THE ACTS 28
THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL
We come now to the 15th chapter of Acts. Here we will have the account of a landmark decision that was the turning point in the history of Christianity. What was decided here was to open the doors of the Kingdom of Heaven to the whole world and make the love and grace of God available to all men for all time to come.
In order to fully understand the complicated events recorded here, it is necessary to also read the 2nd chapter of Galatians, where Paul tells us his part in the events of this story. As one who was not then counted as a leader of the church, nor one of the inner circle, his point of view is essential to an understanding of the full ramifications of these events for the preaching of the Gospel from that point forward.
Peter had preached the first sermon to an audience of Jews from all over the world. Thousands of them were converted to Christianity, including many of the Scribes and Pharisees, who were Jewish leaders. However, many of them still viewed the church as an extension of Judaism, and, while they accepted Gentiles into the church, they demanded that they be circumcised and become Jews.
When they came to Antioch with this doctrine, Paul vehemently opposed them. To settle this impasse the church sent Paul, together with Barnabas and Titus, to Jerusalem, to consult with the Apostles and leaders there. A council of these leaders was called, and the results are recorded here in chapter 15.
In Galatians 2 Paul says that God told him directly to go to
Jerusalem to take the message to the leaders of the church. Undoubtedly he had informed the church of his intention to do this, and they approved it and sent Barnabas and Titus with him. He first met with some of the leaders privately, and then a council was called to make their decision public.
Let us take a moment to make the real importance of this question clear. Even many of the Jewish leaders who were converted to Christ
still thought that the “promise”, which He fulfilled, was for the Jews only, as the physical children of Abraham. They accepted the Gentiles only if the Gentiles were circumcised and became Jews. Paul’s position was that the law only caused all men to be sinners, and only the grace of God could forgive sins, and that came only by Jesus Christ. The Jewish leaders could not turn loose of the law as the only way they were related to God, but Paul insisted that our relationship to God was not by law but by grace through faith in Christ. This was the question that the argument over circumcision was all about. Had the decision been other than it was, the church would only be an extension of Judaism today, instead of a world-wide family of God’s called-out children.
In the deliberations of the Council, Peter testified to the incident at the house of Cornelius and argued that God had accepted the Gentiles just as He had accepted the Jews by sending His Holy Spirit as He did on Pentecost. This, coupled with Paul’s private discussion with some of the leaders, caused them to conclude that circumcision was not necessary for the Gentiles and that they were not required to keep the rituals and ceremonies of the law.
A later incident occurred when Peter went to Antioch. He enjoyed the common agape feasts with the Gentiles until some important Jews came down from Jerusalem. To keep from upsetting them, he stopped eating with the Gentiles, and even Barnabas joined him. Paul vehemently opposed this compromise, and faced Peter publicly about it. Under no circumstances would he back down from his insistent position that the law was no longer to be imposed, but that salvation and our relationship with God depended on accepting His grace thru faith in Jesus Christ and no other way.