We Must Obey God Rather Than Men: Acts 5:17-29

A prayerful peaceful protest I participated in

God Running is a place for anyone who wants to (or even anyone who wants to want to) love Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely, and love people the way Jesus wants us to.

In our last post from the book of Acts we saw how Jesus’ healing ministry was continuing through Peter. At the heart of that last post we learned about several amazing well documented miracles presented by Craig Keener. If you’re interested you can check that out here: Are Healing Miracles Real? Acts 5:14-16. In today’s passage we see the disciples engaging in civil disobedience. We’ll explore what happened when they went against the wishes of the high priest and we’ll see the manner in which Jesus’ disciples behaved when they went about disobeying the established authorities.

Acts 5:17-29

But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.”

Acts 5:17-29

So the group of Jesus’ followers is growing rapidly right here in Jerusalem, the very center of Judaism. Peter is healing many, the disciples are teaching the people about Jesus and his ways, and the community of believers are loving God well and loving each other well. All of this is attracting followers, and the established leaders become jealous and they have the apostles arrested and put in jail.

But during the night an angel opens the prison doors and brings them out. The angel says to them, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”

So here we see another miracle, the disciples are miraculously freed from jail. If you’re skeptical about miracles I would encourage you to read our last post. While researching for that article I was amazed at the solid documentation we have for miracles. God is moving and doing things in our physical universe even today. (see previous post Are Healing Miracles Real? Acts 5:14-16) If you think about the kind of power God the Creator of the universe has, if you ponder what it must have taken to create trillions of galaxies and all the planets in them and our own earth and everything in it, you quickly realize a miracle is a small thing for God.

So after the apostles are freed from jail they rise early and enter the temple at daybreak: and they begin to teach “the words of this Life” as the angel had instructed them to.

When the high priest and the rest of the leadership sent to the jail to have the apostles brought to them, the officers found the apostles missing. “The doors were locked, the guards were in place, but the place was empty,” they reported. And the authorities were “greatly perplexed.”

Then someone else reported to the leaders that “The men you put in jail are in the temple teaching the people.”

So they sent some officers to bring in the apostles — but not by force because they were afraid the people might stone them if they were too heavy handed with these Jesus followers who kept healing people. And when they brought them in, the high priest says, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”

Peter and the apostles reply: “We must obey God rather than men.”

The Jesus Follower and Civil Disobedience

So we see here an example of civil disobedience by the apostles because they were indeed strictly charged not to teach in Jesus’ name. And yet, after their miraculous escape from jail, here they are, teaching in Jesus’ name, teaching “the words of this Life,” and filling Jerusalem with the gospel.

Some believers feel that because Jesus was at times confrontational toward established authority and even violent when he turned over the tables and used a whip of sorts to drive those who bought and sold from the temple, they can follow Jesus’ example and engage in civil disobedience in the same way. Because Jesus did it, some might say, it’s OK for me, even a good thing for me, to confront those in authority in an iconoclastic way and even to use violence against those in authority. After all, Jesus did it that way.

So yes, it’s true of course, Jesus overturned the tables in God’s temple, he drove out the money changers with a whip and he lit into the leaders of his day in Matthew 23: “Woe to you,” he said to them over and over. “You’re hypocrites,” he said. “You’re blind,” he said. On and on he went. He castigated them. It’s undeniable.

That being said, we need to remember a couple of things:

  1. Jesus is God — so he was turning over the tables in his own temple. And he was driving out the bad guys from his own house.
  2. Jesus is God — we’re not.

So, yes, we see civil disobedience in the Bible, and when it’s Jesus we see it in the form of castigation and even violence in some measure. But when it’s not Jesus, when it’s Jesus’ disciples, we see it done with humility. Today in our text we see they didn’t resist violently. They didn’t start a resistance against the established government. They were submitted to the established government.

They followed Jesus’ instructions when he said, “The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do.” (Matthew 23:1-3)

We see this again from Paul when he tells us, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” (Romans 13:1)

In Hebrews 13 we’re instructed: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17)

And then there’s this from Peter, the same Peter from our text today, he tells us: “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” And Nero was the emperor when Peter wrote that. (1 Peter 2:13-17)

So there was consistent general submission to the established authorities in society among Jesus followers with only one qualifier: The only time they engaged in civil disobedience was when the established authorities contradicted God’s word. And in our text for today they remember how Jesus instructed us to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” So when the authorities said to them, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching . . .”

Peter and the apostles responded, “We must obey God rather than men.”

But throughout the New Testament, when a disciple of Jesus finds himself in a position where the authorities are contradicting God, he chooses to obey God. However, every disciple that’s not God does so with humility, without an intention to replace the existing authority, and without violence.

And that’s the example for you and for me. Most of you reading this don’t live in a culture or under a government where we’re not permitted to proclaim the gospel as Jesus told us to, or otherwise follow Jesus’ instructions. For that reason, for most of us, for all or most of our lives, we’re left with God’s command for us to be subject to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors.

And if we ever do find ourselves in a situation like the one the apostles found themselves in, we absolutely should obey God rather than men.

But we must do it with humility.

Love Like Jesus by Kurt Bennett, now available on Amazon!

Love Like Jesus: How Jesus Loved People (and how you can love like Jesus)

Love Like Jesus begins with the story of how after a life of regular church attendance and Bible study, Bennett was challenged by a pastor to study Jesus. That led to an obsessive seven year deep dive. After pouring over Jesus’ every interaction with another human being, he realized he was doing a much better job of studying Jesus’ words than he was following Jesus’ words and example. The honest and fearless revelations of Bennett’s own moral failures affirm he wrote this book for himself as much as for others.

Love Like Jesus examines a variety of stories, examples, and research, including:

  • Specific examples of how Jesus communicated God’s love to others.
  • How Jesus demonstrated all five of Gary Chapman’s love languages (and how you can too).
  • The story of how Billy Graham extended Christ’s extraordinary love and grace toward a man who misrepresented Jesus to millions.
  • How to respond to critics the way Jesus did.
  • How to love unlovable people the way Jesus did.
  • How to survive a life of loving like Jesus (or how not to become a Christian doormat).
  • How Jesus didn’t love everyone the same (and why you shouldn’t either).
  • How Jesus guarded his heart by taking care of himself–he even napped–and why you should do the same.
  • How Jesus loved his betrayer Judas, even to the very end.

With genuine unfiltered honesty, Love Like Jesus, shows you how to live a life according to God’s definition of success: A life of loving God well, and loving the people around you well too.

A life of loving like Jesus.

(Kindlehardcover, and paperback now available on Amazon.)

3 Comments on “We Must Obey God Rather Than Men: Acts 5:17-29

  1. Pingback: “The Way” the Disciples of Jesus Responded to Suffering: Acts 5:33-42 | God Running

  2. Pingback: A Contrast in Countenance (and the spirit of rage): Acts 5:30-33 | God Running

  3. Yes we are to obey God over man’s authority & leaders We have been tested (the church has been tested) will we close again or obey man over God or God over man? Are we also to FEAR not?

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