Peter and the apostles have boldly told the Jewish council that they are responsible for the death of Jesus—and that the apostles refuse to give in to their threats. “So when they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them”(Acts 5:33). Yet something stops them—the intervention of an influential ruler. Gamaliel the Pharisee (mentor to Saul of Tarsus) warns them about another rash decision.
Gamaliel’s advice works this way: men who claim to be the messiah are a dime a dozen and their movements quickly come to nothing (Acts 5:36-37). “So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”(Acts 5:38-39). Gamaliel decides that there is no need to act either way—either the movement will come to nothing on its own or God is behind it and it will succeed despite their intervention. It is only this burst of restraint (which was notably absent during the trial of Jesus) that saves the apostles from death here.
What do we do with Gamaliel’s advice? Certainly it is generally true, yet some religious movements clearly originate with man and do not fail. I find it best to take the second part of the advice as instructive. We must be careful not to oppose ideas, people, or actions that might originate with God or have his blessing, lest we oppose God. This will require careful thought, active listening, and a willingness to compare what we hear and see with what God has revealed. But the danger of fighting against God is significant enough to warrant that level of work.
One thing to think about: What does “opposing God” look like in our time?
One thing to pray for: Discernment to see whether the ideas, people, and actions I observe are “of God” or “of man”
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