We are in the midst of a study of 2:1-8:1a, which is a record of the disciples’ witness in Jerusalem. It also can be characterized as a series of firsts for the Church. In our last essay we studied Acts 3:1-26, which has two parts. In verses 1-11 we saw the first recorded Christian miracle. And in verses 12-26 we saw a second sermon by the apostle Peter.
In this essay we are studying 4:1-31, in which Luke has recorded the first opposition to the Church. This chapter continues the story of chapter three. The first thing we should notice is that John, as well as Peter, was preaching that day. But Luke only reported what Peter said.
While they were preaching and teaching, the Jewish authorities became upset. The priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees all came to arrest Peter and John. The captain of the temple was the priest who was responsible for keeping order in the temple precincts. His authority ranked second only to the high priest, and he was commander of the temple police. The Sadducees were the priestly Jewish sect. They were wealthy aristocrats who collaborated with the Romans and held to a liberal theology. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible as scripture; they didn’t believe in angels and demons; and they rejected the doctrines of immortality and resurrection. This theology explains why they were so upset that Peter and John were preaching Jesus’ resurrection.
These authorities jailed Peter and John overnight. But that didn’t keep the preached word from having its intended effect. Hundreds repented and believed, and the total number of believers in Jerusalem rose to 5,000.
The three groups named in verse five: the rulers, elders, and scribes, made up the Sanhedrin, which as you know, was the group of seventy-one Jews to which the Romans had granted power over Jewish religious affairs. The “rulers” were mostly Sadducean priests, and Caiaphas, the reigning high priest (AD 18-36), would have been presiding. These Sadducean rulers would have been in the majority. The “elders” probably were clan leaders. And the scribes were lawyers, that is, experts in the Jewish law. The scribes were mostly Pharisees.
Luke tells us that Annas, Caiaphas’ father-in-law who had been high priest before Caiaphas (AD 6-15), and several other members of their family also were present. Theoretically, there was supposed to be only one high priest at a time. It was a lifetime appointment. But the Romans had the authority to change the high priest if they wanted to, which meant that sometimes there were more than one high priest at a time. Within the ruling high priestly family, Annas undoubtedly had more influence than Caiaphas.
Once the Sanhedrin was assembled, Peter and John were brought in; and they were asked, presumably by Caiaphas, “By what power, or by what name did you do this?” The first thing to notice here is the boldness of Peter now that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. This was the same Sanhedrin that had sentenced Jesus to the cross. But it was not the same Peter who had cowered before a servant girl and others as he denied Jesus three times during Jesus’ trial. Peter boldly goes on the offensive. He defends himself and John by bearing witness to Jesus. Indeed he makes four points in their defense.
First, the healing of the crippled man was a good deed (v. 9). No one could argue against that point. The man was made whole.
Second, it was done in the name of Jesus (v. 10). The miracle, the reality of which no one disputed, was accomplished by the grace and power of Jesus. And Peter fearlessly proclaimed that fact. Moreover the Jewish authorities could not argue against the place and timing of the miracle. It was done in an appropriate place, the temple, at the time of prayer. In addition, It was not done on a Sabbath, which had been a sore spot in relation to several of Jesus’ healing miracles.
Third, Peter reminds the Sanhedrin that they had crucified Jesus and that God had reversed their action by means of the resurrection (v. 10). You will recall that Peter made this same point in each of his two sermons (2:23-24; 3:15). Peter supports that assertion by quoting Ps. 118:22, which he interprets as messianic. Jesus is the messianic Stone that Judaism rejected, but which God made the cornerstone of his will (v. 11). In other words, Jesus not only is the Messiah, he is the foundation stone or the capstone of what God is building. The idea is that Jesus, the Messiah, is the key to what God wants to accomplish.
Finally, fourth, Peter declares that Jesus is the only means of salvation (v. 12). Many liberal scholars and students of the Bible today seem determined to impose “political correctness” on the Bible. In our politically correct culture, it is proper to promote “tolerance” in the area of religion and improper to promote exclusivity. Therefore the politically correct interpreters claim that one should never claim that salvation is only through faith in Jesus. But Peter certainly did not hesitate to make that claim.
In verses 4:13-22 we see the Sanhedrin’s decision. As you see in verse 13, the members of the Sanhedrin were amazed by the situation in front of them. They were amazed by the boldness of Peter and John. They also were amazed at their wisdom and knowledge considering that they were “uneducated.” The word translated “uneducated” sometimes was used to mean “illiterate,” but in this context it refers to the fact that Peter and John had no formal theological training. In other words, they were non-professionals, what we today would call “laymen.” Then the Sanhedrin recognized them as companions of Jesus. That suggests that the Sanhedrin attributed their knowledge to their association with Jesus, which was ironic, because Jesus didn’t have any formal theological training either. Indeed if you look at John 7:14-16, you will see an occasion when Jesus stirred the same kind of amazement with his teaching.
Verse 14 tells us that the healed man, whose healing had precipitated the whole situation, was present at the hearing. And the Sanhedrin could not deny the miracle. So we see in verses 15-18 that after removing Peter, John, and the healed man from the room in order to discuss the situation privately, they decided to forbid Peter and John from speaking in the name of Jesus. But the apostles refused to be quiet about it. The Sanhedrin saw no satisfactory solution, so they repeated their threats against Peter and John and let them go.
In verses 23-31 we see that Peter and John, immediately upon their release, went to their friends, meaning their fellow Christians, and reported everything that had happened. And the Church began to pray, apparently with an individual leading them. Notice that they addressed God as the creator of everything who makes revelations through prophets. The leader quotes Ps. 2:1-2 as a messianic prophecy that reveals the world’s opposition to Jesus, the Messiah. This shows that the Church, in its earliest days, interpreted Psalm two as a messianic prophecy.
In verse 27 we see their interpretation of the psalm’s messianic meaning. The opposition of “the kings of the earth” is fulfilled by Herod Antipas; the opposition of the “rulers” is fulfilled by Pilate; the opposition of “the Gentiles” is fulfilled by the Romans; and the opposition of the peoples of Israel” is fulfilled by Jesus’ Jewish adversaries.
Next, notice in verse 28 that Luke points out that all of this was according to the will of God. This was true in spite of their individual freedom. Of course Calvinists would say that this demonstrates their understanding of predestination as God’s predetermination of everything. But the total revelation of Scripture does not allow that.
Now then, let’s look at the two specific requests they made. To begin, I think we need to take note of what they did not ask for. Did they pray, “Lord look at their threats, and grant to your servants” protection? No, they did not ask for protection from the opponents. Rather their first request was, “grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness.” They were much more concerned with boldness to preach than with their own safety.
Then they prayed for the power of the Spirit to perform signs and wonders in the name of Jesus as they preached. In their minds the miracles would authenticate their words. And God answered their prayers. In verse 31 we see that the place where they were praying was shaken, and the Holy Spirit was poured out on them, filling them, as had happened during the Feast of Pentecost. And they were granted the boldness they had prayed for.