Acts 5: 17-42

Obedience to God Does Not Mean Life Will Be Easy

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

Understanding And Applying the Text

Jealousy filled the high priest and those with him. In Acts, the term “jealousy” is a term in Judaism for religiously motivated rage.

By, “those with him” Luke means his closest friends. Luke tells us this was a clique. It was an insiders club. Christ’s apostles were not members. The high priest and his buddies considered themselves the spiritual elite.

Sadducees comprised this group. Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the body. And here were the apostles teaching Jesus had risen in the body.

This enraged the Sadducees. First of all, these men had no right to teach. Second, they were teaching a large crowd. Third, they were teaching the resurrection. God had blinded these Sadducees to the truth. What a horrible punishment.

They threw the apostles in jail. But why? What was the crime? They taught Jesus, whom they crucified, rose from the dead. That was bad enough but they also taught Jesus now sat at the right hand of the Father.

This was a threat to the established order. This was a threat to their position. This was intolerable. So, the high priest and his buddies threw the apostles in jail. But not for long.

An angel of the Lord opened the prison door and said, ”Hey what are y’all doing here? Go preach the good news. Go give the people the words of life. And do it in the temple.”

God’s action served to vindicate the apostles. It showed the Jewish court did not represent God.

God delivered the apostles from prison. He sent them back to preach the Gospel. This put them back in danger. The got beaten for doing what God told them to do. But by releasing them from prison, God showed they were in His hands. The people heard the good news regardless of the high priest’s efforts.

The apostles went back to the temple and preached the gospel. They knew this would provoke the authorities. The apostles continued to do this their whole life. God allowed them to continue to preach the gospel in defiance of the authorities.

Defiance of authority is not the standard they taught. It was not what they modeled. In fact, they taught the opposite. “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1) There was an exception to obeying the authorities. The apostles modeled that exception. Here is the exception. We are to disobey if the authorities forbid what God commanded. We are to disobey if the authorities commanded what God forbids. “We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

The apostles went back to preaching the Gospel. Not only did they preach the Gospel. They did it in the temple. They knew they the high priest and his cronies would find them. Many who escape persecution became silent. They acted as if they had done their duty. Others escaped persecution by denying Christ. But Christ delivers His children. He delivers them not so they may veer from their course. But so they may be even more zealous.

The next morning the high priest convened the Council or Sanhedrin. About seventy men comprised the Sanhedrin. It included Sadducees, Pharisees, and their associates. The Romans gave the Sanhedrin had broad authority in Palestine.

The members sat in a semicircle. Two clerks and three rows of students at the front. This means in all probability Saul of Tarsus a.k.a. Paul was there. Saul was Gamaliel’s student.

The Sanhedrin called the officers of the Temple to bring the apostles from prison. The officers reported there was a prison break. This confused everyone. There was no evidence of anything wrong. But still, the apostles were gone. There were no broken doors. Guards were still in place. There were no tunnels. There were no broken bars. Nothing. Yet the apostles were gone.

God had delivered more evidence of His grace. He provided more evidence Jesus was the Christ. And they still chose not to believe. They chose to cling to their previous beliefs despite the evidence. Since the evidence conflicted with their beliefs they ignored the evidence.

Then they heard the apostles were at it again. They continued to preach Jesus was the Christ and the resurrection. The high priest had the temple police bring the apostles to them.

The temple police brought the apostles but did not arrest them. The police feared for their own safety. If they arrested the apostles, they could have started a riot. After all, what had they done? They healed the sick and lame. The people had been the beneficiaries of many of God’s gifts through the apostles.

The high priest charged the apostles with two crimes. First, he charged them with disobeying a lawful order. The apostles had defied the council’s order to stop preaching in the name of Jesus. Second, he charged them with inciting civil unrest by accusing them of Jesus’ death.

Not obeying the high priest was a punishable crime. The apostles admitted they disobeyed the high priest. But the order was not lawful. It violated God’s command.

So the apostles decided it was wiser to obey God. After all, He did outrank the high priest.

Then the apostles preached Christ to the high priest. God raised Jesus, whom they crucified. God exalted Jesus at His right hand. This was for the forgiveness of sins.

The apostles informed the high priest and his buddies they were the enemies of God, “…whom you killed by hanging on a tree…” Noman Venient Peale would not have considered this the way to win friends and influence people. But allowing people to remain in their sin is not friendly. 

But God raised Jesus. God exalted Jesus to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. Their sin was great but God’s grace was greater. God had provided a means of forgiveness without violating His need for justice.

Peter told them God exalted Jesus at his right hand. The Sanhedrin understood this as a reference to the resurrection. And they were right. Such an exaltation by God would make this resurrected Jesus equal with God. And their understanding was correct.

What does it mean “to give repentance to Israel.” Repentance is a voluntary conversion. But where do we get the will to repent? It is the result of God changing our hearts. (Ezekiel 11:19.)

The apostles presenting the Gospel to them enraged them. It should have moved the high priest and those with him to repentance. This was great news. God had used their sin to provide for their repentance. But their hearts were as hard as stone.

This ought to provide us with great hope. God would even forgive the council’s sin. And they killed God’s own son. When we betray Christ there is forgiveness for us too.

We all get what we want. The council wanted no part of Christ. So they did not receive Christ’s atonement. God does not keep people from Him. He draws us to Him. We do not want Him until He changes our hearts. And when He changes our hearts, we repent and His atonement is applied to us.

This infuriated the council. They wanted to kill the apostles. The apostles preached something they did not believe. Plus, the apostles pointed out the members of the council were the ones who killed Jesus. They were guilty of murdering an innocent man.

Gamaliel, Paul’s teacher, intervened. Gamaliel was a famous Jewish scholar and teacher mentioned here and in Acts 22:3. God raises up men for His purpose, whensoever and from whomever, He pleases. They can even be from His enemies.

Gamaliel ordered the apostles out of the assembly. He did not want the apostles emboldened by His words. Gamaliel did not come to the apostles’ defense because he supported the gospel. Rather he saw all the rest of the council inflamed with rage. He was a man of moderation. He sought to temper their excess.

Gamaliel warned the council to take heed. They may be making open war against God. The council had experienced this sort of thing in the past. He suggested they trust God’s sovereignty.

Luke says Gamaliel mentioned two previous examples. The first was Theudas. Josephus also mentions Theudas. Theudas claimed he was a prophet from God. He boasted that he was such a prophet he could dry up Jordan. Those who were with him might go over without getting wet.

Gamaliel was not displaying virtue. Gamaliel was pragmatic. The police were already afraid the people would riot. That is why they did not arrest the apostles. Rather than risk a riot which was sure to bring in the Romans. Gamaliel advised the council to wait the apostles out. This Jesus thing would die out soon enough. The Council only needed patience.

Later we will see that the Gospel of Christ does not fade away. So the council will send Saul of Tarsus to put an end to it. Saul who became Paul was Gamaliel’s prize student.

But Saul does not stamp out the church. Instead, Christ draws Saul to Him. Or more accurately knocks him to the ground and blinds him.

The council took Gamaliel’s advice. But they needed to release their anger. So they had the apostles beaten. And they forbid them to preach. The order not to preach worked so well the last time. Not!

The Gamaliel spared the apostles’ lives. But Christ was blasphemed. The Council attempted to bury the Gospel in enteral silence.

The punishment for not obeying the high priest’s orders was the “forty lashes minus one.” In Acts 4:18 the Council warned them. Now the Council had them beaten. The hostility against Gospel rises as the narrative unfolds.

But the apostles went away in joy. We need to be careful. We should not misunderstand. They felt the pain. They felt the shame of the physical beating.

But when they realized the reason for their beating, joy got the upper hand. The Council had Christ beaten. Christ bled and died for them. Now they could share in the cause of Christ.

The high priest threats did not have the desired effect. The apostles preached every day in the temple. They preached in private homes. They preached that Christ lived the life we could not live. Christ died an unjust death. Christ rose from the dead. Now God imputes His righteousness to us. Now we may stand before the Father justified because we have Christ’s righteousness.

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