After Paul spent 13 years telling Gentiles they didn’t have to be circumcised to be saved, some Jews said otherwise (v.1). Paul objected, so they sent him to Jerusalem to ask the apostles about it (v.2). Paul went (v.3) because the Lord revealed he should go “communicate” (Gal.2:1,2) his new gospel of grace to the 12 and the other Jewish kingdom church leaders.
Paul needed their stamp of approval on his new ministry, because God was not about to start a new church without telling his old church about it. So he left his home Gentile church in Antioch, and the church brought him on his way by walking him out of the city (v.3cf.21:4,5).
The “brethren” in Phenice and Samaria were Jewish kingdom saints (v.3cf.Acts 8:5,6;11:19). Verse 3 shows the Average Joe Jew rejoiced to hear about the conversion of the Gentiles, but the leaders might not (cf.Mark12:37,38). These leaders were saved, but even saved men don’t always accept dispensational changes like the one Paul was introducing.
The Jerusalem church gave Paul a hearing (Acts 15:4), but some saved Pharisees insisted his new Gentile converts had to be circumcised and “keep the law” to be saved (v.5). You see, getting circumcised was the first thing the law told a man to do, and it obligated you to do the rest (Gal.5:3). When Paul told the leaders Gentiles weren’t under the law (Rom. 6:15), they convened the council to decide (Acts 15:6).
The Lord told the 12 that the decisions they made on earth would be confirmed in heaven (Mt.18:28-30), and He had no intention of asking Paul to ignore that authority and preach grace without their approval. After the 12 and those leaders disputed about it greatly, Peter reminded them that God had earlier sent him to a Gentile in Acts 10 to break the ice for Paul’s ministry (Acts 15:7). Who better to introduce God’s new main apostle than His old main apostle, just as the last Old Testament prophet (Lu.16:16) paved the way for the first New Testament prophet (Mt.3:1-3 cf. Jo.6:14). If Christ needed a man to pave the way for Him, Paul needed Peter!
But God also used the Spirit to introduce the Lord (Mt.3:13, 16), and He used Him to introduce Paul too (Acts 15:8). Peter was “astonished” to see a Gentile saved without circumcision (Acts 10:44-46) because that meant God had purified their hearts “by faith” alone (Acts 15:9), without the law. That was astonishing in that it showed God put “no difference” (15:9) between Jews and Gentiles, whereas earlier He put a huge difference between them (Lev.20:26; Num.23:9).
When Peter reminded the council that the Gentile he ministered to was saved without the law, he was reminding them they already settled this issue (Acts 11:1-17,18). So Peter asked them why they wanted to put the “yoke” of the law on Paul’s Gentile converts (Acts 15:10 cf. Gal5:1-3). Obligating them to do the whole law meant doing it 100% perfect, 100% of the time (Gal.3:10cf.James 2:10,11). Acts 15:10 says that that would “tempt” or try God (Gen.22:1,2cf.Heb. 11:17). God tried Abraham’s faith in Genesis 22, and it’d try God’s patience to force Gentiles to be circumcised after God proved by His Spirit that they didn’t need circumcision.
Finally, Peter said, “You guys are trying to make Gentiles get saved like us Jews, by circumcision and the law. But we’re going to be saved like them, by grace” (Acts 15:11). They were already saved, but their salvation worked like yours does. You were saved when you believed, but the completion of your salvation will come at the Rapture (Rom. 13:11). Peter was saved when he believed, but the completion of his salvation—and the salvation of all the rest of the Jewish kingdom saints—will come when the Lord saves them by grace—“graciously” (Hosea 14:1-4), when He takes away the sin out of their lives when they enter the kingdom, just as He purified their hearts by faith when they believed.
A video of this sermon is available on YouTube: “Paul’s Message Is Officially Reviewed” Acts 15:1-11