Today we come to our 53rd study in the book of Acts. We began this study back in March of 08. So just in case you have forgotten what the theme of this book is, let me remind you. As we go through this book it is important to understand why Luke wrote it. What is this book about? What is its major theme?
The prolog of this book acts as a preface, and the preface is setting before us the theme of the author:
And so when they had come together, they were asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" (Acts 1:6 NASB)
What is the disciple's question? It is about the restoration of Israel. And that is what this book is about, the "Redemption of Israel." God had promised His people Israel that He would restore or redeem them:
Zion will be redeemed with justice, And her repentant ones with righteousness. (Isaiah 1:27 NASB)
As the Gospels end we see that Jesus has been rejected by Israel, put to death on a cross. Then in the Epistles of the New Testament writers address the Church:
to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:2 NASB)
So the question is: What happened to Israel? All through the First Testament God made promises to Israel, what became of those promises? The book of Acts answers those questions.
Look with me at what Paul said to the Galatians:
So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world. 4 But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, 5 in order that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:3-5 NASB)
Paul says in verse 5 that Christ came to redeem those under the Law. That is a reference to Israel. Christ came to redeem Israel, and this is what we see Him doing in the book of Acts.
Luke's story is that Israel is being restored by the Messiah in the establishment of the Church. >From Acts 1 through 10 we have seen over and over Luke quoting the Hebrew Scriptures of the re-establishment of Israel and applying those prophecies to the Church, because the Church is the New Israel.
Alright, with the theme of restoration in mind, let's look at our text in Acts 15. The context of this chapter is that the Church at Antioch, which was primarily Gentile, and the Church at Jerusalem, which was Jewish, had come together to debate the doctrine of soteriology. How is a person saved? There were men from Jerusalem that were teaching that a person had to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and be circumcised in order to be saved.
They had a great deal of debate and discussion over it, and, finally, after a lot of disputing, Peter rose up in the meeting and came to the conclusive statement in verse 11, which I have called "The Apostles' Creed."
But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are." (Acts 15:11 NASB)
As a side note here, this is the last we hear of Peter in the book of Acts.
The Apostle Peter pointed out that men are saved by grace, that is, it is not necessary to be circumcised in order to be saved. It's not necessary to do anything in order to be saved. Peter goes out with a bang! His last words in Acts are that salvation is a gift of God, totally of grace.
This is an issue of vital importance. And this is a current issue. Churcheanity is still very confused on this issue. Let me show you how deep this issue goes. We all would say that salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone. We would insist that anyone who adds anything to salvation destroys salvation. We are saved by faith plus nothing! Agreed?
What about the person who says they have believed the Gospel, they have been presented the Gospel as laid out in the Scripture, and they believe it, but they live a sinful life. Are they really saved? Hold on, be careful how you answer, because you may be adding "holy living" or "obedience" to the Gospel. Your Gospel may be: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and live a holy life and you will be saved." Now I'm not saying that living a holy life is not important, it's very important, but it is not connected to salvation.
The Corinthians sure didn't live a holy life. They were committing sins that weren't even mentioned among the Pagans:
It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father's wife. (1 Corinthians 5:1 NASB)
So if you were writing a letter to these immoral people, how would you address them? You phonies? you pretend Christians? or maybe at best, you hypocrites? Notice what Paul calls them:
to the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: (1 Corinthians 1:2 NASB)
Paul calls them, "the church of God" he says they have been, "sanctified in Christ Jesus" and he says they are "saints"! Was he crazy? No, they were saints! With all of their sin, some of which was worse than unbelievers, Paul still calls them "saints."
I know a man who calls himself a Christian but quite often lives a sinful life. But if you talked to him, you would see that he has a fairly good grasp of Scripture, he understands and believes the Gospel, and he continually affirms his love for God. Is he unsaved because he lives an unholy life? No, what he is is a hypocrite. He is not living up to who he is in Christ. But to say that he can't be saved if he continually sins is to say you must be obedient in order to be saved, which is adding obedience to faith. Think about this.
Am I condoning sinful living? Absolutely Not! All Christians are called to live a holy, righteous life, and if we fail to do so, we will come under the temporal discipline of God. God is not mocked, we reap what we sow. Over and over throughout the New Testament we are exhorted and commanded to live godly, righteous lives. To fail to do so brings temporal judgment. But our eternal salvation is based upon the obedience of Christ, not our obedience. And we all better be very glad of that. Amen?
Back to our text in Acts. These Judaizers had been saying to the Gentiles, "Without circumcision you cannot be saved." But they were ignoring one very important fact those Gentiles were already saved. God had already been saving Gentiles without asking anybody's permission to do so, and He was doing it without any ritual, or even any reference to the Law of Moses. And with this point they could not argue. That was extremely important because it forced them to take note of the direction of God's activity. They saw that God was already doing what they said could not be done, and, thus, God was over-ruling them.
Peter reached his conclusion, and that apparently satisfied the multitude, for we read in verse 12:
And all the multitude kept silent, and they were listening to Barnabas and Paul as they were relating what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. (Acts 15:12 NASB)
So, after Peter had settled the previous question and there was silence, Paul and Barnabas rose and gave details of the way that God was working among the Gentiles. And then, after they finished, there was a second time of silence, for we read in verse 13:
And after they had stopped speaking, James answered, saying, "Brethren, listen to me. (Acts 15:13 NASB)
Now, James speaks. Who is this James? This James is obviously not the Apostle James, because his martyrdom is recorded back in Acts 12:2. So who is this James? This is the half-brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:15). He didn't believe in Jesus until after the resurrection. James was also the brother of Jude (Jude 1) and author of the book of James (James 1:1). He was known as "James the Just." James had become a very important man in the church at Jerusalem. In fact, tradition says that James the Just was thrown off of the temple at the end of his life, and then clubbed to death. And when they buried him, they looked at his knees, and they were filled with calluses, which they felt, tradition says, were caused because he spent so much time on his knees.
Those in Jerusalem knew his holy life and why he was named "James the Just." They knew that he obeyed the Law of Moses. They knew how much time he spent praying in the temple. And they knew that he had been brought up with Jesus. His words certainly had to carry special weight. Furthermore, he seems to have had a place of special responsibility in the Jerusalem church.
What would he say as he stood on his feet? Would he side with these Pharisees who believed, who had been confused about circumcision? No, the text makes very plain, he does not.
Simeon has related how God first concerned Himself about taking from among the Gentiles a people for His name. (Acts 15:14 NASB)
This use of Peter's Hebrew name "Simeon" was both tactful and fully understandable. Tactful because it linked Peter firmly with his Jewish background. It would make clear that in the end, Peter was essentially Jewish.
James then refers to Peter's description of his evangelisation of Cornelius and his fellow-Gentiles. Everyone knew about this, and how through it, God had undoubtedly taken from among the Gentiles "a people for His name." In the light of all the facts (11:1-18), this was really not open to dispute.
The Greek word for Gentiles is ethne. The Greek word for people in this passage is laos. The Jews considered themselves the laos of God, and never among the ethne. Luke uses laos consistently in Acts to refer to the Jews as the people of God (4:10; 10:42; 13:17; 26:17, 23; 28:17; contrast 18:10). For them, ethne and laos were contrasting words. So, it would be challenging for them to hear that God at first visited the Gentiles (ethne) to take out of them a people (laos). By using phrasing that closely echoes God's choosing of Israel, James heightens the radical nature of the new thing God has done (Ex 19:5; Deut 7:6).
"And with this the words of the Prophets agree, just as it is written, (Acts 15:15 NASB)
What is it that the Prophets agree with? "With this" refers back to what he just said in verse 14the calling of the Gentiles.
Notice that James uses the plural for Prophets indicating that the thing that he illustrates from Amos is something he could have illustrated from other places as well.
James judges this new work of God by the way any work said to be of God should be judged. He goes to the Scriptures! And he quotes from Amos.
Amos is speaking to the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Amos was written just prior to the ten Northern Tribes being carried off in captivity by Assyria. This happened in 721 B.C. Isaiah, Micah, Hosea, and Amos are all contemporaries. The 10 Northern Tribes had turned from God and God was going to judge them. So the book of Amos is a warning of coming discipline concerning the nation Israel:
Hear this word which I take up for you as a dirge, O house of Israel. 2 She has fallen, she will not rise again-- The virgin Israel. She lies neglected on her land; There is none to raise her up. (Amos 5:1-2 NASB)
Notice what God says here of Israel, "She will not rise again." That sounds pretty permanent. But next God promises a remnant:
For thus says the Lord GOD, "The city which goes forth a thousand strong Will have a hundred left, And the one which goes forth a hundred strong Will have ten left to the house of Israel." (Amos 5:3 NASB)
This is speaking of a remnant that will be left out of Israel. We also see this in:
Unless the LORD of hosts Had left us a few survivors, We would be like Sodom, We would be like Gomorrah. (Isaiah 1:9 NASB)
For though your people, O Israel, may be like the sand of the sea, Only a remnant within them will return; A destruction is determined, overflowing with righteousness. (Isaiah 10:22 NASB)
From a nationalistic view, as a physical people, Israel was to fall and not rise again. But God said He would save a remnant. We see this in our text in Amos:
"Are you not as the sons of Ethiopia to Me, O sons of Israel?" declares the LORD. "Have I not brought up Israel from the land of Egypt, And the Philistines from Caphtor and the Arameans from Kir? 8 "Behold, the eyes of the Lord GOD are on the sinful kingdom, And I will destroy it from the face of the earth; Nevertheless, I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob," Declares the LORD. 9 "For behold, I am commanding, And I will shake the house of Israel among all nations As grain is shaken in a sieve, But not a kernel will fall to the ground. 10 "All the sinners of My people will die by the sword, Those who say, 'The calamity will not overtake or confront us.' (Amos 9:7-10 NASB)
These verses proclaim the coming disciplinary judgment upon Israel; but yet, within them there is a bit of hope because He says He will not destroy from off the face of the earth, "I will not totally destroy the house of Jacob." But, now, in verse 11, there comes the prophecy of hope in the light of that, and this is what James quotes in:
'AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, 17 IN ORDER THAT THE REST OF MANKIND MAY SEEK THE LORD, AND ALL THE GENTILES WHO ARE CALLED BY MY NAME,' 18 SAYS THE LORD, WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM OF OLD. (Acts 15:16-18 NASB)
James draws on this text, which speaks of God's judgment and destruction of Israel, which is not complete, and which is not permanent. He promised to return and to restore Israel, rebuilding it as in the days of old (Amos 9:11). But the restoration of the kingdom to Israel is not an exclusive blessing, only for the Jews. It will be, God promises through Amos, a restoration which will enable the Gentiles to seek the Lord and worship Him.
As you study the promises of Gentile salvation through the Hebrew Scriptures, you'll find that they are connected to the restoration of Israel. Many prophecies that speak of Israel's restoration speak also of the promise of Gentile salvation, they go together:
Listen! Your watchmen lift up their voices, They shout joyfully together; For they will see with their own eyes When the LORD restores Zion. 9 Break forth, shout joyfully together, You waste places of Jerusalem; For the LORD has comforted His people, He has redeemed Jerusalem. 10 The LORD has bared His holy arm In the sight of all the nations, That all the ends of the earth may see The salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:8-10 NASB)
Let's look at Isaiah 60, this is a Messianic prophecy. It concerns the restoration of Israel; the calling of the Gentiles; and how the Gentiles would view restored Israel:
"Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 "For behold, darkness will cover the earth, And deep darkness the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you, And His glory will appear upon you. 3 "And nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. (Isaiah 60:1-3 NASB)
The word "nations" here could be and should be translated "Gentiles." God said that when Israel was saved, the Gentiles would also come to the light.
Apart from the New Covenant truth, we would no doubt view these prophesies of restoration as physical; God restoring, redeeming national Israel. But the New Testament writers give us the true meaning of these verses. Notice what God says to Israel through Isaiah:
"And the sons of those who afflicted you will come bowing to you, And all those who despised you will bow themselves at the soles of your feet; And they will call you the city of the LORD, The Zion of the Holy One of Israel. . (Isaiah 60:14 NASB)
If we were an Old Covenant Jew, we would understand this prophecy of Isaiah as our Gentile
enemies being subservient to us. But Jesus uses this verse and applies it to the Church (Rev. 3:9),
that is true Israel, and it is Old Covenant Israel that is persecuting the Church. Jesus said that the
Old Covenant Jews were going to come and bow before the feet of the Church, the true Israel. So
we see that many of the prophesies given to Israel are spiritually fulfilled in the Church.
TABERNACLE OF DAVID
What is the Tabernacle of David? There are all kinds of different ideas on what the Tabernacle of David is. There are movements today that call themselves "The Tabernacle of David." The is a form of worship that comes from these verses called "David worship." I'm not going to go into all the different ideas, it would take weeks.
Historically, the Tabernacle of David was the tent where the ark of God was housed during the latter part of David's reign. The Ark of the Covenant was originally housed in the Tabernacle of Moses (also called the Tabernacle of the Congregation). In the year 1050 B.C., David brought the Ark to Jerusalem and placed it in a tent, the Tabernacle of David (2 Samuel 6, 1 Chronicles 13-16). The Ark stayed in David's Tabernacle for 40 years until it was moved into the temple built and dedicated by David's son Solomon in 1010 B.C. (2 Chronicles 5-7).
I think that the expression, "The Tabernacle of David" is a reference to the Davidic Covenant, and the promises that God gave to David; that someone from his seed would sit upon a throne and rule and reign in the Kingdom of God. David was a king, and had a promise from God, that his "throne should be established forever":
...Moreover, I tell you that the LORD will build a house for you. 11 "And it shall come about when your days are fulfilled that you must go to be with your fathers, that I will set up one of your descendants after you, who shall be of your sons; and I will establish his kingdom. 12 "He shall build for Me a house, and I will establish his throne forever. 13 "I will be his father, and he shall be My son; and I will not take My lovingkindness away from him, as I took it from him who was before you. 14 "But I will settle him in My house and in My kingdom forever, and his throne shall be established forever."'" (1 Chronicles 17:10-14 NASB)
So God promised David that there should not fail him a man on the throne of Israel. This promise God confirmed with an oath, saying:
"I have made a covenant with My chosen; I have sworn to David My servant, 4 I will establish your seed forever, And build up your throne to all generations." Selah. (Psalms 89:3-4 NASB)
According to the apparent meaning of this promise, it had long since failed; for it had been many generations since a descendant of David had occupied his throne. It was during this period, in which the royal house of David was in ruins, that Amos uttered the prophesy":
'AFTER THESE THINGS I will return, AND I WILL REBUILD THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID WHICH HAS FALLEN, AND I WILL REBUILD ITS RUINS, AND I WILL RESTORE IT, (Acts 15:16 NASB)
When the birth of Jesus was announced to Mary, the angel said:
"He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end." (Luke 1:32-33 NASB)
Thus, the promise of the Tabernacle of David being rebuilt, when properly understood, is seen to refer neither to a continuous line of Jewish kings descended from David, nor to a reconstruction of the Jewish nation, but to the perpetual reign of Jesus in the Church, His holy habitation.
The Tabernacle of David, pitched in "Zion," the city of David, became the dwelling place of Yahweh. I see the Tabernacle of David as a prophetic symbol of Yahweh's dwelling place. Notice what Peter writes:
you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For this is contained in Scripture: "BEHOLD I LAY IN ZION A CHOICE STONE, A PRECIOUS CORNER stone, AND HE WHO BELIEVES IN HIM SHALL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED." (1 Peter 2:5-6 NASB)
Peter's citation from Isaiah establishes two very important facts: first, that God's eternal habitation was being built, not in the natural world, but in the spiritual world; and second, that the "Zion" of prophecy, which God has chosen as the place of His eternal abode, is the heavenly Zion, to which we "are come" (Heb. 12:22). These two facts help us in interpreting Acts 15:16. The tabernacle that David built for the ark was in Zion, the city of David; and the name "Zion" designates a spiritual locality, the place of God's eternal dwelling, thus it would naturally follow that the expression "Tabernacle of David" has also a spiritual meaning.
The "Tabernacle of David," spoken of by Amos, is used as a prophetic symbol of that "habitation of God":
having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together is growing into a holy temple in the Lord; 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:20-22 NASB)
God's chief purpose in saving the Gentiles is that He may use them as "living stones," in the building of that "spiritual house" which is His dwelling place.
The non-Dispensational understanding of this text in Acts 15, is that James was saying that the Messianic Kingdom had come, and Amos' prediction was completely fulfilled. Progressive Dispensationalists believe he meant that the first stage of the Messianic Kingdom had come, and that Amos' prediction was partially fulfilled. Normative Dispensationalists view the Messianic Kingdom as entirely future.
John MacArthur writes, "This is a millennial prophecy, There's no question about the fact that this is talking about the future kingdom." Really? How does what happens in the future prove what James is saying?
Most Premillennial commentators interpret it to refer to the Second Coming of Christ and the future restoration of David's throne, followed by worldwide witness to the Gentiles in the millennium. But it seems to me that James is using the quote from Amos to refer to what God was doing in the present, not to what He would do in the future.
When Amos gave the prophecy, it was talking about a future time, but when James quotes it, he does so to say that it is being fulfilled.
This is James argument: The salvation of the Gentiles agrees with what Amos said. What Peter has done, taking the Gospel to the Gentiles is the fulfillment of what Amos said. Amos said that the Tabernacle of David would be restored "in order that" the Gentiles may seek after God. The Gentiles were now being saved. So what does that tell you about the Tabernacle of David? It was at that time being restored. The Gentiles could not call on God until the remnant, Amos 5:3, was being brought in. The Gentiles could not be saved until the Tabernacle of David was restored. Since the Gentiles were being saved, the Tabernacle of David was being restored. This passage speaks of the restoration of Israel.
Keep in mind that the Jerusalem Conference was occupied--not with some future work of God, but--with what He had at that very time begun to do. For His visitation of the Gentiles, beginning through Peter at the house of Cornelius and continuing through Paul and Barnabas in various places in Asia Minor, was the subject, and the only subject, so far as the record discloses, that was considered at that Conference.
Of all the things which Dispensationalism teaches, the fundamental teaching of the system is that there is a distinction between Israel and the Church. According to Dispensationalism, God has two differing peoples, who each respectively have differing covenant promises, different destinies, and different purposes. Membership in Israel is by natural birth. One enters the Church by supernatural birth. Dispensationalists view Israel and the Church as having distinct eternal destinies. Israel will receive an eternal earthly kingdom, and the Church an eternal heavenly Kingdom. Irrespective of anything else that may be found in the system, if one rejects the Israel/Church distinction, one ceases to be a Dispensationalist.
Who was the promise of Amos 9:11, "In that day I will raise up the fallen booth of David" made to? Amos was writing to Israel, the 10 Northern tribes. And yet James is saying that this prophecy is being fulfilled in the Church. I believe that the Bible teaches the essential continuity of Israel and the Church. The elect of all the ages are seen as one people--true Israel, with one Savior, one destiny.
This view has been called "replacement theology"--it is said that the Church replaced Israel. But a much better term would be "fulfillment theology"--the promises of God made to Old Covenant Israel are "fulfilled" in the Church of Jesus Christ, which is true Israel. Christianity is the fulfillment of God's promises to Israel, because we are true Israel.
"WHO MAKES THESE THINGS KNOWN FROM OF OLD"--The quote from Amos 9:12 ends with "says the Lord, who does these things." The rest of the verse is James' comment.
James concludes the quote by affirming that this plan for Gentile salvation is not of human origin and is not new. It has been known by God for ages:
"Declare and set forth your case; Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the LORD? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. (Isaiah 45:21 NASB)
To oppose it with human cultural traditions, even those that appeal to Scripture, is to oppose God's eternal revelation.
All the interpretive problems aside, the bottom line is that James was using Scripture to support Peter's argument, that salvation for all people, Jew or Gentile, is by God's grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. The quote from Amos and James' concluding comment support what Peter emphasized in verse 7, that the salvation of the Gentiles originated with God, not with man. It was not something that Peter or Paul and Barnabas dreamed up. God purposed to do it from eternity, and He revealed it through His prophets centuries before.
"Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles, (Acts 15:19 NASB)
As far as James was concerned, the Holy Spirit had spoken to him (and through him to the others) from the Scriptures. And that really decided the matter. It was not a question of coming to agreement but of knowing the divine will. And God had spoken. All else was irrelevant.
James decided that Peter, Barnabas, and Paul were correct, and that those of the sect of the Pharisees who believed were wrong. Salvation is by grace alone!
We are saved not because of anything we deserved, not because of anything that we did, not because of anything that we are, but because of all that Christ is, and all that He did, which we only believed, and God imputed to us the righteousness of Christ and gave us eternal life.
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