The messengers went at once to Antioch, where they called a general meeting of the believers and delivered the letter. And there was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message. Then Judas and Silas, both being prophets, spoke at length to the believers, encouraging and strengthening their faith. They stayed for a while, and then the believers sent them back to the church in Jerusalem with a blessing of peace. [But Silas decided to stay there.] Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch. They and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord there.Acts 15:30-35
The messengers who took the letter back to Antioch were Paul and Barnabas, the very ones whom the church at Antioch had sent to Jerusalem to get their ruling on the matter of inclusion of Gentiles, along with Judas and Silas. The literal words Luke uses are interesting in that they went “down to Antioch”. By all geographic indicators they ought to be going UP north to Antioch. His words down to Antioch indicate that in their minds they are considering Jerusalem is a high place. Well it is in the sense that it is set up a hill but I suspect more to the point it is the seat of power. It is the place they are looking toward for a ruling on this matter. Hence they take the decision DOWN from the seat of power, not UP north to Antioch. They are awaiting this decision from the leaders to whom they have entrusted the final ruling. When they get to Antioch, these four do the same thing that was done in each place they go to – they call a general meeting. Everybody comes together and they deliver the letter and the ruling. This is a public meeting of all those attached to this Gentile church, waiting to hear the ruling from on high as to how Gentiles are to be included in this essentially Jewish faith.
“There was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message.”
Pardon me! Let me read that again; I must have missed something. They were overjoyed at the news of this encouraging message! They saw this message as encouraging? Wouldn’t they feel it was discouraging? Wouldn’t this be a hard letter to read or hear? One that required consolation rather than delight? No! The attitude of these Gentiles is that they got off lightly. We need to realise that they had been expected to adhere to the Jewish faith fully. The Judaisers were teaching them they had to make the changes to assimilate to Jewish culture not just the teaching of Jesus and His disciples. They were being told they had to effectively become Jewish. To be circumcised and to pay attention to all the Jewish rules of food and abstinence. All of the minutiae of law that the pharisaical types wanted to lay on them. Have you seen a copy of the Mishnah? It is an incredibly thick book. My copy of the Mishnah is 12.6 x 9 x 3.2 cms. It is a sizable volume of tiny rules which tell you how to obey the 10 basic commands plus all the other rules in the Old Testament associated with them. They were overjoyed when they got back the ruling that they may be Gentiles at heart, there is no need to be circumcised and all they have to do in essence is to accommodate to Jewish food customs when they eat with them and refrain from sexually deviant behaviour.
“You mean that is all we have to do?” “We can be Gentiles, non-Jewish in culture and practice, except to acknowledge our Messianic Jewish brothers and sisters in the faith when we “fellowship” with them. Something we have already been doing since we joined our hearts to these believers. Wow to get off so lightly. We are delighted. Yes, indeed we will do that. That is what we have been doing since we joined this church as believers. The cultural differences are not being made the major issue, the basic requirements of following Jesus are what we need to pay attention to. They have just been freed from being culturally Jewish; allowed to be Gentiles. But reminded of the need to be culturally appropriate when they relate to Messianic Jewish believers. “Yes, we can do that – we already do that.” The ruling handed down in the letter frees them from all the other rules. Yes, that is reason for rejoicing. This faith can now truly become universal. That is Good News. For you and for me too.
Notice now what happens. Judas and Silas take over from Barnabas and Paul to encourage and strengthen the believers in the church in Antioch in their faith. And we are not talking about them doing this for a couple of hours and then going back to Jerusalem. Luke tells us clearly they spoke at length with the church and they stayed there a while. They didn’t turn around and head back to Jerusalem in the latter part of the afternoon. Neither did they go back the next day. They stayed a while. They stayed for a period of time. Days / weeks – time enough to make a journey from Jerusalem to Antioch worthwhile. From Jerusalem to Antioch is about 500 hundred kilometres, five hours in a car driving at 100 kph. But these men were likely walking the distance. You might as well stay and do all that you want to accomplish before you turn around and head back again.
Judas and Silas spent time teaching and encouraging the believers, exhorting, instructing and admonishing them. Correcting errors in doctrine and understanding and helping them to understand the practical aspects of living this Jesus life. What is fascinating is that Paul and Barnabas didn’t take over again once they were back there in Antioch. A place where they had been the prime teachers since the birth of the church. Now they defer to Judas and Silas. And notice that it’s Judas and Silas and not Silas and Judas. Although Silas is soon to become Paul’s main travelling companion, Judas is the one to take the lead in the teaching and exhorting. Probably because Judas was the messianic believer of the two and more likely to bring balance to the cultural situation than the Gentile believer, when the Gentiles have just received news that they can be Gentiles while being Christian. Yes, probably better that Judas take the lead in the teaching and strengthening their faith for the sake of those who could have been feeling they lost out over this decision.
Then after a considerable but undetermined period of time, Judas and Silas take their leave. They didn’t just slip away one morning to begin their journey back to Jerusalem. “They were sent off in peace by the brethren”. This is an indication that the whole church came together again and they prayed the blessing or peace upon them again. Notice in Paul’s letters to the churches the standard Christian blessing is pronounced in a letter and or greetings and leave taking. That standard greeting is “Grace and Peace”. A combination of Gentile Christian and Messianic Jewish leave taking. But it is more than that. This combination of both is the fullness of a Christian blessing. Grace indicating God’s favour be upon you and Peace signifying the fullness of the life of the age to come be upon you. Peace is not just quiet tranquility. It is the active and full blessing that comes when all of life is in accord with God’s plan for life for you.
- Now they go on their way. But do they?
- What is the meaning of this line – [But Silas decided to stay there]?
- Did Silas leave or didn’t he?
- Isn’t this a contradiction of what Luke wrote in the verse before and after this one?
- And did Luke actually write this?
- What is the significance of the fact that this verse is [italicised and put in square brackets]. Some of you have written and asked about this verse.
- “It is just frankly confusing. I don’t know what to make of it.”
- Some versions include it, others don’t have it at all. Some put it in greyed out. Others included it in [brackets]. Some have it both greyed out and italicized.
- And furthermore Ian, it is darn right confusing. Did Silas go or didn’t he?
- And if he didn’t go why did Luke say that he did?
I will leave these questions for the next Gems. There is no time now to deal with it here and I will need more than one Gem to cover them. .
Let your yes be yes and your no be no; and let your go be go and your stay be stay.Ian Vail
Was Silas an unstable man? Tossed to and fro as to whether he should stay or go?Ian Vail
People who defend your name when you’re not around are priceless! Who’s got your back and your good name?Rick Godwin
A celebrity is a person who works hard all his life to become known, then wears dark glasses to avoid being recognized.Fred Allen
Success in relationships is more than finding the right person; it is being the right person.Nicky Gumbel