ACTS 5:29-32: “Peter and the emissaries replied, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Yeshua, whom you seized and had crucified. This One God exalted at His right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and removal of sins. And we are witnesses of these events—as is the Ruach ha-Kodesh, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” TLV
OBSERVATION: When is it acceptable for the believer in Jesus Christ to exercise civil disobedience? There is a tension in the Scriptures between obeying those who rule over us, who are God’s ordained ministers (Romans 13), and obeying the call to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to all nations. In Acts 5 Peter and the Apostles were faced with this choice, and they chose civil disobedience.
What is civil disobedience?
- “Civil disobedience, also called passive resistance, refusal to obey the demands or commands of a government or occupying power, without resorting to violence or active measures of opposition; its usual purpose is to force concessions from the government or occupying power.” (Britannica)
This exercise is not uncommon in our history. Yet, the disciples were not trying to obtain concessions from the High Priest. In fact, they were willing to go to their death in order to obey the higher command of Jesus Christ.
- “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, immersing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Ruach ha-Kodesh, teaching them to observe all I have commanded you. And remember! I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 TLV
Yet, it is important to note that in their acts of civil disobedience they were not breaking any laws, nor were they destroying any property. They were not gathering unlawfully, they were not causing any danger to those in their midst, and they were not showing disrespect to those in authority over them. They were doing what every Jew was lawfully allowed to do, gather at the Temple and talk about the wonderful works of God. The only difference was they were proclaiming the risen Christ and the resurrection of the dead.
When they refused to obey the commands of the High Priest they did not organize a protest of angry mobs to fight and injure others. Nor did they destroy any property in and around the Temple. They simply went back to the Temple and began proclaiming the risen Christ and the resurrection from the dead. It was for this they were imprisoned. They were not guilty of any other infraction. And when they were miraculously released by an angel, found preaching in the Temple again, interrogated and whipped by the Council, what did they do? They went forth rejoicing and continued proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ!
- “…They took his (Gamaliel’s) advice, called in the emissaries, flogged them, ordered them not to continue speaking in the name of Yeshua, and let them go. So they left the presence of the Sanhedrin, rejoicing that they were considered worthy to be dishonored on account of His name. And every day, in the Temple and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming Yeshua as the Messiah.” Acts 5:39-42 TLV
It is important to note that the disciples civil obedience did not look like much of the so called civil disobedience you see today. There were no clubs, no fires, no destruction of property, no injurious actions. They were simply doing what God called them to do in a peaceful way, willing to pay the penalty for their faithfulness, without resistance, even unto death.
I believe that Martin Luther King must have taken a page from the disciples playbook. He, like others throughout history, have shown the impact that non-violent proclamations of the truth can make in the life of an individual and an entire society.
In this day of civil and social unrest I think it is advantageous to once again dust off these pages and understand what true Biblical Civil Disobedience looks like!
In Jesus Name!