This passage teaches us that God’s Word will prevail over all opposition to it. The apostles had been warned previously by the Jewish leaders not to teach in the name of Jesus. Nevertheless, they continued to proclaim the gospel of Christ in the temple and were doing mighty works (verse 16).
This provoked the authorities to arrest them, but God sent an angel to break them out with instruction to go right back into the temple and proclaim the way of life in Christ. Thus, we are reminded the chief mandate of the church is to proclaim the gospel of Christ. The apostles obey the command. The guards eventually find them and bring them before the court for another trial (22-27).
In the trial the authorities accuse the apostles of disobeying orders, as well as making them to be responsible for Jesus’ death. The apostles admit to both charges. However, their response is that we must obey God rather than men; and the Jewish leaders did in fact put Jesus to death (29-30).
The apostles remained steadfast by holding to the truths they confessed. First, as they prayed in chapter four after their first arrest, God is the maker of heaven and earth, who is sovereign over all. God is the Almighty, perfectly holy and good God, the Maker, Preserver, and Governor of all, who deserves our whole trust, love, and obedience. He sent the Lord Jesus for salvation of sinners.
Secondly, God raised Jesus from the dead, and has exalted him to his right hand as Prince and Savior (verse 31). The apostles had been sent by this Jesus for the task they were doing in the temple. We are entrusted with our Master’s talents for his service, to do our best in our places, to promote his Name, to propagate his gospel, to serve his church. He is the Lord.
Third, Christ is the only name under heaven whereby men must be saved. The apostles are proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins to people who are under the sentence of death. This free, reconciling grace is being offered from heaven. The apostles know very well the depths of love and grace they have received. They long to see their fellow Israelites know the same Lord and life.
The reaction of the Jewish leaders to the apostles’ response is fierce anger. They wanted to kill them, but a respected leader named Gamaliel stood up and appealed to them. We will learn later in Acts that Saul of Tarsus was one of his students.
Gamaliel was aware of the disposition of the people in the temple. Most had not joined the apostles but were witnessing great miracles. He knew that putting the apostles to death could cause a great disturbance.
Therefore, he urges caution. He speaks to angry religious people in a way they will listen. He tells them of examples of movements that seemed to take off well at first, but then the leader died, and the followers dispersed. The movements came to nothing. In the case of the apostles, he says do nothing now. If it is of God, we can’t stop it, but if it is not, it will fizzle out. He reasons like a fallen man.
The Lord undoubtedly used Gamaliel to preserve the apostles, but Gamaliel’s reasoning wasn’t wise. He didn’t consider the fact that the apostles asserted their leader was alive forevermore. Jesus had risen; he wasn’t going to die again. Nor did he acknowledge that Jesus was at the right hand of God, and apart from him men will perish. Gamaliel ignored the plain teaching of the apostles.
Peter had said, “We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” Gamaliel placed his own reason above that of God. To distrust ourselves is highly reasonable, but to distrust God is heinous sin and folly.
Gamaliel refused to obey the gospel, that is, the command to come to Christ. He would have had to leave his position to do so. Preserving his position motivated his speech (and denial of Christ). He will be ashamed of his love of position when he sees the Lord, but the apostles will not be ashamed of their fidelity. We must commit body and soul to the Lord Jesus Christ without reservation or equivocation.
The apostles suffered a beating from the council and were let go. They rejoiced they were worthy to suffer for the Name (verses 40-41). It is the will of our heavenly Father that we love and obey Christ and it is our honor to uphold his name in this world.