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Jesus, only holding a secondary place in this great work of deliverance.
“ To give repentance and remission of sins.” In this he was to discharge the office of a Saviour. The word which we render repentance signifies a change of mind, and is here used for that change of principles which would take place in giving up Jewish prejudices, and embracing the gospel. The consequence of this change would be remission of sins; for converts to Christianity among the Jews, as well as among the Heathen, were taken from an impure into a holy and privileged state, which, in the language of the New Testament, is expressed by the remission of sins, or the removal of ceremonial uncleanness.
“Of which things,” i. e. his exaltation, " we are witnesses, as is also the Holy Spirit.” The apostles had witnessed the honour conferred by raising him from the dead, and the gift of miraculous powers, which came from the hands of Christ. These events were a proof that he stood high in the favour of the divine being Hence it is evident that the exaltation of Christ here spoken of was not local; for of no such exaltation could the miraculous powers conferred upon the first Christians be regarded as witnesses; although they may be considered as a very proper testimony to his standing high in the divine favour.
1. We have here a fresh testimony to the notoriety of the facts on which our faith is built, and therefore to their certainty. They were not reported in a foreign country, remote from the scene of action, where those who heard them had no opportunity of ascertaining the truth or falsehood of the relation; but in Judæa, where Jesus was said to have lived and suffered death, and in Jerusalem, which had been the grand theatre of the principal events. They were not entrusted to a few at first, and, at the distance of many years, divulged to a greater number; but they are published immediately, while the pretended witnesses are living and present, and propagated with so much industry, and with so little reserve, that all Jerusalem is filled with them, and they reach the ears of the High-Priest and the principal persons in the nation. They are facts, too, of such a nature, that all are induced to inquire into their truth, whether believers or unbelievers; the former, to satisfy them. selves that they are not suffering persecution for a fable, and that the high expectations which they are taught to entertain are well founded; the latter, to vindicate themselves from the imputation of a foul murder, with which they must stand charged, if what the Christians say be true. Yet in these circumstances, which must have been abundantly sufficient to have detected and exposed the most artful imposture, the story gains increasing credit; a plain proof of its reality.
2. We have fresh reason to admire the courage and intrepidity of the apostles. Although imprisoned at night for teaching the people in the name of Jesus, yet in the morning, as soon as they are set at liberty, they renew their labours, in the most public place, where they could not fail to be noticed. prehended a second time, and censured for their conduct by the whole Jewish Sanhedrim, the highest court of justice in the nation, they boldly declare that they had acted under the authority of God, and that it was necessary that his instructions should be obeyed, in opposition to all human prohibitions. They assert the divine mission and high exaltation of their master, before the very assembly by which he was condemned to death as a malefactor; hereby virtually accusing them of the grossest injustice. Such was the conduct of the apostles, and it discovered the highest degree of piety and integrity. Let us learn to copy so noble an example of courage in a good cause.
science is to be obeyed; when religious truth is to be professed or communicated; when men are to be rescued from pernicious and dangerous errors, let the conduct of the apostles be ours. Let us not be deterred by the injunctions of the civil magistrate, by the laws of our country, or by any other authority; remembering that in regard to religion, God is to be obeyed rather than men.
Acts v. 33. to the end.
The apostles having been questioned by the council respecting their conduct, in teaching the people about Jesus of Nazareth, notwithstanding a strict prohibition, and Peter, in the name of the rest, having declared in their presence his belief of the divine mission and illustrious character of Christ, the Sanhedrim are so exasperated that they immediately consult about putting them all to death; but being prevented from executing that design by the prudent counsel of Gamaliel, they content themselves with scourging and dismissing them; treatment in which the apostles gloried.
33. When they heard that, i. e. the declaration of Peter, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.
They consulted together how they might get them condemned by the governor, and so put to death; for the Jews had not at this time the power of inflicting capital punishment, as appears from their conduct in regard to Jesus.
34. Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of law, “ a teacher of the law," had in reputation among all the people,
and commanded to put the apostles forth* a little space.
Those of the Jews who had devoted themselves to the study of the law, and made considerable proficiency in it, were allowed to teach in public, and to resolve the doubts of the people respecting difficult matters. These were sometimes called scribes, and sometimes lawyers and teachers of the law. This was the employment of Gamaliel, and it seems that he had attained the greatest eminence in his profession. He was a zealous opposer of Christianity, as may be inferred from the character of Paul, who was his disci. ple, and who had imbibed all the prejudices of his master; but the advice which he gave upon the present occasion was full of good sense and prudence.
35. And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do, “what ye are about to do,” touching these men.
36. For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody, some great person,” to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves, who was slain, and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered and came to nothing.
As Josephus, the Jewish historian, mentions a Theudas who, pretending to be a prophet, drew after him many followers, and perished miserably with them, but places him later by ten years than the time at which Gamaliel delivered this speech, those who consider him as the same person who is here mentioned, * “ Who bad the apostles to stay without." Wakefield, who quotes
Jamnes iv. 13.
must suppose there is some mistake in Josephus or the sacred historian; but, as this was a very turbulent period of the Jewish history, and Theudas a very common name among the Jews, it is very possible that there might be two impostors of the same name, who experienced a like fate. Dr. Lardner * has mentioned several instances. There were two Judas's, who caused disturbances in Judæa, besides the man taken notice of in the next verse. In this way both accounts may be perfectly consistent. 37.
After this man rose up Judas of Galilee, in the days of the taxing,
of the enrolment,” and much people after him : he also perished, and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
This Judas is sometimes called by Josephus Judas the Gaulanite, and sometimes, as he is here, Judas of Galilee; so that there can be no doubt of their being the same person. The account which he gives of him is that he excited the people to rebellion, at the time of the general enrolment of persons and property, for the purposes of taxation, under Cyrenius governor of Syria; telling them that they had a mean spirit, if they could endure to pay tribute to the Romans, and ac. knowledge mortal men for their lords, after God had been their king. These sentiments, the historian tells us, were imbibed with avidity by great numbers of the people, and many were induced by his persuasion to Sefuse to pay tribute. But in what manner the matter ended, Josephus has no where related. There can be no doubt, however, that his enterprise was defeated, as Gamaliel informs us, since the tribute was levied, and the Roman government continued to subsist. His doctrines, however, were by no means removed from
• Lardner's Works, Vol. i. pp. 405-413. Doddridge and Benson follow him. Pearce follows Archbishop Usher, in supposing that Theudas is only another name for Judas.