1 And it came to pass in Iconium, that they went both together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spake, that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed.
'The Greeks believed'. But some were subverted by 'the unbelieving Jews' v2.
The inworking of this mystery, or perverse teaching, showed itself very early in the history of the Christian Eve... we are told that certain who believed were not satisfied with the sufficiency of the simplicity which is in Christ for salvation.
The belief of "the things concerning the kingdom of the Deity and of the Name of Jesus Christ;" and the immersion of such a believer for salvation from the sins of the past-did not satisfy them. They required that Moses should be obeyed as well as Jesus; and that no gospel short of this would save any one:
"Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, and keep his law, ye cannot be saved. "
This was their perversion of the gospel, which Paul terms "another gospel," the preachers of which, though of celestial angelic origin, he pronounced "accursed."
But these accursed preachers did not regard the anathema of Paul. They did not desist from the sowing of tares; but continued to heap tradition upon tradition until the distinctiveness of the truth was lost in "the commandments and doctrines of men" (Col. 2:22); and the way of truth came to be evil spoken of. Many followed their pernicious ways. Nor were the apostles able to extinguish their evil influence.
Their reasonings and denunciations and threatenings, although sanctioned by the Spirit, failed to check or restrain the rapidly developing apostasy.
Whole houses were subverted from the faith by these mercenary, unruly and vain talkers and deceivers (Tit. 1: 11): and as error always progresses more rapidly than truth, the apostles found their influence waning, and the faithful falling into a minority; which steadily increased until there remained but few names who had not defiled their garments; and only a little strength to maintain the truth before the world (Apoc. 3:4,8).
27 And when they were come, and had gathered the ecclesia together, they rehearsed all that God had done with them, and how he had opened the door of faith unto the Gentiles.
The Preaching unto the Gentiles
Far back, God, had seen the necessity of choosing a family in whom he might concentrate his purpose, for he had proved that if his way were left to the general view of mankind, they would corrupt it continually. So he separated a seed, and from that time there arose two great scripturally defined racial divisions-Jews and Gentiles.
They became separated by a wall strong as adamant, reaching up to heaven, consisting of a theocratic constitution. None outside the barrier could break through or leap over. But there was a certain narrow aperture, circumcision, by which fleshly descent from Abraham was imputed, and by which a stranger could press his way and become a citizen of the Common wealth of Israel and a partaker of the benefits thereby accruing, and at the same time render himself liable to the laws of his adopted country. This in no way involved an entrance of Gentiles.
The Jewish nation were ignorantly proud of their exclusiveness, and while maintaining their separateness according to the letter of the law, bitterly abused the spirit of it. The time came when men of the divine stamp were fast dying out. The key of knowledge was stolen by the learned classes, and everything showed the necessity for God to interfere.
The "Schoolmaster" to whom Israel had been betrothed as to a husband had run his course, and like a decrepid old man waxed old and died a natural death, and it became a question whether Israel would be espoused to another or remain in widowhood.
As a nation, they had for long centuries been reducing the wisdom-breathing schoolmaster to a bare skeleton, and when Christ came as the embodiment of the schoolmaster's wisdom, he failed to be recognised by "his own;" "they received him not," so he looked elsewhere for his bride, and by the agency of his apostles, took out from among the Gentiles a people for his name. This element of the mystery needed to be conveyed by special revelation, which is not to be wondered at when we consider how unmistakably God had shown Israel, that they alone of all nations he knew.
That opportunity under the law by which a Gentile became a Jew was no longer available, as the law of ordinances had been taken out of the way, and even the apostles could not intuitively know that for the new commonwealth of Israel, the flesh profiteth nothing; or, to look at it from another point of view, that the act of putting on Christ involved a sharing with him a fleshly title as well as a spiritual title to citizenship of the new Jerusalem; that, being in Christ, a fleshly title would be imputed, so that when the Lord comes to enrol his people for the new Jerusalem constitution, he will count that each man was born there (Ps. 87:5, 6).
Thus circumcision of the flesh is imputed as well as circumcision of the heart. It has been said that it was a narrow aperture through which a stranger had to press his way into the commonwealth of Israel under the law, and so it was, for circumcision was an ordinance that few of the alien would honour. Like most of the divine workings, it was a base thing to mere carnal minds who, like Zipporah, could see nothing in it beyond a "bloody" deed.
We know that it was, among other things, a sign of belonging to the seed of Abraham, to whom belonged exclusively the promise, "I will give to thee, and thy seed after thee, all the land of Canaan for an everlasting possession," and only such (circumcised ones) were eligible for the covenant made at Sinai. Now, we cannot make a hard and fast line between the law of Moses and the law of Christ; they are one, as the flower and its roots are one.
We cannot, as some do, put baptism as a substitute for circumcision: it is really a way of getting at circumcision of both flesh and heart, and by conforming to this apostolic mode of circumcision, we find ourselves in the "narrow way," agonising through the "strait gate" into the new Commonwealth of Israel, and as we keep in "the way," the wall that separates Gentile from Jew becomes more distinct, higher, and stronger, and, when we emerge on the other side, it will be found that, in "the way," we lost our Gentilism and put on the likeness of the Jew, so that it shall be said,
"This and that man was born in Zion" (Ps. 87:5). Thus ends the mystery of God manifest in flesh . . . preached unto the Gentiles. Thus are we brought to understand "the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow."
Perhaps the subject is not quite complete without bringing to mind the fact that many Jews were obedient to the faith by baptism, and why? Because they had forfeited their claims to the promises through disobedience, and were in this sense no better off than the Gentiles who never had a claim. Getting into Christ was as necessary for one as the other.
On the one hand, the Jews became freely restored to the Abrahamic claim, while on the other, the Gentiles receive it as a free gift-
The Christadelphian, June 1886