So ends Luke’s chronicle on the acts of the apostles in what we know today as the Book of Acts. Paul is left in Rome as a prisoner of Caesar in a rented abode, still in chains and guarded by a member of the Praetorian guard. We have only bits and pieces from Paul’s letters and other documents to help us understand what happened to him afterward and the fate to which he finally arrived.
The abrupt end of the book leaves the reader wondering why Luke closed the narrative at that point. He does not grant any specific stories about Paul’s activities in those two years, and he does not mention the outcome of his appeal before the emperor. It seems like a strange and unsatisfying place to conclude the story.
This is the conclusion, as far as Luke’s narrative is concerned, of Paul’s long, dangerous, and confusing journey from Jerusalem to Rome, a journey which began under the shadow of grim prophesy.
While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”
After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge.
When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
Even before Paul entered Jerusalem, he knew he might not be leaving the Holy City again, at least not in this life. Yet he did as a result of false accusations against him, having been accused by Jews from Asia of teaching against the Temple, against Jews keeping Torah, and even bringing a Gentile into the Temple past the court of the Gentiles.
As I said, none of it was true, but Paul defended himself as he was taken from one city to the next, from one court venue to the next. And even though he had done no wrong, because of the accusations against him and the threats against his life, Paul finally appealed to Caesar to hear his case, and his assurance of a one-way journey to Rome and the emperor was complete.
But he never saw Jerusalem again. Never saw Peter or James or the elders and apostles again. Never offered sacrifices in the Holy Temple again.
While Paul’s ultimate fate remains a mystery, what about the Council of Apostles in Jerusalem?
Last Sunday, Pastor Randy said a funny thing from the pulpit and he repeated it during last Wednesday night’s conversation with me.
Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
Pastor said this was the beginning of the process of transferring authority from Jerusalem to Syrian Antioch. What? Transferring authority? I’d never heard of such a thing. How could any city but Jerusalem be the geographic and spiritual center of our faith? I had always believed that the ultimate authority over the “church” was always wielded from Jerusalem, that is until 70 CE when the Romans leveled the Temple, razed Jerusalem, and sent the vast majority of the Jewish population into the diaspora. Only then was authority transferred from the Jewish apostolic council to the Gentiles, and this by force.
But according to Pastor Randy, once the original apostles, those who walked with Jesus and who witnessed the resurrection, died…their authority was not automatically passed down to others, either their heirs or any other appointed elders. There is only one record of an apostle being replaced and that was long before the trials of Paul.
So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also called Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, “You, Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.” And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias, and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.
Protestantism tends to discourage the idea of a more permanent intent for the Council of Apostles because it smacks of the authority of Rome in Catholicism and other Ecumenical Councils who exercise authority over the faithful, many times to the detriment of the faithful. So Pastor’s thoughts could be a reflection of his perspective and education.
Be that as it may, the Council of Apostles disappears from Jerusalem and from history, certainly by 70 CE if not before.
But what about the centrality of Jerusalem? If you believe there will be a Third Temple (as I do) from where Messiah will reign in Jerusalem, then you cannot dispense with Jerusalem. If you believe that each year the Gentile nations must send representatives to Jerusalem to celebrate Sukkot (Zechariah 14:16-19), then you cannot dispense with Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the focus, the nexus for all of our prophetic hopes in the return of the Messiah. If the apostles and the council vanished from Jerusalem with no successors, did “authority” shift to Antioch?
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.
It certainly seems so, but let’s think about this. The first large group of Gentiles to become disciples of the Master and to receive and extensive education in his teachings and (very likely) in the Torah were the Antioch Gentile God-fearing believers. Antioch also became a good “jumping off place” for Paul and his fellow apostles to go to the Gentiles in the diaspora with the good news of the Messiah (but going to the Jews first, of course). And while Antioch seems to have been a major center of Jewish/Gentile Messianic worship and evangelism, Paul continued to return to Jerusalem (Acts 15 and 21) to receive authoritative rulings on difficult matters and to bring donations for support of the Jewish “saints” in Israel.
But when there were no more living apostles in Jerusalem, did God close the door on Jewish authority over the Way, even over the Jewish members?
Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved…
This and other references of Paul’s, indicate that whatever separation there may be between the Jewish people and King Messiah is only temporary, which includes the separation between the King and Jerusalem. The “authority” left Jerusalem temporarily, but the Throne of the King has always been in the City of David.
The Lord swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: “One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne.
When Jesus returns as Lord of Israel and Lord of all, the authority will return to Jerusalem again. I don’t think even Protestant resistance to “apostolic authority” can deny that we all have one King and he is the authority and author of our lives.
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”
–Matthew 23:37-39 (NASB)