Black with white.
Wednesday, 16 March 2022
For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. Acts 5:36
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)
You can also read this commentary, with music, courtesy of our friends at “Discern the Bible” on YouTube. (Click Here to listen), or at Rumble (Click Here to listen).
The advice from Gamaliel concerning the apostles is now to be given, but before actually providing his recommendation, he gives background data that will lead to his recommendation. What he says is from the historical record, and it details things the council would have been fully aware of. The first example begins with the words, “For some time ago Theudas rose up.”
Bringing in the name Theudas causes scholars a great deal of difficulty. The only known Theudas outside of the Bible is found in the writings of Josephus. However, he is placed later in history by Josephus than Gamaliel’s speech now. As such, some find Luke’s words an anachronism. A great deal is written on the inclusion of this name now, but the Pulpit commentary gives three options concerning him that allow for the biblical account to stand as correct –
“1. Josephus may have misplaced the adventure of Theudas by some accidental error. Considering the vast number of Jewish insurrections from the death of Herod the Great to the destruction of Jerusalem, such a mistake is not very improbable. 2. There may have been two adventurers of the name of Theudas, one in the reign of Augustus Caesar, and the other in the reign of Claudius; and so both the historians may be right, and the apparent discrepancy may have no real existence (see Wordsworth, in loc.). 3. The person named Theudas by Gamaliel may be the same whom Josephus speaks of (‘Bell. Jud.,’ it. 4:2) by the common name of Simon, as gathering a band of robbers around him, and making himself king at Herod’s death (‘Sonntag,’ cited by Meyer, etc.). But he was killed by Gratus, and the insurrection suppressed. A variety in this last mode has also been suggested (Kitto’s ‘Cyclopaedia’), viz. to understand Theudas to be an Aramaic form of Theodotus, and the equivalent Hebrew form of Theodotus to be מַתִתְיָה, Matthias, and so the person meant by Theudas to be a certain Matthias who with one Judas made an insurrection, when Herod the Great was dying, by tearing down the golden eagle which Herod had put over the great gate of the temple, and who was burnt alive with his companions, after defending his deed in a speech of great boldness and constancy (‘Ant. Jud’ 17:6).”
The first option, as noted, is not improbable. Josephus is often cited as an absolute authority when someone wants to defend his opinion concerning one matter or another. However, in comparing the writings of Josephus to Scripture an almost infinite number of discrepancies arise between the two. What he says will often deviate significantly from a plain reading of the Scriptures.
Therefore, and because of the reliability of the Bible, it is always best to defer to it and only to cite Josephus when his writings contain unique accounts that cannot be verified elsewhere. His writings are important, but they are certainly not inspired.
But just as important concerning this is that the details of Josephus concerning his account do not match what is stated in this verse by Gamaliel. To assume that Josephus is correct, and that Luke made such a blundering error, shows a bias against the writings of Luke, and a bias against the Bible, picking one similarity and disregarding other differences.
With this understood, Gamaliel continues with his reference to Theudas, saying that he rose up “claiming to be somebody.” The meaning of this is that Theudas put himself forth as an authority figure who was worth being heeded and who was also deemed worthy of being followed – “I am divinely appointed by God to deliver Israel! Men… Follow me!”
It is to be remembered that Gamaliel is giving examples that are to be taken in the context of the claims of the apostles. Therefore, Theudas’ “claiming to be somebody” is to be set parallel to the thought that “the apostles claim that Jesus is somebody.” In other words, Gamaliel is using a historical account to build a case based on precedent in order to make a decision. As such, he continues with, “A number of men, about four hundred, joined him.”
The number is not large compared to the Roman army, nor is it especially large in relation to many other groups of insurrectionists that might arise in hopes of overthrowing a sizeable army. Despite this, it is the same size of force that David originally had when he broke away from Saul –
“David therefore departed from there and escaped to the cave of Adullam. So when his brothers and all his father’s house heard it, they went down there to him. 2 And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him. So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him.” 1 Samuel 22:1, 2
However, this band of four hundred eventually grew into a large fighting force. Later, David became the ruler of all of Israel. Again, the account must be set in parallel to what Gamaliel is saying.
David had been chosen by the Lord to be the next king. He was anointed as such by Samuel. And though his army started small, it grew into a vast kingdom of great power. The Scriptures reveal that God was behind the actions of David, and therefore David became the great leader of his people and the king of his nation. God’s will and purposes could not be thwarted. On the other hand, Theudas had an army of the same size as David. And yet, “He was slain.”
In David’s battles, he did the slaying. Again, and again, the Bible records the magnificent fighting and leadership abilities of David. God had chosen the man, He was there with the man, and thus David was unstoppable as he defeated the enemies of God’s people. Instead of being slain in battle, he died in his own bed, having seen the continuance of his kingdom through the establishment of his own son, Solomon, as king in his place with all of Israel subject to him. As for Theudas, Gamaliel says, “and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing.”
David and his four hundred grew into the leaders of an entire nation. He appointed those with him to leadership positions, and rewarded those who were faithful subjects. Theudas, on the other hand, was defeated in battle, lay slain in the dust, and his followers dispersed. And the reason is obvious, no group of people of sane mind would continue to follow a slain leader who accomplished nothing he had set out to do.
And again, the parallel to Jesus and the apostles must be considered. This small band of apostles had grown into a very sizeable following because of the message they conveyed to the people. Their Leader had also been slain, but His death was both a part of what was supposed to happen, and it was not the end of the story the apostles spoke forth. Instead, Jesus had risen in victory. And the Foe was not merely an oppressive ruler over the people. Rather, it was the power of Satan himself that Jesus had defeated.
Death had been defeated, and a new life had come out of what Jesus had done. Gamaliel is making a point. If the message of the apostles is true, whatever the council decided must take that into consideration. David and his four hundred eventually led to an eternal dynasty –
“When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. 15 But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.” 2 Samuel 7:12-16
On the other hand, Theudas and his four hundred men came to nothing. The difference between the two is whether their actions met with the approval of the Lord or not.
Life application: Many people have built great and lasting dynasties. This does not mean that the people rightly followed God and were set in place because He approved of them. But they could not have arisen to such positions unless God had allowed them to do so.
We cannot make the assumption that just because someone is powerful or wealthy that they are right with the Lord. However, the power and wealth of that person ultimately came from the Lord allowing it to be so. Likewise, a person who is faithful to the Lord may be poor, he may have no authority, he may be a minister with a very small ministry, or he may be a cripple or someone who even dies at an early age.
The main thing that we need to guide our lives is faithfulness to the Lord. Whatever else happens, good or bad, is what the Lord allows in our lives. It may actually be more difficult to be faithful to the Lord when one has great power, wealth, and abundance. How easy it is to forget the Lord in such circumstances!
Let us remember to be faithful no matter what our lot in life is. The life that is truly life is ahead, and the Lord will reward our faithfulness in a way that we cannot yet even imagine.
Lord God, Your will in our lives! May that be the driving motivation in all that we do. Help us to focus on that which is truly of value and not on the temporary, fleeting pleasures of this life we currently live. Help us! Give us strength and wisdom to be faithful to You as we walk down this temporary path on the way to glory. Amen.