling creatures, and wild birds. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Kefa, slaughter and eat!’ I said, ‘No, sir! Absolutely not! Nothing unclean or treif has ever entered my mouth!’ But the voice spoke again from heaven: ‘Stop treating as unclean what God has made clean.’ 10 This happened three times, and then everything was pulled back up into heaven.

Nothing unclean or treif has ever entered my mouth! (see Acts 10:12–14). Kefa’s hearers, the strict Circumcision Faction, “zealots for the Torah (see Acts 21:20), are no more Torah-observant than Kefa himself. God chose Kefa as His instrument to bring Yeshua to the Gentiles precisely because he was an observant Jew; in this way, all would know that God’s hand was in it. Had a less Torah-observant Jew seen the vision, it would have been no less of God, but observant Jews might have dismissed him as self-serving.

11 “At that very moment, three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where I was staying; 12 and the Spirit told me to have no misgivings about going back with them. These six brothers also came with me, and we went into the man’s house. 13 He told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Yafo and bring back Shim’ on, known as Kefa. 14 He has a message for you which will enable you and your whole household to be saved.’ 15 “But I had hardly begun speaking when the Ruach HaKodesh fell on them, just as on us at the beginning! 16 And I remembered that the Lord had said, ‘Yochanan used to immerse people in the water, but you will be immersed in the Ruach HaKodesh.’ 17 Therefore, if God gave them the same gift as he gave us after we had come to put our trust in the Lord Yeshua the Messiah, who was I to stand in God’s way?” 18 On hearing these things, they stopped objecting and began to praise God, saying, “This means that God has enabled the Goyim as well to do t’shuvah (repentance) and have life!” ~ Acts 11:1-18

The observant Jews in the Messianic Community were amazed that Gentiles could become part of God’s people, part of the Messiah’s Body, without first becoming Jews. To oppose something that so clearly had a divine stamp of approval on it would oppose God. Kefa’s explanation caused the other Jewish Believers to give God glory for granting repentance resulting in life even to the Gentiles.

Today, the situation is precisely the opposite: many Gentile Believers are amazed at the movement of Messianic Jews that claims Jews can accept the Jewish Messiah, Yeshua, without taking on the lifestyle of Gentiles. The more things change, the more they stay the same!

In my next post, we learn that Kefa gets caught up in Herod Agrippa I’s Persecution of the Saints.

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First Gentile Believers ~ Part 6

Cornelius, His Family, and Guests Are Baptized

In my last post, we learned that Cornelius Shares His Vision with Kefa, and Kefa Preached the Gospel. In this post, we learn that Cornelius, His Family, and Guests Are Baptized.

44 Kefa was still saying these things when the Ruach HaKodesh fell on all who were hearing the message. 45 All the believers from the Circumcision faction who had accompanied Kefa were amazed that the gift of the Ruach HaKodesh was also being poured out 46 on the Goyim, for they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God. Kefa’s response was, 47 “Is anyone prepared to prohibit these people from being immersed in water? After all, they have received the Ruach HaKodesh, just as we did.” 48 And he ordered that they be immersed in the name of Yeshua, the Messiah. Then they asked Kefa to stay on with them for a few days. ~ Acts 10:44-48 (CJB)

Had Kefa and company not seen for themselves that the Ruach HaKodesh came on these non-Jews precisely as, on themselves, they would not have immersed them with the manifestation of speaking in other languages. As with Kefa (vv. 9–29), it took a supernatural act of God to dislodge their resistance to bringing Gentiles into the Body of the Messiah, accomplished and symbolized by immersion. Cornelius, his family, and his friends were the first Gentiles to enter the Messianic Community without becoming Jews first.

This was highly reminiscent of the Ethiopian eunuch’s request for baptism (Acts 8:36). As with the eunuch, there was now no barrier, no way anyone could hinder the baptism of these Gentiles and their full inclusion into the Messianic Community.

Verse 45 presents an interesting phrase that may have snuck by us, the believers from the Circumcision faction, or, more literally, “the believers from the Circumcision,” which could mean not a faction but all Jewish believers. Which is it? In his commentary on this passage, David Stern has this to say:

In Acts 15:5, 21:20; Galatians 2:12; and Titus 1:10, “the Circumcision Faction” refers to a subgroup of Messianic Jews, namely, those who insisted that Gentiles could not join the Messianic Community merely by trusting in God and His Messiah Yeshua; they had to become Jewish proselytes. This faction would have consisted of saved Jews who, in their former life as non-Messianic Jews, considered God-fearers fence-straddlers that ought to convert to Judaism. Faith in Yeshua would not have made them change their opinion because the possibility that Gentiles could be members of the Messianic Community without becoming Jews had never arisen.

But at Romans 4:9, 4:12, 15:8; Galatians 2:7–9 and Ephesians 2:11, “the Circumcision” is used merely to distinguish Jews from Gentiles.

Whether it means all Messianic Jews or the faction that wanted Gentile Believers to convert to Judaism is elucidated by what it was that bothered them. It is not reasonable to suppose that all Messianic Jews, or even a significant majority of them, would have both experienced amazement at God’s giving the Ruach HaKodesh to Gentiles (this verse) and criticized Kefa for entering Gentiles’ homes and eating with them (Acts 11:2–3). Only Jews (Messianic or non-Messianic) concerned with Gentiles would have had such reactions. Therefore, my rendering of the Circumcision faction. [1]

In my next post, we follow Kefa Back to Yerushalayim to Brief the other Emissaries.

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[1] Jewish New Testament Commentary.

First Gentile Believers ~ Part 5

Cornelius Shares His Vision with Kefa

In my last post, we learned that Kefa Went to Cornelius. In this post, we learn that Cornelius Shares His Vision with Kefa, and Kefa Preaches the Gospel.

30 Cornelius answered, “Three days ago around this time, I was at minchah prayers [1] in my house, when suddenly a man in shining clothes stood in front of me 31 and said, ‘God has heard your prayer and remembered your acts of charity. 32 Now send to Yafo and ask for Shim ‘on, known as Kefa; he is staying in the house of Shim ‘on, a leather-tanner, by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and you have been kind enough to come. Now all of us are here in the presence of God to hear everything the Lord has ordered you to say.” 34 Then Kefa addressed them: “I now understand that God does not play favorites, 35 but that whoever fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him, no matter what people he belongs to.

God does not play favorites, but … whoever fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him, no matter what people he belongs to. The Judaism of the rabbis has comparable teaching that among the nations, there are righteous people “who have a share in the world to come,” where righteousness for Gentiles is often defined as keeping the seven Noachide laws (see Acts 15:20).

36 “Here is the message that he sent to the sons of Isra’el announcing shalom through Yeshua the Messiah, who is Lord of everything.

Jewish people, in general, would call God “Lord of all.” “Preaching peace” alludes to the concept of Isra’el’s redemption, found in Isaiah 52:7 and similar passages, although even God-fearing Gentiles might miss this allusion.

37 You know what has been going on throughout Y’hudah, starting from the Galil after the immersion that Yochanan proclaimed; 38 how God anointed Yeshua from Natzeret with the Ruach HaKodesh and with power; how Yeshua went about doing good and healing all the people oppressed by the Adversary because God was with Him.

Depending on how much Cornelius knows about Judaism, he may recognize that anyone anointed with the Ruach HaKodesh in his own time would be considered extraordinary by his Jewish contemporaries.

39 “As for us, we are witnesses of everything He did, both in the Judean countryside and in Yerushalayim. They did away with Him by hanging Him on a stake; 40 but God raised Him up on the third day and let Him be seen, 41 not by all the people, but by witnesses God had previously chosen, that is, by us, who ate and drank with Him after He had risen again from the dead. 42 “Then He commanded us to proclaim and attest to the Jewish people that this man has been appointed by God to judge the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets bear witness to Him, that everyone who puts his trust in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His name.” ~ Acts 10:30-43.

Kefa’s sermon points to these God-fearing Gentiles: Yeshua is sent by God and is still alive. He will be the final judge of all human beings. The Tanakh points to Him. Those who trust in His mercy will be forgiven their sins through His name, that is, because of who He is and what He has done. What an excellent summation of the Gospel Message!

In my next post, we will continue to examine Kefa’s encounter with Cornelius in First Gentile Believers ~ Part 6 where Cornelius, His Family, and Guests Are Baptized.

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[1] Literally, “I was at the ninth hour praying in my house.”

First Gentile Believers ~ Part 4

Kefa Goes to Cornelius

In my last post, we learned that Kefa was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean. In this post, we learn that Kefa Goes to Cornelius.

23b The next day, he (Kefa) got up and went with them, accompanied by some of the brothers from Yafo; 24, and he arrived at Caesarea the day after that. Cornelius was expecting them—he had already called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Kefa entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell prostrate at his feet. 26 But Kefa pulled him to his feet and said, “Stand up! I myself am just a man.”

Fell prostrate at his feet to welcome him, also to honor him as God’s messenger, but not to “worship” him (as some English versions have it). As a God-fearer, Cornelius would have known better. However, Kefa’s response, Stand up! I myself am just a man, shows that Kefa misread what Cornelius did as an act of idolatry to be expected from a pagan. This had to be a very awkward moment for both of them.

27 As he talked with him, Kefa went inside and found many people gathered. 28 He said to them, “You are well aware that for a man who is a Jew to have a close association with someone who belongs to another people, or to come and visit him, is something that just isn’t done. But God has shown me not to call any person common or unclean; 29 so when I was summoned, I came without raising any questions. Tell me, then, why did you send for me?” ~ Acts 10:23b-29 (CJB) (Emphasis added).

You are well aware that for a man who is a Jew to have a close association with someone who belongs to another people or to come and visit him is something that just isn’t done. Before examining whether Jews did, in fact, keep themselves aloof from Gentiles, take note of Kefa’s careful word choices. He uses the Greek word “allophulos,” which means “someone who belongs to another tribe,” used only here in the New Testament. Also, the Greek word “athemitos,” used only twice in the New Testament, does not mean “unlawful, forbidden, against Jewish law,” as found in other English versions, but rather “taboo, out of the question, not considered right, against standard practice, contrary to cultural norms.”

Kefa Now Understands the Meaning of His Vision

But God has shown me not to call any person common or unclean. If Jewish law made Gentile products and practices unclean, it would have been only human, all too human, for people to have extended the description, unclean, to Gentiles themselves. Such attitudes would have been not so much taught as caught, absorbed from the whole milieu, and these attitudes’ influence would have quickly become pervasive. This is why it took direct intervention from God to shake Kefa loose from them.

As I explained in my last post, this verse proves that the meaning of Kefa’s vision had nothing to do with abolishing kashrut’s laws. With this statement and its expansion in vv. 34–35 Kefa puts his dealings with Cornelius and his friends on a new footing: a barrier that both sides might have thought insuperable, that would have made true spiritual communion impossible, is removed altogether.

In my next post, we will continue to examine Kefa’s encounter with Cornelius in First Gentile Believers ~ Part 5 where Cornelius Shares His Vision with Kefa.

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