The Jealousy of the Leaders Part 7 of 8
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
Furthermore, Gamaliel convinced himself that history repeats itself. Theudus and Judas rebelled, were subdued, and their followers were scattered. Give these Galileans enough time and they too will disband, and you will never again hear about Jesus of Nazareth. While some students do claim to see “cycles” in history, these “cycles” are probably only in the eyes of the beholder. By selecting your evidence carefully, you can prove almost anything from history. The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ had never happened before and would never happen again. God had broken into history and visited this earth!
Gamaliel also had the mistaken idea that, if something is not of God it must fail. But this idea doesn’t take into consideration the sinful nature of man and the presence of Satan in the world. Mark Twain said that a lie runs around the world while truth is still putting on her shoes. In the end, God’s truth will be victorious; but meanwhile, Satan can be very strong and influence multitudes of people.
Success is no test of truth, in spite of what the pragmatists say. False cults often grow faster than God’s Church. This world is a battlefield on which truth and error are in mortal combat, and often it looks as if truth is about to be defeated while wrong sets arrogantly on the throne. How long should the council wait to see if the new movement would survive? What tests would they use to determine whether or not it was successful? What is success? No matter how you look at it, Gamaliel’s wisdom was foolish.
But the greatest weakness of his advice was his motive: he encouraged neutrality when the council was facing a life-and-death issue that demanded a decision. “Wait and see!” is actually not neutrality; it is a definite decision. Gamaliel was voting “NO!” but he was preaching “maybe someday.”
38 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 come to nought:
39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.
The men of the Sanhedrin believed in Jehovah, the God of their fathers, and for the most part, they may have been very religious, especially the sect of the Pharisees, who tried their best to keep every law of God as well as the man-made “fence laws.” These were laws that were intended to keep them from breaking the laws of God. One example is, “A woman cannot look in a mirror on the Sabbath, since they may feel pried.” Or, “You can’t drag a chair across the floor, because that would create lines in the dirt floor, and that is work; plowing. They knew God was all powerful and that they could not overthrow him, and the words of Gamaliel struck a note of fear in their hearts. They did not want to get into a fight with God. I knew a pastor who was fond of saying, “Your arms are too short to box with God.” Actually, these men had already fought against God when they rejected and crucified His Son; but they were unwilling to face that truth. They refused to believe the message of these ignorant and uneducated Galileans who were claiming that same Jesus was alive and seated at God’s right hand.
Gamaliel must have been very persuasive. He gave them two examples of men who started uprisings and had a following, Theudas and Judas of Galilee, but after they were killed their followers disbanded. Now he advises them that they ought to leave the apostles alone, because the same thing will happen to Jesus followers since He is dead. They only need to observe what happens to this movement to see if it has a human origin or if it is of God—to try to stop God’s work would be like fighting against God. A wait-and-see attitude was consistent with the teaching of the Pharisees.
But how much more evidence did the religious rulers need to determine whether His work was of God or the devil? Everything that had recently happened in Jerusalem, the miracles, the preaching, and the activity of the Holy Spirit proved that God was at work in that city through these apostles. We are reminded of Jesus’ challenge to the Pharisees in Matthew 21:23-27—“And when he was come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came unto him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority doest thou these things? and who gave thee this authority? And Jesus answered and said unto them, I also will ask you one thing, which if ye tell me, I in like wise will tell you by what authority I do these things. The baptism of John, whence was it? From heaven, or of men? And they reasoned with themselves, saying, if we shall say, from heaven; he will say unto us, why did ye not then believe him? But if we shall say, of men; we fear the people; for all hold John as a prophet. And they answered Jesus, and said, we cannot tell. And he said unto them, neither tell I you by what authority I do these things.” This was not a moment for halting between two opinions, and blindness is evidenced not only by aggressive opposition to the truth, but by failure to act on it when it is revealed.
40 And to him they agreed: and when they had called the Apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
The Sanhedrin heeded Gamaliel’s advice not to kill the apostles, but they were not completely satisfied with just letting them go; so they had them brought back into the judgment hall and ordered that they be beaten (Probably with 39 lashes; the limit to avoid exceeding the Old Testament limit of 40 lashes.). Then the council again commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus, dismissed them, and permitted them to leave. If these men were innocent, they should have let them go. If these men were guilty, they should have held them and punished them. Beating them and then letting them go was a sorry subterfuge. They should have listened to Gamaliel a little more carefully.
Through the providence of God, his servants were literally snatched from the jaws of death by the words of Gamaliel, but they suffered the shame, the pain, and the indignity of a public beating. However, they remembered that their Master, the Lord Jesus Christ, was led to the whipping post and brutally scourged by Roman soldiers. The servant is not greater than his master, and Jesus had warned these men that since the world hated Him, it would also hate them. They learned the truth of this prophecy early in their ministry after the ascension.
The law commanded that “wicked” men should be beaten: “If the guilty party deserves to be flogged, the judge will make him lie down and be flogged in his presence with the number of lashes appropriate for his crime. He may be flogged with 40 lashes, but no more. Otherwise, if he is flogged with more lashes than these, your brother will be degraded in your sight” (Deut. 25:2-3). No doubt this is the sentence the Sanhedrin passed against the apostles because of their earlier disobedience to their command not to speak in the name of Jesus.
Such beatings were not an uncommon form of punishment. According to the testimony of the Apostle Paul, he experienced such treatment five times during his ministry, receiving the allotted number of stripes each time as prescribed by law. In 2 Corinthians 11:24 he testified, “Of the Jews five times received forty stripes save one.”
And what do you think these apostles did after their beating? Did they leave the judgment hall and go their separate ways, no more daring to speak about Jesus, even though Jesus had called them to “. . . be My witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." Did they return to Solomon’s Porch to complain about the terrible and unjust treatment that had been meted out to them? No, they didn’t do either of these. The last two verses describe what they did.
41 And 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 ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
This is the same group of men who had deserted the Lord in His time of need when He was arrested and brought to trial. They ran and hid themselves out of fear of this very same council before whom they had just testified in the name of Jesus, and from whose presence they just now went out—“rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name!”