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Barnes' Notes on the Bible
1But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
But a certain man - In the previous chapter the historian had given an account of the eminent liberality and sincerity of the mass of early Christians, in being willing to give up their property to provide for the poor, and had mentioned the case of Barnabas as worthy of special attention. In this chapter he proceeds to mention a case, quite as striking, of insincerity, and hypocrisy, and of the just judgment of God on those who were guilty of it. The case is a remarkable instance of the nature of "hypocrisy," and goes to illustrate the art and cunning of the enemy of souls in attempting to corrupt the church, and to pervert the religion of the gospel. Hypocrisy consists in an attempt to "imitate" the people of God, or to assume the "appearance" of religion, in whatever form it may be manifested. In this case religion had been manifested by great self-denial and benevolence. The hypocrisy of Ananias consisted in "attempting" to imitate this in appearance, and to impose in this way on the early Christians and on God.
With Sapphira his wife - With her concurrence or consent. It was a matter of "agreement" between them, Acts 5:2, Acts 5:9.
Sold a possession - The word used here κτῆμα ktēma does not indicate whether this was "land" or some other property. In Acts 5:3, however, we learn that it was "land" that was sold; and the word here translated "possession" is translated in the Syriac, Arabic, and the Latin Vulgate as "land." The pretence for which this was sold was doubtless to have the appearance of religion. That it was "sold" could be easily known by the Christian society, but it might not be so easily known for "how much" it was sold. Hence, the attempt to impose on the apostles. It is clear that they were not under obligation to sell their property. But, "having" sold it for the purposes of religion, it became their duty, if they professed to devote the avails of it to God, to do it entirely, and without any reservation.
2And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles' feet.
And kept back - The word used here means properly "to separate, to part:" and then it means to "separate surreptitiously or clandestinely for our own use" a part of public property, as taxes, etc. It is used but three times in the New Testament, Acts 5:3, and in Titus 2:10, where it is rendered "purloining." Here it means that they "secretly" kept back a part, while "professedly" devoting all to God.
His wife also being privy to it - His wife "knowing it," and evidently concurring in it.
And laid it at the apostles' feet - This was evidently an act professedly of devoting all to God. Compare Acts 4:37; also Acts 5:8-9. That this was his "profession," or "pretence," is further implied in the fact that Peter charges him with having "lied" unto God, Acts 5:3-4.
3But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
But Peter said ... - Peter could have known this only by "revelation." It was the manifest design of Ananias to deceive; nor was there any way of detecting him but by its being revealed to him by the Spirit of God. As it was an instance of enormous wickedness, and as it was very important to detect and punish the crime, it was made known to Peter directly by God.
Why hath Satan - Great deeds of wickedness in the Scripture are traced to the influence of Satan. Compare Luke 23:3; John 13:27. Especially is Satan called the "father of lies," John 8:44-45. Compare Genesis 3:1-5. As this was an act of "falsehood," or an attempt to deceive, it is with great propriety traced to the influence of Satan. The sin of Ananias consisted in his "yielding" to the temptation. Nowhere in the Bible are people supposed to be free from guilt from the mere fact that they have been "tempted" to commit it. God requires them to "resist" temptation; and if they "yield" to it, they must be punished.
Filled thine heart - A man's "heart" or "mind" is "full" of a thing when he is "intent on it"; when he is strongly "impelled to it"; or when he is fully occupied with it. The expression here means that he was "strongly impelled" or "excited" by Satan to this crime.
To lie to - To attempt to deceive. The deception which he meant to practice was to keep back a "part" of the price, while he "pretended" to bring the whole of it; thus "tempting" God, and supposing that he could not detect the fraud.
The Holy Ghost - τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ ἅγιον to pneuma to hagion. The main inquiry here is, whether the apostle Peter intended to designate in this place the "third person" of the Trinity; or whether he meant to speak of God "as God," without any reference to the distinction of persons; or whether he referred to the "divine influence" which inspired the apostles, without reference to the special offices which are commonly ascribed to the Holy Spirit. Or, in other words, is there a "distinction" here recognized between the Father and the Holy Spirit? That there "is," will be apparent from the following considerations:
(1) If no such distinction is "intended," it is remarkable that Peter did not use the usual and customary "name" of God. It does not appear why he guarded it so carefully as to denote that this offence was committed against the "Holy Spirit," and "the Spirit of the Lord," Acts 5:9.
(2) the name used here is the one employed in the Scriptures to designate the third person of the Trinity, as implying a distinction from the Father. See Matthew 3:16; Matthew 1:18, Matthew 1:20; Matthew 3:11; Matthew 12:32; Matthew 28:19; Mark 1:8; Mark 3:29; Mark 12:36; Luke 12:10; John 14:26; John 7:39; John 20:22; Acts 4:8; Acts 5:32, etc.
(3) Peter intended, doubtless, to designate an offence as committed particularly against the person, or influence, by which he and the other apostles were inspired. Ananias supposed that he could escape detection, and the offence was one, therefore, against the Inspirer of the apostles. Yet that was the Holy Spirit as "distinct from the Father." See John 14:16-17, John 14:26; John 15:26; John 16:7-11; John 20:22. Compare Acts 5:32. The offence, therefore, being against him who was "sent" by the Father, and who was appointed to a particular work, clearly supposes that the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father.
(4) a further incidental proof of this may be found in the fact that the sin here committed was one of special magnitude - so great as to be deemed worthy of the immediate and signal vengeance of God. Yet the sin against the Holy Spirit is uniformly represented to be of this description. Compare Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29. As these sins evidently coincide in enormity, it is clear that the same class of sins is referred to in both places; or, in other words, the sin of Ananias was against the third person of the Trinity. Two remarks may be made here:
(1) The Holy Spirit is a distinct Person from the Father and the Son; or, in other words, there is a distinction of some kind in the divine nature that may be designated by the word "person." This is clear from the fact that sin is said to have been committed against him - a sin which it was supposed could not be detected. "Sin" cannot be committed against an "attribute" of God, or an "influence" from God. We cannot "lie unto" an attribute, or against wisdom, or power, or goodness; nor can we "lie unto" an "influence," merely, of the Most High. Sin is committed against a "Being," not against an "attribute"; and as a sin is here charged on Ananias against "the Holy Spirit," it follows that the Holy Spirit has a "personal" existence, or that there is such a distinction in the divine essence that it may be proper to "specify" a sin as committed especially against him. In the same way sin may be represented as committed especially against the "Father" when his "name" is blasphemed; when his "dominion" is denied; when his mercy in sending his Son is called in question. Sin may be represented as committed against "the Son" when his atonement is denied; his divinity assailed; his character derided, or his invitations slighted. And thus sin may be represented as committed against "the Holy Spirit" when his office of renewing the heart, or sanctifying the soul, is called in question, or when "his" work is ascribed to some malign or other influence. See Mark 3:22-30. And as sin against the Son proves that he is in some sense distinct from the Father, so does sin against the Holy Spirit prove that in some sense he is distinct from the Father and the Son.
(2) the Holy Spirit is divine. This is proved, because he is represented here as being able to search the heart, and to detect insincerity and hypocrisy. Compare Jeremiah 17:10; 1 Chronicles 28:9; 1 Corinthians 2:10, "The Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God"; Revelation 2:23. And he is expressly "called" God. See the notes on Acts 5:4.
4Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
Whiles it remained - As long as it remained unsold. This place proves that there was no "obligation" imposed on the disciples to sell their property. They who did it, did it voluntarily; and it does not appear that it was done by all, or expected to be done by all.
And after it was sold ... - Even after the property was sold, and Ananias had the money, still there was no obligation on him to devote it in this way. He had the disposal of it still. The apostle mentions this to show him that his offence was especially aggravated. He was not "compelled" to sell his property - he had not even the poor pretence that he was "obliged" to dispose of it, and was "tempted" to withhold it for his own use. It was "all" his, and might have been retained if he had chosen.
Thou hast not lied unto men - Unto people "only," or, it is not your "main" and "chief" offence that you have attempted to deceive people. It is true that Ananias "had" attempted to deceive the apostles, and it is true, also, that this was a crime; but still, the principal magnitude of the offence was that he had attempted to deceive "God." So small was his crime as committed against "men" that it was lost sight of by the apostles, and the great, crowning sin of attempting to deceive "God" was brought fully into view. Thus, David also saw his sin as committed against "God" to be so enormous that he lost sight of it as an offence to man, and said, "Against thee, thee only, have I sinned, and done this evil in thy sight," Psalm 51:4.
But unto God - It has been "particularly" and "eminently" against God. This is true, because:
(1) He had professedly "devoted" it to God. The act, therefore, had express and direct reference to him.
(2) it was an attempt to deceive him. It implied the belief of Ananias that God would not detect the crime, or see the motives of the heart.
(3) it is the prerogative of God to judge of sincerity and hypocrisy; and this was a case, therefore, which came under his special notice. Compare Psalm 139:1-4. The word "God" here is evidently used in its plain and obvious sense as denoting the "supreme divinity," and the use of the word here shows that the Holy Spirit is "divine." The whole passage demonstrates, therefore, one of the important doctrines of the Christian religion, that the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father and the Son, and yet is divine.
5And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
And Ananias, hearing these words ... - Seeing that his guilt was known, and being charged with the enormous crime of attempting to deceive God. He had not expected to be thus exposed; and it is clear that the exposure and the charge came upon him unexpectedly and terribly, like a bolt of thunder.
Fell down - Greek: Having fallen down.
Gave up the ghost - This is an unhappy translation. The original means simply "he expired," or "he died." Compare the notes on Matthew 27:50. This remarkable fact may be accounted for in this way:
(1) It is evidently to be regarded as a "judgment" of God for the sin of Ananias and his wife. It was not the act of Peter, but of God, and was clearly designed to show his abhorrence of this sin. See remarks on Acts 5:11.
(2) though it was the act of God, yet it does not follow that it was not in connection with the usual laws by which he governs people, or that he did not make use of natural means to do it. The sin was one of great aggravation. It was suddenly and unexpectedly detected. The fast that it was known, and the solemn charge that he had "lied unto God," struck him with horror. His conscience would reprove him for the enormity of his crime, and overwhelm him at the memory of his wickedness. These circumstances may be sufficient to account for this remarkable event. It has occurred in other cases that the consciousness of crime, or the fact of being suddenly detected, has given such a shock to the frame that it has never recovered from it. The effect "commonly" is that the memory of guilt preys secretly and silently upon the frame, until, worn out with the lack of rest and peace, it sinks exhausted into the grave. But there have not been missing instances where the shock has been so great as to destroy the vital powers at once, and plunge the wretched man, like Ananias, into eternity. It is not at all improbable that the shock in the case of Ananias was so great as at once to take his life.
Great fear came ... - Such a striking and awful judgment on insincerity and hypocrisy was suited to excite awful emotions among the people. Sudden death always does it; but sudden death in immediate connection with crime is suited much more deeply to affect the mind.
6And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
And the young men - The youth of the congregation; very probably young men who were in attendance as "servants," or those whose business it was to attend on the congregation, and perform various offices when Christians celebrated their worship (Mosheim). The word used here sometimes denotes a "servant." It is used also, Acts 5:10, to denote "soldiers," as they were commonly enlisted of the vigorous and young. The fact that they took up Ananias voluntarily implies that they were accustomed to perform offices of servitude to the congregation.
Wound him up - It was the usual custom with the Jews to wind the body in many folds of linen before it was buried; commonly also with spices, to preserve it from putrefaction. See the notes on John 11:44. It may be asked "why" he was so soon buried; and especially why he was hurried away without giving information to his wife. In reply to this, it may be remarked:
1. That it does not appear from the narrative that it was "known" that Sapphira was privy to the transaction, or was near at hand, or even that he had a wife. Ananias came "himself" and offered the money, and the judgment fell at once on him.
2. It was customary among the ancient Persians to bury the body almost immediately after death (Jahn); and it seems probable that the Jews, when the body was not embalmed, imitated the custom. It would also appear that this was an ancient custom among the Jews. See Genesis 23:19; Genesis 25:9; Genesis 35:29; Genesis 48:7; 1 Kings 13:30. Different nations differ in their customs in burying the dead; and there is no impropriety in committing a body soon after death to the tomb.
3. There might have been some danger of an excitement and tumult in regard to this scene if the corpse had not soon been removed; and as no valuable purpose could be answered by delaying the burial, the body was decently committed to the dust.
7And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
And it was about the space ... - As Sapphira had been no less guilty than her husband, so it was ordered in the providence of God that the same judgment should tome upon both.
8And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
For so much - That is, for the sum which Ananias had presented. This was true, that this sum had been received for it; but it was also true that a larger sum had been received. It is as really a falsehood to deceive in this manner, as it would have been to have affirmed that they received much "more" than they actually did for the land. Falsehood consists in making an erroneous representation of a thing in any way for the purpose of deceiving. And "this" species is much more common than an open and bold lie, affirming what is in no sense true.
9Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
Agreed together - Conspired, or laid a plan. From this it seems that Sapphira was as guilty as her husband,
To tempt - To try; to endeavor to impose on, or to deceive; that is, to act as if the Spirit of the Lord could not detect the crime. They did this by trying to see whether the Spirit of God could detect hypocrisy.
At the door - Are near at hand. They had not yet returned. The dead were buried without the walls of cities; and the space of three hours, it seems, had elapsed before they returned from the burial.
Shall carry thee out - This passage shows that it was by divine interposition or judgment that their lives were taken. The judgment was in immediate connection with the crime, and was designed as an expression of the divine displeasure.
If it be asked here "why" Ananias and Sapphira were punished in this severe and awful manner, an answer may be found in the following considerations:
(1) This was an atrocious crime - a deep and dreadful act of iniquity. It was committed knowingly, and without excuse, Acts 5:4. It was important that sudden and exemplary punishment should follow it, because the society of Christians was just then organized, and it was designed that it should be a "pure" society, and should be regarded as a body of holy men. Much depended on making an "impression" on the people that sin could not be allowed in this new community, but would be detected and punished.
(2) God has often, in a most solemn manner, shown his abhorrence of hypocrisy and insincerity. By awful declarations and fearful judgments he has declared his displeasure at it. In a particular manner, no small part of the preaching of the Saviour was employed in detecting the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, and denouncing heavy judgments on them. See Matthew 23 throughout for the most sublime and awful denunciation of hypocrisy anywhere to be found. Compare Mark 12:15; Luke 12:1; 1 Timothy 4:2; Job 8:13; Job 13:16; Job 15:34; Job 20:5; Job 36:13; Matthew 7:5; Luke 11:44. In the very beginning of the Christian church it was important, by a decided and awful act, to impress upon the church and the world the danger and guilt of hypocrisy. Well did the Saviour know that it would be one of the most insidious and deadly foes to the purity of the church; and at its very "threshold," therefore, he set up this solemn warning to guard it, and laid the bodies of Ananias and Sapphira in the path of every hypocrite that would enter the church. If they enter and are destroyed, they cannot plead that they were not fully warned. If they practice iniquity "in" the church, they cannot plead ignorance of the fact that God intends to detect and punish them.
(3) the apostles were just then establishing their authority. They claimed to be under the influence of inspiration. To establish that, it was necessary to show that they could know the views and motives of those who became connected with the church. If easily imposed on, it would go far to destroy their authority and their claim to infallibility. If they showed that they could detect hypocrisy, even where most artfully concealed, it would establish the divine authority of their message. At the "commencement" of their work, therefore, they gave this decisive and most awful proof that they were under the guidance of an infallible Teacher.
(4) this case does not stand alone in the New Testament. It is clear from other instances that the apostles had the power of punishing sinners, and that a violation of the commands of Christ was attended by sudden and fearful judgments. See 1 Corinthians 11:30, and the case of Elymas the sorcerer in Acts 13:8-11.
(5) neither does this event stand alone in the history of the world. Acts of judgment sometimes occur as sudden and decided, in the providence of God, as in this case. The profane man, the drunkard, the profligate offender is sometimes suddenly stricken down, as in this instance. Cases have not been uncommon where the blasphemer has been smitten in death with the curse on his lips; and God often thus comes forth in judgment to slay the wicked, and to show that there is a God that reigns in the earth. This narrative cannot be objected to as improbable until "all" such cases are disposed of, nor can this infliction be regarded as unjust until all the instances where people die by remorse of conscience, or by the direct judgment of heaven, are "proved" to be unjust also.
In view of this narrative, we may remark:
(1) That God searches the heart, and knows the purposes of the soul. Compare Psalm 139.
(2) God judges the "motives" of people. It is not so much the "external" act, as it is the views and feelings by which it is prompted, that determines the character of the act.
(3) God will bring forth sin which man may not be able to detect, or which may elude human justice. The day is coming when the secrets of all hearts shall be revealed, and God will reward every man according as his works shall be.
(4) Fraud and hypocrisy will be detected. They are often detected in this life. The providence of God often lays them open to human view, and overwhelms the soul in shame at the guilt which was long concealed. But if not in this life, yet the day is coming when they will be disclosed, and the sinner shall stand "revealed" to an assembled universe.
(5) we have here an illustration of the power of conscience. If "such" was its overwhelming effect "here," what will it be when all the crimes of the life shall be disclosed in the day of judgment, and when the soul shall sink to the woes of hell? Through "eternity" the conscience will do its office; and these terrible inflictions will go on from age to age, forever and ever, in the dark World of hell.
(6) we see here the guilt of attempting to impose on God in regard to "property." There is no subject in which people are more liable to hypocrisy; none in which they are more apt to keep back a "part." Christians professedly devote all that they have to God. They profess to believe that he has a "right" to the silver and the gold, and the cattle on a thousand hills, Psalm 1:1-6. 10. Their "property," as well as their bodies and their spirits, they have devoted to him, and they profess to desire to employ it as "he" shall direct and please. And yet, is it not clear that the sin of Ananias has not ceased in the church? How many professing Christians there are who give "nothing" really to God; who contribute nothing for the poor and needy; who devote nothing, or next to nothing, to any purposes of benevolence; who would employ "million" for their own gratification, and their families, "but not a cent for tribute" to God. The case of Ananias is, to all such, a case of most fearful warning. And on no point should Christians more faithfully examine themselves than in regard to the professed devotion of their "property" to God. If God punished this sin in the beginning of the Christian church, he will do it still in its progress; and in nothing have professed Christians more to fear his wrath than on this very subject.
(7) sinners should fear and tremble before God. He holds their breath in his hands. He can cut them down in an instant. The bold blasphemer, the unjust man, the liar, the scoffer, he can destroy in a moment, and sink them in all the woes of hell. Nor have they any security that he will not do it. The profane man has no evidence that he will live to finish the curse which he has begun; nor the drunkard that he will again become sober; nor the seducer that God will not arrest him in his act of wickedness and send him down to hell! The sinner walks over the grave, and over hell! In an instant he may die, and be summoned to the judgment-seat of God! How awful it is to sin in a world like this; and how fearful the doom which "must" soon overtake the ungodly!
10Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
11And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
12And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch.
And by the hands ... - By the apostles. This verse should be read in connection with the 15th, to which it belongs.
Signs and wonders - Miracles. See the notes on Acts 2:43.
With one accord - With one "mind," or intention. See the notes on Acts 1:14.
In Solomon's porch - See the Matthew 21:12 note; John 10:23 note. They were doubtless there for the purpose of worship. It does not mean that they were there constantly, but at the regular periods of worship. Probably they had two designs in this; one was, to join in the public worship of God in the usual manner with the people, for they did not design to leave the temple service; the other, that they might have opportunity to preach to the people assembled there. In the presence of the great multitudes who came up to worship, they had an opportunity of making known the doctrines of Jesus, and of confirming them by miracles, the reality of which could not be denied, and which could not be resisted, as proofs that Jesus was the Messiah.
13And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.
And of the rest - Different interpretations have been given of this expression. Lightfoot supposes that by "the rest" are meant the remainder of the 120 disciples of whom Ananias had been one; and that they feared to put themselves on an equality with the apostles. But this interpretation seems to be far-fetched. Kuinoel supposes that by "the rest" are meant those who had not already joined with the apostles, whether Christians or Jews, and that they were deterred by the fate of Ananias. Pricaeus, Morus, Rosenmueller, Schleusner, and others, suppose that by "the rest" are meant the "rich" men, or the people of authority and influence among the Jews, of whom Ananias was one, and that they were deterred from it by the fate of Ananias. This is by far the most probable opinion, because:
(1) There is an evident contrast between them and the people; "the rest," that is, the others of the rich and great, feared to join with them; but "the people," the common people, magnified them.
(2) the fate of Ananias was suited to have this effect on the rich and great.
(3) Similar instances had occurred before, that the great, though they believed on Jesus, were afraid to come forth publicly and profess him before people. See John 12:42-43; John 5:44.
(4) the phrase "the rest" denotes sometimes what is more excellent, or which is superior in value or importance to something else. See Luke 12:26.
Join himself - Become united to, or associated with. The rich and the great then, as now, stood aloof from them, and were deterred by fear or shame from professing attachment to the Lord Jesus.
But the people - The mass of the people; the body of the nation.
Magnified them - Honored them; regarded them with reverence and fear.
14And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)
And believers - This is the name by which Christians were designated, because one of the main things that distinguished them was that they "believed" that Jesus was the Christ. It is also an incidental proof that none should join themselves to the church who are not "believers"; that is, who do not profess to be Christians in heart and in life.
Were the more added - The effect of all these things was to increase the number of converts. Their persecutions, their preaching, and the judgment of God, "all" tended to impress the minds of the people, and to lead them to the Lord Jesus Christ. Compare Acts 4:4. Though the judgment of God had the effect of deterring hypocrites from entering the church - though it produced awe and caution, yet still the number of true converts was increased. An effort to keep the church pure by wholesome discipline, and by cutting off unworthy members, however rich or honored, so far from weakening its true strength, has a tendency greatly to increase its numbers as well as its purity. People will not seek to enter a corrupt church, or regard it as worth any effort to be connected with a society that does not endeavor to be pure.
Multitudes - Compare Acts 4:4.
15Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.
Insomuch - So that. This should be connected with Acts 5:12. Many miracles were performed by the apostles, "insomuch, etc."
They brought forth - The people, or the friends of the sick, brought them forth.
Beds - κλινῶν klinōn. This word denotes usually the "soft" and "valuable" beds on which the rich commonly lay. And it means that the rich, as well as the poor, were laid in the path of Peter and the other apostles.
Couches - κραββάτων krabatōn. The coarse and hard couches on which the poor used to lie, Mark 2:4, Mark 2:9,Mark 2:11-12; Mark 6:55; John 5:8-12; Acts 9:33.
The shadow of Peter - That is, they were laid in the path so that the shadow of Peter, as he walked, might pass over them. Perhaps the sun was near setting, and the lengthened shadow of Peter might be thrown afar across the way. They were not able to approach him on account of the crowd, and they "imagined" that if they could "anyhow" come under his influence they might be healed. The sacred writer does not say, however, that any "were" healed in this way, nor that they were commanded to do this. He simply states the "impression" which was on the minds of the people that it "might be." Whether they were healed by this, it is left for us merely to conjecture. An instance somewhat similar is recorded in Acts 19:12, where it is expressly said, however, that the sick were healed by contact with "handkerchiefs" and "aprons" that were brought from the body of Paul. Compare also Matthew 9:21-22, where the woman said respecting Jesus "If I may but touch his garment I shall be whole."
Might overshadow - That his shadow might pass over them. Though there is no certain evidence that any were healed in this way, yet it shows the full belief of the people that Peter had the power of working miracles. "Peter" was supposed by them to be eminently endowed with this power, because it was by him that the lame man in the temple had been healed Acts 3:4-6, and because he had been most prominent in his addresses to the people. The persons who are specified in this verse were those who dwelt at Jerusalem.
16There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.
There came also ... - Attracted by the fame of Peter's miracles, as the people formerly had been by the miracles of the Lord Jesus.
Vexed - Troubled, afflicted, or tormented.
Unclean spirits - Possessed with devils; called "unclean" because they prompted to sin and impurity of life. See the notes on Matthew 4:23-24.
And they were healed - Of these persons it is expressly affirmed that they were healed. Of those who were so laid as that the shadow of Peter might pass over them, there is no such direct affirmation.
17Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,
Then the high priest - Probably "Caiaphas." Compare John 11:49. It seems from this place that he belonged to the sect of the Sadducees. It is certain that he had signalized himself by opposition to the Lord Jesus and to his cause constantly.
Rose up - This expression is sometimes "redundant," and at others it means simply to "begin" to do a thing, or to resolve to do it. Compare Luke 15:18.
And all they that were with him - That is, all they that coincided with him in doctrine or opinion; or, in other words, that portion of the Sanhedrin that was composed of "Sadducees." There was a strong party of Sadducees in the Sanhedrin; and perhaps at this time it was so strong a majority as to be able to control its decisions. Compare Acts 23:6.
Which is the sect - The word translated "sect" here is that from which we have derived our word "heresy." It means simply "sect" or "party," and is not used in a bad sense as implying reproach, or even error. The idea which "we" attach to it of error, and of denying fundamental doctrines in religion, is one that does not occur in the New Testament.
Sadducees - See the notes on Matthew 3:7. The main doctrine of this sect was the denial of the resurrection of the dead. The reason why "they" were particularly opposed to the apostles rather than the Pharisees was that the apostles dwelt much on the "resurrection of the Lord Jesus," which, if true, completely overthrew their doctrine. All the converts, therefore, that were made to Christianity, tended to diminish their numbers and influence, and also to establish the belief of the "Pharisees" in the doctrine of the resurrection. So long, therefore, as the effect of the labors of the apostles was to establish one of the main doctrines of the "Pharisees," and to confute the "Sadducees," so long we may suppose that the "Pharisees" would either favor them or be silent; and so long the "Sadducees" would be opposed to them, and enraged against them. One sect will often see with composure the progress of another that it really hates, if it will humble a rival. Even opposition to the gospel will sometimes be silent provided the spread of religion will tend to humble and mortify those against whom we may be opposed.
Were filled with indignation - Greek: "zeal." The word denotes any kind of "fervor" or "warmth," and may be applied to any warm or violent affection of the mind, either "envy, wrath, zeal," or "love," Acts 13:45; John 2:17; Romans 10:2; 2 Corinthians 7:7; 2 Corinthians 11:2. Here it probably "includes envy" and "wrath." They were "envious" at the success of the apostles - at the number of converts that were made to a doctrine that they hated, and they were envious that the "Pharisees" were deriving such an accession of strength to their doctrine of the resurrection; and they were "indignant" that the apostles regarded so little their authority, and disobeyed the solemn injunction of the Sanhedrin. Compare Acts 4:18-21.
18And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.
The common prison - The public prison; or the prison for the keeping of common and notorious offenders.
19But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,
But the angel of the Lord - This does not denote any "particular" angel, but simply an angel. The "article" is not used in the original. The word "angel" denotes properly a "messenger," and particularly it is applied to the pure spirits that are sent to this world on errands of mercy. See the notes on Matthew 1:20. The case here was evidently "a miracle." An angel was employed for this special purpose, and the design might have been:
(1) To reprove the Jewish rulers, and to convince them of their guilt in resisting the gospel of God;
(2) To convince the apostles more firmly of the protection and approbation of God;
(3) To encourage them more and more in their work, and in the faithful discharge of their high duty; and,
(4) To give the people a new and impressive proof of the truth of the message which they bore. That they were "imprisoned" would be known to the people. That they were made as secure as possible was also known. When, therefore, the next morning, before they could have been tried or acquitted, they were found again in the temple, delivering the same message still, it was a new and striking proof that they were sent by God.
20Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.
In the temple - In a public and conspicuous place. In this way there would be a most striking exhibition of their boldness; a proof that "God" had delivered them, and a manifestation of their purpose to obey God rather than man.
All the words - All the doctrines. Compare John 6:68, "Thou hast the words of eternal life."
Of this life - Pertaining to life, to the eternal life which they taught through the resurrection of Jesus. The word "life" is used sometimes to express "the whole of religion," as opposed to the spiritual "death" of sin. See John 1:4; John 3:36. Their deliverance from prison was not that they might be idle, and escape to a place of safety. Again they were to engage in the toils and perils which they had just before encountered. God delivers us from dangers sometimes that we may plunge "into" new dangers; he preserves us from one form of calamity that we may be tried in some new furnace of affliction; he calls us to encounter trials simply "because" he demands it, and as an expression of gratitude to him for his gracious interposition.
21And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
Early in the morning - Greek: at the break of day. Compare Luke 24:1; John 8:2.
Called the council together - The Sanhedrin, or the Great Council of the nation. This was clearly for the purpose of "trying" the apostles for disregarding their commandments.
And all the senate - Greek: "eldership." Probably these were not a part of the Sanhedrin, but were people of age and experience, who in Acts 4:8; Acts 25:15, are called "elders of the Jews," and who were present for the sake of counsel Canal advice in a case of emergency.
22But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told,
23Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.
Found we shut - It had not been broken open; and there was therefore clear proof that they had been delivered by the interposition of God. Nor could they have been released by the guard, for they were keeping watch, as if unconscious that anything had happened, and the officers had the only means of entering the prison.
24Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.
The captain of the temple - See the notes on Acts 4:1.
Doubted of them - They were in "perplexity" about these things. The word rendered "doubted" denotes "that state of anxiety which arises when a person has lost his way, or when he does not know what to do to escape from a difficulty." See Luke 9:7.
Whereunto this would grow - What this "would be"; or, what would be the result or end of these events. For:
(1) Their authority was disregarded.
(2) God had opposed them by a miracle.
(3) the doctrines of the apostles were gaining ground.
(4) their efforts to resist them had been in vain. They need "not" have doubted; but sinners are not disposed to be convinced of the truth of religion.
25Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.
26Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.
Without violence - Not by force; not by "binding" them. Compare Matthew 27:2. The command of the Sanhedrin was sufficient to secure their presence, as they did not intend to refuse to answer for any alleged violation of the laws. Besides, their going before the council would give them another noble opportunity to bear witness to the truth of the gospel. Christians, when charged with a violation of the laws of the land, should not refuse to answer, Acts 25:11, "If I be an offender, or have committed anything worthy of death, I refuse not to die." It is a part of our religion to yield obedience to all the just laws of the land, and to evince respect for all that are in authority, Romans 13:1-7.
For they feared the people - The people were favorable to the apostles. If violence had been attempted, or they had been taken in a cruel and forcible manner, the consequence would have been tumults and bloodshed. In this way, also, the apostles showed that they were not disposed to excite tumult. Opposition by them would have excited commotion; and though "they" would have been rescued, yet they resolved to show that they were not obstinate, contumacious, or rebellious, but were disposed, as far as it could be done with a clear conscience, to yield obedience to the laws of the land,
27And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,
28Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.
Straitly command you - Did we not command you with a "threat?" Acts 4:17-18, Acts 4:21.
In this name - In the name of Jesus.
Ye have filled Jerusalem - This, though not so desired, was an honorable tribute to the zeal and fidelity of the apostles. When Chastens are arraigned or persecuted, it is well if the only charge which their enemies can bring against them is that they have been distinguished for zeal and success in propagating their religion. See 1 Peter 4:16, "If any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glory God on this behalf"; also Acts 5:13-15.
Intend to bring this man's blood upon us - To bring "one's blood" upon another is a phrase signifying to hold or to prove him guilty of murdering the innocent. The expression here charges them with desiring to prove that they had put Jesus to death when he was innocent; to convince "the people" of this, and thus to enrage them against the Sanhedrin; and also to prove that they were guilty, and were exposed to the divine vengeance for having put the Messiah to death. Compare Acts 2:23, Acts 2:36; Acts 3:15; Acts 7:52. That the apostles "did" intend to charge them with being guilty of murder is clear; but it is observable that on "this occasion" they had said no thing of this, and it is further observable that they did not charge it on them "except in their presence." See the places just referred to. They took no pains to spread this among the people, "except as the people were accessory to the crime of the rulers," Acts 2:23, Acts 2:36. Their consciences were not at ease, and the remembrance of the death of Jesus would occur to them at once at the sight of the apostles.
29Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
We ought to obey ... - See the notes on Acts 4:19.
30The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
Raised up Jesus - This refers to his resurrection.
Hanged on a tree - That is, on the "cross," Galatians 3:13; 1 Peter 2:24; Acts 10:39; Acts 13:29. This is the amount of Peter's defense. He begins with the great principle Acts 5:29, which they could not gainsay, that God ought to be obeyed rather than man. He then proceeds to state that they were convinced that God had raised up Jesus from the dead, and as they had such decisive evidence of that, and were commanded by the authority of the Lord Jesus to be "witnesses of that," they were not "at liberty" to be silent. They were bound to obey God rather than the Sanhedrin, and to make known everywhere the fact that the Lord Jesus was risen. The remark that God had raised up Jesus whom they had "slain," does not seem to have been made to irritate or to reproach them, but merely to "identify" him as the person that had been raised. It was also a confirmation of the truth and reality of the miracle. Of his "death" they had no doubt, for they had been at pains to certify it, John 19:31-34. It is certain, however, that Peter did not shrink from charging on them their guilt; nor was he at any pains to "soften" or "mitigate" the severe charge that they had murdered their own Messiah.
31Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
Him hath God exalted - See the notes on Acts 2:33.
To be a Prince - ἀρχηγὸν archēgon. See the notes on Acts 3:15. In that place he is called the "Prince of life." Here it means that he is actually in the "exercise" of the office of a prince or a king, at the right hand of his Father. The title "Prince," or "King," was one which was well known as applied to the Messiah. It denotes that he has "dominion" and "power," especially the power which is needful to give repentance and the pardon of sins.
A Saviour - See the notes on Matthew 1:21.
To give repentance - The word "repentance" here is equivalent to "reformation" and "a change of life." The sentiment does not differ from what is said in Acts 3:26.
To Israel - This word properly denotes the "Jews"; but his office was not to be confined to the Jews. Other passages show that it would be also extended to the "Gentiles." The reasons why the "Jews" are particularly specified here are, probably:
(1) Because the Messiah was long promised to the Jewish people, and his first work was there; and,
(2) Because Peter was addressing Jews, and was particularly desirous of leading "them" to repentance.
Forgiveness of sins - Pardon of sin; the act which can be performed by God only, Mark 2:7.
If it be asked in what sense the Lord Jesus "gives repentance," or how his "exaltation" is connected with it, we may answer:
(1) His exaltation is evidence that his work was accepted, and that thus a foundation is laid by which repentance is available, and may be connected with pardon. Unless there was some way of "forgiveness," sorrow for sin would be of no value, even if exercised. The relentings of a culprit condemned for murder will be of no avail unless the executive can "consistently" pardon him; nor would relentings in hell be of avail, for there is no promise of forgiveness. But Jesus Christ by his death has laid a foundation by which repentance "may be" accepted.
(2) he is entrusted with all power in heaven and earth with "reference" to this, to apply his work to people; or, in other words, to bring them to repentance. See John 17:2; Matthew 28:18.
(3) his exaltation is immediately connected with the bestowment of the Holy Spirit, by whose influence people are brought to repentance, John 16:7-11. The Spirit is represented as being "sent" by him as well as by the Father, John 15:26; John 16:7.
(4) Jesus has power in this state of exaltation over all things that can affect the mind. He sends his ministers; he directs the events of sickness or disappointment, of health or prosperity, that will influence the heart. There is no doubt that he can so recall the sins of the past life, and refresh the memory, as to overwhelm the soul in the consciousness of guilt. Thus also he can appeal to man by his "goodness," and by a sense of his mercies; and especially he can so present a view of "his own" life and death as to affect the heart, and show the evil of the past life of the sinner. Knowing the heart, he knows all the avenues by which it can be approached, and in an instant he can overwhelm the soul with the remembrance of crime.
It was "proper" that the power of pardon should be lodged with the same being that has the power of producing repentance, because:
1. The one appropriately follows the other.
2. They are parts of the same great work - the work which the Saviour came to do; "to remove sin, with all its effects, from the human soul." This power of "pardon" Jesus exercised when he was on the earth, and this he can now dispense in the heavens, Mark 2:9-11.
And from this we may learn:
(1) That Christ is "divine." It is a dictate of natural religion that none can forgive sins against God but God himself. None can pardon but the Being who has been offended. And this is also the dictate of the Bible. The power of "pardoning" sin is one that God claims as "his" prerogative, and it is clear that it can pertain to no other. See Isaiah 43:25; Daniel 9:9; Psalm 130:4. Yet Jesus Christ exercised this power when on earth; gave "evidence" that the exercise of that power was one that was acceptable to God by working a miracle, and removing the "consequences" of sin with which God had visited upon the sinner Matthew 9:6, and exercises it still in heaven. He must, therefore, be divine.
(2) the sinner is dependent on him for the exercise of repentance, and for forgiveness.
(3) the proud sinner must be humbled at his feet. He must be willing to come and receive eternal life at "his" hands. No step is more humiliating than this for proud and hardened people; and there is none which they are more reluctant to do. We always shrink from coming into the presence of one whom we have offended; we are extremely reluctant to confess a fault; but it "must be done," or the soul must be lost for ever.
(4) Christ has power to pardon the greatest offender. He is exalted for this purpose; and he is suited to his work. Even his murderers he could pardon; and no sinner need fear that he who is "a Prince and a Saviour at the right hand of God" is unable to pardon his sins. To him we may come with confidence; and when pressed with the consciousness of the blackest crimes, and when we feel that we deserve eternal death, we may confidently roll all on his arm.
32And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
And we are his witnesses - For this purpose they had been appointed, Acts 1:8, Acts 1:21-22; Acts 2:32; Acts 3:15; Luke 24:48.
Of these things - Particularly of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and of the events which had followed it. Perhaps, however, he meant to include everything pertaining to the life, teachings, and death of the Lord Jesus.
And so is also ... - The descent of the Holy Spirit to endow them with remarkable gifts Acts 2:1-4, to awaken and convert such a multitude Acts 2:41; Acts 4:4; Acts 5:14, was an unanswerable attestation of the truth of these doctrines and of the Christian religion. So manifest and decided was the presence of God attending them, that "they" could have no doubt that what they said was true; and so open and public was this attestation, that it was an evidence to all the people of the truth of their doctrine.
33When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.
When they heard that - That which the apostle Peter had said, to wit, that they were guilty of murder; that Jesus was raised up; and that he still lived as the Messiah.
They were cut to the heart - The word used here properly denotes "to cut with a saw"; and as applied to the "mind," it means to be agitated with "rage" and "indignation," as if wrath should seize upon the mind as a saw does upon wood, and tear it violently, or agitate it severely. When used in connection with "the heart," it means that the heart is violently agitated and rent with rage. See Acts 7:54. It is not used elsewhere in the New Testament. The "reasons" why they were thus indignant were doubtless:
(1) Because the apostles had disregarded their command;
(2) Because they charged them with murder;
(3) Because they affirmed the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus, and thus tended to overthrow the sect of the Sadducees. The effect of the doctrines of the gospel is often to make people enraged.
Took counsel - The word rendered "took counsel" denotes commonly "to will"; then, "to deliberate"; and sometimes "to decree" or "to determine." It doubtless implies here that "their minds "were made up" to do it; but probably the formal decree was not passed to put them to death.
34Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;
Then stood there up one - He rose, as is usual in deliberative assemblies, to speak.
In the council - In the Sanhedrin, Acts 4:15.
A Pharisee - The high priest and those who had been most active in opposing the apostles were Sadducees. The Pharisees were opposed to them, particularly on the doctrine in regard to which the apostles were so strenuous, the resurrection of the dead. See the notes on Matthew 3:7. Compare Acts 23:6.
Gamaliel - This name was very common among the Jews. Dr. Lightfoot says that this man was the teacher of Paul Acts 22:3, the son of the "Simon" who took the Saviour in his arms Luke 2, and the grandson of the famous "Hillel," and was known among the Jews by the title of "Rabban Gamaliel the elder." There were other people of this name, who were also eminent among the Jews. This man is said to have died 18 years after the destruction of Jerusalem, and he died as he had lived, a Pharisee. There is not the least evidence that he was a friend of the Christian religion; but he was evidently a man of far more liberal views than the other members of the Sanhedrin.
A doctor of the law - That is, "a teacher" of the Jewish Law; one whose province it was to "interpret" the laws of Moses, and probably to preserve and transmit the "traditional" laws of the Jews. See the notes on Matthew 15:3. So celebrated was he, that Saul of Tarsus went to Jerusalem to receive the benefit of his instructions, Acts 22:3.
Had in reputation among all the people - "Honored" by all the people. His advice was likely, therefore, to be respected.
To put the apostles forth - This was done, doubtless, because, if the apostles had been suffered to remain, it was apprehended that they would take fresh courage, and be confirmed in their purposes. It was customary, besides, when they deliberated, to command those accused to retire, Acts 4:15.
A little space - A little "time," Luke 22:58.
35And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.
36For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.
For before those days - The "advice" of Gamaliel was to permit these men to go on. The "arguments" by which he enforced his advice were:
(1) That there were cases or precedents in point Acts 5:36-37; and,
(2) That if it should turn out to be truly of God, it would be a solemn affair to be involved in the consequences of opposing him. How long before "these days" this transaction occurred, cannot now be determined, as it is not certain to what case Gamaliel refers.
Rose up - That is, commenced or excited an insurrection.
Theudas - This was a name quite common among the Jews. Of this man nothing more is known than is here recorded. Josephus (Antiq., book 20, chapter 5) mentions one "Theudas," in the time of "Fadus," the procurator of Judea, in the reign of the Emperor Claudius (45 or 46 a.d.), who persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them and follow him to the river Jordan. He told them he was a prophet, and that he would divide the river and lead them over. Fadus, however, came suddenly upon them, and slew many of them. Theudas was taken alive and conveyed to Jerusalem, and there beheaded. But this occurred at least ten or fifteen years after this discourse of Gamaliel. Many efforts have been made to reconcile Luke and Josephus, on the supposition that they refer to the same man. Lightfoot supposed that Josephus had made an error in chronology. But there is no reason to suppose that there is reference to the same event; and the fact that Josephus has not recorded the insurrection referred to by Gamaliel does not militate at all against the account in the Acts . For:
(1) Luke, for anything that appears to the contrary, is quite as credible an historian as Josephus.
(2) the name "Theudas" was a common name among the Jews; and there is no improbability that there were "two" leaders of an insurrection of this name. If it "is" improbable, the improbability would affect Josephus' credit as much as that of Luke.
(3) it is altogether improbable that "Gamaliel" should refer to a case which was not well authenticated, and that Luke should record a speech of this kind unless it was delivered, when it would be so easy to detect the error.
(4) Josephus has recorded many instances of insurrection and revolt. He has represented the country as in an unsettled state, and by no means professes to give an account of "all" that occurred. Thus, he says (Antiq., xvii. 10, section 4) that there were "at this time ten thousand other disorders in Judea"; and (section 8) that "Judea was full of robberies." When this "Theudas" lived cannot be ascertained; but as Gamaliel mentions him before Judas of Galilee, it is probable that he lived not far from the time that our Saviour was born; at a time when many false prophets appeared, claiming to be the Messiah.
Boasting himself to be somebody - Claiming to be an eminent prophet probably, or the Messiah.
Obeyed him - The word used here is the one commonly used to denote "belief." As many as believed on him, or gave credit to his pretensions.
37After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
Judas of Galilee - Josephus has given an account of this man (Antiq., xvii. 10, section 5), and calls him a "Galilean." He afterward calls him a "Gaulonite," and says he was of the city of "Gamala" (Antiq., 18:1:1). He says that the revolt took place under "Cyrenius," a Roman senator, who came into "Syria to be judge of that nation, and to take account of their substance." "Moreover," says he, "Cyrenius came himself into Judea, which was now added to the province of Syria, to take an account of their substance, and to dispose of Archelaus' money." "Yet Judas, taking with him Saddouk, a Pharisee, became zealous to draw them to a revolt, who both said that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty, etc." "This" revolt, he says, was the commencement of the series of revolts and calamities that terminated in the destruction of the city, temple, and nation.
In the days of the taxing - Or, rather, the "enrolling," or "the census." Josephus says it was designed to take an account of their substance. Compare Luke 2:1-2.
38And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
Refrain from these men - Cease to oppose them or to threaten them. The "reason" why he advised this he immediately adds, that if it were of human origin, it would come to nothing; if of God, they could not overthrow it.
This counsel or this work be of men - This plan or purpose. If the apostles had originated it for the purposes of imposture.
It will come to nought - Gamaliel "inferred" that from the two instances which he specified. They had been suppressed without the interference of the Sanhedrin; and he inferred that "this" would also die away if it was a human device. It will be remembered that this is the mere advice of Gamaliel, who was not inspired, and that this opinion should not be adduced to guide us, except as it was an instance of great shrewdness and prudence. It is doubtless right to oppose error in the proper way and with the proper temper, not with arms, or vituperation, or with the civil power, but with argument and kind entreaty. But the sentiment of Gamaliel is full of wisdom in regard to error. For:
(1) The very way to exalt error into notice, and to confirm people in it, is to oppose it in a harsh, authoritative, and unkind manner.
(2) Error, if left alone, will often die away itself. The interest of people in it will often cease as soon as it ceases to be opposed; and, having nothing to fan the flame, it will expire. It is not so with truth.
(3) in this respect the remark may be applied to the Christian religion. It has stood too long, and in too many circumstances of prosperity and adversity, to be of human origin. It has been subjected to all trials from its pretended friends and real foes; and it still lives as vigorous and flourishing as ever. Kingdoms have changed; empires have risen and fallen since Gamaliel spoke this; systems of opinion and belief have had their day, and expired; but the preservation of the Christian religion, unchanged through so many revolutions, and in so many fiery trials, shows that it is not of men, but of God. The argument for the divine origin of the Christian religion from its perpetuity is one that can be applied to no other system that has been, or that now exists. For Christianity has been opposed in every form. It confers no temporal conquests, and appeals to no base and strong native passions. The Muslim faith is supported by the sword and the state; paganism relies on the arm of the civil power and the terrors of superstition, and is sustained by all the corrupt passions of people; atheism and infidelity have been short-lived, varying in their forms, dying today, and tomorrow starting up in a new form; never organized, consolidated, or pure; and never tending to promote the peace or happiness of people. Christianity, without arms or human power, has lived, keeping on its steady and triumphant movement among people, regardless alike of the opposition of its foes, and of the treachery of its pretended friends. If the opinion of Gamaliel was just, it is from God; and the Jews particularly should regard as important an argument derived from the opinion of one of the wisest of their ancient rabbis.
39But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.
But if it be of God - If God is the "author" of this religion. From this it seems that Gamaliel supposed that it was at least possible that this religion was divine. He evinced a far more candid mind than did the rest of the Jews; but still it does not appear that he was entirely convinced. The arguments which could not but stagger the Jewish Sanhedrin were those drawn from the resurrection of Jesus, the miracle on the day of Pentecost, the healing of the lame man in the temple, and the release of the apostles from the prison.
Ye cannot overthrow it - Because:
(1) God has almighty power, and can execute his purposes;
(2) Because he is unchanging, and will not be diverted from his plans, Job 23:13-14.
The plan which God forms "must" be accomplished. All the devices of man are feebleness when opposed to him, and he can dash them in pieces in an instant. The prediction of Gamaliel has been fulfilled. People have opposed Christianity in every way, but in vain. They have reviled it; have persecuted it; have resorted to argument and to ridicule; to fire, and faggot, and sword; they have called in the aid of science; but all has been in vain. The more it has been crushed, the more it has risen, and it still exists with as much life and power as ever. The "preservation" of this religion amidst so much and so varied opposition proves that it is of God. No severer trial "can" await it than it has already experienced; and as it has survived so many storms and trials, we have every evidence that, according to the predictions, it is destined to live and to fill the world. See the Matthew 16:18; Isaiah 54:17; Isaiah 55:11 notes; Daniel 4:35 note.
Lest - That is, if you continue to oppose it, you may be found to have been opposing God.
Haply - Perhaps. In the Greek this is "lest at any time"; that is, at some future time, when too late to retract your doings, etc.
Ye be found - It shall appear that you have been opposing God.
Even to fight against God - Greek Θεομάχοι Theomachoi, "those who contend with God." The word occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. To fight against God is to oppose him, or to maintain an attitude of hostility against him. It is an attitude that is most fearful in its character, and will most certainly be attended with an overthrow. No condition can be more awful than such an opposition to the Almighty; no overthrow more terrible than what must follow such opposition. Compare Acts 9:5; Acts 23:9. Opposition to the "gospel" in the Scriptures is uniformly regarded as opposition to God, Matthew 12:30; Luke 11:23. People may be said to "fight against" God in the following ways, or on the following subjects:
(1) When they oppose his "gospel," its preaching, its plans, its influence among people; when they endeavor to prevent its diffusion, or to withdraw their families and friends from its influence.
(2) when they oppose the "doctrines" of the Bible. When they become angry that the real truths of religion are preached, and suffer themselves to be irritated and excited by an "unwillingness" that those doctrines should be true, and should be presented to people. Yet this is no uncommon thing. People by nature do not love those doctrines, and they are often indignant that they are preached. Some of the most angry feelings which people ever have arise from this source; and man can never find peace until he is "willing" that God's truth should exert its influence on his own soul, and rejoice that it is believed and loved by others.
(3) people oppose the "Law" of God. It seems to them too "stern" and "harsh." It condemns them; and they are unwilling that it should be applied to them. There is nothing which a sinner likes "less" than he does the pure and holy Law of God.
(4) sinners fight against the "providence" of God. When he afflicts them they rebel. When he takes away their health, or property, or friends, they complain. They esteem him harsh and cruel; and instead of finding peace by "submission," they greatly aggravate their sufferings, and infuse a mixture of wormwood and gall into the cup by complaining and repining. There is no peace in affliction but in the feeling that God is "right." And until this belief is cherished, the wicked will be like the troubled sea which cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt, Isaiah 57:20. Such opposition to God is as wicked as it is foolish. The Lord gave, and has a right to remove our comforts; and we should be still, and know that he is God.
(5) sinners fight against God when they resist the influences of his Spirit; when they "oppose" serious thoughts; when they seek evil or frivolous companions and pleasures rather than submit to God; and when they spurn all the entreaties of their friends to become Christians. All these may be the appeals which God is making to people to be prepared to meet him. And yet it is common for sinners thus to stifle conviction, and refuse even to think of their eternal welfare. Nothing can be an act of more direct and deliberate wickedness and folly than this. Without the aid of the Holy Spirit none can be saved; and to resist his influences is to put away the only prospect of eternal life. To do it is to do it over the grave; not knowing that another hour of life may be granted; and not knowing that "if" life is prolonged, the Spirit will ever strive again with the heart. In view of this verse, we may remark:
1. That the path of wisdom is to submit at once to the requirements of God. Without this, we must expect conflicts with him, and peril and ruin. No man can be "opposed" to God without endangering himself every minute.
2. Submission to God should be entire. It should extend to every doctrine and demand; every law, and every act of the Almighty. In all his requirements, and in all afflictions, we should submit to him, for thus only shall we find peace.
3. Infidels and scoffers will gain nothing by opposing God. They have thus far been thwarted, and unsuccessful; and they will be still. None of their plans have succeeded; and the hope of destroying the Christian religion, after the efforts of almost two thousand years, must be vain, and will recoil with tremendous vengeance on those who make them.
40And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
And to him they agreed - Greek: They were "persuaded" by him; or they trusted to him. They agreed only so far as their design of putting them to death was concerned. They abandoned that design. But they did "not" comply with his advice to let them entirely alone.
And beaten them - The usual amount of "lashes" which were inflicted on offenders was 39, 2 Corinthians 11:24. "Beating," or "whipping," was a common mode of punishing minor offences among the Jews. It was expressly foretold by the Saviour that the apostles would be subjected to this, Matthew 10:17. The reason why they did not adopt the advice of Gamaliel altogether doubtless was, that if they did, they feared that their "authority" would be despised by the people. They had commanded them not to preach; they had threatened them Acts 4:18; Acts 5:28; they had imprisoned them Acts 5:18; and now, if they suffered them to go without even the "appearance" of punishment, their authority, they feared, would be despised by the nation, and it would be supposed that the apostles had triumphed over the Sanhedrin. It is probable, also, that they were so indignant, that they could not suffer them to go without the gratification of subjecting them to the public odium of a "whipping." People, if they cannot accomplish their full purposes of malignity against the gospel, will take up with even some petty annoyance and malignity rather than let it alone.
41And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
Rejoicing - Nothing to most people would seem more disgraceful than a public whipping. It is a punishment inflicted usually not so much because it gives "pain," as because it is esteemed to be attended with disgrace. The Jewish rulers doubtless desired that the apostles might be so affected with the sense of this disgrace as to be unwilling to appear again in public, or to preach the gospel anymore. Yet in this they were disappointed. The effect was just the reverse. If it be asked why they rejoiced in this manner, we may reply:
(1) Because they were permitted thus to imitate the example of the Lord Jesus. He had been scourged and reviled, and they were glad that they were permitted to be treated as he was. Compare Philippians 3:10; Colossians 1:24; 1 Peter 4:13, "Rejoice inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings."
(2) because, by this, they had evidence that they were the friends and followers of Christ. It was clear they were engaged in the same cause that he was. They were enduring the same sufferings, and striving to advance the same interests. As they loved the "cause," they would rejoice in enduring even the shame and sufferings which the cause, of necessity, involved. The kingdom of the Redeemer was an object so transcendently important, that for it they were willing to endure all the afflictions and disgrace which it might involve.
(3) they had been told to "expect" this, and they now rejoiced that they had This evidence that they were engaged in the cause of truth. Matthew 5:11-12; Matthew 10:17, Matthew 10:22; 2 Corinthians 12:10; Philippians 1:29; James 1:2.
(4) Religion appears to a Christian so excellent and lovely, that he is willing, for its sake, to endure trial, persecution, and death. With "all" this, it is infinite gain; and we should be willing to endure these trials, if, by them, we may gain a crown of glory. Compare Mark 10:30.
(5) Christians are the professed friends of Christ. We show attachment for friends by being willing to suffer for them; to bear contempt and reproach on their account; and to share "their" persecutions, sorrows, and calamities.
(6) the apostles were engaged in a cause of innocence, truth, and benevolence. They had "done" nothing of which to be ashamed; and they rejoiced, therefore, in a conscience void of offence, and in the consciousness of integrity and benevolence. When other people "disgrace" themselves by harsh, or vile, or opprobrious language or conduct toward "us," we should not feel that the disgrace belongs to "us." It is "theirs"; and we should not be ashamed or distressed, though their rage should fall on us. See 1 Peter 4:14-16.
Counted worthy - Esteemed to be deserving. That is, esteemed "fit" for it "by the Sanhedrin." It does not mean that "God" esteemed them worthy, but that the Jewish council judged them fit to suffer shame in this cause. They evinced so much zeal and determination of purpose that they were judged fit objects to be treated as the Lord Jesus had himself been.
To suffer shame - To be "dishonored" or "disgraced" in the estimation of the Jewish rulers. The "particular" disgrace to which reference is made here was "whipping." To various other kinds of shame they were also exposed. They were persecuted, reviled, and finally put to death. Here we may remark that a profession of the Christian religion has been in all ages esteemed by many to be a "disgrace." The "reasons" are:
(1) That Jesus is himself despised;
(2) That his precepts are opposed to the gaiety and follies of the world;
(3) That it attacks that on which the people of the world pride themselves;
(4) That it requires a "spirit" which the world esteems mean and grovelling - meekness, humility, self-denial, patience, forgiveness of injuries; and,
(5) That it requires "duties" - prayer, praise, seriousness, benevolence. All these things the people of the world esteem degrading and mean, and hence, they endeavor to subject those who practice them to disgrace. The "kinds" of disgrace to which Christians have been subjected are too numerous to be mentioned here. In former times they were subjected to the loss of property, of reputation, and to all the shame of public punishment, and to the terrors of the dungeon, the stake, or the rack. One main design of persecution was to select a kind of punishment so "disgraceful" as to deter others from professing religion. Disgrace even yet may attend it. It may subject one to the ridicule of friends - of even a father, mother, or brother. Christians hear their opinions abused; their names vilified; their Bible travestied; the name of their God profaned, and of their Redeemer blasphemed. Their feelings are often wantonly and rudely torn by the cutting sarcasm or the bitter sneer. Books and songs revile them; their specialties are made the occasion of indecent merriment on the stage and in novels; and in this way they are still subjected to shame for the name of Jesus. Every one who becomes a Christian should remember that this is a part of his inheritance, and should not esteem it dishonorable to be treated as his Master was before him, John 15:18-20; Matthew 10:25.
For his name - For attachment to him.
42And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
And daily ... - Compare 2 Timothy 4:2. See also notes on Acts 2:46.