Welcome back! How did you do on the study guide? You can find the answers in the blogsite chapter ”Study Guide Answer Keys.” I hope you did well! Let’s move on…
Peter has just reiterated Israel’s need for repentance for crucifying their Messiah, identifying him as Jesus from Nazareth — on the Temple grounds, no less! The throngs near the Temple weren’t the only ones who heard what he said. What happened next was… well… predictable! If you haven’t taken the time to read Acts 4:1-22 for yourself, please do so now before reading on in this blog post. I’ll be waiting patiently when you get back.
vv1-3: The temple guard (a Hebrew guard detail, not a Roman one) and the Saducees showed up all upset. Notice that it says they “came upon them”, not that they “came upon them by chance.” No doubt some tattler had gone to them and told them what was happening. They were “greatly disturbed” for two reasons. Did you notice? (1) they were teaching in Jesus’ name and (2) preaching the resurrection of the dead. Do you remember the theology that distinguished the Saducees from the Pharisees? They did not believe in the resurrection. (See Acts 23:6-8.) Peter and John had gone to the Temple in mid-afternoon, the time of prayer in the Temple, and it was now late in the afternoon. Rather than deal with them immediately, the Saducees had Peter and John thrown in jail overnight, intending to bring them to trial the following morning.
v4: As a result of Peter’s message another 2,000 “Men of Israel” became believers, swelling the size of the believing community — the “Jerusalem church,” if you will — to about 5,000 men (not counting women and children).
vv5-7: Peter and John spent the night in jail. In the morning, the Council assembled. Present were the highest religious leaders in Jerusalem, including “rulers”, “elders”, and those who were responsible for copying the sacred scrolls. Luke specifically identifies four individuals who were of “high-priestly descent” (could trace their lineage back directly to Aaron, Moses’ brother), Annas (who was high priest that year), Caiaphas, John and Alexander. Apparently the Council was arranged in a circle, and the accused stood in the center. These boys understood the dynamics of seating arrangements around the negotiating table! It was specifically designed to be as intimidating as possible. Their opening question got right to the point. They didn’t ask “What have you done?”, but rather asked about the very thing that made them most angry — that Peter and John had done it outside the Council’s authority. They asked, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?“
vv8-12: In spite of the room arrangement, Peter, filled by (fully under the influence of) the Holy Spirit, not only wasn’t intimidated, but became the intimidator. His answer was so succinct and clear that it falls into that category of “gee, I wish I’d thought to say that at the time” afterthoughts for the rest of us. The Holy Spirit, of course, never has need for such afterthoughts. Peter not only answered their question in spades, but he proceeded to repeat the accusation that they were responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion, and the claim that God had raised Jesus from the dead. He drives the point home by quoting the scriptures they all knew so well, and then added that this Jesus of Nazareth was the only means of salvation that God had provided. These short five verses are still the most powerful statement that can be made to modern-day Jews who reject Jesus Christ as savior, Lord and Messiah.
vv13-18: Peter’s powerful response threw the Council for a loop. First, they marvelled that such a clear “legal argument” could have fallen from the lips of country bumpkins. Second, the evidence of the healing was undeniably standing right in front of them with Peter and John. The Council went into closed session, and you can almost hear the buzz going around the room. They clearly recongized the barrel that Peter had them over (v16). Their decision was to silence Peter and John, under threat of force. They called Peter and John back into the room and commanded them to be silent about Jesus of Nazareth.
vv19-20: There has been a lot of talk on the part of the Council, but Peter and John have actually said very little. (Think of John Wayne as a “man of few words”!) Their reply to the Council now is no different. “You boys figure out for yourselves whether we should obey you or God. We can’t stop declaring the truth!”
vv21-22: This reply would have enraged the Council of course, but they had to let it go with additional threats, not actions. Had this not been a public trial, they could have returned Peter and John to jail, or had them beaten or flogged, or maybe even had them executed. They had, after all, succeeded with it in the case of this Jesus from Nazareth. But because it was public, Luke says they were released for two reasons, (1) the plain facts stood against them, as they had recognized, and (2) the watching crowds, who had seen the miracle performed on one they had known to be an invalid for forty years, were all glorifying God for it — and they did not want to be seen by the people as opposing God!
There’s something obvious here that we might miss. Were Peter and John tried in a gentile Roman court proceeding, where a non-specific “kingdom in the hearts of men” was the context? No, they were tried in a Hebrew court where a specific earthly kingdom for Israel was the context. Clearly God is still dealing only with Israel and only concerning their sin of murdering their Messiah and earthly King. In the next post we’ll take a look at the reaction of the Jerusalem church to these events.