Acts 5:39

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Saturday, 19 March 2022

but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God. Acts 5:39

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).

Gamaliel has given two examples of groups that fizzled out after their leaders died. After that, he gave his recommendation concerning the apostles, saying, “let them alone.” He then gave a part of his reasoning for this with the words, “for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing.” Now, he will finish his words with a contrasting reason why they should be left alone. That begins with, “but if it is of God.”

It is interesting that the mood of these words is different than the previous clause. There, the verb was in the subjunctive mood. Now it is in the indicative mood. Cambridge notes the difference saying, “The verb is not in the same mood as in the previous clause, and had the construction been in classical Greek, it might have indicated some opinion on Gamaliel’s part of the truth of Christianity = ‘If it is [as it is] of God.’ But in the N. T. the construction indicates no more than a simple conditional.”

Regardless of it being a simple conditional, Gamaliel has chosen his words to make a contrast between the two states. One is hypothetically from man; the other is questioned if it is really from God. If it is so, there will be a marked difference in the outcome.

Man’s work will find success or failure based on innumerable circumstances. But in the case of the nation of Israel, there is a more important element at work. Gamaliel understood this. The Lord Himself watches over the people, and He determines what their outcome will be based upon their relationship with Him.

This precept is found time and again in Deuteronomy. It is then confirmed in the prophetic writings, and it is evidenced throughout the historical writings. Clear examples of this are seen, for example, in the Song of Moses, such as –

“How could one chase a thousand,
And two put ten thousand to flight,
Unless their Rock had sold them,
And the Lord had surrendered them?” Deuteronomy 32:30

If the Lord is on the side of a person who is striving to overthrow Roman authority, nothing could stop him from doing so –

“You will chase your enemies, and they shall fall by the sword before you.
Five of you shall chase a hundred, and a hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight;
your enemies shall fall by the sword before you.” Leviticus 26:7, 8

However, if the Lord is not with him, his attempt will fail, and he will perish. This is the point of Gamaliel’s mentioning of Theudas and Judas of Galilee. On the other hand, David had the Lord with him, and he prevailed over his foes, attained the position of king, and ruled the land. As such, his counsel is that if the movement of the apostles is led by God, “you cannot overthrow it.”

He is speaking to the spiritual leaders of the nation about matters that will affect the destiny of the nation. Gamaliel was aware of the words of Moses. If a movement had arisen that was spiritually correct before God because it was in accord with the words of Moses, and which was also confirmed by the prophets, then it absolutely could not fail. God knew the future, spoke forth through the prophets what would happen, and so it was impossible that what was prophesied could be thwarted.

The apostles had presented their case to the people, their words were heard and understood by those in the council, and they claimed that Jesus was the promised Messiah. If these things were true, and if the council continued to resist them and their message, there would be consequences. Gamaliel notes this as he finishes, saying, “lest you even be found to fight against God.”

This is a word, an adjective, found only here in Scripture, theomachos. Being an adjective, it literally means, “God-fighters.” Its kindred verb is found in Acts 23:9 when Paul was brought before this same council –

“Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees’ party arose and protested, saying, ‘We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God.’”

Though nothing in history speaks of Gamaliel as a saved person, his words seem to indicate that he may have suspected that the message of the apostles was true. His words, and the way they are presented, demonstrate the thoughts of a person who is carefully watching the unfolding events of history, evaluating them from the lens of the writings which established his people, and looking to see if what those writings said matched up with the very events that were occurring before his eyes.

What he says now is certainly in accord with what Peter and the other apostles had just said moments before, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). As noted then, if the words of the apostles were true, and if they were rightly following God because of faith in Christ, it meant that the Mosaic Covenant had found its fulfillment and its end in Jesus. The hope of the New Covenant was what they proclaimed had come through His completed work. Gamaliel’s words demonstrate caution be exercised by those with whom he sat to judge.

Life application: The directions for our walk before the Lord are found in the New Testament epistles. We have entered into a New Covenant. It is not possible to have one foot in the law and one foot in Christ. The two are wholly incompatible.

As such, the warnings of the epistles are clear and unambiguous. One will either follow Christ or he will return to the law. Only one path can be taken, and there will be judgment based on which path was decided upon. If a person is saved, he is saved. That will not be lost, but to return to adherence to the law will mean zero rewards for that person.

Be wise, be circumspect, and put your faith and trust solely in the merits of Jesus Christ. What you do while in that state will be evaluated and either be counted as loss and burned up, or it will be counted as gain and be purified. For the one who returns to the law, there will only be loss. Jesus didn’t come and complete His job just so that we could try to do better after He left. What He did was perfect, fully sufficient, and finished – once and for all time.

Thank You, Lord God, for the sure hope we possess in Christ. Our salvation isn’t just given to us, it is guaranteed to us! We have an absolute hope of eternal life because of the work of Jesus. Thank You for this surety we now have! Amen and amen.