The persecution comes from the Jewish high priests, who are understandably threatened by this new message, and they lock up the apostles and later have them beaten. Yet the passage makes it clear that the good news of salvation — the gospel of Jesus — cannot be silenced by human opposition. God sends an angel in verse 19 and tells the apostles to get right back out there in the temple and keep on preaching.
The priests — who have long since fallen away from the true faith of God — are furious at this and accuse the apostles of not obeying the religious leaders of the land. Peter puts them in their place with the well-known “We must obey God rather than man!” and then launches into a mini-sermon proclaiming the power of Christ to forgive sins. It’s important to remember that he’s saying this to the same order of priests that had Jesus killed because of his teaching and assertion of divinity. And while Peter is rebuking them, he’s also calling them to a saving grace in Christ.
What I really love about this passage is two-fold:
- That a religious teacher of the law, Gamaliel, stands up for the apostles and warns the priests not to get in their way in the case that the apostles’ message is indeed from God (5:34-39) — “You will only find yourselves fighting against God,” he says.
- And right after the disciples are beaten and instructed not to preach anymore, their immediate response in verse 41 is to rejoice in suffering and verse 42 to keep on preachin’ non-stop to anyone who would listen.
Good news shouldn’t be bottled up or kept secret for special moments in certain situations. Good news that pertains to all should be shared gladly, freely, and as loudly as possible. Jeremiah said that when he was being persecuted for sharing God’s word and wanted to be quiet, he couldn’t. The word of God was like fire in his bones and he needed to get it out.
The cool epilogue to this account comes in Acts 6. Acts 6:7 mentions that many of the priests in Jerusalem do end up following Jesus, a testament to the efforts of the apostles and the power of God: “A large number of priests became obedient to the faith.”
Our culture often is vocal about Christians keeping their faith locked up in their homes and churches, out of sight and out of mind. “Don’t bring that noise out here, don’t be an obnoxious Jesus freak, don’t say anything from the Bible that could possibly offend.” And yet we must, because this is simply too good and too important to hold back. We share because we love — God first and others second.