If you’ve been paying close attention to the previous chapters you’ve probably noticed that the incidents described have a single person in common: the Apostle Peter. In addition to providing us with examples of God’s faithfulness and commitment to the community (i.e. the Church) that He established on Earth, these incidents also authenticate for us the authority of the Apostles within the Church. The Apostles simply couldn’t claim to speak for God and expect people to believe them; anyone can do that. They had to provide tangible, irrefutable proof, usually in the form of miracles, that they spoke for God. We have already heard one account of Peter and John performing a miracle when they healed the lame beggar (3.1-10), and in the opening paragraph of this passage we have more accounts of Peter performing miracles:
12At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s portico. 13 But none of the rest dared to associate with them; however, the people held them in high esteem. 14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, 15 to such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. 16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed.
Unlike the people who “held them in high esteem,” the Jewish leaders had no such affections towards the Apostles. So they put them in prison:
17 But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail.
God however is not willing that His witnesses be in prison and unable to continue teaching the people everything Jesus taught them. So:
19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
The Jewish rulers did not expect an angel of the Lord to free their prisoners, so they were confused when they were not found in the prison, but instead in the temple teaching the people the very things that the Jewish rulers had instructed them not to teach.
Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
Earlier in this passage we saw the attitude of the people contrasted with the attitude of the Jewish rulers towards the Apostles. The people thought highly of them, but the Jewish leaders thought low of them and had them imprisoned. Now we see a contrast between the attitudes of the Jewish rulers and the attitudes of the Apostles. In v. 26 we see that the Jewish rulers are afraid of the people. In the following verses we see that the Apostles are afraid of God since Peter says that they must obey God rather than men:
27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
The contrasts continue with the reaction of the Jewish rulers to Peter’s words:
33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them.
After Peter’s Pentecost speech in chapter 2 the people were also pierced to their hearts (cut to the quick), but instead of recognizing what they had done and repenting like the people did the Jewish rulers instead want to kill the Apostles. However a Pharisee named Gamaliel offers the following advice:
34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
Regardless of his intentions, Gamaliel offers good advice to the council. At this point the newly formed Church is too large and causing too much of a stir for the Jewish leaders to simply execute the Apostles; doing so would anger the people and likely cause a riot. But the Apostles are undermining the authority of the Sanhedrin, so something must be done. Gamaliel reminds the council that this situation has been encountered before and that movements like these have died out on their own because they were not of God. However, if this movement is of God it will not be able to be stopped, and those who do fight against will be found to be fighting against God. So in the end the best thing for the Jewish rulers to do at this point is nothing and see what comes of this movement.
40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.
The Jewish rulers apparently recognize that Gamaliel’s advice is wise since they take it and simply beat the Apostles and release them. The Apostles however did not listen to the order to not speak in the name of Jesus, but in fact directly disobeyed it and continued to teach and preach in the name of Jesus. If it wasn’t already clear that the Apostles were not going to listen to the orders of the Sanhedrin, it is now.
Thanks for reading. More next week.