4. Power and Fellowship in Jerusalem (Acts 4:23-5:42)

Audio (46:53)

The Apostles are called to account before the Sanhedrin. This is a detail from a painting by William Holman Hunt, 'The Finding of the Savior in the Temple' (1860)
The Apostles are called to account before the Sanhedrin. This is a detail from a painting by William Holman Hunt, 'The Finding of the Savior in the Temple' (1860), oil on canvas, originally 33.7 x 55.5 in., Birmingham Museums Trust, UK.

We've seen the Jerusalem church formed on the Day of Pentecost, its devotion to the gatherings of the new fellowship, the apostles' teaching, the breaking of bread, and the prayers (Acts 2:42). And we've seen the trouble that comes upon them when they preach the crucified and risen Savior in Jerusalem -- especially when they perform undeniable miracles in his name that draw the attention of the authorities.

This whole section highlights the faith and boldness of the apostles in the face of intense pressure. I am sure that Luke included some of these sections with the purpose of bolstering the faith of the readers.

4.1 A Prayer for Boldness (Acts 4:23-31)

One characteristic that sounds loud and clear is the boldness of the leaders. No conservative, don't-rock-the-boat leaders these! Peter and John have testified before the Jewish nation's highest court and legislature, the Great Sanhedrin. They are just now hitting their stride, no matter the persecution they receive.

"On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them." (Acts 4:23)

They give a full account215 of their adventure to the assembled church.

"When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. 'Sovereign Lord,'216 they said, 'you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.'" (Acts 4:24)

Notice the praise to God that results from Peter's and John's report. It is united praise, using a word that we see often in the Book of Acts -- homothumadon, "with one mind, purpose, impulse,"217 here translated "together" (ESV, NIV) or "with one accord" (KJV).

"They all joined together constantly in prayer." (Acts 1:14)

"They raised their voices together in prayer to God." (Acts 4:24)

"All the believers were one in heart and mind...."218 (Acts 4:32)

Unity in the early church is clearly a theme that Luke wants us to take note of! Clear and pervasive unity. How can we recreate this important characteristic of the church in our own day?

Fulfilling Psalm 2:1-2

Peter and John have told their story. They have praised God together. Now, Peter and John quote a prophetic passage from Psalm 2:1-2 -- clearly Messianic since it includes the term "Anointed One," in Hebrew māšîaḥ, "Messiah."

"25  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

    'Why do the nations rage219
    and the peoples plot in vain?220
    26  The kings of the earth take their stand
    and the rulers gather together
    against the Lord and against his Anointed One.'" (Acts 4:25-26)

They apply these verses to what happened in Jerusalem a few weeks prior. The scribes and the Pharisees have raged, the Sanhedrin has plotted Jesus' death, and the Gentile Romans have condemned and crucified God's Messiah.

"Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against221 your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed." (Acts 4:27)

But this is not a case of evil overpowering good.

"They did what your power and will had decided beforehand222 should happen." (Acts 4:28)

This all happens just as the Old Testament prophecies say it will according to God's predetermined plan to redeem mankind. Thus, instead of being a defeat it is a victory!

The nations and rulers can rage and threaten, but they can't subvert the will of God. He has the victory. The believers continue their prayer in earnest.

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable223 your servants to speak your word with great boldness." (Acts 4:29)

Their boldness224 has gotten them in trouble, yet they pray for continued boldness! Miracles have gotten them in trouble, yet they pray for more miracles.

"Stretch out your hand to heal225 and perform miraculous signs and wonders226 through the name of your holy servant227 Jesus." (Acts 4:30)

I love the immediacy with which they see God working. They are laying hands on the sick for healing, but God is the One they ask to "stretch out your hand." He is doing the work!

What if you and your congregation started praying for boldness to witness and for healings and signs and wonders? What would happen in your community? We talk about wanting to be like the New Testament Church. According to our faith be it unto us!

"After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken." (Acts 4:31a)

I would have liked to have been there! The church has assembled.228 I would guess that the "place" they were meeting was the temple courts or Solomon's Porch, for there isn't room elsewhere to gather this many people, but we don't know. After they pray, the place begins to shake!229 Since I am a Californian, I have experienced a number of earthquakes -- some severe. Earthquakes have a way of getting your attention. Perhaps this was a shaking of the portion of the temple where they were meeting. But in the seismically active mountains of Israel it may well have been a God-given, region-wide exclamation point to their collective Amen! Hallelujah!

More exciting than all that shaking going on, however, is the next sentence.

"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (Acts 4:31b)

Q1. (Acts 4:23-31) Why do the believers pray for boldness? Why do they need boldness in this circumstance? What does this tell us about their faith? Their character?

Filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:31)

"And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (Acts 4:31b)

Some see the filling of the Holy Spirit as a one-time event they call "the baptism of the Holy Spirit." They may speak in tongues initially, but usually that's it. In the Bible we see this term "fill" (pimplēmi, "to cause to be completely full, fill, fulfill"230) to describe events where the Holy Spirit is particularly evident in powerful events -- here, witnessing boldly,231 even though it may bring persecution.

Instead of the imagery of being dunked into a vat of the Holy Spirit as in baptism, the image here is of a vessel being filled up.

"All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them." (Acts 2:4)

"Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them...." (Acts 4:8)

"They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly." (Acts 4:31)

"The Lord ... has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 9:17)

"Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said...." (Acts 13:9)

Luke seems to use the terminology "filled with the Spirit" on repeated occasions other than being initially baptized with the Spirit. Interesting. Perhaps we shouldn't seek events or experiences, but the Holy Spirit's fullness to do God's work.

Whenever we minister in the name of Jesus, we ought to murmur a prayer: "Lord, fill me afresh with your Spirit so that I can minister in your power."

Q2. (Acts 4:31)What does it mean, "They were all filled with the Holy Spirit"? Weren't they already filled with the Spirit?

4.2 Sharing Possessions (Acts 4:32-5:11)

Great Grace (Acts 4:33)

I need to take verse 33 out of order so I can cover the verses on sharing of goods all together. Luke summarizes the state of the church at this time by this sharing and the active witness of the apostles of Jesus' resurrection.

"With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all." (Acts 4:33)

Clearly, the resurrection was the key to their message. If Christ is risen, then God has put his stamp of approval upon him as Messiah. If Christ is risen, then the cross is not the end, but the beginning of Messiah's redemption of mankind (though the idea of Christ's substitutionary atonement on the cross wasn't part of their message as yet).

I love this idea of "much grace" (NIV) or "great grace" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) being on the apostles. The essential idea of grace is favor. And at this point the apostles enjoy the favor of the people of Jerusalem (Acts 2:47). But more than that, they are experiencing God's favor as evidenced by the miracles being performed in this city (Acts 4:30; 5:12; 6:8). Lord, grant us some of your "great grace"!

Sharing Everything (Acts 4:32)

I've heard the early Christians described as "communists." How can that be right? Let's see what our text tells us. So far in Acts we have two references to sharing in this Christian community.

"All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:44-45)

In our passage we see:

"All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had." (Acts 4:32)

What does this tell us? That all the early believers feel this way; this is their common attitude.232 People aren't asserting private ownership of their possessions; rather they share freely out of love.233 The key phrase here is "had everything in common." The Greek adjective is koinos, "common" as opposed to private, "pertaining to being of mutual interest or shared collectively, communal, common."234 But how far did this go?

Is this socialism or communism? No. (See Appendix 3: Were the Early Christians Communists or Socialists?). Certainly not in the modern sense of the term. As we'll see in the account of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:4), the early Christians believed in private property and sharing goods with the needy based on love rather than compulsion. Paul teaches:

"Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2 Corinthians 9:7)

Rather than a strong central state that compels obedience, they voluntarily serve King Jesus who has saved them. When they see a need, they give to meet the need. They expect people who can to work and earn their own living (1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-15). However, there is a generosity in supporting those who are truly destitute, especially widows (Acts 6:1; 1 Timothy 5:3-10).

This sharing is part of the essence of what "fellowship" means, since "fellowship" translates koinōnia, "fellowship, sharing," from koinos, "common." Thus the essential demonstration of their fellowship is sharing -- they "had everything in common" (Acts 4:32, 34). It shows their unity as one body, one family. Deep love lies at the very foundation of fellowship. It has to! Jesus says,

"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." (John 13:35)

God, help us experience true New Testament fellowship in our churches!

Q3. (Acts 4:32) Why is "having everything in common" at the root of true Christian fellowship? Of koinonia? What does this have to do with the mark of disciples who are known for deep love for one another (John 13:34-35)? To what degree does the church fall short of this? What are we going to do about it?

No Needy Persons (Acts 4:34-37)

Luke goes on to describe the situation at this stage of the church's life.

"There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35  and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need." (Acts 4:34-35)

At this point the distribution of food to the needy is being administered by the apostles themselves, something that will change in Acts 6:1.

The early church is sensitive to need. As you read the early Church Fathers in the next few centuries you find that Christians are constantly helping those in need.

A strong social consciousness still pervades the Church. One of the characteristics of modern-day Catholicism, for example, is exemplified in saints such as Mother Theresa. In Africa and India it is common to find even small churches that maintain orphanages and care for widows. World Vision, Food for the Hungry, Compassion International, the Salvation Army, Oxfam, and thousands of organizations like them were formed by Christians who wanted to make a difference in their world. The gospel of love requires this kind of caring for the needs in our own community and in the larger community around us.

Now Luke gives us an example of this generosity. We meet Barnabas, who will soon play an important part in the development of the early church in Antioch and with Paul in missions to the Gentiles (Acts 11-14; Lesson 9).

"36 Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement235), 37 sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet." (Acts 4:36-37)

Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)

Barnabas is a great example of giving, and there are many others unnamed. These people are apparently openly acclaimed among the people. Unfortunately, that acclaim attracts some givers with mixed motives.

"1  Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2  With his wife's full knowledge236 he kept back237 part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet." (Acts 5:1-2)

It was a wonderful thing Ananias and his wife do, giving money to help the less fortunate. But their desire for acclaim and status in the community caused them to lie and suggest that Ananias's and Sapphira's gift constituted the whole amount gained from the sale of the property. Peter has prophetic insight from the Holy Spirit that Ananias is lying. I would call it a revelation or "word of knowledge" (1 Corinthians 12:8b).

"3  Then Peter said, 'Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4  Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.' 5  When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6  Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him." (Acts 5:3-6)

Note carefully several things this passage teaches us.

  1. Private ownership is quite permissible in the early church (Acts 5:4a).
  2. Partial giving. Giving a portion of the proceeds of the sale is quite alright (Acts 5:4b).
  3. Lying. The problem is that Ananias lies about the gift, that what he gave constitutes the entire amount from the sale. That is wrong. The sin here is not motivated by greed, I don't think, but by pride and a desire for his gift to be seen as greater than it was. He fails to follow Jesus' command in the Sermon on the Mount to give privately, secretly, not to draw praise from others (Matthew 6:1-4).
  4. Unbelief. The unbelief is found in Ananias' thought that he can lie and God won't call him to account. This is called "testing" God in verse 5 below.
  5. Disdain for the holiness of Christ's Church. Ananias lies not to the people in the congregation, but to the Holy Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). Wow! The church is more than the fallible believers who are part of it. The church is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Thus a sin against the church is a sin against the Holy Spirit. We see something similar in 1 Corinthians 3:9, 16-17. When we act as if the church is merely a human institution we err grievously! When church leaders treat holy things as common they make themselves vulnerable to God's terrible judgment.
  6. Disdain for church leaders. Lying to church leaders, thus disrespecting them, is the same as disrespecting God himself, since they are serving God on God's behalf. Thus the writer of Hebrews exhorts us: "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give account" (Hebrews 13:17).

Rather awesome teaching!

But even scarier is what happened to Ananias, and, shortly thereafter, to his wife Sapphira, who also refuses to tell the truth when questioned by Peter.

"7  About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8  Peter asked her, 'Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?' 'Yes,' she said, 'that is the price.'" (Acts 5:7-8)

Peter gives her a chance to tell the truth, but instead she covers up the truth.

"9  Peter said to her, 'How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.' 10  At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband." (Acts 5:9-10)

Peter equates lying to the church about a gift to God to "testing the Spirit of the Lord." What does that mean? The verb is peirazō, "to endeavor to discover the nature or character of something by testing, try, make trial of, put to the test."238 Here the sin is questioning whether God really can do something, especially, whether God will even notice sin and will actually punish it.239 Testing God is a symptom of unbelief, a kind of arrogance that thinks it can get away with something by just lying about it -- even if it is about holy things.

As a result of the judgment upon Ananias and Sapphira, there is a new kind of holy reverence for the sanctity of the church and authority of her leaders.

"Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events." (Acts 5:11)

We can be too quick to dismiss fear on the basis of John's observation that "perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18). Our problem today is that too few believers really love God enough to obey him, and too many are rather careless and flippant with holy things. It is quite true: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 4:10). We need a healthy fear of God! Help us, Lord Jesus!

Q4. (Acts 5:1-11) What is the central sin Ananias and Sapphira are guilty of? Why is lying to Peter the same as "lying to the Holy Spirit" (verse 3), "lying to God" (verse 4)? How can acting toward the church as a mere human institution put us under God's judgment? What does it mean to "test the Spirit of the Lord" in verse 9. Why was that wrong?

4.3 Apostolic Ministry and Persecution (Acts 5:12-42)

Luke describes the general reverence for the Christians and their leaders that has come to pervade Jerusalem.

"12  The apostles performed240 many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together241 in Solomon's Colonnade. 13  No one else dared242 join them, even though they were highly regarded243 by the people. 14  Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added244 to their number." (Acts 5:12-14)

The population of Jerusalem during this time has been estimated at from 20,000 to perhaps 35,000 -- more during the holidays. Try to imagine what it was like when 5,000 of these are Christian believers (Acts 4:4), with the number growing day-by-day. Whereas Jesus had been accorded "rock star" treatment in Galilee with people flocking to him for healing, now the same kind of awe surrounds Peter and the apostles in Jerusalem.

"15  As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16  Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed." (Acts 5:15-16)

The Apostles' Arrest (Acts 5:17-29)

It must have been a heady time for the apostles. But all this honor and adulation came with a cost -- jealousy from the Jewish leaders. They had killed Jesus when he threatened their primacy. Now they see the apostles as the same kind of threat.

"17  Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy.245 18  They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail.246 19  But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20  'Go, stand in the temple courts,' he said, 'and tell the people the full message247 of this new life.' 21a At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people." (Acts 5:17-21a)

I love the contrasts between verses 18 and 19. "They arrested ... but ... an angel of the Lord opened the doors...." Jesus' enemies can do their worst to curtail the gospel. But God is not limited by evil men or by prison doors. Hallelujah.

To this day I remember a sermon I once heard entitled, "But God." I am sure lots of preachers have worked this theme. It goes something like this:

  • Abraham's wife is barren ... but God.
  • Pharoah has enslaved the Israelite people ... but God.
  • Teenaged David faces nine-foot Goliath with a sling and a stone ... but God.
  • We were lost in sin and shame ... but God who is rich in mercy!

You get the picture. The chief priests arrest the apostles, seeking to stop the Gospel in its tracks, but God has the last word. And when the Sanhedrin expects to condemn the apostles in its morning session they find them missing from the prison and teaching in the temple courts. God has set them free!

"21b When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin -- the full assembly of the elders of Israel -- and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22  But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23  'We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.' 24  On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this. 25  Then someone came and said, 'Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.'" (Acts 5:21b-25)

Luke tells the story with both irony and humor.

The chief priest sends the captain of the guard to the temple to fetch the apostles, but they are uncharacteristically gentle in this arrest.

"26  At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force,248 because they feared that the people would stone them. 27  Having brought the apostles, they made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned249 by the high priest. 28  'We gave you strict orders250 not to teach in this name,' he said. 'Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined251 to make us guilty of this man's blood.'" (Acts 5:26-28)

"We ordered you not to teach in Jesus' name," says the high priest. But the apostles appeal to a higher authority.

"Peter and the other apostles reply: 'We must obey God rather than men!" (Acts 5:29)

Imagine the gasp that goes through the Sanhedrin and the crowded gallery of observers when Peter has the temerity to question the authority of the high priest. Of course, everyone in the assembly knew he was corrupt like the rest of his family, but still -- this just isn't done!

Peter's Clear Testimony (Acts 5:30-32)

Now Peter gives a clear witness and indictment of the high priest and the whole Council who had condemned Jesus.

Remember the words of Jesus,

"12 They will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. 13 This will result in your being witnesses to them.... 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict." (Luke 21:12-13, 15)

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

And recall their recent prayer.

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness." (Acts 4:29)

This boldness, this hutzpah to witness by the power of the Holy Spirit is what Jesus has prepared and equipped them to do. Peter is now in his element and is anointed by the Spirit as he says these few but powerful words.

"30  The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead -- whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31  God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel. 32  We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.'" (Acts 5:30-32)

Notice the elements of the testimony that Peter gives before the Council.

1. Israel's God, "the God of our fathers" has acted. This is not some new religion or false God. This is the action of their own God.

2. Jesus is raised from the dead. If reports of Jesus' resurrection and the Jewish cover-up weren't common knowledge in Jerusalem, Peter would have been contradicted by the Council. But they are silent. The resurrection of Jesus is God's final word on Jesus, and it is incontrovertible.

3. The Jewish leaders had condemned Jesus to death, and are responsible for having the Romans crucify him. Yes, the chief priest got it right when he said that the apostles "are determined to make us guilty of this man's blood" (Acts 5:28b). Peter is deliberately using the language of the Torah regarding capital punishment of those condemned by Israel's judges.

"22 If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, 23 you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God's curse." (Deuteronomy 21:22-23)

In this case, however, the judges have acted corruptly. Instead of the condemned man being under God's curse, he is rather exalted by God to the highest place.

4. God has exalted252 Jesus to the place of honor as Prince. Peter declares that Jesus has been placed by God at the Father's right hand. The right hand, of course, is considered the place of power and honor. But by mentioning this, Peter is referencing a well-known Messianic psalm.

The Lord says to my Lord:
"Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet." (Psalm 110:1)

In other words, Jesus is the fulfillment of this Psalm. He is indeed Israel's Messiah. The apostles often quote this psalm.253 In Mark 14:62, Jesus links himself with this psalm and the Son of Man prophecy in Daniel 7:13-14. Peter mentions Jesus' exalted title as "Prince" or "Leader," archēgos, "one who has a preeminent position, leader, ruler, prince."254

5. Jesus is Israel's Savior from sin. The second title Peter mentions is "Savior," sōtēr, "one who rescues, savior, deliverer, preserver."255 Jesus is the One God has appointed to "give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel" (Acts 5:31). We often think of repentance as man's part and forgiveness as God's part -- and there is a truth to that. But here and elsewhere in the New Testament is the parallel truth that God "gives" or "grants"256 the ability to repent as well as the forgiveness from sin.

"God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life." (Acts 11:18)

"And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son (Zechariah 12:10)

"Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth." (2 Timothy 2:25)

Jesus is the Savior. His Holy Spirit brings "prevenient grace" to sinners to enable them to repent and receive forgiveness. We are dependent upon Jesus our Savior, our Rescuer. He is the only one who will "give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel" (Acts 5:31).

6. The apostles claim to be eyewitnesses to these things. "We are witnesses of these things" (Acts 5:32a). After all, this is a formal hearing and the rules of evidence require the testimony of two or more witnesses to establish an assertion. Here, all twelve of the apostles are "a witness ... of his resurrection" (Acts 1:22).

7. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit is an additional testimony. It is fascinating that Peter calls as a witness the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that had occurred publicly in Jerusalem a few months previously. They are witnesses, "and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him" (Acts 5:32b). In and around Jerusalem over the last few months a number of events have occurred publicly: Jesus' corrupt trial, his crucifixion, his resurrection, his ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.

Peter concludes by adding that God sends the Spirit to those who "obey" him. The word in Greek suggests obeying a ruler or a superior.257 Jesus is God's designated Messiah, Prince, and King. And the apostles are "obeying" God rather than men.

Peter's testimony is brief but powerful. In it he challenges the very authority of the Sanhedrin before which he appears. They have killed the Messiah God sent to Israel while the apostles are obeying Jesus the Messiah.

Gamaliel's Counsel (Acts 5:33-42)

Peter's testimony is met not with repentance, but with fury!

"33  When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34  But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored258 by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while." (Acts 5:33-34)

Note that the Sadducees had dragged the apostles before the Council. Now a prominent Pharisee intervenes.

Rabbi Gamaliel I (who died 52 AD) was the grandson of the famous Rabbi Hillel, founder of the more liberal of the two main schools of the Pharisees. He was a member of the Sanhedrin and a "teacher of the law." He was known for his tolerance, recommending a less burdensome sabbath observance, protecting women who had been divorced, and urging kindness towards Gentiles. Saul of Tarsus (later known as the Apostle Paul) trained under him in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3). Gamaliel's reputation among Jews since his death is as one of the greatest teachers in the history of Judaism.259

This Gamaliel is present when the apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin. He has the apostles removed from the chamber so he can talk to the Council members privately and without interruption.

"35  Then he addressed them: 'Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36  Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37  After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered." (Acts 5:35-37)

There is some confusion about the Theudas and Simon the Galilean, but obviously Gamaliel is pointing to rebels whose cause has ultimately failed.

"38  Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone!260 Let them go!261 For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop262 these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.'"263 (Acts 5:38-39)

Very interesting! If Gamaliel were convinced that Jesus were another imposter, he might have condemned him. Perhaps Gamaliel is rethinking his earlier decision to condemn Jesus in light of what has happened in Jerusalem in the intervening months. At any rate, he sways the Sanhedrin.

"His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged.264 Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go."265 (Acts 5:40)

We look at flogging as severe, but it was one of the punishments within the power of the Sanhedrin. You can't say that the Council approved of the apostles' message and mission. But neither were they pressing for the death penalty as they did in the case of Jesus. They let the apostles go, expecting the Christian movement to die out. It turns out they were wrong! Amen!

I live in California, a place known for its permissiveness and tolerance for sin. It is ironic that this tolerance does not extend to Christians openly sharing their faith. The tolerant society suddenly becomes intolerant. We must not let this stop us!

Persecution Doesn't Stop the Apostles (Acts 5:41-42)

Their backs are bloody but the apostles are undeterred.

"The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace266 for the Name." (Acts 5:41)

After all, Jesus had taught them,

"10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (Matthew 5:10-12)

The apostles do rejoice. By their beating, they been counted worthy of being in the same exalted company as Israel's prophets, who were also persecuted. Jesus had suffered disgrace, now, so have they.

"Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ." (Acts 5:42)

Q5. (Acts 5:17-42) Why do you think Luke includes this long section about the apostles' imprisonment, trial before the Sanhedrin, and flogging? In your culture, what does it take to keep Christians from sharing their faith openly? Do you share your faith openly?

And so the apostles continue to preach the Good News and teach the people, both during their daily teaching time in Solomon's Porch (Acts 5:12), and in many, many house church gatherings and meetings with inquirers in their homes. Satan has tried to stop them, but Jesus is victorious!

Lessons for Disciples

There are a number of lessons we can draw from this passage.

  1. The early church reacts to persecution with praise and a prayer for boldness, and are "filled with the Holy Spirit" in such a way that their meeting place is shaken (Acts 4:23-31).
  2. The "filling" of the Holy Spirit is not just an initial experience, but occurs at various points in the believers' lives, especially at times when they are filled with a special faith or awareness of God's presence (Acts 4:31; also Acts 4:8; 9:17; 13:19; etc.).
  3. The church experienced "great power" in the apostles' preaching and "much grace" rested upon the church. They were experiencing God's favor in a great way (Acts 4:33)
  4. The early Christians shared their possessions with members of the fellowship who were needy (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32). This is part of the essence of what "fellowship" means, since "fellowship" translates koinōnia, "fellowship, sharing," from koinos, "common."
  5. Providing for the poor and those in need has become a valuable pattern for the Christian church throughout its history, in charitable projects and missions. It arises from an awareness of our common humanity, and extends now even to those who are not yet believers. Examples: Mother Theresa, World Vision, Salvation Army, Oxfam, etc.
  6. Some members sold property to provide money for this effort (Acts 4:34-37). The sharing was voluntary, not forced, so that private property was respected, not done away with (Acts 5:4).
  7. Ananias and Sapphira sold property and gave some of the proceeds to help the poor. Their sin arose from pride and the desire to be honored, so they lied and claimed that they gave the entire proceeds to the church (Acts 5:1-11).
  8. Lying to a church leader, and thus to the church, is interpreted as "lying to the Holy Spirit" (Acts 5:3), "lying to God" (Acts 5:4), and "testing the Spirit" (Acts 5:9). Thus, we see that the church is holy, not a mere human institution but a divine one. We must reverence the church since it is God's, and submit to church leaders because they serve God (Hebrews 13:17).
  9. In the early church days, the apostles (and others such as Stephen and Philip) were commonly performing signs and wonders that brought great attention from the populace (Acts 5:12-16; 6:8; 8:6). We should not discount signs and wonders for today. There have been many reports of signs and wonders in our lifetimes, especially in areas where powerful evangelism is taking place. These miracles function as signs of God's presence and power.
  10. The disciples continue their ministry and don't stop teaching that "Jesus is the Messiah" (Acts 5:41-42). Their ministry continues in both the temple and in house churches. Today, we must regain the same enthusiasm to preach Christ, and not be silenced by the intolerant unbelievers around us.

The Early Church: Acts 1-12, book formats
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Thank you, Lord, for men and women of God who have stood firm, unflinching, and have won the victory -- here as shining testimonies of Jesus' servants, and in heaven as martyrs for your glorious cause. Put that kind of holy determination in me. I pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

Key Verses

"Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus." (Acts 4:29--30, NIV)

"There were no needy persons among them." (Acts 4:34a, NIV)

"What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." (Acts 5:4, NIV)

"During the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 'Go, stand in the temple courts,' he said, 'and tell the people the full message of this new life.'" (Acts 5:19-20, NIV)

"The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead -- whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel." (Acts 5:30--31, NIV)

"Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ." (Acts 5:42, NIV)


References and Abbreviations

[215] "Reported" is apangellō, "to give an account of something, report (back), announce, tell" (BDAG 95, 1).

[216] "Sovereign Lord" (ESV, NIV, NRSV), "Lord" (KJV) is despotēs (from which we get our word "despot"), "one who has legal control and authority over persons, such as subjects or slaves, lord, master" (BDAG 220, 1b).

[217] Homothumadon, BDAG 706. Acts 1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 7:57; 8:6; 12:20; 15:25; 18:12; 19:29.

[218] Acts 4:32 carries the same idea, but doesn't use the word homothumadon.

[219] "Nations" is ethnos, "nation, people," here, "gentiles, unbelievers," corresponding to Hebrew goiim in the Hebrew text of Psalm 2:1 (BDAG 276, 2a). "Rage" is the aorist active of phruassō, "be arrogant, haughty, insolent," originally from a reference to spirited animals, such as the "snorting" of a horse, or the "crowing" of a cock (BDAG 1067).

[220] "In vain" (NIV, ESV), "vain things" (NRSV, KJV) is the adjective kenos, "pertaining to being without purpose or result, in vain" (BDAG 539, 3). "Plot" (ESV, NIV), "imagine" (NRSV, KJV) is the aorist active of meletaō, "to fix one's mind on something, think about, meditate upon," here with kenos, "think vain thoughts, conspire in vain" (BDAG 627, 3).

[221] "Met together ... to conspire against" (NIV), "gathered together against" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is two words, the aorist passive of the verb sunagō, "bring or call together, gather" a number of persons (BDAG 962, 1b), and the preposition kata, here in a hostile sense, "against" (BDAG 511, 2bα).

[222] "Decided beforehand" (NIV), "predestined" (ESV, NRSV), "determined before" (KJV) is the aorist active of prohorizō, "decide upon beforehand, predetermine" (BDAG 873). The verb also appears in Romans 8:29-30; Ephesians 1:11; and 1 Corinthians 2:7.

[223] "Enable" (NIV), "grant" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the aorist imperative of the very common verb didōmi, "give," here, figuratively, "to cause to happen," especially in reference to physical phenomena, "produce, make, cause, give" (meaning 4) or perhaps "give, grant, impose" of God or Christ (meaning 17b) (BDAG 242-243, 4 or 17b).

[224] "Boldness" is parrēsia, "a state of boldness and confidence, courage, confidence, boldness, fearlessness," especially in the presence of persons of high rank." (BDAG 781, 3). Also in verse 31.

[225] "Heal" is the noun iasis with the preposition eis, "unto," is "restoration to health after a physical malady, healing, cure" (BDAG 465, 1).

[226] "Miraculous signs" (NIV), "signs" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the plural of the noun sēmeion, "an event that is an indication or confirmation of intervention by transcendent powers, miracle, portent" (BDAG 920, 2aα). "Wonders" is the plural of teras, "something that astounds because of transcendent association, prodigy, portent, omen, wonder" (BDAG 999).

[227] "Servant" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "child" (KJV) is pais both here and in verse 27. It can be translated as "one's own immediate offspring, child," but probably here we should see it as "one who is committed in total obedience to another, slave, servant." In relation to Christ "it has the meaning 'servant' because of the identification of the 'servant of God' of certain Old Testament passages with the Messiah (Isaiah 52:13, etc.) (BDAG 750, 3bγ).

[228] "Meeting" (NIV), "gathered together" (ESV, NRSV), "assembled together" (KJV) is the perfect passive participle of sunagō, "to cause to come together, gather (in)" (BDAG 962, 1b).

[229] "Shaken" is the aorist passive of saleuō, "to cause to move to and fro, shake, cause to waver/totter pass. be shaken, be made to waver/totter" (BDAG 911, 1).

[230] Pimplēmi, BDAG 213, 1aβ.

[231] "Boldly" (NIV), "with boldness" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) the noun parrēsia, which we saw in verse 29 above, and the preposition meta, "with," here, "marker of attendant circumstances of something that takes place, with," of moods, emotions, wishes, feelings, excitement, states of mind or body (BDAG 637, 3a).

[232] "All" (NIV), "the full number" (ESV), "the whole group" (NRSV), "the multitude" (KJV) is the definite article with the noun plēthos, "large number, multitude," here, in the usage of cultic communities as a technical term for the whole body of their members, "fellowship, community, congregation " (BDAG 825, 2bδ). "Heart" is kardia, "heart," here, figuratively as center and source of the whole inner life, with its thinking, feeling, and volition, of disposition (BDAG 509, 1b). "Mind" (NIV), "soul" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the noun psyche, the "seat and center of the inner human life in its many and varied aspects, soul," of feelings and emotions (BDAG 1099, 2c).

[233] "Claimed" (NIV, NRSV), "said" (ESV, KJV) is the imperfect tense of the very common verb legō, "to say." "Possessions" (NIV, NRSV), "things that belonged to him" (ESV), "things which he possessed" (KJV) is the present participle of huparchō, "to really be there, exist, be present, be at one's disposal" (BDAG 1029, 1). "his own" (NIV, ESV, KJV), "private ownership" (NRSV) is the pronoun idios, "pertaining to belonging or being related to oneself, one's own," here, in contrast to what is public property or belongs to another: private, one's own (exclusively) (BDAG 466, 1a).

[234] "Shared" (NIV), "held/had in common" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is two words, the adjective hapas, "all, the whole," plural, "all together," here, "everything" (BDAG 98, 2); and the adjective koinos, "common" (BDAG 551, 1a).

[235] "Encouragement" is the noun paraklēsis, "encouragement, comfort, consolation" (BDAG 766, 3).

[236] "Full knowledge" (NIV), "knowledge" (ESV, NRSV), "being privy" (KJV) is sunoida, "to share information or knowledge with, be privy to" in the sense of "be implicated, be an accomplice" (BDAG 973, 1).

[237] "Kept back" is the aorist of the verb vosphizō (from vosphi, "apart"), "to put aside for oneself, keep back" (BDAG 679).

[238] Peirazō, BDAG 792, 2c.

[239] Exodus 17:2, 7; Numbers 14:22; Isaiah 7:12; Psalm 77:41, 56; 1 Corinthians 10:9; Hebrews 3:9; Acts 15:10.

[240] "Performed" (NIV, NRSV), "regularly done" (ESV), "done" (KJV) is the imperfect tense of the verb ginomai, here, "to come into existence, be made, be created, be manufactured, be performed," of miracles, "be done, take place" (BDAG 197, 2a).

[241] "Meet together" (NIV), "were all together" (ESV, NRSV), "with one accord" (KJV) is the verb eimi, "to be" and the adverb homothumadon, "with one mind/purpose/impulse" (which we see often in Acts -- 1:14; 2:46; 4:24; 7:57; 8:6; 12:20; 18:12; 19:29).

[242] "Dared" (NIV, NRSV, ESV), "durst" (KJV) is the imperfect tense of tolmaō, "to show boldness or resolution in the face of danger, opposition, or a problem, dare, bring oneself to (do something)," here, "dare, have the courage, be brave enough" (BDAG 1010, aα).

[243] "Highly regarded" (NIV), "held in high esteem" (ESV, NRSV), "magnified" (KJV) is the imperfect tense of the verb megalunō, "to cause to be held in greater esteem through praise or deeds, exalt, glorify, magnify, speak highly of" (BDAG 623, 2).

[244] "Added" is the imperfect tense of the verb prostithēmi, "to add to something that is already present or exists, add, put to" (also Acts 2:41; 11:24; BDAG 885, 1b).

[245] "Jealousy" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "indignation" (KJV) is the noun zēlos (from which we get our words "zeal" and "zealous"), "zeal," here, "intense negative feelings over another's achievements or success, jealousy, envy" (BDAG 427, 2).

[246] "Public jail" is two words, dēmosios, "pertaining to belonging to the state, public" (BDAG 223, 1) and tērēsis, a place for custody, prison" (BDAG 1002, 2), from tēreo, "guard." In verses 19 and 22 we see the synonym phylakē, "the place where guarding is done, prison" (BDAG 1067, 3), from phylassō, "to guard").

[247] "Message" (NIV, NRSV), "words" (ESV, KJV) is the plural of the noun, rhēma, "that which is said, word, saying, expression, or statement of any kind (BDAG 905, 1). I've heard preachers make a big deal about rhēma vs. logos, but I don't see that in my studies of Greek words. Rhēma has the idea of what is definitely or expressly stated, "statement." Logos, on the other hand, can refer to narrative, word, speech, and many nuances such as proverb, command, etc. (see E. Lohse, legō, logos, rhema, ktl., TDNT 9:682-684).

[248] "Force" (NIV, ESV), "violence"(NRSV, KJV) is bia, "bodily strength, force," here, "act of violence" (Liddell-Scott, in loc, II).

[249] "Questioned" (ESV, NIV, NRSV), "asked" (KJV) is the aorist of the verb eperōtaō, "to put a question to," here of a judge's questioning (interrogation) in making an investigation (BDAG 362, 1b).

[250] "Gave strict orders" (NIV, NRSV), "strictly charged" (ESV), "straitly command" (KJV) is two words, literally "commanded with a commandment," with the aorist of the verb parangellō, "to make an announcement about something that must be done, give orders, command, instruct, direct," of all kinds of persons in authority, worldly rulers, Jesus, the apostles, here, "direct, command someone" (also Acts 5:18 and 5:40).

[251] "Intend" (ESV, KJV), "are determined" (NRSV, NIV) is the present of the verb boulomai, "to plan on a course of action, intend, plan, will" (BDAG 182, 2aβ).

[252] "Exalted" is the aorist of the verb hupsoō, "lift up," here, figuratively, "to cause enhancement in honor, fame, position, power, or fortune, exalt" (BDAG 1045, 2).

[253] Acts 2:33; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 10:12; 1 Peter 3:22.

[254] Archēgos, BDAG 138, 1. This use of "prince" doesn't imply son of a king, as it does in English, but "one who has a preeminent position."

[255] Sōtēr, BDAG 985, b.

[256] "Give repentance and forgiveness of sins" uses the active infinitive of the very common verb didōmi, "to give," here, "to grant by formal action, grant, allow" (BDAG 243, 13).

[257] "Obey" is the present participle of peitharcheō, "obey" (BDAG 791), "obey one in authority" (Liddell-Scott). "To obey (a ruler or a superior"; Thayer, p. 497). Also in verse 29. This is a compound verb from peithō, "to convince, persuade, to trust" (E. Lohse, peithō, ktl., TDNT 9:682-684).

[258] Timios, "pertaining to high status that merits esteem, held in honor/ high regard, respected" (BDAG 1006, 2).

[259] R. F. Youngblood, "Gamaliel," ISBE 2:393-394.

[260] The clause uses the imperative verb aphistēmi, "to distance oneself from some person, "keep away" (BDAG 158, 2b).

[261] The clause uses the imperative verb aphiēmi to convey a sense of distancing through an allowable margin of freedom, "leave it to someone to do something, let, let go, allow, tolerate" (BDAG 157, 5a).

[262] In verse 39, "stop" (NIV), "overthrow" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is kataluō, "suppress, stop" In verse 38 kataluō is used in the sense of "the plan will fail" (BDAG 522, 3b).

[263] "Fighting" (NIV, NRSV, KJV), "opposing" (ESV) is the compound adjective theomachos, "fighting against God" (BDAG 449).

[264] "Flogged" (NIV, NRSV), "beat/beaten" (ESV, KJV) is the aorist participle of the verb derō, "beat, whip" (BDAG 218).

[265] "Let them go" is apoluō, a legal term here, "to grant acquittal, set free, release, pardon" (BDAG 117, 1).

[266] "Counted/considered worthy" is katazioō, "to consider someone worthy to receive some privilege, benefit, or recognition, consider worthy" (BDAG 523). "Suffer shame/dishonor/disgrace" is atimazō, "deprive someone of honor or respect, to dishonor/shame" (BDAG 148).

[267] Marshall, Acts, p. 136.

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