Acts 5


Ananias and Sapphira

1Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.
3Then Peter said, "Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God."
5When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
7About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8Peter asked her, "Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?"
"Yes," she said, "that is the price."
9Peter said to her, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also."
10At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

Acts 5:1-11

Explanation:

The Church's Common Life (4:32--5:11)
We would like to know so much more about church life in those early days. Luke lets us catch our breath from the action of the Jerusalem church's advance by giving us some tantalizing glimpses: a summary statement and a few vignettes about its inner life, which further develop 2:44-45.



Negative Example: Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11)

This chilling account of the sudden deaths of Ananias (Hebrew, "the Lord is gracious") and Sapphira (Aramaic, "beautiful") makes us face the fact that God deals with sin, especially church members' deceit and lack of integrity. If God acts to preserve the integrity of the community that the gospel produced, we can have increased confidence in the truthfulness of the message itself (Lk 1:4). That's the good news for the inquirer. This narrative is bad news, though, for any who would take a casual approach to entering the kingdom of God.

A Man Who Was Good to His Family (5:1-6)

Living out their unity with the believers, Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold real estate (see 5:3), brought and placed money at the apostles' feet. This action paralleled Barnabas's (4:37), with one significant difference. In collusion with his wife, Ananias kept back part of the money for himself. Literally, he embezzled from the sale price. This is paralleled in the LXX report of Achan's sin (Josh 7:1), in secular sources describing the pilfering of gold dedicated to the god Apollos (Athenaeus Deiporosophists 6.234) and in the keeping back of crops that had been declared common property in the Celtic tribe Vaccaei (Diodorus Siculus Library of History 5.34.3).

Peter exposes the fraud. He knows the truth, whether by hearsay, reading Ananias's face or Spirit-empowered insight. By asking Ananias why Satan has filled his heart for the purpose of lying to the Holy Spirit and embezzlement, Peter exposes the spiritual battle that is raging (compare Lk 4:1-13). Satan now attacks Christ's mission from within as he had done through Judas and Peter (Lk 22:3, 31). The "father of lies" (Jn 8:44) starts in the heart, the source of all decisions concerning possessions and their relation to God (Lk 12:34; 16:14-15; Acts 8:21-22; contrast 2:46; 4:32). Ananias shows not simply a lack of honesty in bringing only a part of the sale price but also a lack of integrity--bringing only a part while pretending to bring the whole (Stott 1990:109).

Peter now exposes Ananias's full responsibility: he had full control over the property before it was sold, and over the sale price before he contributed any portion to the common fund (5:4). This statement can help us understand the arrangements of having all things in common (2:44; 4:32) and the practice of selling property and bringing the proceeds to the apostles as a contribution to a fund for the poor (4:34-37; compare 2:45), for it shows the voluntary, even periodic nature of the process. Peter again asks the piercing question "Why?" This sin, like all sin, is finally not against human beings but against God.

But sin blinds us to the true nature of the offense: that our sin is against God. Sin also blinds us so that we choose short-term gains in this life, heedless of the long-term loss in the next (Lk 9:24-25). For Ananias it was the possibility of being praised for his generosity while keeping a secure nest egg for his wife (Hebrew ktubah, or dowry paid to a wife in the case of a unilateral divorce or at his death--see m. Ketubot; Derrett 1977:196).

As Ananias listens to this expose (NIV's when Ananias heard this does not do justice to the simultaneous action indicated by the present participle), suddenly he falls down and dies (exepsyxen, used primarily in accounts of death as a result of divine judgment--Acts 5:10; 12:23; Judg 4:21). God, the knower of all hearts, has assessed Ananias's unrepentant heart and immediately judged him for his sin (contrast Acts 15:8).

Such a punishment, "death at the hands of heaven," was a recognized penalty in Old Testament and Jewish law. The punishments for partaking of the priestly tithe while ritually unclean and the strange fire of Nadab and Abihu are the closest parallels (Lev 10:1-7; 22:9; m. Keritot; Derrett 1977:197). No wonder great fear comes upon the Jewish Christian bystanders (compare Acts 5:11; 19:17).

Such discipline certainly has its deterrent value. The hasty, unceremonious burial of Ananias shows the believers recognize that God's judgment has fallen on one who by his embezzlement had violated the transparent unity of the Spirit-filled assembly (see Lev 10:6; Semahot 2:8). The young men (young in age, not office) cover his eyes and wrap his body in a shroud (synesteilan; the word systellontos, referring to a functionary related to burials, has been discovered on an inscription in a synagogue in Beth Shearim--see Safrai 1976:776). Without the traditional rituals of mourning, Ananias is taken outside the city and buried.

Beautiful Conspirator (5:7-11)

Three hours later Sapphira arrives. Luke, given his mention of her ignorance, probably intends us to understand Peter's question to be about the agreed-upon false price, not the true price. Either way, his inquiry gives her an opportunity to confess or persist in her sin (compare Lk 22:48).

In response, Peter again uses the penetrating "why" question. The NIV emphasizes Peter's disbelief by phrasing it How could you . . . . He reveals his knowledge of the crime and points out its implications for their covenant relationship with God. In the wilderness the Israelites through their unbelief and murmuring against God were actually putting him to the test to see if he would indeed punish sin. At Kadesh Barnea they discovered that he does (Num 14:20-23; Ps 95:7-11; compare Deut 6:16). So Ananias and Sapphira learn that in this life God can, and when he chooses will, punish sinners either by immediate death or by some other means. This can happen to those who claim to be, and may truly be, a part of his covenant people, enjoy his salvation blessings and yet deliberately sin and remain unrepentant (1 Cor 5:5; 1 Jn 5:16-17).

For Christians today this is still a temptation: to so luxuriate in the love and grace of God that we do not take seriously the consequences of our deliberate sinning. But God will not be mocked (Gal 6:7-8).

In a prophecy and an effective judgment, but not a curse, Peter declares that the young men who buried Sapphira's husband (the feet of points to their function as transporters of the dead) are at the door and will soon carry out another corpse--hers. Luke heightens the impact with the phrase at that moment (5:10).

Thus Sapphira too experiences divine judgment by immediate death, and the believers again respond with dishonorable burial. The lack of reference to wrapping the body may reflect the Jewish custom that women could wrap both men and women, but men could wrap only men (Semahot 12:10).

Great fear comes on the whole church. This is the first reference in Acts to the body of Christians as the "church" (ekklesia). This term, though used in secular Greek to describe citizen assemblies (compare Acts 19:32, 39), derives its special theological meaning from its use by the LXX to consistently translate the Hebrew qahal, the assembly or congregation of God's people. For Christians to use this word to describe their corporate identity was to claim to be the true people of God, the rightful heirs of God's promised salvation blessings. To find it at the climax of this passage only heightens the seriousness of Ananias and Sapphira's sin and gives explicit justification for the severity of their punishment. And Luke lets us know that the dread extended to non-Christians as well.

The message of this for Christian and non-Christian alike is self-evident. Christians must realize that the selfless, transparent fellowship of the church must never be violated by selfish hypocrisy. Further, it is proper to employ discipline to guard the church's integrity, unity and purity. For the non-Christian, this account is a warning: Think twice before joining this holy fellowship. Are you willing to pay the price--fully renouncing wicked ways and full-heartedly embracing Christ and other believers in his body, the church?

Acts 5

The Apostles Heal Many

12The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade. 13No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.

Acts 5:12-16

Explanation:

The Apostles' Healing Ministry and Its Consequences (5:12-42)
Through skillful scheduling, a college basketball coach gradually exposes his team to stronger opposition over a long season so that it is brought to peak performance by national tournament time. In a similar way, God in his providence stretches the church by placing various challenges before it in this second cycle of the pattern of advance (contrast 3:1--4:31).



The Healing Ministry (5:12-16)

This last of three summary statements about Jerusalem church life (the first two were 2:42-47 and 4:32-35) holds up this mirror to all churches: What are you attempting that could not be done without the power of the Holy Spirit? We discover here how the church's confident expectation (4:29-30) was divinely realized.

Outreach: Supernatural Power (5:12)

In fulfillment of the congregation's prayerful expectation, the church's mission continues to advance through the apostles' performance of signs and wonders (literally, "through the hands of the apostles"; compare 4:30). These miracles not only validate the apostles' message (see 2:22) and are tokens of the fullness of salvation blessings to be had in the kingdom at the end (2:19; 3:16-21; 4:9, 12, 22), but they also become a means of liberation from official Judaism, just as Moses' signs and wonders worked liberation from Egypt (7:36; see Deut 29:3; Ps 135:9; Jer 32:21). In both cases they are undeniable witnesses to God's power, and those in power react with frustration.

The special role signs and wonders play in salvation history, their clustering around key salvation events and new epochs of revelation, their extraordinary nature at those times and the fact they are performed mainly by the leaders should circumscribe our expectations concerning the occurrence of signs and wonders today. Still, we are living in the same last days, and God is still at work mightily through his church (see comment at 3:7-8).

Just as miraculous is the church's unity in the wake of the Ananias and Sapphira incident. All together with one mind, purpose and impulse (as in 1:14; 2:46; 4:24) in Solomon's colonnade--see comment at 3:11; this was a place large enough for a good portion of their growing numbers--the congregation of believers worships, learns from the apostles and evangelizes (compare 2:42; 4:33; 5:25).

Is your congregation held together by anything beyond the homogeneity of ethnic background, socioeconomic circumstances and the goals and values that stem from them? It is the bond of the Spirit that makes outsiders marvel.

Impact on Unbelievers: Respect and Praise (5:13)

Luke juxtaposes two contrasting statements about the church's continuing impact (NIV softens this by introducing the second with even though). In the light of the judgment on Ananias and Sapphira, no one else probably refers to non-Christians (Haenchen 1971:242) not believers (as E. F. Harrison 1986:105) or Jewish sympathizers (as Schwartz 1983). They dared not join ("come into the Christian community"--Krodel 1986:123; see Acts 17:34; less likely, "associate with, come near physically"--Longenecker 1981:317) them (the congregation, not the apostles). At the same time these unbelievers, termed the people, praised the congregation of Christians (see also 2:47; 19:17).

Does your church have this kind of impact? As John Stott notes, "This paradoxical situation has often recurred since then. The presence of the living God, whether manifest through preaching or miracles or both, is alarming to some and appealing to others" (1990:113).

The Church's Vitality (5:14-16)

Luke now looks at the Christian community and the apostles from the angle of the results of God's work in supernatural power. In the midst of people's natural fear of joining, God continues to work in an ever greater way through the preaching of the gospel, so that a steady stream of men and women who believed (4:4) are being added.

A church alive with the power of God will be a growing church, with individuals regularly coming to the Lord for salvation and incorporation into his body. Taking note of the circumstances, but even more taking hold of God's power, would you say that your own church is thriving in this way?

The effect of the apostles' signs and wonders ministry is heightened attraction: the sick are brought to them, even laid in the streets to intercept them, as in Jesus' early Galilean ministry (Lk 4:40-41; 6:17-19). There is heightened expectation--the hope that at least Peter's shadow with its healing power may fall on someone as he passes by.

The effect is a broadening scope for the church's mission. It very naturally enters its second phase, "witnesses . . . in all Judea," as crowds from the towns around Jerusalem, again in a constant stream, bring their sick and demon-possessed. (NIV margin unclean gives the literal translation, which points to the ritual impurity of those so possessed; they are unfit for worship in Israel [Williams 1985:88].)

Finally, the effect is total: all of them were healed. Whether during Jesus' ministry or when the church is on mission in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria or on the island of Crete, "to the ends of the earth," God's power will effect a comprehensive healing when faced with human misery (Lk 4:40; 5:15; 6:17-19; Acts 5:16; 8:7; 28:9).

What difference is your church making? What evidences are there of the saving, healing power of God?

Acts 5

The Apostles Persecuted

17Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20"Go, stand in the temple courts," he said, "and tell the people the full message of this new life."
21At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
22When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin--the full assembly of the elders of Israel--and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23"We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside." 24On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.
25Then someone came and said, "Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people." 26At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
27Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28"We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name," he said. "Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood."
29Peter and the other apostles replied: "We must obey God rather than men! 30The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead--whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him."
33When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38Therefore, 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. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."
40His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.

Acts 5:17-42

Explanation:

 Consequences of the Healing Ministry (5:17-42)

A popular American TV news anchor of the 1960s and 1970s regularly signed off his broadcasts with "That's the way it is." Since his reports dealt only in human factors, they would have resonated with the Sadducean nobility, who believed all history was the result of human decisions (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 13.173). But the Sadducees were in for a surprise when they arrested the apostles. Certain things happened which forced them--and force us--to ask who was really in charge of the course of events.

The Apostles' Incarceration and Divine Release (5:17-26)

The success of the apostles' witness and healing ministry (4:33; 5:12-16) fills the Sadducean high priest and his Sanhedrin associates (see comment at 4:1) with jealousy. This may originally have been "a passionate, consuming zeal focused on God, or rather on the doing of His will and the maintaining of His honour in the face of ungodly acts of men and nations" (Stumpff 1964:878; see Num 25:11; Ps 69:9). Yet because it is "not according to knowledge" (Rom 10:2), this zeal has devolved into jealousy. This is to be the reaction of the majority of Jews as the Christian mission proceeds (Acts 13:45; 17:5; compare Rom 10:19; 11:11).

The Sadducee nobility's jealousy further degenerates into "party spirit," focusing on the resurrection and the apostles' flouting of the high court's authority (4:2, 20, 31). They arrest (literally, "lay hands on") the apostles and incarcerate them for a trial the next day.

When zeal for God is not grounded in the whole truth of God or is mixed with human pride or opinion, it can easily become personal jealousy masquerading as piety. Such misguided zeal can do great harm to those who are the real messengers of God's truth.

Previously God allowed his messengers to remain in jail overnight (see 4:3); now, however, he sends his angel to liberate them. Luke presents angels as overcoming external opposition to and internal hesitation about the full accomplishment of the church's mission (8:26; 10:3; 12:7, 11, 23). The angel commissions the apostles to continue their witness. Taking a steadfast stand in the temple courts, the high priest's own turf and their accustomed place for evangelism and instruction (2:46; 5:12), they are to tell the people the full message of this new life (literally, "all the words of this life"). Life in the absolute, or with the adjective eternal, is one way Luke refers to salvation blessings (3:15; 11:18; 13:46; Lk 10:25; 18:18, 30; compare Acts 2:28/Ps 16:11). This phrase captures the truths that by God's Word the blessed life in covenant relationship is appropriated now, and that beyond death there is life in which God's salvation will be fully known forever (Deut 8:3; 32:47; Job 19:25-26).

At daybreak the temple crier called, "Priests to worship, Levites to the platform, and Israelites to deputations" (y. Seqalim 5:48d). And so at their earliest opportunity the apostles obey and resume teaching the people (Acts 5:21; Kistemaker [1990:199] takes the imperfect as simple continuous action, not as ingressive as does the NIV). What boldness the apostles show by the time and place of their witness! They are living out their prayer of Acts 4:29-30. God has taken note of the Sanhedrin's threats and actions and has delivered them from prison--yet it is not for their personal comfort but for the furtherance of their mission. This they obediently pursue, and so should all Christians.

In a fast-paced change of scene and collision of characters reminiscent of a Keystone Cops comedy, Luke portrays the powerlessness of the authorities to silence the church's message. Ignorant of the angelic liberation, the full Sanhedrin convenes and routinely summons the defendants. But the officers (Levites of the temple watch) find guarded, locked but empty cells, mute evidence that there has been supernatural intervention. The captain of the temple guard (see comment at 4:1) and the chief priests are more than just puzzled (dieporoun) at this. They are perplexed, at a complete loss to explain it. (Diaporeo is often used by Luke for the human response to an encounter with the supernatural--Lk 9:7; Acts 2:12; 5:24; 10:17.) Further, they are searching not just for the cause (as Longenecker 1981:320) or the significance (as Kistemaker 1990:202), but for the outcome (NIV; Haenchen 1971:250).

The leaders' negative example reminds us not to let our presuppositions blind us to what God might be doing. Those who do not believe in God's direct intervention in the affairs of humankind (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 13.173) could only be at a loss to understand how the apostles were liberated. Immediately they receive an answer to their perplexity. Someone breaks in and reports the apostles' open-air temple evangelism. Luke uses look (idou) selectively to point to unusual, supernaturally grounded occurrences (1:10; 2:7; 5:9, 25).

Springing into action, the captain and officers rearrest the apostles. They offer no resistance; the officers use no violent force. The church still experiences the people's favor (5:26; compare 4:21; 5:13); the Sadducees hold sway in position only, "having the confidence of the wealthy alone but no following among the populace" (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 13.298).

The apostles' submission to the authorities models an important component of Christian civil disobedience: recognition of the legitimacy of political authority through one's willingness to accept the consequences for one's disobedience (compare Rom 13:1-7; 1 Pet 3:15-16). The underlying question posed by this extended arrest account is "Who's in charge?" Luke responds, "God!" God directly intervenes to promote his unstoppable mission through his people's obedient, bold witness. Will the Sadducee and the modern secularist have eyes to see?

Trial and Defense (5:27-32)

The presiding officer's interrogation takes the form of two charges, bolstered by an opening reminder of the command given not to speak in Jesus' name (4:18). Disdainfully refusing to refer directly to Jesus (this name . . . this man), the high priest manifests a foreshortened perspective. He charges that by human effort the apostles have filled Jerusalem with their teaching and that they are carrying out a malicious verbal vendetta against the leaders, seeking to bring divine retribution down on them for Jesus' death.

The believers' teaching, however, had been received from their Lord and had spread by God's power (1:3; 4:33). True, they had consistently proclaimed the leaders' guilt for Jesus' death (2:23; 3:17; 4:10). Yet that was always accompanied by the good news of the offer of salvation (2:38-39; 3:19, 26; 4:12). In prayer the apostles had left those hostile to them in God's hands (4:29).

With Peter as the spokesperson and the other apostles indicating their assent (the Greek has apokritheis in the singular, followed by a plural finite verb), the defendants admit the charge of civil disobedience by reiterating the principle that obedience to God takes priority over the commands of human beings, whenever the two are in conflict (compare 4:19-20; Lk 20:25). John Stott well articulates the principle for us today: "If the authority concerned misuses its God-given power to command what he forbids or forbid what he commands, then the Christian's duty is to disobey the human authority in order to obey God's" (1990:116).

Peter answers the vendetta charge by immediately preaching the good news of salvation. He begins with common ground, the God of our fathers (compare another instance where a hostile Jewish audience is appealed to--22:14). He announces that God has raised up Jesus, not from the dead (as in NIV) but onto the stage of human history to fulfill his saving purposes (compare Judg 2:18; 3:9). The one God raised up the Jewish leaders killed by hanging him on a tree (see Lk 23:21). With this language Peter refers to Deuteronomy 21:23 ("anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse") and shows the depth of contempt with which the leaders had held Jesus--they had asked for a death that would place Jesus under God's curse (compare Acts 10:39; 13:29; Gal 3:13; Wilcox 1977). But through the resurrection-ascension, captured in the phrase God exalted him to God's to his own right hand, God has vindicated Jesus (Acts 2:34/Ps 110:1). He manifests Jesus as Prince (archegos; see comment at 3:15) and Savior. It is the messianic Davidic prince (not Mosaic Messiah, as Marshall 1980:120) who is Israel's final Savior (Lk 2:11; Acts 2:36; 4:12).

Savior, like "Lord," is a bridge word that opens the way for viewing Jesus as God. The Old Testament is marked by the parallel themes that God will bring the final salvation and that the Messiah will bring it (Ps 106:47; 118:25-26; Is 63:8; Jer 17:14; Joel 2:32). The apostles reveal that God and the Messiah are one and the same, namely the Savior Jesus (Acts 2:21, 36, 38-40). The salvation blessings he gives to Israel are repentance (see comment at 3:19) and forgiveness of sins (2:38; 3:19-20, 26; 10:43; 13:38; 26:18; also Lk 24:47). Though the salvation blessings are not exclusively for Israel, it is appropriate to proclaim the fulfillment of salvation blessings to the ones whose ancestors had received the promises (Acts 3:26; 13:46). With this good news, it is almost as if the apostles are saying, "We have no vendetta against you. If you would listen to the good news, you would find the answer for your guilt." And that is ever the message of the Christian witness.

The defense climaxes with two claims for the veracity of the gospel message. The apostles declare themselves witnesses, persons with firsthand experience of their testimony's content (compare 1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:15). And they say the Holy Spirit also bears witness. This is probably neither the gift of the Spirit in salvation (as Marshall 1980:120) nor the outward miraculous manifestations that salvation has come (8:15-17; 10:44-47; 15:8; as Krodel 1986:128). Rather, it is the Spirit's indwelling those who obey God, so that their witness is characterized by boldness and convincing conviction. Those who hear the truth either freely embrace or emphatically reject it (4:8, 31, 33-34; 6:5, 10; 7:55; compare Jn 16:8-11).

Who's in charge? In no uncertain terms Luke lets us know it is God who desires to save. What does he want of us? An obedience that embraces the good news and knows the presence of the Spirit.

Fury and a Call for Moderation (5:33-39)

The apostles' defense, which actually manifests another instance of the charges against them, is more than the Sanhedrin could handle with sober judgment. Their jealousy and frustration (5:17, 24, 26) explode in a fury (literally, "sawn through"; compare 1 Chron 20:3; Acts 7:54) and a determination to do away with these men, as previously they had done with their Lord (Lk 22:2). Unless Peter's statement about Christ sitting at God's right hand as Prince and Savior is taken as a blasphemous attribution of deity to Jesus (compare Lk 22:69-71), there is no basis for a death-penalty verdict here.

In the midst of the furor a Pharisee, Gamaliel, a teacher of the law esteemed by the populace (m. Sota 9:15; Neusner 1971:373), takes the floor and has the apostles removed so that the Sanhedrin can go into executive session. Appealing for caution, he counsels a hands-off, wait-and-see policy (5:35, 38-39). Gamaliel makes his case by referring to two contemporary examples of failed revolutionary movements: Theudas (B.C. 4--see notes) and Judas the Galilean (A.D. 6/7). The former had either claimed to be a prophet or was a messianic pretender (Marshall 1980:122). The latter upbraided his fellow countrymen for paying taxes to the Romans (Josephus Jewish War 2.118). He founded the Zealot movement, whose credo was reminiscent of Peter's words (5:29). "They have a passion for liberty that is almost unconquerable, since they are convinced that God alone is their leader and master" (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 18.23). Gamaliel's logic presumably is that just as these movements died with the death of the leader (he is not precisely correct with respect to the Zealots--see Josephus Jewish Antiquities 18.25), Christianity too will soon die out, for its leader is now dead.

Gamaliel caps his argument with the principle that works of purely human origin come to nothing but those from God cannot be stopped; indeed, to oppose the latter is to fight against God (compare m. 'Abot 4:11). Though Luke presents the two options of verses 38 and 39 as conditional clauses, reflecting Gamaliel's uncertainty concerning the human origin and certainty concerning the divine origin of Christianity (NIV obscures this), it is not clear whether this suggests an incipient embracing of the truth of Christianity or a scoring of points against the Sadducees. The Sadducees believed only in human causation in history, while the Pharisees affirmed the hand of both human beings and God (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 13.171-73; 18.12-15; Robertson 1934:1018; compare Longenecker 1981:324).

This appeal persuades the council. The Pharisees (a transliteration of Heb prusm, "separated ones"), a small lay movement promoting strict adherence to the written and oral Torah, were a minority in the council. Their voice, however, carried great weight, often overruling the Sadducees, because of the favor they had with the people (Josephus Jewish Antiquities 13.298; 18.17).

Gamaliel's intervention again answers the question "Who's in charge?" by pointing to a God who providentially will use unbelievers within the ranks of official opposition to further his saving purposes. No human situation is beyond his control and ordering.

And what of Gamaliel's counsel? It was good advice for the short run, since it encouraged unbelievers not to summarily dismiss Christianity's claims. Indeed, Luke gives his readers the same counsel of patience if they are to benefit from his writings and allow them to achieve their purpose (Lk 1:4). On the other hand, Gamaliel's words are also bad counsel, for good plans may fail and evil movements may succeed in the short term. The pragmatic test can fail us. In the long term, before God's judgment seat at the last day, we will know the truth that has triumphed, but then it will be too late. A wait-and-see approach to the gospel must be transformed into a decision-making stance. We must in repentance reach out and accept the forgiveness of sins that Jesus offers (5:31).

Verdict and Outcome (5:40-42)

Persuaded by Gamaliel's appeal, the Sanhedrin backs away from having the apostles executed. Instead they are flogged (dero, a general term for punishment by beating or thrashing). This may have involved scourging with a whip thirty-nine times (m. Makkot 3:10-15; Haenchen 1971:254) or a lesser punishment (see Bruce 1988:117; compare Lk 22:63; Acts 16:37; 22:19). Again told not to speak in the name of Jesus, they are released.

In no masochistic fashion, but with spiritual eyes to see what suffering for the name of Jesus signifies about their eternal salvation, the apostles live out the dynamic of Jesus' beatitude (Lk 6:22-23) and respond to their physical suffering with joy. As far as Luke is concerned, two things bring Christians joy: contemplating salvation and the honor of being dishonored for Jesus' sake (Lk 10:20; Acts 8:39; 11:23; 13:48). Whether in singing hymns over the crackle of flames at the stake in centuries past or praising God while cleaning Chinese prison-camp cesspools in our own day, the hallmark of the Christian has been, and must continue to be, joy in suffering persecution (1 Pet 1:6; 4:13).

In a brief summary statement Luke concludes his account of the first stage of the Jerusalem church's growth, the mission among Hebrew-speaking Jews. Daily in the temple courts and in homes (2:42-47), the believers continued teaching the good news, which is at the same time testifying that the Messiah is indeed Jesus (a confession, as in NIV and Bruce 1990:179; not a double name, as Lake and Cadbury [1979:63] suggest as an equal possibility).

Who's in charge? A God who empowers and leads his church in carrying out his mission in spite of opposition.