Chapter 13: Enter Gamaliel
33 When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them. 34 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. 35 And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. 36 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. 37 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. 38 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; 39 but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”
40 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. 41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Intent to kill
A neutral observer at the Council meeting may expect a good example from supposedly sincere, honest and righteous religious leaders. Why, then, are they so enraged, or furious,1 that they want to kill these men? Their only ‘offence’ is to preach in the name of Jesus. The truth is that the Council is angry because the apostles have repeated that they will obey God rather than the men on the Council. Also they openly put the blame for the death of Christ squarely on the shoulders of those Jewish religious leaders. Their guilty consciences are smitten. Instead of confessing and forsaking their sin, however, they decide to ‘shoot the messengers’. They refuse to ‘heed the message.’ Their evil actions and attitudes, contrasted with the apostles’ enthusiastic boldness for their Lord, leave these false leaders offended by what they hear. The fact that truth is at stake is secondary to them.
Today many are still offended by the message of the cross of Christ.2 It brands them guilty, Hell-bound sinners who cannot save themselves and desperately need a Saviour. Many humble, but bold, Christians across the world face opposition or persecution for their stance for the good news of Jesus’ saving grace. Thousands are put to death rather than compromise or deny their trust in Jesus. Some call them foolish to go that far. Jim Elliot, whose life was snuffed out by the lance of an Auca Indian whom he went to reach with the gospel, insisted that ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose’.3 If God convicts your heart of sin, please do not delay coming to Him through Christ for forgiveness and a new start with God. You never know how delay may harden your heart and make you capable of terrible things in the future you have never yet imagined.
An unexpected deliverer
The Sadducees are a strong influence on the Council, balancing the Pharisees’ significant influence. Unlike the Sadducees, who believe that ‘when you’re dead you’re done for’, the Pharisees believe in supernatural matters such as the resurrection from the dead, angels and miracles. A Pharisee, greatly respected by many, is the aged and experienced law teacher, Gamaliel. He has mentored Saul of Tarsus, who will soon become converted and be known as Paul the apostle.4 He has the apostles removed as he speaks to all his Council colleagues. He reasons that, if God really is at work through the apostles, the Council may find itself working against God. If God is not at work, it will come to nothing anyhow. He recalls two factions that came to nothing: one was led by a certain Theudas, and the other by Judas the Galilean (not Judas Iscariot, Jesus’ betrayer.) Gamaliel stresses that God will either overthrow or establish the apostles depending on whether their teaching is wrong or right. He counsels to leave the apostles alone.
His advice is taken. It gives the Council a way out and helps them seem to be fair, and save their public face. Some criticise Gamaliel because he ‘sits on the fence’ like many who see the truth but fail to investigate it. As a Pharisee, he believes in the resurrection from the dead. As an intelligent objective thinker, he knows there is good evidence that Jesus rose and left the tomb empty. He is believed. The apostles are not killed. God has much work for them yet to do!
Beaten by losers
The Council calls in the apostles. Before their release, they are beaten even though no wrong-doing has been established. After being beaten, they are told yet again ‘they should not speak in the name of Jesus’. Their Master went this cruel and unfair way Himself.5 Now, as He predicted, His servants must follow Him. If Christ’s way was strewn with thorns Christians cannot always expect a deep pile carpet to walk on.6
The Bible says that Jesus is precious and that those who believe find Him precious.7 Some guilty, condemned sinners turn to, trust and love our Saviour God. Others continue in sin and hate His name. These religious Council leaders do hate the name of the only One who can save them. That is tragic. They are the losers—now and eternally.
One mark of genuine Christian conversion is to love the name of our Saviour, Jesus. John Newton, a former slave ship’s captain, later wrote the hymn, Amazing Grace after he trusted Christ. He had been a vile man and a blasphemer. He often linked Jesus’ name with oaths and bad language. Yet after his conversion, he penned these words:
How sweet the name of Jesus sounds
In a believer’s ear.
It soothes his sorrows, heals his wounds,
And drives away each fear.
Rejoicing and witnessing
It is unusual for wrongly arrested, detained and unfairly punished people to rejoice! Those beaten without charge become angry and bitter. Yet the apostles, after their unwarranted beating, leave the ‘Council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name’. Their bodies are sore and hurt, but their hearts identify with their Lord and Saviour, who bore their sins on the cross so they could be forgiven.
Does their ordeal weaken their resolve to make Christ known?
Does the beating knock out from them their will and desire to tell others of a Saviour’s love, or the need to urge sinners to receive Him as risen Lord in their hearts? Not at all! They now follow a two-fold strategy.
Their witness is still ‘in the Temple’, the religious place. The authorities hate that thought, but the people love it. Hate it or love it—they continue to go to the Temple to announce who Jesus is and what He has done.
But the witness is also ‘in every house’. They want to reach ‘ordinary’ people where they are, with that same wonderfully good news! Their agenda includes both ‘teaching’ and preaching’.
Teaching helps to make disciples. Those who come to Christ need to be taught the truths of God. That is why Christians read and study the Bible every day, and hear faithful preachers explain God’s word each Lord’s Day, and at Bible studies during the week.
Preaching concerns proclaiming the good news that Christ died and, rose again and forgives those who repent and believe in Him. Teaching obviously occurs in biblical preaching, and preaching the Bible’s message contains valuable teaching. If you know Christ, you need not only to grow in your understanding of God’s word. You should also seek to make known to others that they need Jesus Christ to become their Saviour too.
Someone has said that we need to know Jesus better, and make Him better known. These apostles did both those things, in difficult circumstances, and rejoiced. God’s grace can help us to do the same!
Questions on Chapter 13
Enter Gamaliel—Acts 5:33–42
A. If you were writing a report about Gamaliel, what facts would you put in it?
Acts 5:34–40, Acts 22:3, Acts 23:6, Philippians 3:3–6
B. What do you learn here about the importance of the name of Jesus, who is both the eternal Son of God and God the Son?
Acts 5:40–42, Acts 5:27–31, Acts 4:12, Exodus 20:7, Revelation 19:11–13, 16, Hebrews 1:1–12
C. What connection is there between witnessing to Christ and rejoicing in Him?
Acts 5:41–42, Luke 10:20, Acts 8:39, Acts 16:34, 2 Corinthians 7:9–10, Philippians 1:18
- ESV translates enraged. NIV and NKJV translate furious. ↩
- Galatians 5:11 ↩
- Through Gates of Splendour by Elizabeth Elliot (Jim’s widow), published by Tyndale, grippingly tells the story. ↩
- Consider what Saul of Tarsus did before his conversion: Acts 22:3, Philippians 3:1–11 ↩
- John 19:1–7 ↩
- Matthew 10:21–25 ↩
- 1 Peter 2:6–7: see NIV, NASB, and NKJV especially. ↩