If there is one word that comes to my mind when I read this passage, it’s “unstoppable.” Not the apostles. But the work of the Spirit.
First, we see the apostles going out and performing miracles, and preaching the gospel, and because of this, more and more people were entering the Kingdom.
When the priests saw this, as was the case when Jesus was around, jealousy arose in their hearts.
I wonder if in their hearts, they wondered, “We’re the priests. We’re the representatives of God. Why is God doing these things through them, and not us?”
Yet deep in their hearts, I think they knew the answer. Because in their rebuke of the apostles, they said,
Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood. (28)
Already, you can see a desire on their part to disassociate themselves from the death of Jesus. Why? Probably because after the resurrection, they had to be thinking, “What if we’re wrong? What if Jesus really was the Messiah?”
Not that this caused the chief priests and the members of the Pharisees to change their minds. But we do find in Acts 6:7 that others among the priests actually started to believe that Jesus was the Messiah and put their faith in him.
At any rate, the Sanhedrin had the the apostles arrested again, and then berated them for continuing to preach despite the warnings the Sanhedrin had given them earlier. Peter’s response was incredible.
“We must obey God rather than men! The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead–whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him. (29-32)
Looking at these words from a 21st century perspective, Peter’s words were not something particularly startling.
But from their perspective, it must have blown the priests and Sanhedrin’s minds. For one thing, they didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead. But not only did Peter preach this, he said that Jesus was resurrected and that it is through him, that God gives repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.
More, they pointed to the work of the Spirit as proof to the truth of all they said. This in a day and age when the work of the Spirit had not really been seen in hundreds of years until John the Baptist showed up. And now the apostles were proclaiming that the Spirit was being poured out not just on a select few, but on all followers of Jesus.
And they were telling this to the priests, who should have had God’s Spirit in them!
Well, the priests and the members of the Sanhedrin couldn’t accept this, and they were ready to murder the apostles right then and there.
But Gamaliel stepped in, and said,
Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. (38-39)
I said earlier that the chief priests themselves must have started having doubts about if they had been wrong about Jesus, and their reaction to Gamaliel’s words are why I think so. If they had had no doubts at all concerning Jesus, if they had had no doubts that Jesus was an impostor, there is no way they could have seriously considered the possibility that the apostle’s work was from God.
But because of their nagging doubts, they let the apostles go. And the apostles went out and continued preaching that Jesus was the Messiah.
What can we get from all this? When God’s people are filled with his Spirit, his work cannot be stopped. We can get discouraged by looking at the direction society is going. We can get discouraged by the persecution we’re starting to see. But if we are filled with God’s Spirit, no matter what people may do to us, God will use us and his kingdom will increase. So let us not get discouraged. Instead, let us be bold, going in the power of the Spirit, and do the things he’s called us to do.