Paul's Revelation (Part 2) Union With Christ Revealed
"But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen: immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.
Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother.
One might think that after such a dramatic and sudden conversion of a former arch enemy of the church, the Lord would have led him back to the elders of the church for discipleship training. Especially, since that one was also destined for the ministry. But the wisdom and revelation Paul was to receive, could not be obtained even from those who 'were apostles before him'. There was no Seminary, no University, no institute of higher learning, where Paul could learn this marvelous truth. It had to be revealed from the source.
Jesus had long before, in response to Peter's declaration that He (Jesus) is 'the Christ, the Son of the Living God', assured Peter that this was not something that could be taught by 'flesh and blood' but that it had to be 'revealed' from the Father (Matthew 16:17). And this 'revealed knowledge of who Christ is', Jesus went on to say, is the 'rock'--the foundation, upon which, the church was to be built.
During Paul's experience in the desert, God would 'reveal' more than just 'who Christ is'... He would reveal, in Paul's words, "His Son in me". And this revelation of the believer's 'union with Christ' would prove to be the very power behind Paul's ministry. It was not more education, Paul needed (he already had more than anyone else)... It was the revelation of 'Christ in me' that was necessary and would enable him to effectively preach the gospel to the nations.
Paul's meeting with Peter, James, and John...
Not much happened in Paul's first visit with Peter and James (Galatians 1:18-19). Though Paul had already been preaching for three years, many of the disciples and even some of the other apostles were still avoiding him because of his notorious history of persecuting the church.
After another fourteen years had passed, however, Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles, specifically, James, Peter, and John (Galatians 2:1-9). And contrary to what some seem to think, Paul's return trip to Jerusalem was not merely to report to those apostles. Neither was it to seek permission to preach what he had already been preaching for over fourteen years.
This trip was at the instruction of the Holy Spirit, and the plan, clearly, was not to learn from those other apostles, but to teach them...
"Then fourteen years after, I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.
And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.
Paul's mission, there in Jerusalem, was to quell the mounting confusion, stirred up by some who had reverted to preaching the law, as a means of righteousness; and to gain from Peter, James, and John, the 'right hand of fellowship'. These church leaders held such authority and credibility in the church, that if they were to come against Paul's ministry, it would great hinder it.
The only way for Paul to accomplish this, was to set up a private session with these men and preach the fullness of the gospel to them, which he had been preaching from city to city and house to house.
This was not to be an open discussion, or some kind of 'presentation' to a panel of elders who would vote on whether or not Paul's message would be approved. This was a time to pass on to the leaders of the church, that revelation Paul had received directly from Jesus; with full assurance that they would also receive an inward witness from the Holy Spirit, confirming the message in their own hearts...
"...for they who seemed to be somewhat in conference added nothing to me: But contriwise...
And when James, [Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given unto me, they gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship..."
--Galatians 2:6-7, 9
Though successful up to that point, Paul's divinely commissioned task was not entirely complete, until he met again, with the apostle Peter, and addressed the specific problem which had arisen in the church. Then again, he more clearly presented his revelation of the gospel as the solution...
"But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision.
And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation...
Some ten years prior to this event, Peter received a vision from the Lord (Acts 10). In the vision was a sheet, being lowered by the corners, and containing all types of animals which under the law of Moses were 'unclean'. God's voice came to him, in this vision, and told him to kill and eat the animals. Peter objected, saying, "No Lord, I have never eaten anything comon or unclean".
But the Lord responded, "Do not call what I have cleansed, 'common or unclean'".
Through this vision, the Holy Spirit led Peter to the house of Cornelius (a Gentile) to preach the gospel to them. Cornelius and all the other Gentiles there, who believed, were saved and filled with the Holy Ghost to the utter amazement of the Jewish believers also present.
This was when Peter first realized there would be absolutely no distinction between Jew and Gentile in the eyes of God. Salvation, in its fullness, was just as available to one as to the other. In the years that followed, however, Peter began to lose sight of that; and he began to cave under the pressure of other Jewish leaders of the church--those, who were insisting that Judaic ritual, such as circumcision, must be enforced.
The tendency, that exists yet today, to return to a legal system of 'obedience, for righteousness', was already at work in the church in Jerusalem. Thus, the Holy Spirit, in His wonderful wisdom, sent Paul on a crucial and timely mission to gently remind Peter of these things, and to more clearly present a deeper spiritual truth, forever sealing within Peter's heart, the true vision of the gospel of Christ...
"But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?
We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
But if, while we seek to be justified by Christ, we ourselves also are found sinners, is therefore Christ the minister of sin? God forbid.
For if I build again the things which I destroyed, I make myself a transgressor..."
This was not an argument between Paul and Peter, but it was loving correction, through Paul, by the Holy Ghost... And Peter received it well. We can tell by Peter's subsequent teaching of the same revelation, not to mention his own words, honoring Paul's ministry (2 Peter 3: 15-16), that Peter was not merely tolerating Paul's loving rebuke--he was receiving something that would change his life forever, and preserve both his ministry, and the church in general.
To be continued...