While the church grew rapidly after Pentecost, the threats and shows of force of the authorities focused on the apostles. Driven by jealousy, fear, and rage, the Jewish authorities attempted to silence the apostles. But the apostles just couldn’t stay locked up! Nor could they stop teaching about Jesus! They wanted to “obey God rather than human beings” (Acts 5:29). Let’s look at the second example of the apostles on trial before the authorities in the book of Acts. As we’ll see, they’ll find an unlikely advocate from among the Sanhedrin itself.

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The Apostles Appear Before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:27–42)

Confronted with yet another miraculous event, it seems that the leaders finally recognize the hand of God on this movement. Yet they remain staunchly opposed. Some members of the council want the apostles put to death not only because of their opposition to the Messianic sect. But also due to their own vindictiveness at the apostles’ accusation of their complicity in the death of Jesus. One moderating voice among the Jewish rulers, however, advises proceeding with caution and discernment. Gamaliel’s counsel prevails and the Apostles receive flogging and then released.

Determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood

We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”

Acts 5:28

This is indeed the same council who a short time earlier sentenced Jesus of Nazareth to death. The chief priest and members of the Sanhedrin regarded Jesus’ death as just punishment due to him for blaspheming God. They vehemently object to the apostles’ accusation that there were other motives for inflicting the death penalty on Jesus.

The God of our fathers

The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead —whom you killed by hanging him on a cross.

Acts 5:30

This way of addressing God demonstrates that Peter does not now dissociate himself from his Judaism. He still embraces it as his heritage. The Christian faith is the fulfilment, not the contradiction, of Judaism rightly understood. This was a common way of referring to God in the Old Testament and Judaism. The title distinguished the one true God from the gods of the nations. It also highlighted the personal nature of God, who directly revealed himself to the patriarchs.

By hanging him on a tree

The “tree” does not indicate a live tree, but the wood used to construct a stake or a pole. Peter’s remarks echo Deuteronomy 21:22–23: “If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse.” Of course, Jesus was accursed, but thereby freed us from the curse that the law brought on us (see Gal. 3:13–14).


God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins.

Acts 5:31

As used here, this title is similar to “Lord” (kyrios). In the Greek Old Testament, “prince” (archēgos) also refers to the head of a tribe (Num. 10:4), a commander in an army (1 Chron. 26:26), or a leader among the people (Isa. 3:6–7).


The prophet Isaiah declares, “The LORD has made proclamation to the ends of the earth, ʻSay to the Daughter of Zion, See, your Savior comes’” (Isa. 62:11). Peter now announces to the chief priest and all the members of the Sanhedrin that the Savior has arrived. The Old Testament often speaks of God as Savior for his mighty deliverance of the people of Israel from their slavery in Egypt (see Ps. 95:1). Now the title applies to Jesus, the Son of God, who has delivered people from a different type of bondage.

Rabban Gamaliel, the Elder

Gamaliel was famous in Judaism, recognized as the greatest teacher of his day (roughly A.D. 25–50). He was the grandson of Hillel, for whom an entire school of thought existed within Pharisaism. Among Christians, he is best known for his role as the spiritual father and teacher to the young Saul of Tarsus (Acts 22:3).

Although some scholars have erroneously regarded him as the president of the Sanhedrin at this time (an office that properly belonged to the high priest), he was nevertheless the most respected man of the Sanhedrin and the leader of the Pharisaic party. It is said in the Mishnah that, “when Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, the glory of the Law ceased and purity and abstinence died.”

The Mishnah refers to him repeatedly appealing to his authority for many of the laws regulating the Sabbath, certificates of divorce, the recitation of blessing at a meal, harvesting, tithing, dough offerings, among many others.

Gamaliel also left a significant legacy through his descendants. His son Yeshua served as high priest in A.D. 63–65. Another son, Simeon, became a famous rabbi who is cited repeatedly throughout the Mishnah. His grandson, Gamaliel II, also became a famous rabbi allegedly training over a thousand disciples.

A Pharisee

But 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.

Acts 5:34

One of the three major sects of Judaism, the Pharisees constituted the single most important party and come closest to representing “normative Judaism.” In essence, Pharisaism was not a political party or a party of the “clergy.” It was a lay society that emphasized a rigorous commitment to obeying the Torah. Not only was every word of the written Torah binding, but also the interpretation and explanation of Torah provided by the Scribes. Josephus notes, “the Pharisees have imposed on the people many laws from the tradition of the fathers not written in the Law of Moses.”

A strong rivalry existed between the Pharisees and the Sadducees because the latter saw only the Torah as binding, not the many oral traditions of the Pharisees. Although the Sadducees had significant influence because of their wealth and control of the priesthood, the great majority of the people sided with the Pharisees, seeing them as the upholders of the law.


Some 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.

Acts 5:36

There is no information about this Theudas outside of the New Testament. There were many insurgents after the death of Herod the Great (4 B.C.) and, presumably, he was one of them. This Theudas has sometimes been confused with another revolutionary leader of the same name who led an uprising during the procuratorship of Cuspius Fadus (A.D. 44–46), but this does not take place for another ten years (if Josephus’ dating of this Theudas can be trusted). Nevertheless, the story of this later Theudas is instructive as an example of the insurgent activity.

A Later Theudas (according to Josephus)

Now it came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain magician, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it; and many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them; who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, and cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem. This was what befell the Jews in the time of Cuspius Fadus’s government.

Judas the Galilean

After 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.

Acts 5:37

Gamaliel refers to the seditious activities of a man who came on the scene shortly after Herod the Great’s son Archelaus was deposed from his rulership of Judea and a Roman procuratorship was established (A.D. 6). Josephus explains what happened: “The territory of Archelaus was brought under direct Roman rule, and a man of equestrian rank at Rome, Coponius, was sent as procurator with authority from Caesar to inflict the death penalty. In his time a Galilean named Judas tried to stir the natives to revolt, saying that they would be cowards if they submitted to paying taxes to the Romans, and after serving God alone accepted human masters. This man was a rabbi with a sect of his own, and was unlike the others.”

Josephus credits Judas the Galilean and his companion, Sadduk the Pharisee, with the rise of the entire Zealot movement—the fourth Jewish “philosophy” that ultimately led to the revolt against Rome.

In the days of the census

Josephus informs us that this census took place under the direction of P. Sulpicius Quirinius, the governor of the Roman province of Syria. This is the same Quirinius who earlier directed a census on behalf of Caesar Augustus at the time of Jesus’ birth. Quirinius came into Judea, now part of the Roman province of Syria, to take account of its wealth and to assess it for the purposes of taxation. The Jewish people were upset with this action, but the high priest Joazar intervened and quelled their fears somewhat with a stirring appeal. It was this census that prompted Judas to revolt and excited the Jews about fighting for liberty from foreign rule and oppression. He admonished the people to take action by insisting that “taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery.”

But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men

But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

Acts 5:39

Gamaliel gives sound and temporizing advice to the council—something that did not happen when Jesus stood before the same group. His comments echo the instructions given in the Torah about discerning a prophet that was sent from God: “You may say to yourselves, ʻHow can we know when a message has not been spoken by the LORD?’ If what a prophet proclaims in the name of the LORD does not take place or come true, that is a message the LORD has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously. Do not be afraid of him” (Deut. 18:21–22). A later rabbi reflects a similar principle: “R. Johanan the Sandal-maker said: Any assembling together that is for the sake of Heaven shall in the end be established, but any that is not for the sake of Heaven shall not in the end be established.”

Had them flogged

His 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.

Acts 5:40

Rather than let the apostles go again with a stern warning, the council orders a severe beating. The word used here, derō, literally means to “flay, skin,” but it has come to be used in a figurative sense for a flogging. The law governing flogging is given in Deuteronomy 25:1–4, which limited the number of lashes to forty. This was later reduced by the synagogue to thirty-nine, as Josephus attests: “But for him that acts contrary to this law, let him be beaten with forty stripes, save one, by the public executioner; let him undergo this punishment, which is a most ignominious one for a free man.”

Instructions on Flogging

An entire tractate of the Mishnah—Makkoth (stripes)—is devoted to delineating the infractions that warrant flogging as well as the methods and procedures for carrying it out. The following excerpt explains:

How do they scourge him? They bind his two hands to a pillar on either side, and the minister of the synagogue lays hold on his garments . . . so that he bares his chest. A stone is set down behind him on which the minister of the synagogue stands with a strap of calf-hide in his hand, doubled and re-doubled, and two other straps that rise and fall are fastened thereto.

He must give him one-third of the stripes in front and two-thirds behind; and he may not strike him when he is standing or when he is sitting, but only when he is bending low, for it is written, “the judge shall cause him to lie down” [Deut. 25:2]. And he that smites, smites with his one hand with all his might . . . If he dies under his hand, the scourger is not culpable.

As the accused suffers his beating, another person stands by and reads from Deuteronomy 28:58–63 (“If you do not carefully follow all the words of this law…”) repeatedly throughout the beating.

The Apostles teach from house to house

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.

Acts 5:42

Apart from the large gatherings in the temple courts, the thousands of believers in Jerusalem regularly meet in smaller groups in private homes throughout the city. For those who have become Christians, there is a lot to learn—all that Jesus has said and done as well as a fresh perspective on the Hebrew Scriptures in light of their fulfillment in Christ. Apparently the apostles divide up the task of teaching by each going to a set group of homes where believers gathered. The teaching responsibilities for the apostles is enormous.

The good news that Jesus is the Christ

The heart of the apostles’ evangelistic message is that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the longed-for Messiah of Jewish expectation.

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