Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (5:29-32)
Well, “in for a penny, in for a pound” as the saying goes; Peter and the others fire a full broadside at their attackers, who by the way are also their judges. That they must obey God and not humans is about the equivalent of telling the court that it lacks competent jurisdiction to judge them, not usually a wise assertion for a defendant to make. Then, they make their assertion that the Jewish leaders were in fact guilty of Jesus’ blood, which in this instance would be essentially a guilty plea considering what they’ve been accused of. Finally, they claim that Jesus sits at the right hand of Almighty God and is ready to forgive the Jewish leaders of their sins if they will only repent of their misdeeds.
At this point, we must remember who these leaders are; they consider themselves the most righteous and holy of all Creation, they keep the Law of God best of all, just ask them. Forgiveness they don’t need forgiveness; they keep the Law.
At this point, we must come to grips with the real facts of the matter, which are that the apostles have only just begun to carry out their Commission from our Lord, and that Commission is God’s eternal purpose to build up a Body of believers on the earth. As long as the apostles still have work to do on the earth, no human authority is going to stop them.
Yet if we look upon this scene from an earthly perspective, the apostles are doomed:
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. (5:33)
It was now time for God to make His next move…
God’s Next Move
With the apostles standing before the Sanhedrin, having just infuriated everyone to the point of murder, something happens that is surprising to say the least. The greatest of the Pharisees in those days was a man named Gamaliel. He was highly respected by all, had descended from a line of Pharisaic superstars and was the greatest of the teachers of the law; most scholars believe that he was the mentor of a fellow called Saul of Tarsus, whom we will meet soon in Luke’s narrative. Right at the moment of greatest fury, Gamaliel rises to speak…
He reminds the Sanhedrin that there have been false teachers before, and that they soon run out steam and then are gone, for their teaching comes from men (5:35-37). After citing a couple of names, he comes to his point:
Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.” (5:38-39)
His argument carried the day; the high priest ordered the apostles flogged, gave them another warning and let them go. Luke mentions this almost as though it were nothing, but let’s remember that they would at minimum be scarred for life after this, and over the years many who received 39 lashes died from infection of the resulting wounds; this was no small matter, and as a result, the apostles rejoiced!
Upon release, they continued their teaching, even going from house to house in flagrant disregard of the Sanhedrin’s warning, for they were, at the leading of the Holy Spirit, moving forward with their purpose to do God’s will (5:41-42).
Soon, the Good News would spread into the surrounding regions…