Acts: Chapter 5

Themes:

  • Fearing God not Man: In Acts, 5 we have two stories: 1. Ananias and Sapphira lying to Peter and 2. Peter and John being imprisoned by the Jewish High Priest. The story of Ananias and Sapphira seems quite detached from the story of Acts at first glance. Why did Luke choose to include a story of God taking the lives of church go-ers? Why did Luke not just glance over it? Why did the Holy Spirit prompt this story to be written? Because, this story when you contrast it to the acts of the Apostles shows an amazing lesson for the church: do not fear men, fear God. Ananias and Sapphira did not fear God; their primary desire was to be loved by men and to praised as “holy.” This shows that they feared men and did not fear God. Peter and the apostles are the exact opposite, they fear God above all. Whenever Peter or the apostles are captured or persecuted, they responded with boldness and courage, and proclaim the truth of the Gospel. They truly believed the words of Jesus when he said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” This story is not a story to make the church tremble but to empower us. We should not fear any man, we should not fear death itself; for, our God became a man and conquered sin, death, and the devil! And, this gives us the courage to say with Peter, “We must obey God rather than men.”

People:

  • A Pharisee, named Gamaliel.—We are brought into contact here with one of the heroes of Rabbinic history. The part he now played in the opening of the great drama, and not less his position as the instructor of St. Paul, demand attention. We have to think of him as the grandson of the great Hillel the representative of the best school of Pharisaism, the tolerant and large-hearted rival of the narrow and fanatic Shammai, whose precepts—such, e.g., as, Do nothing to another which thou wouldest not that he should do to thee—remind us of the Sermon on the Mount. The fame of Hillel won for him the highest honour of Judaism: the title of Rabban (the Rabboni of Mark 10:51; John 20:16), and the office of President of the Council. For the first time, there seemed likely to be a dynasty of scribes, and the office of chief of the Jewish schools, what we might almost call their Professorship of Theology, was transmitted through four generations. Hillel was succeeded by his son Simeon, whom some have identified with the Simeon of Luke 2:25 (see Note there), and he by Gamaliel. He, too, was known as the Rabban, and he rose now, with all the weight of years and authority, to counsel moderation. Various motives may have influenced him. He was old enough to remember the wisdom and grace of the child Jesus when, twenty-eight years before, He had sat in the midst of the doctors (Luke 2:46). He may have welcomed, during our Lord’s ministry, the teaching with so much of which Hillel would have sympathised, and been as the scribe who was not far from the kingdom of God (Mark 12:32-34), rejoicing in the new proof that had been brought forward of the doctrine of the Resurrection. As being himself of the house and lineage of David, he may have sympathised with the claims of One who was welcomed as the Son of David. One who was so prominent as a teacher could not fail to be acquainted with a brother-teacher like Nicodemus, and may well have been influenced by the example of his gradual conversion and the counsels of caution which he had given (John 7:50-51). The tone in which he speaks now might almost lead us to class him with the “many” of the chief rulers who secretly believed in Christ, but shrank from confessing Him (John 12:42-43). It seems probable that he, like Joseph of Arimathæa, had “not consented to the counsel and deed” of the Sanhedrin which Caiaphas had hastily convened for our Lord’s trial, and had contented himself with a policy of absence and expectation. If, as seems probable, Saul of Tarsus was at this time one of his disciples (Acts 22:3), the words of warning, though addressed generally to the Council, may well have been intended specially to restrain his fiery and impetuous zeal.

Culture:

Places

  • Why Solomon’s Portico again? Solomon’s Portico has already figured in the incident of the lame man (3: 11). From its mention here it appears to have been the usual place where the disciples gathered for their public witness. They could “break bread” in groups “in their homes” (2: 46), but gatherings like this in small meeting places were inadequate for any united action. There was no private building in Jerusalem which could accommodate a community now several thousand strong (4: 4); however, the outer court of the Temple was open to all. The healing ministry grew. The scenes in Jerusalem (verses 15, 16) remind us of those in Galilee during Jesus’ ministry (Mark 6: 54-56; Luke 4: 40, etc.). It was no magical power in Peter’s shadow that cured those on whom his shadow fell, any more than there was magical power in the fringe of Jesus’ garment (Luke 8: 44). The power lay in the name of Jesus and in the sick people’s response of faith.

Cultural Background

  • Gamaliel and the Pharisees: The Pharisees were in a minority in the Sanhedrin, but as they commanded much more popular support than the Sadducees, their opinions carried great weight. Gamaliel’s advice was based on characteristic Pharisaic doctrine: God allows men freedom of choice, but in the end his purpose will prevail. That is more or less what Gamaliel said about the apostolic fellowship (or “coming together”). He mentioned two possibilities: this new movement might be of men, in which case it would come to nothing, but it just might be of God. The second possibility was a more remote contingency than the first, but it would be terrible if the Sanhedrin was to find itself on the side opposed to God. Of the two precedents Gamaliel cited of movements which were purely “of men”, the second—the rising led by Judas the Galilaean is well known. It took place in AD 6, when Judea first became a Roman province, in protest against the new obligation to pay tribute to Caesar. After Gamaliel had spoken, the apostles were convicted simply of contempt of court and sentenced to be flogged—presumably with the “forty stripes save one” of Deuteronomy 25: 3; 2 Corinthians 11: 24. Then the court order was renewed and they were dismissed.

Contemplating God:

Voices of the Past:

  • Love of God is greater than Riches, Power, : “Let us think on someone with high rank, possessing great wealth and living as a ruler in grand city, who isn’t working and can simply live in leisure having great wealth, honor, and power. Let us compare him to Peter, in chains, surrounded by countless evils, we will see that Peter is living better than the man of leisure. For Peter was exceedingly joyful in chains, imagine how great his joy in must be to be happy in chains...It is impossible to put into words the joy one feels suffering for the name of Christ! For, these disciples rejoiced in these sufferings more than good gifts. If you love Jesus then you understand what I am saying to you...But, you might ask, wouldn’t riches, and power, and honor make the Gospel spread more easily? I disagree. An imperial decree is not as effectual as the honest words of the disciples. An imperial decree or law compels by force, but the disciples drew men and women to follow Christ willingly, spontaneously, and gratefully without measure. What decree could have ever persuaded people to part with their property, their home, country, friends, and even their own life? It was the voice of fishermen and tentmakers that accomplished this. These humble men were more strong, more happy, and more powerful than all others because they had Christ.”

    Footnotes:

    Matthew 10:28. ESV.

    Acts 5:29.

    Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers. Acts 5:34. Gamaliel.

    Commentary on the Book of Acts. Acts 5:

Peter ElliottComment