Acts 5:17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.
The religious leaders were accustomed to being honored by the people, but the apostles were doing so many miracles (Acts 5:12), that God was clearly with them. Losing their prestige made the religious leaders jealous, so they had the apostles arrested and thrown in jail.
But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. Go, stand in the temple courts, he said, and tell the people all about this new life (Acts 5:19-20).
We should not overlook the angelic designation of Christianity as this new life. The apostles had lives before they met Jesus. They worked, they got married, they had children—it was life. But after they met Jesus their lives were dramatically changed. It was often more difficult, but also much fuller. I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10), said Jesus.
A friend of mine went through cancer, and he was surprisingly changed by it. He said, Before the cancer I was caught up in the normal things of life: family, friends and career. But during the cancer I discovered that life is all about God: beginning, middle and end. This is the life the apostles preached through faith in Jesus Christ. [J]ust as Christ was raised from the dead . . . we too may live a new life (Romans 6:4), wrote Paul. Christianity is a brand new life, with Jesus at the center.
Acts 5:31 God exalted [Jesus] to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.
The apostles were brought before the court to give an account of their preaching. Along with the message of forgiveness, they insisted on repentance from both the nation and the court. They had killed the Son of God, and you cannot have a relationship with God if you are not sorry for killing his Son. All God wanted was for them to repent.
Jesus told the story of prodigal son who took his father’s wealth and wasted it in on wild living. It was fun for a while, but when the money ran out, he found himself in squalor. Then, we read, he came to his senses (Luke 15:17). This is the beginning of repentance.
Repentance is not feeling bad about yourself, although it may include that. It is not a promise of perfection, since we will never be perfect in this life. It is not even a promise never to do something again, since that is the most broken promise on earth.
Repentance is agreeing with God against yourself, and turning back in his direction. When the prodigal son came to his senses he went back home with words: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you (Luke 15:18). His father was so thrilled that he ran to him, embraced him, and kissed him (Luke 15:20). That is how God treats us whenever we come back to him through faith in Jesus Christ.
Acts 5:33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.
The high court was clearly wrong, and knew they were wrong, but would not admit they were wrong. As a result, they became so angry that they wanted to kill the apostles. When people are wrong, and will not admit it, they often become angry.
I went out for coffee with a Christian gentleman who was guilty of sin, but refused to admit it. He had many explanations, none of which were valid, so I continued to press him. First I watched him become angry, then hostile, then so furious I thought he would strike me. I was glad we were in public or I might have been hurt. The high court was also furious, and wanted to hurt the apostles.
Acts 5:34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin.
Gamaliel was a leading scholar, and the Apostle Paul’s teacher before Paul was converted to Christ. Gamaliel spoke sense to the court, and was able to calm it down. They decided not to kill the apostles, only to have them flogged. But this was more than a slap on the wrist.
If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves, but the judge must not impose more than forty lashes (Deuteronomy 25:2-3), wrote Moses.
The Jews limited the number of lashes to thirty-nine, to allow for miscounting, but it was still severe. Professional floggers were expected to flog with all their might. Using rods or leather, they gave two blows to the back, and one to the chest, repeated thirteen times. After receiving such a beating we might expect the apostles to be discouraged, but surprisingly, they were not.
Acts 5:41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.
While they were being flogged, the apostles probably thought about the flogging Jesus received before his crucifixion. Unlike the Jews, the Romans were not bound to thirty-nine lashes, but went as long as they liked. The whips were made of leather, embedded with chunks of lead and bone, designed to tear away flesh and muscle. Many who were flogged by the Romans died as a result.
When the apostles thought of the flogging Jesus received, compared to the flogging they received, they were happy to share in the sufferings of Christ. Most of our sufferings are not related to the fact that we are Christians, but they can turn our thoughts to the sufferings of Christ. Then they will serve a good purpose, and help us stay close to him.
Reflection and Review
Why is Christianity called a new life?
Why does God require repentance?
Why were the apostles happy to suffer?