Success and Opposition (5:12-42)

Bible Passage: Acts 5:12-42

Most of Acts 5 is taken with the response to the preaching of the gospel in Jerusalem. It would be fair to say that the response was mixed, and this is reflected in the chapter. On the one hand, lots of people were saved and healed and the word spread. On the other hand there was opposition from the authorities who arrested and flogged the apostles. In the end the apostles were defiant, and were determined to persist in preaching the gospel come what may.

Gospel Success: Verses 12-16 speak of things going well. The power of God was manifest through signs and wonders done by the apostles, and they were held in high esteem by the people. They also found men and women becoming believers at a greater rate than ever before, and lots of people healed. People were starting to come to them from nearby towns because they wanted to be healed or have evil spirits cast out of them. In a lot of ways this is like the early stages of Jesus’ ministry in Capernaum, where he was having success in one place but had not yet gone to the surrounding towns (see Mark 1:32-37). This shows us what gospel fruitfulness in a particular place can and should look like, and it challenges those times where we have low expectations of the impact the gospel will make.

Gospel Opposition: From verse 17 onwards we see the other side of the response. The high priest and Sadducees have Jesus arrested, and it is made clear that their motive for doing so is jealousy. The first time this happens they are freed by an angel and so need to be arrested a second time before being brought before the council. It is not the case that angelic escapes happen every time in Acts, as we will see with the martyrdoms of Stephen and James, but it does show the sovereignty of God even over the opposition and persecution brought forth against his people. Of all the council, Gamaliel is the one with the most measured response as he realises that God might be doing something and so suggests giving things time to play out. This response is helpful as it shows that the opposition we face might not all be the same. Some might be more reasonable in their approach and open to God changing their mind than others.

Gospel Persistence: When the council had previously ordered the apostles to stop teaching in Jesus’ name, the apostles had disobeyed and ‘filled Jerusalem’ with their teaching. The point here was a simple one. God is a greater authority than any human authority, so when those two authorities clash it is God who must be obeyed. In general the Bible teaches that Christians should obey the human authorities that are over us, but only to the extent that doing so would not mean disobeying God, and in this instance that would have been the case. As the apostles were released after a flogging they were again ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus but again they disobeyed and did not cease proclaiming Jesus as Messiah.

Potential Applications:

  • Challenge what people expect to happen as they share the gospel. Often we set the bar so low and passages like this show what God can do.
  • You could pray for healing for people.
  • Speak words of encouragement and comfort to those who are currently facing opposition for their faith. You could have a time where you offer to pray for anyone in this situation.