When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters were there to gladly receive us. On the day following, Paul went with us to meet James, all the elders being present. Having greeted them, Paul told them in detail what God had been doing among the Gentiles in the course of his ministry. Hearing that, they glorified God and said to him, "You are aware, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed. They all are zealous for the law, and yet they have been told that you teach [that] all the Jews among the Gentiles [are] to give Moses a miss, telling them that they need not circumcise their children or observe the customs. What is to be done? They are going to hear you are here. Having considered this situation, here is what we think you should do. Four men here are under a vow; take them, purify yourself and them, paying their expenses to enable them to have their heads shaved. This done, all will then realise there is nothing to what these reports say about you since you indeed live by observing the law. But with regard to the believing Gentiles, we have sent out a letter informing them of our judgment to abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled and from whatever is unchaste."
     Paul then took the men, and on the next day he with them began the purification and so entered the temple, giving notice when the purification period would be over as well as presenting an offering on behalf of each. - Acts 21:17-26/transliteration by Bruce C Wearne


JERUSALEM: When Paul arrived backl in the city, the apostles spoke to him about how to reach both the Jewish zealots and the Gentiles. PICTURE: Rob Bye/Unsplash.


The party arrived in Jerusalem to be warmly welcomed. The leaders of the church had a plan. Paul was to show his piety, his respect for Israel's customs and the temple according to the law of Moses. 

What do we have here? This is Luke's account of his experience of the internal manoeuvring and politicking amongst the Jewish community in Jerusalem. As a Gentile in Jerusalem, believing in the Jewish Messiah, Luke came face-to-face with entrenched Jewish opposition to the Gospel of Israel's Ascended King. The apostles were on the defensive, between a rock and a hard place. Luke had experienced resistance to Paul's message in Gentile lands, but now his experience was extended.

No doubt this event was at back of his mind when he wrote up his account of the "Jerusalem justice" meted out in Jesus' trial (see Luke 22-23). Though he had not been an eyewitness to that travesty, his presence on this occasion may have been deepened his insight into what had unfolded in that earlier time. Luke saw first-hand how the renewed spiritual perception of the leaders of the Jerusalem church was responding to the Lord's teaching in a difficult situation.

Would it not have been natural for the leaders of the Jerusalem church to blame Paul for intensifying intra-Jewish opposition to the Gospel? This is the problem Luke addresses. But let's look carefully at what Luke tells us.

Jesus' word had already put the apostles on a distinct path; they went forward, observing what He had advised them when they began to realise that this was the way to overcome any uncertainty they might have (Acts 1:6-7). So they were also keen to assist Jewish zealots who believed in Christ. Their own tasks, as well as Paul's apostolic mission, previously endorsed (Acts 15), were easily misrepresented and misunderstood. They wanted their fellow Jewish believers to grow to understand the Messiah's rule of all people. And so this meant a deepening appreciation for the spiritual resistance to His rule, their own resistance as well. This seems to have been their motive in suggesting this.

Those who believe in Jesus have to learn that their belief in Him is but their own response to God's love for all the world. Faith does not elevate the believer above his/her neighbours. In fact it restores the believers to serve the neighbour just as God has always intended for His male and female image-bearer.

Luke tells us again and again that Jewish believers stood in need of the special unction of God's Holy Spirit if they were to receive their Messiah. This meant they had to face the fact that He did not come just for Jews and that having made His Messianic appearance, He had not visited them so they could sit back and enjoy their historical elevation above the "others", the uncircumcised, the non-Israelites, the Gentiles...Yes, Jesus is their Messiah but with His coming the Messiah's Own People are henceforth to be drawn from all the nations and tribes of the earth.

So, Luke tells us, the Jerusalem church "pulled out all stops" to help those zealous for Moses' law to understand that Paul's message of the Jewish Messiah was not at all anti-Jewish.

The zealot option had been effectively undermined for the apostles when Jesus, in response to their request, explained how His parable had referred to the prevention of any confusion of wheat and tares in one pre-emptive harvest (Matthew 13:36-43). Read in terms of what we call the "great commission" (Matthew 28:18-20), this is similar teaching to Jesus' reply recorded at the beginning of Acts when His disciples question Him, just before He left: "Lord is this now the time when the Glory of God's Kingdom is to be restored to Israel?" 

Jesus' reply indicated a different path: "You're not to think of yourself in charge of the Kingdom's timetable. Instead, you are to stay in Jerusalem for the sending of the Spirit that my Father shall send and then you shall be My witnesses to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:7).

So, zealotry is not the way, but this is a Gospel also for those caught up in zealot movements. Luke tells us emphatically that at least one who was identified with the zealot "way" was numbered among the 12 (Luke 6:15; Acts 1:13). And so we can glimpse what was of concern to the apostles. They were seeking to live according to Jesus' advice and yet many Jewish believers seemed content to accept this Messiah so long as this meant a strict adherence to the Torah which, they assumed, meant Israel was distinct and elevated among the nations.