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THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL
In the Apostolic age, as at the present day, only a minority even of the preachers, who were many, had clear and cloudless light on the pure and immaterial spirituality of the gracious economy. While the apostles, their evangelistic comrades and many others were walking in cloudless, spiritual day, they prudentially waived the prominence of all non-essential though innocent temporalities, incidentally appertaining to the visible church. While in Jerusalem they let the Jewish Christians go ahead with bloody sacrifices and everything their consciences demanded under the law of Moses, as they knew interdiction in those matters would jostle many of their Jewish converts to the Christhood of Jesus; for the same reason they utterly ignored everything appertaining to the Mosaic dispensation among the Gentiles. Consequently preachers coming down from Judea into Syria had greatly disturbed them by persistent effort to foist on them the Mosaic law. Of course, Paul and Barnabas, in the clear light of the pure spirituality of the gospel, courageously withstood these Jewish preachers, and defended the Gentile Christians against all encroachments on their free gospel rights and privileges. Consequently, the church at Antioch, the Gentile metropolis, representative of the Gentile wing of Christendom, resolved to settle the matter by sending delegates along with Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to submit this vexed question to the apostles and elders.
1-8. Peter certifies before the council that this question had been settled by the heavenly vision at Joppa and the descension of the Holy Ghost on the Gentiles at Caesarea, seven years ago, none of whom had ever received any of the Jewish ordinances, thus God Himself clearly confirming his acceptance of them, precisely as He had the Jews on the day of Pentecost.
9. “And put no difference between us and them, purifying their hearts by faith.” This Scripture settles forever the fact that the hearts of the apostles on the day of Pentecost were purified by faith, in order to be filled with the Holy Ghost. It also settles the matter beyond the possibility of cavil that the plan of salvation is the very same for Jew and Gentile, at Jerusalem and in the uttermost parts of the earth. All hearts must be purified by faith after conversion, as in case of the apostles, and then filled with the Holy Ghost.
10, 11. Here Peter pleads with them to put no yoke on the necks of the disciples, whether Gentiles or Jews, assuring them that all are saved by the free grace of God through faith, without works, legal obedience or ritual ceremonies. Of course, true saving faith is in its very nature always obedient, yet the faith is the only condition of salvation, and not the obedience, which would involve the popish heresy of salvation by works.
We constantly have this trouble with the holiness people. After the Omnipotent Savior has broken from our necks every yoke sin and Satan ever put on us, oh! how we are tempted to let good people put yokes on us, or even with our own hands to put them on our necks again. “If the Son shall make you free you shall be free indeed” (John 8:34). Jesus wants to make you free as angels and keep you free forever. Beware that you do not take a yoke of bondage.
13. Now James, the brother of our Lord and pastor of the Apostolic church at Jerusalem, rises after Peter and proceeds, delivering a number of focalized statements, which speak volumes appertaining to the gospel, church and human destiny.
14. “Simeon hath expounded how God in the first place interposed to take a people from the Gentiles in his name.” It is a great mistake to suppose that the gospel is to save the world. They will not have it, though it is free for them. This old fallen world is like a ship in mid-ocean, unseaworthy, irreparable and destined to founder; while the gospel is the lifeboat, not to save the old wrecking ship going down with her drunken crew and frolicking passengers, but to rescue every earnest fugitive, who will leave the ship, with all his fortunes to sink to the bottom of the ocean, escape for life, get aboard the old ship of Zion and sail away for glory. Here you see from James’s statement that the work of the gospel is simply “to take from the nations a people in his name,” i. e., the elect, as none others will receive the gospel.
15. “To this correspond the words of the prophets, as has been written:
16. “After these things I will return and build again the dynasty of David which has fallen into decay, and will build again the ruins of the same and set it up” (Amos 9:11-12). James quotes this prophecy in the Jerusalem council, of course giving it full New Testament endorsement, plainly and positively stating that our Savior will return to the earth after we shall have preached the gospel to every nation, thus calling out the elect and getting the Bride ready for the return of her Divine Spouse. James here positively certifies, in harmony with the old prophets, that, after we have preached the gospel to every nation, our glorified Savior will return to the earth and restore again the temporal kingdom of David, which at that time was in dilapidation and so continues to the present day. “Tabernacle,” E. V., is skeenee in the original, and means dynasty, or the royal line of David. [See Robinson’s New Testament Greek Dictionary.] David’s kingdom was not human, but divine, i. e., the theocracy extended down on the earth, but centralized in heaven, on which our Lord was crowned when He ascended (Acts 2:30), the lineal heir of David, and which He will encumber till His Father shall make all of His enemies on the earth, i. e., royal rivals, political and ecclesiastical, His “footstool” (Acts 2:35). Then He will return according to these prophecies of both Testaments, restoring the interregnum of David’s kingdom on the earth and extending it throughout the inhabitable globe, Himself crowned King of kings and Lord of lords to reign forever.
17. “In order that the remainders of men may seek out the Lord, even all the Gentiles, on whom my name has been called, upon the same, saith the Lord, who doeth all things known from the beginning.” Here we see the great and glorious harvest of souls, all saved during the preceding dark ages of Satan’s reign, being but the “first fruits” adumbratory of the glorious millennial harvest when our Lord returns. This is quite feasible, when we remember that the unsavable millions will fall in the great tribulation (Daniel 7:9; Acts 3:23; Revelation 11:18) and Satan will be cast out (Revelation 20:2). Consequently with no devils on the earth to hold them back, millions of transfigured saints, moving with the velocity of lightning, will return with the glorified Savior to preach the gospel to “the remainders of peoples” who have survived the great tribulation, because God knows they will not reject the salvation of His Son in the absence of the devil on the earth. No wonder they will “seek out the Lord,” i. e., seek Him effectually till they find Him, and all get saved. That is the good time coming, “when a nation shall be born in a day.” Do you believe in second probation? We are all living in a second probation, which supervened on the inauguration of the redemptive scheme after the Fall, the first probation having been forfeited in the Fall. The same probation in which we live will continue through the millennium down to the end of the mediatorial reign
(1 Corinthians 15:24-28), i. e., to the end of time, when our glorified Savior, having wound up His mediatorial reign in the final judgment, will surrender up the kingdom to the Father. A materialistic heresy, teaching a future probation for the wicked, is going abroad, but flatly contradictory of the inspired Word. Satan propagates heresies on all lines of truth, to cover it up so the people will not see it and be saved. Some of the devil’s heresies along these problems we are now discussing are so occult that none but spiritually-illuminated eyes will detect them.
19. “Therefore I judge that we trouble not those from the Gentiles turning unto God,
20. “But to command them to abstain from things offered to idols, from fornication, strangulation, and blood.” We see here that the Jerusalem council of apostles and elders, i. e., the highest tribunal this side of heaven, eliminated everything out of the gospel dispensation but pure spirituality; nothing but entire sanctification saves people from idolatry. Israel carried their idols in all their wilderness peregrinations. Modern churches are full of idolatry, worshipping watergods, day-gods, creed-gods, and sect-gods and many others. Thorough sanctification is the only remedy for idolatry. Why is fornication here specified alone among all the vulgar vices? It is because if you would be a member of the bridehood you must get married to the Lord Jesus Christ, thus forever discarding all other lovers, delighted with Jesus only, your Savior, Husband, Friend. This spiritual wedlock takes place in entire sanctification. Why is the blood specified? Because we are redeemed and sanctified by the blood of Jesus, of which all the blood in the world is symbolic. Hence in our abstinence from eating the blood and thus brutalizing it, we are constantly to realize the great fundamental truth that we are saved by the blood, and go shouting night and day,
“The blood, the blood is all my plea; Hallelujah! it cleanseth me.”
Oh, the transcendent wisdom and the fundamental truth flashing out from this Jerusalem council, revelatory of the pure spirituality of the gracious economy, unencumbered by ecclesiastical rites, ceremonies and institutions! The work of the gospel herald is to run to the ends of the earth and cry, “Behold the Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world.” We have nothing to do but preach Jesus and get people saved.
21. “For Moses from ancient generations has those preaching him in every city, being read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” At that time the Jews had synagogues in all the prominent cities of the known world. Those apostles expected to fulfill this commission and remain on the earth till the gospel was preached to every nation and actually hail their descending Lord, and in the transfiguration glory fly up to meet Him in the air. Hence that wonderful flying artillery scheme, utterly disencumbered of all human ecclesiasticism and local church machinery, running to the ends of the earth preaching the gospel to every nation, calling out the elect, and thus with all possible expedition preparing the world for their Lord’s return on the throne of His glory, to revive and establish the theocracy of King David in all the earth, thus bringing the Jews again to the front, the custodians of the universal Millennial Kingdom, for which they recognize the universal prevalence of the Jewish theocracy, as at that time adumbratory and preparatory. They had on them the true spirit of prophecy, but little dreaming of the long rolling centuries destined to intervene before the glorious fulfillment, the day of His coming being known to the Father only.
22-29. The decrees proposed by James, their presiding bishop, receive a unanimous vote of the apostles, elders and brethren. In view of securing for the decrees all possible endorsement and availability, they appoint Judas and Silas, both of them prophets, eminent for their wisdom and piety, to accompany Paul and Silas, along with the Syrian delegation, back to Antioch, bearing the decrees adjudicated by the unanimity of the brotherhood. It was specified in the council that Judas and Silas should, viva voce, proclaim and enforce among the churches the same truths specified in the written decrees, thus corroborating Paul and Barnabas, by their verbal testimony, to the transaction of the Jerusalem council.
30-33. Great is the delectation thrilling all of the Gentile churches upon the reading of the decrees, corroborated by the faithful testimonies and fervent exhortations of Judas and Silas, thus abundantly corroborating and impregnably fortifying the glorious doctrine of free grace already preached by Paul and Barnabas. If the church had remained true to these apostolical decrees, the world would have been evangelized and the millennium in all its glory girdled the globe with “holiness to the Lord” long centuries ago. What a pity the New Testament church, in violation of these decrees, ever apostatized and so burdened herself with material ecclesiasticisms that to her ineffaceable shame, she has not yet verified the commission, which should have been done in the Apostolic age (Matthew 16:28; Matthew 24:34).
Acts 15:34 is an interpolation; nothing of it in the original. Because Silas became the companion of Paul, some transcriber concluded that lie did not go back to Jerusalem with Judas to make his report, but remained with Paul. This is conjecture. He had plenty of time to go back to Jerusalem with Judas and make his report to the apostles and return before Paul went off on his next tour.
DISRUPTION AND FINAL SEPARATION OF BARNABAS AND PAUL
35-39. The Greek word for “contention” is paroxysm, which now means an earthquake shock, which, you see, has a superlative signification. Paul and Barnabas were both sanctified wholly, and filled with the Holy Ghost. Perfect love is the bravest thing in the world; full salvation makes you positive enough to die in your tracks, when you know you are right. Paul and Barnabas were both right in this matter, and yet diametrically opposite. Consequently, there was no chance but to separate. Mark was merely incidental to the paroxysm. Paul was right in refusing to take him, because he had retreated from the field during the former campaign. Barnabas was right in sympathizing with his young, cowardly nephew (Colossians 4:10), and giving him another chance, which proved a success, so that Mark made an efficient preacher, and actually wrote the gospel of our Lord, and finally sealed his faith with his blood in Alexandria, Egypt. Paul appreciated him, and afterward called him to his work. The simple solution of the matter is, God was in the transaction. Paul had started out the junior preacher, with Barnabas, and actually revolutionized the ticket, and come to the front. Barnabas was an able leader, and Paul now more so. Hence it was a waste of ammunition for them longer to go together. It is now high time for each one to lead an evangelistic party the balance of his life. Here the curtain falls over Barnabas, that great and good man, and we never hear of him afterward. Doubtless, like his apostolical comrades, he lived a hero and died a martyr. The simple reason why we hear no more of him is because Luke, the historian, no longer accompanied him to write up his history, but went with Paul, though he is too modest even to tell us so, simply specifying that Mark went with Barnabas, and Silas with Paul.
41,42. Henceforth this inspired history all focalizes around Paul, who now, with Silas and Luke, travels through Syria and Cilicia (his native land) “establishing the churches.” In former years they had organized many churches, i. e., little holiness bands, in those great heathen countries. On this tour there is no mention of a single convert, the time, everywhere, being devoted to the establishment of the saints, i. e., getting them sanctified and teaching them the Word of the Lord. We find in this inspired history that Paul took great tours, traveling through vast regions, devoting all of his time to the work of sanctifying and edifying the churches.
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Godbey, William. "Commentary on Acts 15". "Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent