What was the response of the high priest and his cohorts in Acts? “They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail” (5:18). They attempted to shame and humiliate the apostles, doing so publicly, in an attempt to diminish their public honor and increase their public shame. Consequently, the high priest does not suffer the further lack of honor. This backfires, as the disciples are honored, with Luke indicating that the honoring is accomplished by God Himself (somewhat indirectly), as “during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the prison, led them out, and said, ‘Go and stand in the Temple courts,’” the place that symbolized the public honor of those who had jailed them, “and proclaim to the people all the words of this life.’” (5:19-20). “This life” would have been the life of the way of the kingdom of God. “This life” would have the been the resurrected life of Jesus. “This life” would have been the promise of the general resurrection to come.
The response of the opposition is predictable. The disciples, who have done precisely what the angel has instructed them to do, are re-arrested and taken before the council. “When they had brought them, they stood them before the council, and the high priest questioned them, saying ‘We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name. Look, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood on us!’” (5:27-28) Proclaiming Jesus would be an indirect challenge to the high priest and associates, as they, having delivered up Jesus to the provincial government, were complicit in the execution of Jesus as a state criminal. Shame continues to come their way.
In response, Peter piles on, saying “We must obey God rather than people” (5:29a). This, in itself, is an interesting, public-honor-diminishing statement, as the high priest was presumed to speak for God. Peter makes it clear that they do not, with the primary evidence of that fact being their stand against Jesus. He continues: “The God of our forefathers raised up Jesus, whom you seized and killed by hanging him on a tree” (5:30). Peter has no qualms about making reference to the presumed, shameful cursing undergone by Jesus, because of the honor bestowed upon Him, indicated by what comes next, which is “God exalted Him to His right hand as Leader and Savior” (5:31a). These terms, “Leader” and “Savior,” were terms applied to Caesar, serving as yet another reminder that these leaders of the people had colluded with the Roman authorities, even going so far as, according to portions of the Jesus tradition, to have claimed that to not execute Jesus as a traitor was itself an act of treason against Caesar, while stirring up the crowds to claim that they had no king but Caesar. Cunningly, Peter co-opts these titles and applies them to Jesus.
Having been reminded of their guilt, “they became furious and wanted to execute them” (5:33b), but a man named Gamaliel interjected, reminding the council of previous instances of revolutionary activities (which reminds us that the Jesus movement was more than just a religious movement, and that it encompassed all of life---social, political, economic, etc…) that had sparked, flamed, and burnt out in time. With a wider scope of vision suggested, Gamaliel insists that “in this case… stay away from these men and leave them alone, because if this plan or this undertaking originates with people, it will come to nothing, but if it is from God, you will not be able to stop them, or you may even be found fighting against God” (5:38-39a). By these words, “He convinced them” (5:39b).
The disciples, having been temporarily removed from the presence of the council, were re-summoned. Though they had been convinced to not fight against the disciples, they were still concerned about their public honor and its associated power. Always mindful of that, and seeking to rob the disciples of honor while simultaneously attempting to shame them further, they “had them beaten” (5:40b). Desirous of protecting their own public reputations, “they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus and released them” (5:40c). The disciples, who were no longer concerned with their own honor or shame, being concerned only with increasing the public honor of Jesus (especially at the expense of those who had attempted to shame Him and who were still attempting to shame Him), “left the council rejoicing because,” like Jesus and His cross, “they had been considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name” (5:41). In complete disregard of the council, attending only to gaining Jesus the honor that was due to him, and completely unconcerned with the jealousy of those that sought to preserve their own honor and power, “every day both in the Temple courts,” which had been the place of their arrest and of Jesus’ most significant public activity, “and from house to house, they did not stop teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus was the Christ” (5:42).