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7. Truth or Consequences (Acts 4:1-31)

Introduction

I can’t help it. When I read this chapter in the Book of Acts I think of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice—Walt Disney’s version. I see Mickey Mouse as the sorcerer’s apprentice, using magic powers to do his work. And then, when Mickey tries to put an end to it, it only grows and grows. So it is with the gospel. Jesus came to Israel as her Messiah. There was a moment in time when Jesus’ kingdom appeared to be appealing, but it wasn’t long before Israel’s leaders decided they wanted to have nothing to do with Jesus or with His kind of kingdom. Finally, they succeeded in putting Him to death. “That’s that!,” they must have said to one another. But that wasn’t it. First of all; there was the problem of the empty tomb. Then there was the problem of the apostles, transformed by Pentecost. And now, there was the problem of a well-known beggar, crippled for more than forty years, who was healed in the name of Jesus, the One the Jews of Jerusalem rejected and put to death. The harder they tried to “lay to rest” Jesus of Nazareth, His claims and His teachings, the more the matter multiplied.

The story really begins at Pentecost, when the Spirit of God was poured out on at least the apostles, and perhaps other saints too. Filled with the power of the Spirit, Peter and John were on their way to the temple to pray, at 3:00 in the afternoon. As they approached the temple gate, the gate called “Beautiful,” they encountered a man being carried to the gate on a stretcher, a man born lame, over forty years before. This man asked for money, but he received much more. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, Peter instructed the man to get up and walk. The spectacle of this man clinging to Peter and John, following them as they walked, leaping and walking and praising God, caused a large crowd to gather. Peter preached to this crowd, giving the gospel but not fully concluding, when a party of temple guards came up and arrested them. And this is where our story takes up—in chapter 4 of the Book of Acts.

The Structure of the Text

The structure of our text, in its context, can be outlined as follows:

  • The healing of the lame man—3:1-10
  • The proclamation of the gospel—3:11-26
  • The results of Peter’s preaching—4:1-4
  • The trial of Peter and John—4:5-22
  • The response of the church to persecution—4:23-31

The Approach of this Lesson

Our approach to this text will be to consider the results, positive and negative, of the miracle and of the message of Peter as described in verses 1-4. We will then try to analyze the opposition to Peter and John and the response of these apostles to their accusors. Then we will consider the response of the church (or at least to those who gathered with Peter and John) to this opposition. Finally, we shall seek to determine the meaning and the application of these things to our own Christian experience today.

The Aftermath of
the Miracle and the Message
(4:1-4)

And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees, came upon them, 2 being greatly disturbed27 because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

As they28 were speaking, the captain of the temple police29 and some of his men30 arrived31 and abruptly led Peter and John off to jail for the night. The trial was held the next day. Peter and John were brought before the Sanhedrin,32 the highest Jewish civil and religious court in the land. This should signal us to the importance of this incident and to the intensity of the opposition.

Several features of this opposition from the Jewish leaders need to be noted. First, the opposition comes from the highest, most powerful civil and political body of the Jews. That which the Jewish leaders oppose is of such import that they employ the efforts of the Sanhedrin to resist it. Second, it is an opposition focused, for the time being, on the apostles, and specifically on Peter and John. Only these two apostles were arrested33 and brought to trial the following day. Third, Luke tells us the real reason for the arrest of Peter and John: they were teaching. They were teaching the people, Luke tells us. They were teaching them in the temple. And, they were teaching as their doctrine the resurrection of the dead through the person of Jesus of Nazareth, the One Whom they had rejected and put to death.

Teaching was regarded as the right possessed only by themselves or at least “franchised” by them to those whom they approved, those who had been trained by them and whose teaching would be acceptable to them. Peter and John were not accredited by them, and yet they were teaching in the temple—their turf—and they were teaching the people, the masses. The ability to control men has always been based upon the ability to endoctrinate them.34 For the people to be taught by someone other than themselves, and to be taught something different from that which they taught, was to lose control of their power over the masses. This was a great threat to them.

And this teaching was surely opposed to their doctrine. They had rejected Jesus as the true Messiah. They had finally convinced the masses that Jesus was a fraud so that the masses cried out for Jesus’ crucifixion. They knew that Jesus had promised He would rise from the dead (cf. Matthew 27:62-64) and that this would be the “sign” which would prove He was who He claimed to be (cf. Matthew 12:39-42). They had been unable to satisfactorily explain the empty tomb of Jesus, and now they could not explain the healing of the lame man in Jesus’ name. For the disciples to teach a resurrection from the dead through Jesus was to teach that the Jewish leaders had been wrong—dead wrong.

The fourth characteristic of the opposition to Peter and John is closely related: those who carried the torch of opposition to the gospel change from the Pharisees in the Gospels to the Sadducees35 in Acts.36 If all the Jewish leaders of the nation resisted and rejected the resurrection of Jesus in particular, many of these leaders rejected the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead in any form. The Pharisees rejected the resurrection of Jesus, for this would have proven them wrong, but they at least held to this doctrine in principle. The Sadducees rejected the resurrection of the dead in general and in total.

The Pharisees were the “pit bulls,” who were given a long leash by the Jewish leaders so that they persistently attacked, accused, and challenged Jesus at every point. But now the Pharisees become virtually invisible and silent. Now, it is the Sadducees who take up the torch of the opposition. The “marriage” of the Pharisees and the Sadducees was short-lived, lasting only long enough for this coalition to put Jesus to death. But now, after His death (and resurrection!), the Pharisees have a falling out. They seem to have lost heart. They will shortly turn to their former animosity and opposition to the Sadducees, as can be seen later on in Acts:

But perceiving that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, Paul began crying out in the Council, “Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; I am on trial for the hope and resurrection of the dead!” And as he said this, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor an angel, nor a spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. And there arose a great uproar; and some of the scribes of the Pharisaic party stood up and began to argue heatedly, saying, “We find nothing wrong with this man; suppose a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” (Acts 23:6-9).

Fifth, the opposition of the Jewish leaders was a continuation and extension of their opposition to Jesus, though they may not have immediately recognized it as such. Jesus told His disciples there would persecution and resistance to their proclamation of the gospel:

“If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:18-21).

“And when they bring you before the synagogues and the rulers and the authorities, do not become anxious about how or what you should say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12).

“But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and will persecute you, delivering you to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors for My name’s sake. It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; for I will give you utterance and wisdom which none of your opponents will be able to resist or refute” (Luke 21:12-15).

Because of this, there are, as we might expect, distinct parallels between the response of these leaders to Jesus and their response to the apostles as we find in our text. Note some of these parallels:

(1) Jesus, due to His teaching and miracles, was enthusiastically received by the masses, which quickly led to jealousy and reaction by the Jewish leaders (compare Matthew 5:1ff.; 8:1-17; Mark 1 with Acts 2:43, 47; 3:11; 4:2).

(2) These leaders began to accuse and to attack Jesus, especially pertaining to His authority and teaching (compare Matthew 9:2-3; 21:23 with Acts 4:7).

(3) The Jewish leaders were accused of sin and misleading the people (Matthew chapters 5-7 and 23 with Acts 3:17; 4:11).

(4) The religious leaders were especially indignant and finally took action when Jesus “took possession of the temple,” teaching and healing people there, and thus threatening the position and authority of the leaders (compare Matthew 21:12-17; Luke 19:41-48 with Acts 4:1-22).

(5) These leaders wanted to do away with Jesus, but they feared the crowds and were thus kept from achieving their goal of getting rid of Jesus (compare John 7:32, 45-49; 11:45-57; 12:9-11 with Acts 4:13-22).

Having stated that the opposition of the Sanhedrin to the apostles was really a continuation of their opposition to Jesus, I must also suggest that this fact was only gradually recognized by the Sanhedrin and Jewish leaders, as I understand our text. Luke tells us they …

“… began to recognize them as having been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13).

As I understand these words, this means that these leaders only gradually realized that that which they opposed was a continuation of the initial “problem” they had with Jesus.

Initially, I think the apostles’ teaching and ministry was opposed by the Sanhedrin for the same reasons that Jesus was opposed, but without realizing it was the same cause. We marvel at the statement that they were slow to recognize the apostles as having been with Jesus, but this can be explained. Many, perhaps most, of the top leaders of Israel (who were members of the Sanhedrin) did not come into contact with Jesus. A man like Nicodemus, for example, sought out Jesus, but secretly. These leaders did not wish to dignify Jesus by recognizing Him or His authority. They would not be seen in the crowds, listening to Him teach nor asking Him to perform some miracle. This would have indicated their own impotence.

The top leaders of Israel had their ways of infiltrating and even of opposing Jesus, without direct involvement—the Pharisees. These men (more “laymen” than official religious leaders) followed Jesus everywhere, challenging and opposing Him and His ministry. Because of men like the Pharisees and of agents like the “temple police” (Acts 4:1; cf. John 7:32), the religious leaders did not have to “lower themselves” to directly deal with Jesus. This explains why Judas was needed as a “guide” to lead the temple guard and the rest to the place where Jesus could be found and to identify Him with a kiss (cf. Acts 1:16).

If these religious and civil leaders would not have recognized Jesus, how would they have recognized His followers? It was only as the teaching of these men became a matter of public knowledge that they “pieced together” the fact that these men, whom they were now opposing, were the followers of Jesus, and thus they were still fighting the One Whom they thought they had gotten rid of—Jesus of Nazareth.

If the miracle and the message of Acts chapter 3 got the attention of the Sanhedrin, it was not overlooked by the crowds. In spite of the opposition of Israel’s top leaders, many came to faith in the Savior as a result of what happened there at the temple. Luke tells us that there were now 5,000 men who believed. It would appear to be a much larger number than the 3,000 converts mentioned in Acts 2:41, since that number seems to include men and women, whereas the 5,000 figure appears to include only men. Some of this 5,000 may have been saved before the miracle and message in the temple (cf. 2:47), but we are given the distinct impression that while some opposed the gospel in chapter 4, many accepted it. The gospel was spreading, and the church was growing, in spite of (perhaps even because of) the opposition of Israel’s top leaders.

The Apostles on Trial
(4:5-22)

Jesus had promised that it would come, and as always, He was right. Those who opposed Him and who had brought about His execution were now joining forces to do away with these two men who would cause trouble in the temple. It was a veritable “who’s who” gathered against the apostles. The rulers and elders and scribes of Israel37 were present, along with the high priest and the whole group of those of high-priestly descent. These people made up the Sanhedrin. Most of these we have seen before at the various trials of Jesus.

There is no specific charge made against the apostles. Rather, the “trial” seems to be more of a “fishing expedition” in which the religious leaders seek to find some transgression of the law or of their traditions, giving them a handle on the situation. There is plenty of innuendo and a great deal of intimidation evident here. Perhaps they can at least succeed in scaring these men into giving up their activities. Putting the men in the center, they demand to know, “by what power, or in what name, have you done this?”

The issue is a familiar one—that of the authority of the apostles. How often Jesus was challenged in the same way. As the highest religious body in the land, this group felt they should authorize all teaching and ministry in their midst, especially that which was done in the precints of the temple. Just who did these two “nobody’s” think they were, going into the temple as if they owned the place, doing and teaching whatever they wished? There is a clear indication that any ministry performed required their approval, which was not granted. There may also be the inference that the power by which the miracle was performed (a miracle which they could not deny) was other than the power of God.38 If they could establish any demonic involvement, they would have a case against these men.

The question, as posed by the Sanhedrin, is an especially informative one for us, for it establishes a very important definition. It links the authority or power of someone with the name by which they perform an act. In other words, to act in the name of Jesus is to act with His power, with His authority. In the Great Commission, Jesus told His disciples that all authority, both in heaven and on earth, was given to Him (Matthew 28:18). Thus, when they ministered in His name, they ministered with His authority. The apostles’ authority was none other than that of Jesus.

Peter’s response to this challenge was incredibly short and to the point. It was a response empowered by the Holy Spirit (v. 8), just as Jesus had promised (Luke 12:12). He begins by pointing out that, far from doing any evil, a sick man has been made well (verse 9). This can hardly be a crime. And as to the power through which this benevolent deed was accomplished, it was that of Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Nazarene, the very One they had rejected and put to death, but whom God had raised from the dead (verse 10). In rejecting Jesus of Nazareth, these leaders fulfilled the prophecy which foretold that the very cornerstone of God’s building would be rejected by the builders (verse 11, cited from Psalm 118:22). This cornerstone must be accepted, and those who rejected Him must repent, if they would be saved, for it was only through this name that one can be saved (verse 12). Jesus was the name by which the man was healed and through which the apostles ministered. Jesus was the only name by which any person could be saved.39 The resurrection of Jesus proved these men to be wrong and Jesus to be the chief stone. The resurrection made the healing of this man possible, and so too the salvation of all who would believe.

It should be said that this very brief explanation and citation from Psalm 118 had a great deal of impact, for it served to remind these men of an encounter Jesus had with some of His opponents in Jerusalem shortly before His crucifixion. In Matthew chapter 21, we read of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (verses 1-11), followed by His “cleansing of the temple” (verses 12-13) and His healing and teaching there (verse 14). This resulted in the opposition of the chief priests and scribes (verse 15). When later challenged as to the authority by which Jesus acted (verse 23), He responded with a question of His own, pertaining to the authority with which John baptized (Matthew 21:23-32). It was evident that the religious leaders refused to accept John’s authority (but were unwilling to publicly reject it, due to the masses). Jesus told a story of a man with two sons, the first of which promised to obey, but did not, and the second who rebelled, but later repented. The second son, Jesus extracted from His questioners, was the better. The second son, as well, seems to represent the Gentiles, while the first represents the Jews. It was the Gentiles, Jesus said indirectly, who would be given the position of the first.

Jesus then followed up with another parable in verses 33 and following, which depicted the sins of the leaders of Israel (specifically, in the context, of those who were attacking and challenging Him). He told of a vineyard which the landowner (representing God) possessed and which he gave into the care of the vine-growers (the religious leaders of the nation Israel). In his absence, the landowner sent back for the produce of his vineyard, but his servants were all beaten and sent away or put to death. Finally, he sent his son (Jesus), whom they also rejected and put to death. Jesus got these men to say that when the owner of the vineyard returned, he would be expected to punish the evil vine-growers and to replace them with others.

It was at this point that Jesus turned their attention to Psalm 118:22 and to the fact that the “chief corner stone” would be rejected by the “builders,” just as the son of the owner of the vineyard was rejected. Jesus then went on to say to His opponents that the kingdom would be taken from them and would be given to another “nation producing the fruit of it” (21:43). Furthermore, this stone which they had rejected would fall upon them, destroying them (verse 44). The chief priests and scribes understood that Jesus was referring to them, and they wanted to seize Him on the spot, but they were prevented from doing so by the crowds who thought Jesus was a prophet (verses 45-46).

For Peter to have brought up this passage from Psalm 118 was to remind these leaders of that unpleasant confrontation with Jesus. It was to say, in effect, “Jesus told you so.” How this citation must have stung in the ears of the Sanhedrin. The One they thought they had rid themselves of was still speaking to them, through the apostles.

Just as the chief priests and scribes were powerless, at that time in the past, to do away with Jesus, so now the Sanhedrin could not do with the followers of Jesus (Peter and John) as they wished. Their inability to act decisively was, I think, the result of a combination of factors. First, the religious leaders were faced with the unpleasant (to them) fact that no crime had been committed. If anything, a good deed had been accomplished for which Peter and John should have been commended. Second, I believe these leaders were not in very good standing with Rome. They had virtually forced Pilate to put Jesus to death when he wished to release Him (Acts 3:13). If they suggested to the Roman rulers that the death of Jesus would bring peace and quiet to Jerusalem, this had not proven to be the case. They had “gone to the well” with Rome too often. They could not go back, yet another time, this quickly. Third, there was a growing gap between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, which created a lack of unity among those on the Sanhedrin. The marriage between all the various political and religious factions which was formed to do away with Jesus was short-lived. Now the Pharisees were apparently backing off. These leaders did not have the clout to pull off another execution. Fourth, the crowds were still in favor of the apostles, and the leaders knew they could not act without a measure of popular support.

Peter and John, along with the healed man, were sent out of the room. What a special delight to be left in that room, as it were, as a “fly on the wall,” overhearing the frustrated response of the Sanhedrin to the teaching and ministry of the apostles.40 Notice that not even once did they deliberate as to what “the truth” of the matter might be. They did not ask if they could have been wrong, and Jesus (and now His disciples) could have been right. They did not even discuss the resurrection of Jesus41 and whether or not it was true. They could not deny the fact that a most significant miracle had been performed. All they did was to consider the “consequences” of letting this movement continue. When the decision came as to whether they would pursue the “truth” or the “consequences” (to play on the name of a one-time television game show of years gone by), they opted to try to suppress the consequences, but not to consider the truth.

The actions of the Sanhedrin can thus be described as “harassment,” for this was all they could do. They could (and did) threaten the apostles. They could attempt to intimidate them. But they could not punish them. They were, at this point in time, only able to hound them which they did to the best of their (well-developed) ability.

The response of Peter and John to this trial is most enlightening. In the first place, they were not intimidated as was expected. Their boldness42 was disarming to the Sanhedrin, who expected these men to cower and to collapse under pressure. They were particularly impressed because it was not the education, status, or accreditation of these men which made them so bold. The only thing which these men knew about the two apostles was that they had been with Jesus. Their authority was directly tied, once again, to Jesus’ authority.

Peter’s answer is a vitally important one, for it points the way to all who are forced to choose between obeying God or men. The choice between “right” and “wrong” is not left to Israel’s leaders. Peter’s words indicate that the ultimatum given them forced them to choose between obeying their authority or God’s (verse 19). Whether or not their actions were wrong in the sight of God (a crime) was a matter which they must decide. As a religious/political governing body, this was their God-given responsibility, one for which Peter implies (“before God”) they will give account. And the inference of Peter’s words is that regardless of their decision, Peter and John would persist in preaching the gospel. When man’s authority over men contradicts obedience to God, men must disobey men and obey God. The threats of the Sanhedrin are thus swept aside due to a higher authority. No human authority can order another human to disobey God and expect him to obey man, rather than God. As stewards of the gospel, they cannot be silent.

A Biblical Response to Persecution
(4:23-31)

23 And when they had been released, they went to their own companions, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard this, they lifted their voices to God with one accord and said, “O Lord, it is Thou who DIDST MAKE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA, AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM, 25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say,

‘WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE, AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS? 26 THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER, AGAINST THE LORD, AND AGAINST HIS CHRIST.’

27 “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel. 28 to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur. 29 “And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence. 30 while Thou dost extend Thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Thy holy servant Jesus.”

31 And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

After one final and futile attempt to intimidate and silence the apostles, they were released. Peter and John returned to a group referred to (as the NASB renders it) “their own companions.” We do not know who all was included in this number, but surely it was not the entire church now consisting of 5,000 men. The two reported all that had happened to them and all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.

The first response of this group of believers may strike us as being a bit unusual. They immediately turned their attention to Old Testament Scriptures pertaining to God as the Creator of all. The marginal note in the NASB might be understood to imply that the text referred to can be found twice, once in Exodus 20:11 and again in Psalm 146:6. This is far from the case. The truth that God is the

Creator of all is a theme frequently found throughout the Bible, Old Testament and New.43

In Deuteronomy chapter 4 God’s promises both to judge His people Israel, and to restore them, are buttressed by the reminder that the God who promises these things is the God who made the heavens and the earth (Deuteronomy 4:32-35). In response to Assyria’s threat to beseige Jerusalem and to take Israel captive, Hezekiah prayed to the Lord for deliverance from the kingdoms of men. His prayer began,

“O LORD, the God of Israel, who art enthroned above the cheribim, Thou art the God, Thou alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. Thou hast made heaven and earth” (2 Kings 19:15).

The psalmists (and others) contrasted the One True God, Maker of the heavens and the earth, with the gods of the nations made with human hands (cf. Psalm 115). In Psalm 146, men are encouraged to place their trust in God, who made the heaven and the earth (verse 6), and not in princes, who are mere mortals (verses 3-4). Consistently in Isaiah (especially chapters 40 and following), the promise of Israel’s restoration and glorious salvation is guaranteed by the fact that the One who promised to accomplish this was both the Creator of the heavens and the earth, but also Israel’s Creator (cf. Isaiah 44:24).

Jeremiah chapter 32 contains a rather striking parallel to our text. Here Jeremiah is thrown into jail by Zedekiah, king of Judah, for prophesying that Jerusalem and Israel would fall to the Babylonians. The people of Israel were instructed not to resist this (32:1-6). In response to all that happened, Jeremiah prayed, beginning with these words:

“‘Ah Lord God! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for Thee, …’” (Jeremiah 32:17).

The key phrase, based on the fact that God is the Creator of the heavens and the earth is this: “Nothing is too difficult for Thee.” To Jeremiah and to the other Old Testament saints who found assurance in the fact that God is the Creator, the bottom line was simply that He who could create all things could also control them. Here he was predicting the downfall of Jerusalem, just as the apostles would do centuries later. And just as the king was persecuting Jeremiah, so the political and religious authorities were persecuting the apostles. And just as Jeremiah prayed to the Creator of the heavens and the earth, so did the early church.

The New Testament follows through with this theme of God as the Creator of the heavens and the earth. Paul wrote this in his Epistle to the Colossians:

For in Him {Christ} all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:16-17).

Here, according to Paul, the Lord Jesus was the Creator, one with God the Creator. Paul represents Christ not only as the Creator of the heavens and the earth but of all things, including thrones and dominions. He is the Creator and the King of all things. He is the Creator of kingdoms. As such, He is greater than all things and creatures, and thus He is in control of all things. All things were created by Him and they were also created for Him. He is also the sustainer of all things. No one is greater than this!

In the final book of the New Testament, the Book of Revelation, God is worshipped as the Creator of heaven and earth:

And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created” (Revelation 4:9-11).

What comfort the church could find in the fact that the God to whom they prayed was the Creator of heaven and earth, who was the Sovereign God, totally in control.44 Would mere men threaten them and seek to stamp out God’s kingdom? It could not be done. They were on the right side, the side of God, the Creator of heaven and earth. What could mere men do to them?

The truth of God as Creator was thus extended by the church to that of the futility of men’s efforts to oppose the Creator and to resist the establishment of His kingdom. Thus, the saints turned their thoughts to a text from Psalm 2:

25 who by the Holy Spirit, through the mouth of our father David Thy servant, didst say, ‘WHY DID THE GENTILES RAGE, AND THE PEOPLES DEVISE FUTILE THINGS? 26 THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER, AGAINST THE LORD, AND AGAINST HIS CHRIST.’

The apostles understood this psalm, not so much as a specific prophecy fulfilled when Pilate and Herod45 collaborated in the execution of Christ, but as a principle (or a more general prophecy) which had, as one of its fulfillments, the collaboration of these two rulers. How futile was the effort of the rulers of this world to attempt to resist the establishment of God’s kingdom. The apostles and the early church saw the persecution they were facing as an on-going resistance to Christ and to His kingdom. And in the light of this psalm, they saw such resistance as futile and foolish. The kingdom of God could not be stopped, and thus, they could not be silenced.

One further observation is in order. They saw this passage, a passage which referred to Gentile opposition to the kingdom of God, as applying to the Jewish leaders of their nation. And rightly so. They understood that when the Jews rejected their Messiah, they became, for all intents and purposes, Gentiles. The people who were once known as “my people” (Jews) were now seen to be “not my people” (Gentiles—cf. Hosea 1 and 2).

These saints were undergirded with a deep sense and conviction of the sovereignty of their God. This is evident in the word “Lord” in verse 24 and in the words of verse 28:

“To do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur.”

Thus, in verse 29, these saints refer to themselves as God’s “bond-servants.” Whatever these rulers purposed to do would be overthrown. Better than this, their actions would be used by God to achieve His own purposes. Just as the death of the Lord Jesus had made atonement for the sins of the world, so the persecution of the church would further God’s purposes as well. This we shall soon see.

The first response of the church to persecution was praise, praise directed to God as the Sovereign ruler of the universe, whose purposes could not be resisted and whose promised kingdom was sure. Verses 29 and 30 move from praise to petition. Here is what this persecuted group prayed for. Note first of all what they did not ask for. They did not ask to be delivered from persecution. They did not even ask that God judge or punish their opponents (although asking God to “take note of their threats,” verse 29, leaves room for this). They asked, in effect, that the gospel be promoted in the midst of this persecution.

For themselves, they asked that God’s bond-servants46 be given confidence and boldness to proclaim God’s Word (verse 29). If the kingdom were to be established, the good news of the kingdom must be proclaimed. This should be done with confidence, not with cowardice. These people understood that persecution would not and could not thwart God’s purposes. They understood as well that persecution would naturally incline men to draw back, to soften up on the message which they preached. Thus, the prayer for boldness and confidence was an admission of the fallibility of Christians. How easy it is to draw back and to “lighten up” when the heat is on. They asked God to enable them to do otherwise. Further, these saints asked that God bear witness to His Word with continued manifestations of His power, through healings and signs and wonders (verse 30). In brief, they asked for a clear message, proclaimed on their part with confidence, which was accompanied by a divine “Amen.”

Verse 31 is the inspired record of God’s response. The phenomenon accompanying this subsequent “filling of the Holy Spirit” is different from the previous “filling” at Pentecost, and yet it also has a familiarity to it as well. God made His presence known through the shaking47 of the building where they were meeting, just as He had manifested His presence before with the sound which was like a mighty, rushing wind, and the appearance of what seemed to be tongues of fire. And the evidence of the filling of the saints with the Spirit here was not speaking in tongues, but their native tongues speaking the message of the gospel with boldness. In other words, the filling of the Spirit was God’s means to answering their prayers for boldness.

Conclusion

The dominant theme of this passage is one that is new to Acts, but not new to the Scriptures—the theme of persection. As we conclude, let me first of all attempt to summarize some of the “principles of persecution” which this text teaches us.

(1) PERSECUTION HAPPENS TO PIOUS PEOPLE. Even when we are “Spirit-filled” and doing the will of God, persecution will come. Any prosperity gospeler’s promise to the contrary flies in the face of the facts of Acts.

(2) PERSECUTION MAY WELL BE CARRIED OUT BY SEEMINLY PIOUS PEOPLE IN THE PRACTICE OF PURE RELIGION. Some of the most cruel and aggressive persecution that this world has seen has been carried out in the name of “religion,” often “orthodox” religion. We are surely taught to endure persection but never are we commanded to inflict it on others.

(3) PERSECUTION FOLLOWS THE PROCLAMATION OF THE GOSPEL. Men are naturally opposed to Christ and the gospel. When it is proclaimed, unbelieving man’s lifestyle and thinking is challenged. Persecution is often the result.

(4) PERSECUTION TEMPTS US TO PLAY DOWN THE PROCLAMATION OF THE GOSPEL. The Book of Hebrews, among others, is testimony to the fact that when the “heat is on,” the saints can be tempted to clam up. If persecution follows the proclamation of the gospel, then the saints may be tempted to be silenced.

(5) PERSECUTION MUST BE VIEWED FROM A BIBLICAL PERSPECTIVE. That perspective will include the sovereignty of God (as evidenced by the fact that He is the Creator of all things). It should also be viewed from the perspective of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who Himself was rejected and persecuted by His own people. In the final analysis, biblical suffering is suffering for His sake (cf. 1 Peter 2;18-25). Thus, experiencing persecution for His sake is a privilege that we can experience (cf. Colossians 1:24; Philippians 2:10).

(6) PERSECUTION IS TO BE FACED VICTORIOUSLY BY THE CHRISTIAN, THROUGH THE MEANS WHICH GOD HIMSELF PROVIDES US. By His grace, and through His Spirit, we can face persecution with boldness and confidence, looking to Him to bear witness to His Word in His own way. Three of the principle means which God has given us to deal with persecution are praise, petition, and proclamation.

(7) PERSECUTION CANNOT AND WILL NOT PREVAIL OVER THE GOSPEL—ULTIMATELY IT WILL ONLY PROMOTE IT. The disciples knew that men cannot resist the promises and purposes of God. Even their rebellion against Him will only further God’s purposes. Thus, we can face persecution with confidence.

For some, like the apostles, persecution was a very typical experience. For others, like the Hebrew saints (to whom the Epistle to the Hebrews was written), it was a threat. The writer speaks of some losses (cf. Hebrews 10:32-34), but not of any bloodshed (12:4). But to us, the threat of persecution is merely theoretical. The most we have to fear (in most cases and for the present time) is an uplifted eyebrow. May God give us boldness to proclaim the gospel, even if persecution were a very real possibility. May God give us the kind of boldness which precipitates persecution!


27 “The verb diaponeo means ‘worked up, indignant.’ It is rendered ‘annoyed’ in the Revised Standard Version. Moulton and Milligan translate it ‘upset’ in a papyrus.” Charles W. Carter and Ralph Earle, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 56. A. T. Robertson also points out that this term is found only here and in 16:8. A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), III, p. 49.

28 Note the “they” here, rather than “he,” indicating that while Luke chose to record only the words of Peter, both Peter and John spoke.

29 “The captain . . . of the temple is referred to in rabbinical literature as the sagan, or sometimes as . . . (‘the man of the temple mount’). He belonged to one of the chief-priestly families, and in the temple he ranked next to the high priest. The temple guard which he commanded was a picked body of Levites. Cf. 5:24, 26.” F. F. Bruce, The Book of the Acts (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988) revised edition, p. 88, fn. 4.

30 “Twenty-four bands of Levitees guarded the temple, on guard at a time. They watched the gaates. The commander of each band was called captain (strategos). Jesephus names this captain of the temple police next to the high priest (War. VI. 5, 3).” A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), III, p. 49.

31 “Burst upon them suddenly or stood by them in a hostile attitude here (Luke 20:1; 24:4; Acts 6:12; 17:5; 22:20; 23:11).” A. T. Robertson, III, p. 49.

32 “‘The Jerusalem Sanhedrin administered Jewish law covering civil, criminal, moral, and religious questions. Its civil authority was limited to Judea. It could make arrests and its authority over Jews, provided they did not possess Roman citizenship, was practically unlimited except in the matter of capital punishment, which reuired the procurator’s approval. However, the Jews did have the right to kill on the spot any gentile who entered the sacred courts of the temple beyond the Court of the Gentiles. The Jerusalem Sanhedrin consisted of seventy members. The high priest was its head. Apparently it was a self-perpetuating body, filling its own vacancies by members chosen from the ranks of the high-priestly families, the scribes, and the elders. The religious prestige of this body extended wherever there were Jews.’” Elmer W. K. Mould, Essentials of Bible History (New York: Ronald Press Co., rev. ed. 1951), pp. 467, 468, as cited by Charles W. Carter and Ralph Earle, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 59.

33 It may very well be that the man who was healed was also arrested. The charge might have been something like “disturbing the peace.” He was reticent to leave Peter and John, and was certainly a significant force in drawing the attention of the crowds to them. He probably would not be silenced as to what had been done for him as well. If this man were arrested, it was a most serious blunder. (The Jews could have killed the man, thus removing the proof that a great miracle had been performed, as they planned to kill Lazarus and “deaden” the effect of his raising--cf. John 12:9-10.) How could they deny that a great miracle had been performed when the miracle was standing there in front of them? Arresting the man only assured his being there at the trial of Peter and John, and proved to be most embarrassing.

34 No wonder so many movements begin in the universities or in an academic setting.

35 “The Sadducees held by tradition the high-priestly office. Collaborators with the Roman order, rationalists in doctrine, they were sensitive of everything likely to disturb the comfortable status they had won (cf. Jn. xi. 47-50), and especially saw danger in popular excitement arising from such Pharisaic teaching as that of the resurrection. (Note the lead they assumed over the Pharisees in persecuting Christ, when the question of Lazarus arose (Jn. xii. 10).)” E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company {photolithoprinted}, 1966), p. 64.

36 “The Sadducees are mentioned only fourteen times in the New Testament -- seven times in Matthew, once each in Mark and Luke, and five times in Acts. In contrast, the Pharisees are named 100 times.” Charles W. Carter and Ralph Earle, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1973), p. 56.

37 “Rulers is evidently equivalent to ‘chief priests’ (cf. Mark 14:53). They are named first, since they were the leading members of the Sanhedrin. . . Elders (presbyteroi) is a general word for members of the Sanhedrin, which is sometimes designated as the presbyterion (cf. 22:5; Luke 22:66). They ‘owed their position not to office but to blood or wealth or religious prestige.’. . . The scribes (grammateis) were ‘a class of learned Jews who devoted themselves to a scientific study of the Law, and made its expostion their professional occupation.’ They were mainly, but not exclusively, Pharisees.” Carter and Earle, p. 57.

38 “. . . the prosecutors use dunamis, not exousia, which contains the notion of authority. The implication is that the apostles had acted by illegal incantation and the processes of magic.” E. M. Blaiklock, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company {photolithoprinted}, 1966), p. 67.

39 F. F. Bruce renders this term “saving health.” F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 91. The Greek term used here is one with a wide range of meanings, as indicated by Carter and Earle: “The same verb, sozo, is translated ‘saved’ in verse 12. Occurring some 111 times in the New Testament, it is translated ‘save’ 94 times in the King James Version. It is found some 56 times in the Gospels and 14 times in Acts. In the Gospels it usually carries the idea of physical healing. In Acts the dominant emphasis is on spiritual salvation.” Carter and Earle, p. 60.

40 The information given here by Luke could have been received by direct revelation. My suspicion is that it was provided by one of those present at this session. For example, Gamaliel seems to have been present (he was present in 5:34), and he could have reported this private session to Paul, his student (Acts 22:3).

41 “It is particularly striking that neither on this nor on any subsequent occasion did the authorities take any serious action to disprove the apostles’ central affirmation--the resurrection of Jesus. Had it seemed possible to refute them on this point, how eagerly would the opportunity have been seized! Had their refutation on this point been achieved, how quickly and completely the new movement would have collapsed! It is plain that the apostles spoke of a bodily resurrection when they said that Jesus had been raised from the dead; it is equally plain that the authorities understood them in this sense. The body of Jesus had vanished so completely that all the resources at their command could not produce it. The disappearance of his body, to be sure, was far fromproving his resurrection, but the production of his body would have effectively disproved it. Now the apostles’ claim that Jesus was alive had received public confirmation by the miracle of healing performed in his name.” Bruce, p. 96.

42 “Normally prisoners before the Sanhedrin were very submissive. Josephus quotes a member of that court as saying that a defendant usually appeared ‘with his hair dishevelled, and in a black and mourning garment (Ant., XIV. 9, 4).” Cited by Carter and Earle, p. 59.

“The word for bodlness, parresia, means ‘freedom of speech, plainness, openness.’ . . . The first adjective, agrammatoi, literally means ‘unlettered.’” But this does not indicate that the apostles were illiterate. Rather, they were ‘without technical training in the professional rabbinical schools.’” Carter and Earle, p. 61.

43 There are many, many references to God as the Creator, some of which are listed below, 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;

44 “Lord is despota. It is the opposite of doulos, ‘slave’ (cf. Luke 2:29). Thayer says that despotes ‘denoted absolute ownership and uncontrolled power.’ ((p. 130).” Cited by Carter and Earle, p. 64.

45 “The reference to Herod harks back to the account in Luke 23:7-12, where Pilate, learning that Jesus is a Galilaean, performs a diplomatic courtesy by referring him to Herod. Luke is the only one of the four evengelists who gives Herod a role in the passion narrative.”

46 It is possible that here that the term “bond-servants” refers specifically to the apostles, but since we are told in verse 31 that “they all were filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to speak the word of God with boldness,” it would seem that the reference is to the whole church.

47 “This {shaking of the house} was one of the signs which indicated a theophany in the Old Testament (Ex. 19:18; Is. 6:4), and it would have been regarded as indicating a divine response to prayer.” I. Howard Marshall, The Acts of the Apostles (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, reprint, 1987), p. 107.

Related Topics: Evangelism, Suffering, Trials, Persecution