All Scripture quotations are from the 1901 American Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
Our central focus of this passage are verses 14-18:
(Acts 15:12-18) – 14 Symeon hath rehearsed how first God visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written, 16 After these things I will return, And I will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen; And I will build again the ruins thereof, And I will set it up: 17 That the residue of men may seek after the Lord, And all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, 18 Saith the Lord, who maketh these things known from of old.
This is one of the most important passages in the New Testament regarding true Israel and the Kingdom of Christ. Dispensationalists have a different interpretation of it, of course, but as I intend to show, it’s an interpretation that doesn’t hold up.
In order to have a proper understanding of our text, we need to consider the verses leading up to it:
1 And certain men came down from Judaea and taught the brethren, saying, Except ye be circumcised after the custom of Moses, ye cannot be saved.
Here’s the issue. Certain people from Judaea were causing problems among the Gentile believers in Antioch by claiming that they needed to be circumcised, just like the Jews under the Law of Moses. Thus they were derailing what Paul and Barnabas were teaching, which was grace through faith in Christ alone. This led to a great dispute between them:
(Acts 15:2) – 2 And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and questioning with them, the brethren appointed that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question.
The believers in the church of Antioch thought it best that this issue be settled in Jerusalem by the Apostles and Elders. They would yield to their authority.
(Acts 15:3-5) – 3 They therefore, being brought on their way by the church, passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, declaring the conversion of the Gentiles: and they caused great joy unto all the brethren. 4 And when they were come to Jerusalem, they were received of the church and the apostles and the elders, and they rehearsed all things that God had done with them. 5 But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees who believed, saying, It is needful to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses.
When Paul and his company got to Jerusalem, they ran into the same argument that they had in Antioch, that Gentile believers needed to be circumcised and to keep the Law of Moses.
(Acts 15:6) – 6 And the apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider of this matter.
The Apostles and Elders were the authority in the early church, and whatever decision they made about this issue would stand.
(Acts 15:7) – 7 And when there had been much questioning, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Brethren, ye know that a good while ago God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel, and believe.
The gospel of Jesus Christ was first sent to the Gentiles through Peter.
(Acts 15:8) – 8 And God, who knoweth the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us; 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.
God makes no distinction between Jewish believers and Gentile believers. Both are saved through faith in Christ, apart from works of the Law.
(Acts 15:10) – 10 Now therefore why make ye trial of God, that ye should put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?
The Jewish believers who were making the accusations and stirring up trouble, were trying to make Gentile believers carry a burden that they themselves were unable to carry.
(Acts 15:11) – 11 But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in like manner as they.
Peter makes it clear that they as Jewish believers are saved in the same manner as Gentile believers, and that is through faith, apart from works of the Law.
(Acts 15:12) – 12 And all the multitude kept silence; and they hearkened unto Barnabas and Paul rehearsing what signs and wonders God had wrought among the Gentiles through them.
First Peter spoke, then Barnabas and Paul. They shared all that God had done among the Gentiles through them, confirming God’s acceptance of them.
Next James speaks, who provides a significant revelation regarding Israel and the Kingdom of Christ. What follows is the heart of this study.
(Acts 15:13-15) – 13 And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Brethren, hearken unto me: 14 Symeon hath rehearsed how first God visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. 15 And to this agree the words of the prophets; as it is written,
To what? James is referring to the fact through Peter first, God had taken from among the Gentiles a “people for His name.” In other words, that salvation had come to the Gentiles the same as it did to the Jews. Thus, “to this” fact the prophets were in agreement, according to the prophecies they had made. Here James specifically quotes Amos 9:11-12. Listen carefully to what James says in response to this situation. Quoting from Amos will resolve their dispute:
(Acts 15:16-18) – 16 “After these things I will return, And I will build again the tabernacle of David, which is fallen; And I will build again the ruins thereof, And I will set it up: 17 That the residue of men may seek after the Lord, And all the Gentiles, upon whom my name is called, 18 Saith the Lord, who maketh these things known from of old.
(ESV) 16 “‘After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, 17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’
Here’s the text from Amos below (verses 11-12). I provide the context of Amos so you can see what’s going on:
(Amos 9:7-12) – 7 Are ye not as the children of the Ethiopians unto me, O children of Israel? saith Jehovah. Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir? 8 Behold, the eyes of the Lord Jehovah are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from off the face of the earth; save that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob, saith Jehovah. 9 For, lo, I will command, and I will sift the house of Israel among all the nations, like as grain is sifted in a sieve, yet shall not the least kernel fall upon the earth. 10 All the sinners of my people shall die by the sword, who say, The evil shall not overtake nor meet us. 11 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 its ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old; 12 that they may possess the remnant of Edom, and all the nations that are called by my name, saith Jehovah that doeth this.
Notice that the quote James gives is not an exact quote. But that’s ok, because what James is doing is interpreting what is said in Amos. The most important thing to see in James’ quote, are these words:
“After these things”
Original statement by Amos:
“In that day”
James is providing us the interpretation of what Amos prophesied, which is about the “restored” kingdom of David (vs. 16). Whatever else may be said about the Amos passage, or about the differences between the two passages, we must not miss the point that this is how James interprets and applies the Amos passage. What matters most is how James sees the fulfillment of that prophecy, which he applies to their present situation.
So the question is, “after what things?”
Answer: After God destroys the “sinful kingdom” of the “children of Israel” (Amos 9:8-9) and sends them into captivity (via Assyria and Babylon), God will later (in the days of Christ and His Apostles) “return” to them and rebuild “the tabernacle of David, which is fallen.” In other words, “restore” the kingdom of David. This was fulfilled in Christ and His Church, and that is exactly what James is saying in this passage. That’s proven by what he says next in verse 17.
There’s a dual reference where God talks about “destroying the house of Jacob” (Amos 9:8), which is both the destruction of Israel via Assyria and Babylon, and also the destruction of Israel in AD 70. In fact, it’s the AD 70 destruction that completely fulfills this Amos prophecy — which is why James can apply this prophecy to his present day situation. He was fully aware of what Jesus said about about the coming destruction of Jerusalem (Matt 24; Mark 13; Luke 21).
(Acts 15:17-18) – 17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things 18 known from of old.’ (ESV)
James refers to the believing Gentiles in the context of this dispute. The dispute is that the believing Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses. In quoting from Amos, he’s telling everyone that that prophecy was fulfilled in Christ and His Church (consisting of believing Jews and believing Gentiles), because the Gentiles are a part of that prophecy: “remnant of mankind,” “all the gentiles who are called by my name.”
James is also confirming what Peter said in verse 9, where he said that “he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.” James was revealing that the Gentiles are a part of the restored kingdom of David! — which is through faith in Christ, and that it’s fulfilled now during the present Church Age.
Dispensationalists believe that when James says, “After these things,” that he’s talking about after the Church Age when Jesus returns and sets up his millennial kingdom. But that’s missing the whole point that James is actually quoting from the perspective of Amos — who was prophesying what was to him still future! — NOT future from the time James was speaking those words. James was not speaking from his own present perspective, but from Amos’ perspective, who was looking to the future, which was fulfilled in the present for James. James was revealing that the prophecy of Amos was fulfilled during their own present time — the Church Age!
In other words, what was future to Amos was fulfilled in Christ and His Church – which is the restored kingdom of David. That’s what’s in view here. In other words, the restored kingdom of David is the Church, over whom Christ is King ( Eph 1:20-23; Col 1:13; Col 2:10; Rev 1:6,9; Rev 5:10). James is confirming that very thing.
That fact settles the dispute between the believing Jews and the believing Gentiles, because James is informing everyone that they were living in the very day that the prophecy of Amos was fulfilled — which requires faith (plus nothing) in Christ for entrance into this prophesied kingdom. If James was referring to a distant future kingdom (from his day), where Jews are the primary focus, it wouldn’t have settled the dispute at hand! That’s a highly significant detail that must be recognized. The dispute is only settled if the prophecy of Amos was relevant to their situation in their day. James is thus, affirming what Peter said in verses 8-9:
(Acts 15:8-9) – 8 And God, who knoweth the heart, bare them witness, giving them the Holy Spirit, even as he did unto us; 9 and he made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.
In Christ – through faith – there is no distinction between believing Jews and believing Gentiles. We are all one in Christ (Ro 3:22; 10:12; Gal 3:28). Amos was prophesying this very thing, whom James quoted in verse 17:
(Acts 15:17) – 17 that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who makes these things (ESV)
The Gentiles, “who are called by my name,” is now during the Church Age, not in some far off millennial kingdom. For James to apply a prophecy about a future kingdom (from their time) to their situation would be senseless, for it would have had no relevance for them, and would not have resolved their issue.
That the Amos quote by James is referring to Christ and the Church Age, is further confirmed by Luke, who is the same author of the book of Acts:
(Luke 1:30-33) – 30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. 31 And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33 and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.
“house of Jacob”
The “house of Jacob” is true Israel in Christ, which is the Church, composed of all believers, both Jews and Gentiles (1 Pet 2:3-5; 9-10; Ro 2:28-29; 49:6-8; Gal 3:16,28-29). Furthermore, the Church in Christ is His kingdom, over whom He reigns as King now. He sits upon the throne of David now, ruling as King over His people. He sat down upon His throne at the right hand of God after He ascended into Heaven, as Luke confirms. Luke himself interprets this passage for us here (via Peter’s sermon):
(Acts 2:29-36) – 29 Brethren, I may say unto you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us unto this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne; 31 he foreseeing this spake of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he left unto Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses. 33 Being therefore by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he hath poured forth this, which ye see and hear. 34 For David ascended not into the heavens: but he saith himself, The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, 35 Till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet. 36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly, that God hath made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom ye crucified.
I explain this passage in a previous study. So rather than explain it again here, I’ll direct you to that study, found in the following link:
That Jesus sits upon the “throne of David” now, and is reigning in His Kingdom now, is made clear by Luke via Peter’s sermon. We see, then, that Peter, James and Luke are all three in agreement, who are in agreement with Paul, that the promises to Israel are fulfilled in Christ and His Church.
In light of Amos’ prophecy, and in light of the fact that it is fulfilled in Christ and His Church, James gives his “judgement” regarding the issue with Gentile believers, which is to leave them alone:
(Acts 15:19-20) – 19 Wherefore my judgment is, that we trouble not them that from among the Gentiles turn to God; 20 but that we write unto them, that they abstain from the pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from what is strangled, and from blood.
To be clear, the reason why the prophecy of Amos settles the dispute they had, is because James was revealing to everyone that they were currently living in the prophesied restored kingdom of David, which can only be the Kingdom of Christ, which can only be the Church — because as James makes clear, the Gentiles are a part of that restored kingdom. His understanding of the kingdom of Christ was the same as Peter’s, as he revealed in his sermon in Acts 2:29-36.
The point James was making is that the entrance into that kingdom is through faith alone, apart from works of the Law, which is what he was alluding to when he quoted this: “who are called by my name” (Acts 15:17). We are called by His name only through faith in Jesus, as Peter stated in verse 9 (Acts 15:9). Thus James was supporting what both Peter and Paul taught. By quoting Amos he was alluding to the fact that all believers are one in Christ, which together make up the Church. He was further alluding to the fact that the Church is the restored kingdom of David, which is now.
The idea that James was talking about the inclusion of the Gentiles in a distant kingdom after the Church is raptured – as Dispensationalism teaches – is senseless, because their inclusion then would have no bearing on their present situation. Reference to Gentiles being called by the name of the LORD, does not wait for the arrival of a distant kingdom. That is already a fact of this present age.
We must conclude that the prophecy of Amos regarding the inclusion of the Gentiles, is fulfilled in Christ and His Church, which is NOW. Therefore, we also know that the Church is the restored kingdom of David! Which means that Jesus is sitting upon the throne of David NOW, This eliminates the idea that there will be an earthly, millennial kingdom between the return of Christ and the Eternal Kingdom of Revelation 21 and 22. When Jesus returns, we will go directly into our eternal dwelling place.