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Studies in the Book of Acts The Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15:1-41)

by Larry Miles

INTRODUCTION

In the 14th chapter of Acts, Paul and Barnabas had just returned to Antioch on what is termed the First Missionary Journey. They had preached the Gospel and saw many souls won to the Lord of Glory. They spent much time telling the Antioch church of their work. It was at this time that the events of the first few verses of Acts 15 take place. As we get into the study of Acts 15 let’s ask the Lord to guide us in our efforts to better understand the teachings found there.

THE JUDAIZERS ARRIVE IN ANTIOCH: ACTS 15:1-2

            In verse 1 of the narrative Luke tells us that certain men came down from Judea. These Jews, according to verse 5, were members of the sect of the Pharisees. We’re told they began teaching the brethren. In the latter half of verse 1 we see what the problem was.

            They were telling the brethren in Antioch that unless they were circumcised and kept the Law of Moses they could not be saved. R. H. Boll wrote the following concerning these verses:

            “But certain teachers that had come down from Judea (pretendedly by the endorsement from the church at Jerusalem) taught that the Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. It was not disputed that Gentiles might come in by faith in Christ—the case of Cornelius had settled that; however, they may have got into the church, the Gentile brethren must be circumcised and subscribe to the Law in order to final salvation. Paul and Barnabas opposed that sharply.”

            In verse 2 we’re told that Paul and Barnabas were standing against this false teaching. They were standing by the fact that salvation is by grace, though, faith, in baptism for good works. What would come of this discussion? Both sides would not budge on the issues.

            In the latter part of verse 2 the brothers in Antioch decided to find out, once and for all, who was right. Was it the Judaizers or were Paul and Barnabas right? They sent a delegation to Jerusalem to confer with the Apostles. They wanted to know the truth.

THE DELEGATION TRAVELS TO JERUSALEM: ACTS 15:3

            The delegation was sent on its mission by the church at Antioch. To get to Jerusalem they passed through the regions of Phoenicia and Samaria. As they went they proclaimed to the. people of the work done among the Gentiles. They told of how many Gentiles were converted to serve the Risen Lord. This news brought great joy. Those in this area were glad to heard the news that the Gentiles were coming to the Lord Jesus Christ.

THE DELEGATION ARRIVES IN JERUSALEM: ACTS 15:4

            The delegates had traveled 300 miles since they left Antioch. This was Paul’s third visit to Jerusalem; the other two are. Found in Acts 9:26 and Acts 11:30. Verse 4 tells of their welcome by the church. We’re told they were received by the apostles and elders. Paul and his company reported to the apostles and elders what God had done in their ministry among the Gentiles. Garreth Reese writes the following:

            “This was the first of several meetings that together make up the Jerusalem Conference. As the meeting begins, Paul and Barnabas, in a presentation of some length, told those assembled in Jerusalem of the thrilling journey they had made among the Gentiles. Observe that Paul and Barnabas state in their rehearsal of what they had done that it was really God working with them. If God was so working, then it. Must follow that God had accepted the Gentiles without circumcision; and the Jewish brethren ought to accept them too.”

THE FIRST MEETING: ACTS 15:5

Paul and Barnabas tell those assembled in Jerusalem of what brought about this problem. They tell them that those of the sect of the Pharisees came to Antioch to teach false doctrine. They were converted men but still held some of their old beliefs. Garreth Reese writes the following,

“It was the purpose of these Judaizers to keep the church under the bondage of the Law, and thus prevent it from seriously modifying the state of things among the Jews in which the Pharisees were the predominant party. Partisan zeal, the bane of their former life, was still their controlling motive.”

 

These Judaizers were telling the Gentile converts that they must uphold the tenants of the Mosaic Law in order to be saved. What was the real question at stake in Jerusalem? R. H. Boll wrote the following,

“The. question up at the Jerusalem conference was the salvation of all the Gentiles—not whether Gentiles could be saved—as to that all were agreed., or it had been settled long before; but as to how Gentiles were to be saved. Paul and Barnabas and the church at Antioch believed that it was the gospel of grace of God and through faith, both as to their initial acceptance, and also to their final salvation.”

THE SECOND MEETING: PETER SPEAKS: ACTS 15:6-11

            In verse 6 we’re told that the. apostles and elders came together to look into the matter at hand. Verse 7 tells us that there was much debate. Both sides presented their cases. It was at this time that Peter stood up to speak to those gathered. His message is contained in the next few verses. We want to study his words and see the application. 

            Peter tells those gathered that in days gone by that God desired that Gentiles should hear the gospel and believe. He is referring to the events surrounding the case of Cornelius. In verse 8 Peter tells of the results of this evangelism. The Gentiles believed, were saved, received the Holy Spirit. Peter goes on further to record that God is no respecter of persons.

            In verse 10 he asks them why they are putting God to the test? He wants to know why they were trying to force the Gentiles to keep a set of laws that we, as Jews, could never keep. He says that not even our fathers could keep them. In verse 11 he gets down to the crux of the matter. Verse 11 reads as. Follows, “No! we believe that it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (NIV 1984). He tells them that salvation does not come through keeping of laws but is found in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. JESUS PAID IT ALL!

PAUL AND BARNABAS SPEAK AGAIN: ACTS 15:12

            It is recorded, “The whole assembly became silent” (NIV). Garreth Reese writes this,

            “The whole assembly became silent after Peter’s speech. The silence is testimony to the. effect of Peter’s presentation. He had presented such clear and forceful arguments that there was nothing that there was nothing that could be said against them.”

            Then came. More speeches from Barnabas and Paul. Barnabas spoke first and then Paul followed. They both rehearsed what God was doing through them in the work with the Gentiles. At the conclusion of their messages they sat down.

JAMES SPEAKS FOR THE APOSTLES AND THE ELDERS: ACTS 15:13-18

            In verse 13 we have James presiding over the Jerusalem conference. This is James, the Lord’s half-brother. We were the leader in the Jerusalem church. He tells the people to listen to him. In verse 14 we read the following, “Simon has described to us how God at first showed His concern by taking from the Gentiles a people for Himself.” (NIV)

            In verse 15 James says the words of the prophets agree with this view. He quotes from the Septuagint reading of the text. What is he saying in the 16th verse? Donald Grey Barnhouse had this to say,

            “In verse 16 we get a brief lesson in prophecy. James alludes to Old testament predictions concerning to the future. He says, ‘After this’—that is, after the church age, after God has removed His church at the rapture at the end of the age—Christ will return to earth. Within a capsule the. whole gamut of prophecy. In just a couple of verses we have presented to us the exit of the church, the rebuilding of the temple, and the return of the Lord Jesus Christ in glory to establish His kingdom. This passage, by the way, is the death of the amillennial theory that there will be no kingdom age in the future, and no future for the nation of Israel. For here, God says that when He’s through with taking out a people for His name (The Church) He will do something once more for Israel.”

THE JUDGEMENT OF JAMES: ACTS 15:19-21

            James, speaking as the one presiding over the Jerusalem Conference, gives us his judgement on the matter.  He says that we. Should not make it. Difficult on the Gentiles to became Christians. In verse 20 he does lay down some practices that they are to stay away from. There are four things mentioned. They are as follows,

  1. Abstain from food pouted by idols.
  2. Abstain from sexual immorality.
  3. Abstain frim meat of strangled animals.
  4. Abstain from blood.

 

THE COUNCIL SENDS A LETTER TO THE GENTILE CHURCHES: ACTS 15:22-35

            It was the consensus of the whole church at Jerusalem, not just the apostles and elders, to choose some of their own body to accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with the results of the conference. They chose Judas called Barsabbas and Silas. Verse 22 says that they were leaders in the church. With them they sent a letter detailing their decision. In verse 23 we have the opening of the letter. It came from the apostles and elders, who are your brothers. It was sent to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.

            In verse 24-30 we have the main body of the letter. James. Goes on to review the events that led up to the Jerusalem Conference and the results. In verse 24 he recalls to them of the ones who came to Antioch. He stresses that they came without authorization from the Apostles. In verse 25 he tells them that they decided to send some from the Jerusalem church to accompany Paul and Barnabas to relay our decision to them. In the 26th verse he characterizes the ones sent as “men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (NIV)

            James tells those in Antioch that Judas and Silas are going to confirm vocally what we have written. He tells them further that, besides being the judgement of the. Apostles, it was the will of the Holy Spirit that we nit put extra burdens on you Gentiles. In verse 29 he reaffirms the Council’s desire that all Gentile Christians abstain from the practices mentioned in verse 20. He informs them if they do this they will do well. He then gives them the closing, “Farewell.” (NIV)

            According to verse 30 those sent out by the church at Jerusalem arrived in Antioch and called the church unto them and delivered the letter. Verse 31 say that the people read it and were thankful to receive it.  Judas and Silas, who were prophets encouraged the saints while in Antioch. We’re told they spent much time there. Apparently, Silas stayed behind for we find him still in Antioch as the. next few verses will reveal. Paul and Barnabas remained at Antioch preaching the Word of the Lord.

THE DIAGREEMEN BETWEEN PAUL AND BARNABAS: ACTS15:36-41

            Sometime later Paul thought it would be a good idea to make a return journey to the churches they had established.  He thought it good to find out how these churches were growing and maturing in the Lord. Barnabas thought it was a good idea also. Then came the problem. Verse 37 says that he wanted to take John Mark along. In verse 38 Paul refused to allow Mark to accompany them. The reason was that he” had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work.” (NIV) Verse 39 says that neither Paul or Barnabas would budge from their convictions in the matter. The result: Barnabas set sail with Mark for Cypress. Later in Paul’s ministry there was a reconciliation between him and Mark, for in 2 Timothy 4 we read these words in verse 11, “Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is helpful to me in my ministry.” (NIV) Now back to Acts 15.

            It was at this time that Paul chose Silas to be his fellow worker. Silas was a Roman citizen like Paul. This would come in handy further down the road.  They were commended by the brethren and were strengthening the churches in Syria and Cilicia.

            In our next article we will deal with the events in the 16th chapter. The events in the second missionary journey will take us through Acts 18:22. Please read and study the 16th chapter in anticipation of the study. Until next time, MARANATHA!

 

Larry Miles is Co-Editor of Word & Work and attends Cherry St. Church of Christ in New Albany, IN.

 




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I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33