ACTS CHAPTER 4.
Peter and John before the Council of the Jews. Acts 4,1-22.
The arrest of the apostles: V.1. And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the Temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, v.2. being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. V.3. And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day; for it was now eventide. V.4. Howbeit, many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand. Up to this time the Lord had permitted the growth of the Church to be undisturbed, the work of the apostles going on without interruption and the disciples having plenty of opportunity to be strengthened in the faith. But it was impossible for the old enemies of the Lord to remain idle under the circumstances. The present occasion offered them a welcome chance to interfere and to hinder the activity of the apostles. Peter had not yet finished his discourse to the people, and John also was addressing some part of the multitude, when a body of armed men came rushing across the court. There were the priests, angry, no doubt, because the people had disregarded the evening sacrifice and the hour of incense offering in their astonishment over the healing of the lame man. There was the captain of the Temple, “the man of the Templemount,” who had charge of the priests and Levites that guarded the Temple and its surroundings, acting also as police for the grounds. At night the number of guards for the twenty-one outer and three inner stations amounted to 240 Levites and 30 priests. 12) The excuse for his officiousness probably was that the peace of the Temple was being disturbed by the concourse. And there were finally, and principally, the Sadducees, the members of the high-priestly party, who felt that their grievance was especially hard to bear. For the whole brunt of Peter’s preaching was in opposition to the Sadducees’ denial of the resurrection of the dead; all the discourses of the apostles were based upon that one fact, that Jesus was raised from the dead, and that this fact proved His Messiahship. Jesus had, on one occasion, indeed, maintained the resurrection of the dead against the error of the Sadducees, Matt. 22, 23-33, but they had hardened their hearts against the truth and were determined not to tolerate it s teaching. The confession of the resurrection of the dead upon the basis of Christ’s resurrection is a source of mockery and enmity toward the Christians to this day. The Jewish officials knew that the success of their plan depended upon quick action. So they took time for neither expostulation nor accusation; they simply laid forcible hands upon the two apostles, arrested them, and put them into a place of custody for the night, since they intended to arraign them in the morning. In spite of this action of the rulers, however, the preaching of Peter and John was not without result. For of the people in the audience that heard the Word there were many in whose heart faith was kindled. that believed in the Lord proclaimed to them. And thus the number of believers came to be, the men only being counted, after the Oriental custom, a total of about five thousand. With the power of the Spirit in the Word influencing the hearts, the Church expanded in spite of threatening danger.
The Sanhedrin is convened: V.5. And it came to pass on the morrow that their rulers, and elders, and scribes, v.6. and Annas, the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. V.7. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power or by what name have ye done this? The next morning excitement ran high in official circles at Jerusalem; for were they not about to stamp out the hated sect that was gaining adherents with such alarming rapidity in their midst? So it was a very formal and very full session of the Sanhedrin which came together as soon as they could all be notified; for the text seems to indicate that some lived outside of the city. There were the rulers and the elders and the scribes, that is, the most prominent and influential members of the priesthood, chiefly Sadducees; those whose age and learning set them apart from the rest; and the professional lawyers, who generally belonged to the Pharisees. But outranking them all were the members of the high-priestly family: Annas, although retired by the Romans, yet retaining many of the rights and obligations of the office; Caiaphas, his son-in-law, and the high priest actually in charge; John, Alexander, and whoever else belonged to the relatives of the high priest. “Annas, whom Luke both here and in his former narrative calls high priest, was the lawful high priest, but he had been deposed by Valerius Gratus, the predecessor of Pilate, and Caiaphas, his son-in-law, had been, by the same unlawful procedure, put in his place, so that, while the latter was holding the office, the other was lawfully entitled to it, and was recognized as high priest by the people.” 13) After the council had been formally opened, with its members seated in a semicircle, the two apostles were placed in the midst before them. It seems from verse 14 that the former cripple, not willing that his benefactors should be accused or made to suffer without his presence and sympathy, also appeared and took his position beside them. The accused were now formally asked to give an account of their action: By what power and in what name have you done this? The miracle itself could not be denied. What the supercilious and somewhat pointed question intended to bring out was what kind of power and authority the apostles were assuming; in virtue of what name they dared to perform such deeds. It appears that the court wanted to fasten the accusation of divination or sorcery upon the apostles. Cp. Deut. 13. Incidentally, the Jewish leaders may have hoped that Peter and John would speak unguarded words in answering the purposely indefinite question, and thus furnish real ground for a trial.
Peter’s speech of defense: V.8. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people and elders of Israel, v.9. if we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole, v.10. be it known unto you all and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand here before you whole. V.11. This is the Stone which was set at naught of you builders, which is become the Head of the corner. V.12. Neither is there salvation in any other; for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved. In the case of Peter it was now fulfilled what Jesus had promised, Luke 12, 12. He was filled with the Holy Ghost; the Holy Ghost took charge of his mind and his mouth and directed the action of both. The question of the council had been with reference to the name and authority by which the apostles were acting. Solemnly, emphatically, and boldly addressing them as rulers of the people and elders, Peter makes a confession of his faith and of his ministry. He does not overlook the sneering “you” of the question, but states: If, as is the case, we, upon whom you heap mockery, are examined on account, about, the good deed shown to the sick man. Note the fine bit of oratorical irony in the statement. It reproves the rulers of the Jews for making a crime of acts of kindness and beneficence. Since the members of the council wanted to know in what manner, by what means, or “in whom” this man had been thoroughly healed, it should be known, not only to them all, but also to the entire nation of Israel, that this man was standing, was presented, before them in full health in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom they had crucified, but whom God had raised from the dead. This was the answer of Peter, a statement which needed no proof; for the judges could not deny that the miracle had actually been performed with the man standing before them. And as for refuting the claim of Peter as to the manner of the miracle, they could not with any degree of probability adduce any other power or name through which such a deed might have been done. And the candidness of Peter is equaled only by his boldness. For he deliberately pushes his advantage farther by holding before the eyes of his judges the passage Ps. 118, 22, which Jesus, but a short time before, had quoted to a committee of the same Sanhedrin, Matt. 21, 42; Mark 12, 10; Luke 21, 17. The rulers of the Jews were like men that tried to build a house, and foolishly rejected the only stone which was available for the corner of the foundation upon which the whole building was to rest. Jesus was the Stone ordained by God as the foundation of His Church. But the Jews had rejected Christ, and thus spoken the judgment upon themselves. In spite of all that Jesus was and will remain the Corner-stone, the very Foundation of the holy temple which He is rearing to Himself. And not only that, but, as Peter joyfully cries out: In none other is there salvation, for there is also none other name under heaven that is given among men in which we must be saved. The salvation earned by Jesus is complete, and it is the only salvation to be found anywhere. His name, the Word of redemption, is given, is proclaimed in the midst of men, in all the world, and whoever will be saved must turn to this one Source and Author of everlasting life. “On the name of Christ I cannot believe in any other pay but that I hear the merit of Christ preached and accept this. Therefore by believing on the name of Christ and not by trust in our works we are saved. For the word ‘name’ in this place means the reason by which and on account of which salvation comes. Therefore, to glorify and confess the name of Christ is as much as trusting in Him who alone is and is called Christ, as the cause of my salvation and my treasure, by which I am saved.” 14)
The consultation of the Sanhedrin: V.13. Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marveled; and they took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus. V.14. And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it. V.15. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, v.16. saying, What shall we do to these men? For that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. V.17. But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them that they speak henceforth to no man in this name. The Jewish rulers had expected Peter and John to show fear or timidity in their presence, to be overawed by the dignity and learning of the members of the council. Instead of that, however, there was in their bearing a freedom and confidence and in the speech of Peter a fearless candor which compelled respect on their part. The longer they contemplated the manner of the men, the more this conviction was forced upon them. And this impression was heightened by the fact that the judges had perceived, either by their dress or by their dialect, that the two men before them were really unlearned and ignorant men, that they not only were not versed in the Law and in all the Jewish learning, but actually had not been able to write, were altogether illiterate. And there was still another point which the members of the council now noted, namely, that these men had belonged to the small company of Christ’s followers. This recognition came to them at this point, since they had seen Peter and John both as attendants of Jesus, and since John was a personal acquaintance of Caiaphas, John 18, 15. 18. No wonder that all these facts, gradually absorbing the consciousness of the judges, caused them to sit in embarrassed silence. For as far as the miracle was concerned, any attempt at denial would have been worse than futile, since the former cripple was there before their eyes, standing upright and sound upon his feet. The evidence of the miracle spoke no less forcibly than the apostles themselves. And so the rulers had nothing to say. Finally the silence was broken by the proposal, and the command based upon it, that the men leave the council-chamber for some time, being undoubtedly taken out under guard. Now the judges felt free to consider the matter; they exchanged their thoughts and opinions of the case. The gist of the discussion is given by Luke. There was no denying that a very evident miracle had been performed, which had also come to the knowledge of all the people of Jerusalem. To attempt a denial of these facts would have been worse than useless, it would have been foolishness of the most extreme type. And yet some one proposed an effort to stop the spread of the truth, and the proposal was eagerly made a resolution. In order that the message and the movement which accompanied it might spread no farther and be dispersed among the common people, like seed that promised a bountiful crop, they resolved earnestly to threaten the apostles that they speak no more about the name of Jesus, making Him and His Gospel the subject of their discourses. With none of the people, to not a single individual, should they speak about the name revered by them above all other names. Note: The unbelieving children of this world cannot deny that the power of God is mighty in the teaching and in the lives of the Christians. And yet they remain hostile to the name of Christ and make every effort to suppress the proclamation of the Gospel. Thus the unbelievers, with their unbelief and with their enmity toward Christ, act in direct opposition to their own conscience and better knowledge.
The resolution announced to Peter and John: v.18. And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. V.19. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. V.20. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard. V.21. So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people; for all men glorified God for that which was done. V.22. For the man was above forty years old on whom this miracle of healing was showed. Peter and John were now called back into the meeting of the council, and the resolution was made known to them in its strictest interpretation. They were in no way to utter a word nor to teach about the name of Jesus. They should not, even in any private conversation, much less before a public assembly, speak or teach a single thing concerning Jesus. It was a summary and comprehensive prohibition. But both Peter and John, disregarding their own safety as well as even the semblance of expediency, unhesitatingly avowed their purpose to disregard the order of the Sanhedrin. And in stating this, they modestly, but firmly, appealed to the consciences of the judges. Whether it be in accordance with right and justice before God to obey them rather than God they should judge for themselves. Acting as before God, and following the dictates of eternal truth and justice, we dare not be silent. It cannot be right to obey man contrary to the will and command of God. It is impossible for us not to speak that which we have seen and heard. All things are possible to the believers in Christ, but it is impossible for them to be silent where the Word and honor of God and their Lord Jesus Christ are concerned. For silence in that case is equivalent to denial, and denial means to fall from grace. So the defiant refusal was stated before the Sanhedrin, whose members found themselves unable to react. They were obliged to be content with another, with an additional, serious threat as to what would happen if they dared to disobey. So this was the sad climax of the Sanhedrin’s vengeful effort. They were obliged to dismiss the two apostles; there was no case, no cause why they might punish them. And their fear of the people was another factor which cautioned prudence. For all men were full of praise toward God over the miracle that had been performed, a deed all the more noteworthy since the former cripple had not only been lame from his birth, but was more than forty years old at the time he was healed. Privately and secretly, of course, the members of the council were nursing their resentment, firmly resolved to make use of the first opportunity that offered to strike a decisive blow. Note: The true Christians are filled with missionary zeal wherever they go and whatever they undertake. And when men attempt to hinder them, when the government prohibits the preaching of the Gospel, they refuse to accede to the will of men and are obedient to God, who has commanded them to confess Christ, to preach the Gospel.
The Prayer and the Further Establishment of the Congregation. Acts 4, 23-37.
The report of the apostles and the prayer: V.23. And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them. V.24. And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord and said, Lord, Thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is; v.25. who by the mouth of Thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things? V.26. The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord and against His Christ. V.27. For of a truth, against Thy holy Child Jesus, whom Thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together v.28. for to do whatsoever Thy hand and Thy counsel determined before to be done. By the power of the Spirit’s testimony through the mouth of the apostles the enemies had been vanquished. The two disciples were discharged for want of condemnatory matter against them. They came to their own, to their fellow-disciples, who were assembled according to their custom. To these members of the Christian community they made a report of all that the high priests and elders, the members of the Sanhedrin, had said to them. And the result was a spontaneous outburst of prayer on the part of the entire assembly, in the form of a hymn clothed in language from the Psalms. The vigorous spiritual life of the early Christians manifested itself here, and the Spirit Himself taught them the words of their powerful prayer. They addressed their prayer to the almighty Master of the universe, to Him that had made heaven and earth and the sea and all creatures that inhabit them, before whom nothing is impossible, who holds the fortunes of the entire world in the hollow of His hand, and directs them to suit His purposes. It was this God who had inspired David to pen the words of the Second Psalm, as we here learn. It was He that had asked the question through His servant David: For what reason do the nations engage in tumultuous uprisings, and the people meditate things that are vain and foolish? The haughtiness and insolence of all men by nature is equaled only by the vanity, the emptiness, of their aspirations. Here was evidence enough for the truth of the prophecy. The kings of the earth and the rulers had gathered themselves together against the Lord and against His Christ. No matter whether they were otherwise at bitter enmity toward each other, they forgot all their differences when a concerted move was planned against the Word and work of God and Christ. Assuredly, as the evidence before the eyes of all men showed plainly, in this very city they were banding together against the holy Child of God, His Son Jesus: Herod and Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel,-they were all united against God’s Anointed One. They would, of course, be able to carry out and succeed in doing only that which the hand of the Lord and His counsel had seen in advance and known that it would be done. God was still controlling the destinies of nations as well as of individuals. That was the situation. The enmity was there; it was directed against the Lord and His Christ; the believers knew that nothing could happen without the foreknowledge and permission of God. Note that there is no indication of a vindictive or resentful spirit in the prayer, but only a complete trust in the Lord.
The conclusion of the prayer and its answer: V.29. And now, Lord, behold their threatenings, and grant unto Thy servants that with all boldness they may speak Thy Word, v.30. by stretching forth Thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of Thy holy Child Jesus. V.31. And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the Word of God with boldness. The congregation now came to its special petition. The threatenings of the enemies were being concentrated upon their small flock; the storm seemed about to break over them. Of this fact the Lord should take notice, not for the purpose of subduing or removing the trial of faith, if His wisdom should think it best to have the temptations come, but to give to them, His servants, the necessary strength to speak and proclaim His Word with all boldness, without fear or favor. He should, to this end, support the proclamation of His truth by stretching forth His almighty arm and confirming it with miracles of healing, and by showing forth signs and wonders, by having them performed through the name and in the power of His holy Child, His Son Jesus. The name of that very Man whom the Jews despised and crucified was to be magnified among them by these manifestations of His power. These were the two gifts which the congregation and all its members needed at that time: first, the power and the willingness to proclaim the Word with courage and joy, and secondly, the ability to help and to heal, as an evidence that the omnipotent God and the power of the exalted Christ wag with them. While they were still engaged in this prayer, the Lord gave evidence of having heard them. For the place where they were assembled was moved, was agitated, which signified the divine presence. And, in addition, they were all filled with the Holy Ghost; there was a special demonstration of His power, enabling them to speak and proclaim the Word with all boldness and power. This was henceforth a continuous action of the disciples; without the divine power in them the growth of the Church in the face of such opposition could not be explained. Note: The Church of the Lord has ever, amid the raging and threatening of its enemies, sought and found refuge with the almighty God. For God always hears the crying of His harassed children, and grants them power and boldness to proclaim the Gospel in the midst of His enemies.
The unity and charity of the Church: V.32. And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul; neither said any of them that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common. V.33. And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus; and great grace was upon them all. V.34. Neither was there any among them that lacked; for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, v.35. and laid them down at the apostles’ feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. V.36. And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, v.37. having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet. There was now a multitude of believers, a congregation of some five thousand men, not counting women and children. And of them all Luke records the highest praise which can be given to a Christian congregation. They were believers, since they adhered closely to the doctrine of the apostles, that is, the teaching of Christ. Because of this faith they were one heart and soul; there was perfect harmony in both affection and thought; there was true unity of spirit. It may seem remarkable that people from such a variety of social relations and conditions could be so thoroughly agreed and so completely harmonious, but such is the power of faith in Jesus. And there was another manifestation of the faith in, and the love toward, their Lord to be noted, namely, an unselfishness which prompted them to take care of their neighbor’s need with the same love and care as their own. The goods of every member were at the disposal of the other members, as they had need of assistance. No one claimed the right of absolute possession. This was not the expression of fantastic and illusory socialistic theories or of an absolute communism, but a spontaneous manifestation of Christian love. This spirit was kept alive and strengthened by the fact that the apostles with great power gave witness of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. It was the spirit, the love, of the risen Christ that lived in the disciples, that actuated them and prompted them to give such evidence of true and unselfish love. It was the result of their acceptance of the resurrected Lord by faith that brought great grace upon them all, favor with God in the consciousness of His mercy, and favor with men on account of the unheard-of unselfishness and pure charity that was practiced by them. Luke repeats that there was no need for any one of them to be in want or to suffer, for the richer members, those that possessed lands or houses, freely and without any urging sold them and brought the proceeds of the sale to the apostles, in order that distribution might be made to all such as were in need. The congregation at this time voluntarily yielded to the teachers the right to take charge of these moneys and supervise their proper distribution. Of the well-to-do disciples, the example of one is recorded as especially noteworthy. This was the case of one Joseph, whom the apostles had surnamed Barnabas (the son of consolation). He was a Jew and had been a Levite before his conversion. He hailed from the island of Cyprus, where he was the owner of a field. The Levites had originally not been permitted to hold possessions in land, Num. 18. 20; Deut. 10, 9, but since the Babylonian exile the distribution of land and the maintenance of the Levites was no longer so strictly observed according to the Mosaic Law, Neh. 13, 10-14. Besides, they could hold land by purchase or inheritance, Jer. 32, 7-12. Barnabas, filled with love for his needy brethren, sold his land and brought the money to the apostles, just as most of his fellow-Christians did. Note: The enmity of the world does not result to the detriment of the Church. In the midst of cross and tribulation, of hardships and difficulties, the Church is established, and faith and love are rendered strong. When the world begins to rage and to threaten, the true Christians cling all the more firmly to the Word, and this Word shows its power, binding their hearts together ever more firmly.
Summary. Peter and John, arraigned before the Sanhedrin, defend themselves and their cause to the confusion of their judges; they report the matter to the congregation, which lays the threatening enmity before God in prayer, and is more soundly established in faith and love.