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Subject: Christian Religious Studies
Topic: Opposition to the Gospel Message (Acts 4:1 – 31; 5:17 – 42; 6:8 – 15; 9:1 – 3; 12:1 – 24)
Lesson Objectives: At the end of the lesson, learners should be able to:
i. Discuss the various types of opposition to the spread of the gospels,
ii. Identify the accusations leveled against apostles and their defence,
iii. Discuss Saul’s involvement in the opposition against the gospel,
iv. Discuss Herod’s opposition against the gospel.
After the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, attempts by the apostles to spread the gospel met with stiff resistance from the Jewish religious authorities, the chief priests and the Sanhedrin. Some of the technical employed by these people to frustrate the spread of the gospel included arrest, fake trials, imprisonment, persecution and killing. Some of these wicked techniques were used in dealing with the apostles, but the more they tried to stop them, the more the apostles succeeded until Christianity was established all over the world.
The Arrest of Peter and John (Acts 4:1 – 31)
After Peter and John healed the lame man at the temple gate, the people gathered in amazement and Peter and John preached to them in the same of Jesus. This teachings annoyed the priest, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees because the apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. For this reason, they arrested them and put them in custody. The following day the elders, the scribes, Annas the high priest, Caialhae, Alexander and all the high-priestly family gathered and brought Peter and John in their midst to try them. They asked for the source of the power with which they did what they had done.
Peter filled with the Holy Spirit, defended their action and declared that they performed the miracles through the power in the name of Jesus Christ whom they had crucified but whom God raised from the dead. He referred to Jesus as the stone which – they the builders rejected but has become the head of the corner. Only through him the salvation of man is assured, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, they wondered greatly because they noted that though, the disciples were uneducated and common men, they had been with Jesus Christ. The authorities saw that the man who peter and John had healed was standing there with them, so they did nothing against them. They ordered them out so that they can confer with one another. They finally decided to charge the men not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore so as to prevent further spreading of Christianity among the people.
When John and Peter were told this, they responded by asking them whether it was right in the sight of God to listen to them or God. The authorities further threatened them and then released them. Peter and John afterwards reported the incident to the church. The congregation prayed to God for more strength and power to face the opposition from the authorities. After the prayer, they were filled with the Holy Spirit and they preached the gospel with boldness and more signs were done by them.
i. The arrest of Peter and John was prompted by the commotion that came as a result of healing the man who was lame. Peter’s address equally disturbed the worship in the temple. Because the captain of the temple was responsible for maintaining law and order in the temple, he had to arrest Peter and John. Again, the Sadducees did not believe in resurrection, they believe that the teaching of the apostles contradicted their belief and, as such, they felt threatened.
The Arrest and Trial of the Apostles (Acts 5:17 – 42)
As the apostles continued to spread the gospel by the power of the Holy Spirit, the high priest and his men got the apostles arrested and put them in prison out of jealousy. There, in the prison the angel of the Lord released them and said to them, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of His life”. The apostles did exactly as the angel directed them. When the Sanhedrin met, they sent for the apostles in prison but they were not there. Later, an informant told them that the apostles were in the temple, preaching. Because of the people in the temple, they were brought gently without violence. When the men were brought to the Sanhedrin, 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”.
Peter and the apostles replied:
“We must obey God rather than men. That God our Father raised Jesus whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exhalted him at his right hand as leader and savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we witness to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:30 – 32)
The response of the apostles enraged them and they wanted to kill the apostles. A Pharisee in the council, Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honour of our people, stood up and ordered them to be put outside for a while. Then he advised;
“Men of Israel, take care what you do with these men. For before these days, Theudas arose, giving himself out to be somebody and a number of men, about four hundred joined him; but he was slain and all who follows him were dispersed and come to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean arose in the days of Census and drew away some of the people after him; he also perished and all who followed him scattered. So, in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or undertaking is of men it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to over throw them; you might even be found opposing God’ (Acts 5:35 – 39).
The council took to his advice. When they called in the men, they beat them and before they left them, they warned them not to speak in the same of Jesus again. The apostles left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted to suffer dishonour for the name of Jesus.
Qualities Attributable to Gamaliel
i. Gamaliel was a man of courage. He did not display any fear in his efforts to protect the apostles.
ii. He proved himself an educated man with good knowledge of history.
iii. He was a godly man who did not believe in wickedness and did not want the murder of innocent apostles.
iv. He was a man of peace as he abhored any form of conflict in the society.
v. He was tolerant and allowed the exercise of individual conviction.
Significance and Lessons to Learn
i. The arrest of the twelve apostles was one of the greatest threats to the Christian faith, but God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, gave the apostles the power to defend themselves. God also used Gamaliel to intervene on their behalf. If the twelve disciples had been killed, this probably would have been the end of Christian faith, but God did not allow it. This is also a lesson to Christians that in the time of difficulty, the Holy Spirit always helped in all ways to ensure that they are set free from such difficulty.
Different Types of Opposition confronting the Church Today
i. In some parts of the country and even in some schools, Christians are not allowed to preach publicly.
ii. Also, church buildings are not allowed in some parts of the country.
iii. Christians suffer open persecution thereby leading to wanton destruction of lives and property.
iv. There is discrimination against Christians in employment opportunities and promotions in public service.
v. Christians are discriminated against in marriages and funeral ceremonies.
vi. In some cases, Christians are denied the freedom of worship and religion holidays.
The Death of Stephen (Acts 6:8 – 15; 7:1 – 60)
Stephen was one of the seven deacons selected to carry out the daily distribution of food and ensure the welfare of the less privileged people in the early church. Stephen was full of grace and power, he performed great wonders and signs among the people. Some of the Jews could not withstand the wisdom and the spirit with which he spoke. Consequently, these men secretly insighted men who brought false accusations against him. The accusations were as follows;
i. That he blasphemed against Moses, the law and God,
ii. That he claimed Jesus would destroy the temple.
These accusations by Jewish law constituted serious offence punishable by death.
When Steohen was arraigned before the council, he surprised them by failing to refute the allegation. He decided to trace the history of the Jews to show that they had been noted for persecuting the prophets of God. He referred to them as stiff-necked people, uncircumcised I’m heart and ears. This statement angered the people the more. Based on this, they dragged him outside the city and stoned him to death.
Significance And Lessons To Learn
i. Stephen was killed based on false accusations. Therefore, present day evangelists should know that the same fate awaits them at all times. They should therefore pray always for God’s guidance and protection.
ii. The successful arrest, trial and killing of Stephen encouraged the Jews embark on mass persecution of the Christians and, consequently, many of them were killed, but that did not stop the spreading of the gospel.
iii. The persecution of the Christians made them run various places and as they went, they kept on preaching the gospel and that led to the widespread Christianity. An example of this is Phillip’s action and movement to Samaria and the conversion of the people in Samaria.
iv. Persecution is part of the heritage of Christians and they should not be encouraged by such things; rather persecution should make them strong in their faith.
v. The stoning of Stephen helped to introduce Saul who later became Paul the apostle to the Gentiles.
Saul’s Opposition to the Gospel (Acts 9:1 – 2)
Saul wasna young man born in Tarsus. He was educated in Jerusalem and he studied law under the great teacher, Gamaliel. The Roman name of Saul was Paul. He was among the Pharisees who persecuted the early Christians, Stephen was killed under his supervision.
After the death of Stephen, he went from house to house in Jerusalem arresting and dragging Christians out of their homes and taking them prisoners. Thus, Saul succeeded in killing many Christians.
Most of the Christians fled from Jerusalem and went to places such as Judea, Samaria and Damascus among others. Saul went to the high priest and obtained a letter to go to Damascus and arrest the Christians.
Significance and Lessons to Learn
i. Saul engaged in the persecution of the Christians because he was ignorant of the gospel. He thought he was working for God, but when his eyes were opened, he understood the gospel and became more zealous than the apostles. Many people today are in this category. Due to their ignorance, they engage in criticism and gossips against the children of God. People should be very careful of what they do and what they say, particularly when they do not understand it very well.
ii. God arrested Saul’s spirit and converted him, God is ever ready to accept anybody, regardless of his atrocities, once he has changed and confessed. Christians should endeavour to leave their bad ways and turn unto God.
Herod’s Persecution of the Christians (Acts 12:1 – 24)
Herod Agrippa was very violent in his opposition to the gospel. The Herods were not Jews, but were appointed by the Roman empire to rule the Jews and the Jews did not like their system of leadership. The Herods therefore did everything possible to win the confidence of the Jews. When Herod Agrippa realized that the Jewish council was opposed to the spread of the church, he joined in the persecution of the Christians just to please the Jews. When he killed James the brother of John, he discovered that it pleased the Jews who hated the Christians. He then proceeded to arrest Peter. Herod put Peter in prison, waiting for feast of unleavened bread and the Passover to pass before he could kill him.
The night before the day Herod planned to kill Peter, Peter was sleeping bound between two soldiers. The angel of the Lord appeared to Peter and said, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he obeyed. The angel also commanded him to wrap his mantle and follow him. Peter followed the angel through the first gate and when they came to the iron-gate leading to the city; it opened without any effort by them. They went out and immediately, the angel left him.
All this while, Peter thought he was seeing vision and it was after the angel left him that he realized it was the angel of the Lord that came to rescue him. Peter then went straight to Mary’s house where some Christians had gathered to pray for him. When Herod could not understand the mystery behind Peter’s escape from prison, he was furious that he executed the prison guards. Later, Herod himself was killed by the angel of God because he refused to glorify God for the gift of oration. He was eaten up by worms and the word of God continued to grow and multiply.
Significance and Lessons to Learn
i. It is very important to note that it was the stiff opposition the early Christians faced that acted as the necessary ingredient in the spread of the gospel.
ii. The boldness and the courage of the Christians then was enhanced by the Holy Spirit.
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Take a quick test for this lesson
i. How did God use Gamaliel to further the cause of Christianity in the early Church?
ii. Mention any four type of opposition that are confronting the Christian Church today.
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