Christ is risen!
So one came and told the council, saying, “Look, the men [the apostles] whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them. (Acts 5:25-33)
Notice in the above passage how the authorities are more concerned about appearance than truth. In verse 26, the officers sent to arrest the apostles fear they will be pelted with rocks by an angry crowd, so they treat the apostles with some respect and avoid using violence against them. The implication being normally they would have been quite brutal with people they were arresting. The text shows they are ruled by fear rather than by truth, for it is fear that governs their behavior rather than justice, righteousness or truth. Their idea of just and right is controlled by what the people will approve rather than on some rule of law or justice. It is a lesson for us to consider in our society too – do we tolerate bad policing as long as it is directed against people we don’t like or who we think deserve being brutalized? Do we value the rule of law as applying to all, or only if it benefits us?
The Sanhedrin’s (‘the council’s’) real concern is not that Jesus died unjustly but only that they (the council members) are being blamed for His death: “you… intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!” Again, they fear the people and care little for truth, justice or righteousness. They in fact did advocate for Jesus’ death, but of course they were able to get the hated Governor Pilate and the occupying Roman soldiers to actually crucify Christ- so they could pin the blame on these foreign invaders. Technically it was the Romans not the Sanhedrin which carried out the execution of Jesus, so the council can try to present themselves as also the victims of Roman violence as all Jews are. This had been their plan all along to hide behind the technicality that the bloodthirsty Romans carried out the crucifixion, thus covering up their own involvement and complicity in the affair. They are very much governed by appearance over substance and rely on that to maintain their authority in Israel. One sees the same behavior in polarizing politicians who always find others to blame for things they themselves supported. Modern politicians and the ancient Sanhedrin all alike – Teflon leaders to which nothing sticks, so they shamelessly can’t be blamed for anything.
When the Apostle Peter says to the council, that the apostles need to obey God not men, he is really saying that the apostles are concerned more about substance than appearance. The apostles are affirming that they are willing to suffer for the truth rather than enjoy the approval of the authorities. The apostles are not driven by popularity or a desire to stay in power or by self-preservation. Their moral values are based in truth. They are behaving like faithful Moses who “when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to share ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered abuse suffered for the Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he looked to the reward” (Hebrews 11:24-26). The apostles could not be bribed or browbeaten into forsaking the truth with either the promise of reward, punishment or even the threat of death.
The duplicity of the council is revealed in verse 33 in which the council members not knowing how to deal with the apostles whom they fear might disrupt their lives or even overthrow them, plot to murder the apostles, rather than face the truth about their own decisions. They cannot figure out how to use their authority and justice to silence the apostles, so instead plot to exterminate them. As religious leaders, they are not concerned with what is good, right, just or true, they are more interested in doing things that will maintain their position of power over others. They are not willing to humble themselves so that the truth can be known. Good lesson for each of us, but also an important lesson as we evaluate politicians who attempt to stay in power rather than respect the rule of law.