November 21, 2013

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe

 

Topic #II: The Church in Jerusalem, Acts 2.1-8.3

            Subtopic D: Struggle from Within and Without (Acts 5.1-6.7)                   

Subtopic 2: The Sanhedrin and the Apostles (5:12-42)              

 

Lesson II.D.2.b: The Jealousy of the Leaders (5:17-42) 

 

 

Introduction 

After Pentecost, the message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ spread rapidly in Jerusalem as Spirit-empowered witnesses shared the Gospel with the lost. Signs and wonders accompanied the preaching of the Word and no one could deny that God was at work in a new way among His ancient people.

But not everyone was happy with the success of the Church. The religious establishment that had opposed the ministry of Jesus, and then crucified Him, took the same hostile approach toward the Apostles. Jesus told His Apostles, “Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15.20). He also told them, “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God” (John 16.2). His words were beginning to be fulfilled.

It was the age-old conflict between living truth and dead tradition. The new wine could not be put into the old wineskins, nor could the new cloth be sewn on the worn-out garments (Matt, 9.14-17). The English martyr Hugh Latimer said, “Whenever you see persecution, there is more than a probability that truth is on the persecuted side.”

 

Commentary: Acts 5.17-42 (KJV)

 

17 Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect[i] of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,

18 And laid their hands on the Apostles, and put them in the common prison.

We are still dealing with the first things of the Christian Church, and now we have come to the first substantial persecution. We can see the forces opposed to Christianity, gaining courage, but it is the courage of desperation. It is easy to understand why the Sadducees launched another drive to restrain the ministry of the Apostles in the Temple area. Actually, they had five reasons for arresting the Apostles:

1.    Peter and John had not obeyed the official orders to stop preaching in the name of Jesus Christ. They were guilty of defying the law of the Jewish nation.

2.    The witness of the Church was refuting the doctrines held by the Sadducees, giving evidence that Jesus Christ was still alive.

3.    The religious leaders were filled with envy (“indignation”) at the great success of these uneducated, untrained, and unauthorized men (Matt. 27.18[1]; Acts 13.45[2]). The traditions of the fathers had not attracted that much attention or gained that many followers in such a short time. It is amazing how much envy can be hidden under the disguise of “defending the faith.”

4.    The healing power of Peter had attracted too much attention, and a threat of a popular disturbance loomed above the horizon. The Sadducees saw that they must take some sort of action, and take it quickly.

5.    The multitudes came to hear the Apostles preach and to have their sick folks miraculously healed. The healings and miracles wrought by the Apostles gave them tremendous popularity and prestige in Jerusalem, and so enraged the religious leaders and filled them with indignation that they “rose up” in opposition against these men of God. The situation was similar to that following the resuscitation of Lazarus (John 11.47-53) when the leaders could either believe—which they would not do—or decide to take desperate measures involving violence, despite the danger from the mob (common people).

 “The high priest rose up, and all they that were with him” includes not only the high priest and his relatives, but also the leaders of the Sadducees—in other words, all the Jewish religious authorities and rulers.

“Which is the sect of the Sadducees.” The Sadducees were a very powerful group—as we will see in verse 21 of this chapter. They had the power to bring the Apostles to trial and to mete out any punishment they decided upon. History assures us that the Sadducees also had the rich people on their side. It is not clear in the Scripture that Annas (high priest at that time) was a Sadducee, But Josephus in his book on Bible antiquity declares that the son of Annas was of that sect, and there is a possibility that Annas also was a Sadducee.

Of course the Apostles declared that the bodily resurrection of Jesus proved that He is the Son of God; and since the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection and life after death, they hated such a message and “were filled with indignation” against the Apostles.

The Greek word used here to express such a deep feeling of indignation could also be rendered “jealousy.” The Sadducees were actually filled with envy and jealousy because of the rapid growth of this New Testament Church through the preaching of the message of the Lord Jesus Christ—His death, burial, and resurrection. Believers were being added to the Church by thousands (Acts 2.41[3]; 4.4[4]), and the rapid growth of the little group who came down from the Upper Room at Pentecost angered the Sadducees.

Therefore they “laid their hands on the Apostles, and put them in the common prison.” This fact is proof that all the Apostles were preachers and teachers. We read primarily of the messages delivered by Peter, occasionally John is mentioned; but this statement in verse 18 leads us to believe that they were all busy preaching and teaching just as fervently as Peter and John preached and taught.

Verse 28 is a statement which gives us an idea of the general state of affairs in Jerusalem at that time. From the standpoint of the opposition it was surely a remark they wish they could have taken back. I wonder if the high priest would have said what he did to that little band of men arraigned before him, if he would have known that his words be would preserved for all time. He said to them: “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name . . . Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood." This was a very remarkable admission of the growth of Christianity in Jerusalem at that time. It shows the profound effect it was having on the city—“you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood." This was a revelation of the fact that the testimony and teaching of the Apostles was turning public opinion against the religious leaders because of their role in the death of Christ.

This second encounter of the Apostles with the Sadducees was very similar to the first. Some think the story is a duplicate of Chapter 4, but there are enough differences between the two accounts to indicate a second arrest. Previously, Peter and John were the only Apostles put in prison, but here all the Apostles were arrested and put in prison. We also observe that the reaction of the Sadducees is more violent in this episode, so violent that they wanted to kill the Apostles. There is an escape from prison in this account which is not present in Chapter 4. There is no mention of punishment from the Sadducees in the previous confrontation; but in Chapter 5 the Apostle’s sentence is the customary 39 lashes with a whip. Furthermore, we notice that the Pharisees are strategically drawn into the decision of this council. It was the Pharisees who had led in the persecution against Jesus, but it was the Sadducees who led in the persecution of the early Church.

 

19 But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,

20 Go, stand and speak in the Temple to the people all the words of this life.

 

Here was a direct protest by Jehovah God against the actions of the Sadducees in confining the apostles in prison. The Sadducees taught that there was neither spirit nor angel—so God sent an angel by night to open the prison doors and set His servants free! I believe “an angel” is the correct translation, rather than “the angel” as it is rendered here. In the Old Testament the angel of the Lord was the pre-incarnate Christ, but now Christ is the Man in heaven at God’s right hand, and He is the one directing the activity of His apostles. Today, unfortunately, much of the time His hands and His feet are paralyzed because the people in the Church are not working for Him in this world.  Jesus Christ wants to work through His church. He wants to work through you and me, if we will permit Him. This is not Christ who appeared here, it was an angel. God takes care of His own. In Acts 16.25-28, He released Paul and Silas by sending an earthquake to open the prison doors and loose the bands of the prisoners. In Acts 12.5-11, He sent an angel to rescue Peter from between two guards where he was bound after Herod imprisoned him. And in our present study “the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors,” and brought the apostles forth—but He did more than just deliver them from prison: He instructed them to return to the Temple, to the very place where they had been arrested, “and speak in the Temple to the people ALL THE WORDS OF THIS LIFE” (This is an unusual way to refer to the Gospel.). It was no small assignment to go directly back to the place where the opposition was the hottest and begin again teaching the same message.

The question might be asked, “Why didn’t the apostles mention their miraculous delivery when they were ordered to testify before the Sanhedrin?” At no time did these men of God dwell on miracles performed by them or on their behalf, except when those miracles were observed by men, or were used as signs of the divine power of Almighty God working in and for the Church through members of the church. Therefore it would have been foreign to the character of the apostles had they entered into a description of this miracle which had not been witnessed by those before whom they testified. No member of the council saw the angel of the Lord that night, and for the apostles to use their deliverance as grounds for their claim that they were servants of Jehovah God would only have brought down upon them the wrath of the Sanhedrin because the Sadducees would not have believed them!

We might note that when criminals escape from jail they immediately go into hiding—but that is not what these men did. They did not arrange their own escape. God delivered and then told them exactly what to do. They were to make no attempt to conceal themselves, and they were to return to the same place where they had taught and performed miracles, and they were to continue to teach the same thing. There was to be no interruption in their ministry.

Please note, too, that they were not to appeal to the multitudes for sympathy, or try to excite the crowds to rise up against the Sanhedrin. They were simply to return to their former place in the Temple and continue to teach the people the wonderful words of life—“THIS LIFE”—life after death, eternal life through faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came into the world to provide abundant and eternal life to spiritually dead people (John 11.25[ii]).

 

21 And when they heard that, they entered into the Temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.

 

“Early in the morning”—We are not told the hour; it could have been even as early as dawn, and it could have been at sunrise—but at a very early hour the apostles went back to the Temple to take up their ministry where they had stopped (the night before) when they were arrested and taken to prison. The time they spent in prison did not shake their faith or courage.

“But the high priest came, and they that were with him.” Evidently, these men came to the council chamber to discuss what should be done to their prisoners—who were no longer prisoners (which was unknown to the Sanhedrin) but were already back at work preaching the same message they had been arrested and imprisoned for preaching!

The priest and “they that were with him . . . called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel.” This was considered by them to be a very important matter and therefore the combined wisdom of the religious authorities was hastily gathered together for this meeting. We know Gamaliel was there (v. 34), and this would indicate that not only Sadducees were present, but also all of the religious leaders and rulers of that day (including Pharisees, who disagreed with the Sadducees on the issue of the resurrection and angels).

Some Bible commentators believe that the “council” here refers to the smaller Sanhedrin and “the senate” means the older men, the great Sanhedrin made up of seventy-one elders, men who were added to the council because of their age, character and knowledge of religious matters. Bible history and antiquity—as well as Jewish literature—tell us that such advisors were often appointed to set with the council in matters of such importance as the interrogation and trial of the apostles. And when these religious leaders were all assembled, they “sent to the prison” to have the prisoners brought to them.

 

22 But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told, 23 Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.

The term “officers” here seems to imply a military body, but they could have been members of the Levitical guard.

If there is any doubt that a miracle occurred here, verse 23 certainly removes that doubt. Even the prison guards—the keepers standing without before the doors”—did not know their prisoners were missing! The closed doors had not been disturbed and the guards naturally assumed the prisoners were still inside. Silently, without disturbing locks or doors, God had removed His men from the prison cell—and not even the prison guards suspected that anything unusual had occurred until they opened the door the next morning and discovered the prisoners were gone.

This is the same sort of thing that happened at the resurrection of Jesus. The stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out; He was out before the stone was rolled away. The stone was moved to let those on the outside come in. The same thing happened here. The doors did not need to be opened to let the apostles get out. They were out long before the doors were unlocked.

There is a touch of humor in this situation when we think about the shock and perhaps even fear that was produced within this distinguished assembly. Luke describes that assembly with cautious accuracy as the senate and council that is the greater and lesser Sanhedrin. Try to imagine them assembled in their robes, and dignity, and glory; everything in readiness except the prisoners. While they waited, messengers were sent to the prison, only to discover their absolute helplessness in the presence of the divine movement, because the messengers returned alone to tell them that the prisoners had escaped. And they had no explanation to offer for how they accomplished their prison break. I would imagine they brought the guards back with them to tell the story.

 

24 Now when the high priest and the captain of the Temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.

The “captain of the Temple” was not a military officer, but had charge of the Temple guard which was made up of priests and Levites—men who watched over the Temple to preserve order and prevent any disturbance. The captain of the Temple, who was a member of the Sanhedrin, is mentioned in Acts 4.1[iii], and the Old Testament speaks of an officer whose title was “the ruler of the house of God” (1 Chron. 9.11[iv]).

The “chief priests” were the heads of the high priestly families and priests who had previously held the office of high priest and who continued to retain the title. These officials of the Sanhedrin apparently felt that the Christians had won converts within the circle of the Temple guards, and it looked as if this new movement would grow out of control.

“These things” heard by the high priest, the captain of the Temple, and the chief priests were simply the report which the officers brought back concerning the miraculous disappearance of the apostles when they were thought to be safely locked in a prison cell.

“They doubted of them whereunto this would grow.” These dignitaries and religious leaders were at a complete loss as to what to do about this matter. What step should they take next to prevent things from getting out of hand? If news of this happening should spread among the common people, there was no way of knowing what might happen. They must find a way to put a stop to it—but they were at a loss to know how this could be done.

It is interesting to note that when the apostles were brought before the religious leaders they were not questioned concerning how they escaped from prison. It is clear the magistrates wanted no further testimony concerning the supernatural power by which these men had wrought their mighty miracles—and they especially wanted to avoid any testimony about their miraculous deliverance from behind the locked doors where they had been imprisoned. These religious leaders were not ignorant about the resurrection of Jesus. They had been careful to station guards at His sepulcher, and when those guards came to them on the resurrection morning and told them “all the things that were done,” they bribed the soldiers and instructed them to say that they had fallen asleep on guard, and while they slept the apostles had come and stole the body of their Lord from the tomb (Matt. 28.11-14). So the chief priests and members of this body of religious rulers knew very well that a miracle had occurred in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and they knew as well that a miracle had released these apostles from prison; but they wanted no further publicity about it. The Sadducees denied resurrection, but they faced here a miracle which they could neither deny nor explain away. Therefore they chose to ignore it.

 

25 Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the Temple, and teaching the people.

God saw to it that there was a great deal of publicity surrounding the defeat of the religious leaders at the very time they seemed to be on the verge of being victorious over His servants. The multitudes knew that the council had threatened the apostles and ordered them to stop speaking in the name of Jesus, and then when the command was unheeded and the preaching and miracles continued, they had ordered that these men be arrested and put into prison. But God had given this command long ago: “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm” (1 Chron. 16.22), and these prophets were His anointed servants. Therefore He sent an angel to bring them out of prison—from behind locked doors and unseen by the prison guards—and now they were standing in the Temple in the very place where they had been arrested the day before, and they were preaching the same message, and teaching in the name of Jesus.

People were listening to the apostles. They were good witnesses. They were real missionaries. Jesus had said that the Gospel was to go out, first in Jerusalem. We see that this has been done—“Ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine.” (v. 28).

Then another messenger came into the council chamber, and there seems to be a touch of satire, whether intended or not, in his message: “Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the Temple, and teaching the people.”

What a contrast between the apostles and the members of the council. The council was educated, ordained, and approved, and yet they had no ministry of power. The apostles were ordinary laymen, yet God’s power was at work in their lives. The council was trying desperately to protect themselves and their dead traditions, while the apostles were risking their lives to share the living word of God. The dynamic Church was enjoying the new; the dead council was defending the old.

 

26 Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.

It is apparent that the religious leaders knew that on occasion the Jewish people were capable of taking the Law into their own hands. Not too long ago they had been ready to stone Jesus for declaring His deity (John 10.30-33[v]). The apostles had been preaching the gospel, healing the sick, and casting out demons; and the mighty miracles that had been done through them by the power of God had won the respect and esteem of the people. The members of the Sanhedrin, the officers, and the captain of the Temple knew that mob violence could break out if they did not exercise care in bringing the apostles back to the judgment hall.

The captain of the Temple police with a contingent of officers went to the Temple area and brought the apostles back to appear before the council. However, the arrest was made in as peaceful manner as possible, because they feared that the people would stone them.

“For they feared the people.” It was man they feared, not God. They were not thinking of what God might do to them, but of what the multitudes might do. But the apostles had their eyes firmly fixed on God—and that is the only way to find deliverance from man. They offered no resistance to the officers and the captain of the Temple. After all, they had done no wrong—and even when they were in prison for preaching the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ they had not broken out of jail but had been delivered by God’s miracle. Therefore they did not fear the Sanhedrin. They were ready to appear before that body of religious leaders, realizing that they would have another opportunity to declare the message of God’s saving grace.

 

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,

28 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.

“Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name?” It was impossible to ignore or conceal the fact that the apostles had paid no attention to the command not to preach in the name of Jesus, and you can rest assured the Sanhedrin did not want to advertise their lack of control over these poor, ignorant Galileans!

“Ye . . . intend to bring this man's blood upon us.” It had not been too many days since Pilate had washed his hands before the multitude and in the presence of these religious leaders, as if he could rid himself of the guilt of delivering Jesus into their hands to be crucified. He asked them, “Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? For he knew that for envy they had delivered him. When he was set down on the judgment seat, his wife sent unto him, saying, Have thou nothing to do with that just man: for I have suffered many things this day in a dream because of him. But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitude that they should ask Barabbas, and destroy Jesus. The governor answered and said unto them, whether of the twain will ye that I release unto you? They said, Barabbas. Pilate saith unto them, what shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ? They all say unto him, let him be crucified. And the governor said, why, what evil hath he done? But they cried out the more, saying, Let him be crucified. When Pilate saw that he could prevail nothing, but that rather a tumult was made, he took water, and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, I am innocent of the blood of this just person: see ye to it.”

“Then answered all the people, and said, HIS BLOOD BE ON US, AND ON OUR CHILDREN. Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified” (Matt. 27.17-26). The council now felt that these words—His blood be upon us”—were likely to be brought to fulfilment.

Certainly these men saw in Peter a new creation in Christ, for they must have remembered that this apostle had once denied his Lord and declared that he had never known Him, but now he stood before them as brave as a lion. He had been forgiven, restored to fellowship, and had come into possession of a Power that made him unafraid. He faced the crowd who had condemned Jesus, and boldly charged them with having denied the Holy One, having crucified the Prince of peace, choosing a murderer and robber to take His place! But they wanted none of his counsel, they wanted no message from the lips of this fisherman. They who were dignified, self-righteous leaders and rulers in Israel wanted, more than anything else, to quiet these Galileans who preached the blood of Jesus.

Just as we said in the commentary on Chapter four, the council before which the apostles stood could hardly be the regularly constituted Sanhedrin. It was more likely a hastily assembled priestly court of inquiry with representatives of the Pharisees drawn in to act as advisors.

The high priest charged the apostles with violating the councils command to desist from preaching in the name of Jesus. He further charged them with inciting the people against the council in order to take vengeance for the death of Jesus.

But even this hateful indictment was an admission that the Church was increasing and getting the Job done! The wrath of man was bringing praise to the Lord (Ps. 76.10[vi]). The high priest realized that if the apostles were right, then the Jewish leaders had been wrong in condemning Jesus Christ. Indeed, if the apostles were right, then the council was guilty of His blood (Matt. 27.25[vii]). As this trial continued the apostles became the judges and the council became the accused.

Observe that the high priest must have hated Jesus so much that he would not even use the name of Jesus Christ, but instead said “this name” and “this man’s blood,” for fear that by speaking His name he would defile his lips or bring down the wrath of God (John 15.21[viii]).

 

29 Then Peter and the other Apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

To obey God rather than men is the great, practical principle of saving faith, just as it was the uniform characteristic of the Lord Jesus Christ with all perfection as He tabernacled among men. His cry was, “Lo, I come to do thy will, O God!” (Heb. 10.9). It is true that He went about teaching and doing good. He healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons, and fed the multitudes; but those things were merely sidelines of His ministry—visible signs that gave evidence of His deity. His primary purpose for coming into the world was to pay the sin-debt, and His entire earthly life was characterized by unqualified, unfailing obedience to God the Father. In all that He said, in all that He did, wherever He went, obedience was always present—unfaltering, constant, and perfect.

As believers, we are to follow in His steps. Therefore as He fully obeyed the will of God, we should follow Him in obedience at all times, and under all circumstances. There may be times when we are forced to wait on God for light, and we may have to trust Him to lead us when we cannot see clearly just what He would have us do; but absolute obedience is the invariable duty of every born again believer.

It is true that we are instructed to be “subject to principalities and powers, to obey magistrates” (Tit. 3.1). Peter tells us that we are to be subject “ . . . to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers . . .” (1 Pe. 2.13, 14). But if there is conflict between God’s Word and the requirements of earthly rulers, the believer’s path is clear: As the Apostles so boldly declared, “We ought to OBEY GOD rather than men,” no matter what it may cost. We may suffer for it, but obedience to God by grace gives the Christian strength and courage, and removes self-confidence. The basic principle presented here is that Christians ought to obey their government unless it is a sin to do so (1 Pe. 2.13-17[ix]).

The Apostles did not change their convictions (Acts 4.19.20[x]). They obeyed God and trusted Him to take care of the consequences. They could not serve two masters, and they had already declared whose side they were on. Had they been diplomats instead of ambassadors (2 Cor. 5.20[xi]), they could have pleased everybody and escaped a beating. But they stood firmly for the Lord, and He honored their courage and faith.

There are some things that men do because they want to, or because they like to, but there are other things they do because they must. Life is full of a mixture of choices and compulsions, and there are two types of compulsions. There is the compulsion that a man is unable to resist, like when a muzzle of a gun is pressed into his back; and there is the compulsion that he is unwilling to resist, like the compulsion of assisting his aging parent. The moral compulsion of life, like the one that fell upon Peter and his companions, belonged to the second group, the compulsions without guns.

A great many times we are able to obey man and God at the same time; at least there is no conflict in our loyalty. When we pay our bills, for instance, we are obeying the laws of man, and at the same time we are obeying the moral laws of God. The trouble comes when men tell us to do one thing and God tells us to do the opposite. That’s what happened in Peter’s case. Men said, “Keep quiet.” God said, “Speak out.” Peter could not do both; he had to choose one or the other. He chose to do what God said, regardless of the consequences.

Obedience to God is not only the duty of the believer, it is also the pathway to power. It was through obedience to our heavenly Father that our blessed Lord and Savior withstood the devil and defeated him at every turn. On the Mount of Temptation Jesus met Satan’s onslaughts with the Word of the living God. Of course, whatever Jesus said was the Word of God, but in answer to the devil’s offers He quoted the Old Testament Scriptures. That is why we should hide the Word of God in our hearts, so that we might not sin against Him (Ps. 119.11[xii]).

“He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever” (1 John 2.17); but self-will, unbelief, and lawlessness will end in judgment and eternal damnation!

 

30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.

31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.

By the expression “God of our fathers,” Peter showed that he still regarded himself as a Jew. The early church did not break fellowship with the Jews but existed as a fellowship within Judaism.

The Greek word that has been translated here as “raised up” is not the same as the word used in chapter 3, verses 22 and 26, and in chapter 7, verse 37. Those verses speak of raising up Jesus as the promised Messiah, “that Prophet” Moses wrote about. But the Greek word Peter used here means that God raised up Jesus after death, brought Him back from the dead because it was not possible for death to hold Him.

This was clearly prophesized in the Psalms, and the Jews were certainly familiar with those prophesies as well as other Old Testament Scriptures which foretold the resurrection of Jesus; but they refused to believe in Him even though He was the one that was prophesized.

The work of the Holy Spirit in recent days was evidence that Jesus had returned to heaven and sent His Spirit as He promised. The Sadducees certainly did not enjoy hearing the Apostles speak about resurrection from the dead.

“. . .Whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.” Jesus Christ was hanged on a tree. It was not a nice, smooth piece of timber with a crossbar as we see it pictured today. It was a tree.

“Him hath God exalted with his right hand . . .” God raised up Jesus from the dead, but not for Him to live among men here on earth, but for Him to be exalted at His right hand. This is the same thing Peter taught in Acts 2.33[xiii], and is a direct fulfilment of Psalm 110 where we read in verse 1, “The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” (Please read the entire psalm—there are only seven verses.)

That Jesus is at God’s right hand is a key theme in the Scriptures. The right hand is, of course, the place of honor, power, and authority. Psalm 110.1 is the basic prophesy, but there are numerous references: Mark 14.62[xiv]; 16.19; Acts 2.33-34; 5.31; Romans 8.34; Ephesians 1.20; Colossians 3.1; Hebrews 1.3; 8.1; 10.12; 12.2; and 1Peter 3.22. Soon Steven would see Jesus standing at God’s right hand (Acts 7.55[xv]).

“. . . To be a Prince and a Saviour . . .” In what relation to Israel did Jesus take His place in heaven at the right hand of God the Father? As a Prince and a Savior, “for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. The door of grace was still open for Israel as Peter delivered this message. The God of their fathers was looking down from heaven, waiting and longing to be gracious to His people even though with wicked hands they had slain His only begotten Son. The first title [prince] expressed that Royalty which all Israel looked for in Messiah, and the second the saving character of it which they had utterly lost sight of. Each of these features in our Lord’s work enters in to the other, and both make one glorious whole (Acts 3.15; Heb. 2.10

Today the crucified, risen, and exalted Lord sits at the right hand of the Majesty on high as Savior of mankind; but someday He will appear in judgment—Jew, Gentile, rich, poor, bond or free, will ALL be judged. Until the judgment day He is the Prince and Savior to give repentance and remission of sins to all who will come unto God by Him.

In his second sermon Peter had called Jesus “the Prince of life” (Acts 3.15[xvi]), and here He is called “a Prince and a Savior.” The word Prince means “a pioneer, one who leads the way, an originator.” The Sanhedrin was not interested in pioneering anything; all they wanted to do was to protect their vested interests and keep things exactly as they were (see John 11.47-52). As the Pioneer of Life, Jesus leads us into exciting experiences as we walk “in newness of life” (Rom. 6.4[xvii]). There are always new trails to blaze.

Hebrews 2.10 calls Him “the Pioneer [captain] of their salvation, for our salvation experience must never become static. The Christian life is not a parking lot; it is a launching pad! It is not enough just to be born again; we must also grow spiritually (2 Pe. 3.18[xviii]) and make progress in our walk. In Hebrews 12.2, Jesus is called “the Pioneer [author] . . . of our faith,” which suggests that He leads us into new experiences that test our faith and help it to grow.  One of the major themes of Hebrews is “let us press on to maturity” (Heb. 6.1), and we cannot mature unless we follow Christ, the pioneer, into new areas of faith and ministry.

The title Savior was not new to the members of the council, because the word was used for physicians (who save people’s lives), philosophers (who solve people’s problems), and statesmen (who save people from danger and war). It was even applied to the Emperor. But only Jesus Christ is the true and living Savior, who rescues from sin, death, and judgment all who will trust Him.

32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.

The apostles were “His witnesses of these things’—the things that were done to Jesus—His arrest and trial, His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. There was more than adequate testimony to prove that Jesus was God’s Christ, Savior of sinners, the Messiah for whom the Jewish nation had waited and hoped, and the disciples were His witnesses. They had been with Him through the early years of His earthly ministry and they had walked and talked with Him for forty days after His resurrection from the grave. They had also been present when He was taken up into heaven to be exalted at the right hand of the Father. In John 15.26-27 Jesus said to his disciples “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: AND YE ALSO shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.”

What is a “witness?” A witness is a martyr. A martyr is a confessor, not with his mouth only, but with his life; a martyr is an evidence, a credential, a demonstration. With my mind’s eye, I see Peter standing in the midst of the intellectual aristocracy of Jerusalem, saying in effect: You have no right to question the accuracy of what we say, until you have considered what we are. “We are witnesses.” Look at what we were, and then Look at what we have become; and know that the change in us is entirely due to the fact that God raised Jesus, exalted Him to be a Prince and Savior, to give repentance and remission, and He gave us the Spirit. We have followed Him, we have repented, and our sins are forgiven; we have the Spirit. “We are witnesses.” See what we are. The Church cannot be powerful unless it can produce its witnesses; not merely her preachers. The Church is victorious when the men and women who are listening to preaching are being witnesses and putting into effect that which is being preached.

But notice that we are not the only witnesses—we are witnesses . . . and so is the Holy Spirit.”  That is the Church’s final power. That is the mightiest fact of all. If we do not cooperate with the Holy Spirit, if we do not partner with the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing worthwhile in Jerusalem, or Chicago, or Kansas City. The Holy Spirit was corroborating their testimony by supernaturally enabling them to preach with boldness and to perform miracles. This same Spirit is given to all who believe in Christ: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8.9). Every believer receives the Holy Spirit the moment he is saved by obeying the Gospel (1 Cor. 6.19-20[xix]).

The Holy Spirit did witness to the glory of Christ through the preaching and miracles of these apostles and believers in the infant Church—and He still witnesses through believers, for God has given the Holy Spirit to all who “OBEY HIM.” The Greek word rendered here as “obey” means literally “one who completely submits to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ;” so completely surrendered to Him that he becomes like a bond slave. This does not mean that the gift of the Spirit is a reward for obedience, for a gift can only be received by faith. The phrase “obey him” is the same as “obedient to the faith” in Acts 6.7, and means “to obey God’s call and trust God’s Son.” God does not suggest that sinners repent and believe; He demands it (Acts 17.30[xx]).

Therefore, the apostles clearly testified before the Sanhedrin that the Jews had crucified the Lord of Glory, “that Prophet of whom Moses, David, and Abraham had spoken and whose coming they had foretold. They had killed the Prince of glory, His blood was on their hands, and the only possible way for them to be free from their guilt was for them to accept Him by faith through the Gospel of His death, burial, and resurrection. They could still be forgiven if they would only repent and confess Him as Savior and Lord.

It was a bold witness the apostles gave before the highest Jewish religious court. The Spirit of God enabled them and they were not afraid. After all Jesus had promised to be with them and, through His Holy Spirit, empower them for witness and service. They were His witness of His resurrection (Acts 1.22; 2.24, 32; 3.15xvi, 26; 4.10), and He would see them through.

 

33 When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.

The Greek translated here as “cut to the heart” means literally “sawn asunder”—that is, “the effect described is not the compunction which leads to repentance, but the aggravation that results in more furious anger.”

It is dangerous to oppose truth; and the more important the truth opposed the more deadly the results of that opposition. The religious leaders in Israel opposed truth—i. e., they opposed Jesus, and Jesus is truth (John 14.6[xxi]; 17.17). Therefore they had rejected the one and only way of deliverance from condemnation. And then, after hearing the clear testimony that they had crucified the Lord of glory, they rebelliously despised the men who witnessed against them, and had it not been for their fear of the sympathetic multitudes they would have put the apostles to death then and there, so filled were they with prejudice, pride, and hatred!

But God always cares for His own in one way or another. It may not be as we think it should be, but “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8.28). I believe that a dedicated believer is indestructible, until God has finished with that believer. I am convinced that there are not enough demons on the earth or in hell to destroy the Christian who is fully surrendered to God, fully obedient to Him, until he has finished the work God has allotted him to do.

God sent an angel to deliver these apostles from prison, but now He works through Peter, a human instrument, in order to save them from the wrath of the Sanhedrin.

Let’s observe the opposition that Peter and the other apostles faced on this occasion. A description is given in verse seventeen of those before whom the apostles were arraigned: “Then the high priest . . . and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees). Then in verse twenty-one: “The high priest . . . called the council together”—that is the inner circle of the Sanhedrin, which was known as the Lesser Sanhedrin, lesser not in importance, but in numbers—“and all the senate”—that is the whole company of the Sanhedrin, which also included Pharisees.

The gathering of the whole company of the Sanhedrin indicates the keen interest surrounding this new religion. It was a rare thing in those days for the complete assembly to meet together. The Sanhedrin was the constituted Hebrew authority. They had limited authority under Roman rule, and they met occasionally, a handful of them; but this whole gathering was evidence of the remarkably keen interest in the case before them. This full gathering was a very important thing, and it showed the growth of the Christian movement in Jerusalem. So keenly interested were the rulers of the people that the whole Sanhedrin had come together, from near and far.

The fury of the leaders toward the apostles could have been expected. The leaders wanted to put them to death. Their opposition followed the same path as their hostility to the Lord Jesus a few weeks earlier. It is a characteristic of opposition that it grows, and that’s what happened in Jerusalem.

 

34 Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the Apostles forth a little space;

According to Bible history (gleaned from the writings of Josephus) Gamaliel was the son of Simeon (probably the same person who took the infant Jesus in his arms; Luke 2.25-35) and the grandson of Hillel. Hillel presided over the Sanhedrin during the reign of Tiberius, the reign of Caligula, and the reign of Claudius. His son succeeded him to the same office but was murdered during the siege of Jerusalem under Titus the Roman in 70 A. D.

In Acts 22.3[xxii] the Apostle Paul, one of the best educated men of his day, testified that he had studied under the teaching of Gamaliel, and there can be no doubt that this man was held in the highest regard by the Sanhedrin (of which he himself was a member). Therefore the council could not ignore his advice, even though his sober words were opposed to the violence they advocated. We should think of him as being the “elder statesman” of his time.

There is no reason to suggest, however, that Gamaliel was ever a believer—either publicly or secretly; but he was used by God at this critical moment in the lives of the apostles, to preserve their lives and deliver them from the Sanhedrin. God moves in mysterious ways! On one occasion in the Old Testament God used a donkey to accomplish his purpose (Num. 22.21-33). He used a rooster to remind Peter of the words of Jesus (Matt. 26.34, 35, 74, 75). Without a doubt, He could speak to the heart of such a man as Gamaliel and lead him to speak words that would capture the minds of those who wanted to kill His apostles! And because of the words spoken by this outstanding man, the Israelites were granted another opportunity to hear the truth, receive the grace of God, and be saved. Josephus tells us that the Pharisees were small in number, but their influence with the people was so great that any advice they offered had to be considered.

“Gamaliel . . . commanded to put the Apostles forth a little space” means that Gamaliel wants the apostles excused so that he can talk to the Sanhedrin without them being present. Since Gamaliel was a Pharisee and the leader of the liberal sector of the Pharisees, he did not see eye-to-eye with the Sadducee majority on several critical areas of Jewish theology, therefore he probably didn’t want to see the Sadducees win any victories. As a scholar, he was so highly esteemed by the people that he received the honorable title of “Rabban” (our teacher); but he was rather liberal in his applications of the Law, and apparently moderate in his approach to problems. “When Rabban Gamaliel died the Elder died,” said the Jews, “the glory of the Law ceased and purity and abstinence died.”

 

35 And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.

Notice that Gamaliel did not address them as “Ye Sadducees,” or “Ye Pharisees”; instead he addressed them as “Ye men of Israel”; and then he gave reasons why they should be careful concerning what they did to these apostles who were preaching in the name of the One whom these “men of Israel” had crucified. The “men of Israel” are the people to whom God had promised the Messiah

Gamaliel’s advice was unwise and dangerous, as we shall see as we continue this study; but God used it to save the apostles from death. The fact that the Sadducees took the advice of a Pharisee shows how distinguished a man Gamaliel was.

 

36 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.

37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.

 

Here Gamaliel assures the Sanhedrin that pretenders will come to naught (nothing), and names a man they were familiar with—“Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody.” The Jews were looking for their Messiah, and when Theudas came on the scene with his false claims, four hundred men joined him—an impressive number of followers in those days. Today there are men in America who claim everything Jesus claimed except the virgin birth—and personally I look for some false teacher to come on the scene soon who will even announce that he is virgin born! In these closing days of the Dispensation of Grace we have—not four hundred, but literally thousands who are following men instead of following THE MAN, Christ Jesus.

Gamaliel reminded the Sanhedrin that Theudus was slain, and his followers “were scattered and brought to naught.” After Theudus and his followers passed off the scene, there rose up “Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing,” and he, too, built up quite a following—“he drew away much people after him.” This second man that rose up was from Galilee—as was the Lord Jesus. He came into prominence “in the days of the taxing.” Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem during the days of the taxing. So we see how the devil does his best to counterfeit everything God has done down through the history of man.

This Judas of Galilee perhaps had a larger following than Theudus had, and history tells us that his cry was, “We have God as our only leader and Lord!” He was fanatical and his followers were fanatical and revolutionary; but, he too, perished and “as many as obeyed him were disbursed.” The uprising led by Judas was much more serious than what is implied here, and his followers were not completely exterminated, because the “Zealots” originated with them, and they were largely responsible for the movement which eventually led to the great rebellion and the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The argument that Gamaliel made is simply that if Jesus is, like Theudus and Judas, a mere imposter, His cause will as rapidly collapse as theirs did. However, such incidents as these made the Jewish leaders fearful of what might become of the preaching of these apostles concerning Jesus of Nazareth whom they declared had risen from the dead and at that very moment was seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High. They were preaching in His name, great crowds were following them, and members of the Sanhedrin were frightened of the outcome. Then Gamaliel spoke, using these former false leaders as examples, warning the council to proceed slowly and carefully in opposing the apostles.

Some supposed-to-be Bible authorities declare that the account of Gamaliel does not correspond historically with the account given by Josephus and other historians of that day. Be that as it may, the words in the book of Acts are God inspired, and the words of Josephus and other writers of secular history are not inspired, however trustworthy they may be. Personally, I do not find it difficult to accept what is written in the Bible over and above any statement in history or in secular literature because, from Genesis through Revelation I believe every word is the Word of God. 2 Timothy 3.16 declares, “All Scripture is given BY INSPIRATION OF GOD,” and in 2 Peter 1.21 we read, “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were MOVED BY THE HOLY GHOST.”

According to history and Jewish literature, there were numerous false leaders who came on the scene announcing that they were the Messiah, and Jesus tells us that in the closing days of this dispensation there will be men who will claim to be the Christ, and they will deceive many and lead them astray. To his disciples He said, “Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. Then if any man shall say unto you, Lo, here is Christ, or there; believe it not. For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.” (Matt. 23.4, 5, 23, 24).

The apostle Paul warned “that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4.1). John the Beloved also warned, “Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the antichrist” (2 John 7). True believers know that the schemes and efforts of evil men cannot destroy that which is of God. Empires built by the design of men, regardless of their power and glory, invariably crumble and come to amount to nothing—a fact substantiated both in Scripture and through the pages of secular history. There are evil men among us today who are antichrists—not THE Man of Sin, the false Messiah, but his forerunners. They are the antichrists (plural) of whom John wrote—men who deny that Jesus is the Son of God, virgin born, very God in flesh. THE Antichrist, the Man of Sin, will be unveiled after the Rapture of the Church. (Please study 2 Thessalonians, Chapter 2.)

And what would the attitude of believers be toward the false teachers among us today? The answer is found in the Word of God.  The duty of the Church is NOT to judge men, but to lift up THE Christ and glorify HIM. Believers are to give out the Gospel, and allow the judgment of GOD to fall upon false teachers. Scripture points out that we are to have no fellowship with such men, because God commands His people, “Come out from among them and be separate, says the Lord . . . and touch not the unclean thing . . . " (2 Cor. 6.17).

In 2 John 9-11 we have this warning: “Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.”

We are to preach the truth; and when we do that, we have no need to deal in personalities. We need only to await the manifestation of truth in that which is doubtful, for the truth will rise, and will point out false teachers.

You may recall that back in verse 35 I said, “Gamaliel’s advice was unwise and dangerous”; now I will explain what I meant.

In spite of the fact that Gamaliel tried to use cool logic instead of overheated emotions, his approach was still wrong. To begin with, he automatically classified Jesus with two rebels, which means he had already rejected the evidence. To him, this “Jesus of Nazareth” was only another zealous Jew, trying to set the nation free from Rome. But did Theudus or Judas ever do the things Jesus did? Were they raised from the dead? With a clever twist of bad logic, Gamaliel convinced the council there was really nothing to worry about! Troublemakers come and go, so be patient.

Furthermore, Gamaliel convinced himself that history repeats itself. Theudus and Judas rebelled, were subdued, and their followers were scattered. Give these Galileans enough time and they too will disband, and you will never again hear about Jesus of Nazareth. While some students do claim to see “cycles” in history, these “cycles” are probably only in the eyes of the beholder. By selecting your evidence carefully, you can prove almost anything from history. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ had never happened before and would never happen again. God had broken into history and visited this earth!

Gamaliel also had the mistaken idea that, if something is not of God it must fail. But this idea doesn’t take into consideration the sinful nature of man and the presence of Satan in the world. Mark Twain said that a lie runs around the world while truth is still putting on her shoes. In the end, God’s truth will be victorious; but meanwhile, Satan can be very strong and influence multitudes of people.

Success is no test of truth, in spite of what the pragmatists say. False cults often grow faster than God’s Church. This world is a battlefield on which truth and error are in mortal combat, and often it looks as if truth is about to be defeated while wrong sets arrogantly on the throne. How long should the council wait to see if the new movement would survive? What tests would they use to determine whether or not it was successful? What is success? No matter how you look at it, Gamaliel’s wisdom was foolish.

But the greatest weakness of his advice was his motive: he encouraged neutrality when the council was facing a life-and-death issue that demanded a decision. “Wait and see!” is actually not neutrality; it is a definite decision. Gamaliel was voting “NO!” but he was preaching “maybe someday.”

 

38 And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:

39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

The men of the Sanhedrin believed in Jehovah, the God of their fathers, and for the most part they may have been very religious, especially the sect of the Pharisees, who tried their best to keep every law of God as well as the man-made “fence laws.” [These were laws that were intended to keep them from breaking the laws of God. One example is, “A woman cannot look in a mirror on the Sabbath, since they may feel pried.” Or, “You can’t drag a chair across the floor, because that would create lines in the dirt floor, and that is work; plowing.] They knew God was all powerful and that they could not overthrow him, and the words of Gamaliel struck a note of fear in their hearts. They did not want to get into a fight with God. I knew a pastor who was fond of saying, “Your arms are too short to box with God.” Actually, these men had already fought against God when they rejected and crucified His Son; but they were unwilling to face that truth. They refused to believe the message of these ignorant and uneducated Galileans who were claiming that same Jesus was alive and seated at God’s right hand.

Gamaliel must have been very persuasive. He gave them two examples of men who started uprisings and had a following, Theudas and Judas of Galilee, but after they were killed their followers disbanded. Now he advises them that they ought to leave the apostles alone, because the same thing will happen to Jesus followers since He is dead. They only need to observe what happens to this movement to see if it has a human origin or if it is of God—to try to stop God’s work would be like fighting against God. A wait-and-see attitude was consistent with the teaching of the Pharisees.

But how much more evidence did the religious rulers need to determine whether His work was of God or the devil? Everything that had recently happened in Jerusalem, the miracles, the preaching, and the activity of the Holy Spirit proved that God was at work in that city through these apostles. We are reminded of Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees in Matthew 21:23-27—“And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, if we shall say, from heaven; he will say unto us, why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, we cannot tell. And he said unto them, neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” This was not a moment for halting between two opinions, and blindness is evidenced not only by aggressive opposition to the truth, but by failure to act on it when it is revealed.

 

40 And to him they agreed: and when they had called the Apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.

The Sanhedrin heeded Gamaliel’s advice not to kill the apostles, but they were not completely satisfied with just letting them go; so they had them brought back into the judgment hall and ordered that they be beaten (Probably with 39 lashes; the limit to avoid exceeding the Old Testament limit of 40 lashes.). Then the council again commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, dismissed them, and permitted them to leave. If these men were innocent, they should have let them go. If these men were guilty, they should have held them and punished them. Beating them and then letting them go was a sorry subterfuge. They should have listened to Gamaliel a little more carefully.

Through the providence of God, his servants were literally snatched from the jaws of death by the words of Gamaliel, but they suffered the shame, the pain, and the indignity of a public beating. However, they remembered that their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, was led to the whipping post and brutally scourged by Roman soldiers. The servant is not greater than his master, and Jesus had warned these men that since the world hated Him, it would also hate them. They learned the truth of this prophesy early in their ministry after the ascension.

The law commanded that “wicked” men should be beaten: “If the guilty party deserves to be flogged, the judge will make him lie down and be flogged in his presence with the number [of lashes] appropriate for his crime. He may be flogged with 40 lashes, but no more. Otherwise, if he is flogged with more lashes than these, your brother will be degraded in your sight” (Deut. 25:2-3). No doubt this is the sentence the Sanhedrin passed against the apostles because of their earlier disobedience to their command not to speak in the name of Jesus.

Such beatings were not an uncommon form of punishment. According to the testimony of the Apostle Paul he experienced such treatment five times during his ministry, receiving the allotted number of stripes each time as prescribed by law. In 2 Corinthians 11:24 he testified, “Of the Jews five times received forty stripes save one.”

And what do you think these apostles did after their beating? Did they leave the judgment hall and go their separate ways, no more daring to speak about Jesus, even though Jesus had called them to “. . . be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Did they return to Solomon’s Porch to complain about the terrible and unjust treatment that had been meted out to them? No, they didn’t do either of these. The last two verses describes what they did.

 

41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.

42 And daily in the Temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.

 

This is the same group of men who had deserted the Lord in His time of need when He was arrested and brought to trial. They ran and hid themselves out of fear of this very same council before whom they had just testified in the name of Jesus, and from whose presence they just now went out—“rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name!”

In Matthew 5:11, 12 Jesus said, “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” This was the apostle’s first taste of persecution.

The disgraceful, shameful treatment the apostles received at the hands of the religious leaders did not discourage them—quite the contrary! Filled with rejoicing that they had been “counted worthy” to suffer such indignities for Jesus’ sake, they went everywhere—in the temple, in homes (in private), in the streets (in public)—and they carried only one message: JESUS, the Son of God: crucified, buried, risen, ascended, living—Savior of all who will come to God in his name and through His shed blood. I hope you will agree with me when I say that these apostles were marvelous men. They continued to obey the higher authority and never stopped teaching and proclaiming Jesus is the Christ.

The apostles knew that Israel, through spiritual blindness, had crucified their Messiah, exactly as the prophets had said they would do. The men of the Sanhedrin had the prophesies of Isaiah, Daniel, Zechariah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and many others; but in spite of the Old Testament Scriptures with which they claimed to be familiar, in their blindness of heart they crucified the Lord of Glory! The apostles had received Him, believed in Him as Messiah and Savior, and therefore a great responsibility rested upon them. Their persecutors needed the light of the gospel and it was the responsibility of these men to preach the good news of the death, burial, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ; and they preached that message with a dedication that could not be stopped by threatenings, commands, imprisonments, or the Roman scourge. Even death itself could not stamp out the message of truth, life, and love that brings eternal life to all who will believe that message.

A victorious church rejoices in God’s working in spite of persecution—and even on account of it, as it did here. The apostles were honored to be suffering disgrace for the name—“If you are ridiculed for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. But if [anyone suffers] as a Christian, he should not be ashamed, but should glorify God with that name” (1 Pe. 4:14, 16). Later, Peter encouraged Christians to “rejoice” when they would “participate” in sufferings on behalf of Christ—“Instead, as you share in the sufferings of the Messiah rejoice, so that you may also rejoice with great joy at the revelation of His glory” (1 Pe. 4:13).

Luke’s object in writing Acts 5:17-42 was to show how Israel as a nation was continuing down its tragic path of rejecting Jesus as its Messiah.

 

Footnotes



[1] For he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.

[2] When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and talked abusively against what Paul was saying.

[3] Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.

[4] Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.



[i] Sect simply means “party” and carries no unfavorable connotations, as it does today.

[ii] Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead , yet shall he live

[iii]  And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them,

[iv] And Azariah the son of Hilkiah, the son of Meshullam, the son of Zadok, the son of Meraioth, the son of Ahitub, the ruler of the house of God;

[v] I and my Father are one. Then the Jews took up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, Many good works have I shewed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? The Jews answered him, saying, for a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.

[vi] Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.

[vii] Then answered all the people, and said, His blood be on us, and on our children.

[viii] Remember the word that I said unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also.

[ix] Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake: whether it be to the king, as supreme; Or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers, and for the praise of them that do well. For so is the will of God, that with well doing ye may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men: As free, and not using your liberty for a cloke of maliciousness, but as the servants of God. Honor all men. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.

[x]  But Peter and John answered and said unto them, whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.

[xi]  Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.

[xii] Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.

[xiii] Therefore being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear.

[xiv] And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

[xv] But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up steadfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God,

[xvi] And killed the Prince of life, whom God hath raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.

[xvii] Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

[xviii] But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever. Amen.

[xix] What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.

[xx] And the times of this ignorance God winked at ; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:

[xxi] Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

[xxii] I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.

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