The Book of Acts (Chapter 5:17-42) (Part 12)
Whenever there is a genuine move of God the devil and his cohorts from hell will do everything they can to stop it. Even the apostle Paul wrote at one time to the Thessalonian believers; “For we wanted to come to you– I, Paul, more than once– and yet Satan hindered us” (1 Thessalonians 1:18). Satan will always try to hinder God’s work any way he can. In the revivals under John Wesley in England, he and his horseback preachers experienced a lot of opposition, usually started by the local clergy stirring up the people against them. Almost every Anglican Church in England closed their doors to Wesley who ended up as an open air preacher. The wonderful thing is that he reached thousands upon thousands with the gospel who would never darken the door of the local church. They had no time for religion but what they saw and heard from Wesley and the early Methodists was something altogether different. Drunkards were saved, prostitutes restored and sinners of every walk of life found new life in the Lord Jesus Christ. Even many grog shops were closed down and dishonest trades abandoned. This revival swept across the length and breadth of England. Sadly today in England there are more Mosques being built than there are churches but it was not like that in centuries past.
Causing quite a storm!
Now Peter and John and the other apostles were causing quite a storm for the Pharisees and the Sadducees. The Pharisees believed in the supernatural and angels and the resurrection of the body but the Sadducees did not believe these things. Often they would be at odds with the Pharisees over these differing beliefs. At one time when Paul was standing before the religious council of Pharisees and Sadducees he spoke about the resurrection from the dead and caused a great upheaval in the assembly as the Pharisees and the Sadducees started fighting among themselves. The Sadducees today would be the liberal scholars who deny the miracles of the bible and try to take out of it or rationalise away all of the supernatural content revealed in its pages. Liberals hate Bible believing Christians especially those who preach and move in the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit. Their main sticking point is the physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus from the dead.
A ‘Knee jerk’ reaction
The devil will have men preach about Jesus as a good man, a great prophet, a great humanitarian, a leader of men and one to be admired and even respected but when it comes to His resurrection from the dead He suddenly falls out of favour with men because in rising from the dead means that they must give an account to Him for how they have rejected Him as Saviour, Lord and King. As to the religious leaders today, many of them into Ecumenism and even into interfaith or unbiblical doctrines and extremes are filled with jealousy when they are confronted with the genuine and supernatural power of the Living God. It challenges and rebukes their dead religion and undermines their authority. And so we read…
(Vs. 17-18) “But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail.”
If the devil cannot bind God’s servants with spiritual chains he has to bind God’s servants with physical chains. Today all over the world where the Gospel is really moving in power multitudes of believers are languishing in prisons and metal shipping containers and gulags of one sort or another because they cannot be spiritually chained. In most cases it is in countries where the preaching of the Gospel is outlawed. Of course in every Muslim country today there are faithful believers suffering for their faith and many being martyred. Even in Russia the Orthodox Russian Church persecutes born again Bible believing Christians. In China you have the state sanctioned churches but the underground church hounded and persecuted. It is the same in North Korea today. Even there they have a state sanctioned form of Christianity but also an underground church that is persecuted more severely than in any other country in the world.
The western church by enlarge, especially those European countries historically associated with Christianity for well over the last 500 years, are today exhibiting a post-Christian culture where the sins of Sodom and Gomorrah are starkly conspicuous. Satan has the western church spiritually chained. By enlarge God’s people are “slaves in Babylon!” As to the Apostles the High Priest and the Sadducees had to put them out of circulation and so they had them arrested and imprisoned. The High Priest and the Sadducees thought their problems were over until they could decide what to do with these men. However, the Lord Jesus had other plans for His brethren in chains.
(Vs. 19-20) “But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.”
The Devil will use any means he can to get faithful witnessing believers to compromise the message and after severe persecution or imprisonment God’s servants may be tempted to modify or compromise their gospel message. Not that this would be the case with the Apostles, however, after he had opened the gates of the prison supernaturally the angel of the Lord told them in no uncertain terms to preach “the whole message of life” and to hold nothing back. Notice it was during the night that this happened. In the ‘night’ of the Great Tribulation before the faithful Body of Messiah is raptured this kind of supernatural intervention by angels will be common place.
(Vs.21-24) “Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.”
The religious leaders decided to have a meeting of ‘the College of the Cardinals’ to interrogate the apostles. Unsaved religious leaders cannot understand or even perceive God’s power. They may know from the Bible accounts about what happened in the past but they do not expect things like that to happen today. In fact there are ordained ministers who cannot accept or seek to rationalize away the supernatural power of God. Some would go as far as to say that the early Christians embellished the Bible Accounts to bolster their view of the Lord Jesus and the miraculous power that He exhibited. Of course men who pursue this line of argument have never been born again at all. These religious leaders in Acts were in for a rude shock!
Now the apostles just went out and continued what they had been doing previously. Their method and their message had not changed at all. If anything they were more fervent in their efforts to see men and women repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. They could not be stopped. God had encouraged them by supernaturally opening the prison doors. The report came back to the religious assembly that the doors were locked but that the apostles were not in the prison. As the doors were locked it was a miracle that could not be explained away with the natural rational mind. God was showing these religious leaders that they were messing around with His will and purposes even though they refused to see this just as they had done with the Lord Jesus Himself.
(Vs. 24-25) “Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”
The apostles did not try to escape from the city but conducted business as usual. They had a mandate from the Lord Jesus to preach the unadulterated Word of the Living God without restraint or compromise. They were bold and fearless, not in themselves of course, but because they were filled up with God’s power and could not help but speak out what they had seen and heard and received from the Lord Jesus. The Spirit of God and glory rested upon them and as it is written; “the righteous are as bold as a lion!” God would not and could not be outdone. Now the religious leaders did not want to face up to seeing what was happening as they knew full well from what they had seen in the Lord Jesus when he had ministered to the people in Israel. They wanted to keep things “under wraps” as the movement was spreading fast and could not be contained. What they had witnessed in the Lord Jesus was now being multiplied through His apostles. So they sent their henchmen along to bring the apostles back into the assembly.
(Vs.26) “Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).”
Now this captain and his soldiers did not quite know how to react to the situation. They could not use violence or force because they ran the risk of the people’s anger and thought they might even be stoned. So they proceeded very cautiously to ‘suggest’ that the apostles accompany them back to the council meeting. The apostles went with them. It was the LORD giving these religious leaders another chance to hear about the Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that is only found in Him and in no one else.
(Vs.27-28) “When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
Seeing the apostles before them brought to the surface the guilty conscience of the religious leaders. They tried to suppress their guilt by accusing the apostles of trying to make them feel guilty because they had crucified the Lord Jesus. When the Holy Spirit is working amongst the unsaved, whether religious or not, the first thing He does is to convict their conscience. These religious leaders knew full well they were “guilty as charged.” So to try to pacify their conscience they tried to order the apostles to stop teaching in the name of Jesus. Furthermore, they were conscious that the apostles had filled Jerusalem with their teaching. However, the religious leaders were fighting against the Holy Spirit and were on the losing team! The apostles, being faithful soldiers of Christ, obeyed orders and stood their ground against the religious hierarchy.
(Vs. 29) “But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”
Could this be said of many ministers and church leaders today? How many are prisoners within their denominational boundaries? How many are hirelings who are only in the ministry for their salary, their career, their pension? How many have compromised the Word of God to appease those who have authority over them in the Church or denomination in which they serve? The apostles had it right! Obeying the LORD was more important to them that obeying men. In the Last Days just before the Lord Jesus comes back this kind of thing will be common place within Christendom. The day is rapidly approaching when many Bishops, Pastors, teachers and their congregations will be faced with this issue namely “to obey God rather than men?” Of course the real issue for them will be the absolute authority of God’s Word the Bible. Do they really believe that the Word of God is the final authority in matters of salvation and doctrine and Christian living?
Tragically multitudes will compromise and ultimately fall away when the last great apostasy hits and the man of sin is revealed. In the end it is always the very best thing to obey God rather than men! The LORD gave the leaders and the people of Israel another 40 years to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus after He had ascended to the Father. 70AD was the end result of their rejection of the Lord Jesus and the followers of the way. In rejecting the Word of God they had rejected the Lord Jesus, “The Living and Eternal Word of God made flesh!” Now Peter, emboldened by the power of the Holy Spirit, preached another sermon! Of course as usual the Holy Spirit aimed at the conscience. Now these religious hypocrites would “squirm” under the barrage from the Holy Spirit through the mouth of His servant Peter. There was no ‘mincing’ of words but plain speech from the apostle.
(Vs. 30-31) “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Saviour, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.”
Peter got straight to the point with no holds barred! He went for the jugular, as it were, once again, as he had done in previous sermons. He pointed to the Lord Jesus Christ. He preached the Gospel once again, not that they would listen, but Peter was under orders! He told them plainly why God had sent the Lord Jesus into the world. Also Peter reminded them in no uncertain terms that they were guilty of engineering the death of the Lord Jesus Himself. In pointing to Jesus at the right hand of His father in heaven Peter was reminding them that they had to repent and ask for forgiveness for their sin of rejecting their own Lord and Messiah and His salvation, a salvation without which no man would see the Kingdom of God.
In the last days bold and powerful testimony in the power of the Holy Spirit will be common place among those on trial before civil and church councils. The Lord Jesus Himself said; “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute” (Luke 21:12-15) Peter would write years later; “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” (1 Peter 4:12-14).
When Peter wrote this Nero was persecuting Christians and burning some of them on fiery crosses to light up his garden parties. Today we see this kind of barbarity happening all over the Middle-East to believing Christians at the hands of ISIS. Persecution is necessary at times to separate genuine believers from false ones. Of course once the Lord has done His purifying work in His people He gets rid of their persecutors big time! We may not feel brave or appear to be brave at present or even feel that we can stand before our adversaries to give an account of our faith in the Lord Jesus but if the time comes when we have to stand before councils always remember dear brothers and sisters that the Lord Jesus, through His Spirit, will give us the words we need and that the spirit and glory of God will undoubtedly be resting upon us in power. As it is written; “Forever O LORD your Word is settled in Heaven!” He is always watching over His Word to perform it! (Jeremiah 1:12). He will never fail us in our hour of trial!
(Vs. 32) “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
If we are not obeying God in the matter of repenting and believing upon Him who shed His blood for us then we are not obeying God. Obedience starts when we repent of our sins, ask for His forgiveness and give our lives to the Lord Jesus without conditions or excuses and receive Him into our lives as Personal Saviour, Lord and Messiah. (John 1:12) The Lord Jesus Himself said; “”He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). The word for faith in both Testaments not only includes belief but faithfulness or obedience to God and His Word. Of course it is the Lord Jesus who empowers us to remain faithful through His Spirit to obey the Word of God.
Clearly the Holy Spirit was saying through Peter to this religious ‘conclave of Cardinals and Bishops’ that they were not obeying God by rejecting the Lord Jesus. They undoubtedly claimed to believe Moses and claimed to be his disciples but if they really believed Torah they would have seen that Moses spoke about the Lord Jesus whom they had crucified. The real question for anyone of us is not do we believe in the Son of God but also do we obey Him? Of course as believers we are constantly bombarded by the world, the flesh and the devil to bring us into disobedience because within us the desires of the flesh are constantly at war with the desires of the Spirit. Only through His power and by submitting to Him by faith can we be overcomers. With man this is impossible but with God all things are possible! Well their response to Peter’s sermon was predictable.
(Vs. 33-37) “But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
The religious leaders were consistent in their rejection of the Lord Jesus, the Gospel and the apostles and true to form wanted to get rid of them as they had done to the Lord Jesus. They breathed out threats but it was not God’s time for the apostles to be killed and in their defence raised up one of the respected leaders to defend them. Gamaliel was a true seeker after God but there is no record that he became a disciple of the Lord Jesus. Never the less, he was not opposed to this movement as he knew from previous movements that had arisen in Israel that had been overthrown by the Romans, that any movement that could not be ultimately overthrown would have to be from God Himself. God never starts something without finishing it! As Job confesses to the LORD; “I know that You can do all things and that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted” (Job 32:1).
Gamaliel was warning his colleagues that if they were not careful they would find themselves fighting against God Himself. Of course this is precisely what they were doing! Gamaliel was respected and his advice needed to be weighed very carefully. Undoubtedly these wicked religious leaders would continue to persecute faithful believers. The Lord Jesus Himself said this would happen; “They will make you outcasts from the synagogue, but an hour is coming for everyone who kills you to think that he is offering service to God” (John 16:2). Today Islam kills Christians thinking they are doing God’s will. Of course Allah their god is not the God of the Bible but a different god even though the name “Allah” is the Arabic generic name for God. Down through history the persecution of faithful Bible believing Christians was perpetrated by the Roman Emperors and then by the Roman Popes and at times even by Protestants and today it is Islam.
(Vs. 40-41) “They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them.” So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.”
These religious hypocrites were so twisted in their conscience that they lashed out at the apostles and had them whipped as they had done to the Lord Jesus. They were very, very, angry and vetted their frustrations out on the apostles. Furthermore they ordered them once again not to speak in the name of Jesus and then released them. Even a severe flogging could not deter these apostles and they felt privileged that they should be considered by the Lord Jesus to be worthy to suffer shame for His name. The Greek text says “that they were honoured to be dishonoured” for the name of the Lord Jesus.” They would have remembered His word to them when He had said to them; ““Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12). After they had been released they went on doing exactly what they had been doing before. Indeed the joy of the LORD was their strength, the God of Abraham their refuge and a very present help in time of trouble!
(Vs. 42) “And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
Christianity was not a Sunday religion or an ‘add on’ to secular activity during the week, neither was it a part-time occupation. It was a way of life for the people of the Way. The apostles had been fisherman and net menders but now they were fishing for men and mending the broken nets of human hearts torn by sin. They preached every day and it was obvious that the people were hungry for the Word of God. Most of them would have been working people but always found the time to sit under the teaching of God’s Word every chance they had. As for the apostles, they kept right on teaching and preaching the Lord Jesus as Messiah. The Gospel of the Kingdom could not be stopped. The devil could not stop it neither could his servants the High Priest and the religious leaders stop it either. It had spun out of control and could no longer be contained! Over the centuries even down to the present time the more Bible believers Satan killed the more were hatched. Indeed Gamaliel’s word to the religious council has come true! Maybe he knew something they didn’t?