Luke’s placement of the Jerusalem Council at about the center of his thesis tells us how important this event is. It is also only here that we find Paul, Barnabas, James and Peter together in one place at the same time. While Paul did visit with Peter and James on his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion in Acts 9, Luke doesn’t put them all together in one place until here, and according to Paul (Galatians 2:9), the apostle, John, was there too. So, what was done here was of key importance to the Gospel afterward.
James, the Lord’s brother, seems to have been the chairman of the proceedings conducted at Jerusalem. The issue of circumcising gentile believers was hotly debated (Acts 15:5), but just cause was shown first by Peter (Acts 15:6-11) and then by Paul and Barnabas (Acts 15:12) that, since God placed no difference between Jew or gentile in the matter of giving his Spirit to uncircumcised gentiles, the Law of Moses was no longer in force as a mediator between God and mankind. Since God worked miracles through the evangelistic efforts of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13 & 14), God has emphasized through those signs and wonders that he has received the gentiles just as they are, without their having to come under the Law in order to seek him. This being so, James offers the verdict of the Council in Acts 15:14-21.
James appealed to the Prophets for his explanation of the Council’s judgment. In Acts 15:15-16 he refers to Amos 9:11-12, and Luke’s recording shows James quoting from the Septuagint and not the traditional Hebrew rendering. There is a significant difference between the two. Notice:
In that day I will raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and will rebuild the ruins of it, and will set up the parts thereof that have been broken down, and will build it up as in the ancient days: that the remnant of men, and all the Gentiles upon whom My name is called, may earnestly seek Me, says the Lord who does all these things. (Amos 9:11-12 LXX)
This was probably not the prevailing understanding of the Messianic age by many Jews (cp. Acts 1:6; Daniel 7:27), including the Pharisees who believed mentioned in verse-5, for the traditional Hebrew version renders this same Scripture:
In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old: That they may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen, which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this. (Amos 9:11-12 KJV)
[emphasis mine in both translations]
If the Hebrew version is the correct rendering of the ancient text, then the gentiles would, indeed, need to have submitted to the Law of Moses, for they would necessarily have become the possession of the Messiah and the restored nation of Israel. Jesus, however, didn’t base his office of Messiah in that light. In John 12, after Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the Hellenist Jews wanted an audience with him. When Jesus spoke with them, he said the time had come for him to be glorified (John 12:23), yet he defined his glorification in terms of his death (John 12:24), which would bear much fruit in terms of life – eternal life (John 12:25). And, speaking of his death, Jesus said through it, he would draw all men unto him (John 12:32-33). Nevertheless, this was not the prevailing thought of how the Messianic Age would be inaugurated (John 12:34), for most Jews believed the Messiah wouldn’t die, and expected the Kingdom of the Messiah to embrace their own view of national glory. The traditional Hebrew rendering of Amos 9:12 is wrong and does not represent the ancient text.
According to the Septuagint, which James quotes in Luke’s record, the Messiah (Jesus) who would be raised up in David’s place and build the ruins as a place for the remnant of men and gentiles who seek God may come—and it is God who does this—viz. raising up the Tabernacle of David and drawing the remnant of men, including gentiles, into David’s Tabernacle. On the one hand this would mean drawing people into Christ, and on the other hand, David’s Tabernacle stood for the community of people, the nation, or in the New Testament, the Church.
Jesus himself said he would build his church (Matthew 16:18), and Matthew uses the same Greek verb oikodomeo (G3618) as the Septuagint does in Amos 9:11 except that the LXX uses it with the intensified prefix ana (G303). James points out that the long awaited Messianic Age has come upon the world, and during this time Jesus, the Messiah, is building up his Temple or Tabernacle (the Body of Christ), the church, by calling in the gentiles with the Jews to form one people.