HANDS OFF THESE MEN!
"When they heard that, they were furious and wanted to kill them on the spot. But one of the council members stood up, a Pharisee by the name of Gamaliel, a teacher of God's Law who was honoured by everyone. He ordered the men taken out of the room for a short time, then said, 'Fellow Israelites, be careful what you do to these men. Not long ago Theudas made something of a splash, claiming to be somebody and he got about four hundred men to join him. He was killed, his followers dispersed and nothing came of it. A little later, at the time of the census, Judas the Galilean appeared and acquired a following. He also fizzled out and the people who were following him were scattered to the four winds.
"'So I am telling you: Hands off these men! Let them alone. If this programme or this work is merely human, it will fall apart, but if it is of God, there is nothing you can do about it -- and you had better not be found fighting against God.'" Acts 5:33-39 (The Message).
Wise words! If only they had heeded them!
Gamaliel was the only one in the Sanhedrin with enough sense to realise that something was happening that was more than human. He was a contemporary of Jesus and one of the few rabbis in Israel with authority, having a following of disciples and teaching his "yoke" to them.
Apart from the threat to their own position of power and wealth, this new movement that was dubbed "The Way" had political implications for them as well. They were allowed limited power in Israel under the Roman governor responsible for this remote outpost of the Roman Empire. They could rule their people as long as they did nothing to stir up rebellion against Rome.
From time to time, as Gamaliel explained, there were uprisings led by hothead rebel leaders but nothing came of them because they were ruthlessly dealt with by Rome. But what was happening now was something bigger than they could handle. The Sanhedrin was aware of the threat of Roman intervention because the apostles were leading a revolt against the very foundation of Roman power - Caesar worship.
The Caesars played on the superstitious nature of their subjects by declaring themselves to be gods and demanding worship on pain of punishment. The password to favour was "Caesar is Lord" and that confession allowed the people to live a life relatively untroubled by the authorities.
Israel had long been a trouble spot in the empire. Rome had declared a truce with them by allowing them to worship their God and not be subject to the many gods recognised in the rest of the empire. That maintained an uneasy peace until this! A group of uneducated Galilean Jews were propagating a dangerous new teaching, that another Galilean peasant named Jesus, who had been put to death for blasphemy and treason, had actually risen from the dead and was claiming the title belonging to Caesar. They were adamantly declaring that "Jesus is Lord" and teaching that His resurrection was the proof.
What's more, supernatural things were accompanying their preaching for which the religious authorities had no answer. The leaders of The Way were saying it was God and, instead of their action against them shutting it down, it only served to fan the flames and increase the popularity of the movement.
They could not understand where the courage and boldness of their leaders came from and they were afraid that, when the Roman authorities got to hear about it, it would spell the end for Israel.
Gamaliel was the only one who had the wisdom to recognise that this was something bigger than their blustering threats could deal with. "Let it take its course,' he advised them, 'and then we will know its origin.' Wise words, Gamaliel. At least you had the sense to know where your power ended!
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