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The fact that the apostles were not killed in Acts 5 was (from a human point of view) due to the intervention of a man named Gamaliel – an unlikely mediator!

Gamaliel was a grandson and follower of the liberal Rabbi Hillel and mentor to a man called Saul, who was later to feature predominantly in the spread of Christianity. A Pharisee with a reputation for scholarship, wisdom and moderation, Gamaliel was honoured by all the people and renowned for his piety. His intervention in the ongoing dispute between the apostles and the Sanhedrin was largely responsible for persuading the furious Sadducees to take a more conciliatory tone and thus averted yet more violence.

Gamaliel’s plea for restraint and caution reminded the Sanhedrin that movements of human origin would come to nothing without any interference by the Jewish authorities, whereas if the movement were inspired by God, it would be dangerous to take action against it. (Acts 5:33-40). He cited two examples of rebellion (one led by Theudas and one by Judas the Galilean, both of which had fizzled out once these leaders were killed) and advised the Council to leave the men alone. (Acts 5:37) Whether he actually thought this was a movement of God is not known, but his common sense approach definitely diffused the tension of the moment.

Gamaliel’s speech persuaded the others, who were content (for now) to flog the apostles (‘a serious lesson to offenders’, as Howard Marshall comments) and dismiss them with further warnings not to speak in the name of Jesus. (Acts 5:42) His words were a reminder to us all of the benefits of restrained speech (‘the one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered’ Prov 17:27) and the fact that God can – and does! – frequently use the most unlikely people to further His plans. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Gamaliel’s pupil, Saul, was chosen by God to be His apostle to the Gentiles. We serve a God of endless surprises!