Whenever I read through the New Testament I am amazed at the violent reaction against Christians. Towards the second half of the Book of Acts I can understand, somewhat, why the Jewish people are so strongly against the movement. This new group was destroying the boundaries between being Jewish and non-Jewish. These were boundaries that the Jewish people thought were (almost literally) inscribed in stone to define them as the chosen people of God. And the Church seemed not to care about these supposedly God-given boundaries.
But something hit me when I was doing the readings for today. Paul himself talks about how violently he persecuted the Church. He said in 26:11, “In one synagogue after another—indeed, in all the synagogues—I would often torture them, compelling them to slander God. My rage bordered on the hysterical as I pursued them, even to foreign cities.” This was not because of Gentiles being included in the fellowship, as that was not yet happening. Rather, this has more to do with the idea that God had already acted in Jesus Christ.
Why such animosity, though? Why would Jesus and his movement create such a violent response in people? Because of something else Paul said. He was recounting his commissioning by Jesus, and he relates that Jesus said to him
I am sending you to open their eyes. Then they can turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, and receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are made holy by faith in me.
The message of Christ is not simply I need to admit I can’t live correctly on my own and ask God for help. Nor is it only I am truly sorry for my sins and ask for forgiveness. Both of these sentiments are a part of the Christian life, but neither of these would be bad enough to elicit the kind of response Paul had above. No, the Christian message is nothing short of leaving the dominion of Satan and entering into the dominion of God. It is a repudiation of all that is fallen and evil in the world, of all that is corrupt in our nature, and seeking a life that is dictated by God. It is a battle cry in every life to combat the forces of evil, spiritual and physical in this world, and to live as a member of the reign of God on earth.
Christianity is a mission to move from the realm of Satan to the realm of God. And that can make people angry, because it implies that everyone needs to make that journey as well. It means a decision has to be made; a road needs to be followed in life. There is no middle ground.