PAUL LEAVES DAMASCUS FOR JERUSALEM (Gal. 1:18-20)
Paul is not giving us merely a history of his itineraries, a sort of catalogue of his travel-experiences, but he is clinching an argument with historical evidence. He lets the facts speak for his holy, affirmation that he did not receive the gospel of Christ from man, neither by men, but from God by revelation.
That we must constantly keep in mind!
He will now relate his experiences in Jerusalem. He returns to Jerusalem “three years” after he has left Jerusalem. That he leaves Damascus at this time is due to the persecution of the Jews. Paul had returned from Arabia to Damascus and had stayed in Damascus for quite some time. He had gone forth from strength to strength in the Lord as a preacher. He had spoken to the Jews there confounding them, and proving that this Jesus is the very Christ! (Acts 9:22) He was a preacher for quite a while before he even met one of the apostles in Jerusalem. The Jews would waylay Paul and kill him. They had influenced the governor under Aretas the King to apprehend Paul with soldiers (II Cor. 11:32). And his friends outwitted these soldiers by letting Paul down by the wall, in a basket. Thus he escaped their hands and went to Jerusalem.
He went there as a very active and actual preacher of the Gospel. He is called to be a minister to the Gentiles. And he must pass through Jerusalem to make the acquaintance of Peter and James, the Lord’s brother. He goes merely to make an acquaintance, and not at all to receive knowledge of the Gospel or to receive preaching-credentials. The latter he had received directly from Christ. He had received in Arabia revelations concerning his preaching to the Gentiles on the infinite riches of Christ. He did not meet the churches here in Judea, churches where he had actually killed and brought to court the saints of God. They only heard (“were hearing from time to time”) that the one who had formerly persecuted them now was preaching the faith in Christ. He was actually preaching this way of salvation and finding peace of conscience in this Christ.
These churches in Judea received this “news concerning Paul each time with great joy and thankfulness. They were glorifying God in Paul. Each new information concerning what God had done to Paul was received with humble acknowledgement that God had done it and no one else.
That Paul stresses that he was only fifteen days with Peter is perhaps to underscore that surely Peter could not have given him a training for the ministry during that short visit. He also met James, the brother of the Lord.
While Paul was in Jerusalem he did try to preach. He did not attempt to preach to the churches there, but he tried to convince the leaders of the Jews that Jesus is the Christ. His preaching fell upon deaf and hateful ears. The Lord Jesus himself intervenes by coming to Paul in the temple while he is praying. Paul falls into a trance and the Lord tells him that these Jews will never listen to him. Paul is trying to convince people whom Christ never knew as His own. Paul’s motive is that he would have them be saved. He recalls his cooperation with the Jews in the murdering, the stoning of Stephen. He held the coats of the murderers. (Acts 22:17-20) But the Lord says, “Depart, for I will send thee far hence to the Gentiles.” Paul’s leaving Jerusalem for Syria and Cilicia was not by private initiative, but by the Lord’s command and direction. Christ himself ended Paul’s stay with Peter, limiting it to fifteen days! He leaves somewhat feared by the churches, and hated by the enemies! Barnabas needed to intervene for Paul to Peter!
PAUL’S RETURN TO JERUSALEM AFTER FOURTEEN YEARS (Gal. 2:1-10)
Paul is still defending his case as an independent apostle next to the brethren who were apostles before him. What a grand and convincing apology! Paul is not here relating every visit to Jerusalem. He omits the visit recorded in Acts 27-30. This latter visit was merely to bring relief to the brethren which dwelt in Jerusalem. But Paul is here selecting this visit because of the things which happened there in connection with “the truth of the Gospel.” (Gal. 2:5) The Judaizers in the church, false brethren, would take away the liberty in Christ, and-they denied that the Gentiles were free in Christ Jesus from the laws and ordinances of the Old Testament. They would put the Gentiles under the law of circumcision. He mentions this visit because here had been the show-down case of Titus, who was a Greek. The Judaizers had insisted that this Greek Christian, believer in Christ, be submitted to circumcision.
The situation was as follows. This is the meeting of Paul with Peter, John; and James in Jerusalem in connection with the teaching of certain men from, Jerusalem, who had come down to Antioch, insisting that except “ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses ye cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1) They went on the pulpit in Antioch and taught these things and there was a crisis in the church, a doctrinal issue pure and simple. And prior to the meeting and the decision, spoken of in Acts 15:6-29, there was a private meeting of Paul with the apostles Peter and John and with James. (Gal. 2:2) Paul met privately with those who were of reputation. And the pressure was on. Paul stood gallantly in that fight. The Galatian Christians must know that the battle was decisive for the truth of the Gospel, justification by faith. Paul would have the Gospel truth stand for all the Gentiles, including the Galatians. (Gal. 2:2b) The Gospel-truth in Christ Jesus had won the day in court.
The test-case was what to do with Titus, whom Paul had taken with him to Jerusalem. Must he be circumcised to be saved, or not? If the latter, then it would be decided that the Gentiles need not submit to circumcision ever again, in all the world and in all ages! The very sentence construction here testifies of a great struggle which was held here before Peter, James, and John. Paul must have stood in the battle, as a great advocate. The men who were pillars in the church stood firm. Titus was not “compelled to be circumcised.” Yes, he was Greek, a pure case of being one of the Gentiles who are blessed with faithful Abraham. And the matter is forever established in the church!
Incidentally, it became evident at this confrontation and adjudication that these who were held in esteem by 1 all the churches, men with good and solid credentials from the Lord, that they really meant nothing in the battle. They did not contribute to the argumentation. God does not accept the persons of anyone. He establishes his own work by whomsoever He chooses. In this case it was through Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles.
It is equally evident that we do not have here a fundamental difference in teaching. The Jews as well as the Greeks are basically free from the law of circumcision. The Jewish Christians still circumcised their children until God removed the temple-worship in the next generation. Even Paul will participate in the Nazarite vow of the brethren in the temple at Jerusalem many years later. (Acts 21:2-27) He will circumcise Timothy lest the Jewish people be offended. (Acts 16:1-3) But if it is a matter for the truth of the Gospel then he will not yield an inch, no not for a moment! (Gal. 2:5)
This is powerful apology for the truth of the Gospel, and that Paul is an apostle in his own right, yea, second to none. And this was tacitly admitted and confirmed at this private meeting in Jerusalem. Two things became clear at this meeting, both concerning the ministry of Paul and of Peter. It was how the mighty God was using Peter and using Paul. God was making the ministry of both effectual, only in different parts of his Church. Peter is the Apostle to the circumcision; God chose him to work effectually in them. And Paul is the Apostle to the uncircumcision; God works effectually in them even though they be not circumcised. Each has his place in the church as a steward of the mysteries of Christ.
This was seen and acknowledged by the brethren Peter, James, and John. And they saw how God was working powerfully through the preaching of Paul among the Gentiles. They have nothing else to do now but to give Paul the right hand of fellowship. It is here definitely decided that each has his own sphere of work. They both preach the same Gospel—the liberty which is for both Jews and Greeks in Christ Jesus. The Gospel is a power of God unto salvation for both. Both are under grace and not under law. They are of the same body and are fellow-heirs in Christ Jesus.
In the providence of God the saints in Jerusalem are poor. Paul is requested to remember the poor. The mercy of Christ will become evident in these saints. And so there will be a great benefit in Christ, proving that they are saints in one body, and Paul will write rejoicingly: “For the ministration of this service not only supplieth the saints, but is abundant also by many thanksgivings unto God. Whiles by the experiment of this ministration they glorify God for your professed subjection unto the Gospel of Christ, and for your liberal distribution unto them and unto all men, and by their prayer for you which long after you for the exceeding grace of God in you. Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.” (II Cor. 9:15)
Small wonder that at the meeting in Jerusalem proper, after Paul has rehearsed what God has done, and Peter has rehearsed what God did through him among the Gentiles, that James unfolds the prophecy of Amos 9:11, 12, and interprets that prophecy concerning the rebuilding of the temple of David as referring to the bringing of the Gentiles into the church, so that they are one church and one people, both in the Old and New Testament. (Acts 15:16-18) And the sentence of this gathering at Jerusalem is that they place no other burden on the church, the Gentiles who have turned to God, but “that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:20, 28, 29) See also Rev. 2:14, 20.
Thus the freedom which we have in Christ Jesus remains; the truth of the Gospel continues with the church of all ages.
Stand in the liberty wherewith Christ has made you free!
Thus the truth of the Gospel remains with the church forever. When certain men came to spy out the liberty which is ours in Christ Jesus they were weighed in God’s balances and were found wanting. The gates of hell would not prevail against the church, but Christ will build His church upon the solid rock of the righteousness of the Cross of Christ in Whom all promises are yea, and Amen, to the glory of God, the Father.