5:34 Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people, and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while. 35 And he said to them: “Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody. A number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was slain, and all who obeyed him were scattered and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away many people after him. He also perished, and all who obeyed him were dispersed. 38 And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39 but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”
40 And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
Do you remember the trial of Jesus? Pilate questioned Him and came to the conclusion that there was no evidence on which to convict Him. He announced this to the waiting crowd and declared "I'm going to beat Him and let Him go."
Odd isn't it? Why would you beat an innocent Man before releasing Him? Unless of course you were trying to be just while appeasing a bloodthirsty crowd at the same time. A Roman beating consisted of 39 lashes across the back with a leather whip that had bone fragments or other sharp pieces embedded into the end designed to tear the flesh with each blow. Quite the treatment for a man declared innocent.
Of all the true stories I have read I have come to the conclusion that no force seems to drive our behaviour more than self-preservation. Pilate was a politician. His appointment as governor over Judea was highly dependent on his ability to please the people or at least not be hated by them. Pax Romana or the peace of the Empire was of utmost importance to its leaders, again because of self-preservation. Happy citizens are peaceful citizens and peaceful citizens preserve the rule of those in power.
As Pilate was deciding what to do with Jesus his biggest concern was not Jesus, truth, or justice. His biggest concern was himself. In the end he caved and had Jesus killed anyway because that's what the people wanted.
Fast forward to the council deliberating what to do with the disciples. Gamaliel makes a stirring and convincing argument. In spite of what he said they still beat them. Apparently they were willing to consider the possibility that these men were serving God and that Jesus was legit. Or were they? Would you beat the servants of the Almighty?
Self-preservation is a powerful force and blinding. Do you remember how many times Jesus addressed the religious leaders as blind? I don't have a hard number for you but it was a lot. Stronger than anything was the fact the religious leaders did not want it to be true. To consider the possibility that Jesus was the One was too much. It would not only make them look really bad, but it would undermine their entire power over the people. Like Pilate there was a lot more at stake than truth and justice. Like Pilate they knew these men were likely innocent but they beat them anyway.
What does all this have to do with us? We need to check our motives. Always. Are we for or against something or someone based on truth and justice or do we have other motives? Self-preservation perhaps? Maintaining the status quo? Saving face?
Whatever the circumstance may be let your reasons go and pursue truth always.
"You will know the truth and the truth will make you free and you will be free indeed." - Jesus