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The Jerusalem Church (7)

First, once again the whole assembly was brought together. Second, the situation was presented and the truth was expounded. Finally, the false teaching was exposed and silenced. Do not be fooled or suspect that it was a simple matter and easily disposed of, for nothing is said of the time that was taken to finally end the matter, but it is unlikely that it was allowed to go on for months. And just because enlightened men were there did not seem to make the situation less difficult to deal with; and despite this it is before the whole church that the final decisions are presented.

The false reports of the intent of the Apostle Paul’s teaching also came before the church at Jerusalem. The work of Paul came into conflict in the ears of some in the church there, and a difficult situation might ensue if some of those who had not completely disposed of the trappings of the Jewish worship and perhaps were weaker in their new faith, were to observe that Paul did not participate in the Jewish customs.

In Acts 21 there is recorded how the church advised Paul to show the reports false by uniting with four Nazarites and paying for their vows and as being patron to their service in the Temple. This was advised by James and the elders of the church (likely the Lord’s half-brother — for the 12 apostles were apparently now off to other fields, and the apostle Paul was soon to depart Jerusalem for good). Although it was not a sinful thing for the apostle to pay for these and to observe the traditions, it certainly turned out to be bad advice. However, it is probable that any course taken would have ended in trouble with the swirling controversies surrounding Paul.

It was of course performed as suggested, but as noted it did not assuage the enemies of the apostle. It did serve to show that the Jerusalem church still worked at preserving good will, so that they might by any means, “gain some for Christ” where no sin was involved, and so in this too they remain a model for action and decision making within churches of God.

Through all of these things they were a model of steadfast faith though even under persecution. Overall as far as the history of the scriptures is able to show us, and as far as secular history complements the scriptures, the church at Jerusalem ceased to exist after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD and so lasted only some 30 to 35 years. The persecutions started early and continued throughout its storied life. In Acts chapter 4 Peter and John and then all of the twelve apostles were persecuted, in chapters 6 through 8 Stephen was martyred and the record states that this events started a general persecution initiated by the Jews. Chapter 12 records the imprisonment of Peter and the death of Jacob Bar Zebedee (the Hebrew name of the apostle who we know commonly as James, brother of John) at the hands of Herod Agrippa’s henchmen.

We do not read of the last persecution in the scriptures, as it is not recorded in the Bible, but only by one secular historian. These stories of the death of this James, the Lord’s half brother, and of the church of Jerusalem in general, work up to the destruction of the city at the hands of the Roman legions; and Josephus records how the Christians fled prior to the encirclement of Jerusalem under Titus just as Christ had prophesied. And with this historical note, the church at Jerusalem then died as it had lived — obedient to Christ.

May God grant us the time that we may work to see the likes of such again. May we see its imitators one day fill the landscape far and wide, so that once more when the Lord returns to collect his own and to reckon with us all that he may find the model for churches reproduced in every congregation in this land and wide upon the earth: in every place where they call upon his name. And that he will say, “Well done my good and faithful servants.”

[The foundation of this lesson – the full 7 essays presented here – was based upon a sermon originally penned by J. W. McGarvey. It has been revised and worked by any number of teachers over the years, and is yet worthy of note.]