From our sermon series “Acts of the Apostles: The First Thirty Years.”
Today we will continue looking at Acts 5:33-42. It is part of Acts 5:17-42, which covers one event, the second trial involving an apostle. The first trial was in Acts 4 and involved only Peter and John after Peter healed the lame man at the Temple gate in Acts 3. At the end of that trial, the apostles were commanded by the Sanhedrin to no longer preach in the name of Christ.
Gamaliel is going to speak on the apostles’ behalf, but he doesn’t want to give the apostles any ammunition to use against anyone later. That’s why he has them placed outside.
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.
Gamaliel advises the council to “take care what you are about to do with these men.” Remember that this is a time of expectation for the Hebrew people. The prophecies of Daniel told them that the Messiah would arise in this time period.
24 “Seventy weeks are decreed about your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to put an end to sin, and to atone for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal both vision and prophet, and to anoint a most holy place. 25 Know therefore and understand that from the going out of the word to restore and build Jerusalem to the coming of an anointed one, a prince, there shall be seven weeks. Then for sixty-two weeks it shall be built again with squares and moat, but in a troubled time. 26 And after the sixty-two weeks, an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing.
Let me explain this if I can. Seven weeks, each day being a year, is forty-nine years. That is the time it took to rebuild the Temple during the return led by Ezra and Nehemiah. Sixty-two weeks, each day being a year, is four hundred and thirty-four years. That is the length of time the new Temple would be in service before the anointed one comes.
Four hundred and eighty-three years pass, and then AFTERWARD, in the middle of the seventieth week completing the seventy weeks of Daniel (3 ½ day/years is the length of Jesus’ ministry), the Messiah was cut off (crucified) not for himself but for his people. The Gospel was completed within the 490 years of the return as prophesied by Daniel.
Matthew lays it out the prophetic time period a little differently, but let me show you that the math is the same . He writes in Matthew chapter 1 after laying out the genealogy of Jesus connecting Him to Abraham and David,
“So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.” (Matthew 1:17)
“From the deportation (captivity) to Babylon to the Christ is fourteen generations.” Fourteen generations multiplied by forty years, the Biblical definition of a generation, comes to five hundred and sixty years. They were in captivity for seventy years. So we need to subtract the length of time they were in captivity away as Daniel’s prophecy is timed from the end of their captivity in Babylon. His prophecy uses the decree to return and rebuild the wall and the city by Artaxerxes as the marker to begin the prophetic count.
40 years of a biblical generation
x 14 generation from captivity to Christ
560 years from deportation to the Christ
– 70 years in captivity until the call to return and build the city under Artaxerxes
My point is that the Jews are aware of Daniel’s prophecy. They are in a heightened state of expectation. They were expecting a military genius who was also a skilled leader to arise from the house of David and lead Israel in ridding their land of the Romans and re-establishing Israel as THE regional power as it had been under Solomon. Jesus is not the only person to have come along recently saying he was the Messiah. He is the only true Messiah. But others had tried to fit the mold of what the Jews were looking for in a messiah. Gamaliel mentions two of the most recent ones by name.
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.
Others will come along even after this period. Until Rome breaks through the wall of Jerusalem in 70 AD, there will be men who will claim to be the anointed one. From this point until the end of the Israeli civilization in 70 AD, the Romans and Jews lived in constant struggle. The Sanhedrin’s rejection of the true Messiah led to continual cycles of violence against Rome. Men like Theudas and Judas kept on coming and provoking Rome to war until Rome brought total war to Israel.
Gamaliel’s point is that the Sanhedrin had remained wisely neutral in the past. They let things take a more natural course. They had their finger in the wind and were always ready to jump on the winning bandwagon if one ever appeared. But they let the wind blow. The Romans would take care of everyone who was not the real Messiah. All the Sanhedrin had to do was wait. That’s his advice here. Let’s let God handle it through the means of the Roman empire. “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;” (Acts 5:38)
Thanks for taking the time to read the blog! Look for Part 4 tomorrow!
May God be with you!