God’s Word for You
Acts 5:33-40 Fighting against God
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, November 27, 2019
33 When they heard this, they were furious and began planning to put them to death. 34 But a certain Pharisee, one in the Sanhedrin named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law who was highly respected by all the people, stood up and ordered that the men be put outside for a short time.
Gamaliel was one of the most famous Pharisees. Recall that the Pharisees were a minority party in Israel at this time. F.F. Bruce estimates that there were between six and seven thousand Pharisees in all during the New Testament years, divided into smaller groups known as haburoth “brotherhoods.” The Sadducees were in power, but the Pharisees were popular among the people, and the moderate words of Gamaliel carried a lot of influence. He was known by the special title of Rabban. Rabbi means “my teacher,” but Rabban means “our teacher.” This is why Luke says that he was “highly respected by all the people.”
Gamaliel is called a “teacher of the law” here, which seems commonplace to us, but was really a very special title. Some translations use “teacher of the law” to render grammateus (γραμματεύς) into English, and this term occurs more than 60 times. I have tried to stay with the old word “scribe” for grammateus. Here, Luke says that Gamaliel was a nomodidaskalos (νομοδιδάσκαλος) which is more literally “one who teaches the law.” It only occurs three times in the New Testament (see also Luke 5:17 and 1 Timothy 1:7) and never in the Septuagint.
35 Then he said to them, “Men of Israel, be careful about what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined up with him. He was killed, all those who followed him were scattered, and it all came to nothing.
There is no historical record of this Theudas, but it was a common enough name. There was a Theudas called “the magician” who after this time led a rebellion across the Jordan. There was also a Theudas called “the physician” who is quoted in the Jewish Mishnah (Bekharoth 4:4, sometimes translated “Todos the Physician”). Theudas might be an abbreviated form of the name Theodorus. There were a number of uprisings in the days following the death of Herod the Great in 4 B.C.
37 “After him, Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census. He led many people in a revolt. He also was killed, and all of his followers were scattered.
We know something about this man. The “census” Luke refers to is not the same one he connects with the birth of Jesus, but a later one Quirinius carried out when he was governor of Syria-Cilesia in 6-7 A.D. This Judas was from the highlands we call the Golan Heights today (Gaulanitis). He insisted that it was a violation of the First Commandment and therefore treasonous to God to pay any tribute to a pagan ruler (and also that “this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery,” Josephus Antiquities 18:1). The revolt was crushed, but after the period recorded in Acts the Zealots rose up in a similar revolt that led to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D.
38 “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and leave them alone, because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them. Perhaps you might even be found to be fighting against God!”
Gamaliel’s argument was theological, but not all theologians would agree with him. Sometimes religious movements need to be addressed and spoken against right away before ordinary people become carried away by them. Luther, for example, wrote his 95 Theses against a resurgence of selling indulgences. He wrote “Against the Heavenly Prophets” (Part 1, December 1524, Part 2, January 1525) because a former colleague was embracing mysticism and opposed infant baptism.
They were persuaded by him. 40 They called in the apostles and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and let them go.
The reward God gives for our good works come here in time and also in eternity. We must always remember that good works follow faith, they do not merit anything toward our salvation. But when we do or say or even think something in response to God’s love, this is a good work. He might choose to reward such a thing with public or private praise, such as Jesus said: “She has done a beautiful thing to me” (Mark 14:6). He might take note of our faith and give us work to do in his kingdom (Titus 1:5). But he will certainly reward our good works in heaven, when we least expect it: “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty?” (Matthew 25:44). In this case, being beaten or flogged (whipped) for their faith was certainly a good work credited to the apostles. Twelve times, the Sanhedrin tied them up, man by man, apostle by apostle. Twelve times, a soldier employed by the temple cracked his whip for 39 strokes (one less than 40, Deuteronomy 25:3). Four hundred and sixty-eight times the lash bit into the flesh of God’s holy apostles. They endured the punishment for the love of Christ. “We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of this world” (1 Corinthians 4:12-13).
Our reward for doing the work of serving Christ may not be very great in our world, especially in the increasingly hostile nation in which we live. But when we are scorned and ridiculed for our faith, we are comforted by Jesus: “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets” (Luke 6:23). Plant your faith firmly in Jesus, and he will make it grow every day.
Pastor Timothy Smith