We saw yesterday how the first Christians were hauled before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council, because they hadn’t stopped preaching about Jesus, and specifically accusing the Sadducees of being complicit in Jesus’ death. Even standing before the court, Peter and the first Christians didn’t back down, but restated their message and accusation. Here’s what happened next:
When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. (Acts 5:34-42 ESV)
So the ruling council are the Sadducees, a fairly recently formed group that had a great deal of political power, made up of wealthy and educated elites. The Pharisees, like Gamaliel, were the religious legal experts, much more connected with an average person’s day to day life.
There were two main schools of thought among the Pharisees – one very strict, and the other a bit more willing to live and let live. It seems Gamaliel is more of that school, which fits with what we know about his family heritage. He’s seen various people come and go claiming to be the Messiah, and they had no sticking power. They were killed, and forgotten.
So, he sets up a test that will prove whether the claims about Jesus Christ are true or false. Let them go, leave them alone, and wait and see what happens. If this Jesus is the real deal, we’ll see. And if he’s not, we don’t need to waste our time with it.
Now, this is not in the Bible as a command or timeless principle. It’s eternally true, God will have his way ultimately in the big picture of history. But it’s not always immediately true – lots of things thrive in our world that are horrific, sinful and completely against God’s will. So don’t walk away today thinking that the way to test out every idea you hear or dream up is to try it and see if it works!
In this case, though, Gamaliel’s idea did prove the validity of the Jesus movement for three groups. We’ll explore two today, one tomorrow.
1) Proof for the authorities – If it’s a human thing it will fade away, and this way they don’t have to take the risk of a rebellion by the crowds if they kill a popular speaker and his posse. They also don’t have to take the risk of attacking something God may actually support. As much as that probably seemed like a long shot to them, Gamaliel mentions it anyway.
2) Proof for the apostles, who were rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. Jesus would have primed thme for this in his Sermon on the Mount when he said blessed are the persecuted. In persecution, they point to Jesus, not themselves. They don’t rejoice over their saved hide, but over Jesus. It’s proof for them that they are doing something right, in this business of following Jesus, if people are treating them like they treated Jesus.
Question: What do you think this proves for us today?
Meeting with a Group? Your discussion questions are in this week’s Group Study Guide[permalink append=”#comments”]Discuss the Challenge[/permalink]