"Then all the multitude kept silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul declaring how many miracles and wonders God had worked through them among the Gentiles. And after they had become silent, James answered, saying, 'Men and brethren, listen to me: Simon has declared how God at the first visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, just as it is written: "After this I will return and will rebuild the tabernacle of David, which has fallen down; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up; so that the rest of mankind may seek the LORD, even all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the LORD, who does all these things." Known to God from eternity are all His works. Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God, but that we write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses has had throughout many generations those who preach him in every city, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath'" (Acts 15:12-21).
After the apostle Peter spoke definitively on the matter, proving that Gentile Christians did not need to embrace circumcision or the Mosaic law, Barnabas and Paul addressed the multitude of Christians who were gathered. The crowd listened attentively as these two courageous men shared some of their recent evangelistic experiences among the Gentiles. They gave glory to God for all that He had accomplished through their efforts.
After Paul and Barnabas finished speaking, a certain leader in the Jerusalem church, James, spoke. Who was this James? Although Luke does not tell us, we can know with certainty that he wasn't the apostle John's brother, who had been martyred previously (cf. Acts 12:2). The evidence points to this James being the half-brother of Jesus Christ (cf. Matt. 13:55; Gal. 1:19) as well as the author of the epistle of James. Although this James did not believe in Jesus during His earthly ministry (cf. John 7:5), the Lord, after His resurrection, did appear to James (cf. I Cor. 15:7). Perhaps this appearance was instrumental in James' conversion. Regardless of the identity of this James, he is clearly a strong leader in the church at Jerusalem. He reiterated the message Peter shared about the Gentiles. Although some Jews resisted the truth on this point, God had planned from eternity for the Gentiles to have a part in His kingdom (their inclusion was no accident). James quotes from Amos 9:11,12 for proof of this from prophecy. There was no better proof for a Jewish mind than a prophecy from their Scriptures. This particular prophecy from Amos speaks of the church in a symbolic fashion. Amos had indicated that the tabernacle of David (i.e., the Jewish kingdom) would fall, having been abandoned by God. But, the Lord would "return" and build it again. The rebuilding would not be in the same, material sense, but in a greater spiritual sense. In other words, the church or kingdom of Christ would be a spiritual kingdom open to not only the Jews but to all who sought the Lord!
Before going further, we should note that the prophecy found in Amos 9 is frequently appealed to by those of a premillennial persuasion. They use it as a prooftext for the notion that national Israel is to be restored during the so-called "millennial reign" of Christ. This notion is false and cannot be substantiated with Scripture. One of the best ways to show the error of this interpretation of Amos 9 is to consider the implications if it were true. Wayne Jackson puts it best when he writes in his Acts commentary on page 186: "Since the Gentiles were to be granted admittance into the 'tabernacle' (house) of God only after it was restored, if that restoration is still in the future (as millennialists allege), then it would follow that the gospel may not be preached yet unto the Gentiles, which suggests they (we) are still lost! This conclusion demonstrates the folly of the premillennial dogma."
James' recommendation is that a letter be written to the Gentile who are turning to God, emphasizing four specific things for them to abstain from: (1) things polluted by idols (not because the meat was bad, per se, but because of influence and conscience; cf. I Cor. 8), (2) sexual immorality, (3) things strangled (since the blood had not been drained from the animal; cf. Lev. 17:11), and (4) blood. Why did James recommend highlighting these items? Most likely he wanted them stressed because these were common practices of idolaters. Although God did not intend for the Gentile converts to be required to be circumcised and keep the Old Law, He did want them to live faithful, morally upright lives as Christians. These practices in particular would have been difficult for some of them to abstain from since most of Gentile culture would not have seen anything wrong with these four things. The Jews, on the other hand, were very familiar with these four points and had been taught against them for centuries via the writings of Moses. These four points were ordinances valid from creation (i.e., all were valid long before Moses lived and wrote).
"Then it pleased the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas, namely, Judas who was also named Barsabas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren. They wrote this letter by them:The apostles, the elders, and the brethren,
To the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia:
Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls, saying, 'You must be circumcised and keep the law'--to whom we gave no such commandment--it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who will also report the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.
Farewell" (Acts 15:22-29).
Incredibly, the whole church (which would include the initial disputers) was in agreement with the words of James. They wrote a letter of encouragement to the Gentile Christians and arranged for Judas and Silas to deliver the message (along with Paul and Barnabas). Sending Judas and Silas to accompany them would give validity to the message. The contents of the letter explained that no one had been authorized to bind circumcision or the Law of Moses on Christians. Clearly, silence does not authorize; these Pharisees had acted presumptuously. It was not proper to bind anything on their brethren other than what was determined by the Holy Spirit to be "necessary." The letter is clear that it was the Holy Spirit (with whom they certainly agreed) who determined what was required for Christian life. They closed the letter by mentioning the four specific items to abstain from that James had mentioned in his speech. If the Gentile Christians stayed faithful to Christ, including avoiding common idolatrous practices, they would do well.
"So when they were sent off, they came to Antioch; and when they had gathered the multitude together, they delivered the letter. When they had read it, they rejoiced over its encouragement. Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words. And after they had stayed there for a time, they were sent back with greetings from the brethren to the apostles. However, it seemed good to Silas to remain there. Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also" (Acts 15:30-35).
The four men left Jerusalem and headed first to Antioch to deliver the letter. Not surprisingly, its contents were well received by the multitude gathered to hear it. The Judaizers were wrong and the salvation of the uncircumcised Gentiles had been confirmed. Judas and Silas remained there for a while, exhorting the Christians with the word of God. Judas later went back to Jerusalem while Silas remained longer with Paul and Barnabas.
Before going further in our study of the book of Acts, we need to briefly discuss the way some in the religious world misuse Acts 15. Many turn to this meeting in Jerusalem where the leaders gathered to settle a problem in an effort to show authority today for a centralized, religious body which wields power over several or all congregations of a denomination. First, it should be observed than any such governing bodies like councils, synods, conventions, etc. rise above the level of the local congregation and are not authorized by Acts 15 or anywhere else in the New Testament. It must be understood that there were inspired men who gathered in Jerusalem and they sought the will of the Holy Spirit in resolving the issue (cf. 15:28). They did not gather to take a vote or make a decision based on their own authority. They simply made clear what God had revealed to them (cf. Luke 22:30; II Pet. 1:21). This is much different than what happens today in religious governing bodies (where no one present is inspired). Today, we have the complete and fully inspired word of God to consult on all difficult questions (cf. II Tim. 3:16,17; Jude 3). It is up to us to study and discern God's will and then apply it faithfully in our lives.
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.