Lesson: Paul & Barnabas at the Jerusalem Council

This lesson covers how the Jewish Council solves the problem that arose when Jewish believers said that Gentiles must be circumcised in order to be saved.  This subtle addition to God’s free gift of salvation occurs even in our generation.  Students will learn that Satan does whatever he feels necessary to try and stop the spread of the powerful message of Good News that Jesus saves men, women, boys and girls from sin.  The lesson also provides opportunity for students to review lessons from previous stories in Acts.  This was created with older students in mind but can easily be adapted to other ministry needs.  Following the lesson are additional resources.

Bible Story: Paul and Barnabas Meet with Jewish Leaders (The Council at Jerusalem)
Scripture: Acts 15:1-35
Target Age Group: Age 9 – 11 (U.S. 3rd – 5th Grade)
Learning Context: Sunday School
Target Time Frame: 60 minutes
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Supply List: Bibles, Biblical map, pictures for review of lessons from Acts 1-14, picture of a yoke, pens, paper, envelopes,

Learning Goal: Students will learn that salvation is a free gift from God and cannot be earned any other way.

Learning Activity #1: To teach the memory verse, prepare students with this activity. While students are waiting for everyone to arrive tell them we are going to attend a pretend birthday party for (make up a name).  What they need to do is think of a gift they are going to bring to the party and before the person can have the gift they will have to perform the task they decide.  Example:  I am going to give (child) cd player.  Before (he/she) can have it (he/she) needs to thoroughly clean my house.  They can draw a picture of their gift and put it in an envelope and write the instructions of what the person needs to do if they want the gift on the envelope.

Test: Review Questions

Memory Verse: Ephesians 2:8-9

For teachers:  The importance of sound doctrine is vital to Body of Christ.  Children and adults alike are not immune to the subtleties of false teaching.  As teachers we must actively pursue God and remain in His Word and remain under sound Biblical teaching.  The Holy Spirit guides us into all truth (John 16:13) and by staying close to Christ we can be in tune with anything that might lead us astray.  The analogy of how bank tellers recognize counterfeit money is relevant to the believer.  The bank teller doesn’t study all the different counterfeit dollars created, they study the true dollar.  As believers we need to stay focused on Jesus the Truth and let Him lead us in His truth.  Jesus taught us that Satan would plant counterfeit Christians among genuine Christians (Matthew 13:24-30) so we need to be fully aware that they exist but keep our focus on Jesus not the counterfeit. As we prepare to teach our classes may our prayer be that God would help us to teach His truth and keep our mouths from speaking anything that misrepresents His truth.  May God guard our hearts from false teaching and recognize any false beliefs our students may have and direct them to sound Biblical truth.

Teach Memory Verse:

Use Learning Activity 1 to prepare for teaching the memory verse.

I see you brought your presents with you to our pretend birthday party.  Choose a volunteer to be the birthday (boy/girl).  Allow one person at a time to present their “gift” to the birthday (boy/girl).

If this is what your birthday party would be like would you enjoy yourself?  Why or why not?

God has given each one of us a Gift and it is free.  We can’t work for it and we can’t buy it from Him.  He freely offers it to us and when we accept His Gift He doesn’t take it back.  Does anyone know what Gift I am talking about?  (Salvation, eternal life)

God’s Gift to us is that He sent His Son Jesus to die on the cross for our sins.  He was buried and rose again on the third day.  Anyone who believes that Jesus died for his/her sins and receives His Gift of salvation by faith is saved  has eternal life and will live in heaven when he/she dies.

Have student read Ephesians 2:8-9 from their version of the Bible.  If your students have other versions than the one that was read, let them volunteer to read the verse from their version.  This verse teaches us that salvation is a free gift and we can do nothing to earn it.

Bible Lesson:  Paul and Barnabas meet with Jewish Leaders

(This is a guide to prepare to teach the lesson.)

When Jesus returned to heaven and believers received the Holy Spirit they were empowered to do the work God called them to do.  (Matthew 28:19-20)

As we have been on a journey through the book of Acts we have seen examples of how the Holy Spirit has empowered believers to have boldness and power as they shared the Good News wherever they went.

We have also seen a recurring theme of how the enemy (Satan) is not happy when people are saved.  Unlike the Holy Spirit who enables believers to be more like Jesus, Satan stirs up people and causes them to cause trouble for believers.  What are some examples you can remember of how Satan has tried to stop the spread of the Gospel?

  • Stoning of Stephen-strengthened believers as they scattered and shared the Good News wherever they went.
  • Saul persecuted the Church-He was saved on the way to Damascus
  • Apostles were imprisoned-miraculously delivered

Satan fought against believers through these persecutions thinking he could stop God’s work but he was not successful.  (Job 42:2)

In our last few lessons we have heard about events that occurred on Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey.  Can you think of any examples where Satan stirred up trouble for Paul and Barnabas?

  • Elymas the Sorcerer –Sergius Paulus was saved
  • Pisidian Antioch-Jealous Jews stirred up persecution and kicked Paul and Barnabas out yet many Gentiles were saved.
  • Iconium-Unbelieving Jews poisoned the minds of the Gentiles even though a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed.
  • Lystra-Paul is stoned and dragged out of the city.  He gets up and returns to the city and leaves for Derbe the next day to continue to share the Good News.

From each of these examples we have seen enemies from outside the Church (Body of Christ/believers) try to stop the Good News from being spread.

It must have made Satan angry that his plans of persecution against followers of Jesus were not working.

He needed a new plan.  A plan that would look different than the one he had been using.  This plan had to be disguised.  How could he stop the Good News from saving people from his/her sins?

Today we will see Satan’s subtle plan in Acts 15.  Let’s turn there in our Bibles.

Acts 15:1-4

After Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch and reported all that God had done through them, they stayed a long time with the disciples.

One day a group of men from Judea (show on map) traveled to Antioch.  They had a message they wanted to teach the believers in Antioch.  Let’s read what they taught in the last part of Acts 15:1.

To understand what is happening we have to put our thinking caps on and go back to the Day of Pentecost.  Who gathered in Jerusalem for this celebration?  (Jews) When the Gift of the Holy Spirit came who believed and were saved? (Jews)  The early church was made up of Jewish believers who believed that Jesus is God’s promised Messiah.

  • When the believers scattered because of persecution where did they share the Good News?  (Everywhere)
  • What special event occurred when Peter went to Cornelius’ house?  The Gentiles believed in Jesus and received the Holy Spirit just like the Jews did on the Day of Pentecost.
  • God had planned all along that all people, Jews and Gentiles would be a part of His family through faith in His Son Jesus.
  • Now Gentiles were accepted into God’s family the same way Jews were-through faith in Jesus Christ.

Before the Holy Spirit had come, the Jews did not fully understand God’s plan to include Gentiles in His family.  They had always made Gentiles feel unclean and excluded from their God.  If Gentiles wanted to worship the One True God that the Jews worshiped, the Jews made them convert to Judaism (the Jewish religion). Jewish leaders believed that the only way Gentiles could be clean (righteous) before God was to obey all the Jewish laws.  They had to turn away from their evil, pagan worship and obey the laws of God.  Gentile men needed to have a surgical procedure called circumcision if they converted to Judaism.

Imagine how exciting it was for Gentiles when they learned that God had accepted them and they were no longer excluded from being a part of God’s family!

The Jewish believers realized that now that Gentiles could be a part of God’s family the number of Gentile believers would quickly outnumber the number of Jewish believers.  This troubled them because they feared that the Gentiles would introduce their traditions of pagan worship into the Body of Christ. Before the Gentiles were believers they did not worship according to the Laws of Moses.  The Jews also may have been very concerned that the traditions and ways they had practiced according to Moses would no longer be accepted by the believers in the church.

These possible concerns may have been the reason why the Jewish believers traveled to Antioch with this message of how the Gentiles could only be saved if they were circumcised.  However, there is an unseen enemy lurking in the shadows of this visit to Antioch.  Satan saw that enemies from outside could not slow down and stop the powerful message of the Gospel.  Now he would turn his attention to attacking from the inside of the church (Body of Christ).  His plan of attack was to bring false teaching to new believers.

The message that these Jewish believers brought was false teaching because it added requirements to the message of the Gospel.  The Good News is that by faith in Jesus died for our sins, was buried and rose again.  He paid the price for us to be made right with God.  We did nothing and can do nothing to earn forgiveness for our sins.  To say that believers needed to be circumcised was to say that what Jesus did was not enough; we have to do more to be saved from our sins.  Believers are only saved by faith in Jesus alone.

Let’s read Acts 15:2.  Paul and Barnabas were both Jewish believers.  They immediately recognized that what these Jewish believers taught the Gentile believers was false.  They strongly disagreed with the Jewish men that Gentile believers needed to be circumcised in order to be saved.

When believers have disagreements they can be settled in a way that pleases God and doesn’t bring harm to others.

Paul and Barnabas knew that this false teaching would do great damage to believers in the Body of Christ.  This problem needed to be taken care of immediately and properly.

Paul and Barnabas and other believers traveled to Jerusalem to meet with the Jewish believers to discuss this false teaching that had been sent out.

This meeting in Jerusalem was very important because without the Holy Spirit’s wisdom and guidance it could turn into a fight that caused division and damage to relationships with the believers involved.

Satan doesn’t care how he destroys God’s work.  If he can get believers to argue and fight with each other it will keep their focus on quarreling instead of sharing the powerful Good News.

Thankfully Paul and Barnabas are empowered by the Holy Spirit and they handle this situation with God’s wisdom.

The meeting begins.  A group of Jewish believers who belonged to the party of Pharisees made their request known.  (Pharisees are the religious leaders who made extra rules for the people to obey so they could please God, they always criticized Jesus because He ‘broke their laws’, Paul was a Pharisee) Read verse 5 to see what their request was.

The apostles and elders discuss this question.  Imagine sitting in that meeting.  Have you ever sat around the table and had a family discussion?  A healthy family discussion allows each person to share their thoughts about the matter being discussed in a respectful ways and honors them by listening to them quietly.

The Jerusalem meeting was being conducted with respect and honor to each person that spoke their opinion.  There were people who stated why they felt strongly about Gentiles being circumcised.  Others spoke about why they didn’t believe this was correct. This could have turned into a fighting match where each person shouted their opinions over the others.  That is not what happened.

After much discussion Peter stood up and began to share his personal experience of being a part of God’s invitation and acceptance of Gentiles into His family (Verses 7-11).

Peter was a Jew.  He had lived his life trying to obey God’s laws.  He even argued with God when he first received the vision to eat unclean food.  Peter knew personally how hard it was to obey God’s laws.  He asks those at the meeting:  “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke (show a picture if you have one) that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?”

Because Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit he understood that no one was saved by anything they could or couldn’t do.  People whether Jew or Gentile were only saved by faith in Jesus.  (Verse 11, Ephesians 2:8-9)

After Peter spoke Barnabas and Paul shared their experiences as they traveled and shared the Good News.  They too had witnessed God’s acceptance of Gentiles into His family when they put their faith in Jesus.

Next to speak in this Jerusalem meeting was James the brother of the Lord Jesus.  As he listened he heard all the information that was shared.  The words of Peter, Barnabas and Paul were all in agreement with what God had spoken about in His Word about Gentiles being saved (Acts 15:13-18).  Since what Peter had taught agreed with what the Word of God taught he was in agreement and he too believed that Jewish believers should not try to make it difficult for Gentiles to come to God.

James’ example reminds us that when listening to others’ opinions about God we must always make sure what is said is in agreement with what God’s Word teaches.

In order for the Body of Christ to remain powerful and effective, believers (whether Jew or Gentile) needed to honor and respect each other and guard against offending one another in matters that are not clearly taught in the Bible. James decided that the best way to encourage Jewish believers and Gentile believers to get along was to write a letter to the Gentile believers.  He wanted the Gentiles to respect Jewish traditions but they were not required to follow them in order to be saved.  Since Jewish people had lived for centuries eating a strict diet according to the laws of Moses, Gentiles would honor these traditions by not participating in practices that were offensive to the Jews.  Likewise, the Jews would honor the Gentiles and accept them without requiring them to be circumcised.

Everyone agreed that the contents of the letter would solve the problem they had discussed.

Paul and Barnabas along with Judas and Silas took the letter back to Antioch and read the letter (Verses 23-29)

When the believers in Antioch heard the message they were encouraged.  The problem that had troubled them had been solved.  They did not need to worry that they needed to do anything else to be saved.

Once again, God’s enemy did not succeed with this plan.  The Holy Spirit enabled the believers to handle this disagreement with wisdom and respect.  The message of the Good News was not changed or stopped.

As a believer no matter how young or old we are, we need to be students of God’s Word.  False teachers are everywhere trying to change the message of God’s free gift of salvation to something we need to earn.

As we close, think about what lesson God has been speaking to your heart about.

  • Have you been saved?  If not, today you can receive God’s free gift of salvation by believing in Jesus Christ.
  • How do you handle disagreements?  Do you honor and respect those who disagree with you?
  • Have you worried that you have not been good enough, prayed the right prayer etc. to be saved?  If you have believed that Jesus died for your sins-you are saved.  You do not have to work for the Gift that God freely gives you.

Close in prayer.

Review Questions:

  1. What did the men from Judea tell the believers in Antioch that they needed to do to be saved?  They needed to be circumcised.
  2. How did Paul and Barnabas respond to the message these men taught?  They strongly disagreed.
  3. What did Peter, Barnabas and Paul share with the group at the Meeting in Jerusalem?  God showed them that it was His plan to include Gentiles, they were getting saved and received the Holy Spirit.
  4. How did James decide what Peter, Barnabas and Paul said was true?  It matched up with the truth taught in God’s Word.
  5. What did James decide the solution of the problem would be?  Write a letter telling the Gentiles what to avoid doing.
  6. When the believers in Antioch received the letter how did they respond?  They were encouraged.
  7. What does a person need to do to be saved?  Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Additional Resources: