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The First Opposition (Acts 4:1-31)

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Introduction1

For 40 days after His resurrection, the risen Lord Jesus appeared to men in very convincing ways. He particularly ministered to His disciples, for they would play a key role in His on-going ministry in and through the church. He spoke with them about the kingdom of heaven and told them to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit. He commissioned them to be His witnesses when they were clothed with power from on high. Then Pentecost came, and the Spirit came in great power. Peter’s preaching produced 3,000 converts. As a result of the healing of the man who was lame from his mother’s womb, Peter seized another opportunity to preach the gospel to those who had gathered.

Acts 3 ends somewhat abruptly, for we are not yet given any indication of the impact of Peter’s message in the temple precincts. Acts 4 begins with a strong and sudden reaction, especially from those who were Sadducees. This is the first instance of opposition and persecution in the Book of Acts. It should not, however, come as a surprise, to us or to the apostles. Jesus had forewarned the disciples that persecution was coming. Men would react to the apostles and their teaching because they had rejected Jesus and His teaching:

18 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed my word, they will obey yours too. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me” (John 15:18-21).2

11 “But when they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you should make your defense or what you should say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you must say” (Luke 12:11-12).

12 But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you, handing you over to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will be a time for you to serve as witnesses. 14 Therefore be resolved not to rehearse ahead of time how to make your defense. 15 For I will give you the words along with the wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict (Luke 21:12-15).

Among other things, our text has much to teach us about opposition and persecution. But there is much more to it than that, as I hope to demonstrate in this lesson. Let us listen carefully to the words of our text, for it clearly declares the gospel, and it models the boldness and confidence which we should have as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission.

A Mixed Response
Acts 4:1-4

1 While Peter and John were speaking to the people, the priests and the commander of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 [greatly annoyed]3 because they were teaching the people and announcing in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. 3 So they seized them and put them in jail until the next day (for it was already evening). 4 But many of those who had listened to the message believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.

Luke begins by describing the response of the opposition to the preaching of Peter. The priests, the commander of the temple guard, and the Sadducees all “came up to them,” “greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” These seem to be the folks who would have been present at the time Peter began to preach to the crowd. Most likely, they embraced the theology of the Sadducees. This means that they did not believe in the supernatural, in angels, or in the resurrection of the dead (see Acts 23:6-8).

Two things “greatly annoyed” these Sadducees. First, they were annoyed that these unauthorized men were teaching the people in the temple precincts. In the minds of the priests and the Sadducees, this was their turf, and they had not authorized anyone to come and preach there without authorization. It was like setting up business without obtaining a permit to do so. The religious establishment had a monopoly on what took place here.

Secondly, the establishment was “greatly annoyed” because of the content of the teaching that was done on their turf. They were distressed because the resurrection of the dead was being taught. This was something the Sadducees did not believe, and thus they did not want the people taught that the dead would rise. Even more than this, Peter and John were proclaiming the resurrection of the dead “in Jesus” (verse 2). The dead would rise again, Peter and John proclaimed, because Jesus had risen from the dead. The implications of this were staggering to those Sadducees who had rejected Jesus and taken part in His death.

Because of the intensity of their opposition, I believe the rendering “came up to them” in verse one is an understatement. They came stomping up4 to Peter and John, seizing them and putting them in jail for the night. It was already evening, so they would hold them in confinement until they could hear their case in the morning. We might therefore expect that when these religious leaders authoritatively pushed their way through the crowds, seized Peter and John, and led them off to jail, that those in the crowd would be reluctant to identify with Jesus and His apostles. Such was not the case, however. In spite of the opposition, Luke informs us that many more came to faith as a result of this miracle and the preaching of the apostles, preaching for which they were arrested. Now there are 5,000 men in Jerusalem who have come to faith.

In Acts 2:41, Luke informs us that 3,000 people came to faith on the day of Pentecost. Here, Luke tells us that the number of believers has grown to 5,000 men. Thus, the total number of believers would seem to be even greater than 5,000. It is possible that more came to faith in Acts 4, in spite of the opposition, than came to faith in Acts 2, where there was no opposition. The lesson here should be clear: opposition to the gospel does not hinder evangelism when the gospel is boldly and clearly proclaimed in the power of the Holy Spirit.

A Challenge and a Bold Response
Acts 4:5-12

5 On the next day, their rulers, elders, and experts in the law came together in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and others who were members of the high priest’s family. 7 After making Peter and John stand in their midst, they began to inquire, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, replied, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are being examined today for a good deed done to a sick man—by what means this man was healed— 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, this man stands before you healthy. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone [Psalm 118:22]. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:5-12).

Observations

Our first observation in these verses is that this is the account of a closed door confrontation. In Acts 2 and 3, the gospel is proclaimed in the open. Here, Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin to give account for their preaching. Either Peter or John must have been the source of some of this information, but even they were not present when the members of the Sanhedrin conferred privately, behind closed doors (Acts 4:15-17). Some information in this account would therefore appear to have been divinely revealed. No doubt, the church, composed primarily of new believers, looked on with great interest as Peter and John were seized and hauled off to jail and then brought before the Sanhedrin the next morning to stand trial. They must have waited with great interest to learn what had happened, and the outcome of it all.

Our next observation should be the identity of those who opposed Peter and John in verses five and six of our text. Luke is very specific as to the identity of those before whom Peter and John stood:

5 On the next day, their rulers, elders, and experts in the law came together in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and others who were members of the high priest’s family (Acts 4:5-6).

These are the very same men who, just a couple of months earlier, had Jesus arrested, tried Him before the Sanhedrin, and then demanded that He be executed.

57 Now the ones who had arrested Jesus led him to Caiaphas, the high priest, in whose house the experts in the law and the elders had gathered. 58 But Peter was following him from a distance, all the way to the high priest’s courtyard. After going in, he sat with the guards to see the outcome. 59 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were trying to find false testimony against Jesus so that they could put him to death (Matthew 26:57-59)

1 Early in the morning, after forming a plan, the chief priests with the elders and the experts in the law and the whole Sanhedrin tied Jesus up, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate (Mark 15:1; see also Luke 22:66-23:1; John 18:12-28).

These are the most powerful Jews in all of Israel. Acts 4:5-6 is the “Who’s Who” of Judaism in that day. These are men who would settle for nothing less than the death of Jesus. There was no reason to assume that they were not just as committed to kill those who preached the resurrection in Jesus.

A third observation is that I believe our text indicates the Jewish religious leaders did not immediately recognize Peter and John as disciples of our Lord. Notice carefully the way Luke has written verse 13:

When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and discovered that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized these men had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13, NET Bible).

Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus (Acts 4:13, NASB, emphasis mine).

The imperfect tense is used to convey past action in a variety of ways. Here, I believe the translators of the NASB have rightly captured the inference of the imperfect tense when they rendered, “began to recognize,” rather than merely “recognized.”5 We must remember that the top religious leaders would have had little or no direct contact with the disciples of Jesus. They fled at the time of our Lord’s arrest (Matthew 26:6). It was even necessary for the religious leaders to have Judas present to identify Jesus at the time of His arrest (Acts 1:16; Matthew 26:48). It would thus appear that initially Peter and John were simply viewed as two unauthorized men, authoritatively teaching that the dead are raised on account of Jesus. Peter’s preaching was so powerful and so skillful that they would not have known he was not trained in a religious school. They seem shocked to learn who Peter and John are.

Fourth, I believe that the intent of the Jewish religious elite was to so intimidate Peter and John that they would be permanently silenced. We should recall from the gospel accounts that the religious leaders had great authority, and that the people (even those in leadership) greatly feared them:

11 So the Jewish leaders were looking for him at the feast, asking, “Where is he?” 12 There was a lot of grumbling about him among the crowds. Some were saying, “He is a good man,” but others, “He deceives the common people.” 13 However, no one spoke openly about him for fear of the Jewish leaders (John 7:11-13).

20 So his parents replied, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind. 21 But we do not know how he is now able to see, nor do we know who caused him to see. Ask him, he is a mature adult. He will speak for himself.” 22 (His parents said these things because they were afraid of the Jewish religious leaders. For the Jewish leaders had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be put out of the synagogue. 23 For this reason his parents said, “He is a mature adult, ask him.”) (John 9:20-23)

42 Nevertheless, even among the rulers many believed in him, but because of the Pharisees they would not confess Jesus to be the Christ, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue (John 12:42).

38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, a disciple of Jesus (but secretly, because he feared the Jewish leaders), asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission, so he went and took the body away (John 19:38).

Peter and John were abruptly interrupted and hauled off to jail. The next morning they were brought before the highest Jewish court in the land. This was the court that found Jesus guilty of blasphemy and which managed to accomplish the crucifixion of Jesus, even though Pilate was intending to release Him (Acts 3:13). They purposely put Peter and John in their midst, so that they were encircled by their accusers. It was all about intimidation. They employed “shock and awe” tactics, expecting to silence these two, just as they had silenced countless others who disagreed with them.

Fifth, observe how they carefully crafted their question to Peter and John:By what power or by what name did you do this?” (verse 7) They carefully avoid naming the miracle, even though it is an undisputed fact (verses 14-16). Neither do they mention Jesus, His resurrection, nor their teaching on the resurrection. I believe their hope is that Peter and John will “get the message,” recant, and slip away in silence.

Sixth, we should observe that Peter’s response is that of a man who is “filled with the Holy Spirit(verse 8). I take it this means that God gave special enablement to Peter at that moment to answer the accusations of the enemies of the cross. This is just as our Lord had promised:

12 But before all this, they will seize you and persecute you, handing you over to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13 This will be a time for you to serve as witnesses. 14 Therefore be resolved not to rehearse ahead of time how to make your defense. 15 For I will give you the words along with the wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict (Luke 21:12-15).

Seventh, observe that there is an implied link between the power of the apostles and the resurrection of Jesus. Peter makes it clear that the lame man was healed in the name of Jesus. He also makes it clear that Jesus has been raised from the dead. Who could doubt the power of one who was raised from the dead? I am fascinated by Herod’s response to the reports of Jesus’ words and deeds after the death of John the Baptist:

1 At that time Herod the tetrarch heard reports about Jesus, 2 and he said to his servants, “This is John the Baptist. He has been raised from the dead! And because of this, miraculous powers are at work in him” (Matthew 14:1-2; see also Luke 9:7-96).

Herod is no saint, and no theologian. Yet somehow he concludes that Jesus is really John the Baptist raised from the dead. John the Baptist performed no miracles in his earthly ministry (John 10:41), and yet when Jesus began to minister in great power, Herod assumed it was John, raised from the dead. I find that fascinating.

Peter Turns the Tables

Are these fellows ever in for a surprise! Peter and John do not cower in fear, but courageously turn the tables on their opponents. The very things that appear to give the Sanhedrin the advantage suddenly work against them. First, Peter points out the incongruity between their actions and the religious leaders’ reaction. Since when is it a crime to do something kind for one in need? What charges can possibly be made against them for helping a lame man to walk? (It is the Jewish leaders who “do not have a leg to stand on” here!) Next, Peter’s response raises the question of why they are brought for trial before such an esteemed group. The Supreme Court of the United States does not hear traffic cases, so why is the Sanhedrin ruling on the actions of Peter and John?

These men have made it abundantly clear to Peter and John that they are “in charge.” They are the leaders. Peter begins by acknowledging this fact: “Rulers of the people and elders . . .” (verse 8). The fact that they are leaders makes their guilt even greater. These men were the leaders who rejected Jesus as the Messiah and orchestrated His death:

10 “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, this man stands before you healthy. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone” (Acts 4:10-11).

Here is Peter’s bold and direct answer to the question these leaders have raised. By whose power7 has this man been healed? He was healed by the power of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene.8 This Jesus is the One they, as Israel’s religious leaders, crucified. God raised Jesus from the dead. And it is through the name of Jesus that this man, who was lame for “forty years,” now stands before them. Whether the healed man was arrested with Peter and John, whether he was summoned independently, or whether he came on his own, we are not told. But we do know that he “stood” there in their midst. He was healed, and Jesus did it!

Peter now draws upon the prophecy of Psalm 118:22.

This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, that has become the cornerstone (Acts 4:11).

The scope of this message will not allow me to pursue the broader implications of Peter’s citation of Psalm 118, but it seems to me that there are elements in that psalm beyond verse 22 (the verse cited) which are relevant to Peter and his situation.9

What is relevant is that this psalm prophesies not only that Messiah will be rejected, but that He will be rejected by “the builders,” the leaders of the nation. What is also relevant to Peter’s situation, standing before the Sanhedrin, is that God has made the Messiah the chief cornerstone. The opposition of the Sanhedrin is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. They thought they were in control, and they wanted Peter and John (and the rest who followed Jesus) to know this. But the psalmist declares that God is in control, for their rejection of Messiah was the fulfillment of God’s purposes. Their rejection failed to achieve what they had hoped, for instead of being rid of Messiah, they must now deal with Him as the One who sits at the right hand of the Father, waiting for His signal to return to the earth to deal with His enemies (Psalm 110:1; Acts 2:34-35).

Verse 12 is the knockout punch of this brief word from God to Israel’s leaders:

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

The lame man was healed in the name of Jesus, the same Jesus the Jewish religious leaders rejected, the same Jesus God raised from the dead. It is in this name and this name only—the name of Jesus – that men must be saved. There is salvation in no other name. If these men would be saved, they must repent; they must change their minds about Jesus. They must embrace Him as God’s Messiah and trust in Him for salvation. To reject Jesus, therefore, is to reject God’s only means of salvation. To reject Jesus is to embrace eternal damnation. Here is true authority. No wonder Peter does not fear these men, even though they are laboring to intimidate him.

We might sum up Peter’s response in this way: “There are three things you ought to know. First, Jesus the Nazarene is the source of the power that has accomplished this man’s healing. This is the same Jesus you rejected and crucified, but God raised Him from the dead. Second, what you did was foretold in the Old Testament, specifically in Psalm 118:22. Third, the One you rejected is the only One through whom you must be saved. He is the only way to heaven.

Truth or Consequences
Acts 4:13-22

13 When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and discovered that they were uneducated and ordinary men, they were amazed and recognized these men had been with Jesus. 14 And because they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say against this. 15 But when they had ordered them to go outside the council, they began to confer with one another, 16 saying, “What should we do with these men? For it is plain to all who live in Jerusalem that a notable miraculous sign has come about through them, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to keep this matter from spreading any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 And they called them in and ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Whether it is right before God to obey you rather than God, you decide, 20 for it is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.” 21 After threatening them further, they released them, for they could not find how to punish them on account of the people, because they were all praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man, on whom this miraculous sign of healing had been performed, was over forty years old (Acts 4:13-22).

If there ever was a time for the claims of our Lord’s resurrection to be silenced, it was here and now. All these men had to do was to produce His body and that would have been the end of it. By divine revelation, Luke takes us beyond the appearances the religious leaders wish us to see to the reality of the situation. Luke takes us behind closed doors to overhear the conversation of these men after they put Peter and John outside, so that they could talk among themselves. They were taken aback by the boldness of Peter and John. Never before had they seen men stand up to them as these two had done. Peter and John were not intimidated. The religious leaders thought they held the keys to the kingdom and that by excluding men from the synagogue they were condemning them to eternity in hell. Now they are told that Jesus is the key to heaven, and they have rejected and crucified Him.

Because of the boldness of Peter and John and the irrefutable message they proclaimed, no one would have imagined that they were men without formal theological training. To hear them speak was to be impressed with both content and delivery (remember, Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit as he spoke). It was only when the religious leaders began to inquire about the identity of these two men that they learned, to their amazement, these were simple fishermen and not highly trained clerics. It was at this time, I believe, that the religious leaders became aware that these two men were disciples of Jesus. In other words, Jesus was not only responsible for the miracles performed by their hands, but He was also the explanation for their great knowledge and skill in proclaiming the gospel.

If this were not enough, they were painfully aware that the man who stood with Peter and John was the man who was lame from his mother’s womb. A great miracle had been performed in their midst. Jesus was given the credit for it. How could these religious leaders possibly punish the two apostles for what they had done, when the crowds were on their side praising God for the miracle that had been performed? The only thing they could do at this point in time was to instruct the apostles not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, threatening them with punishment if they persisted to proclaim Jesus (Acts 4:18).

Peter and John made it clear they had no intention of being silent. In fact, they declared that it would be impossible for them not to speak of those things of which they were witnesses (Acts 4:20). One must be careful not to misinterpret the apostles’ words in verse 19:

“Whether it is right before God to obey you rather than God, you decide” (Acts 4:19).

They are not saying, “We don’t know whether to speak about Jesus or not, so you tell us; you be the judge.” They are saying, “There is no way that we can be silent about the things we have heard and seen regarding Jesus of Nazareth. Whether this is a crime that you must punish is a matter for you to decide. Either way, we will continue to preach Jesus.”

Several things should be said about the apostles’ response to the religious leaders’ threats. First, this instance of “civil disobedience” (if that is what you wish to call it) is the exception and not the rule. The rule is that we should obey those in authority over us (Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Second, their disobedience is selective. In other words, they do not feel free to disobey in any and every way, but only in those specific instances where obedience to men would be disobedience to God. Third, their attitude is still one of submission. They do not seek to overthrow these leaders. They do not speak abusively to them, or of them. They are willing to suffer the consequences of their actions. Fourth, they are honest and forthright about what they intend to do. Let all those who advocate civil disobedience take note of what Peter and John are doing here, for it is a model for us all.

There is really nothing the Sanhedrin can do other than to utter threats and let the apostles go. How ironic. This confrontation did not silence the apostles; it left the religious leaders speechless. They had nothing more to say. They surely didn’t want to talk about this to anyone.

Notice one more thing about what happened when the Sanhedrin faced off with the apostles. The religious leaders had no evidence on their side; all the evidence was in favor of the apostles. The Sanhedrin could not refute the claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. They could not explain away the incredible miracle that had just taken place. They could not refute the words of Peter and John. All the evidence was against them, and yet they only became more resolute in their opposition to the truth. These men did not believe. This was not because the evidence was lacking; it was in spite of the fact that all of the evidence supported the apostolic preaching of the cross. Men don’t fail to believe for lack of evidence; they refuse to believe in spite of the evidence:

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of people who suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, 19 because what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world his invisible attributes—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, because they are understood through what has been made. So people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks, but they became futile in their thoughts and their senseless hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for an image resembling mortal human beings or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles (Romans 1:18-23, emphasis mine).

The enemies of the cross were not interested in knowing the truth and following wherever it led them. They were intent on covering up their error and containing the damage resulting from what they had done wrong. In other words, they rejected truth because they cared only about immediate and earthly consequences.

A Pious Response to Persecution
Acts 4:23-31

23 When they were released, Peter and John went to their fellow believers and reported everything the high priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices to God with one mind and said, “Master of all, you who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them, 25 who said by the Holy Spirit through your servant David our forefather, ‘Why do the nations rage, and the peoples plot foolish things? 26 The kings of the earth stood together, and the rulers assembled together, against the Lord and against his Christ.’ 27 “For indeed both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, assembled together in this city against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, 28 to do as much as your power and your plan had decided beforehand would happen. 29 And now, Lord, pay attention to their threats, and grant to your servants to speak your message with great courage, 30 while you extend your hand to heal, and to bring about miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God courageously (Acts 4:23-31).

You can imagine that there was great concern in the church over the fate of Peter and John, and likely over the implications of their fate for the church. Peter and John were arrested, jailed, and then put on trial (of some sort) before the highest religious court in the land, the same court that condemned Jesus to death. What a joy to see Peter and John emerge from their “trial” without a scratch. It must have been amusing for them to hear the apostles’ report of what took place in that meeting.

What fascinates me is the word “they” in verse 24: “When they heard this they raised their voices to God with one mind. . . .” “They” refers to the saints, not to the apostles. Peter does not give them a sermon on facing persecution (though he will teach on this subject in his first epistle, First Peter). These folks praise God with one heart and mind, and they petition God for the right things. Let’s first consider their praise.

Notice that the praise offered up by the church is grounded in Scripture. They cite from two of the Psalms. The church first praises God as the Creator:

23 When they were released, Peter and John went to their fellow believers and reported everything the high priests and the elders had said to them. 24 When they heard this, they raised their voices to God with one mind and said, “Master of all, you who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them” (Acts 4:23-24).

This most likely is a reference to Psalm 146:6, but there are many texts which speak of God as the Creator of the heavens and the earth.10

The question is, “What does God being the Creator have to do with the persecution of the saints in Jerusalem?” There are many ways that the creation theme is employed in the Bible, but for the church in Jerusalem, the primary biblical truth that sustains them is a realization that God is sovereign, even in their suffering. Look at the entire psalm from which this citation seems to be drawn:

1 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
2 I will praise the Lord as long as I live!
I will sing praises to my God as long as I exist!
3 Do not trust in princes,
or in human beings, who cannot deliver!
4 Their life’s breath departs, they return to the ground;
on that day their plans die.
5 How happy is the one whose helper is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the Lord his God,
6 the one who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who remains forever faithful,
7 vindicates the oppressed, and gives food to the hungry.
The Lord releases the imprisoned.
8 The Lord gives sight to the blind.
The Lord lifts up all who are bent over.
The Lord loves the godly.
9 The Lord protects those residing outside their native land;
he lifts up the fatherless and the widow,
but he opposes the wicked.
10 The Lord rules forever,
your God, O Zion, throughout the generations to come!
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 146:1-10)

The psalmist exhorts us to put our trust in God, rather than in men. It is God who can and who will protect us. Mortal men come and they go, but God is eternal. God made the heavens and the earth. There is nothing outside of His control. There is nothing beyond His power. The Lord particularly looks after the needy and the oppressed. Why, then, should the saints in Jerusalem fear mere men who rage against the gospel, when their all-powerful God is with them?

The second text they cite is also from the Psalms, this time from Psalm 2:

1 Why do the nations cause a commotion?
Why are the countries devising plots that will fail?
2 The kings of the earth form a united front;
the rulers collaborate against the Lord and his chosen king.
3 They say, “Let’s tear off the shackles they’ve put on us!
Let’s free ourselves from their ropes!”
4 The one enthroned in heaven laughs in disgust;
the sovereign Master taunts them.
5 Then he angrily speaks to them
and terrifies them in his rage.
6 He says, “I myself have installed my king
on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 The king says, “I will tell you what the Lord decreed.
He said to me: ‘You are my son!
This very day I have become your father!
8 You have only to ask me,
and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
the ends of the earth as your personal property.
9 You will break them with an iron scepter;
you will smash them as if they were a potter’s jar.’”
10 So now, you kings, do what is wise!
You rulers of the earth, submit to correction!
11 Serve the Lord in fear! Repent in terror!
12 Give sincere homage! Otherwise he will be angry,
and you will die because of your behavior, when his anger quickly ignites.
How happy are all who take shelter in him! (Psalm 2:1-12, emphasis mine)

What is interesting about the use of this psalm in our text is that it originally spoke of the folly of Gentile kings plotting against the Lord and His Christ. The church understands that the psalm likewise applies to the Jewish leaders who conspired together against Jesus Christ. In effect, they are no better than Gentiles when they reject Jesus as the Messiah. As the psalm goes on to say, God laughs at the futile efforts of men to resist Christ because He has installed Him as His king. The best thing those who have foolishly resisted Him can do is to repent and seek His favor, lest He return and destroy them. How appropriate this is to the situation at hand.

The saints spoke of Jesus as God’s “servant” (Acts 4:27). Surely this is a reference to Him as the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah. Once again the opposition of wicked men to Jesus is seen as part of God’s sovereign plan, accomplishing what He had foreordained long beforehand (Acts 4:27-28).

The saints did not ask for God’s vengeance upon their opponents. Neither did they ask to be delivered from all suffering and adversity. Instead, they prayed for boldness to proclaim the gospel, and for His attesting signs and wonders which would manifest the presence and power of Jesus in their midst (Acts 4:29-30). Then, after they prayed, the place where they were staying shook, and all were filled with the Holy Spirit. The manifestation of the Spirit was courageous proclamation of the gospel (Acts 4:31).

Conclusion

This is a great text, with many applications and implications for us. Let me highlight a few of them.

First of all, the opposition of the Jewish religious leaders to the apostles is a virtual rerun of their opposition to the ministry of Jesus. Notice the similarities between our text in Acts 4 and Luke’s account of the opposition to Jesus as recorded in Luke 20:

1 Now one day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple courts and proclaiming the gospel, the chief priests and the experts in the law with the elders came up 2 and said to him, “Tell us: By what authority are you doing these things? Or who it is who gave you this authority?” 3 He answered them, “I will also ask you a question, and you tell me: 4 John’s baptism—was it from heaven or from people?” 5 So they discussed it with one another, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say, ‘Why did you not believe him?’ 6 But if we say, ‘From people,’ all the people will stone us, because they are convinced that John was a prophet.” 7 So they replied that they did not know where it came from. 8 Then Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by whose authority I do these things.” 9 Then he began to tell the people this parable: “A man planted a vineyard, leased it to tenant farmers, and went on a journey for a long time. 10 When harvest time came, he sent a slave to the tenants so that they would give him his portion of the crop. However, the tenants beat his slave and sent him away empty-handed. 11 So he sent another slave. They beat this one too, treated him outrageously, and sent him away empty-handed. 12 So he sent still a third. They even wounded this one, and threw him out. 13 Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What should I do? I will send my one dear son; perhaps they will respect him.’ 14 But when the tenants saw him, they said to one another, ‘This is the heir; let’s kill him so the inheritance will be ours!’ 15 So they threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. What then will the owner of the vineyard do to them? 16 He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others.” When the people heard this, they said, “May this never happen!” 17 But Jesus looked straight at them and said, “Then what is the meaning of that which is written: ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18 Everyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, and the one on whom it falls will be crushed.” 19 Then the experts in the law and the chief priests wanted to arrest him that very hour, because they realized he had told this parable against them. But they were afraid of the people (Luke 20:1-19, emphasis mine).

Luke even uses some of the same words when describing these two instances of persecution. Luke introduced the Book of Acts with these words:

1 I wrote the former account, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after he had given orders by the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen (Acts 2:1-2).

The inference is that what Jesus “began to do and to teach, the apostles continue to do and to teach after His ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Just as the Jewish religious leaders in Jerusalem opposed Jesus, so they opposed the apostles. This was just as Jesus had indicated before His death:

18 “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. However, because you do not belong to the world, but I chose you out of the world, for this reason the world hates you. 20 Remember what I told you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they obeyed my word, they will obey yours too. 21 But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know the one who sent me” (John 15:18-21).

There is one significant difference between the gospels and Acts, however. In the Gospels, the disciples fled when things got rough, and Peter even denied His Lord. Here, the apostles stand firm, boldly proclaiming the gospel.

As the argument of the Book of Acts unfolds, I believe we can see a crisis ahead. On the one hand, the Jewish religious leaders have closed their eyes to the truth and have determined in some way to silence those who would preach Christ and the resurrection. On the other hand, the apostles have been transformed by the events that have taken place in the past few months, and especially by the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. They are no longer afraid of the Jewish religious leaders, or of any retribution they might mete out because of their preaching about Jesus. Both the church and the Jewish religious leaders have become strong in their resolve. A confrontation is coming soon.

Second, the opposition of the Jewish religious leaders provides Peter with the opportunity to demonstrate his own repentance. One way of defining repentance would be to say that it is a change of mind which would result in a different decision if you had the opportunity to do it all over again. This was the case with Joseph and his brothers in Genesis 37-45.11 Joseph orchestrated a situation in which his brothers could relive (so to speak) their decision to betray him, but this time, it was his younger brother Benjamin whom they must embrace or deny. When Judah offered himself in his younger brother’s place (Genesis 44:18-34), it was clear that he had truly repented of his earlier sin (Genesis 37:25-28). Only when this repentance was evident could Joseph truly enter into fellowship with his brothers (Genesis 45).

As I was preparing to teach this text, it occurred to me that our Lord was exceedingly gracious to Peter to give him this opportunity to stand firm in his commitment to Jesus. In the Gospels, Peter had spoken with great confidence concerning his commitment to Jesus. He had assured Jesus that he would be true to Him, even unto death (Luke 22:33). Jesus knew better; we do too. At the time of His arrest, Peter fled from His Lord12 and later denied Him three times. Peter had great remorse for doing so (Luke 22:62). What a gracious thing it was for God to give Peter this opportunity to face greater opposition and danger and to stand fast in his faith. Now, instead of denying His Lord, He boldly proclaimed Him to be God’s Messiah and the only means of salvation.

Third, we should learn something from the early church about our response to persecution. The church (which was composed primarily of new believers) was not shocked by the opposition of the religious leaders. They did not find suffering for the sake of Jesus an unexpected surprise. They did not pray for it to end, or for their adversaries to be banished to hell. They rejoiced. After Peter and John were released, the church joyfully praised God and asked for the gospel to be advanced. They were convinced that God is sovereign, and that any opposition was in accordance with His will.

I would like to suggest another factor in their joyful celebration in the face of opposition. Because they believed in the sovereignty of God, they were assured that their persecution was a sure sign of the progress of the gospel. I see similar themes elsewhere in Scripture:

3 Not only this, but we also rejoice in sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance, character, and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. 6 For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 (For rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person perhaps someone might possibly dare to die.) 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Much more then, because we have now been declared righteous by his blood, we will be saved through him from God’s wrath. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? 11 Not only this, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation (Romans 5:3-11).

18 For I consider that our present sufferings cannot even be compared to the glory that will be revealed to us. 19 For the creation eagerly waits for the revelation of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility—not willingly but because of God who subjected it—in hope 21 that the creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of decay into the glorious freedom of God’s children (Romans 8:18-21).

11 For we who are alive are constantly being handed over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our mortal body. 12 As a result, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you. 13 But since we have the same spirit of faith as that shown in what has been written, “I believed; therefore I spoke,” we also believe, therefore we also speak. 14 We do so because we know that the one who raised up Jesus will also raise us up with Jesus and will bring us with you into his presence. 15 For all these things are for your sake, so that the grace that is including more and more people may cause thanksgiving to increase to the glory of God. 16 Therefore we do not despair, but even if our physical body is wearing away, our inner person is being renewed day by day. 17 For our momentary, light suffering is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison 18 because we are not looking at what can be seen but at what cannot be seen. For what can be seen is temporary, but what cannot be seen is eternal (2 Corinthians 4:11-18).

10 My aim is to know him, to experience the power of his resurrection, to share in his sufferings, and to be like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead. 12 Not that I have already attained this—that is, I have not already been perfected—but I strive to lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus also laid hold of me (Philippians 3:10-12).

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for you, and I fill up in my physical body—for the sake of his body, the church—what is lacking in the sufferings of Christ (Colossians 1:24).

3 We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith flourishes more and more and the love of each one of you all for one another is ever greater. 4 As a result we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of God’s righteous judgment, to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which in fact you are suffering. 6 For it is right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to you who are being afflicted to give rest together with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. 8 With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength, 10 when he comes to be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed—and you did in fact believe our testimony (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10).

12 Dear friends, do not be astonished that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice in the degree that you have shared in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice and be glad. 14 If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory, who is the Spirit of God, rests on you (1 Peter 4:12-14).

Suffering for the sake of Jesus and the proclamation of the gospel is a privilege, for which we should rejoice. It is also grounds for rejoicing because it demonstrates the power of the gospel and anticipates the victory our Lord has won at Calvary, which will be fully realized at His return. Opposition to the gospel often begins with intimidation, but when that fails to accomplish the desired end (silencing those who proclaim the gospel), then persecution comes. Persecution is the result of failed opposition on a lower level. We see this a little later on in the Book of Acts with the persecution of Stephen:

8 Now Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and miraculous signs among the people. 9 But some men from the Synagogue of the Freedmen (as it was called), both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, as well as some from Cilicia and the province of Asia, stood up and argued with Stephen. 10 Yet they were not able to resist the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. 11 Then they secretly instigated some men to say, “We have heard this man speaking blasphemous words against Moses and God.” 12 They incited the people, the elders, and the experts in the law; then they approached Stephen, seized him, and brought him before the council. 13 They brought forward false witnesses who said, “This man does not stop saying things against this holy place and the law. 14 For we have heard him saying that Jesus the Nazarene will destroy this place and change the customs that Moses handed down to us” (Acts 6:8-14).

In the end, the only way to silence Stephen was to kill him. They tried to oppose him by debate, and this failed, so they intensified the level of opposition to persecution, and then death. My point is that when we are persecuted, we should rejoice, just as the early church did, because they saw this as a sign of victory, not of defeat.

Fourth, power and authority are found in the name of Jesus. I was impressed when I discovered how often our Lord instructed His disciples to ask and to serve in His name. In our text, Peter is very specific in his choice of words; he makes it very clear to all that this lame man was healed in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This is what Peter reaffirmed to the religious leaders who were members of the Sanhedrin. The New Testament epistles also speak of doing all in the name of Jesus:

And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).

Somehow I have tended to react to ending every prayer, “in Jesus’ name,” but God has used this text to exhort me to do so, every time I pray. It has also encouraged me to minister in His name, being sure that others know it is by His power or to His glory that ministry is done.

As we approach the Christmas season, we can observe the many ways our culture is seeking to remove the name of Jesus from our conversation and communication. Merry Christmas has all too easily become “Happy Holidays.” Let us not cease to name the name of Jesus, for it is He who is to be preeminent (Colossians 1:18), and only in His name can men be saved.

Fifth, our text has a very clear and concise declaration of the gospel:

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

Look no further than Jesus for salvation. Look to no other than to Jesus for salvation. It is by faith in His name that we must be saved. What does this mean? It means that we must acknowledge that apart from Jesus, we will never be able to earn our way to heaven. It means that by means of His death, burial, and resurrection, the punishment for our sins has been paid. It means that His righteousness can be ours, if we accept it. Among all of the good things we find in our text, don’t forget that it all begins when you acknowledge your sin, and when you accept the salvation which Jesus offers freely to all who believe.

Sixth, take note of what happens when men and women are filled with the Spirit. To be filled with the Spirit does not mean that we become exempt from the trials and tribulations of this life. Indeed, those who are Spirit filled may experience greater trials and testings than others. They will likely experience persecution (see 2 Timothy 3:12). Spirit-filled Christians may not experience health and wealth. But what Spirit-filled Christians will experience is joy in their faith and boldness in their witness. At least that is what we find in this text.

Finally, I want you to take note that it is not the Holy Spirit who is prominent in our text; it is Jesus. If there is any book of the Bible in which the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is emphasized, it is the Book of Acts. And yet it occurred to me that here in our text, where the Spirit’s work is so evident, the Spirit Himself is not the center of attention. It is not the Spirit’s task to glorify Himself; it is the work of the Spirit to glorify Jesus:

26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me, 27 and you also will testify, because you have been with me from the beginning” (John 15:26-27).

13 “But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. 14 He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you” (John 16:13-14).

There is a chorus that we sometimes sing. It begins, “Father, we love you. . .” and this stanza ends, “Glorify Thy name, Glorify Thy name, Glorify Thy name in all the earth.” The next stanza says the same thing, but now it is the Son of whom we sing. My problem comes in the third stanza. Is it right to sing that the Spirit should glorify His name? I think not. His mission is to glorify the Son, just as the Son’s passion is to glorify the Father (see also John 7:18; 8:49-50, 54; 12:28; 12:31-32; 14:13; 15:8; 17:1, 4).

As I close, I think that American Christians are beginning to experience intimidation for the sake of the gospel. This should not silence us. And when it does not, persecution will follow, here, as it has elsewhere. We should expect persecution, and when it comes, we should rejoice in it, because it has come as part of the divine plan, and it is an indication that victory is ahead. May God give us boldness to proclaim the name of Jesus to a lost and doomed generation.


1 Copyright © 2005 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 8 in the Studies in the Book of Acts series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on December 11, 2005. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.

2 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

3 I have chosen to replace the word “angry,” chosen by the translators of the NET Bible, and to replace it with the expression “greatly annoyed,” which is indicated in a footnote as an alternative rendering. This term is found elsewhere only in Acts 16:18, where it is rendered “greatly annoyed.”

4 This term literally means to “stand over.” With the exception of three occurrences in 1 Thessalonians and 2 Timothy, the term is only found in Luke and Acts. Every time it is employed in Luke, it describes a more intense or dramatic “coming up” or “appearing.” It is used of the appearance of the angel of God in Luke 2:9. It is used of Anna’s dramatic appearance in the temple in Luke 2:38. It describes Jesus as “standing over” Peter’s mother-in-law when He commanded her fever to leave her (Luke 4:39). It is used to describe the time when the Jewish religious leaders “confronted” (the same word, in the NASB and NKJV) Jesus for His teaching in the temple. It is used of the dramatic return of our Lord, which may catch some unprepared in Luke 21:34 (and here the NET Bible renders the word, “come down upon”). In Acts 6:2, the term is used to describe the approach of the religious leaders who drag Stephen off to trial, after which they will kill him.

5 While the NET Bible does not render it this way in verse 13, it does render the imperfect tense in this way in verse 7: “After making Peter and John stand in their midst, they began to inquire, ‘By what power or by what name did you do this?’” The NASB renders verse 7 in the same way.

6 In the Book of Matthew, the emphasis falls on Herod, who interprets the miracles of Jesus as evidence of John’s resurrection. Luke informs us that Herod was not alone in this conclusion. A number of people thought the same thing.

7 I understand that doing something in Jesus’ name is to do it in His power.

8 I was fascinated to find how often Jesus is identified as the Nazarene. Those who sought to arrest Jesus were looking for “Jesus the Nazarene” (John 18:7). The sign on the cross identified Jesus as “Jesus the Nazarene, the King of the Jews” (John 19:19).

9 For example, the psalmist speaks of the Lord’s help when nations surrounded him and pushed him violently (Psalm 118:10-14). Does Peter see any parallels to his circumstances, surrounded by these Jewish religious leaders? He speaks with assurance that he will live and not die, and thus he will proclaim the works of the Lord (Psalm 118:17-18). Is Peter speaking of his confidence that these men will not succeed in killing him? I wonder. This psalm would be a source of great comfort to one suffering persecution.

10 Here are a few references to God as the Creator for your consideration and study: Genesis 1:26; 2:4; 5:1-2; 6:6; 7:4; 14:19,22; Exodus 20:11; 30:17; Deuteronomy 4:32-40; 5:8; 32:6; 2 Kings 19:45; 2 Chronicles 2:12; Nehemiah 9:6; Psalm 74:17; 89; 104:14, 24, 30; 115:15; 124:8; 134:3; 135:7; 139:13, 15; 146:6; 148:5; Proverbs 8:26; Ecclesiastes 12:1; Isaiah 13:13; 27:11; 37:16; 40:18-31; 41:20; 42:5-13; 43:1-7, 15; 44:24; 45:4-18; 48:7; 54:5, 16; 57:16, 19; 65:17-18; 66:22; Jeremiah 10:11-12; 27:5; 31:22; 32:2, 17; 51:15; Ezekiel 28:15; Amos 4:13; Habakkuk 3:6; Malachi 2:10; Acts 14:15; 17:24, 26; Revelation 4:11; 14:7.

11 The story of Joseph and his family actually continues to the end of Genesis, but these chapters focus on the point I am seeking to make.

12 We should not forget that it was Peter who drew his sword at the time of our Lord’s arrest, removing the ear of the high priest’s servant (John 18:10). He was willing to die with Jesus, it would seem, but he could not cope with our Lord’s surrender to death at the hands of His enemies.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life