33When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35Then he addressed them: "Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God."
40His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.
Rejoicing in their suffering
Why did the apostles speak so fearlessly? Because they had established certain spiritual priorities. during the earlier trial, Peter and John had phrased their priorities indirectly: 'Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge' (4:19). Now Peter and the others minced no words: 'We MUST obey God rather than men!"
In Greek, this mini-sermonette by Peter only included 50 words, however, those few words were packed with irritants for the Council. The final "jab" was in the last sentence when he speaks about the Holy Spirit being given to those who obey Him, implying that since the Council did not have the Spirit, they had not obeyed God. The faith that saves is the faith that obeys!
Kill the apostles was the first thought of the Council. If they had not been interrupted by Gamaliel, they would have undoubtedly taken action, probably stoning them as they did to Stephen. However, God had other plans. This is the first time we read of the Pharisees in the Book of Acts. (meaning The Separated Ones - they took pride in devoting themselves to the keeping of the Law to the smallest details. They were the ultra-conservative group of their time, we would call them "legalists" in our generation. Paul was a Pharisee as well as Nicodemus.)
FYI - The Pharisees differed from the Sadducees in a number of ways: They had no political ambitions; they believe in spirits, angels, and a resurrection from the dead; they were popular with the people; some of them became Christians; and their party continued to exist after the destruction of Jerusalem.
The Sadducee's dominated the Sanhedrin, but a few prominent Pharisees were on the Council, mostly in the position of scribes. Gamaliel was a distinguished Pharisee, Gamaliel the Elder, he wore the title Rabban, he was renowned for his piety. Which is why he was so respected in the Council and they listened to him about changing their plan of action to kill the apostles. First thing he said was "Remove the apostles from here for awhile" - in other words let's diffuse this situation. Secondly was to reason with the council, stop and think before rushing into a disastrous situation and consider the consequences.
Luke recorded Gamaliel's words to show how God used this famous teacher to preserve the lives of the apostles. Secondarily, he recorded the speech to show that fair-minded men could see that Christians were no threat to society. If Gamaliel had listened to his own advice, he would have become a Christian himself.
Flogging was no insignificant punishment,. Some who were beaten were crippled for life; some died under the whip; all bore the scars, physical and emotional, for the rest of their lives. To make the whips, multiple strips of leather were fastened to a handle. On the tips of the leather strips were bits of metal or bone that could cut into the flesh. A skilled executioner could cut a person's back in many places with each stroke. The Law allowed up to 40 strokes (Duet. 25:1-3). It was left to the discretion of the judges when a crime deserved a beating and how many lashes should be administered. The maximum administered was usually 39 (2 Cor. 11:24). Many think they stopped one short of 40 because if an executioner were over 40, the number of lashes he went over would be laid upon his own back. The outer and inner robes were removed or torn so that back was exposed. The victim's hands were fastened to a post. One executioner did the beating while another counted the strokes. All 12 men were beaten - likely a total of nearly 500 lashes.
The Council did not give orders to kill them, however they wanted to deter these men for repeating the offense.
Think about it. . . If the gospel could have been halted by a savage beating, the church would soon cease to exist! For the seeds of the kingdom are the words of God (Luke 8:11).
If the apostles had been like some of us, this verse might read: 'So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, weeping because they had been so mistreated' or 'They went on their way from the presence of the council, complaining because it was hard to be a follower of Jesus." Instead, they went on their way from the presence of the council, REJOICING that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name.!!!
Jesus had warned them they would be beaten (Mt. 10:17, Mark 13:9)
They were dignified by the indignity
Rejoicing in persecution is one of the hardest lessons for any of us to learn, YET the torture did not stop their teaching; pain did not stop their preaching; the Council's words did not halt their witness.
3 questions; 1. To what extent are you willing to suffer for the sake of sharing the gospel with others? 2. Have you ever thought of persecution as a blessing, as something worth rejoicing about? Could the Holy Spirit give you and me this same kind of boldness to spread the gospel?