27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. 36 For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus. – Acts 5:27-42 ESV
The Sanhedrin had arrested the apostles and had them thrown in jail. Then God had released them and commanded them to get back to work. A little confused and embarrassed, the Sanhedrin had to have them arrested again and brought back for interrogation. Now, the apostles found themselves, once again, standing before the Jewish council, and the high priest reminded them: “We gave you strict orders never again to teach in this man’s name!” (Acts 5:28 NLT). And, as a result of their disobedience, they had created an incendiary situation in Jerusalem, even blaming the Sanhedrin for the death of Jesus. “…you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about him, and you want to make us responsible for his death!” (Acts 5:28 NLT). The high priest was simply stating the facts as he saw them. Nothing about his statements was false or inaccurate. The apostles had disobeyed their orders to cease and desist. On the occasion of their arrest, Peter and John had clearly stated, “Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20 NLT). And they had proved true to their word. And now, standing before the Sanhedrin yet again, Peter and the apostles affirm the high priests accusations in no uncertain terms.
29 But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed him by hanging him on a cross.” – Acts 5:29-30 NLT
They were not going to stop preaching, teaching and healing in Jesus’ name. They still held the Jewish leadership responsible for the death of Jesus. And they were not going to retract their story that Jesus had risen from the dead. In fact, Peter makes it clear that Jesus was not only alive, He was seated at the right hand of the Father, a clear reference to Jesus being the Son of God. And he presents himself and the rest of the apostles as clear evidence or proof that these things are true. Not only had they seen Jesus alive and watched Him ascend back into heaven, they had received the power of the Holy Spirit, as was clearly evident in all that they had done in the city of Jerusalem. These men, who at one time had been in hiding, immediately after the death of Jesus, had somehow been transformed and re-energized. Something had radically changed them, and the Sanhedrin were unable to recognize that this change was divinely ordained. All they saw was a growing group of radical troublemakers who were spouting heresy and leading the people astray. And because the Sanhedrin was made up primarily of Sadducees, who enjoyed a very comfortable relationship with the Roman government, they saw the apostles as dangerous and a threat to their way of life.
The words of Peter so infuriated the council, that they decided to kill them. Capital punishment sounded like the only plausible solution. But cooler heads prevailed. Luke records that a member of the Sanhedrin, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, spoke up and presented a well-reasoned argument. He reminded his fellow members that they had seen these kinds of thing before. There had been other insurgencies and revolutionaries show up over the years and, if given enough time, they had proven short-lived and no threat at all. He advised patience. He recommended that they do nothing rash. And he warned them to consider the possibility that, if this whole thing was of God, they would not only prove unsuccessful in their attempts to thwart it, they would be guilty of opposing God Himself. That last point seemed to get their attention. So, rather than have the apostles killed, they simply flogged them and warned them once again to never again speak in the name of Jesus again. Then, they released them.
What happens next is remarkable, and Luke, having been an eye-witness to these events, tells us exactly what happened. “The apostles left the high council rejoicing that God had counted them worthy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus” (Acts 5:41 NLT). These men had been flogged, an excruciating form of punishment reserved for the wicked. In the Mishnah, the oral record of Jewish law, that made up part of the Talmud, it is written, “And they shall justify the righteous and condemn the wicked: and it shall be if the wicked man deserve to be beaten [flogged], that the judge shall cause him to lie down and be beaten . . . forty [lashes].” And yet, after having been lashed or flogged 40 times, Luke records that these men walked away from the experience rejoicing. They saw their suffering as a form of honor, having allowed them to experience some of what Jesus, their Savior, had endured before His death. They saw their own suffering as something worth rejoicing about. That kind of mindset blows most of us away. It seems so odd and abnormal. It’s counter-intuitive. Nobody in their right mind rejoices in suffering. But we have to keep in mind that the apostles had watched their friend and Messiah undergo tremendous torture and an agonizing death by crucifixion – all on their behalf. They had seen Him suffer and die, so that they might have life. And they had encountered the risen Christ, even seeing the nail prints in His hands and feet and the wound from the spear in His side. They knew well the sufferings of Jesus. That’s how they could see their own suffering as cause for rejoicing. And the apostle Paul would pick up on this theme, chronicling his own suffering on behalf of Jesus.
23 “Are they servants of Christ? I know I sound like a madman, but I have served him far more! I have worked harder, been put in prison more often, been whipped times without number, and faced death again and again. 24 Five different times the Jewish leaders gave me thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. Once I spent a whole night and a day adrift at sea. 26 I have traveled on many long journeys. I have faced danger from rivers and from robbers. I have faced danger from my own people, the Jews, as well as from the Gentiles. I have faced danger in the cities, in the deserts, and on the seas. And I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not. 27 I have worked hard and long, enduring many sleepless nights. I have been hungry and thirsty and have often gone without food. I have shivered in the cold, without enough clothing to keep me warm.” – 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 NLT
Paul “boasted” about these things, because he saw them as badges of honor. He was proud of his many sufferings on behalf of Christ. He even states, “If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am” (2 Corinthians 11:30 NLT). And everything Paul endured on behalf of Christ had been in fulfillment of the words spoken by Christ to Ananias regarding Paul. “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16 NLT).
One of the things that should jump out at us from this story about the apostles and their joy at suffering for Jesus, is the powerful evidence it provides for the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. Think about it. What would have driven these men to endure what they did? Why in the world would they have risked their lives for something that was totally untrue? What would have possessed them to concoct a story about Jesus’ resurrection, and then endure arrest and flogging as a result? Not only does Luke provide us with evidence of the Spirit’s power, revealed in the miracles the apostles performed, we see it in the endurance they displayed. They kept teaching and preaching. They kept believing and obeying. Threats wouldn’t detract them. Flogging couldn’t dissuade them. Suffering wasn’t something to avoid at all costs, but something worthy of rejoicing in. Why? Because it meant that they were doing what they had been commanded to do. They were experiencing exactly what Jesus had said they would.
20 “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. 21 But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.” – John 15:20-21 ESV
It would be Peter who would later write these encouraging words. And he did so based on his own experience as one who suffered greatly on behalf of Jesus.
12 Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. 13 Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. – 1 Peter 4:12-13 NLT
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.