“We Must Obey God as Ruler Rather Than Men”
‘We Cannot Stop Speaking About Jesus’
THE year is 33 C.E., and the place is the imposing courtroom of the Jewish national tribunal in Jerusalem. In this setting, the Sanhedrin is about to try 12 followers of Jesus Christ. Why? Because they have been preaching about Jesus. The apostles Peter and John are standing before the court for the second time. This is the first trial for the other apostles.
The high priest addresses the 12 apostles regarding the order issued by the court on the former occasion. At that time, when ordered to stop teaching about Jesus, the apostles Peter and John replied: “Whether it is righteous in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, judge for yourselves. But as for us, we cannot stop speaking about the things we have seen and heard.” After praying for courage, Jesus’ disciples kept on proclaiming the good news.—Acts 4:18-31.
Aware that his previous threats were ineffective, at this second trial the high priest declares: “We positively ordered you not to keep teaching upon the basis of this name, and yet, look! you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you are determined to bring the blood of this man upon us.”—Acts 5:28.
Responding courageously, Peter and the other apostles say: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29) Indeed, rather than obey mere humans, we must obey Jehovah when demands of men conflict with his commands.a
The apostles’ words affirming their allegiance to God should carry considerable weight with the members of the Sanhedrin. If asked about obedience to God, these leaders of Jewish society ought to respond unanimously: “Obey God.” After all, do they not believe that God is the Sovereign Lord of the universe?
Apparently representing all the apostles, Peter states that in connection with their ministry, they obey God rather than men. Hence, he invalidates the accusation regarding the apostles’ alleged disobedience. From their own nation’s history, the members of the Sanhedrin know that there are times when it is clearly right to obey God rather than men. Two midwives in Egypt feared God, not Pharaoh, by preserving alive males born to Hebrew women. (Exodus 1:15-17) King Hezekiah obeyed Jehovah, not King Sennacherib, when pressured to surrender. (2 Kings 19:14-37) The Hebrew Scriptures, with which the members of the Sanhedrin are familiar, stress that Jehovah expects his people to obey him.—1 Samuel 15:22, 23.
Obedience Is Rewarded
At least one member of the high court is apparently affected by the words “we must obey God as ruler rather than men.” Gamaliel, a highly esteemed judge in the Sanhedrin, prevails on the court to listen to his wise counsel delivered in a closed session. By citing past examples, Gamaliel points out that it is unwise to interfere with the work of the apostles. He concludes by saying: “Do not meddle with these men, but let them alone; . . . otherwise, you may perhaps be found fighters actually against God.”—Acts 5:34-39.
Gamaliel’s sensible words convince the high court to release the apostles. Though they are flogged, the apostles are in no way intimidated by this experience. Instead, the Bible record says: “Every day in the temple and from house to house they continued without letup teaching and declaring the good news about the Christ, Jesus.”—Acts 5:42.
How the apostles were blessed for maintaining that God’s authority is supreme! True Christians today have the same attitude. Jehovah’s Witnesses continue to look to Jehovah as their Supreme Ruler. If commanded to act contrary to God’s directives, they respond as the apostles did: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.”
a See the 2006 Calendar of Jehovah’s Witnesses, September/October.
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HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED?
How did the Gospel writer Luke obtain information about Gamaliel’s statements made in a closed session of the Sanhedrin? Gamaliel’s words may have been revealed to Luke through divine inspiration. Possibly, Paul (formerly one of Gamaliel’s students) informed Luke about the content of Gamaliel’s speech. Or Luke may have consulted a sympathetic member of the high court.