What was the yoke Peter was speaking of in this passage? Was it circumcision or the Ten Commandments? Was it the dietary laws, the sacrifices? No, it was the sin consciousness that comes from trying to gain righteousness by the law. Deu 6:25 KJV And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before the LORD our God, as he hath commanded us. Inherent from our first parents, humanity has a sin consciousness that allows us to know that we are separated from God and in need of redemption. It may not be articulated as such but it is at the core of all of our problems. The fact is that no matter how we try, we cannot act good enough to cleans or purify our hearts. That is what Peter is positing in this speech at the Jerusalem council. He was speaking of those at Cornelius house who received the Holy Spirit by believing what he had preached. When they believed their consciences were cleansed, and that is the same as saying that their hearts were purified. Demanding that circumcision and obedience to the law was necessary for salvation, i.e., reconciliation to God was the yoke.
Why did Paul say that Christ was the end of the law for righteousness in Romans 10:4? It was for this purpose; to ensure that the person, who was saved, was saved by faith in the finished work of Jesus on the cross, in the grave, and at the resurrection, and nothing else. Yes it is important to list all three aspects of the cross event. It is not just the death, but equally important is the burial and resurrection. Justification comes to the individual that places trust and hope in the blood of Jesus… trust and hope in the entire cross event. If we would ever, once and for all, take the new covenant view of the law and righteousness, realize that Jesus took away the curses, Jesus made the promises yes, and amen; none of the blessings are commensurate on performance; people would be free to allow the Law to instruct them. It is interesting to me that the word Torah, Hebrew for Law means instruction. Instruction does not mean that it has to be a legal constitutional document. Quite frankly it is not for New Covenant believers.
Yes, the yoke is the sin conscience that is exacerbated by the Law. Verse nine of the above Acts 15 text explains, that by the message Peter preached, the Holy Ghost purified their hearts by faith. That is the same as cleansing the conscience. The writer of Hebrews put it this way: Heb 9:13-15 KJV “For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: (14) How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (15) And for this cause he is the mediator of the new testament, that by means of death, for the redemption of the transgressions that were under the first testament, they which are called might receive the promise of eternal inheritance.”
I want to note here that the word used in cleanse in Hebrews 9:14 and purifying in Acts 15:9 is the exact same word. It is KARTHARIZO. Therefore, it seems obvious that the yoke that Peter was referring to was the yoke that comes from a legal-constitutional reading of the Law.
This is why Jesus said my yoke is easy and my burden is light and why John could say that his commandments were not grievous/burdensome. Jesus took the burden of the yoke upon himself on the cross to purify our conscience, and to rid us of sin consciousness, but the mixture of old covenant-new covenant theology will not allow that to happen. There are so many things that need to be re-examined and rethought.