Tell me if I am reading this passage wrong:
As Paul and Barnabas were leaving, they [Jews in the synagogue] begged them to come back the next sabbath and tell them more about these things. Many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed them once the synagogue was dismissed. They spoke to them some more, and urged them to remain in God’s grace.
On the next sabbath, almost the whole city came together to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with righteous indignation, and spoke blasphemous words against what Paul was saying. (13:42-45)
At first, when Paul and Barnabas were in a synagogue, the Jews were interested and wanted to hear more. Less than a week later when the whole city — Jew and Gentile — shows up to hear Paul and Barnabas, the Jews who were rather receptive turn on them in anger and have them driven out of the city.
Why such a strong change?
I am wondering if the answer isn’t at the beginning of verse 45: “But when the Jews saw the crowds.” Now, when they were out in the city streets, in neutral or even foreign territory, in mixed company, when Gentiles are included in the audience being encouraged to turn to God, things change. They don’t like what Paul is preaching. More to the point, they don’t like who Paul is preaching to. God is our god, they thought. This party is by invitation-only. No Gentiles allowed. The Gentile water-fountain is around the corner.
Why the change? Well, it wasn’t because of doctrine or theology. As Paul points out in 13:47, they were arguing with their own prophet Isaiah, not him:
“I have set you for a light to the nations, so that you can be salvation-bringers to the end of the earth.”
Jewish election was not an end unto itself. God didn’t just want the Jews to receive divine light then keep it to themselves. The election of Israel was a means to an end. They were given light in order to shine it on the whole world. Blessed to bless. As far back as the calling of Abraham in Genesis 12, the Gentiles were in God’s sights.
So it seems to me that the Jews in Pisidian Antioch (and so many other places) were actually reacting from emotion rather than theology. Socially driven prejudice, not the Scriptures, flavored their decisions about what they thought God should and should not do.
I am sure glad we don’t ever do that today.