Acts 5 reminds us that our actions matter. Moreover, we have a choice. We can fight against God and His purposes in the world, which will bring us to ruin. Or we can fight with Him, join Him in His battle, and see the world come actively under His Lordship.
In our quest to uncover the end-times themes buried within the Book of Acts, we have begun to unveil the hidden depths and subtle intricacies of the early church’s well-developed eschatology. We learned that eschatology is not for cloud gazers, numerologists, or makers of jumbled charts but for those who are willing to put in the work to see the Kingdom built. It is not filled with a mass of spiritually overweight spectators who are just as much a consumer of church as the Nutty Professor is a consumer of fried chicken. But unlike the Klumps, this one is not a joke.
Instead, the eschatology Luke records is for the one who will put his hand to the proverbial plow and break a symbolic sweat. It is for the here and now not to decode the uncertain events concerning an even less certain future. Acts tells us when the Holy Spirit came upon the apostles and other believers, and when they began doing miracles in Jerusalem and Samaria, that the end was upon them; the end of the ages had come.
For some, that end would climax in smoke and flames, devastation and destruction, as seen temporally in the events of AD 70, which stands as a type of eternal hell. For others, the end of the Old Covenant era of temples, a priesthood, and feasts would be joyfully replaced by the reign of God’s one and only Son, who sat at His right hand until all of His enemies would be made a footstool for His feet. Moreover, as we learned last week, His reign would not cease, be paused, or could ever be overcome until the whole world, every family on earth, is under the blessing of God! What a glorious message our friend and brother Luke has been telling us!
Now, as we stand upon the plank of our ninth blog in Acts, my aim is for us to be recast into its bristling blue waters, a new tank of oxygen in tow, as we plunge into its fifth chapter. However, before we put on our snorkel, we need to remember the flow of the book. In Acts 1, Jesus prepares His disciples for what life and the Kingdom will look like in His absence as they wait for the promised Spirit to come and empower them. In Acts 2, Jesus sends the third member of the trinity upon them in dramatic fashion, causing a crowd to swell, Peter to preach, and about three thousand souls to be added to the believing ranks. After his first powerful sermon, in Acts 3, the apostles began performing miracles in the city, drawing another large crowd, and Peter preaching another powerful sermon. Out of fear that these events would spark an uncontrollable revival, the Jewish leaders began persecuting and arresting believers in Acts chapter 4, especially those who served God publicly.
As the narrative unfolds into Acts 5, we find the apostles released, only to be swiftly summoned before the Sanhedrin – the paramount Jewish council of the era. Their alleged transgression centers on their steadfast and unyielding proclamation of the name of Jesus despite explicit directives to desist from their missionary activities. This resolute commitment to their faith prompts vehement opposition from the religious authorities, who seek to quell the burgeoning Christian movement once and for all.
Acts 5:33-39, therefore, emerges as a pivotal juncture within this narrative. It is a moment when the Sanhedrin, incensed by the apostles’ unwavering conviction to continue unabated, prepares themselves to take severe and even bloody action against the apostles as they had against their Lord. However, amidst this maelstrom of tumult and theological fervor, an unlikely voice of moderation rose in the form of Gamaliel – a respected Pharisee and a learned doctor of Jewish Law, who plays prominently in today’s passage, along with the two false messianic figures we will hear about in a moment. He, Gamaliel, ardently advocates for the council to proceed with extreme caution lest they be found laboring against God.
The events chronicled in Acts 4 through Acts 5 encapsulate a volatile chapter in the annals of the early Christian church and will teach us much about eschatology. Let us read verses 33-39.