Acts 5:27-42 (ESV)
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. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 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!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.
The council is upset about two things – you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us. The second concern is curious, given that they know darn well they are guilty of his blood.
Then the chief priests and the elders of the people gathered in the palace of the high priest, whose name was Caiaphas, and plotted together in order to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him. … Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. – Matthew 26:3-4, 14-15
If Jesus was as guilty of blasphemy as they claimed, they’d want credit for having him put to death. They’re not just angry; they’re nervous.
But Gamaliel brings some logic to the scene. He explains that God doesn’t need their help – 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.
This carries the day, but notice how they still can’t resist the temptation to torture the apostles.
Torture is a recurring theme throughout the history of Christianity. It still goes on today. The persecuted church needs our prayers, so let’s lift them up. Here are some useful references:
The weekly study guides, which include discussion questions, are available for download here: