Sour grape coloring…
Sunday, 20 March 2022
And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Acts 5:40
Note: You can listen to today’s commentary courtesy of our friends at “Bible in Ten” podcast. (Click Here to listen).
With Gamaliel’s recommendation now stated, Luke next records, “And they agreed with him.” His argument was convincing because it was based on precedent. Further, it was based on the assumption that if the movement of the apostles was simply the work of man, it would die out, but if it was truly the work of God, nothing could thwart it anyway. The advice was sound and reasonable. With that decided, they still could not let the apostles go away without a demonstration of their authority. Hence, it next says, “and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them.”
In such a tribunal, there must be a reason for such a punishment. However, none is given. It could be argued that Peter and John could be beaten because they had not obeyed the previous command given to them –
“So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.” Acts 4:18
However, none of the other apostles were present at that time. As such, it would be a stretch of the law to include them in a charge of disobedience. It could only be considered a crime of guilt by association. Regardless of this, the men were probably beaten with rods according to the words of Moses –
“If there is a dispute between men, and they come to court, that the judges may judge them, and they justify the righteous and condemn the wicked, 2 then it shall be, if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, that the judge will cause him to lie down and be beaten in his presence, according to his guilt, with a certain number of blows. 3 Forty blows he may give him and no more, lest he should exceed this and beat him with many blows above these, and your brother be humiliated in your sight.” Deuteronomy 25:1-3
Along with the beating, they were also given a charge, as Luke notes, “they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus.” It is the same command previously given. Like before, the Greek actually reads “upon the name of Jesus.” The command forbids them to speak on the authority of Jesus’ name. Unlike the charge in Acts 4, this time their directive came with an additional measure, beating them to hopefully ensure compliance. However, the apostles have already spoken as to the matter –
“But Peter and John answered and said to them, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’” Acts 4:19, 20
“But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.” Acts 5:29
Only time will tell if the beating they received will cause them to obey men rather than God. For now, Luke ends the verse saying, “and let them go.”
With no valid justification to further incarcerate or punish the apostles, the council allowed them to leave. But there was nothing recorded by Luke about one of the key points of the entire event. The council never asked (at least nothing is recorded concerning the matter) how the apostles got out of a locked and guarded prison in the middle of the night. It appears that they were truly afraid to ask that simple question because it might open up a can of worms that could possibly divide the council.
Paul will later use his knowledge of how the council operates to do exactly that as is recorded in Acts 23:9. For now, the apostles are free to go.
Life application: Paul, writing to the saints at Philippi, gave a strong exhortation to the church about a matter that first became evident in the account of Acts 5 –
“Only let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of your affairs, that you stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not in any way terrified by your adversaries, which is to them a proof of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that from God. 29 For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, 30 having the same conflict which you saw in me and now hear is in me.” Philippians 1:27-30
Though the punishment was minor at this time, the apostles did suffer for the sake of Christ. A beating with rods is no pleasant thing, and it is given to correct offenders. This means that the apostles were considered offenders by the leaders of Israel. Despite the warnings and the punishment, the apostles provided the “proof of perdition” to the council and the proof of “salvation” that they possessed.
The account in Acts is descriptive. It does not provide any command that we are to act in a like manner. But Paul’s words are prescriptive. He has built upon the acts of the apostles, including himself, a sound and reasonable directive for the church to live by. This has been accepted by many martyrs over the past two thousand years. It may be that even in once Christian-friendly nations, believers may be called to act in the same manner in the days ahead.
Be mentally prepared now to accept what comes, including suffering for the sake of Christ, as an acceptable demonstration of your faith. It is our calling, and it has been directed by God in His word. Stand fast and accept what comes with gladness that your name is written in heaven.
Heavenly Father, it is evident that faith in Jesus is becoming less tolerable to the leadership of many nations. Unless it is in a faith that is unbiblical. You have asked us to stand apart from perversion, idolatry, and all wickedness. Help us in this. As churches depart from the true faith, help those of us who hold fast to it to remain strong, never departing from the right and proper path. Amen.