Acts 4 – Peter and John Face the Sanhedrin
A. Peter preaches to the Jewish leaders.
1. (1-4) The arrest of Peter and John.
Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
a. The captain of the temple: This refers to the police force of the temple precincts. The captain, together with the priests and the Sadducees, all came together to arrest Peter and John.
i. Came upon them: Boice says that the emphasis in the original indicates that they stopped and seized Peter and John suddenly. “They must have said, ‘Enough of this,’ grabbed them, and taken them away.” (Boice)
b. Being greatly disturbed: The Sadducees would be greatly disturbed that Peter and John taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead; they did not believe in the afterlife or the resurrection at all.
i. We can say that they were arrested on suspicion of teaching dangerous ideas – such as that Jesus was raised from the dead, and for healing a man who had been crippled his entire life.
c. Put them into custody until the next day: Normally, this would be an intimidating experience for Peter and John. Suddenly arrested, greatly disturbed officials, handled roughly (laid hands on them), threats made against them (Acts 4:21 implies this), thrown into jail. The entire atmosphere was intended to make them afraid.
i. Acts 4:21 mentions further threats. If there were further threats, there must have been prior threats. “If you keep preaching we will arrest you and beat you.” “If you keep preaching we will harm your family.” “Remember what we did to Jesus.”
ii. By all outward measures, Christianity – the movement of the followers of Jesus – was very weak at this early point.
· They were few in numbers.
· They were inexperienced in leadership.
· They were commanded to not fight back; they were not militant.
· They were opposed by institutions that had existed for hundreds of years.
iii. Boice notes that Acts 4:1-6 lists no less than 11 different groups or individuals opposing these followers of Jesus.
· Groups: Priests and the Sadducees (Acts 4:1); Rulers, elders, scribes (Acts 4:5); and others from the family of the high priest (Acts 4:6).
· Individuals: The captain of the temple (Acts 4:1); Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander (Acts 4:6).
iv. “They were declaring: We have the power. If you are allowed to preach, as you have been preaching, it is because we have permitted you to do it… Anytime we want, we can arrest you and carry you off to jail.” (Boice)
d. The number of the men came to be about five thousand: Despite the opposition coming against the gospel, the number of Christians kept increasing, growing to 5,000 from 3,000 at last count (Acts 2:41). Opposition did not slow the church down at all.
i. Acts 4:4 shows that the power plays, the threats, the intimidation was all ineffective. More people started following Jesus, not less.
ii. In the Western world, Christians rarely face persecution. Satan instead has attacked us with worldliness, selfish pride, a need for acceptance, and status. The martyr can impress unbelievers with his courage and faith; the self-centered, compromising Christian is despised by the world.
2. (5-7) Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin.
And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes, as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”
a. Rulers, elders, and scribes… were gathered together: This was a scene of power and intimidation. This same group of leaders had recently condemned Jesus to death, and they wanted them to know that they had the power to do the same thing to Peter and John.
b. By what power or by what name have you done this? The ideas behind by what power and by what name are virtually the same. In their thinking, the power resided in the name, because the name represented the character of the person.
i. We can say that in itself, this was a legitimate inquiry. These were the guardians of the Jewish faith; they naturally were concerned about what was taught on the temple mount. How they did their investigation may be faulted (with pressure and intimidation); also what they did with the results of their investigation.
3. (8-12) Peter boldly preaches to the Jewish leaders.
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
a. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit: He was instantly filled with the Spirit again, evident by his supernatural boldness and ability to speak the gospel directly to the heart of the matter.
i. The filling of the Holy Spirit Peter experienced in Acts 2:4 (along with other disciples) was not a one-time event. It was something God wanted to continue doing in their lives.
b. If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man: The tone of Peter’s reply shows that he was not intimidated by this court, though humanly speaking, he should have been intimidated by the same court that sent Jesus to crucifixion.
i. For a good deed: Peter’s logic was piercing – why are we on trial for a good deed?
c. By the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth: Peter preached Jesus, the Jesus they crucified, the Jesus God raised from the dead, the Jesus who healed this man.
d. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders’: The quotation from Psalm 118:22 was appropriate. Jesus was rejected by men – by those leaders – but was exalted by His Father.
e. Nor is there salvation in any other: Peter didn’t merely proclaim Jesus as a way of salvation, but as the only way of salvation. The idea that there is no salvation in any other, and that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved is hard to accept for many, but is plainly stated.
i. “Oh, how the world hates such statements! If you want to be laughed at, scorned, hated, even persecuted, testify to the exclusive claims of Jesus Christ.” (Boice)
ii. Instinctively, man responds: “Isn’t there some way that I can save myself? Isn’t Jesus just for those ones who can’t save themselves?” No. If you are going to be rescued; if you are going to be made right with God, Jesus is going to do it.
iii. Does this mean that everyone must make a personal decision for Jesus Christ to be rescued from eternal peril? What about the infant who dies? What about the person who has never heard about Jesus? We can say that God will deal with them fairly and justly, and those who are saved will be rescued by the work of Jesus done on their behalf, even if they lacked a full knowledge of Jesus. But what about you who have heard and perhaps reject?
iv. If someone wishes to believe that all are saved or that there are many roads to heaven or that one can take the best of all faiths and blend them into one; fine. Believe so and bear the consequences; but please do not claim this is the teaching of the Bible.
B. The Jewish rulers react to Peter’s sermon.
1. (13) What they saw in Peter and John’s character.
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.
a. They were uneducated and untrained men: In a sense, we should probably disagree with the opinion of the Jewish leaders judging Peter and John. Certainly they were uneducated in one sense – they, like Jesus, had no formal rabbinic education according to the customs and standards of that time. Yet they were educated in two more important ways: they knew the Scriptures, and they had been with Jesus.
i. The greater importance of these two things – more important than formal education – has been proven in the lives of God’s servants again and again. It has been proven true through such servants of God as Charles Spurgeon, D.L. Moody, William Carey, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Hudson Taylor.
ii. Yet it is helpful to remember that God has used many who were greatly educated. Moses, Daniel, and Paul are all Biblical examples. Augustine, Martin Luther, and Billy Graham are just a few historical examples. It’s just as wrong to think that formal education disqualifies someone for effective service as it is to think that it automatically qualifies someone for effective service.
iii. “Men are too anxious to be ranked with scholars; and so when error, however deadly, wears the glittering serpent-skin of scholarship, it insinuates itself into the very chair of the teacher, and the pulpit of the preacher, and no one seems to dare to smite it with a bold blow!” (Pierson)
b. They saw the boldness of Peter and John: Because they had been with Jesus, they were naturally bold. When one is a servant of the all-powerful God, they have nothing to fear from the judgment of men.
i. “A few men unarmed, furnished with no garrisons, do show forth more power in their voice alone, than all the world, by raging against them.” (Calvin)
ii. “The word boldness means lucid and daring statement. In the Greek the word is parresia, ‘telling it all’.” (Ogilvie)
iii. “No one attribute is more needful to-day for Christ’s witness than Holy Spirit boldness due to Holy Spirit fullness.” (Pierson)
iv. It is interesting to note what the Jewish leaders did not do: they did not make any attempt to disprove the resurrection of Jesus. If it were possible to do, this was the time to do it; yet they could not. “Had it seemed possible to refute them on this point, how readily would the Sanhedrin seized the opportunity! Had they succeeded, how quickly and completely the new movement would have collapsed!” (Bruce)
c. They realized that they had been with Jesus: This means that the bold exclusivism of Acts 4:12 was coupled with a radiant love characteristic of Jesus. If we will preach no other name we should also make it evident that we have been with Jesus.
i. Sadly, when Christians became strong and powerful, and when Christianity became an institution, too often Christians were those who arrested people and told them to be quiet, threatening them with violence and sometimes carrying it out against them. That is not evidence that one has been with Jesus.
ii. People should go to Jesus directly, but often they won’t. The only Jesus they will see is what shines through us. We must work to make the fact that we have been with Jesus as obvious in our lives as it was in theirs.
2. (14) What they saw in the man who was healed.
And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.
a. They could say nothing against it: This miracle was examined by doubters and stood up as a genuine miracle. This was not a case where the healing was “lost” in a few hours, as some claim happens today.
b. Nothing against it: Previously this man was completely lame, having to be carried wherever he went (Acts 3:2). Now he was completely healed. This contrasts many who get up out of wheelchairs at modern “healing services” who come with a limited ability to walk, but are able for a few moments to walk much better because of the hype, emotion, and adrenaline. Yet they tragically leave the arena in the wheelchair, having “lost” their healing.
3. (15-18) Taking counsel, the Jewish leaders command Peter and John to stop preaching Jesus.
But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.” And they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.
a. They conferred among themselves: Luke probably found out what the Sanhedrin discussed among themselves because a member of that Sanhedrin later became a Christian: Saul of Tarsus. Acts 26:10 gives us reason to believe Paul (Saul) was a member of the Sanhedrin to cast his vote against the early Christians.
i. If this is true, we can say that Peter and John had no idea they were preaching to a future apostle and the greatest missionary the church would ever see. It is an example of the truth that we have no idea how greatly God can use us.
b. We cannot deny it: The corruption of their hearts was plain. They acknowledged that a miracle had genuinely happened; yet they refused to submit to the God who worked the miracle.
c. So that it spreads no further among the people: Their fear of the preaching of Jesus was rooted in their own sinful self-interest, not in any desire to protect the people.
4. (19-20) Peter and John respond to the command to stop preaching Jesus.
But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
a. Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge: It was self-evident that they should listen to God instead of man. Peter made an effective appeal to this truth.
b. We cannot but speak: Peter and John must speak of the things which they had seen and heard. They had to, not only because of the inner compulsion of the Holy Spirit, but also because of the command of Jesus: You shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem (Acts 1:8).
c. Speak the things which we have seen and heard: They did not originate this message; they merely relayed it as reliable eyewitnesses.
5. (21-22) Peter and John are released with threats of future punishment.
So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.
a. Finding no way of punishing them, because of the people: The Jewish leaders were completely unmoved by an obvious miracle from God, yet they responded to public opinion. This proves they cared far more about man’s opinion than God’s opinion.
b. They all glorified God for what had been done: This whole situation started out looking pretty bad. Peter and John were on trial before the same court that sent Jesus to Pilate for crucifixion. It was meant for great evil, but when it was all over, see what God did:
· 2,000 more people came to believe on Jesus.
· Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit again.
· Peter got to preach Jesus to the leaders of the Jews.
· Hostile examiners confirmed a miraculous healing.
· The enemies of Jesus were confused.
· Peter and John were bolder for Jesus than ever before.
· God was glorified.
C. The early church prays for boldness.
1. (23-24) Introduction: They acknowledge their God.
And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them.”
a. Reported all that the chief priests and elders had said: Peter and John had good news to report. We can picture them saying, “We got to tell them about Jesus! They realized we were like Jesus! They told us not to tell others about Jesus!”
i. In response, the early Christian community – their own companions, probably the apostles and some others – had a prayer meeting. Important events moved them to prayer.
b. They raised their voice: They prayed vocally. It is certainly possible to pray silently in our minds, but we focus our thoughts more effectively when we speak out in prayer.
i. Voice is in the singular. This means that they did not all pray individually, speaking at the same time. One person prayed and all agreed with that one, so that they were really praying with one voice.
ii. “With one accord they lift up their voice to God. This does not mean that they all prayed at once. That would have been confusion. Disorder in meetings, a number of people talking at the same time in a boisterous way with outward demonstrations, is an evidence that the Holy Spirit is not leading, for God is not a God of disorder.” (Gaebelein)
c. With one accord: They prayed in unity. There was no strife or contention among them. There wasn’t one group saying, “We should pray for this” and another saying, “we should pray for that.” They had the same mind when they prayed.
d. Lord, You are God: They began by reminding themselves who they prayed to. They prayed to the Lord of all creation, the God of all power.
i. This word Lord is not the usual word for Lord in the New Testament; it is the Greek word despotes. It was a word used of a slave owner or ruler who has power that cannot be questioned. They prayed with power and confidence because they knew God was in control.
ii. When we pray, we often forget just who it is we pray to; or worse yet, we pray to an imaginary God of our own ideas. The disciples had power in prayer because they knew who they prayed to.
2. (25-28) They pray in light of the Scriptures.
“Who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:
‘Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the LORD and against His Christ.’
“For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.”
a. By the mouth of Your servant David have said: We don’t know specifically who said these words, but whoever did spoke for all the disciples (remember they prayed with one accord). They recognized that these words of the Old Testament from Psalm 2 were really the words of God. God had spoken by the mouth of [His] servant David.
i. It’s an important point. The apostles and disciples believed that the words of King David, recorded in Psalm 2, were actually the words of the Lord God, said by the mouth of King David. The earliest Christians had a high view of the Holy Scriptures.
b. Why did the nations rage, and the people plot vain things? Their unified prayer quoted Psalm 2 because the disciples understood what happened by seeing what the Bible said about it. From Psalm 2, they understood that they should expect this sort of opposition and not be troubled because of it because God was in control of all things.
i. Psalm 2 expresses complete confidence in God and His victory. “He is the King. He is ruler in Zion. Servants you can bind, but the Word of God is not bound. And that unleashed, unbound, powerful Word of the gospel reached out from Jerusalem, that remote city of the Roman Empire, to permeate and eventually transform the entire world.” (Boice)
ii. When we pray, we must see our circumstances in light of God’s Word. For example, when we are in conflict, perhaps we need to know we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age (Ephesians 6:12).
iii. Seeing our circumstances in light of God’s Word also means seeing when there is a sin problem. Then, we should say with the Psalmist, “When I kept it all inside, my bones turned to powder, my words became daylong groans. The pressure never let up; all the juices of my life dried up.” (Psalm 32:3-4, Peterson). Perhaps we are in the same place the Psalmist was, in sin and needing to confess and be made right with God.
iv. We also use Scripture in prayer to pray the promises of God. When we need strength, we can pray according to Ephesians 3:16: That He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man. God’s Word will speak to our situation.
c. Do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done: Because they saw their circumstances in light of God’s Word, they could recognize that the wrath of man never operated outside of the sphere of God’s control; these enemies of Jesus could only do whatever the hand of God allowed.
i. This brings real peace, knowing that whatever comes my way has passed through God’s hand first, and He will not allow even the most wicked acts of men to result in permanent damage.
3. (29-30) They ask for more boldness, more power, and for more trouble.
“Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
a. Grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word: This request is consumed with God’s cause and glory, not the comfort and advancement of the disciples. They ask for things that will lead to more confrontation, not less.
b. By stretching out Your hand to heal: They did not ask to do miracles themselves. They understood that Jesus heals by His hand; and that He does it from heaven through His people.
i. It is a snare to long to be used to do miraculous things. It is often rooted in the pride that wants everyone to see just how greatly God can use me. I should be delighted in the power of God, not because He has used me to display it.
4. (31) Their prayer is answered.
And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
a. The place where they were assembled together was shaken: They were given an earthquake as a unique emblem of God’s pleasure. We don’t know the extent of the shaking; it may have been confined to the house itself.
i. “The presence of the Holy Spirit was so wonderfully manifested that even dead walls felt the power of the Spirit of life – matter responded to spirit.” (Pierson) Those walls didn’t change, nor did that become a special holy place where the Spirit of God always dwelt. In a similar way, a person can be shaken by the Holy Spirit without being transformed or indwelt by the Spirit of God.
ii. This earthquake is recorded in Acts 4:31. Someone pointed out that the significant 1994 Northridge earthquake happened at 4:31 in the morning. This means nothing; we can regard it as simply a curious coincidence, especially because there is nothing particularly inspired about the chapter and verse divisions of modern translations.
b. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit: They were filled with the Holy Spirit, again. The experience on Pentecost was not a one-time experience. For Peter, this counts as the third time he is specifically said to be filled with the Holy Spirit.
i. The idea that we are “Spirit filled” only at an experience known as the “Baptism of the Holy Spirit” is wrong, though there may be a wonderful and first yielding to the Spirit’s power. We must be continually filled with the Holy Spirit, and make our “immersion” in Him a constant experience.
c. They spoke the word of God with boldness: They received the boldness they asked for. “The word boldness means lucid and daring statement. In the Greek the word is parresia, ‘telling it all.’” (Ogilvie)
i. This boldness is necessary today; we need to tell it all. We often deliberately hide the work of God in our life from others who would actually benefit from hearing about it.
ii. Their boldness was a gift from God, received through prayer. It was not something that they tried to work up in themselves.
D. The sharing heart of the early church.
1. (32) Their attitude towards each other and towards material possessions.
Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.
a. Those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of things he possessed was his own: This unity was a wonderful evidence of the work of God’s Spirit among them. Because of their unity, they regarded people more important than things.
i. “This unity is not conformity, where everybody is exactly alike. It is not organizational, where everyone must be forced into the same denomination. The worst times in the history of the church have been when everyone has been part of one large organization. It is not that kind of a unity.” (Boice)
b. They had all things in common: They recognized God’s ownership of everything; it all belonged to God and His people. Because God had touched their lives so deeply, they found it easy to share all things in common.
c. All things in common: It isn’t accurate to see this as an early form of communism. Communism is not koinonia. “Communism says, ‘What is yours is mine; I’ll take it.’ Koinonia says, ‘What is mine is yours, I’ll share it.’” (LaSor)
i. “The Greek here does not mean that everyone sold their property at once. Rather, from time to time this was done as the Lord brought needs to their attention.” (Horton)
ii. There was also probably immediate reason for this significant sharing of all things in common. Since Pentecost there was a large number of those who believed and many of them were from distant lands. Without permanent homes and jobs in Jerusalem and Judea, those who stayed in Jerusalem to learn more about being followers of Jesus needed special support from the Christian community.
iii. Some think that this radical sharing of possessions among the early church was a mistake. They say it was based on the wrong idea that Jesus was returning immediately, and that it led to much poverty in the Jerusalem church later on.
2. (33) The effective witness of the apostles.
And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.
a. With great power: This is both the result and the root of the attitude in the previous verse. Acts 4:32 shows they put God first, people second, and material things a distant third.
b. Gave witness to the resurrection: Notice again the central place the resurrection of Jesus held in the message of the first Christians. They preached a resurrected Jesus.
c. Great grace was upon them all. Grace is God’s favor, His smile from heaven, and it was upon them all. God’s favor was evident everywhere.
i. Great grace: Hughes says this is literally mega grace. Great power is mega power.
3. (34-37) Examples of early giving.
Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
a. All who were possessors of lands or houses sold them: This radical giving was absolutely necessary to meet the needs of this rapidly growing church. Remember, many of these Jerusalem Christians lived as refugees from abroad, having responded to the gospel on Pentecost.
b. All who were possessors of lands: People didn’t wait for others to give. When a need arose, they gave what they had to help others.
c. They distributed to each as anyone had need: Unfortunately, this generosity of the early Christians soon began to be abused. Later the Apostle Paul taught regarding who should be helped and how they should be helped. Paul’s directions were that:
· The church must discern who the truly needy are (1 Timothy 5:3).
· If one can work to support himself, he is not truly needy and must provide for his own needs (2 Thessalonians 3:10-12, 1 Timothy 5:8, 1 Thessalonians 4:11).
· If family can support a needy person, the church should not support them (1 Timothy 5:3-4).
· Those who are supported by the church must make some return to the church body (1 Timothy 5:5, 10).
· It is right for the church to examine moral conduct before giving support (1 Timothy 5:9-13).
· The support of the church should be for the most basic necessities of living (1 Timothy 6:8).
d. Joses, who was also named Barnabas: One man named Barnabas was a notable example of this giving spirit. Joses was known for being generous with more than material things; he was so generous with encouragement that they called him Barnabas, meaning “Son of Encouragement.”
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission