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The Apostles Persecuted May 20, 2016

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Acts 5:17-42.

Summary: In this passage, the members of the Jewish aristocracy arrested the apostles. Yet God sent an angel to release them, and they went to the temple courts to continue preaching the Gospel message. This flummoxed the members of the Jewish aristocracy – yet they had to put a stop to the apostles’ preaching. They admonished the apostles for ignoring their orders – yet the apostles retorted by:

  • appealing to the authority of God Himself
  • asserting the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth
  • holding them responsible for His death.

This enraged the Sanhedrin, and they wanted to kill the apostles. Yet one member of the Sanhedrin, Gamaliel, mollified their rage by recounting the recent demise of two Jewish patriots – Theudas and Judas the Galilean. At that point, it could be argued that Jesus of Nazareth had also failed in His mission; thus, Gamaliel advocated allowing His movement to run its course. The apostles’ lives were spared; they continued to preach the Gospel message, defying the Sanhedrin in the process.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the members of the Jewish aristocracy repeatedly ignored the words of Christ in John 3:30, as they:

  • responded to the apostles’ acts of healing by imprisoning them – instead of praising God
  • insisted on preventing the apostles from preaching the Gospel message – instead of praising God after He miraculously freed them from prison
  • flogged the apostles and commanded them to stop preaching the Gospel message – instead of hewing to the advice of Gamaliel.

It should be noted that the Sanhedrin enjoyed a privileged position in the Jewish community; thus, they would have reacted angrily to any perceived threats to their status. In particular, they relied on the support of the Jewish community to maintain their comfortable lifestyles; if a significant fraction of that community declared its ultimate allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth, then they would be deprived of their creature comforts. They also viewed the suggestion that they had committed murder as repugnant – as they claimed to be genuine followers of God.

In verses 22 and 23, we see the report that the officers gave to the Sanhedrin after they went to the public jail. Since the jail was locked and the guards were at their posts, did the cells lack windows and bars? If so, then the guards would have needed to open a cell door to check on its inhabitant. Did the guards see the angel of the Lord, and if so, were they overwhelmed with fear? Did the Sanhedrin punish the guards after this incident? Did the guards eventually hear the Gospel message and accept it?

In verses 35-39, we see that Gamaliel used an eloquent speech to help spare the lives of the apostles. Calvin offers some intriguing thoughts on this point:

Both the things Gamaliel said are undoubtedly true…But it is wrong to deduce that we should do nothing in the meantime. Rather, we should see what God is commanding us, because obviously he wants us to hold crime in check…So it is wrong to conclude that we are to do nothing just because God is powerful enough to remove all evils.

When I read this passage, I deeply respected Gamaliel, as only he – among the entire Sanhedrin – reacted calmly to the words of the apostles. Indeed, his actions were exemplary – in comparison to their demands for the apostles’ heads. Yet I can also see the merit of Calvin’s position: if Gamaliel had exhorted the entire Sanhedrin to fast and pray in response to the apostles’ miraculous escape from prison, perhaps they would have eventually supported the apostles’ efforts. In any event, modern-day believers should actively seek God’s will – including asking Him how they should aid His work.

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