It seems almost a minor detail in the book of Acts. But how many people of our day are rising up, claiming to be somebody. Our entire culture tries to get us to think that we are somebody. Just look at Facebook alone. The entire success of Facebook is built on the notion that we are “somebodies” in need of telling our stories so we can be followed by other “somebodies” thereby making us all very important people. We need to be wary of such a dangerous view of ourselves.
But that is not the point of this post, rather, the point is to think about this man Theudas and subsequently Judas of Galilee. Both men, mentioned in Acts 5 by the teacher of the Law, Gamaliel, had led rebellions against Herod. Theadas had 400 men following him in his rebellion, and many followed after Judas of Galilee. Both men and their followers had the same fate: death. The movements completely failed.
I have to wonder if the faithful Jews of the day did not lament their fall. The time in which these rebellions took place were filled with Messianic expectations. Did those two create in the Jews a sense of despair at their failure to be who they claimed to be? I imagine they did.
What strikes me about both failed movements is that they were used by God for the purposes of advancing the Kingdom of Christ. Listen to Gamaliel’s words:
“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.”
The teacher of the Law unknowingly tells us how to see if this new movement of Christianity is for real. He gives us two movements that were clearly not of God. They failed. The men who lead them were dead and the followers were killed as well. If the same is true of Jesus, who also died, then he is right in stating the movement known as Christianity will die off. What he did not realize is that our leader is no longer dead. This is what sets Jesus apart from the rest of the wannabe messiahs. Jesus was raised from the dead and appeared to the disciples and apostles. They were witnesses of the living and risen Savior.
It is with this confidence that they were able to take the beatings they did and continue on with preaching of the risen Savior. After this incident, the Jews beat the disciples. Luke records this afterwards: So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. Only those who knew that they were following a risen Savior and leader could respond that way to the beatings they took. They knew they were sharing in the sufferings of Christ, and would eventually rejoice in the glory of Christ as well.
God sovereignly worked through the two earlier movements in order to help us see the difference between the false messiahs and the true Christ. There have been plenty of false messiahs in the past, and many more will come. But the true and living Messiah is Jesus Christ. His followers in Acts testified of this truth so we could testify of it to others as well.
Today people wrestle with who this Theudas truly was. But who he was is not important. What he teaches us about Christ is. While proclaiming to be somebody, he became nobody. He is nothing but a footnote in history, but an important footnote. One showing us that Christianity is lasting and eternal. Christianity is still led by its Leader, who became nothing on our behalf in order to make us something in Him.