At the notable conference in Jerusalem when Paul submitted his evangel to those of repute, they submitted nothing to him, but perceived that he had been entrusted with the evangel of the Uncircumcision as Peter had been with that of the Circumcision (Ga. 2:6-9). James, Cephas, and John gave him the right hand of fellowship. He was to be for the nations, they for the Circumcision. The decision of this conference is reflected in the epistles written by those who were present. The epistles written by James, Peter, John, and Jude, the brother of James, form the greater part of the following collection, hence we term them.
Nothing will contribute more to the understanding of these writings than the clear-cut apprehension that, in every detail, they differ from Paul's epistles, and do not apply at all to the present interval of God's gracious dealings with the nations, during Israel's temporary defection. Not a single truth is discussed in these writings which cannot be duplicated on a higher plane in the writings for the Uncircumcision.
The vital difference Is this: In these epistles, all blessing comes to or through faithful Israel: in the present economy of grace all blessing overflows notwithstanding that Israel's apostasy choked the channel of blessing. We are blessed in spite of Israel's failure. They will be blessed, and the nations will be blessed through them, In the coming day to which these epistles apply, on the ground of their return to God.
The final sphere of blessing in Paul's epistles was transferred to heaven (Eph.l:3). No such note is struck In the Circumcision epistles. They are all concerned with Israel on the earth, not with an election from the nations having a celestial destiny. They are all based on a physical relationship to Messiah, and lay great stress on His flesh, while Paul came to the point where he eliminated this from his ministry entirely (2 Co.5:16).
They deal with Christ as He was on earth and as He will return to earth. Paul commences at His ascension and reveals a prior return of Christ, not to the earth, but to the air, to call His saints to Him there.
As Paul's name implies, he deals with an interval, a parenthesis in God's program. Hence we should read from the book of Acts right on to Hebrews and through to Jude (omitting Paul's parenthetic epistles) to get the true connection between the proclamation of the kingdom in the book of Acts, and the epistles dealing with the temporary consequences of its rejection.
Paul's ministries changed with fresh revelations, so that his career in the book of Acts is only premonitory to his written revelation, especially that given at its close. Not so with the other apostles. Nothing new is revealed in their epistles; they are but the modification of their former ministry due to the conditions consequent on the temporary rejection of the kingdom.
The perplexities of those Pentecostal believers who remained faithful to the end are answered in Hebrews. The difficulties of those who will suffer when the kingdom is once more on the divine program are met by Peter, who enters the kingdom through suffering and death. The course of those who will be guided through the time of trouble and enter the time of blessing alive is prefigured and provided for by John (See Jn.21:18-23). James deals especially with the rebellious and the rich.
These writings cannot be "applied" to the saints today without considerable confusion and loss. As it is of more present importance to distinguish this line of truth from our own than to fully understand its message for the Circumcision, special attention will be given to its contrast with the grace which is ours in Christ Jesus.
The Circumcision Epistles
These epistles do not treat of such themes as the body of Christ, the church as a spiritual organism, the believers' identification with Christ before God, crucifixion with Christ, exemption from law, righteousness by faith, the conciliation, and the heavenly destiny. Failure or refusal to discern that Paul brought a distinct revelation accounts for the prevailing confusion as to what the gospel for the present administration really is.
Much has been written concerning the authorship of Hebrews, but nothing is so helpful as that fact that the writer did not reveal himself. Anyone who has imbibed the spirit of his epistles will agree that Paul not only did not but could not write such an exhortation. It is impossible for him to associate himself with a company of people from which he had been separated by the holy Spirit, whose destiny is utterly different from his. In contrast with this, the epistles of James, Peter, John, and Jude are to be interpreted in the light of their characters and careers.
James links us with the last and lowest period, in the book of Acts, for the nation will be in an even more serious spiritual state when God begins to recall them to Himself. Peter was destined to suffer. Hence he writes with reference to the sufferings which are still in store for the apostate nation. John was to tarry till His coming. Consequently, he writes for those who will live through the day of indignation, and will enter the kingdom without dying.
The main point to perceive is that all of these men belong to the Circumcision, and write for the Circumcision, not for the nations. Their ministry and message is in abeyance so long as the present administration of celestial favor, apart from the mediacy of Israel, will continue. Paul alone writes for us. He, with a few Hellenists, are granted a grace which far transcends anything in the Circumcision epistles. And; as it is pure grace, those among the nations who believe are associated with them on equally exalted terms.