Some disputes look insoluble to us: the two sides just can’t agree! But then, suddenly, a solution appears and it’s such a relief! In our verses, James, a pastor in the Jerusalem church, comes up with a great answer to a disagreement which could, otherwise, tear the early Christians apart.
Believers from inside and outside Jerusalem are meeting to discuss whether Gentile Christians should become Jewish (Ac 15:5). The apostles have given a clear no (Ac 15:7-12), but the city’s church is now led by elders, including the Lord’s brother James – so how will they respond? Paul has reason to suspect that the devout James will insist on separating Jews and non-Jews (Ga 2:12). However, things look positive when James accepts Peter’s (for whom he uses the Jewish name Simeon) testimony about the Lord’s work among the Gentiles (v13,14). The outlook gets even better when he goes on to give a Biblical reason for the happy mixing of all Christians as they are.
This reminds us that the Lord is able to solve all problems. Stress may overwhelm us, when we are faced with financial, relational or other troubles that seem far beyond us. Our mind closes in, we react with temper or silence, and feel trapped in disaster. But the Lord can provide answers, often through unexpected means or people. We must keep faith in Him to solve life’s trials and disputes – as Paul once encouraged his arguing Christian friends in Philippi to do (Ph 4:1-9).
Now James’ Scriptural solution (cf 2Ti 3:16,17) comes from the prophet Amos who spoke in the 8th century BC to northern Israel. He warned of a future exile to Assyria (2Ki 17) due to the Israelites’ lawless, indulgent lifestyle (Am 6:3-7) and false worship (Am 5:26,27). However, he also gave hope of a better time in the future (Am 9:14,15). And the sign of this new era of hope would be the restoration of King David’s long-gone worship tent (Am 9:11,12).
God gave to David, as the king, two titles. Firstly, he was called the ‘son of God’, in the sense that his earthly kingdom would be like an extension of God’s own rule (Ps 2:7,8). Secondly, he was anointed as a ‘priest’ leading worship in Jerusalem even though he was not descended from Israel’s official priestly family (Ps 110:4 cf Ex 40:13,14). So David became a unique priest-king. As part of this, he put up a tent in Jerusalem for worshipping the Lord and placed in it the golden Ark of the Covenant (2Sa 6:17) made by Moses (Ex 25:10-22). This box represented God’s presence at the heart of Israel and was a model of Eden’s garden (Ge 2-3). It held heavenly food (manna), the knowledge of good and evil (the ten commandments) and a tree of life (Aaron’s rod with buds); it was sealed by guardian cherubim (He 9:4,5). This meant that whilst the Tabernacle carried on in Gibeon, David could lead worship in Jerusalem in a far more open way. Indeed, it was worship in which other nations could join in too (1Ch 16:37-43; see also 2Sa 6:10-12).
However, David soon realised his limitations, as a fallen man, for such a role and the Lord agreed with him. When David wanted to replace the tent with a house for God, the request was denied due to his violent life (1Ch 22:7,8). Instead, the Lord said he would build a ‘house’ (family) for David from which would come a son who was able to make a permanent home for God upon the earth (2Sa 7:12,13). A hint of that was seen in Solomon who built a temple in Jerusalem. But that temple had much more limited, Israel-only, worship and lasted just a few centuries (1Ch 22:9-13; Ez 5:12). Truly to fulfil His promise, God had to bring a far greater son of David into the world: one with the holiness and power of the Lord. This was Christ (Lk 20:41-44), God’s eternal Son.
As a prophet, Amos visualised that as the return of David’s tent. James realised that Christ’s church fulfils Amos’ vision. In the church, Jesus has erected a place where all types of people can unite for worship through the eternal priest-king, and experience God’s presence in a way not seen since Eden’s garden. Christians should delight in James’ thought. And it should lead us to value highly belonging to a local church where we can worship the Lord together, in the Spirit’s power.