Acts 5:37

Black on White

Thursday, 17 March 2022

After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. Acts 5:37

Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen)

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Gamaliel just gave an example from history concerning Theudas and his band of four hundred men. He now gives a second example, saying, “After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up.” Of this name, Charles Ellicott writes –

“In one passage Josephus (Ant. xviii. 1) calls him a Gaulonite—i.e., of the country east of Galilee. Had this stood alone, St. Luke might have been charged here also with inaccuracy; but in other passages (Ant. xx. 5, § 2; Wars, ii. 8, § 1) he is described as a Galilean.”

This leaves a couple of possibilities. One is that Josephus misidentified Judas at one time in his writings. Another is that two people are being referred to by Josephus. Or, possibly, it is the same person who is first identified by the place where he was born and then by the place he was most known for. No matter what, there is an extra-biblical note supporting Luke’s writing concerning the words of Gamaliel. This person named Judas was an actual historical figure who is being referred to. Of him, Gamaliel next says, “in the days of the census.”

This is also referred to by Josephus. Albert Barnes gives sufficient detail concerning his revolt as described by Josephus –

“He says that the revolt took place under ‘Cyrenius,’ a Roman senator, who came into ‘Syria to be judge of that nation, and to take account of their substance.’ ‘Moreover,’ says he, ‘Cyrenius came himself into Judea, which was now added to the province of Syria, to take an account of their substance, and to dispose of Archelaus’ money.’ ‘Yet Judas, taking with him Saddouk, a Pharisee, became zealous to draw them to a revolt, who both said that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty, etc.’ ‘This’ revolt, he says, was the commencement of the series of revolts and calamities that terminated in the destruction of the city, temple, and nation.”

Also, of this account, Charles Ellicott says, “He was assisted by a Pharisee, named Sadduk, and the absolute independence of Israel was the watchword of his followers. It was unlawful, in any form, to pay tribute to Cæsar. It was lawful to use any weapons in defence of freedom.”

This then probably explains the reason for the question presented to Jesus by the Pharisees –

“Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His talk. 16 And they sent to Him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, ‘Teacher, we know that You are true, and teach the way of God in truth; nor do You care about anyone, for You do not regard the person of men. 17 Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?’
18 But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, ‘Why do you test Me, you hypocrites? 19 Show Me the tax money.’
So they brought Him a denarius.
20 And He said to them, ‘Whose image and inscription is this?’
21 They said to Him, ‘Caesar’s.’
And He said to them, ‘Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ 22 When they had heard these words, they marveled, and left Him and went their way.” Matthew 22:15-22

This was something that would have been on the minds of the people throughout their time under Rome. If they had paid heed to the words of the Lord, things would have gone much better for them. As far as Judas, Luke continues Gamaliel’s words, saying, “and drew away many people after him.”

The lack of any specific number, unlike that of Theudas, seems to imply a greater number had followed Judas. As such, it would help explain why Gamaliel is giving a second example. The first was a man with a small force, comparable to that of David. However, where David was supported by the hand of God, Theudas was obviously not. His efforts failed. Now, Gamaliel refers to someone with a larger following, probably not unlike the number that were aligned with the teaching of Jesus, reaching into the thousands or maybe even tens of thousands by this point. However, of this Judas, Gamaliel notes that even with a larger force, “He also perished.”

Judas died or was taken prisoner by the Romans never to be heard from again. Either way, his time of leadership in the rebellion against Rome ended, “and all who obeyed him were dispersed.” Once the leader was gone, the movement allied with him ended. Those who were still alive simply went on with life, taking a new direction than the one they had been on under Judas.

Life application: It was noted above that a Pharisee named Sadduk accompanied Judas and had his own idea about how to handle the rule of Rome over them. When Jesus came, the Pharisees asked Him about this exact topic, wanting to see what He thought. They also were hoping to trap Him in His words. If He said, “No, you are not to pay taxes to Rome,” they would have had a reason to hand Him over to the Romans as an insurrectionist.

However, if He said, “Yes, you should pay the Romans,” the Pharisees would have then stirred up the people by saying, “This guy is a sellout to the Romans.” Either way, they planned to trap Jesus in His words, thus taking away His hand of guidance over the people who followed Him.

Jesus gave them an answer they were completely unprepared for. He showed that compliance with, and allegiance to, an earthly body does not mean people are being unfaithful to the Lord. Paul demonstrates this in his life and actions as well. Our duties to those over us in this world should be performed according to the station in which we are born and live. Likewise, our duties to God should be performed accordingly as well.

Let us remember this and let us live out our lives working in whatever country we are in as citizens of that country. At the same time, we are to be faithful citizens of the kingdom of the Lord Jesus, being obedient to His precepts as set forth in His word. When the two conflict, we are to defer to the Lord’s kingdom. When they do not, we should be obedient to both.

Lord God, give us wisdom in the conduct of our lives so that we will be good and faithful citizens of the nation in which we find ourselves, while still being obedient to the calling we have upon our lives in Your kingdom. May You be glorified in all that we do as we live our lives before You. Amen.