Acts 15:17

Artwork by Douglas Kallerson.

Saturday, 18 March 2023

So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
Even all the Gentiles who are called by My name,
Says the Lord who does all these things.’ Acts 15:17

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen).

You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).

In the previous verse, James began his citation of the prophet Amos. That now continues with, “So that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord.”

The Hebrew of this verse from Amos reads, “That they may possess the remnant of Edom.” However, the Greek translation reads as James has cited. The name of Edom and the word “man” are very similar in the Hebrew. Thus, the Septuagint translators seem to have understood the extended meaning of what lay ahead.

Further, this word translated as “mankind” is a plural noun, men. There is no reason for the NKJV to have changed it from the earlier rendering of the KJV except, most likely, political correctness. The singular is to be rejected. In the Greek, the masculine stands for all.

Despite this, the meaning seems clear. The previous portion of the quote began with, “After these things.” James has shown that there is a time when Israel will again be exalted under Davidic rule, meaning under Jesus their Messiah. That will occur after certain events take place.

He now says what those events will be. Until the time when that comes about, there is an opportunity for the rest of mankind to seek the Lord. Amos had talked about the punishment of Israel for rejecting the Lord leading up to the restoration of Israel.

Hence, the restoration comes after the time of punishment. But during that timeframe, the redemptive plan won’t just be put on hold, waiting for Israel to get its act together. Rather, while Israel is being punished according to the Mosaic Law which they agreed to remain under when they rejected Jesus, the nations (the rest of mankind) would be seeking the Lord. That is next further explained with the words, “Even all the Gentiles.”

It is the same word as in Acts 15:14, ethnos. Unlike in that verse, there is an article before the word. Rather than “nations” as was argued to be the better rendering there, this is rightly translated as “the Gentiles.” The reason is that even if there are Christian nations, it is not nations that are being called through the gospel, but individuals.

As nations have come and gone, the salvation of the Gentiles has remained unaffected. When the Lord calls for His people, they will rise, even if the nations they belonged to disappeared millennia earlier. James next continues the quote from Amos saying that it is these saved believers of this dispensation “who are called by My name.”

The words are reminiscent of James 2:7 where he uses the same Greek word –

“Do they not blaspheme that noble name by which you are called?”

Though James wrote to the Jews of the church, they are still members of the church. Being called by the name of the Lord means that the name of the Lord rests upon the person. Those who call upon the name of the Lord through faith become those who are called by the Lord’s name. With this understood, James finishes the citation with, “Says the Lord who does all these things.”

It is the Lord who called Israel and covenanted with them. It is the Lord who faithfully blessed Israel when they sought Him out. It is the Lord who punished Israel according to the covenant made between them. It is the Lord who sent Jesus to initiate a New Covenant. It is the Lord who, when rejected by Israel, fulfilled the words of the prophecy concerning Israel’s second exile and punishment. It is the Lord who called out a people for Himself from the Gentiles during Israel’s time of having rejected Jesus. It is the Lord who will once again return Israel to His favor and exalt them when they call upon the name of the Lord. Everything comes back to the wisdom and hand of the Lord.

As noted in the previous commentary, this must be the interpretation of these verses. The words of the citation from Amos cannot be referring to the replacement of Israel by the church. This is absolutely certain from the continued words of Amos 9, which close out the book of Amos –

“‘Behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord,
‘When the plowman shall overtake the reaper,
And the treader of grapes him who sows seed;
The mountains shall drip with sweet wine,
And all the hills shall flow with it.
14 I will bring back the captives of My people Israel;
They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them;
They shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them;
They shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them.
15 I will plant them in their land,
And no longer shall they be pulled up
From the land I have given them,’
Says the Lord your God.” Amos 9:13-15

In saying that He will bring back the captives of Israel (of which Amos 9:1-10 are the focus), it means Israel the people and none other. There is no provision for exile for the people of the church. There is no land grant bestowed upon the church. Israel, the nation, will be replanted in Israel the land.

And more, this cannot be referring to their first exile. This is because of the final verse of the book of Amos –

“I will plant them in their land.
And no longer shall they be pulled up.”

There is no time in history that this has occurred. After the first exile, they were pulled up a second time, something prophesied by Isaiah even before the first exile –

“It shall come to pass in that day
That the Lord shall set His hand again the second time
To recover the remnant of His people who are left,
From Assyria and Egypt,
From Pathros and Cush,
From Elam and Shinar,
From Hamath and the islands of the sea.” Isaiah 11:11

Life application: Replacement theology is a failed system of biblical interpretation because it does not take into consideration the whole counsel of God. Nor does it rightly divide the word. But even during the time when Israel was deep in her second exile, at a time when there was seemingly no possibility that the nation would ever again be restored, John Gill (1697-1771) said the following concerning Amos 9:15 –

“…by which it appears that this is a prophecy of things yet to come; since the Jews, upon their return to their own land after the Babylonish captivity, were pulled up again, and rooted out of it by the Romans, and remain so to this day; but, when they shall return again, they will never more be removed from it; and of this they may he assured; because it is the land the Lord has, “given” them, and it shall not be taken away from them any more; and, because he will now appear to be the ‘Lord their God.’”

Likewise, Adam Clarke (1762-1832) says of this verse –

“Most certainly this prophecy has never yet been fulfilled. They were pulled out by the Assyrian captivity, and by that of Babylon. Many were planted in again, and again pulled out by the Roman conquest and captivity, and were never since planted in, but are now scattered among all the nations of the earth. I conclude, as the word of God cannot fail, and this has not yet been fulfilled, it therefore follows that it will and must be fulfilled to the fullness of its spirit and intention. And this is established by the conclusion: ‘Saith the Lord thy God.’ He is Jehovah, and cannot fail; he is Thy God, and will do it. He can do it, because he is Jehovah; and he will do it, because he is Thy God. Amen.”

Despite the wave of poor theology concerning the reestablishment of Israel, these voices cried out, “The Bible is to be taken literally! God has spoken and His word cannot fail.” Now, what will you proclaim? The men who could not have foreseen the reestablishment of Israel with their earthly eyes, wholly trusted the Lord, focusing their spiritually attuned eyes on what He had spoken.

Today, even today after the reestablishment of Israel to their land – exactly as the Lord prophesied would take place – much of the church refuses to accept that what was written has been fulfilled. They must receive their judgment for their lack of discernment and faith concerning God’s word. But they will remain saved despite their wholly tainted theology. This is the greatness of God who saves us despite ourselves.

Whether you like the Jewish people or not, something much greater is at stake in the world today. That something is the integrity of the word of God and the promise of God that He would never fully reject His people, Israel. He will bring them into the New Covenant. Have faith in this. Don’t be silly but be steadfast in your acceptance of the truth of God’s precious word.

Lord God, how could it be that You would reject Israel when You covenanted with them? If that were so, You could also reject us when we fail You. Our salvation would be up to us. But no! You have spoken and it is done. Thank You for the wonderful assurance we possess in Christ. Thank You, O God. Amen.