The Sadducees are both furious and afraid of the apostles. Furious because they believe the apostles are trying to bring Jesus’ blood down upon them. In other words, they think they are trying to stir up a mob. Afraid, because the apostles are now gaining in popularity in the entire region. They are worried that the apostles might become popular enough to be able to put a mob together. Today we continue the trial of the apostles from Acts 5:27-32.
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The prosecution has made their accusation. The first charge is insubordination, a misdemeanor. You did not obey us when we “charged you not to teach in this name” (Acts 5: 28a). The second charge is more serious, endangering the life of a public official. The Sadducees, and likely most of the rest of the Sanhedrin, believe the apostles “intend to bring this man’s blood upon” (Acts 5: 28b) them. Now it is the defense’s turn to speak.
In regards to the first charge, insubordination, Peter and the apostles respond with virtually the exact same words that he and John responded with in Acts 4:19-20, where the Sanhedrin initially “charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” (Acts 4:18)
But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
Except for this time, they don’t form it into a question. The words in Acts 4:19-20 are spoken by men who have never been in a situation like this. In Acts 5:29, they make a clear and firm statement regarding where they believe their obligations lie. They do not mince words. “We must obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29)
The apostles’ response to the second charge is where the fireworks happen. Not only do they not refute the charges, but they also repeat them point blank, except placed in the context of the resurrection. “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree.” (Acts 5:30). Their response further demonstrates to us, the reader, that the apostles were genuine and consistent with their teachings. They are not saying these things because they were trying to politically overcome the Sadducees by stirring up a rabble out for blood against them. That is what the Sadducees fear because they are political men. The apostles are not political men, they are spiritual men. They are witnesses of Christ. The apostles bear a faithful witness regarding the resurrection but refuse to omit the Sanhedrin’s part. Like all men, they must see their part in crucifying Christ and repent. Remember, all Peter’s previous sermons laid the crucifixion of Christ at the feet of his audience. This is not Peter being mouthy or intentionally provocative.
Acts 2:23- you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Pentecost)
Acts 3:15- you killed the author of life (Temple/Lame man)
Acts 4:10- Jesus Christ of nazareth, whom you crucified (First trial)
They start with the good news of the resurrection and carry them through to the coming of the Holy Spirit. Let’s look at what they say in its entirety.
“We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The apostles must obey God rather than men because they are witnesses of the Son of God. They are compelled to speak by the Holy Spirit and their commission from Christ Matthew 28:18-20. They will not pass over the Sanhedrin’s sin because they love them. They boldly place it within the context of the resurrection of Christ. Before they get to the successful conspiracy to murder Christ, they start with Christ’s victorious resurrection over all conspiracies against the Triune God. Sin is forgiven, the grave conquered, the Enemy thrown down, and all his hosts made a spectacle. “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” (Colossians 2:15). “The God of our fathers raised Jesus.” (Acts 5:30a)
“Whom you killed by hanging him on a tree” (Acts 5:30b). They were the agents of His betrayal. They were responsible for handing Him over to the Romans for crucifixion. But, “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” (Acts 5:31). Jesus lives now eternally as King, and He offers forgiveness to all who bow to Him. These men can bow the knee to Christ. Some of their members have already bowed their knee to Him. Joseph of Arimathea retrieved the body of our Lord from the cross, showing his public faith in Christ. He was a member of the council (Luke 23). Nicodemus brought spices for Jesus’ burial in John 19. He was a ruler of the Jews (John 3). He was a member of the council. Barnabas sold his field and laid it at the apostles’ feet. He was a Levite, a teacher of the people. There is forgiveness for all who bow the knee. There is a man that is likely on this council, sitting in the very room right now, who will later bow the knee and even join the ranks of the apostles themselves, Saul of Tarsus, who we know as the apostle Paul. There is the possibility of faith and repentance among these men too.
“And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:32) They have seen these things first-hand. They can swear to the facts of their case. Remember, we are at a trial. But there is another Who bears witness too. The Holy Spirit bears witness. He is Present, and the power of the apostles to work signs and wonders demonstrates his Presence. If their words were lies, would they be able to heal people? Would they do so much good? The apostles’ could respond with Jesus,
If I am not doing the works of my Father, then do not believe me; 38 but if I do them, even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.”
Let me re-write it in a way that would apply to the apostles. We are doing these wonders and signs in Jesus’ name. Believe us that we are telling the truth about Jesus, and if you do not believe us, believe because of the very wonders and signs we are doing. “We are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 5:32)
May God be with you!