The Jealousy of the Leaders Part 5 of 8
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
The apostles were “His witnesses of these things’—the things that were done to Jesus—His arrest and trial, His crucifixion, burial, and resurrection. There was more than adequate testimony to prove that Jesus was God’s Christ, Savior of sinners, the Messiah for whom the Jewish nation had waited and hoped, and the disciples were His witnesses. They had been with Him through the early years of His earthly ministry and they had walked and talked with Him for forty days after His resurrection from the grave. They had also been present when He was taken up into heaven to be exalted at the right hand of the Father. In John 15.26-27 Jesus said to his disciples “But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me: AND YE ALSO shall bear witness, because ye have been with me from the beginning.”
What is a “witness?” A witness is a martyr. A martyr is a confessor, not with his mouth only, but with his life; a martyr is an evidence, a credential, a demonstration. With my mind’s eye, I see Peter standing in the midst of the intellectual aristocracy of Jerusalem, saying in effect: You have no right to question the accuracy of what we say, until you have considered what we are. “We are witnesses.” Look at what we were, and then Look at what we have become; and know that the change in us is entirely due to the fact that God raised Jesus, exalted Him to be a Prince and Savior, to give repentance and remission, and He gave us the Spirit. We have followed Him, we have repented, and our sins are forgiven; we have the Spirit. “We are witnesses.” See what we are. The Church cannot be powerful unless it can produce its witnesses; not merely her preachers. The Church is victorious when the men and women who are listening to preaching are being witnesses and putting into effect that which is being preached.
But notice that we are not the only witnesses—we are witnesses . . . and so is the Holy Spirit.” That is the Church’s final power. That is the mightiest fact of all. If we do not cooperate with the Holy Spirit, if we do not partner with the Holy Spirit, we can do nothing worthwhile in Jerusalem, or Chicago, or Kansas City. The Holy Spirit was corroborating their testimony by supernaturally enabling them to preach with boldness and to perform miracles. This same Spirit is given to all who believe in Christ: “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his” (Rom. 8.9). Every believer receives the Holy Spirit the moment he is saved by obeying the Gospel (1 Cor. 6.19-20xix).
The Holy Spirit did witness to the glory of Christ through the preaching and miracles of these apostles and believers in the infant Church—and He still witnesses through believers, for God has given the Holy Spirit to all who “OBEY HIM.” The Greek word rendered here as “obey” means literally “one who completely submits to the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ;” so completely surrendered to Him that he becomes like a bond slave. This does not mean that the gift of the Spirit is a reward for obedience, for a gift can only be received by faith. The phrase “obey him” is the same as “obedient to the faith” in Acts 6.7, and means “to obey God’s call and trust God’s Son.” God does not suggest that sinners repent and believe; He demands it (Acts 17.30xx).
Therefore, the apostles clearly testified before the Sanhedrin that the Jews had crucified the Lord of Glory, “that Prophet of whom Moses, David, and Abraham had spoken and whose coming they had foretold. They had killed the Prince of glory, His blood was on their hands, and the only possible way for them to be free from their guilt was for them to accept Him by faith through the Gospel of His death, burial, and resurrection. They could still be forgiven if they would only repent and confess Him as Savior and Lord.
It was a bold witness the apostles gave before the highest Jewish religious court. The Spirit of God enabled them and they were not afraid. After all, Jesus had promised to be with them and, through His Holy Spirit, empower them for witness and service. They were His witness of His resurrection (Acts 1.22; 2.24, 32; 3.15xvi, 26; 4.10), and He would see them through.
33 When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.
The Greek translated here as “cut to the heart” means literally “sawn asunder”—that is, “the effect described is not the compunction which leads to repentance, but the aggravation that results in more furious anger.”
It is dangerous to oppose truth; and the more important the truth opposed the more deadly the results of that opposition. The religious leaders in Israel opposed truth—i. e., they opposed Jesus, and Jesus is truth (John 14.6xxi; 17.17). Therefore they had rejected the one and only way of deliverance from condemnation. And then, after hearing the clear testimony that they had crucified the Lord of glory, they rebelliously despised the men who witnessed against them, and had it not been for their fear of the sympathetic multitudes they would have put the apostles to death then and there, so filled were they with prejudice, pride, and hatred!
But God always cares for His own in one way or another. It may not be as we think it should be, but “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8.28). I believe that a dedicated believer is indestructible, until God has finished with that believer. I am convinced that there are not enough demons on the earth or in hell to destroy the Christian who is fully surrendered to God, fully obedient to Him, until he has finished the work God has allotted him to do.
God sent an angel to deliver these apostles from prison, but now He works through Peter, a human instrument, in order to save them from the wrath of the Sanhedrin.
Let’s observe the opposition that Peter and the other apostles faced on this occasion. A description is given in verse seventeen of those before whom the apostles were arraigned: “Then the high priest . . . and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees). Then in verse twenty-one: “The high priest . . . called the council together”—that is the inner circle of the Sanhedrin, which was known as the Lesser Sanhedrin, lesser not in importance, but in numbers—“and all the senate”—that is the whole company of the Sanhedrin, which also included Pharisees.
The gathering of the whole company of the Sanhedrin indicates the keen interest surrounding this new religion. It was a rare thing in those days for the complete assembly to meet together. The Sanhedrin was the constituted Hebrew authority. They had limited authority under Roman rule, and they met occasionally, a handful of them; but this whole gathering was evidence of the remarkably keen interest in the case before them. This full gathering was a very important thing, and it showed the growth of the Christian movement in Jerusalem. So keenly interested were the rulers of the people that the whole Sanhedrin had come together, from near and far.
The fury of the leaders toward the apostles could have been expected. The leaders wanted to put them to death. Their opposition followed the same path as their hostility to the Lord Jesus a few weeks earlier. It is a characteristic of opposition that it grows, and that’s what happened in Jerusalem.
34 Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the Apostles forth a little space;
According to Bible history (gleaned from the writings of Josephus), Gamaliel was the son of Simeon (probably the same person who took the infant Jesus in his arms; Luke 2.25-35) and the grandson of Hillel. Hillel presided over the Sanhedrin during the reign of Tiberius, the reign of Caligula, and the reign of Claudius. His son succeeded him to the same office but was murdered during the siege of Jerusalem under Titus the Roman in 70 A. D.
In Acts 22.3xxii the Apostle Paul, one of the best educated men of his day, testified that he had studied under the teaching of Gamaliel, and there can be no doubt that this man was held in the highest regard by the Sanhedrin (of which he himself was a member). Therefore the council could not ignore his advice, even though his sober words were opposed to the violence they advocated. We should think of him as being the “elder statesman” of his time.