After Acts 4, you’d think the issue would have been settled, right? The apostles were being witnesses in the power of the Holy Spirit (with great signs and wonders) and the Temple establishment was incapable of stopping them, right? But But the Jerusalem leaders aren’t going down without a fight. Luke reminds us of their self-centred motives:5:17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.
So what do they do?
Round Two5:18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public gaol.
‘Cause that worked out so well the first time.5:19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the gaol and brought them out.
The plot becomes almost comical. God’s supposed gatekeepers don’t even control the doors of the gaol anymore. And the next morning, the apostles are back in business, after the angel says:5:20-21a “Go, stand in the temple courts… and tell the people all about this new life.” At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
In a scene worthy of the keystone cops, the temple guards turn up at the gaol and can’t find them. They report back to the high priest:5:23 “We found the gaol securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.”
Again, the miraculous power of God is evident. And this leaves the leaders clueless as to what to do next. They know they’re losing.5:24 On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.
Once they find them, they bring them in again for questioning, but not forcefully this time. They’re “just helping us with our enquiries.” Because they’re afraid of what the people might do, given how popular the apostles had become. They’re rapidly losing control of the situation.
So the Jewish leaders confront them directly:5:28 “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.”
The apostles’ response? Again, almost quoting the words of Socrates (see last Thursday’s post):5:29 “We must obey God rather than human beings!”
We’re confident in God. We’re confident in his message. We’re confident the truth will shine.
And again, Jesus’ resurrection is the vindication:5:30-31 “The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.”
You’re the ones who need to repent, not us. We now speak for God, not you.5:32 “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
Gamaliel: the wise response
Well this went down about as well as Joe Hockey at a Western Suburbs car yard. (American readers, try “Barack Obama at an NRA meeting.” UK readers, maybe “Nigel Farage going out for a curry.” European readers, how about “Angela Merkel trying to holiday in Greece.” You get the idea.)5:33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.
It’s looking bad for the apostles. Until Gamaliel steps on stage.5:34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while.
Gamaliel is portrayed by Luke as an honourable, well-loved statesman. Not one of these jealousy-filled political types. He calls for cool heads, a rational approach:5:35-37 “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered.”
We’ve been here before, haven’t we? These little uprisings have blown over.5:38 “Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.”
If it’s not from God, it’ll be like the other uprisings – a flash in the pan – a blip in history – a Labor prime ministerial term. (See, I do both sides.)
Now here’s the crucial verse:5:39 “But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
Or to put it another way: ultimately, the truth will shine.
And so Gamaliel wins the day. Mostly. They still had the apostles flogged, just to vent their frustration. Make them feel better. Feel like they’ve done something. But all that did was make the apostles rejoice that they got to be like Jesus in his suffering:5:41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
And they didn’t stop proclaiming the gospel.5:42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
Why? Because they were confident that God was in charge. That his power was behind it all, vindicating their message. That the truth would shine.
(We’ll wrap up our look at Acts 4 and 5 tomorrow.)