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2. Internal compromise 4:32-5:11
As was true of Israel when she entered Canaan under Joshua’s leadership, failure followed initial success in the early church. The source of that failure lay within the company of believers, not their enemies.
"The greater length of the story of Ananias and Sapphira should not lead to the conclusion that it is the important incident, the preceding section being merely an introduction to give it a setting; on the contrary, it is more likely that Acts 4:32-35 describes the pattern of life, and is then followed by two illustrations, positive and negative, of what happened in practice." [Note: Marshall, The Acts . . ., p. 108.]
"But" introduces another sacrificial act that looked just as generous as Barnabas’ (Acts 4:37). However in this case the motive was quite different. Ananias’ Jewish name, Hananiah, means "Yahweh is gracious," and Sapphira’s Aramaic name, Sappira, means "beautiful." Their names proved as ironic as their behavior was hypocritical.
The Greek word nosphizo, ("kept back") also appears at the beginning of the record of Achan’s sin in the Septuagint (Joshua 7:1, translated "took"). Ananias presented their gift to the apostles exactly as Barnabas had done (Acts 4:37).
The death of Ananias 5:1-6
The hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira 5:1-11
We might conclude from what precedes that the church was a sinless community at this time. Unfortunately this was not the case. There were sinning saints in it. This episode reveals that God was working dramatically in the church’s early days in judgment as well as in blessing. Luke did not idealize his portrait of the early church but painted an accurate picture, "warts and all."
"The passage shows that God knows the hearts of believers. Peter is not the major figure in the text: God is. Luke is teaching about respect for God through one’s action." [Note: Bock, Acts, p. 219.]
Rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to fill him (cf. Acts 2:4; Acts 4:8; Acts 4:31), Ananias had allowed Satan to control his heart. Ananias’ sin was lying. He sought to deceive the Christians by trying to gain a reputation for greater generosity than he deserved. By deceiving the church, Ananias was also trying to deceive the Holy Spirit who indwelt the church. In attempting to deceive the Holy Spirit, he was trying to deceive God. Note the important identification of the Holy Spirit as God in these verses. His sin was misrepresenting his gift by claiming that it was the total payment that he had received when it was really only part of that. Since believers could keep their money, the Jerusalem church did not practice socialism or communism. Ananias’ sin was hypocrisy, a particular form of lying.
"I am a preacher of the Word-a glorious privilege-and if I have prayed once I have prayed a thousand times and said, ’Don’t let me be able to preach unless in the power of the Holy Ghost.’ I would rather be struck dumb than pretend it is in the power of the Spirit if it isn’t; and yet it is so easy to pretend. It is so easy to come before men and take the place of an ambassador for God, and still want people to praise the preacher instead of giving the message only for the Lord Jesus." [Note: Ironside, Lectures on . . ., p. 129.]
Achan, as well as Ananias and Sapphira, fell because of the love of material possessions (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10; 2 Timothy 4:10).
"Like Judas, Ananias was covetous; and just as greed of gain lay at the bottom of most of the sins and failures in the Acts-the sin of Simon Magus, the opposition of Elymas, of the Philippian ’masters’ and the Ephesian silversmiths, the shortcomings of the Ephesian converts and the injustice of Felix-so Ananias kept back part of the price." [Note: Rackham, p. 65.]
Lying to the Holy Spirit is a sin that Christians commit frequently today. When Christians act hypocritically by pretending a devotion that is not theirs, or a surrender of life they have not really made, they lie to the Holy Spirit. If God acted today as He did in the early Jerusalem church, undertakers would have much more work than they do.
Peter identified Ananias’ sin, but God judged it (cf. Matthew 16:19). Luke did not record exactly how Ananias died even though he was a physician. His interest was solely in pointing out that he did die immediately because of his sin. The Greek word ekpsycho ("breathed his last") occurs in the New Testament here and only where God strikes someone in judgment (Acts 5:10; Acts 12:23; cf. Judges 4:21, LXX, where Sisera was the victim). Ananias’ sin resulted in premature physical death. It was a sin unto death (cf. 1 John 5:16; 1 Corinthians 11:30).
We should not interpret the fact that God rarely deals with sinners this way as evidence that He cannot or should not. He does not out of mercy. He dealt with Ananias and Sapphira, Achan, Nadab and Abihu, and others severely when He began to deal with various groups of believers. He did so for those who would follow in the train of those judged to illustrate how important it is for God’s people to be holy (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:6). Furthermore God always deals more severely with those who have greater privilege and responsibility (cf. Luke 12:48; 1 Peter 4:17).
Immediate burial was common in Palestine at this time, as the burial of Jesus illustrates. Evidently some of the younger and stronger believers disposed of Ananias’ corpse by preparing it for burial. [Note: Barrett, p. 269.] Many people were buried in caves or holes in the ground that had been previously prepared for this purpose, as we see in the burials of Lazarus and Jesus.
"Burial in such a climate necessarily followed quickly after death, and such legal formalities as medical certification were not required." [Note: Bruce, Commentary on . . ., p. 114.]
". . . when a man had been struck down by the hand of Heaven (as Joshua specifically says was the case with Achan: Joshua 7:25) his corpse must surely be consigned rapidly and silently to the grave. No one should mourn him. The suicide, the rebel against society, the excommunicate, tha apostate, and the criminal condemned to death by the Jewish court would be buried . . . in haste and without ceremonial, and no one might (or need) observe the usual lengthy and troublesome rituals of mourning for him." [Note: J. D. M. Derrett, "Ananias, Sapphira, and the Right of Property," in Studies in the New Testament Volume One, pp. 198.]
The answers to questions such as whether someone tried to find Sapphira to tell her of Ananias’ death lay outside Luke’s purpose in writing. He stressed that she was as guilty as her husband and so experienced the same fate.
The death of Sapphira 5:7-11
Peter graciously gave Sapphira an opportunity to tell the truth, but she did not. He did not warn her ahead of time by mentioning her husband’s death because he wanted her to speak honestly. She added a spoken lie to hypocrisy.
Peter’s "why" question to her means virtually the same thing as his "why" question to Ananias (Acts 5:3). Putting God to the test means seeing how far one can go in disobeying God-in this case lying to Him-before He will judge (cf. Deuteronomy 6:16; Matthew 4:7). This is very risky business.
Some readers of Acts have criticized Peter for dealing with Sapphira and Ananias so harshly. Nevertheless the text clearly indicates that in these matters Peter was under the Holy Spirit’s control (Acts 4:31) even as Ananias and Sapphira were under Satan’s control (Acts 5:3). Peter had been God’s agent of blessing in providing healing to people (Acts 3:6), but he was also God’s instrument to bring judgment on others, as Jesus Christ had done.
"Peter was severe, and the fate of the two delinquents shocking, but the strictures of Christ on hypocrisy must be borne in mind (Mt. xxiii). . . . The old ’leaven of the Pharisees’ was at work, and for the first time in the community of the saints two persons set out deliberately to deceive their leaders and their friends, to build a reputation for sanctity and sacrifice to which they had no right, and to menace, in so doing, all love, all trust, all sincerity. And not only was the sin against human brotherhood, but against the Spirit of God, so recently and powerfully manifest in the Church." [Note: Blaiklock, p. 69.]
Luke reemphasized the sobering effect these events produced in all who heard about them (Acts 5:5; cf. Acts 2:43). People probably said, "There but for the grace of God go I!"
Here is the first of 23 uses of the word "church" in Acts. The Western (Beza) text used it in Acts 2:47, but it is probably incorrect there. The Greek word, ekklesia, means "called out assembly." This was a common word that writers often used to describe assemblies of people that congregated for political and various other types of meetings. The word "church," like the word "baptism," can refer to more than one thing. Sometimes it refers to the body of Christ as it has existed throughout history, the universal church. Sometimes it refers to Christians living in various places during one particular period of time (e.g., the early church). Sometimes it refers to a group of Christians who live in one area at a particular time, a local church. Here it seems to refer to the local church in Jerusalem.
"When Luke speaks of ’the church’ with no qualification, geographical or otherwise, it is to the church of Jerusalem that he refers." [Note: F. F. Bruce, "The Church of Jerusalem in the Acts of the Apostles," Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester 67:2 (Spring 1985):641.]
The writers of Scripture always referred to the church, the body of Christ, as an entity distinct from the nation of Israel. Every reference to Israel in the New Testament refers to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This is true in the Old Testament also. [Note: See Ryrie, Dispensationalism Today, pp. 132-55; and C. I. Scofield, Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth, pp. 5-12.]
Ananias and Sapphira presented an appearance of commitment to God that was not true of them. They were insincere, appearing to be one way but really not being that way. Had Ananias and Sapphira never professed to be as committed as they claimed when they brought their gift, God probably would not have judged them as He did. They lacked personal integrity.
"So familiar are we with ’spots and wrinkles’ in the church that we can with difficulty realize the significance of this, the first sin in and against the community. It corresponds to the entrance of the serpent into Eden with the fall of Eve in the OT: and the first fall from the ideal must have staggered the apostles and the multitude. . . . The sin really was not the particular deceit, but the state of heart [cf. Acts 5:3]-hypocrisy and unreality." [Note: Rackham, p. 64.]
Some interpreters have wondered if Ananias and Sapphira were genuine believers. Luke certainly implied they were; they were as much a part of the church as Barnabas was. Are true Christians capable of deliberate deceit? Certainly they are. One writer gave four reasons to conclude that they were real Christians. [Note: Kent, pp. 53-54.]
"It is plain that the New Testament not only teaches the existence of the carnal Christian [1 Corinthians 3:1-3; Galatians 5:16; Ephesians 5:18] but of true Christians who persisted in their carnality up to the point of physical death. [Note: Dillow, The Reign . . ., p. 64. Cf. 1 Corinthians 3:15; 5:5; 11:30; Hebrews 10:29; and 1 John 5:16-17.]
The lame beggar was not the only person who benefited from the apostles’ ministry of performing miracles. Many other needy people did as well. These miracles signified who Jesus really was (signs), and they filled the people with awe (wonders). The believers continued to meet in Solomon’s portico (cf. Acts 3:11).
The expanding influence of the apostles 5:12-16
This pericope is another of Luke’s summaries of conditions in the church that introduces what follows (cf. Acts 2:42-47; Acts 4:32-35). It also explains why the Sadducees became so jealous that they arrested not only Peter and John but other apostles as well. The apostles were gaining great influence not only in Jerusalem but also in the outlying areas. The healing of one lame man had triggered initial opposition (Acts 3:1-10), but now many people were being healed.
3. Intensified external opposition 5:12-42
God’s power manifest through the apostles in blessing (Acts 3:1-26) as well as in judgment (Acts 5:1-11) made an increasingly powerful impact on the residents of Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders increased their opposition to the apostles as they had increased their opposition to Jesus. Luke preserved the record of the developing attitudes that resulted. The Sadducees became more jealous and antagonistic, the Pharisees chose to react with moderation, and the Christians gained greater joy and confidence.
The "rest" (Gr. hoi loipoi) were probably the unbelieving Jews. [Note: See Kent, pp. 55-56.] Other possibilities are that they were the apostles, other Christians, or other Jerusalemites. They steered clear of the Christians because of the Jewish leaders’ opposition (Acts 4:18) and the apostles’ power (Acts 5:1-10). The "people" (Gr. ho laos), the responsive Jews, honored the believers.
Luke stopped giving numbers for the size of the church (cf. Acts 1:15; Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4) and just said that God was adding multitudes of both men and women to the church constantly.
Peter’s powerful influence reminds us of Jesus’ influence during the early days of His Galilean ministry when all Capernaum gathered at His door (Mark 1:32-34). Elsewhere Luke described the power of God’s presence overshadowing someone (cf. Luke 1:35; Luke 9:34). The text does not say that Peter’s shadow healed people. It says that people wanted to get close to Peter because he was so powerful. [Note: See Barrett, pp. 276-77.] Even today some people superstitiously believe that a person’s shadow carries his power. Some parents have pulled their children away from the shadow of a wicked person and thrust them into the shadow of an honored individual. The action of these first century Near Easterners shows their respect for Peter who had the power to heal. These signs and wonders authenticated the apostles as Jesus and God’s representatives (cf. Acts 19:11-12; Matthew 10:8).
"I have often told how my oldest son at one time had an eclipse of faith until one day several of us were invited to spend an afternoon with William Jennings Bryan in his Florida home, and I was asked to bring my son. During that visit, for two or three hours we discussed the Word of God and exchanged thoughts on precious portions of Scripture. The young man sat apart and said very little, but as we left that place he turned to me and exclaimed, ’Father, I have been a fool! I thought I couldn’t believe the Bible, but if a man like that with his education and intelligence can believe, I am making a fool of myself to pretend I cannot accept it.’ So much for the shadow ministry of William Jennings Bryan." [Note: Ironside, Lectures on . . ., p. 136.]
News of the apostles’ powers was spreading beyond Jerusalem. People from outlying areas were bringing their sick friends to them just as people had brought sick friends to Jesus from miles around (cf. Luke 5:15). Luke probably meant that all whom the apostles sought to heal experienced restoration, not that they healed every single individual who was sick (cf. Matthew 8:16). Even Jesus’ healings were limited in their scope (cf. Luke 5:17). [Note: See Deere, pp. 58-64.] This verse is one of the texts that advocates of the "prosperity gospel" appeal to as proof that it is never God’s will for anyone to be sick. Other texts they use include Exodus 15:26; Exodus 23:25; Psalms 103:3; Proverbs 4:20-22; Isaiah 33:24; Jeremiah 30:17; Matthew 4:23; Matthew 10:1; Mark 16:16-18; Luke 6:17-19; and Acts 10:38. [Note: For a critique of this movement, see Ken L. Sarles, "A Theological Evaluation of the Prosperity Gospel," Bibliotheca Sacra 143:572 (October-December 1986):329-52.]
This section is very similar to Acts 4:32-35, though this summary shows the church gaining many more adherents and much greater influence than the former one documented.
The high priest "rose up" (Gr. anastas, cf. Acts 5:34) taking official action as leader of the Sanhedrin. As mentioned above, the high priest and most of the Sanhedrin members were Sadducees (Acts 4:1). The Holy Spirit filled the believers, Satan had filled Ananias and Sapphira, and now jealousy filled the Sanhedrin members, particularly the Sadducees. They had the apostles arrested and confined in a common (public) jail (Gr. teresis demosia).
"The Sadducees are often seen as more hostile to the new movement than the Pharisees in Acts, whereas in Luke’s Gospel the Pharisees are major opponents of Jesus. This fits the shift of attention to Jerusalem from the setting of Jesus’s ministry outside the city. The Sadducees have more to lose, since they control the council and have worked out a compromise with the Romans to share power." [Note: Bock, Acts, pp. 237-38.]
"Sadduceeism is rampant, so is Pharisaism; they are represented to-day by rationalism and ritualism. These are the opponents of living, vital Christianity to-day, just as they were in Jerusalem." [Note: Morgan, p. 129.]
"It is amazing how much envy can be hidden under the disguise of ’defending the faith.’" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:424.]
Peter and John have been the apostles in view to this point, but now we read that Peter and the apostles (plural) stood before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:29). It is probable, therefore, that more apostles than just Peter and John are in view in this whole incident beginning with Acts 5:17.
The apostles’ appearance before the Sanhedrin 5:17-33
The popularity and effectiveness of the apostles riled the Sadducees just as Jesus’ popularity and effectiveness had earlier.
"One of the central motifs of Acts is the rejection of the Gospel by the Jewish nation. This section [Acts 5:17-42] traces a further step in rejection and persecution by the Jewish officials." [Note: Ladd, "The Acts . . .," p. 1133.]
"Angel" (Gr. angelos) means messenger. Wherever this word occurs, the context usually determines whether the messenger is a human being or a spirit being. Luke did not identify which kind of messenger God used here. His point was that the Lord secured the apostles’ release. The messenger’s message had a very authoritative ring, so probably he was a spirit being (cf. Acts 12:6-10; Acts 16:26-27). This is one of three "jail door miracles" that Luke recorded in Acts (cf. Peter in Acts 12:6-11; and Paul and Silas in Acts 16:26-27).
The angel instructed the apostles to go (Gr. poreuesthe) and stand their ground (stathentes). They were to resist the opposition of the Sanhedrin. They were to continue addressing "the people," the Jews, with the full message that they had been heralding. They were not to back down or trim their words. The message of "this life" is a synonym for the message of salvation (cf. Acts 4:12; Acts 13:26). [Note: Longenecker, p. 319.] The Greek words zoe ("life") and soteria ("salvation") both translate the same Hebrew word, hayyah.
The apostles obeyed their instructor and began teaching in the temple again early the next morning. At the same time the full Sanhedrin assembled to try the apostles whom they assumed were still in jail.
Luke’s account of the temple police’s bewilderment is really quite amusing. This whole scene calls to mind scenes from old Keystone Cops movies. The people readily accepted the miracles that the apostles were performing, but their leaders seem to have been completely surprised by this miracle.
The major concern of the leaders was the public reaction when what had happened became known. They appear again to have been more concerned about their own reputation and security than about the facts of the case.
"If they had only known how this grain of mustard seed would grow into the greatest tree on earth and how dwarfed the tree of Judaism would be beside it!" [Note: Robertson, 3:64-65.]
Eventually word reached the Sanhedrin that the prisoners were teaching the people in the temple. Probably they expected that the apostles had fled the city.
The apostles were so popular with the people that the captain and his temple police had to be very careful not to create the impression that they were going to harm the apostles. The apostles had become local heroes, as Jesus had been in the eyes of many. Earlier Israel’s leaders had wanted to arrest Jesus but were careful about how they did so because they feared the reaction of the people (Luke 20:19; Luke 22:2).
Perhaps the apostles accompanied the captain and his officers submissively because they remembered Jesus’ example of nonviolence and nonretaliation when He was arrested (Luke 22:52-53). Furthermore the guards’ power over them was inferior to their own. They may have offered no resistance too because their appearance before the Sanhedrin would give them another opportunity to witness for Christ.
The high priest introduced his comments with a reference to the authority of Israel’s leaders. Pilate had similarly threatened Jesus with his authority (cf. John 19:10-11). The high priest showed his dislike for Jesus by not referring to the Lord by name. Official Jewish opposition to Jesus was firm. He believed the authority of the Sanhedrin was greater than the authority of Jesus (cf. Matthew 28:18). The leaders earlier had instructed Peter and John not to teach (Acts 3:18; Acts 3:21), but Peter had said they would continue to do so because of Jesus’ authority (Acts 3:19-20). Moreover Peter had charged Israel’s leaders with Jesus’ death (Acts 4:10-11). These rulers had rationalized away their guilt for Jesus’ death probably blaming it on Jesus Himself and the Romans (cf. Acts 3:15). The Jewish leaders felt the disciples were unfairly heaping guilt on them for having shed Jesus’ blood. However only a few weeks earlier they had said to Pilate, "His blood be on us and on our children" (Matthew 27:25; cf. Matthew 23:35).
This verse clarifies that the authorities had arrested other apostles besides Peter and John. Peter as spokesman for the apostles did not attempt to defend their civil disobedience but simply repeated their responsibility to obey God rather than men, specifically the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:19; cf. Luke 12:4-5). This is Peter’s fourth speech that Luke reported.
Peter also reaffirmed that the God of their fathers had raised Jesus from the dead and that the Sanhedrin was responsible for His crucifixion, an extremely brutal and shameful death. "Hanging Him on a cross" is a euphemism for crucifying Him (cf. Deuteronomy 21:22-23; 1 Peter 2:24).
Peter further claimed that God had exalted Jesus to the place of supreme authority, namely, at His right hand. The Sanhedrin had asked Jesus if He was the Christ, and Jesus had replied that they would see Him seated at God’s right hand (cf. Luke 22:67-71). Jesus was Israel’s national Prince (leader, Messiah) and the Jews’ individual and collective Savior (deliverer). Jesus had the authority to grant a change of mind about Himself to the nation and consequently forgiveness of sins. Jesus’ authority to forgive sins had been something Israel’s leaders had resisted from the beginning of the Lord’s ministry (Luke 5:20-24).
The apostles thought of themselves not just as heralds of good news but as eyewitnesses of that to which they now testified. The witness of the Holy Spirit to which Peter referred was evidently the evidence that Jesus was the Christ that the Spirit provided through fulfilled messianic prophecy. The apostles saw themselves as the human mouthpieces of the Holy Spirit whom Jesus had promised to send to bear witness concerning Himself (John 15:26-27). They announced the fulfillment of what the Holy Spirit had predicted in the Old Testament, namely, that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Furthermore God had now given the Holy Spirit to those who obeyed God by believing in Jesus (John 6:29). The Holy Spirit was the greatest gift God gave people who lived under the Old Covenant (cf. Luke 11:13). These leaders needed to obey God by believing in Jesus and then they too would receive this wonderful gift.
The early gospel preachers never presented belief in Jesus Christ as a "take it or leave it" option in Acts. God has commanded everyone to believe in His Son (e.g., Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 17:30). Failure to do so constitutes disobedience and results in judgment. The Holy Spirit now baptizes and indwells every person who obeys God by believing in His Son (John 3:36; John 6:29; Romans 8:9). This must be the obedience Peter had in mind.
Peter’s firm but gracious words so infuriated the Sadducees that they were about to order the death of the apostles regardless of public reaction.
"While the Sanhedrin did not have authority under Roman jurisdiction to inflict capital punishment, undoubtedly they would have found some pretext for handing these men over to the Romans for such action-as they did with Jesus himself-had it not been for the intervention of the Pharisees, as represented particularly by Gamaliel." [Note: Longenecker, p. 321.]
As mentioned previously, the Pharisees were the minority party in the Sanhedrin, though there were more than 6,000 of them in Israel at this time. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 17:2:4.] They were, notwithstanding, far more influential with the masses than the Sadducees were. The Pharisees looked for a personal Messiah. They believed in the resurrection of the dead and the existence and activity of angels and demons. They tried to live a simple life in contrast to the Sadducees’ luxurious living. [Note: Ibid., 13:5:9; 18:1:2-3; idem, The Wars . . ., 2:8:14.] The name "Pharisee" evidently comes from the Aramaic verb peras, meaning "to separate." They considered themselves to be separated to holiness and dedicated entirely to God. Most of the scribes, the Bible expositors of that day, were Pharisees. Consequently the Sadducees listened to the Pharisees and especially to Gamaliel.
"In short, theologically the Christian Jews had a lot more in common with the Pharisees than they did with the Sadducees." [Note: Witherington, p. 234.]
Gamaliel was the leader of the more liberal school of Hillel, one of the two most influential parties within Pharisaism. He had been a protégé of Hillel, who may have been Gamaliel’s grandfather. [Note: Neil, p. 98; Kent, p. 58; Witherington, p. 233.] Saul of Tarsus was one of his own promising young disciples (Acts 22:3). People called him Rabban Gamaliel. Rabban (lit. "our teacher") was a title of higher honor than rabbi (lit. "my teacher"). Gamaliel was the most respected Pharisee of his day. The Mishnah, a collection of commentaries on the oral laws of Israel published toward the end of the second century A.D., contains the following statement about him.
"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." [Note: Mishnah Sotah 9:15. Cf. Bruce, Commentary on . . ., p. 124.]
Gamaliel was able to direct the Sanhedrin as he did through his personal influence, not because he had any superior official authority within that body.
Gamaliel’s wise counsel 5:34-40
Gamaliel’s advocacy of moderation is the main point and reason for Luke’s record of the apostles’ second appearance before the Sanhedrin. Whereas the Sadducees "rose up" against the apostles (Acts 5:17), Gamaliel "rose up" against the Sadducees (Acts 5:34). He proved to be God’s instrument for preserving the apostles, and perhaps all the early Christians in Jerusalem, at this time. This is the first speech by a non-Christian that Luke recorded in Acts, which shows its importance.
After the apostles had left the meeting room, Gamaliel addressed his colleagues with the traditional designation "Men of Israel" (cf. Acts 2:22). He warned his brethren to do nothing rash. He pointed to two similar movements that had failed when their leaders had died. Historians do not know anything about this Theudas, though he may have come to prominence shortly after Herod the Great’s death (ca. A.D. 4). [Note: See Longenecker, p. 228, or any of the conservative commentaries for discussion of the problem of this Theudas’ identification.] Josephus referred to a revolt led by one Theudas, but this occurred more than a decade after Gamaliel’s speech. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 20:5:1.]
Judas of Galilee led a revolt against Rome in A.D. 6. [Note: Josephus, Antiquities of . . ., 2:8:1.] The census in view was probably the one that Quirinius, legate of Syria, took in A.D. 6 when Archelaus was deposed and Judea became part of the Roman province of Syria. [Note: Neil, p. 100.] Judas founded the Zealot movement in Israel that sought to throw off Roman rule violently.
"Judas was a fanatic who took up the position that God was the King of Israel; to Him alone tribute was due; and that all other taxation was impious and to pay it was a blasphemy." [Note: Barclay, pp. 48-49.]
His influence was considerable, though it declined after his death. Gamaliel seems to have been playing the influence of Judas down a little more than it deserved.
Gamaliel’s point was that if God was not behind the apostles their efforts would prove futile in time. Obviously Gamaliel believed this was the case or he would have become a Christian. He offered the theoretical option that if the apostles were of God the Sanhedrin would find itself in the terrible position of fighting against God. Obviously Gamaliel believed in the sovereignty of God. He advised his brethren to wait and see. He did not believe that the apostles presented as serious a threat to the leaders of Judaism as the Sadducees believed they did. Saul of Tarsus took a different view of how the Jews should respond to the growing threat of Christianity. He executed many Christians, but that was after the number and influence of the Christians had increased dramatically (cf. chs. 6-7).
"The point made . . . by Gamaliel . . . has already been made by the narrator through the rescue from prison and the ensuing scene of discovery. Here we have an instance of reinforcement through reiteration. A message is first suggested by an event and then clearly stated in the interpretive commentary of a story character." [Note: Tannehill, 2:66.]
Gamaliel’s counsel helps us understand how objective unbelieving Jews were viewing the apostles’ claims at this time. There had been others beside the apostles who had insisted that their leaders were great men. Yet their claims had eventually proved false. Many of the Jews, whom Gamaliel represented, likewise viewed the apostles’ preaching as well-meaning but mistaken. Jesus was no more special than Theudas or Judas of Galilee had been. Other than their ideas about Jesus being the Messiah, the apostles held views that did not challenge fundamental Pharisaic theology. However the disciples, like Jesus, rejected the authority of oral tradition over Scripture.
Gamaliel convinced his fellow Sanhedrin members. They decided to settle for flogging the apostles, probably with 39 lashes (Deuteronomy 25:3; Acts 22:19; 2 Corinthians 11:24). The Mishnah contains a description of how the Jews normally did this. [Note: Mishnah Makkoth 3:10-15a.] This flogging was for disobeying their former order to stop preaching (Acts 4:18). This is the first instance of Christians receiving a physical beating for witnessing that Luke recorded in Acts. The rulers also threatened the apostles again and then released them (cf. Acts 4:21). The official ban against preaching in Jesus’ name remained in force.
Rather than emerging from their beating repentant or discouraged, the apostles went home rejoicing. They did not enjoy the beating, but they considered it an honor to suffer dishonor for the sake of Jesus’ name (cf. Acts 3:6; Acts 16:25). Jesus had predicted that people would hate and persecute His disciples and had told them to rejoice in these responses (Matthew 5:10-12; Luke 6:22-23). Peter later wrote that Christians should count it a privilege to suffer for Christ’s sake (1 Peter 4:13; cf. 1 Peter 2:18-21; 1 Peter 3:8-17; Philippians 1:29). As the Master had suffered abuse from His enemies so, too, His servants were suffering abuse for their witness.
The response of the apostles 5:41-42
This treatment did not deter the apostles at all. Instead they continued explaining (Gr. didasko) and evangelizing (euaggelizomai) daily, publicly in the temple and privately from house to house (cf. Acts 2:46), declaring that Jesus was the Messiah (cf. Acts 28:31).
"It [Acts 5:42] is a statement that has nuances of defiance, confidence, and victory; and in many ways it gathers together all Luke has set forth from Acts 2:42 on." [Note: Longenecker, p. 325.]
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Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Acts 5". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany