We should OBEY GOD rather than PEOPLE: But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him." (Acts 5:29-32)
It is worth noting that the apostles had prayed previously for boldness to speak God’s Word (Acts 4:29). God had answered their prayers fully, and now with courage from above they insisted that their obligation was to obey God rather than men. In fact, they had left the Sanhedrin the last time with these parting words: "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:19-20)
Now, Peter and the other apostles pled guilty to the charges countered against them but justified themselves by the authority of God. We should note that through this justification, Peter was not sanctioning civil disobedience as he makes clear in his first epistle (1 Pet. 2:13–17) and Paul makes it clear as well (Rom. 13:1–7). Peter was not so much advocating open defiance against the state as he was placing his absolute dependence upon God!
In responding to the accusation of disobedience to authority, Peter had put that charge in its proper context. Before his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ had departed, this was the direct command that he had received from Jesus: "…you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem…" (Acts 1:8) Now, the High Priest and the religious council were telling them: "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!" (Acts 5:28) Whose command was Peter and the apostles to obey now? The Word in Life Study Bible mentions five ways how Peter and the other apostles reacted to this conflicting issue:
- Their aim was to serve and glorify God. They were not motivated by ego or out to protect their own power.
- Their point of disobedience was specific and particular. They did not resist the authority of the Jewish council in total.
- They approached the situation with a spirit of submissiveness toward both the council and God. They did not harbor rebellious anger toward authority in general.
- They delivered a positive, factual message about God’s plan and power in loving truth. They did not slander or show disrespect to their superiors.
- They accepted the cost of being loyal to the truth without rancor or bitterness. In fact, they departed from the council rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for the name of Jesus (v. 41)
This is the only position for us to have when we have God’s Word on our side. We should hold on to this position by conviction rather than just an opinion. We should normally obey civil government, but when it goes contrary to the explicit commands of God we must obey God and be ready to suffer the consequences. It is worth noting what Peter and the other apostles continued to do after being beaten and commanded not to speak anymore in the name of Jesus (v. 40): "And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ." (Acts 5:42)