So the fact that Jesus’ life was centered on the land and the holy city of the elect people of the Creator God led indirectly to the Jew and Gentile struggles of the early church. The church, by and large, rightly saw itself as a continuation of Israel (and its mission in and for the world). The church also knew that their commission had been to take the message of the kingdom of their God, that had been announced by Jesus, which had somehow sprung into existence at His Resurrection and which was empowered in some strange way with the coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, into the whole world. Where Caesar was being proclaimed as lord and savior and son of god, the message of Jesus as the Lord and Savior and Son of God, who had conquered the means by which Caesar maintained his power (the cross), was to be announced.
The kingdom of God was to extend well beyond the borders of Israel. It was to be a worldwide kingdom. The world was not to stream to Israel, to Jerusalem, and to its Temple as the locus of power and worship in this world. Rather (and consolidating), the new Temple was to stream out into the world, as the Creator God would now take up residence among mankind in the lives of His people and through the actions His people, with the mark of this fact being their worship of Him through Jesus and their adherence to Jesus as Lord of all (which would manifest itself in their interaction with people and the whole of creation).
This spawned issues of tremendous importance, one of which, and perhaps the most important, was how Gentiles were included in the covenant that the Creator God had made with Israel. Did the Gentiles need to adopt the Jewish practices of circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, and dietary laws (the works of the law) that served to identify a person as being a member of God’s covenant people (justified)?
Though the inclusion of Gentiles is viewed as natural and sensible, thinking things like “well of course the message of Jesus and His Gospel was for everybody,” this was not exactly a foregone conclusion. In fact, the free acceptance of Gentiles, along with a seamless integration of the same, as one church and one people for one kingdom was to be developed out of two classes of people that had been kept quite distinct, would require a radical revolution in worldview In the book of Acts, which details the growth of the church in its earliest days as it moved from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, the “Gentile issue” receives a fair amount of attention. Had it not been an issue of momentous consequence, it would not feature so prominently.
In demonstration of the importance of that issue, in Acts’ eleventh chapter, after Peter has visited a Gentile named Cornelius, having joined him in his house and eating there, he was sternly questioned. “When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers took issue with him, saying, ‘You went to uncircumcised men and shared a meal with them.’” (11:2-3) As a bit of a side note, this should remind an observer of the centrality of the meal table for the earliest of Christians. After Peter explains all that happened, “they ceased their objections and praised God, saying, ‘So then, God has granted the repentance that leads to life even to the Gentiles.’” (11:18b)