Paul vs. James (Pt. 8)
By William Handschumacher
A Special Rock of Offence Bible Study
This is Part 8 of a fourteen-part Bible study.
The other parts of this study are available
As we previously learned, God's original plan was for Israel to receive their Messiah (and His salvation) - and then to communicate this salvation to the Gentile nations. Jesus acknowledged this Divine mandate when He said;
"I was sent only to the lost
sheep of the house of Israel."
However, the following Scripture
reveals that this "Israel-only"
mandate did not just apply to
Christ, but to all of His
"These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as ye go, preach, saying, The kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 10:5-7)
We all know what happened.
Israel rejected their Messiah and crucified Him. Yet, despite this horrible sin, God continued to give the entire nation a chance to repent for a period of years following the cross. What many within Christendom continue to ignore - is that no Gentiles were involved in the early church until Peter preached at Cornelius household in Acts chapter 10 (covered in more detail later in this study). Up to that point, the church only consisted of those belonging to "the house of Israel". How do we know this? Jesus plainly stated that His entire ministry - which included the minstry of his disciples (later to be Apostles) - was restricted to "Israel only".
As a result, only Jews participated in the day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2 ... and the 3000 souls that were saved on the same day, as a result of Peter's preaching - were also Jews. We know this from Peter's Pentecostal sermon, and the specific group to whom it was directed.
"Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know--Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. (The words of Peter from Acts 2:22-24)
"Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ. Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:36-37)
What happened on the day of Pentecost was in perfect agreement with the earlier command of Jesus Christ ... that His ministry (which included Peter and the rest of His disciples) was limited to "the lost sheep of the house of Israel". At this point, God was giving the entire nation of Israel time to repent. Peter had just told the Jews who had gathered that they murdered Jesus Christ the Lord, who was also their Messiah. This caused 3000 people to respond to this serious crime against God by saying; "Men and brethren, what shall we do?". As a result, they were the first to join the new Church of Jesus Christ.
However, after a certain period
of time had elapsed (some
theologians think it was
approximately 7-10 years after
the cross...but was actually
much longer)--it was clear that
the entire nation was not going
Once again, it was originally God's will that Israel would be His chosen vessel to bring salvation to the Gentiles ... if they received their true Messiah; Jesus. However, instead of receiving Him--they killed Him. Then, after their refusal to repent and to fulfill their calling - He set them aside for season and established a Grace-based relationship directly with the Gentiles. God's chosen vessel for this task was a Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus, who later become the Apostle Paul following his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road.
In the Book of Acts, Paul gives
an account of this radical
change in God's plans.
"So when the Jews went out of the synagogue, the Gentiles begged that these words might be preached to them the next Sabbath. Now when the congregation had broken up, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, persuaded them to continue in the grace of God. On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with envy; and contradicting and blaspheming, they opposed the things spoken by Paul. Then Paul and Barnabas grew bold and said, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken to you first; but since you reject it, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us: 'I have set you as a light to the Gentiles, that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth.'" Now when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of the Lord. And as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:42-48)
Later, in his Epistle to
the Romans, Paul gives us
more details about God's
action toward the Jews and
what it produced.
"I say then, have they (the Jews) stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather THROUGH THEIR FALL SALVATION IS COME UNTO THE GENTILES, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much their fulness?" (Romans 11:11-12)
"For I speak to you Gentiles (Christian believers today), inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: If by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them. For if the casting away of them (the Jews) be the reconciling of the world, what shall be the receiving of them, but life from the dead?" (Romans 11:13-15)
"For I do not desire, brethren, that you (Christian believers living today) should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness (or full number) of the Gentiles has come in (speaking of the Church). And so all Israel will be saved..." (Romans 11:25-26)
Peter's Experience at the Household
of Cornelius Reveals Some Important
Facts Covered by this Study
In Acts chapter 10, we see an fascinating encounter between Peter and God. But first, we need to do a brief review.
Paul, who had just had just encountered Jesus on the Damascus road in Acts chapter 9 - was now in Arabia, where he received an important "Revelation of Jesus Christ" that provided the full details of the New Covenant ... which also laid the spiritual foundation for bringing the Gentiles into the Church. As we previously learned, the ruling apostles continued to operate under Christ's Messianic mandate that limited their ministry to the Jewish members of the "House of Israel". As far as they were concerned, this mandate remained in force after Christ's crucifixion - and the day of Pentecost. As a result, the apostles believed that the Gentiles were still "outside of God's covenants of promise" and had no hope of ever being saved. Also, the Law that the apostles continued to observe, considered the Gentiles as "unclean" and made it illegal for any Jew to socialize - or to even eat with them. As a result, Gentiles could not be part of the Church - as far as they were concerned. But, God was about to make a major change.
In Acts chapter 10, Peter was staying with Simon the tanner. He was hungry at the time and was waiting for dinner to be served before starting his regular time of prayer. Suddenly, God appeared and gave him a vision of a great sheet filled with all kinds of four-footed animals, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. The Lord then told him (obviously knowing about his hunger); "Rise, Peter; kill and eat."
Here's the problem: All the animals in that sheet were unclean according to the Law. Yet, God had just commanded Peter, a law-abiding Jew, to "disobey the Law". Then Peter does something extraordinary - he tells God that he's not going to obey - because he has never eaten anything common or unclean. But a voice responds by saying; "What God has cleansed you must not call common (unclean)" - and this was repeated three times.
What Peter did not know was that an angel had previously appeared in a vision to a man in Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion. The angel told him to send for Peter, who was lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea. Cornelius called two of his household servants and a devout soldier - and sent them to Joppa. Verses 17-19 then tells us:
Now while Peter wondered within himself what this vision which he had seen meant, behold, the men who had been sent from Cornelius had made inquiry for Simon's house, and stood before the gate. And they called and asked whether Simon, whose surname was Peter, was lodging there. While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them."
The men who were sent then
told Peter in verses 22-23;
"Cornelius the centurion, a just man, one who fears God and has a good reputation among all the nation of the Jews, was divinely instructed by a holy angel to summon you to his house, and to hear words from you." Then he invited them in and lodged them.
Here's the problem Peter faced: Cornelius and the men he sent were all Gentiles - and it was illegal for Peter to associate or to eat with them - because the Law declared them to be unclean. But, just before the men arrived, the Holy Spirit told Peter; "Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them."
Peter then traveled to the house of Cornelius (which was also against the Law) and preached Christ to all the Gentiles who had gathered - AND EVERYONE WERE SAVED. Scripture reveals that this was the first time Gentiles were invited into the Church ... and it was God Himself who gave the invitation. It was only then Peter fully understood the message of the "great sheet vision" ... that God had now declared the Gentiles to be "clean" and that he must no longer consider them to be "unclean". But, Peter also understood something else of great importance ... that God had now removed Christ's original "Jews only mandate" causing a major change to take place concerning his religious beliefs.
But, the story of Peter's visit
to Cornelius' house doesn't end
with the Gentiles getting saved.
Acts chapter 11:2-3 tells us
what happened next.
"Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, THOSE OF THE CIRCUMCISION contended with him, saying, "You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!"
We must remember that Peter was a law-abiding Jew, which also makes him part of; "the circucision". As a result, when Peter returned to Jerusalem his Jewish brethren confronted him - and it was clear they were angry. What was Peter's offense? "He went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them! (speaking of those at Cornelius' household)"
Peter then told them the whole story about the "great sheet vision" and how the Holy Spirit commanded him to go to Cornelius' house to preach. He also told them how God had previously sent an angel to Cornelius who said to him, 'Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.' Peter then told them what happened next :
"As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, AS UPON US AT THE BEGINNING. Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If therefore God gave them (the Gentiles) the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?"
When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, "Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life."(Acts 11:15-18)
All of this proves that Peter was still observing the Law until the events at Cornelius' household - some 7 years after the cross. It also means that the other apostles were doing the same thing. We should remember that the Law was exclusively assigned to Israel at Mount Sinai - and no one else. This was why Jesus initially said; "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24). Contrary to popular Christian teaching, God did not assign the Law to the Church - which is why Paul stated; "Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the Law but under Grace (Romans 6:14)." As a result, the apostles were shocked and amazed when God violated His very own Law - by inviting the Gentiles into His redemptive program.
But God's nature of holiness would
never allow Him to violate the
Law - unless it had already been
abolished and "taken out of the
way". Colossians 2:13-14 reveals
that this is precisely what
happened at the cross, which is
why there is no contradiction
and that God did nothing wrong.
The events in Acts chapters 10 and 11 sound a loud and clear warning to all of the apostles (and to Christians today); that God was phasing-out the program of the Law - and replacing it with something better; as revealed in the following Scriptures :
"But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He (Jesus) is also mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second." (Hebrews 8:6-7)
"In that He (Jesus Christ) says, "a new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." (Hebrews 8:13)
Peter unknowingly initiated the next stage of Christ's New Covenant ... which brought the Gentiles into the Church for the first time. However, God would later assign Paul (when he was ready) to the position of "apostle to the Gentiles" (See Romans 11:13-15), which makes him the Chief Apostle of this new expression of the Church ... to which all modern-day Christians belong regardless of their race. Paul reveals the following truths about these changes:
"Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh--who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands--that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and stragers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, HAVING ABOLISHED IN HIS FLESH THE ENMITY, THAT IS, THE LAW OF COMMANDMENTS CONTAINED IN ORDINANCES, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have access by one Spirit to the Father. Now, therefore, you (the Gentiles) are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the Saints and members of the Household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:11-22)
This is Part 8 of a fourteen-part Bible study.
The other parts of this study are available
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