Turning the world upside down

The effect of Paul’s second missionary journey was that an upheaval began to occur that started breaking apart the foundation of the Roman Empire. The Jewish leaders were concerned about Paul’s ministry because it was undermining their authority and the traditions they had established that were meant to keep the Jews dependent on the priests and Levites that controlled their religious system. While Paul was in Thessalonica preaching the gospel, it says in Acts 17:5-7, “the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received: and these all do contrary to the decrees of Cesar, saying that there is another king, one Jesus.”

The accusation brought against Paul may have been an extreme exaggeration, but there was probably some truth to the statement that he was turning the world upside down. What was going on was very threatening to both the Jewish and Roman leaders because people were realizing they didn’t have to follow the examples they were being given. Paul told people there was another way to live their lives that would result in happiness, joy, and peace. In the background of what was happening was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies that had predicted the fall of the Roman Empire. Daniel’s interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Daniel 2:37-44) outlined God’s plan of salvation and revealed that a series of world kingdoms would be established on Earth and eventually be destroyed when Jesus came and established his eternal kingdom. Referring to the image that Nebuchadnezzar saw in his dream, Daniel said, “And as the toes of the feet were part of iron, and part of clay, so the kingdom shall be partly strong, and partly broken. And whereas thou sawest iron mixt with miry clay, they shall mingle themselves with the seed of men: but they shall not cleave one to another, even as iron is not mixed with clay. And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all the kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” (Daniel 2:42-44).

Isaiah also talked about a time when the world would be turned upside down in reference to the judgment for universal sin (Isaiah 24). Many people may have been fearful of Paul’s message because they knew it was a sign that God’s judgment was coming and understood that there would be no way for them to escape eternal punishment for their sins except through belief in Jesus Christ. The bottom line was the Jews didn’t want to repent, they wanted things to continue as they had been for hundreds, even thousands of years. The special treatment they had received from God had caused the majority of the Jews’ hearts to become hardened beyond repair.

Trickery

The Jewish religious leaders that were intent on having Jesus put to death tried to trick him into saying something that they could use against him in a court of law. Matthew described this situation by saying the Pharisees “took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk” (Matthew 22:15). The Greek word translated entangle, pagideauo (pag-id-yoo´-o) means to ensnare (G3802). Pagideauo is derived from the word pagis which means “a trap (as fastened by a noose or notch); figuratively a trick or stratagem (temptation)” (G3803). It seems likely that what was going on during the last few days of Jesus life was an intense spiritual battle that may have involved numerous agents of Satan. The Apostle Paul’s description of spiritual warfare indicated there are many levels and sources of spiritual attack (Ephesians 6:12). He instructed believers to “put on the whole armour of God, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).

The Greek word translated wiles in Ephesians 6:11, methodeia is a compound of two words that means “traveling over that is travesty (trickery)” (G3180). The root words refer to travel (G3593) and accompaniment (G3326), suggesting that Satan is aware of the course of our lives and plans his attacks so that we won’t make any spiritual progress. Jesus’ determination to die on the cross was both helped and hindered by Satan. The most critical aspect of what was going on at the time of Jesus’ death was the requirement for him to have lived a sinless life in order to be qualified as the savior of the world. If Satan could somehow cause Jesus to sin before he was crucified, then Jesus would have died for his own sin, not the substitutionary death of everyone else. The Pharisees strategy when they approached Jesus with the question “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Cesar, or not?” (Matthew 22:17), was to make him an enemy of the state. If Jesus said it was unlawful for Caesar to collect taxes from the Jews, then Jesus could have been arrested and put to death for rebellion against Rome.

Jesus was aware of what the Pharisees were trying to do (Matthew 22:18) and overcame their trickery with his brilliant response to their question about paying taxes. He said, “Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Cesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Cesar the things which are Cesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” (Matthew 22:19-21). Jesus diffused the situation by identifying the origin of the coins that were being used for commerce in Jerusalem. Although its laws and culture had been imposed on the Jews, many people were getting rich as a result of Roman occupation and it’s likely that the Jews’ overall quality of life had been greatly improved. Therefore, it made sense for the Jews to pay their share of taxes. Matthew indicated that the Pharisees were impressed with Jesus’ response. He said of their reaction “When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left him, and went their way” (Matthew 22:22).

Great faith

Jesus focused his attention primarily on the population of Jews that lived in the areas of Israel that were occupied by Rome. These areas were known as the Decapolis, Tetrarchy of Phillip, and Tetrarchy of Herod Antipas. Among the Jews were numerous Roman soldiers that enforced the laws of Rome and kept the Jewish people from rebelling against the Roman Emperor, Tiberius Caesar. Some of these Roman soldiers were influenced by Jesus’ teaching and came to believe that he was the Son of God (Matthew 27:54). One of the incidents, when Jesus interacted with a Roman soldier, is recorded in Matthew 8:5-13. In Matthew’s account, the man, who was called a centurion because he was an officer in charge of 100 soldiers, came to Jesus asking him for a favor, “And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented” (Matthew 8:6). Although it is not stated, it is very likely that the centurion’s servant was a Jew. Jesus responded to this man’s request by stating, “I will come and heal him” (Matthew 8:7).

The centurion didn’t want Jesus to come to his house. He went to Jesus to ask him to do a miracle for him, but this Roman soldier understood something that no one in the Jewish population seemed to get. He said to Jesus, “Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed.” (Matthew 8:8). Jesus’ authority as the Son of God made it possible for him to command the spiritual realm by merely speaking a word. The apostle John described Jesus as the living word of God and testified that, “All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3). Because the centurion was a man with authority and was able to command others to do what he wanted them to, he realized that it was possible for Jesus to heal his servant without even seeing him. The centurion explained, “For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth: and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it” (Matthew 8:9).

Jesus’ reaction to the centurion’s profession of faith demonstrated that he was not concerned about who asked for help, but only that there was a genuine belief that he was capable of doing what was being requested of him. Jesus said of the centurion, “Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no not in Israel” (Matthew 8:10). Jesus’s criticism of his own people was followed by an indictment against them that their inheritance as descendants of Abraham would be given to those that truly believed in him. Jesus declared to the Jews, “And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:11-12). Afterward, Jesus concluded the incident by rewarding the centurion for his great faith, and said to him, “Go thy way; and as thou hast believed, so be it done unto thee” (Matthew 8:13).

On the run

After the wise men left Bethlehem, Jesus’ father was directed to leave Judea, the Roman territory under King Herod’s jurisdiction. It says in Matthew 2:13-14, “And when they had departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him. Then he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed to Egypt.” Subsequent to their departure, Herod ordered all the children in Bethlehem who were two years old and younger to be killed (Matthew 2:16). Clearly, Herod believed the wise men’s report that the Jewish Messiah had been born and was concerned about the threat Jesus (as a young child) posed to his kingdom.

Herod the Great ruled over Judea from 37-4 B.C., so we know that Joseph’s family left the area sometime before 4 B.C. While Joseph was living in Egypt, he received another message from the Lord, “Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life. And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel. But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judea in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee” (Matthew 2:20-22). Archelaus reigned from 4 B.C. – 6 A.D. Therefore, Joseph and his family had to have returned to Judea sometime before 6 A.D. Although we don’t know the exact dates of Joseph’s departure and return to Judea, it can be assumed that his family was on the run from the Roman authorities no more than a decade because Luke reported that Jesus’ family was living in Nazareth when he was twelve years old (Luke 2:42, 52).

The instructions Joseph received from the angels that appeared to him in his dreams, “Arise, and take the young child and his mother…” (Matthew 2:13, 20) may have been spiritual commands that actually came from Jesus, but were delivered through angels because he was too young to speak for himself. All the other instances in the New Testament of the use of the Greek verb egeiro (eg – i – ro) are associated with Jesus’ ministry, e.g. “Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thine house” (Matthew 9:6). Jesus’ power and authority were not temporarily assigned to him during his three-and-a-half year ministry on earth, but were always available to him, even before he was the child that was born to Joseph and Mary. One of the most likely reasons Herod wanted to kill the baby Jesus was because Herod understood that even before Jesus could speak, his spiritual authority exceeded his own.