Nevertheless, even in those days, people had problems understanding what Christ had done and what Paul was talking about. As Jesus and his disciples were all Jews, they were accustomed to keeping the Sabbath holy (and obeying all of the other commandments, statutes and judgments of the Mosaic Law). Any attempt to deny this fact is strongly refuted by the evidence of Scripture. (Matthew 12:1-13, Mark 2:23-28, 3:1-5, Luke 4:16, 6:1-10, Acts 13:14, 42, 44, 17:2, etc.) In this regard, it should also be noted that the Christian Church remained exclusively Jewish for many years after Christ ascended to heaven. Hence, the issue of how much of the Old Covenant was going to be incorporated into the New Covenant did not really come to the forefront until Gentiles began coming into the Church.
Although Christ had clearly instructed his disciples to carry forth his message to all nations just before his ascension to heaven, it is also clear that they ignored those instructions for many years. (Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8) In fact, God had to directly intervene within the Church to get them to move outside of their penchant for Jewish exclusivity. To accomplish this, God sent an angel to a Roman centurion named Cornelius and told him to seek out the Apostle Peter for instruction in the proper way to worship God. (Acts 10:1-8)
In the meantime, God caused Peter to have a dream; because he knew that Peter would resist delivering his message about Christ to a Gentile. The Jews of that day regarded Gentiles as being no better than filthy pigs. Hence, in the dream, Peter saw a large sack full of animals (that had been designated as “unclean” in the Law of Moses) lowered from heaven. Next, Peter heard a voice tell him to kill the animals and eat them. Peter, however, refused to do so. He quickly pointed out that (being a good Jew) he had never eaten anything that was considered “unclean.” This happened three times and the sack was drawn back up into heaven. (Acts 10:9-16)
While Peter was trying to figure out what this vision meant, the men Cornelius had sent to find Peter arrived at the house where he was staying. (Acts 10:17-18) We know the story. God told Peter to accompany the men back to their master and the rest is history. (Acts 10:19-48) God had to show Peter (and the rest of the Church) that He wanted the Gentiles to know about Christ and the salvation that was being offered through him. God didn’t want the Church to stay exclusively Jewish!
Nevertheless, when Gentiles began coming into the Church in greater and greater numbers, it became painfully obvious to the Jewish members that they had no traditions regarding circumcision, a Sabbath day or “clean and unclean” meats. The fact that Gentile Christians would ignore traditions which they had observed their entire lives infuriated many of them, and a great controversy arose within the ranks of the Church. In short, many of the Jewish Christians demanded that the new Gentile converts be taught to observe the provisions of the Law of Moses that they had continued to observe. In fact, the controversy became so heated that Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to see what the other leaders in the Church would say about the matter. (Acts 15:1-2)
As soon as they arrived in the city, they talked about their missionary work among the Gentiles. (Acts 15:4) Luke, however, tells us that “there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed (Jewish Christians), saying, that it was needful to circumcise them (the Gentile Christians), and to command them to keep the Law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5) Notice, that this was not just an argument over circumcision. The Jewish Christians wanted their leaders to enforce all of the provisions of the Law of Moses on the new converts.
So we are told that the apostles and elders in Jerusalem came together and considered the matter (talked about what they should do). Then Peter stood up and reminded everyone about his experience with Cornelius. (Acts 15:6-9) He concluded by confronting the assembly with a question: “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” (Acts 15:10-11)
After Peter had concluded his remarks and Paul and Barnabas had finished talking about their missionary work, James stood up and articulated what was soon to become the new policy of the church on the subject of how much of the actual do’s and don’ts of the Old Covenant would be enjoined upon the New Covenant Church. He quoted a prophecy about God incorporating the Gentiles into His people and finished: “Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every Sabbath day.” (Acts 15:13-21) Later, a letter was sent to the Gentile Christians confirming this new policy. (Acts 15:22-29)