History records that the early church faced intense pressure to obey man instead of obeying God. The religious leaders of the Jews were filled with indignation as the Apostles were preaching the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name throughout all of Jerusalem. These leaders had the apostles threatened, beaten, and thrown into prison in an attempt to stop the spread of the gospel and of people becoming followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Yet, the apostles boldly proclaimed to the religious leaders an essential component of Christian discipleship, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29; 4:19-20). For the sinner who repents, Jesus Christ is Lord and therefore He is to be obeyed in all areas of life. Obedience to Christ is synonymous with those who love Christ and (John 14:15, 23) it is the conclusion of the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20). As the Christian obeys Christ, he ought to expect persecution and resistance in this world.
In Acts 5:33-39, the Lord provides encouragement to His followers from a very unlikely source. Gamaliel, a member of the ruling class of the Jews, was part of the opposition. Gamaliel was a Pharisee who was on the council that commanded the Apostles to stop preaching in Jesus’ name. Although he was part of the opposition, he recognized a truth that ought to encourage every follower of Jesus Christ to obey God no matter the consequences. Gamaliel’s council began with two historical examples of Theudas and Judas of Galilee. These two men had disciples, who followed and obeyed them, but when they died, their disciples dispersed. He observed the truth that Theudas’ and Judas of Galilee’s “ministry” were of men and not of God and therefore came to nothing. Then he advised to leave the apostles alone (Acts 5:38), implying that time will tell whether their claimed supreme obedience to God was of man or of God. By this, he was inferring to the council that if the Apostle’s message was of men that it too would come to nothing. Then he shares, “But if it is of God, then you cannot overthrow it; lest you even be found to fight against God.” (Acts 5:39)
Nearly 2,000 years later in 2021, we recognize that the gospel message is of God and that no man, no matter how fierce his opposition, has been able to overthrow the church of Jesus Christ, because it is a work of God. These last 2,000 years of history affirms the words of Gamaliel and the reality that our Lord is worthy of our complete obedience and his gospel message must be proclaimed to all nations. Gamaliel’s council encourages us to obey God even when opposed by man, tempting us to obey man rather than to obey God. Gamaliel’s council also exposes the state of those who are opposing obedience to God through the preaching of the gospel message; they are actually fighting against God. Whenever one encourages obedience to man over obedience to God he is actually fighting against God. The true follower of Christ will want no part in fighting against God and will therefore go against the teachings of man that are contrary to obeying God.
As the message of repentance and forgiveness of sins in Jesus’ name continues to be under attack today, and as efforts continue to grow to prevent Christians from proclaiming that message, be encouraged to obey God by preaching the truth, because “it is of God.”