Gamaliel Cautions the Sanhedrin
The deaths of Ananias and Sappirah had a profound effect on other rich people who might have been contemplating doing the same thing, “By the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. They were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch. None of the rest dared to join them, however the people honoured them.”
Nobody knows for sure who the word “rest” refers to, but the statement that the “people” honoured them suggests the average person had no reason to fear the apostles.
It’s also possible we are over-thinking the phrase, and it means exactly what it says – nobody else wanted to join Ananias and Sappirah.
This appears to be the case in the next few verses, “More believers were added to the Lord, crowds of both men and women. They even carried out the sick into the streets, and put them on cots and mats, so that as Peter came by at the least his shadow would fall on some of them. Crowds also came together from the cities around Jerusalem, bringing sick people, and those who were tormented by unclean spirits: and they were all healed.”
The reference to Peter’s shadow being able to heal people, is indicative of the many superstitions and gods that the people who were staying in Jerusalem believed in. These beliefs would become major hurdles for the apostles to overcome as they spread the Word to other countries and regions.
The rest of Acts 5 deals with the Sanhedrin’s response to the “many signs and wonders”, “But the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy, and laid hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.”
But God had other plans, “But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors by night, and brought them out, and said, ‘Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people, all the words of this life.’ When they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and taught.”
In the morning, the Sanhedrin sent officers to bring them in for questioning, but of course they were not in the prison, “We found the prison shut and locked, and the guards standing before the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.”
Understandably, this caused great confusion. But then they discovered where they actually were, “Behold, the men whom you put in prison are in the temple, standing and teaching the people.”
The Sanhedrin knew they had a delicate situation on their hands and did not want to stir up the people, in case they started to vent their anger by stoning them. So they brought the apostles to the court without using any violence to answer to them, “The high priest questioned them, saying, ‘Did not we strictly command you not to teach in this name? Behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us!'”
Luke does not say which of the apostles had been arrested, it may have been just Peter and John, or all twelve. But it was Peter who answered on behalf of them, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed, hanging him on a tree. God exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins. We are witnesses of these things; and so also is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The Wisdom of Gamaliel
“But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and wanted to kill them. But one stood up in the council, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, honoured by all the people, and commanded to put the men outside for a little while.”
Gamaliel, also known as “Gamaliel the Elder”, still holds today, a reputation in the Jewish Mishnah for being one of the greatest teachers in all the annals of Judaism, “Since Rabban Gamaliel the Elder died, there has been no more reverence for the Law, and purity and piety died out at the same time”. His opinion would have been held in high regard by the Sanhedrin on that day.
He said to them, “You men of Israel, be careful concerning these men, what you are about to do. For some time ago Todah rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed.
Now I tell you, keep away from these men, and leave them alone. For if their counsel or this work is of man, it will be overthrown. But if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them, and you would be found even to be fighting against God.
And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for Jesus’ name. And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
What we see in Acts 5, is God intervening to have the prisoners released and the wisdom of a man to intervene with logic, in the highest court of the land. It is a major victory for the apostles, and a major defeat for the Sanhedrin.