In Acts 5:21b-42, the apostle Paul’s friend and physician, Luke, says this:
“But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison-house to have them brought. But the officers that came found them not in the prison; and they returned, and told, saying, The prison-house we found shut in all safety, and the keepers standing at the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within. Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were much perplexed concerning them [into what] this would grow. And there came one and told them, Behold, the men whom ye put in the prison are in the temple standing and teaching the people. Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them, but without violence; for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, We strictly charged you not to teach in this name: and behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. But Peter and the apostles answered and said, We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew, hanging him on a [cross]. Him did God exalt [to] his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and were minded to slay them. But there stood up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in honor of all the people, and commanded to put the men forth a little while. And he said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves as touching these men, what ye are about to do. For before these days rose up Theudas, giving himself out to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed, and came to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the enrolment, and drew away some of the people after him: he also perished; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad. And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will be overthrown: but if it is of God, ye will not be able to overthrow them; lest haply ye be found even to be fighting against God.
And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles unto them, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the Name. And every day, in the temple and at home, they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus as the Christ.”
In this passage, Luke describes the persecution that resulted from the great revival immediately following the execution of two church members in the first church in Jerusalem. Right before this passage, the apostles were put in a public jail because of their popularity among crowds of people in Jerusalem, and elsewhere. However, an angel released them from the jail, telling them to go to the temple in Jerusalem and teach the gospel, which they did. That is where we pick up the story.
The theme of this passage is the effect of the miraculous escape, and teaching in the temple, of the apostles, upon the Jewish leaders of Israel. Four things happen to them in this passage:
- Persecutors are Put to Shame
- Persecutors are Preached to, Some
- Persecutors are Persuaded to Stop
- Persecutors are Prevented from Succeeding.
First, Luke describes how these persecutors were put to shame in verses 21b to 26. He begins by saying that the Jewish leaders, consisting of the high priest, his associates, and the Jewish Council or Senate, came together to bring charges against the apostles. So, they called for them to be brought from the public jail in which they had put them. However, of course, they were not there, for an angel of the Lord had rescued them, and they had gone to the Jewish temple to preach and teach the gospel. Despite this fact, the officers (probably some of the temple guard) told the Council that they found the prison locked, and the guards at their posts. In response, the chief priests and the temple guard were “greatly perplexed” at this. Suddenly, someone came to the Council and said that the apostles were teaching in the temple, so the temple guard went and got them without violence, in fear of the crowd at the temple.
After this, we see that the persecutors are preached to some, in verses 27 to 32. Having brought the apostles to the Council, the Council stood them before them. Then, the high priest reminds the apostles that the Jewish leaders commanded them to stop teaching by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, and accuses them of trying to say that the Jewish leaders were guilty of murdering Him (which they were). However, in reply, Peter first tells him that they must obey God rather than men. In other words, he implies that they would have liked to obey the Jewish leaders, but what they commanded them to do was evil, so they had to obey God by continuing to teach by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Next, Peter preaches the gospel to his persecutors. He begins by saying that “the God of our fathers raised up Jesus.” By “our fathers,” Peter means the famous ancestors of the Jews, at least including, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Therefore, he’s saying that the God of the Jews, raised up, or physically raised from the dead, the Man, Jesus. He goes on by saying that this Jesus is the One whom God lifted up to His right hand, the hand of all authority in heaven and on earth, as a Prince, or Chief Leader, and a Savior, in order to give a fundamental change in thinking (repentance) to Israel, and forgiveness of sins, or evils. After this, and this is what made the apostles apostles, Peter says that “we are witnesses of these things.” Who are “we”? The 12 apostles. What are “these things”? Jesus’s bodily resurrection from the dead, His death on the cross, and His ascension into heaven. Finally, he adds that the Holy Spirit is also a Witness of those things, and that God has given Him to those who obey Him, implying that the Jewish leaders to whom he’s speaking don’t have Him because they don’t obey Him.
After this sermon, the persecutors are persuaded to stop their intended persecution in verses 33 to 39. They intend to further the persecution by murdering the apostles because they are cut to their hearts, or pierced in their hearts, meaning that they are provoked to fierce anger because of what Peter has just said. However, a Pharisee, or a conservative Jewish legalist, Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law of Moses, who is respected by all the general Jewish population, stands up in the Council and orders that the apostles be put outside of the room. Then, he cautions the Council by saying that something comparable to this Jerusalem church happened in the case of a man named Theudas. He says that this person had a large group of followers, but was killed, and his followers came to nothing. Also, he adds the example of Judas of Galilee, who did something similar, but was killed and stopped as well. From these examples, he deduces that the Council should stay away from the apostles, because if their work in teaching and preaching, as well as the church’s work in that, originates from people, then it will cease. However, he goes on, if it originates with God, it won’t be possible to stop it, and they might be fighting against God by attempting to.
As a result of this flawed reasoning of Gamaliel, the persecutors are prevented from succeeding in their persecution in verses 40 to 42. First, Luke says that they take Gamaliel’s advice. However, he then says that, after the apostles are called back into the Council meeting, they are flogged, or whipped. According to The MacArthur Study Bible, they probably would have been whipped 39 times each, sustaining incredibly painful injuries. One might think of a photograph of a 19th century slave, showing the multiple scars on his back from being whipped. Despite this wicked act of whipping them, the Council then releases them, hoping that their punishment will serve to convince them to cease from teaching by the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Immediately after being beaten with whips, the apostles leave the Council rejoicing that they were considered worthy to suffer shame for the Name. What is this Name? The trustworthy reputation and identity of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Prince and Savior of mankind, who was hung on a cross, but was raised from the dead, and ascended into heaven as the Supreme Authority of the universe. Not only were these apostles rejoicing because they had been whipped and humiliated for the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, but every day, in the temple, and from house to house, they kept teaching and preaching that Jesus was the Christ, or Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King.
We can learn a great deal from the example of the apostles in this passage. First, notice that the apostles were first found teaching the people of Jerusalem in the temple. They weren’t just teaching the church, but the general public. We need to be teachers of the gospel to people, since that’s the only way they will be saved, and become disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Second, notice that Peter answered the condemnation of the high priest by defending the apostles’ action of disobeying the Jewish leaders. He implied that they would have like to obey them, since they were the governing authorities, but they couldn’t because it would have caused them to disobey God, who always must be obeyed. Then, notice that he immediately proceeds to preach the gospel to the Council, using the opportunity to do so. Also, note what his gospel consists of in verses 30 to 32:
- God raised Jesus bodily from the dead (resurrection)
- Jesus was put to death by being hung on a cross (crucifixion)
- God lifted Him up to heaven, making Him a Prince and a Savior (ascension)
- God granted repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins (repentance for forgiveness of sins)
- the apostles were witnesses of these things (the eyewitness (New Testament) testimony)
- the Holy Spirit was a Witness of these things (the Old Testament testimony)
Does your gospel include these things, assume these things, or imply these things?
Finally, notice a couple of other things. First, the apostles responded to getting beaten with a whip by rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to be humiliated in such a way because of the trustworthy reputation of the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you rejoice when you’re humiliated for sharing the gospel? Second, the apostles taught and preached that Jesus was the Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King every day, both in public (in the temple), and in private (from house to house). Are you ready to teach and preach that Jesus is the Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King every day, not only in private, but in public?
Do you understand why you need to believe that Jesus is the Anointed Prophet, Priest, and King? The Apostle Paul wrote about it this way:
“. . . I make known unto you brethren, the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye received, wherein also ye stand, by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain. For I delivered unto you first of all that which also I received: that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; and that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures; and that he appeared to Cephas; then to the twelve; then he appeared to above five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain until now, but some are fallen asleep; then he appeared to James; then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to the child untimely born, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-9
This is what the Apostle John said about the gospel in John 1:1-18:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him; and without him was not anything made that hath been made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in the darkness; and the darkness apprehended it not. There came a man, sent from God, whose name was John. The same came for witness, that he might bear witness of the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came that he might bear witness of the light. There was the true light, even the light which lighteth every man, coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and they that were his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he the right to become children of God, even to them that believe on his name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us (and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father), full of grace and truth. John beareth witness of him, and crieth, saying, This was he of whom I said, He that cometh after me is become before me: for he was before me. For of his fulness we all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”
This is what Christ Himself said about the gospel:
“. . . God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved.” John 3:16-20
John the Baptist said this: “. . . he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on [stays directed toward] him.” – John 3:36
The Apostle Paul said this in Romans 2:4-16 and 1:18-32:
“. . . despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; who will render to every man according to his works: to them that by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and incorruption, eternal life: but unto them that are factious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, shall be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that worketh evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Greek; but glory and honor and peace to every man that worketh good, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek: for there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without the law shall also perish without the law: and as many as have sinned under the law shall be judged by the law; for not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified; (for when Gentiles that have not the law do by nature the things of the law, these, not having the law, are the law unto themselves; in that they show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness therewith, and their thoughts one with another accusing or else excusing them); in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, according to my gospel, by Jesus Christ.”
“. . . the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousnessof men, who hinder the truth in unrighteousness; because that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse: because that, knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither gave thanks; but became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God for the likeness of an image of corruptible man, and of birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts unto uncleanness, that their bodies should be dishonored among themselves: for that they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile passions: for their women changed the natural use into that which is against nature: and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another, men with men working unseemliness, and receiving in themselves that recompense of their error which was due. And even as they refused to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up unto a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, unmerciful: who, knowing the ordinance of God, that they that practise such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but also consent with them that practise them.”
Speaking of those that practice sin, the Apostle Paul uses this quote:
“. . . There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none that understandeth, There is none that seeketh after God; They have all turned aside, they are together become unprofitable; There is none that doeth good, no, not so much as one: Their throat is an open sepulchre; With their tongues they have used deceit: The poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness . . .” – Romans 3:10-14
This is my appeal to you, as written by the Apostle Paul:
“. . . we beseech you on behalf of Christ, be ye reconciled to God. Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.” – 2 Corinthians 5:20b-21
This is how you become reconciled to God:
“. . . if thou shalt confess [acknowledge] with thy mouth Jesus as Lord [Greek: kurios, or Supreme in Authority], and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved: for with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek: for the same Lord is Lord of all, and is rich unto all that call upon him [depend upon Him]: for, Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord [who He is, what He has done, and what He can do] shall be saved.” Romans 10:9-13