Acts 5 – The Church Grows Despite Opposition
A. The lie of Ananias and Sapphira.
1. (1-2) What Ananias and Sapphira did.
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
a. But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession: After they saw the great generosity of Barnabas and how well he was respected (Acts 4:36-37), Ananias and Sapphira decided they wanted to receive the same respect.
b. He kept back part of the proceeds: They sold the possession, and gave only a portion to the church, while implying that they sacrificially gave it all to the church.
i. The ancient Greek word for kept back is nosphizomai, which means “to misappropriate.” The same word was used of Achan’s theft in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Joshua 7:21). The only other time nosphizomai is used in the New Testament, it means to steal (Titus 2:10).
ii. “The story of Ananias is to the Book of Acts what the story of Achan is to the book of Joshua. In both narratives an act of deceit interrupts the victorious progress of the people of God.” (Bruce)
c. His wife also being aware of it: Clearly, both husband and wife were partners in the deception. They both wanted the image of great generosity, without actually being remarkably generous.
i. “There may indeed be the further implication that Ananias and Sapphira had vowed to give the whole proceeds of the sale to God, but then changed their mind and handed over only part.” (Bruce)
ii. “Once the love of money takes possession of a person, there is no evil that he cannot or will not do.” (Horton)
iii. According to Calvin, these are the “evils packed under” the sin of Ananias, beyond the mere attempt to deceive God and the church:
· The contempt of God.
· Sacrilegious defrauding.
· Perverse vanity and ambition.
· Lack of faith.
· The corrupting of a good and holy order.
2. (3-4) Peter confronts Ananias.
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
a. Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart: God apparently gave Peter supernatural knowledge of what Ananias had done. This spiritual gift, called the word of knowledge, is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12:8.
i. When Peter said this, Ananias must have been crushed. Certainly he expected praise for his spectacular gift, but was rebuked instead. Peter saw that Satan was at work, even through a man numbered among believers like Ananias.
ii. Because his sin was lusting after public praise for his generosity, it was appropriate that the sin be exposed publicly. “It is a good general rule that secret sins should be dealt with secretly, private sins privately, and only public sins publicly.” (Stott)
b. Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit: Peter did not accuse Ananias of lying to the church or to the apostles, but to the Holy Spirit Himself.
i. Peter clearly believed that the Holy Spirit was a Person, because one can only lie to a person. He also believed the Holy Spirit is God (You have not lied to men but to God).
c. While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Peter freely acknowledged that the land and its value belonged to Ananias alone; he was completely free to do with it what he wanted. His crime was not in withholding the money, but in deceptively implying that he gave it all.
i. Of course, his sin was greed (in keeping the money); but his greater sin was pride, in wanting everyone to consider him so spiritual that he “gave it all” – when he had not.
ii. Their sin is imitated in many ways today. We can create or allow the impression that we are people of Bible reading or prayer when we are not. We can create or allow the impression that we have it all together when we do not. We can exaggerate our spiritual accomplishments or effectiveness to appear something we are not. It is too easy to be happy with the image of spirituality without the reality of spiritual life.
iii. Their great sin was rooted in pride. Pride corrupts the church more quickly than anything else.
d. While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? This shows how unnecessary their sin was. Ananias was free to use the money for whatever he wanted, except as a way to inflate his spiritual image and pride.
e. Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? Satan had filled the heart of Ananias, yet Peter could ask why he had conceived this thing in your heart. Satan can influence the life of a believer, even a spirit-filled believer, but he can’t do your sinning for you. Ananias had to conceive it in his heart.
3. (5-6) The death of Ananias.
Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
a. Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last: Peter did not pronounce a death sentence on Ananias. He simply confronted him with his sin and Ananias fell down dead. It isn’t the business of the church to pronounce a death sentence on anyone.
i. Peter was probably more surprised than anyone else when Ananias fell down dead. “Observe that Peter said no word to Ananias about his death. The sentence was not calling down upon a man of a curse at the caprice of an ecclesiastical official. The death of Ananias was the act of God.” (Morgan).
b. Fell down and breathed his last: This was a harsh penalty for a sin that seems to be common today. Some wonder if God was not excessively harsh against Ananias.
i. The greater wonder is that God delays His righteous judgment in virtually all other cases. Ananias received exactly what he deserved; he simply could not live in the atmosphere of purity that marked the church at that time.
ii. The physical means for the death of Ananias was perhaps a heart attack caused by sudden shock or terror. He lived in a time and among a people who really believed there was a God in heaven we must all answer to. It frightened him to have his sin exposed and to know he was accountable before God for it. He didn’t yawn or debate when confronted with his sin; he fell down and breathed his last.
iii. What Ananias did also must be seen in the context of its time. This was a critical juncture for the early church and such impurity, sin, scandal and satanic infiltration could have corrupted the entire church at its root. “The Church has never been harmed or hindered by opposition from without; it has been perpetually harmed and hindered by perils from within.” (Morgan)
iv. We can surmise that one reason we don’t see the same remarkable judgment of God in this way today is because God’s church has so many branches. Even if the entire body of Christ in the United States was to become corrupt through scandal or sin, there is plenty of strength in other parts of the tree.
v. “The Church’s administration to-day is not what it was, or there might be many dead men and women at the end of some services.” (Morgan)
c. Fell down and breathed his last: The shock of being exposed was too much for Ananias. For many Christians in compromise, their greatest fear is not in sinning itself, but in being found out.
i. As much as anything, the lesson of Ananias and Sapphira is that we presume greatly on God when we assume that there is always time to repent, time to get right with God, time to get honest with Him. Any such time given by God is an undeserved gift that He owes no one; we should never assume it will always be there.
ii. “We must not infer from the rarity of such judgments in this word, or from their solitariness, that God’s mind has changed as to the exceeding sinfulness and hatefulness and ill desert of the sin he has thus rebuked. The solitary example must stand as a lasting and terrible monument of what God thinks of that sin.” (Pierson)
d. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things: God’s purpose was accomplished in the church as a whole. This was evidence of a great work of God among His people.
i. Dr. J. Edwin Orr’s last sermon was titled Revival is Like Judgment Day. In it, he describes how the coming of revival is almost always marked by a radical work of God in dealing with the sins of believers.
ii. “Now, put this in a modern context. If this had happened today, we would have had a cover-up committee. Don’t let it get out to the public. You can take heart, this may be a surprise to you, when God exposes things… one of the outcomes was that when God was vindicated, the work gained strength again.” (Orr)
iii. “William Castle, from Sichuan in China, said, ‘Revival means judgment day.’ That’s what happened in Shantung. Judgment on missionaries, pastors, people, and then fear fell on the world and God’s name was glorified. And people have such a wrong idea of what revival means… They think of revival as something triumphant and, shall we say, an overflow of great blessing. It’s judgment day for the church. But after the judgment, and after things are settled, it’s blessing abounding.” (Orr)
4. (7-9) Peter confronts Sapphira.
Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?” She said, “Yes, for so much.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”
a. How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Sapphira was a knowing and willing participant in the sin, as well as the blatant cover-up. God’s judgment of her was just as righteous as His judgment of Ananias.
b. You have agreed together: We don’t know if Ananias and Sapphira had a good or a bad marriage, if they agreed often or fought often. We do know that they at least agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord. They should have found agreement for the Lord, instead of against Him.
i. We don’t know if Ananias suggested this or if Sapphira did or they came to the idea together. But if Ananias thought of it and pressured Sapphira to go along, he was wrong to do so and she was wrong to go along. The concept of submission does not extend to submitting unto sin.
5. (10-11) The death of Sapphira.
Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.
a. Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last: Fittingly, the same judgment came upon Sapphira as came upon her husband Ananias. Since they shared the same sin, it was fitting that they shared the same reaction to being found out – shock and horror.
i. Ananias and Sapphira both died, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that they did not go to heaven. It is impossible to say for certain, for only God knows. But we can see that it is possible for a Christian to sin unto death (1 John 5:16-17), and we have New Testament examples of saved Christians being judged by being “brought home” in death (1 Corinthians 11:27-32). “True Christians do not lose their salvation by sinning. The punishment of Ananias and Sapphira, though extreme, was for this life only.” (Boice)
ii. In noticing the comparison between the incident of Ananias and Sapphira and Achan in the Book of Joshua, it is interesting also to look at the contrasts. In Joshua, God expected the people of God themselves to execute the judgment upon the offender. But in Acts, God took this type of judgment out of the church’s hand and did it Himself. This shows that the church has no place in administering such punishment itself or in having civil authorities do so for them.
b. Great fear came upon all the church: The name Sapphira means, Beautiful in Aramaic. The name Ananias means God is Gracious in Hebrew. It might seem that their names contradicted their lives, but we see the beauty and graciousness of God in two significant ways.
i. If Ananias and Sapphira were actually heaven-bound, it shows that God was beautiful and gracious enough to not deny them salvation even for a grievous sin.
ii. The beauty and graciousness of God was seen in the continued blessing of God upon the church. He protected it not only against outside attack, but also against itself. If Ananias and Sapphira were filled with grace, this would have pleased them. “Oh Lord, take us to heaven now if You must; but let Your work continue and let Your name be glorified.”
iii. This is the first use of the word church in the Book of Acts. “The Christian ekklesia was both new and old – new, because of its relation and witness to Jesus as Lord and to the epoch-making events of his death exaltation and the sending of the Spirit; old, as the continuation of the ‘congregation of the Lord’ which had formerly been confined within the limits of one nation, but now, having died and risen with Christ, was to be open to all believers without distinction.” (Bruce)
B. Continuing power in the church.
1. (12) Power shown through miracles and unity.
And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch.
a. Many signs and wonders were done: In Acts 4:30, we read that these early Christians prayed that God would continue to do signs and wonders through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus. This shows that this prayer was answered, and these remarkable signs and wonders continued.
i. We aren’t told what these signs and wonders were. Presumably they were like what we see in other places in Acts and in the Gospels – healings, deliverance from demonic powers, unusual blessings.
b. They were all with one accord: Often, the fact that God’s people are together all with one accord is a greater display of the power of the Holy Spirit than any particular sign or wonder. Our selfish hearts and stubborn minds can be harder to move than any mountain.
c. Through the hands of the apostles: Seemingly, God chose to do these miraculous works through the hands of the apostles and not mainly through others. Yet God wisely chooses which hands will bring a miracle. He had a purpose in doing it through the hands of the apostles.
d. Solomon’s Porch: The second temple was a massive compound, with extensive colonnades and covered areas. No doubt, the early Christians gathered together in a particular area of the temple complex, in an area open to all.
2. (13-14) The church’s reputation and growth.
Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.
a. None of the rest dared join them: The community of Christians had a marvelous reputation for integrity, and everybody knew it was a serious thing to be a follower of Jesus. An Ananias and Sapphira incident would reduce the level of casual commitment.
b. And believers were increasingly added to the Lord: Yet, the church kept growing. Though people knew it was a serious thing to be a Christian, the Spirit of God kept moving with power.
c. Increasingly added to the Lord: New believers were added: Added to the Lord, not to a “church” or to a person or even to a movement, but to God Himself. They were added in multitudes.
i. The mention of multitudes of both men and women is Luke’s way of reminding us that the cleansing of the church connected with Ananias and Sapphira did no lasting damage.
3. (15-16) The expectation of miracles among the early Christians.
So that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
a. They brought the sick out into the streets: People were so convinced of the reality and power of what the Christians believed, they thought they could be healed by the mere touch of Peter’s shadow.
i. That at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them: Our text does not specifically say people were healed by Peter’s shadow; it merely tells us people thought it would, and they took action based on this belief. We don’t know for certain if people were actually healed when the shadow of Peter passed over them.
b. That at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them: Assuming people were healed, apparently, even the shadow of Peter became a point of contact where people released faith in Jesus as healer. It seems that people well understood what Peter said in Acts 3:12-16: That Jesus heals, even if He does His healing work through His apostles.
i. It may sound crazy that one could be healed by the touch of a shadow, but we know a touch of Jesus’ clothing healed a woman (Luke 8:44). There wasn’t anything magical in the garment, but it was a way that her faith was released. In the same, there was no power in Peter’s shadow itself, but there was power when a person believed in Jesus to heal them, and the passing of Peter’s shadow may have helped some to believe.
ii. “It may be significant that the verb episkiazo, which Luke chooses, meaning ‘to overshadow’, he has used twice in his Gospel of the overshadowing of God’s presence.” (Stott)
iii. “The idea that shadows had magical powers, both beneficent and malevolent, was current in the ancient world and explains the motivation of the people.” (Marshall)
iv. However, we can trust that Luke is not merely recording legends. “From what we know of physicians, even in those days, we cannot assume that Luke would gullibly accept stories of ‘miraculous healing’ without investigating them.” (LaSor)
c. They were all healed: However God chose to bring the healing, there is no doubt that a remarkable work of healing was present. We shouldn’t miss the connection between the purity preserved in the first part of the chapter (with the death of Ananias and the fear of God among the Christians) and the power displayed here. God blessed a pure church with spiritual power.
d. A multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem: This is the first mention of the work extending beyond Jerusalem. People came there instead of the apostles going to them. This was exciting, but not exactly according to the command of Jesus. He told the disciples to go out to Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth (Acts 1:8). The apostles didn’t leave Jerusalem until they were forced to by persecution (Acts 8:1, 12:1-2).
C. The apostles are imprisoned by the Jewish rulers.
1. (17-18) The arrest and imprisonment of the apostles.
Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.
a. Then the high priest rose up: The meeting of Peter and John with the religious leaders in Acts 4:5-22 ended well for the early followers of Jesus. Yet that was not the end of the matter, and the religious establishment again pushed against them.
i. “Luke alternates between a picture of the church by itself…and a portrait of the church as it exists in its relationship to the world. The second portrait increasingly deals with persecution.” (Boice)
b. They were filled with indignation: The apostles, like Jesus whom they represented, were persecuted because their good works and popularity were a threat to those who had an interest in the status quo of the religious establishment. Sadly, the religious establishment of that day left the people worse off, not better.
c. Put them in the common prison: Seemingly, this included all the apostles (on the apostles). It wasn’t the first time that Peter and John had been imprisoned (Acts 4:3).
2. (19-20) Angelic intervention frees the apostles.
But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”
a. An angel of the Lord opened the prison doors: This was easy for God to arrange. Angels are all ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14). God sent forth this angel to minister for the apostles. Locked doors are nothing for God or those who He uses.
b. An angel of the Lord: Possibly, they only understood this was an angel in retrospect. Angels often come in human appearance, and it may not always be easy to recognize an angel (Luke 24:3-7, Hebrews 13:2).
i. “There is some divine humor here, too, because the Sadducees [Acts 5:17] did not believe in angels.” (Hughes)
c. Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life: Their rescue from prison was wonderful, but for a purpose – so they could continue their work. God didn’t set them free primarily for their safety or comfort. They were set free for a reason; and after this they were not always delivered.
i. The later history of these apostles – and others associated with them in the early church – shows that sometimes God delivers by a miracle, sometimes He does not. According to fairly reliable church history and tradition, miraculous angels did not always deliver them.
· Matthew was beheaded with a sword.
· Mark died in Alexandria after being dragged through the streets of the city.
· Luke was hanged on an olive tree in Greece.
· John died a natural death, but they unsuccessfully tried to boil him in oil.
· Peter was crucified upside-down in Rome.
· James was beheaded in Jerusalem.
· James the Less was thrown from a height then beaten with clubs.
· Philip was hanged.
· Bartholomew was whipped and beaten until death.
· Andrew was crucified and preached at the top of his voice to his persecutors until he died.
· Thomas was run through with a spear.
· Jude was killed with the arrows of an executioner.
· Matthias was stoned and then beheaded – as was Barnabas.
· Paul was beheaded in Rome.
ii. This reminds us that we should trust God for miraculous things and wish to see them more and more; but knowing that He also has a purpose when He does not deliver with a miraculous hand. We also see that we, like the apostles, are set free for a purpose – not merely to live for ourselves.
iii. “The angel of the Lord opened the prison door and set free the preachers, but might not be a preacher himself. He might give the ministers their charge, but he had no charge to preach himself.” (Spurgeon)
3. (21-23) The apostles resume their work and are discovered to be missing from prison.
And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, saying, “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!”
a. They entered the temple early in the morning and taught: This was remarkable obedience and boldness. If they were not sure if God wanted them to continue their public teaching work, the word from the angel at Acts 5:20 made it clear that they were to continue.
i. They went to the most public place they could (the temple), and as soon as they could (early in the morning). When they were thought to be in the prison, they were obediently teaching God’s word to the common people.
b.Theyreturned and reported: There is humor in all of this. The religious establishment solemnly gathers to deal with the troublemakers who teach about Jesus. They intimidate them with a prison stay, and bring them to the council to put them in the proper place. Yet when the officers looked they saw the prison door as it should be, the guards as they should be, but no apostles in the cell.
4. (24-26) The apostles are found and arrested again.
Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be. So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.
a. They wondered what the outcome would be: At this point the religious leaders had to wonder just what they were dealing with. There was the repeated evidence of supernatural power at work with the followers of Jesus.
i. Following Luke’s story to this point, we understand why they wondered what the outcome would be. Yet we, as readers of the account, don’t wonder. We know God’s work will continue.
b. The captain went with the officers and brought them without violence: The apostles were soon arrested again. It was perhaps tempting for them to think that since they were miraculously released that God would keep them from being arrested again, but that wasn’t the case.
i. When the apostles went back into custody, they knew how easy it would be for God to release them again if it pleased Him to do so. Their past experience of the power of God had filled them with faith for the present.
c. Brought them without violence: Significantly, the apostles did not appeal to popular opinion for protection against the religious leaders. They could have incited the crowd by shouting, “Are you going to let them take us away?” But their trust was in God and God alone. A carnal solution to their problem was available, but they did not use it.
d. For they feared the people: The hearts of the religious leaders was again exposed. They feared the people, but they did not fear God who clearly showed that He was at work among the disciples.
5. (27-28) The accusation against the apostles.
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”
a. They set them before the council: This was another attempt to intimidate the apostles with the trappings of the council’s institutional authority. The apostles, knowing how God protected them, were probably not intimidated or even overly impressed.
b. Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? They had commanded Peter and John to no longer teach in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:17-18). Yet Peter and John openly told them that they would continue, in obedience to God (Acts 4:19-20).
c. You have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine: The accusation of the high priest was a wonderful testimony to the effectiveness of the message preached by the apostles. Their message had filled Jerusalem.
d. Intend to bring this Man’s blood on us: By calling Jesus this Man, the religious leaders were obviously avoiding the name Jesus, but they could not avoid the power of Jesus; it stared them right in the face.
i. The charge that the apostles did intend to bring this Man’s blood upon us is interesting. The high priest no doubt meant that the apostles intended to hold the Jewish leaders responsible, in some measure, for the execution of Jesus (as in Acts 2:23). Yet, we know that the apostles must have desired for the high priest and the other Jewish leaders to come to faith in Jesus, even as some other priests did (Acts 6:7). For certain, the apostles wanted to bring the covering, cleansing blood of Jesus upon the high priest and others in the council.
D. The resolution of their case before the Jewish rulers.
1. (29-32) The testimony of the apostles before the Sanhedrin.
But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
a. We ought to obey God rather than men: This was a testimony of great boldness, in contrast to the Sanhedrin, who were more concerned about man’s opinion than God’s opinion.
i. The apostles’ response to the council was not a defense, nor was it a plea for mercy; it was a simple explanation of action. In general, the New Testament teaches that we should submit to those in authority over us. Yet submission on the human level is never absolute, and never is more important than submission to God.
ii. We should obey rulers, but not when they contradict God: “Therefore, if a father, being not content with his own estate, do essay to take from God the chief honour of a father, he is nothing else but a man. If a king, or ruler, or magistrate, do become so lofty that he diminisheth the honour and authority of God, he is but a man. We must also thus think of pastors.” (Calvin)
b. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus: This was a testimony faithful to the foundation of the Christian faith. Peter spoke of:
· Man’s guilt (Jesus whom you murdered).
· Jesus’ death (hanging on a tree).
· Jesus’ resurrection (Him God exalted to His right hand).
· Man’s responsibility to respond (to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins).
i. Peter referred to the cross as a tree because he drew an association from Deuteronomy 21:22-23, where it says that a person hanged from a tree is cursed by God. Peter brought attention to the magnitude of their rejection of Jesus, pointing out that they killed Him in the worst way possible, both from a Roman perspective (the cross) and a Jewish perspective (the tree association).
ii. “While xylon [tree] was used in antiquity and in the LXX variously for ‘a tree,’ ‘wood’ of any kind, ‘a pole,’ and various objects made of wood, including ‘a gallows,’ it is also used in the NT for the cross of Jesus.” (Longenecker)
c. We are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit: This was a reliable testimony, because it was based on eyewitness testimony, which was also confirmed by God.
2. (33) The council’s strong reaction.
When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them.
a. They were furious: Peter and the apostles had clearly and briefly explained to them (again) the core ideas of who Jesus was, what He did for all of us on the cross, and how we should respond to who Jesus is and what He did. Their reaction was furious anger.
i. “Luke graphically describes them as ‘being sawn asunder (in heart).” (Williams)
ii. We can imagine what went through their minds. “Who are you to tell us to repent?” “We don’t need this forgiveness.” “Don’t blame us for the death of Jesus.” “Don’t you know who we are?”
b. And plotted to kill them: Right then, the death of the apostles was set in motion. We had not previously read that they wanted to kill them, but now it is clear.
i. “Since they were unable to contend with the disciples on the level of truth, they resorted to naked authority and force. First, threats. Second, a beating. Ultimately, death.” (Boice)
3. (34-39) Gamaliel’s advice to the Sanhedrin.
Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it–lest you even be found to fight against God.”
a. A Pharisee named Gamaliel: This was the grandson of the esteemed Hillel, the founder of Israel’s strongest school of religion. Gamaliel was given the title Rabban (“our teacher”), which was a step above the title Rab (“teacher”) or Rabbi (“my teacher”).
i. The Mishnah wrote of Gamaliel: “Since Rabban Gamaliel the elder died there has been no more reverence for the law; and purity and abstinence died out at the same time.”
ii. Significantly, Gamaliel was a Pharisee. Though the Sadducees had more political power (Acts 5:17), it was politically foolish for the Sadducees to ask the Romans to execute the apostles without support from the Pharisees.
b. Some time ago Theudus rose up: Josephus, the Jewish historian, mentioned a Theudas who led a rebellion, but at a later point than this. It could be that Josephus had his dates mixed up or that this was a different Theudas (it was a common name). Josephus did describe a Judas of Galilee (Antiquities, 18.1.1,2,6 and 20.5.2) who may be the same one mentioned here.
c. If this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it–lest you even be found to fight against God: Gamaliel spoke for himself and not for God. There are many movements that may be considered successful in the sight of man, but are against God’s truth. Success is not the ultimate measure of truth.
i. Gamaliel was really a fence sitter. He spoke as if they should wait and see if Jesus and the apostles were really from God. But what greater testimony did he need, beyond Jesus’ resurrection and the apostles’ miracles? He took a “wait-and-see” attitude when there was plenty of evidence.
ii. Gamaliel proposed the test of time, and that is an important test, but more important than the test of time is the test of eternity.
iii. “We should not be too ready to credit Gamaliel with having uttered an invariable principle… the Gamaliel principle is not a reliable index to what is from God and what is not.” (Stott)
4. (40-42) After a beating, the apostles resume preaching with joy.
And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
a. When they had called for the apostles and beaten them: The leaders thought they could intimidate and discourage the apostles with a beating. Instead, they left rejoicing. They were not rejoicing that they suffered, but that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. It was a privilege to be associated with Jesus in any circumstance, even to suffer shame.
i. Beaten can also be translated skinned; the beating they received stripped the skin off of their backs. “It was no soft option; people were known to die from it, even if this was exceptional. It was meant to be a serious lesson to offenders.” (Marshall)
ii. “Because of Gamaliel’s rational entreaty a compromise was reached and the apostles were let off easy – easy, that is, if we think thirty-nine stripes is easy.” (Hughes)
b. They did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Whatever beating or shameful treatment the Sanhedrin gave them, it did absolutely no good. The disciples didn’t stop preaching for a moment.
i. This challenges each of us as followers of Jesus. They continued where we may have stopped. We often find the threat of social rejection enough to make us keep quiet about who Jesus is and what He did for us. We need to have the apostles’ courage and determination to stand firm for Jesus Christ.
ii. Spurgeon spoke of this kind of bold heart: “Now, I charge every Christian here to be speaking boldly in Christ’s name, according as he has opportunity, and especially to take care of this tendency of our flesh to be afraid; which leads practically to endeavours to get off easily and to save ourselves from trouble. Fear not; be brave for Christ. Live bravely for him who died lovingly for you.”
iii. Spurgeon also challenged the cowardly heart: “Yet you are a coward. Yes, put it down in English: you are a coward. If anybody called you so you would turn red in the face; and perhaps you are not a coward in reference to any other subject. What a shameful thing it is that while you are bold about everything else you are cowardly about Jesus Christ. Brave for the world and cowardly towards Christ!”
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission