17-26: The Sadducees were “filled with jealousy” so they had the apostles arrested. What a commentary on their motives! God’s will cannot be thwarted that easily, and he breaks them out of prison. Notice that God calls them to “proclaim all the words of this Life.” Some think that early Christianity was not only called “the Way” but “the Life.” Proclaiming “the Life” would mean telling people how they can have both eternal life and abundant life, since Jesus is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6).
27-32: The apostles declare to the authorities that they must obey God rather than man, and that is why they are proclaiming the gospel. They also confront the leaders with some uncomfortable truths:
- God raised Jesus from the dead.
- The religious leaders were the ones who had Him crucified.
- He is now exalted as Leader and Savior.
- It is through Him that Israel obtains repentance and forgiveness.
- The apostles are proclaiming what they experienced, and the Holy Spirit is helping them!
33-42: The religious leaders are infuriated and want to put them to death, but an influential Pharisees speaks out (who we find out later was Paul’s teacher). He uses two examples from the past to suggest that they should leave the apostles alone. Theudas (who we don’t have any outside sources about) and Judas (who we know from Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.23) both led movements that came to nothing. Gamaliel says that any movement that isn’t from God will fail, and that is why they don’t need to take action against the apostles. However, if a movement is from God, and they go against it, they are really fighting God. The council listens to him and ends up beating the apostles, reiterating that they shouldn’t preach about Jesus, and letting them go.
Verse 41 is significant: “So they left the council rejoicing because they had been considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name.” And they continued to preach! Throughout this entire passage we have an emphasis on following God regardless of the consequences. You could even say that joy flows from doing the right thing, even when the right thing is hard. This is the very lesson we learn from James:
James 1:2-4 “My brothers and sisters, consider it nothing but joy when you fall into all sorts of trials, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect effect, so that you will be perfect and complete, not deficient in anything. But if anyone is deficient in wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without reprimand, and it will be given to him.”