A series of three prophetic studies outlining Jewish history, as presented by Amos, Daniel and by the Conference at Jerusalem (Acts, chap. 15)
The Program of the Jerusalem Conference
(as outlined in Acts, chap. 15)
The Judaizers at Antioch
TWO MONTHS AGO we studied Amos, chapter 9, and traced the full course of Jewish history in outline through the centuries--including the present dispensation--and into the millennial reign of our Lord. The Christian Era, as we learned, is sandwiched in between the time when God destroyed the "sinful kingdom" and the Tribulation when the sinners are purged from Israel. This sinful kingdom was completely destroyed in 70 A.D., when the Romans under Titus overthrew Jerusalem. Since that time the Jews have been scattered among all peoples of earth. At the conclusion of this era God will destroy all the wicked from Israel, but will preserve the faithful remnant. When He does this, He will "raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen," that is, He will re-establish the Davidic monarchy under the personal rule of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We also saw in the study of Daniel, chapter 9, that the prophet looked forward and saw the execution of King Messiah at the end of the sixty-ninth week, or the four hundred and eighty-third year of this prophecy. Then he looked beyond that point to the destruction of Jerusalem which was in the year 70 A.D. From that event his penetrating vision surveyed the centuries of the Christian Era to the end of the seventieth week of the prediction. He saw that the last week of years of this period precedes immediately the establishment of the kingdom of God upon earth. We therefore see that Daniel saw clearly this entire Christian Dispensation separating the sixty-ninth week from the seventieth.
IN THE present installment of this series we are to examine the fifteenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles in which we find a quotation from Amos, chapter 9, and which speaks of the restoration of the Davidic throne.
In order to see the force of this quotation from the Old Testament, we must study Acts, chapter 15, in its entirety. By so doing, we can observe the relation of the various elements entering into this marvelous portion of the Word.
The church of Jesus Christ was established in Jerusalem on the first Pentecost after the resurrection of our Lord, when the Holy Spirit came upon the Apostles and spoke through them in such an effectual manner that about three thousand people were brought together into a spiritual fellowship, that is known as the church of God. Among the Jews there were many who had formerly been Pharisees and who were sticklers for the law of Moses. Having been reared in a legalistic atmosphere and having been taught the necessity of obedience to the law, many converts from this group were unable to see and to appreciate the doctrine of free grace. The gospel was first preached in Jerusalem, then in Judaea, next in Samaria, and finally unto the uttermost part of the earth. The Apostle Peter was, as we shall see, selected by the Lord to be the one through whom the message should be first proclaimed to the Gentiles. When Paul was converted, he went immediately into Arabia, and then, after a brief visit of two weeks at Jerusalem, he went off into Syria and Cilicia where he preached Christ (Gal. 1:22-24). In the meantime certain ones, who had been scattered abroad from Jerusalem over the stoning of Stephen, went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the Word to Hellenistic Jews. The Word of the Lord was received with such great enthusiasm in Antioch of Syria that the church grew very rapidly. Barnabas, who had been sent from Jerusalem to Antioch, went over to Tarsus, found Paul, and brought him to Antioch where he ministered for an indefinite time. Finally, the brethren at Antioch, by the hands of Barnabas and Saul, sent relief to the poor brethren in Jerusalem to help them during the famine which had been foretold by the Prophet Agabus (Acts 11:27-30). Upon their return to Antioch, the Holy Spirit gave instructions that these two should be separated for a definite, specific mission. They were therefore set apart to the gospel ministry among the Gentiles. They set sail from Antioch. This was the beginning of Paul's famous missionary tour which carried him into the very heart of Asia Minor. Whenever they reached any given place, they preached the gospel to the Jews of that locality--if there were any--and then turned to the Gentiles of the same community. The hand of the Lord was with them and great hosts of people accepted the Lord Jesus in the various cities visited by them. They went as far as Derbe where they turned around and retraced their steps, strengthening the hearts of their converts and establishing them in the faith. Finally, they returned to Antioch from which place they had been sent forth to the work which they had accomplished. Upon arrival they rehearsed the great things which God had done through them. Their report caused great rejoicing on the part of the brethren who were sponsoring their missionary program.
In the meantime the report of this evangelization activity among the Gentiles had reached the ears of the brethren at Jerusalem. Certain ones of the mother church, having been reared in the atmosphere of legalism and being unable to appreciate free grace, undertook a campaign to require that all from among the Gentiles who accepted Christ should submit to the law of Moses and be circumcised. They therefore went as far as Antioch and caused great trouble in the church of that city. The young converts from heathenism were disturbed greatly, and the church seems to have been in an uproar. Prior to the coming of the Judaizers, these young Christians were rejoicing in their newly-found Saviour and in the hope of eternal life upon the basis of free grace offered to all who believe. They were therefore disconcerted by those coming from the mother church at Jerusalem who said that faith in Christ was not sufficient, but that the formula for salvation was faith in Christ plus circumcision and keeping the law.
Paul and Barnabas Sent to Jerusalem
According to Acts 15:2-4 the church at Antioch sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to take up with the elders of the home church the question as to whether or not the Gentile believers should also observe the law of Moses. This decision to send these two men was indeed wise, for both of them were from Jerusalem. They also had established themselves in the confidence of the Antioch church.
As they traveled southward toward Jerusalem, going through Phoenicia and then through Samaria, they declared to the brethren the conversion of the Gentiles. This report brought joy to their hearts.
The First Public Meeting
Upon reaching Jerusalem, Paul and Barnabas were received by the church, the Apostles, and the elders, to whom they rehearsed all the things that God had done through them. There was a certain section of the church, consisting of the Pharisees who believed, that was not caused to rejoice concerning the conversion of the Gentiles. These brethren were the ones who had been sponsoring the campaign to require all Gentile believers to submit to circumcision and to observe the law of Moses. Doubtless the brethren of the Pharisaic type, who had gone up to Antioch and caused the trouble in the church there, were sent and sponsored by the Pharisaic group in the church at Jerusalem. These men therefore insisted that the Gentiles must accept the doctrines of legalism and conform thereto.
It seems that there was a deadlock in this first public meeting when the legalists arose en masse and insisted upon the church's accepting their dogmatic, legalistic policies.
A Private Conference of the Leaders
When Galatians 2:1-10 is studied carefully in the light of all the facts presented by Luke in Acts, one comes to the conclusion that the meeting and conference which Paul had with those who were reputed to be pillars in the church at Jerusalem, namely, Peter, James, and John (Gal. 2:1-10) was a private interview which Paul held with these leaders. Thus when we blend the two accounts together, it seems most highly probable that, when the Judaizers arose in such a determined stand against the Apostles, Paul and Barnabas, the meeting was adjourned. Then there was this private meeting between Paul, Peter, James, and John, in which they discussed the issues involved. We may be certain that those who were the pillars of the mother church concurred with the Apostle Paul in his position regarding free grace and the acceptance of the Gentile believers. This was indeed a wise and statesmanlike manner of handling a most difficult situation. Thus unanimity was reached on the vital issues between these outstanding leaders. This done, everything was ready for the second public meeting.
Second Public Meeting
By a close study of Acts 15:1-16 one comes to the conclusion that between verses 5 and 6 there is a break in the narrative. We must locate the private meeting referred to in Galatians 2:1-10 in this interval. Then we read in verses 6-29 of a second public meeting and what occurred in it. Verse 6 demands this interpretation; for we are told, "And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter." When we glance back at verse 4, we see that the Apostles, together with the church and the elders, were all gathered together and received Paul who rehearsed what God had done through him and Barnabas. This gathering of the Apostles and elders, therefore, mentioned in verse 6, evidently is a second convocation of the church to discuss the matter in hand more thoroughly.
When the meeting was called to order, there seems to have been quite a bit of debate on the subject in hand; for we are told: "When there had been much questioning, Peter rose up, and said unto them ..." Evidently, then, there was quite a discussion about whether or not the Gentile converts should be required to submit to circumcision and to observe the law of Moses.
Peter made a short speech; but every word counted. Hear him.
"Brethren, ye know that a good while ago God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. 8 And God, who knoweth the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us; 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now therefore why make ye trial of God, that ye should put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? 11 But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in like manner as they" (Acts 15:7b-11).
From the above speech we see that Peter called attention to the fact that God had chosen him to be the first to speak the message of salvation to the Gentiles. This was done at the household of Cornelius (Acts, chap. 10). He then called attention to the fact that God, who knows the hearts of all, had borne witness, "giving them [the Gentiles] the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us; and he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith." There is no other formula for salvation except faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Works are excluded. Salvation is of pure grace, which is appropriated by an unswerving faith.
Very incisively Peter asked those brethren (the Judaizers) why they should make trial of God by putting the yoke of circumcision and of the law of Moses upon the Gentiles, which burden the Jews had been unable to bear. He concluded his speech by declaring, "We believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in like manner as they." According to Peter's speech all ceremonialism was excluded. Both Jews and Gentiles are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus. They are saved in the same way--without submitting to ceremony. Since Peter referred to his use of the keys of the kingdom of heaven in his preaching at the household of Cornelius, a glance at the tenth chapter of Acts will throw light upon this speech. When one looks at it, one sees that Peter preached salvation through Christ and Christ alone, which is appropriated by faith--and not by submitting to any ceremonialism, not even to baptism. According to Acts 10:43 Peter declared to the Gentiles: "To him [that is, Jesus] bear all the prophets witness, that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins." While he was speaking those words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard them. The coming of the Spirit was for the purpose of regenerating and saving them. His coming was also conclusive evidence that God had accepted the Gentile believers. After the Spirit had already come upon them, Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ (Acts 10:48).
Thus the record of Acts, chapter 10, shows us exactly what Peter meant in his notable address when he spoke concerning how men are saved and how they accept the grace of the Lord Jesus.
When Peter concluded his speech, both Barnabas and Paul took the floor and rehearsed "what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles through them." Thus at this second meeting they practically gave the same report, or a similar one, to the one which they had given in the first session and which is mentioned in verse 4.
After their report James, the Lord's brother, who seemed, according to church history, to have been the leading spirit of the Jerusalem church subsequent to the time when the Apostles were scattered abroad, took the floor and made the speech which is found in Acts 15:13-21.
"13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Brethren, hearken unto me: 14 Symeon hath rehearsed how first God visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15 And to this agree the words of the prophets: as it is written, 16 After these things I will return, And I will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen; And I will build again the ruins thereof, And I will set it up: 17 That the residue of men may seek after the Lord, And all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, 18 Saith the Lord, who maketh these things known from of old. 19 Wherefore my judgment is, that we trouble not them that from among the Gentiles turn to God; 20 but that we write unto them, that they abstain from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from what is strangled, and from blood. 21 For Moses from generations of old hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath."
Humanly speaking, James leaned more toward the position of the Judaizers than toward that of free grace. At least it appears that the Judaizers felt that in him they had a champion of their position. In reality, when all of the facts are weighed thoroughly, it becomes apparent that he was not legalistic in his attitude. In his Epistle he spoke in terms of law in order that he might be understood by his brethren who thought only in such categories. When all due allowances are made for this consideration, it becomes apparent that James was not espousing a position that was contrary to that of Paul and Barnabas, in their emphasis upon free grace.
He began his speech by referring to what Symeon had said regarding God's having first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name (vs. 14). The adverb first in this verse is an echo of the expression, a good while ago, in the first statement that Peter made and it goes back to his receiving the Gentiles into the fellowship of the church at the household of Cornelius. Thus in this verse James sums up all of Peter's speech which, as we have already seen, states that God at the present time is making no distinction between Jews and Gentiles, but is cleansing their hearts by faith--in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Apostles were charged by the Lord to wait in Jerusalem for the promise of the Spirit. Upon His coming to them, they were to preach the gospel first in Jerusalem, then in Judaea, next in Samaria, and then unto the uttermost part of the earth. They were also to proclaim the glad news unto the consummation of the age (Matt. 28:19,20). In their doing this, God is through their ministry visiting the nations of earth to take out from them a people for His name.
The word that is translated "visited" in the original is in the aorist verb-stem, a timeless tense. This form of the verb, as all Greek grammarians know, expresses point or punctiliar action. James' employment of this form shows that he thought of this entire period of grace, the Christian Dispensation, as a whole, a single unit of time, during which God is gathering out believers from all nations to constitute the people of God. The words of James can bear no other interpretation--when studied in the light of all the facts.
The speaker then declared that this present calling out of believers from among the nations to be the people of God, "an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation," is not contrary to the program outlined by the prophets, but rather is in perfect agreement with their messages. Hear him: "And to this agree the words of the prophets ..." There are no contradictions in the Word of God. What often seem to be discrepancies disappear in the light of all the facts when they are studied properly.
James declared that the Lord's program for the present dispensation, as stated above, is in perfect agreement with the words of the prophets. As proof of this position he quotes from Amos 9:11,12 and introduces this prophecy with the words, "As it is written." Amos spoke the prophecy which is quoted here. Nevertheless, James said that the program outlined by Peter for the present age was in agreement with the words of the prophets. This teaching, asserted James, is in accord with the various messages of the different prophets. As proof of this position, he quoted from only one of the prophets.
The prediction as quoted by him begins as follows: "After these things I will return ..." In the original Hebrew and also in the Septuagint (Greek translation) of Amos 9:11 we have the phrase, "In that day." There is a difference between the expression, "After these things," and the phrase, "In that day." Did James misquote Amos? No one who believes the Bible to be the inspired Word of God will entertain for a moment such a thought. Has James misconstrued Amos? Such a thought is preposterous. Why, then, one may ask, did he not give the quotation exactly as it is found in the Hebrew original and the Greek translation, which was current in the first century?
In order to answer these questions properly, we must recall the facts which I presented in my discussion of Amos, chapter 9. (I earnestly urge the reader to re-study the article in question in the April issue to get the matter more clearly in mind.) Briefly, the facts are these: In Amos 9:8 we see the destruction of the sinful kingdom of Israel. Then in the next verse appears a prediction of Israel's world-wide dispersion and of God's preserving every faithful Hebrew--every grain of wheat. Then in the next verse (10) God declares that He will destroy all the sinners from among His people. The destruction of the sinful kingdom was completed in the collapse of the Jewish commonwealth in 70 A.D. Then the Jews, the house of Israel, were scattered among the nations and have remained in this condition throughout the present dispensation. This era will be followed, according to Amos 9:10, by the Tribulation during which God will destroy all the sinners from among the Jews. When this is done--in that day--at the time of the destruction of all the sinners, at the end of the Tribulation, the Lord promises to "raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof." When these facts are grasped, which the Hebrew text presents, one can see that Amos foretold the complete collapse of the Jewish nation, the Christian Dispensation, the Tribulation Period, and the great era of restoration, when the Lord will rebuild the house of David and restore the Kingdom to Israel.
When we view the program that was outlined by Peter at the Jerusalem conference in the light of the program that was fore-announced by Amos, one sees that the period during which Israel is scattered among the nations is the same as our present Era of Grace, during which God is taking out from among the nations of earth a people for His name. After God has accomplished this task, completed the body of Christ, He will, according to Amos 9:10, destroy the sinners out of Israel. Then--after these things--He will return and rebuild the house (tabernacle) of David. The parallel is perfect and plain enough for all to see.
If one will examine Acts 15:16-18 and compare it with Amos 9:11,12, one will see that James, by the Spirit, is not quoting the prophet literally--word for word. On the contrary, he is paraphrasing the passage but giving its exact meaning and weaving the prophecy into his line of thought (of course we all know that he was speaking by the Spirit of God when he did this and what he said was correct).
According to this prediction the Lord will return at the end of the Tribulation and will re-establish the throne of David and extend His kingdom throughout the whole world. He will raise up the throne of David that is fallen down,
"That the residue of men may seek after the Lord
And all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called,
Saith the Lord, who maketh these things known from of old."
The Lord is waiting for the time to come when the faithful remnant in Israel will acknowledge the national sin of rejecting her Messiah and repudiate it, calling upon Him to return and fulfill this prophecy. When thus the truth has been given to the remnant in this manner and it prays for His return, He will providentially, by the judgments of the Tribulation, have purged all the sinners from Israel and will come back, restore the remnant to its land and to His favor. Converted Israel, the new Israel, will then go forth and proclaim the truth to the rest of the Gentiles and lead them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ our Lord. This program, according to verse 18, has been made known by the Lord from of old. Let us conform our activities to those of God, and let us cooperate with Him in an intelligent manner.
James, after explaining the prophetic program, advised the Jerusalem conference to write a letter, instructing those among the Gentiles who had turned to God, to observe scrupulously the things mentioned in verse 20.
AFTER James' speech the conference, led by the Holy Spirit, wrote the letter that constitutes verses 23-29 of Acts, chapter 15, which is the first portion of the New Testament to be written.
When the conference was dismissed, Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch with the letter, which caused great joy among the brethren.
After some days Paul proposed to Barnabas that they should then return to visit the brethren where they had established churches. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark, a nephew of his, along with them. Paul dissented, knowing how Mark had acted on the former occasion on which they had taken him with them. These two great men, Paul and Barnabas, agreed to disagree. They parted, Barnabas taking Mark and Paul taking Silas. They thus went their separate ways to further missionary activity. We do not know the success with which Barnabas and Mark served, for Luke dropped them from his narrative; we do know that Mark later merited Paul's approval, for toward the close of his ministry he wrote Timothy, "Take Mark, and bring him with thee; for he is useful to me for ministering" (II Tim. 4:11). On the other hand Luke continues to tell us about the labors of Paul and Silas, whose ministry the Lord did bless.
Let us pray that the Lord may open our eyes, to see His program and enable us to fit our plans into His.
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