Before we get into the text (Acts 15:36-41), let me set the stage.
The first time we hear of Barnabas is in Acts 4:36 when he sold his land and laid the earnings at the feet of the apostles. He was a Levite, and he was also called Joseph. We do not hear about him or from him until after Paul comes onto the scene. The first time we hear of Paul is in Acts 8:1 when he was in hearty agreement to Stephen’s death. He is converted in chapter 9, and begins preaching Christ in the synagogues of Damascus. When Saul learned of the Jews plan to kill him, he fled the city by way of being lowered in a basket through a large opening in the wall, and he went to Jerusalem to find solace with the disciples. But when he tried to associate himself with them, they were too afraid and didn’t think he was believer. So Saul was in Jerusalem, alone.
Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement” comes back onto the scene now.
He finds Saul, takes him into his care, brings him before the disciple’s, and he tells Saul’s testimony himself to the disciples. Because of this, Saul is allowed to move about and speak freely of Jesus. He began to argue with the Hellenistic Jews, and they tried to kill him (as the Jews did before). So the disciples sent Saul off to Tarsus and Barnabas stayed behind. Once we get to Acts chapter 11 a couple of years had gone by, and God was stirring up the gentiles in Antioch and bringing them to faith. The leaders of the Jerusalem church heard about this, rejoiced greatly, and decided to send someone there to encourage them. Peter and John couldn’t go because they had gone off to Samaria to look after Philip. So the leaders chose Barnabas, and off he went.
Once Barnabas arrives in Antioch the Scripture picks up speed. Barnabas witnesses the grace of God among the gentiles, rejoices, encourages them to remain true to the Lord, and leaves for Tarsus because he wanted to find Saul. Perhaps Barnabas needed help and could think of no one else better suited than Saul to come along side him. Then, within two more verses Barnabas finds Saul in Tarsus, brings him back to Antioch, and they begin teaching side by side with great success, so much so that the citizens of Antioch began to notice these people always talking about the “Christos” (the Christ), so they began to call them “Christians” in Antioch. From this point on, Barnabas and Saul, who comes to known as Paul, take an offering for the believers in Judea, return to Jerusalem and pick up John Mark.
The three left on the first missionary journey, which took them to Galatia and back. But it wasn’t long into the trip before John Mark left them. Now, upon Paul and Barnabas’ return to Antioch, they spent a large amount of time with the disciples, and it was during this time they told them how God had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. Then the Judaizers came and began teaching that the Gentiles needed to be circumcised to be saved. Paul and Barnabas debated them, and eventually it was such a big issue that they decided to call a council to weigh the matter. After James made his mind about the issue, Paul and Barnabas were sent back to Antioch and they stayed there teaching and preaching.
Now the stage is set for the conflict that is about to occur.