Paul and Barnabas established the church in Antioch in the truths of God’s grace.
It was a group of people, both Jew and Gentile, that was enjoying the wall of hostility between the Jews and Gentiles being demolished through the death of Jesus along with the commandments and regulations being abolished (Ephesians 2:14-16), thus creating peace between Jew and Gentile and placing them into one new family called the church (Ephesians 3:1-10).
The wall of hostility was the Law of Moses.
One of the purposes of the law was to keep the Jewish people focused on the One True God - Yahweh - by keeping them separate from the Gentile nations.
The law mandated that a Jew could not eat with or enter a Gentile’s house, nor could a Jew marry a Gentile.
However, a Gentile could convert to Judaism and follow the Law of Moses.
The reason God wanted to keep the Jews separate from the Gentiles was so they could shine the light of God’s love and truth into the Gentile nations (Isaiah 49:6), rescuing them from the false gods they worshiped and bringing them into a relationship with the One True God.
However, if the Jewish people mingled with the Gentiles, God knew the people of Israel would abandon him and adopt the false religions, the false gods, of the Gentiles, causing the light of God’s love and truth to be extinguished in Israel and, therefore, no longer shining among the nations.
When Jesus came through the nation of Israel, he became the light to the nations (Luke 2:32).
With the death and resurrection of Jesus, the Law of Moses ended and grace began.
He established the new covenant of grace (Luke 22:19-20; Hebrews 2:9).
This meant that neither Jew nor Gentile related to God or one another through the Law of Moses but now related to God and each other through the death and resurrection of Jesus (grace).
When people came to faith in Jesus, they were placed into the church, God’s family of grace on earth.
The church was an assembly of people, both Jew and Gentile, who came to faith in Jesus, resulting in being reconciled to God and one another with no separation, as once mandated by the Law of Moses but now canceled through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
This assembly of people was a family...God’s spiritual family on earth, consisting of both Jew and Gentile, but not consisting of the law.
Into the church, God’s family of grace on earth, the believing Jews were not to bring the Law of Moses and its practices.
They were to no longer follow its days, diets, demands, or duties for righteousness, nor were they to force Gentiles to do so either.
Somebody had to communicate this message of grace to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.
God chose Paul to communicate this message to the Gentiles (Acts 13:47; 26:15-18), and Peter was tasked with communicating it to the Jews.
The first real grace-based church assembled after the death and resurrection of Jesus was the church in Antioch (Acts 11:19-27).
This church was established by Barnabas and Paul in the truths of grace, not in the Law of Moses.
Had we been able to visit the church, we would have seen both Jew and Gentile enjoying God’s grace together.
We would have witnessed them enjoying God’s full and forever forgiveness and his gift of righteousness, both which came by grace through faith in Jesus apart from the law.
We would have witnessed them enjoying friendships with one another, eating together, and visiting each other’s homes, something that was impossible under the Law of Moses but was now a reality in Jesus.
Yet leaders of the Messianic church (an assembly of Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah but who continued to practice the law for righteousness) in Jerusalem and the teachers of the law from Jerusalem found it repulsive that Jews and Gentiles enjoyed friendships and ate with one other, as well as visited each other’s homes (Galatians 4:25).
They also were offended that a Gentile could enter a relationship with God, experience his forgiveness, and receive his righteousness simply by faith in Jesus.
They believed the Gentiles must not only place their faith in Jesus as the Messiah, but they must also adhere to the Law of Moses for righteousness (Acts 15:1).
The Jewish leaders and teachers found this departure from the Law of Moses so disgusting, that James, the leader of the Messianic church, sent spies into Antioch to spy on the freedom from the law and freedom in Christ the people in Antioch enjoyed (Galatians 2:4-5, 11-13).
These religious spies persuaded Peter to abandon grace and return to the Law of Moses for forgiveness and righteousness (Galatians 2:11-13).
They persuaded Peter to end his friendship with the Gentiles and to no longer eat with or visit the home of Gentile.
Peter, then, persuaded other Jews, including Barnabas, who started the Antioch church, to join him in his return to the Law of Moses (Galatians 2:13).
Suddenly, the Gentiles and Jews were separated once again, no longer enjoying friendships with each other or God’s forgiveness and righteousness in Jesus.
In the next post, we will explore Paul’s confrontation of Peter after Peter deserted grace, returned to the law, and persuaded others to follow him.