But when Peter (Cephas) came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned (Gal 2:11).
We have witnessed the division that exists within the body of Christ even today; but what could have prompted the Apostle Paul to challenge and condemn the one chosen by Yeshua to shepherd His lambs?
Indeed, Peter assumed a leading role in the Jerusalem assembly; testifying and exhorting his Jewish brethren to repent and be baptized in the name of Yeshua HaMashiach (Jesus Christ).
The Book of Acts records Peter’s sermon to the men of Jerusalem to whom he preached the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the sacred pages of the Tenach; and on the day of Pentecost three thousand obedient souls responded to the gospel message and were saved.
Contrast that with the Exodus account of three thousand rebels slain in one day for their disobedience at Sinai (Ex 32:19-28).
But even as Peter was commissioned to be a messenger of the gospel to the Jews, Paul was chosen on the Damascus road to deliver the Word to the nations (Gentiles).
The Jerusalem assembly had issues with Paul. They questioned his apostolic authority and doctrine. Some accused him of blasphemy; and, later, while Paul was teaching at Lystra, he was stoned and left for dead. Central to their disagreement with Paul was that they simply did not trust him.
Saul received rabbinic training under Gamaliel, a very respected teacher of the Law. It was Gamaliel who instructed the Council of Pharisees to ignore the disciples:
I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God (Ac 5:38-39).
Saul, having ignored Gamaliel’s counsel, spearheaded a terrible persecution that scattered the disciples all throughout Judea and Samaria:
(He) began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women who would be put into prison (Ac 8:3).
The Bible teaches that Saul, while on the road to Damascus, plotting murder against the disciples, was blinded by a light from heaven; and as he fell to the ground he heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
Saul’s response is interesting. He said, “Who are You, Lord?” The scripture could more precisely read, ‘Lord, what do you want of me?’ You see, Saul knew that the Lord was calling him, but for what purpose?
The Book of Acts, chapter 9, records the conversion of Saul; how he amazed the disciples and confounded the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that Yeshua is the Christ.
In answer to the Jerusalem assembly, Saul testified that his authority came directly from the Messiah. He wrote to the church at Galatia:
Paul, an apostle not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead. For I would have you know, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ (Gal 1:1, 11-12).
Paul explains to the Galatians that he was set apart by the grace of God to share the good news with the Gentiles.
He reveals that after his conversion he went away to Arabia presumably to receive the Lord’s revelation; and after three years he journeyed to Jerusalem where he stayed fifteen days with Peter.
James, Peter and John agreed that they would preach to the Jews; while Paul would spread the gospel to the nations.
In time, Peter visited the Gentile church at Antioch where he cast off Mosaic ceremony regarding dietary restrictions; and freely ate at the Gentile table much to the consternation of his Jewish brethren who believed the Gentiles should obey all of the legal ordinances, and be circumcised.
When word reached Jerusalem of these things, James sent men to investigate.
Peter used to eat with the Gentiles; but when certain men of James came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy for they were not truthful of the gospel. I said to Peter in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”
Man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly (Gal 2:12-21).
Peter’s actions are often perplexing. When he returned to Jerusalem, he was charged with eating at the Gentile’s table. He explained that he had a vision (Ac 11:1-18), and heard a voice from heaven saying, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.”
Upon hearing Peter’s testimony, the Jews understood that God had given to the Gentiles the gift of repentance and salvation.
The spiritual growth and maturity of Peter (and James) is clearly evident at the Jerusalem Council (Ac 15:1-21) where Peter argued that the Law was a curse that neither they nor their ancestors could bear so why place that yoke upon the Gentiles:
God gave Gentiles the Holy Spirit just as He gave us. He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith (Ac 15:8-9).
And Paul wrote:
The righteousness of God has been manifested through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction between Jew and Greek as the same Lord is Lord of all; that whosoever calls upon His name will be saved (Rom 3:21-22, Rom 10:12-13).
Peter and Paul agree.