Bible Study Notes

THE ACTS OF THE APOSTLES

 (Bible Study)

THE GREAT JERUSALEM COUNCIL: PAUL’S MISSION CALLED INTO QUESTION

Acts 15:1-1:35

 Rev. Louis M. Murphy, Sr.

June 8, 2022

The Jerusalem Council Meets: The Great Declaration on Salvation

Acts 15:6-22

Introduction: On last week we spoke on “Two Questions About Salvation” (vs1-5). This passage covers one of the most important church council meetings ever held. It is the great declaration on salvation.

Points:

  1. The council met a second time (v.6).
  2. Peter’s great statement: all are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (v.7-11).
  3. Paul and Barnabas’ great declaration: God alone wrought miracles and wonders to verify the message—salvation by grace (v.12).
  4. James’ great declaration: all men must be able to turn to God apart from the burden of ritual and the law (v.13-21).
  5. The council’s decision: agreement (v.22).
  1. (15:6) The great Jerusalem council met a second time. The whole church was meeting—the apostles, the elders, and the people (Acts 15:12, 22). Once again, the scene is that of an extremely important council meeting, the importance of which cannot be overstressed. Note the sensitive consideration being shown by the leaders. The apostles were not lordingit over the elders, nor the elders over the people. The issue being considered was of such great magnitude that the leaders were demonstrating humility and sensitivity to the needs of all. Note also there was “much disputing.” No one was ignored or silenced. All were allowed to say what they thought.
  2. (15:7-11) Salvation: Peter’s great declaration—all people are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter drove home three points.
  3. Peter recalled that it was God and God alone who saved the Gentiles, that is, Cornelius and his house. The event had taken place some ten years before, but it was given and established by God to be the example and the pattern which the church was to follow

(Acts 15:10. Note this is important, a critical point for every church to heed in every generation.)

The event had been planned, initiated, and executed from beginning to end by God and God alone (cp. Acts 10:1-48).

  1. Cornelius and his house had believed the Word while Peter was in the process of preaching the Word. They believed while they were listening and hearing the Word.
  1. God had given the Holy Spirit while they were believing the Word. Note how Peter stressed that salvation is the act of God.

⇒  God “knew their hearts,” that they were believing within their hearts. God and God alone knows the heart.

⇒  God bore witness to the belief of their hearts.

⇒  God bore witness by giving the Holy Spirit to them.

⇒  God gave the Holy Spirit by His act alone (not by baptism nor by laying on of men’s hands).

⇒  God gave the Holy Spirit just as He did to the Jews.

  1. God cleansed their hearts by faith. The stress is upon the word faith, not upon ritual or ceremony. Again, the stress is upon God. God knows the heart, when a man believes, when a man’s heart is moved toward the Lord Jesus, grasping and believing what Jesus has done for him. When God sees that, He cleanses the man’s heart.
  1. Peter confessed the yoke of the law; he confessed man’s inability to keep the law. This was a question, but note it was also a serious charge: “Why tempt ye God?” Peter said that God had already demonstrated the truth about salvation. The matter was made known clearly and unmistakably in the experience of Cornelius. If a person declares that a man is saved by God’s grace plus a ritual or the law, he tempts God; he prescribes and dictates to God. He questions…
  • what God has already done.
  • if God knew what he was doing.
  • if what God had done was best.

Questioning God is, of course, walking upon sinking sand. It is very dangerous. Note what Peter said about the law.

  1. The law is a “yoke,” a burden. The picture is that of the oxen yoke (cp. Matthew 11:29-30; Matthew 23:4;Galatians 5:1). To insist that a man…
  • undergo a ritual,
  • accept the law

…in order to be saved is to put a yoke upon a man, a yoke that no man can bear.

  1. No man can keep the law; the Jews had proven the fact (see Deeper Study #2, Law—Galatians 3:10 for discussion).
  1. Peter reminded the church of their basic belief: all men are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Peter declared the doctrine of salvation. It was the very same as Paul’s (cp. Ephes. 2:8-9). All men are saved in the same way: “though the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:23-24).

 

“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast” (Ephes. 2:8-9).

 

  1. (15:12): Paul and Barnabas’ great declaration—God and God alone has wrought miracles and wonders to verify the message of salvation by grace. Note the stress is “miracles and wonders,” not points and arguments. Why? God’s miracles show clearly that He approves the preaching of Paul and Barnabas. The message, “By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves,” is verified and proven by God’s stamp of approval.

One may wonder if Paul asked the question he asked of the Galatians:

 “Received ye the Spirit by the work of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Galatians 3:2).

  1. (15:13-21): James’ great declaration—all men must be able to turn to God apart from the burden of ritual and law. James was the Lord’s brother. Apparently, he was the leading elder or minister of the church at Jerusalem. Note four points.
  2. James supported Peter’s great declaration. The way James worded his support is significant.

⇒  “God…did visit the Gentiles”: looked upon, oversaw, cared for, looked after, provided for the Gentiles.

⇒  “to take out of them a people”: to choose; to appoint; to remove them from the Gentile nations and select a chosen people. The word “people” is the same word used of the Jewish people (cp. Acts 10:2). The point is that God was calling a new people out—a new body, a new nation, a new race—to be His chosen people, just as He had done with Abraham and the Jews.

⇒  “For His name”: two verses clearly show what God means by choosing a people “for His name.”

 “Ye are my witnesses, saith the LORD, and my servant whom I have chosen: that ye may know and believe me, and understand that I am he: before me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after me” (Isaiah 43:10).

“For as the girdle cleaveth to the loins of a man, so have I caused to cleave unto me the whole house of Israel and the whole house of Judah, saith the LORD; that they might be unto me for a people, and for a name, and for a praise, and for a glory” (Jeremiah 13:11).

  1. James declared that Scripture supported the truth. God calls out people from both the Jews and the Gentiles. He quoted Amos 9:11-12 and applied it to Jesus Christ and believers. God promised three things.
  1. “I will return.” This is referring to the first coming of Jesus Christ. And He had come—no one present would deny that.
  1. There will be Jewish believers: “The tabernacle of David” refers to believing Jews, the true tabernacle or true body of Jews. James was applying the prophecy to the present situation. The people of David, the true indestructible tabernacle of David, the true body of David (believing Jews) will be “built up again…I [God] will set it [them] up.”
  1. There will be Gentile believers, believers who…
  • seek the Lord.
  • are called and known by God’s name.
  1. James declared that God foreknew and destined from the beginning of the world…
  • salvation by faith.
  • salvation to all men who seek the Lord and become identified with Him.

This is and always has been the purpose of God (cp. Romans 16:25-27; Ephes. 3:8-9). And He is now bringing His purpose to pass.

  1. James recommended a written exhortation instead of burdening rules. He did this for three reasons.
  2. That no man be troubled or hindered from turning to God by rituals and law. All men cannot keep a ritual. All who can should, but some are just not able to keep a ritual due to such things as birth defects, injury, disease, or paralysis. And although everyone should obey God, no one is capable of keeping the law, not perfectly. Therefore, no one is saved by the law. The only hope of salvation is for man to turn to God and trust God to accept him simply because God loves that much.
  1. That all men live as they should. Note the great significance of the sins which James listed…
  • idolatry: following and sacrificing to the gods of man’s imaginations and desires; partaking of things that pertain to idols (Acts 15:29).

 “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:9-10).

  •   fornication: all forms of immorality.

 “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world…for then must ye needs go out of the world” (1 Cor. 5:9-10).

  •   “things strangled”: the sin of indulgence, of going against God’s law and fulfilling one’s own desire. Specifically, it refers to eating forbidden meats, to the dietary laws of the Jews.

Deeper Study: Jews, Dietary Laws: the Jews had all kinds of dietary laws (cp. Leviticus 11; Leviticus 20:25-26; Deut. 14:3-21). There were certain foods they could and could not eat. The words “common and unclean”) refer to being religiously or ceremonially unclean. The unclean animals were unhallowed, profaned. It was felt that eating them would not please God. Note two points.

  1. The Jews were very strict, scrupulous in keeping the dietary laws. The laws were taught from earliest childhood, and a true Jew never ate an unclean animal. This can be clearly seen from Peter’s experience.

⇒  He told the Lord emphatically, “No.” And he said “no” three times right in the midst of a trance.

⇒  He told the Lord, “I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean.”

Peter had never tasted an unclean food. Therefore, the Lord’s command to eat such food caused an enormous struggle for him. Jews were strict in observing the rules and regulations governing what they could and could not eat. They would never touch a food that was unclean.

  1. Eating unclean foods was one of the major reasons the Jews considered the Gentiles unclean and unacceptable to God. It was one of the major reasons they refused to have anything to do with the Gentiles. If a Jew had associated with a Gentile, the consequences would have been easily seen. The Jew would soon be influenced to try some Gentile food, and by so doing he…
  • would become unclean religiously and ceremonially.
  • would be breaking God’s law.
  • would lose his distinctiveness as being one of God’s chosen people, one who follows and obeys God.
  • would be eating meat that may have come from an animal sacrificed to an idol god. Once an animal had been sacrificed to an idol, the priests often sold the meat to merchants who made the meat available to the public. To eat meat offered to idols was considered idolatry, one of the worst offences in the minds of a Jew.

Note: what God was saying to Peter is not contradicting God’s Word to Israel. God had given Israel many laws…

  • to make Israel distinctive, the people who followed and obeyed God’s law.
  • to keep Israel separated from the ungodly and unjust behavior of other people, and from intermarriage.
  • to give Israel guidance in taking care and protecting themselves both as a nation and as individuals. (Dietary laws protected their bodies and health.)

Israel was the custodian of God’s Word to man. But when Christ came, God took another step, moved to another stage of His plan. Jesus Christ and His followers are now the custodians of God’s revelation. It is no longer just Israel, just Jews who are…

  • to receive,
  • to know,
  • to be responsible

…for God’s revelation. It is both Jew and Gentile, all men everywhere. All men are now to rally around Jesus Christ and take the responsibility for proclaiming God’s revelation (His Word, His law). It is no longer just Jews. It is all men of all nations—all who will follow Christ and take on the responsibility for making Him known.

 

  • “blood”: may refer to murder or to the blood of animals. It probably refers to murder.

 “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matthew 5:21-22).

“But let none of you suffer as a murderer” (1 Peter 4:15).

 Note: these four sins are the sins so common to mankind as a whole.

  1. That no man offend or be a stumbling block to another. The sins listed by James were very offensive to the believing Jews. They were often preached against by Jewish rabbis. James stressed this fact, pointing out that keeping these four simple exhortations would please the body of Jewish believers, the strict religionists.
  2. (15:22) Church: the church council’s decision was agreement. Note two points.
  3. The whole church agreed with what had been proclaimed, at least officially.
  4. The church went beyond the decision, reaching out to settle whatever disturbance and doubt existed. It reached out by sending two chief ministers back to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas.

The two men would…

  • reinforce the message of the decision: salvation is by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and nothing else (Acts 15:11).
  • exhort the new believers in the faith, and assure them that the message of the Judaizers was error.

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