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Bible Commentaries

Wells of Living Water Commentary

Acts 15



Verses 13-21

The Plan and Purpose of God

Acts 15:13-21


We are once more back in Jerusalem in attendance at the council called by the Church at Jerusalem to consider the demands of certain from the sect of the Christian Pharisees, who were demanding that the Gentile believers should be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses.

In our last study we discovered that much disputing had, at the first, arisen. Afterward Peter had stood up and declared how God had by his mouth preached the Gospel unto the Gentiles in Caesarea, and how they had been saved and received the Holy Ghost the same as the Jews. Following Peter, Barnabas and Paul had been called to address the conference, and they detailed before the assemblage the marvelous miracles and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles by them.

When the two missionary travelers had concluded their narrations, James arose to speak.

We have just read the words with which James addressed the gathering. It is our purpose, as God enables us, today, to consider a part of these words that are so freighted with meaning words particularly vital to us in these the closing days of this age.


There are some who have never been able to distinguish between one dispensation and another, imagining that God always works the same in every age.

There are others, of whom we are one, who plainly see various stages in man's history, in which God is working under distinctive and different methods in order to give men every opportunity of love, light and life.

There are some who delight in quoting from Hebrews this blessed and true word of inspiration: "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever." "Yesterday," reaches back into the eternal past; "to day," encompasses the great present, in which we now live and move; while "for ever," enters into those eternal ages to come wherein God will reveal the exceeding riches of His grace.

This quotation from Hebrews is particularly used by those who teach Divine healing, as though Jesus Christ healed the same today as when He was upon the earth. However, if such an application be made, the good brethren who so claim should press back of Christ's earth life, and insist that He healed the same from Adam to Noah, and from Noah to Abraham, from Abraham to Moses, and from Moses to Christ. Yea, they must look back as far as God's "yesterday" looks back. They must go into the eternal ages of old, when the eternal Son was with the Father before the world was.

Then, again, the men who force this verse into the realm of present-day methods of Divine healing, must not stop in their application of healing methods with this age of grace. They must also go on into the age of the "thousand years," and then go beyond into the glories of the New Jerusalem, and so on, through God's eternal for evermore. "Yesterday" looks back beyond any age known to man; "for ever," looks on beyond any age known to man, ages which will be revealed in their time.

Now let us wait a moment. Let no one report that we do not believe in Divine healing, for such is not the case. We believe in the James instructions for this age. These are found in James 5:13-16 .

However, Divine healing is not the issue just now. The issue is this are there distinctive ages in which God, in Christ, works in different ways? Does Hebrews 13:8 , the verse we have just quoted, teach that Christ is the same very God of very God; the same in attributes, the same in love, and holiness, and in righteousness in every age, from everlasting unto everlasting; or, does it teach that Christ works the same in every age, from everlasting to everlasting.

Let us not force Scripture out of its true statement, in order to bolster up some doctrine we wish to enforce. Even if Christ does heal the same in every age, "yesterday, and to day, and for ever," let us not endeavor to emphasize that fact from a Scripture that does no more than to say that He is the same.

James is not slow to assert the fact of distinctive plans for distinctive ages. The truth is that James, under the teaching of the Spirit, saw that the whole trouble that faced the Church in Jerusalem, had been brought about by the failure of some of the saints to discern God's "plan of the ages" and to force upon another, and a succeeding age, the religious ceremonials and laws that were in force in another and a preceding age.

We hinted this before we now press it farther the whole of the disputations and dissensions among the early believers concerning circumcision, and Mosaic Law-works, was brought about by a failure to rightly divide the Word of Truth.

We say this also, much, yea, most of the quibbling and quarreling among orthodox saints today is due to the same sad defect a failure to recognize distinctive dispensations, in which God deals under distinctive methods with men.

The Christ we worship is the same, but the ceremonials in which we acknowledge Him may differ. The creed as to Christ's ceremonials which substantiate that creed, may change.

Why go back into the age under Law, to enforce upon an age under Grace, the symbolical ordinance of the Sabbath. If the Sabbath was given to the Jews and to the Jews only, and was given to them as a sign between them and their God throughout their generations, then, why seek to enforce it upon the Gentiles and upon the Church?

Thank God for the conference in Jerusalem! Thank God for the Apostle James! What clear insight he had into the plans and purposes of God! May God anoint our eyes with eyesalve that we also may see.


Here is the way James bounded this age "God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His Name; * * After this I will return."

In this remarkable sentence James makes plain two vital truths.

1. The Church Has a Particular Age Boundary.

2. The Church Has a Definite Age Mission.

We will take up only the first of these two.

The Church has a particular age boundary. We use the word Church, although James did not use it. James used the word, "Gentiles." However the Lord is visiting the Gentiles and taking out of them a people through the ministrations of the Church to this all will agree.

Some, however, may ask, "Where do you get from the words of James any particular age boundary? that is, where does James express that the Church had a definite age-beginning, or that the Church will have a definite age-ending. We get it from the statement, "God at the FIRST did," coupled with the statement, "After this I will return."

From the time that the vail of the Temple was rent in twain, God turned to the Gentiles. This occurred at the death of Christ. Before the death of Christ, under the age of Mosaic Law, Christ held His ministry to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. After His resurrection Christ gave command, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations ." He also said, ""Go ye into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature. " That was the beginning of the message of: salvation to all men. That was the time when witnessing was to begin in Jerusalem and reach on through Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

But will the word and work of the Church have a time ending? It will. When? When the Lord comes to take the Church to Himself. James made this plain in his statement, "After this I will return," saith the Lord.

The age-boundary of the Church, in which God turns to the Gentiles is plainly outlined by James; it is also emphasized in other Scriptures. Let us note a few of these:

1.Matthew 23:37-39Matthew 23:37-39 .

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her kings, and ye would not!

"Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.

"For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord" (Matthew 23:37-39 ).

Note the word till. Jerusalem's house was to be left desolate, but not for ever. It has been desolate for two thousand years; it is desolate now, although, thank God, there are some marks of the renaissance that must surely come to the chosen nation. However, her restoration will not come in any abiding sense till Christ comes again and Israel shall say, "Blessed is He that cometh in the Name of the Lord."

The till of these verses cover the period of Israel's desolation. The Church, to be sure, is not mentioned, and yet, no one will deny that it is during this same age boundary (lying between the leaving desolate of Israel's House, and its final restoration), that the Church is carrying on.

2.Luke 21:20-28Luke 21:20-28 . We give here only a part of these marvelous words:

"And when ye shall see Jerusalem compassed with armies, then know that the desolation thereof is nigh.

"And they shall fall by the edge of the sword, and shall be led away captive into all nations: and Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled.

"And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring:

"Men's hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken.

"And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory" (Luke 21:20 , Luke 21:24-27 ).

What have we here? First of all, we have Israel's desolation; her being led captive into all of the nations; her being trodden down. All who know of Jerusalem's history, know that these words have met a literal fulfilment. They know also that Jerusalem and the Jews are still under the heel of the Gentiles. Shall this continue for ever? Impossible. Listen once more to the inerrant word of prophecy as we see what else is here in Luke's words: "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled." Not for ever, but until.

Once more the Church is not mentioned, yet we all know that the Church is filling in the gap, and giving her testimony, during this age of Gentile supremacy. We have not yet proved that the Church age covers only the times of the Gentiles, and that when that time runs out the Church will be taken up, and the Children of Israel grafted in again: but we have shown that Israel's "being trodden down" is only during the times of the Gentiles.

3.Romans 11:25-27Romans 11:25-27 .

"For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in.

"And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.

"For this is my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins" (Romans 11:25-27 ).

Once more we have the striking word until. Blindness in part is to happen unto Israel, but not for ever and ever and ever; but only until the fulness of the Gentiles come in.

In our preceding verse we had the times of the Gentiles; now we have the fulness of the Gentiles. The word times and fulness both cover the same age boundary; but "times" refers to the whole period during which the Gentiles are to tread down Jerusalem; while "fulness" refers to the out-gathering from among the Gentiles which shall be garnered in before the "times" of the Gentiles can run out.

Here then we have a most decided reference to the Church, but not by name. The whole eleventh chapter of Romans is given to the discussion of Israel's casting off, or "breaking off" under an answer to the query, "Hath God cast away His people?" The chapter says that Israel's fall became the riches of the world, and that her diminishing became the riches of the Gentiles.

Israel was a branch broken off from God's olive tree; the Church was grafted in, and made to partake of the root and fatness of the olive tree. However, remember God's Word "For God is able to graft them in again." It is therefore easy to grasp the succeeding statement, "And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob."

None need doubt now that Israel's rejection lies between Calvary and Olivet, between the Cross and the Second Coming, and that, during that same period of time the Church will make God known among men.

4. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 .

"For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread:

"And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

"After the same manner also He took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.

"For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come" (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 ).

Here we have the Church in a very definite way, for Paul in the Spirit writes, "When ye come together in the church" this is in 1 Corinthians 11:18 . Then in connection with the Church and her observance of the Lord's Supper, we have that same striking, "till." "Ye do shew the Lord's death till He come."

The Church gathers around the Supper Table with, as it were, a great rainbow of promise stretching over its head, and marking the period in which the supper is to be observed. One end of the rainbow touches the hill of Calvary, it rests on the Cross; the other end of the rainbow touches Mount Olivet, it rests on the place of the Lord's Return.

Thus, the Lord's Supper sets the age boundary of the Church, the same as the three Scriptures noted before, set the age boundary of Israel's casting off.

How marvelous to consider that the until and the till of Matthew 23:1-39 , Luke 21:1-38 and Romans 11:1-36 , covers the same age limitations as the till of 1 Corinthians 11:1-34 .

Our conclusion is in evidence Israel is broken off, trodden down, desolate until. The Church is grafted in, shewing forth the Lord's death, until. That is, while Israel is in chastisement, scattered among the nations, with her harps hung on the willow trees of weeping; the Church is making God and grace known to the world. The Church is occupying only until He come.

5.Luke 19:11-13Luke 19:11-13 .

"And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear.

"He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return.

"And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come" (Luke 19:11-13 ).

Here is yet another "till." This time it is "Occupy till I come." The Lord describes Himself under the guise of a nobleman who is taking a journey into a far country to receive a Kingdom, and to return. He calls His servants and tells them to occupy while He is gone and until He returns.

The parable was given because the disciples thought that the Kingdom of God would immediately appear. Christ was making clear that His Kingdom must be received from His Father, and that for this He must go into the skies. Since He went away, nearly two thousand years have elapsed and yet He tarries. However, He will surely come and bring His rewards with Him.

It was just after this parable, with Christ's command, "Occupy till I come," that Christ was definitely rejected as King. While His disciples cast their clothes in the way, and hailed Him with a loud voice, saying, "Blessed be the King that cometh in the Name of the Lord"; yet some of the Pharisees from among the people said, "Master, rebuke Thy disciples." Then it was that Jesus drew near and wept over Jerusalem, saying, "And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, "Saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes.

"For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side" (Luke 19:41-43 ).

Accordingly Israel was rejected, but not for ever. She shall yet return to her Lord, and a nation shall be born in a day.

Accordingly, also, the Church is "occupying," but she shall occupy only until the Lord comes again and receives her unto Himself, then she shall have a full reward.

We are now ready to take up the words spoken by James at the council in Jerusalem. James said, "Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for His Name. And to this agree the words of the Prophets * * After this I will return."

What is James saying? He is saying that God is now dealing with the Gentiles, and will be so dealing until He returns to rebuild the Tabernacle of David which is fallen down.

Are we willing to grant what James is proclaiming?

Remember the occasion of James' remark. There were certain of those who believed from among the Pharisees, These believers were trying to still carry on under the Jewish regime, and were insisting that the Gentile believers should be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses.

Peter had spoken showing that God had accepted the Gentiles apart from circumcision and Judaic rites, and filled them with the Spirit. Paul and Barnabas had spoken along much the same line, recounting the miracles and wonders that God had wrought among the Gentiles. Finally James is speaking, endorsing the position of Peter and showing that God was now visiting the Gentiles. James withal is contending that this position is in accord with the teaching of the Prophets. Therefore the Pharisees who believed were wrong in their demands, and Paul and Barnabas were right in refusing to place upon the Gentiles a Jewish yoke.

Let us be content to rightly divide the Word of Truth, and not endeavor to lay upon saints what God does not lay upon them. Let us examine our faith and see if we are caught in the same meshes that involved some of the early Christians. If we are so entangled we also are causing no end of trouble and confusion.


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Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Neighbour, Robert E. "Wells of Living Water Commentary on Acts 15:4". "Living Water".

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