“…if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39)
From the beginning of the book of Acts, the Apostles were in the business of preaching the Gospel of Jesus. Even as the powerful Sanhedrin commanded them to stop, the Apostles spoke out boldly. The Sanhedrin’s anger with the apostles seems to reach a boiling point in Acts 5:33 where they are “cut to the quick and (intend) to kill them.”
It is at this point that Gamaliel—Pharisee, grandson of Rabbi Hillel, teacher of the Law, respected by all, and teacher of Paul—speaks up in defense of the Apostles. After giving orders to take the Apostles away from the council, Gamaliel makes a simple argument: either these men are fly-by-night radicals or they are truly from God as they claim. If they are merely radicals, they will fizzle out. But if they are truly from God, they will ultimately prevail.
Gamaliel illustrates his argument by reminding the Sanhedrin of how these radical movements tend to die out when their leader dies. Around the 1st century AD, there was a quick succession of men who tried to stir people up and gather a following. Some set themselves up as political leaders who would throw off Roman rule in Palestine. Others claimed to be the promised Messiah. Gamaliel specifically points out two such men: Theudas who “claimed to be somebody” and Judas of Galilee who “drew away some people after him.” When these men died, their movements died with them.
While not a Christian, Gamaliel recognized an absolute truth about God: He always wins. Pharaoh thought he could thwart God’s plan. Yet of Pharaoh God says, “For this very purpose I raised you up, to demonstrate My power in you, and that My name might be proclaimed throughout the whole earth” (Rom 9:17). Likewise, many made themselves enemies of Jesus: Herod, Pontius Pilate, Romans, and Jews. Yet these enemies were gathered together against Jesus “to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur” (Acts 4:28).
Even when the enemies of God think they have thwarted His plan, God can use them to accomplish His purpose. We must recognize, as Gamaliel did, that God always wins. Why then would we not ally ourselves with God and be obedient to Him?