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 5:33-42
Three dynamics combine in these few verses to support the continued spread of the gospel on this occasion. The first is the dedication of Jesus’ followers – even in the face of fierce opposition, threat of death, and physical violence, all of which were designed to put a stop to their preaching. While there are times when opposition and threat will impede the message of the gospel. But sometimes God uses such opposition to embolden his witnesses. Such was the case here.
Then comes the wise counsel of Gamaliel. Past performance is never a guarantee of future returns. But past experience ought to teach us something. And in the case of failed movements of the past, Gamaliel’s advise is right: if this is from man, it will fail. If it is of God, it ought not be opposed – unless you want to oppose God himself.
His counsel is remarkable in that he opens the door to the possibility that Peter and the others are actually serving the cause of God. He is allowing the possibility that Jesus actually did rise from the dead, and that he is the Savior, the Christ of God. Such an allowance opens up a channel for the Holy Spirit’s work – even in the hearts of those who are opposed to the message of Jesus.
Add to all that the influence of the Holy Spirit who inspires these witnesses to rejoice that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of Jesus’ name. This attitude is not from man. It will not go away. It is from God and will sustain these followers of Jesus through their ministry.
So much of this applies to the specific situation and challenges Peter and the others were facing at this time. But perhaps we can take note of these lessons and seek in every way possible to align ourselves with God’s purposes, and plans. His plans are most often discovered only in retrospect. But his purposes are clear: the bring the Good News of Jesus to all people everywhere, with the call for us all to repent and believe in Christ who is Jesus.