Online Bible Commentary
How Christians Should React to Persecution
Acts 5: 33 When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them. 34 Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them: "Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. 38 And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39 but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it--lest you even be found to fight against God." 40 And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (NKJV)
The New Testament Church is now an up and coming reality, in the A.D. early thirties. There were now at least five thousand believers that made up the worldwide church, and the numbers were growing daily.
The Jewish religious leaders were feeling threatened by the following of this new movement led by the apostles. They had already arrested Peter and John for teaching of Jesus. They released them with a warning to stop this teaching.
The apostles were then arrested a second time for preaching and healing in the name of Jesus. This time an angel of the Lord released them from their prison cell, without the guards even knowing!
Now the religious leaders are fit to be tied. What makes it worse is that not only have the apostles escaped prison but now they also are back teaching in the temple again. They are brought before the Sanhedrin again and, led by Peter, the apostles state that they will refuse to obey the command to stop preaching in the name of Jesus.
Upon hearing this, the religious leaders “were furious and plotted to kill them” (v. 33). However, a Pharisee named Gamaliel stepped up and suggested to be careful in handling the apostles (vv. 34-35). He gave past evidence that if the Christian movement was of human origin it would soon fizzle out, but if the movement was from God they would not be able to stop it anyway (vv.36-39).
What Gamaliel said was true according to God’s time, but not man’s time. In God’s time only the Christian movement will be left standing. However, we see in man’s time that other, false, religions have succeeded for centuries.
Nevertheless, the Sanhedrin took his advice. They flogged the apostles and released them. They ordered the apostles to stop all of their activities (v.40).
So did the apostles comply with the governing body of the Jews or did they continue on with the work of God? First, they rejoiced that they were worthy of being persecuted, like their leader Jesus had been (v. 41). Then they continued their work for the Lord, probably with a new found vigor (v. 42).
In the world today Christians are being persecuted, with many giving their lives in the name of Jesus. This kind of persecution has been present in other countries since the movement began in the first century. In response, the Christian movement has continued to exist, and even flourish.
Although, historically, persecution has not been nearly as severe here as in other countries, there are no guarantees that it won’t become so. The increase of anti Christian thinking in our country, especially in the highest offices of the land, and the influx of Muslims and Muslim influence in this country should be alarming to Christians. We now see persecution of Christians in this country that is unprecedented.
The United States was founded on Christian values. The Bible was the original textbook in our schools, and our laws were derived from the Bible. Although some of our founding fathers were Deists, and not Christians, the Bible was still the basis for the law of the land.
This Biblical influence in our laws is slowly being eroded away. Only by electing people who hold Christian values and believe in the Bible can we hold on to the blessings that God has heaped upon our nation since its beginning. God blesses obedience, and He punishes disobedience. This is the character of God, and God never changes. He is the same, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
So how should we Christians react to persecution? The apostles gave us the answer to this question. We should keep on keeping on. We should not waver in our devotion to Jesus Christ, and should not be deterred by persecution. We should stand fast in our belief, regardless of the consequences. We should stay strong in our faith. And all along we should rejoice that we are worthy of being persecuted, as Jesus was.