The mission of the Judaizers who were persecuting the apostle Paul and opposing his ministry to the Gentiles wasn’t simply to make converts to keep the Law of Moses in a “legalistic sense.” It was much more than that. The mission of the Judaizers was to make Jewish proselytes of the Gentiles, something Paul adamantly opposed.
Throughout Israel’s history under the Old Testament, Gentiles joined themselves to the nation of Israel and became Jews through circumcision and observances of the Law given through Moses (example Esther 8:17; Ezekiel 47:21-23) .
In Luke 16 Jesus says, “Until John the Baptist, the law of Moses and the messages of the prophets were your guides. But now the Good News of the Kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is eager to get in.” ~ Luke 16:16
The message of the kingdom of God is not a message that caters to Jewish supremacy, but is good news for the whole world.
During the earthly ministry of Jesus, the Jewish leaders who hated Jesus and eventually had him murdered, feared that their place as a nation was under threat of being lost.
Then gathered the chief priests and the Pharisees a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many miracles. If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans shall come and take away both our place and nation. ~ John 11:47-48
Throughout the book of Acts, much of the persecution against Christians was inflicted by Jews who felt their religious and national supremacy as the people of God was being threatened.
For example, when the Jews could not withstand the wisdom and the power of the Spirit by which Stephen spoke (Acts 6:10), they conspired against him.
Then they secretly instigated men who said, “We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God.” And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and they set up false witnesses who said, “This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law, for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses delivered to us.” ~ Acts 6:11-14 ESV
Later, in Acts 21, James feared that the presence of Paul in Jerusalem would cause an uproar among the zelotes.
“You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. ~ Acts 21:20b-21 ESV
Paul actually did not teach the Jews to forsake circumcision or the teachings of the Law. Paul preached to the Jews to put their faith in Christ and not to rely on their Jewish heritage for salvation and righteousness in the sight of God.
Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” ~ Acts 17: 1-3
In Acts 20 Paul says the following to the elders at Ephesus:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. ~ Acts 20:18b-21
In Acts 26, Paul testified before King Agrippa.
“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. ~ Acts 26:19-21
Paul understood that the religious Jews who opposed Jesus Christ were in spiritual darkness and that a veil was over their hearts and that the veil which kept them in darkness could only be removed by the revelation of Jesus Christ.
But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.v. 14-18
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul is countering the influence of the “Jews religion” which is in opposition of the gospel. The Jew’s religion brought division between Jews and Gentiles whom God had united as one in Christ. This division had even affected some of the other apostles. At the beginning of the letter Paul tells of his confrontation with the apostle Peter over this very thing.
When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? ~ Galatians 2:11-14
When we embrace a theology that caters towards Jewish supremacy we set ourselves in opposition to the truth of the gospel, and against the message of the cross. (Galatians 5:11; 6:12-16).
Because of the cross, there is no privilege of one ethnic group above another in the sight of God. Paul expounds on this throughout Romans but it is often missed because many have been conditioned to read Romans through the lens of Calvin or Luther. The book of Romans was written by Paul, who was a Jew, who thought through the scriptures as a Jewish scholar having found his identity in Jesus the Messiah. Paul was a reformed Jew and his view of scripture revolved round Jesus the Messiah and the Holy Spirit.
Throughout his epistles, Paul takes the language of the Torah and finds Jesus in it and expounds on it so that not only the Jew, but the Gentile as well, can understand the mystery of God hidden in Christ. That which God had promised to do, he has done in and through Jesus the Messiah. The mystery which was hidden in Christ was that the promised blessing belongs to the whole world and not to one race of people only.
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. ~ Ephesians 3:1-6