Gamaliel was a lawyer who belonged to the Pharisees. He was also on the council that sat in judgment of the apostles. He was highly respected in the Sanhedren and a more liberal Jewish teacher who encouraged moderation in dealing with the apostles. Paul had once been one of his students.
Acts 5 records that the apostles were performing miracles and healings in great number. The High Priest and the Sadducees who were with him became angry. They arrested the apostles and placed them in prison. However, that night an angel freed them and instructed them to go to the temple to teach, which they did.
When the high priest called for them to be brought from the prison the next morning, he learned they were missing. The officers reported the prison doors were locked and the guards were on duty, but the prisoners were gone. They soon learned the apostles were at the temple.
The apostles were again arrested, but peacefully since the leaders were afraid the people would stone them for the arrest. The high priest reminded them they had been ordered to stop teaching. Paul responded that they had to obey God, not man. He preached a small sermon in which he recounted how God had sent Jesus Christ to the earth to die for our sins, but that the church leaders had killed him. He said that they, the apostles, were witnesses to the divinity and mission of Jesus Christ, as was the Holy Ghost, who had been given to those who obey God.
The council was “cut to the heart” and decided to kill the apostles. However, Gamaliel stood up and instructed them to be very careful about killing these apostles. He reminded them of Theudas, who had bragged about being someone important, and who had gathered four hundred supporters. All who supported him were slain and those who obeyed him were scattered and became powerless. Then Judas of Galilee rose up and drew many after him, but he also died, as did those who followed him.
Gamaliel suggested they merely wait.
“38 And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of bmen, it will come to nought:
39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.”
They agreed, but all the same, they beat them before releasing them. They reminded the apostles they were not allowed to speak of Jesus Christ. The apostles left, but continued to teach of Jesus Christ.