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Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles part 3

By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD

The Ministry of the Apostles (3.1-6.7).

The pouring out of the Holy Spirit having taken place, and the infant church having been shown to be established, Luke now goes on to deal with the way in which the infant church rapidly expanded, firstly through the ministry of the Apostles (3.1-6.7), and then more widely through the ministry of some of their appointees (6.8-9.31). God is revealed as at work in sovereign power, and His Apostles are having to keep up. But it is recognised that in the establishing of His people their authority is required at each stage as Jesus had assured them would be the case (Matthew 16.19; 18.18; 19.28; Luke 22.30). This was necessary in order to maintain the unity of the church and the preservation of true doctrine.

The Days Immediately Following Pentecost - The Kingly Rule of God Is Revealed

The dramatic events of the Day of Pentecost are now followed by the equally dramatic events which result from that day. The Kingly Rule of God is revealed as present and flourishing:

  • 1) The presence of the Kingly Rule of God is revealed in the healing of the lame man which testifies to what God wants to do for His people in the new age - ‘the lame will leap like a deer’ (3.1-10).
  • 2) On the basis of this Peter declares that Jesus is the Servant of the Lord spoken of by Isaiah, and is the Holy One, the Righteous One (Messianic designations) and the ‘Prince’ (Source and Leader in Triumph) of Life (3.11-26).
  • 3) Peter and John are arrested and questioned before a Tribunal (4.1-7) - the nation is setting itself against the Lord’s Anointed (4.26).
  • 4) Peter declares that Jesus is the expected Messianic Salvation and Chief Cornerstone (4.8-12).
  • 5). Peter and John are given the required official warning concerning their ‘illegal’ activities. They are forbidden to preach in the Name of Jesus (4.13-22).
  • 6). Gathering in prayer the place where they are is shaken and they declare Jesus to be the Lord’s Anointed and are all filled with the Spirit to speak the word of God in boldness (4.23-31).
  • 7). The Kingly Rule of God is revealed in the daily life of the people of God (4.32-35).
  • 8). The Kingly Rule of God is revealed in the execution of those who appropriate for themslves what has been given in tribute to God (4.36-5.11).
  • 9). The Kingly Rule of God is revealed by signs and wonders (5.12-16).
  • 10). The Kingly Rule of God is revealed by the release of the captives (5.17-23).
  • 11). The Apostles are again brought before the Tribunal accused of teaching the ‘this Name’ (5.24-28).
  • 12). Peter declares that Jesus is both Archegos (the One Who by His resurrection is the Triumph Leader of life, the First-born from the dead, leading all who find life in His train) and Saviour (5.29-32).
  • 13). As a result of the advice of Gamaliel the Apostles are released, having been beaten for His Name’s Sake (5.33-40).
  • 14). The preaching of Jesus as the Messiah continues (5.41-42).

Chapter 3 An Outstanding Miracle Results in A Great Evangelistic Opportunity.

We shall now consider these in more detail.

The account of the healing of the lame man was probably once circulated on its own, along with the preaching that went with it, as part of the witness to the early church of the effectiveness of Pentecost, and as a declaration of how the church (the people of God), made up of those who had been ‘lame’, had been delivered by its Saviour. It would thus early take on a standard form, preserving its accuracy. Here it is incorporated by Luke for a threefold purpose. Firstly in order to illustrate the wonders and signs spoken of earlier (2.43), secondly in order to illustrate that those who will come to Christ are those who have recognised their spiritual lameness and need, and have looked to Him as the only One Who can heal them, and thirdly in order to evidence the fact that the new age had come by the fulfilment of Isaiah 35.6, ‘then shall the lame man leap like a deer’.

Let us consider these purposes in more detail:

  • 1). In the previous chapter it has been stressed that the Apostles did ‘signs and wonders’ (verse 43). Now we are given a practical example in the healing of this notable cripple, one who had been so from birth and had regularly sat at the gate of the Temple. The healing of so well-known a cripple caused a great stir, and his ‘leaping’ could only remind them of the prophecy of the lame man who would leap like a hart (deer) because the Kingly Rule of God had come (Isaiah 35.6).
  • 2). Both the Old Testament and the teaching of Jesus stress that those who will be saved of old Israel are like the lame. In Isaiah 33.23 we read, in the context of the coming of the Lord as Judge, Lawgiver and King, ‘The lame took the prey’ where the thought is that it is God’s weak and helpless but restored people, who will finally, in God’s day, triumph and enjoy the spoils of victory. In Isaiah 35.6 Israel are likened to a lame man who is restored and leaps like a deer, no longer lame because the Kingly Rule of God is here, a place where there can be no lameness. In Jeremiah 31.8 ‘the blind and the lame’ will be among the people of God who return triumphantly from far off to enjoy God’s coming Kingly Rule. In Matthew 11.5; Luke 7.22 the lame walking is to be a sign to John the Baptiser that the Kingly Rule of God is here. In Luke 14.13 the maimed and the lame were the ones who were to be called when someone gave a supper, and this was immediately followed by the parable of the man who made a great supper (representing ‘eating bread in the Kingly Rule of God’), only for his invitation to be rejected by all who were invited, so that the invitation instead went out to the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind (Luke 14.21). They were the ones who would come to his feast.
  • 3). There is also a deliberate contrast here between the old and the new. Under the old dispensation the lame man has sat at the gate of the Temple, and all the Temple could offer him were the alms of those who went in and out. Year by year it was powerless to offer more. With all the glory of its silver and gold, and the Temple was splendid indeed, it could not offer restoration. That awaited the new age (Isaiah 35.6). But now in the coming of the representatives of the new age there is Power. He rises up, and he walks and leaps. The fact that he is now healed proclaims visually the fact that the new age has arrived and that the old Temple is superseded.

So in this new incident we have a further manifestation of the new power that has come to God’s chosen representatives through the coming of the Holy Spirit. Here the Holy Spirit through the Apostles makes clear that in the Name of Jesus salvation is offered to ‘the lame’, and that something better than the Temple is among them. The Kingly Rule of God is here.

The Healing of the Lame Man (3.1-11).

3.1 ‘Now Peter and John were going up into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.’

Peter and John being together (compare 1.13) seems to suggest that the Apostles continued to go around in pairs as they had done while preaching during the ministry of Jesus (Mark 6.7; Luke 10.1), and as Paul would do in the future. This would also have provided another reason why they felt it necessary to make up the twelve. But while the Apostles were all on a par and were depicted as acting as a whole (2.14, 37, 42-43; 4.35; 5.2, 12-13, 29; 6.2, 6; 8.14; 15.6), Peter tended to be the public spokesman (2.14; 5.3, 29), and Peter and John appear to have been given special prominence (compare 8.14; Galatians 2.9), although very much as representatives of the whole body of disciples. They had after all been a part of the favoured trio of Peter, James and John (Mark 5.37 9.2; Luke 8.51; 9.28).

There were a number of recognised times of public prayer at the Temple. These included the morning prayers around the time of the morning sacrifice (compare the third hour (9.00 am) in 2.15) and the afternoon prayers around the time of the evening sacrifice (the ninth hour - 3.00 pm). These would include formal priestly prayer, and free prayer in the outer courts. Peter and John were going to join with the young church in their afternoon worship (compare 2.46; Luke 24.53).

‘Going up.’ The worshippers would ascend the Temple Mount. But it also contains the idea of respect and reverence. They have to ‘go up’ to God.

3.2 ‘And a certain man that was lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the door of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of those who entered into the temple,’

As they passed through the Beautiful gate, which has not yet certainly been identified, they passed a man who had been born lame. Each day he was carried to the Temple so that he could receive alms from those who entered the Temple. Beggars regularly sat at the gates of temples and shrines hoping to benefit from donors when they would be feeling at their most pious. We are not told for how many years this had occurred, but he was now over forty years of age (4.22), and was clearly a well known figure (verse 10).

As mentioned above Luke has selected this incident because this lame man represents those of Israel who recognise their need and are open to God’s call. The later mention of his having been lame for ‘over forty years’ may well have been a reminder of the ‘lameness’ of Israel in the forty years in the wilderness.

The Beautiful gate may be the Eastern gate which had glistening doors of Corinthian bronze-work. (called the Shushan gate because it had on it depictions of the palace of Shushan). It led into the outer courtyard of the Temple. It was representative of the silver and gold that was everywhere apparent in this new Temple (of Herod). As Peter gazed at it, it may well have filled his mind with the thought of silver and gold. Even the pillars which supported the gates in the Temple were all silver and gold plated, and within there was much more that was of silver and gold, including the gigantic vine of pure gold that hung above the entrance to the Holy Place.

But we must see it as Luke (or his source) who is drawing the lesson. The mention of the Beautiful Gate combined with the mention of silver and gold had to draw his reader’s attention to the connection between the two comparing, the old Temple with its splendour, but ineffective, with the new Temple of His people founded on the wonder-working Apostles.

3.3 ‘Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked to receive alms.’

When the man saw Peter and John about to go into the Temple, he called on them to give him alms. Luke is bringing out his sad condition. All he could do, surrounded by all the splendour of the Temple, was beg and call out for help. He was like the people of Israel, dependent on others for solace and with little hope as he sat there in the dust (compare Isaiah 52.2).

3.4-5 ‘And Peter, fastening his eyes on him, with John, said, “Look on us.” And he turned his attention to them, expecting to receive something from them.’

Immediately, moved in their hearts, Peter and John responded. They turned their eyes and looked at him. At this he waited expectantly, assuming that they would give him something. But Peter’s words had been in order to turn his eyes on the two Apostles because they alone could bring him the message of hope. It was a quiet call to faith.

3.6 ‘But Peter said, “Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.” ’

Peter then informed him that he had no money, no silver or gold, the things that men craved after as they sat in the dust. Those could be found in the Temple, but he had none of that. But what he did have meant that he could offer him something better. We can compare here Proverbs 23.1 where loving favour is specifically represented as better than silver and gold. What Peter carried with him was the authority of the name of Jesus the Messiah of Nazareth. He was here with all the authority of the Messiah. And by that authority he now commanded him to rise from the dust and walk. He thus turned the man’s attention wholly on Jesus as Messiah (verses 14, 18, 20) and Servant of the Lord (verses 13, 26). We are reminded here of the words of Isaiah 52.2, “Awake, awake, put on your strength --- shake yourself from the dust”. These words in Isaiah were preparatory to the description of the Servant of the Lord when He offered Himself in total self-giving (Isaiah 52.13-53.12).

‘In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.’ ‘In the name’ means through the power of the One Whose name it is. Peter was claiming to act in His Name and with His authority. This is the first time that ‘the name’ of Jesus is called on (compare 4.10, 30; 16.18). It contains within it the idea of all that Jesus is. That was why He was named ‘Yahweh is salvation’. The full name ‘Jesus Christ’ was first used by Jesus Himself, either in the Upper Room or on the way to the Garden of Gethsemane (John 17.3) and then by Peter in 2.38. It is a part of the transforming of ‘Jesus the Messiah’ into a name, ‘Jesus Messiah’, but it never loses its Messianic significance. ‘Of Nazareth’ adds solemnity and identification to the name. There were many who were called Jesus (Joshua), but only One Jesus, the Messiah of Nazareth.

Luke wants all Israel, and indeed all men, to recognise that what God brings to men is not silver and gold and outward success and wealth, but the power to make men whole. Israel’s problem lay in its yearning for the silver and gold of the past, for the past glory of Solomon. And it was proud of its Temple which manifested silver and gold in abundance. Here was the glory of man and of decayed religion. But what they should be doing, says Luke, is looking to the One Who offers far more than silver and gold (compare 1 Peter 1.18 where again Peter contrasts silver and gold with God’s offer of life in Christ). They should be looking to the One Who can offer strength, and vigour and life.

‘Walk.’ God’s ways are often described as a walk, and God calls all to stand and walk in His ways. This was also to be true of the lame man. He was not only to walk into the Temple. He was to walk before the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 116.9).

3.7-8 ‘And he took him by the right hand, and raised him up, and immediately his feet and his ankle-bones received strength. And leaping up, he stood, and began to walk; and he entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.’

Then Peter reached out and, taking him by the right hand, raised him up. And the man immediately felt the strength entering his ankle-bones, and in faith he leaped up and stood and began to walk. The detailed descriptions bring out each step of faith as he responded to the word of Peter. He allowed himself to be raised up (an act of faltering faith), his ankle-bones received strength, he leaped up (exultant faith), he stood (confident faith), he began to walk (persevering faith). And then he walked with them into the Temple, leaping and praising God.

Note that the strength came immediately after he responded to Peter’s first raising of him up. His first response was a primary act of faith. It was only then that there came the sense of strengthening and the final total response of faith.

‘Leaping.’ The word is used in Isaiah 35.6 LXX of the leaping of the lame when they are healed in the new age. Thus his leaping indicated that the new age was here. It was also the natural reaction of a man who had the use of his legs for the first time. He just could not believe that he was walking, and every few seconds he had to give a little leap in order to express his joy over it and savour what for him was a totally new experience. He did not care what anyone thought, he simply had to experiment. This simple description bears all the evidence of being the description of an eyewitness. ‘Praising God.’ His response was the right one. He gave the glory where it was due.

The completeness of the healing is brought out by three sets of threefold verbs, three intensified. ‘Took him’, ‘raised -- up’, ‘received strength’. ‘Leaping up -- stood -- began to walk’. ‘Walking -- leaping -- praising God’.

3.9-10 ‘And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and they took knowledge of him, that it was he who sat for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.’

When the people saw him they were filled with ‘wonder and amazement’ at what had happened to him, for they recognised who he was. They recognised him as the lame man who had for so long begged for alms at one of the gates of the Temple. And now here he was walking and praising God within the Temple. The one who had been outside was now in.

Note the implication behind these words. The man and the Beautiful gate were linked together. Yet he had sat there, the very opposite of what the Beautiful gate represented. But now he was no longer tied to the Beautiful gate. He was free. He had life.

‘All the people.’ The representatives of the whole of Israel were receiving God’s witness, and they were all amazed. But the question was, would they see that they too were lame and needed to be healed? Would they see that here was evidence that the new age had come?

‘And they took knowledge of him.’ Compare 4.13. Here the crowds took knowledge of this man that he was the lame one. In 4.13 the court would take knowledge of the Apostles that they had been with Jesus because the lame one was standing there, healed

3.11 ‘And as he held Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch that is called Solomon’s, greatly wondering.’

The contrast here is significant. The man held on to Peter and John, full of faith and confidence. He would not let them go. The crowd ran together greatly wondering. But what would they do? The porch might be called ‘Solomon’s’. But would they reveal the wisdom of Solomon in their response? Would they too ‘hold on’ to the Apostles? or would they remain ‘lame’.

Peter’s Second Proclamation to the People (3.12-26).

As in his first message Peter first refers back to the past, but this time it is to ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’, the ones who had received from God the promise of blessing (compare verse 25). He wants the people to know that they bring no new god. Jesus’ God is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the One Who delivered His people from Egypt (Exodus 3.6). Then he goes on to describe Jesus as the Servant of God referred to by Isaiah, Who had come and had been rejected by them (Isaiah 50.4-9) and had been slain (53.1-12), and refers to the Scriptures that have therefore now been fulfilled, declaring Him to be the Messiah, and calls on them to repent so that God may then give them the everlasting Kingly Rule of God through His Messiah Jesus. He finishes by confirming that Jesus is God’s great expected Prophet whom they must listen to, and His Servant Who can deliver them from sin. He wants it known that all that he is saying is in line with the teaching of the prophets.

But having stressed the central agreement of the content of the two speeches we must also recognise their essential differences. For the two messages take two different lines of argument and refer back to different Scriptures in order to prove different points. Unlike in Acts 2 there is here no attempt to prove the resurrection from Scripture. Rather the stress is on the fact of prophecies concerning Jesus’ suffering and those which promise the blessing of Abraham. Here His Messiahship is related to the Servant of God in Isaiah rather than to David who is unmentioned except by implication. However, the overall message is unquestionably the same, as we would expect if both were by Peter.

The change is apposite. In the first speech, in the light of the experience of Pentecost, the regal aspect came through. The King was on His throne. He was Lord and Messiah. But here in the light of man’s weakness and need, it is the Servant aspect that shines through, the idea of the One Who had come among men to serve. Each speech admirably fits its occasion.

3.12 ‘And when Peter saw it, he answered, saying to the people, “You men of Israel, why do you marvel at this man? or why do you fasten your eyes on us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made him to walk?” ’

Peter immediately turns the people’s gaze away from himself. ‘You men of Israel.’ The call is to all Israel to face up to Jesus. They had seen Him walking among them constantly doing such miracles. Why then were they marvelling? Rather they should be saying, ‘Jesus is still among us’. Why were they looking at Peter and John when they should be recognising Whose power and godliness had made this man walk? Their eyes were turned in the wrong direction.

How easily Peter and John could have basked in the admiration of the crowds. But they did not even think of that. Indeed their one concern was that the thoughts of the crowds were fixed in the wrong place. They wanted them to be fixed on the Name of Jesus.

‘Our own power or godliness.’ It was believed that men who were especially pious were sometimes able to perform miracles. The word for ‘power’ is dunamis, raw power revealed in action.

The words that follow reveal an interesting pattern. It is instructive to look at Peter’s speech here as a whole.

  • a The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up,
  • b You denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted unto you, and killed the Archegos (Author and Sustainer, one in authority who starts something and sees it through) of life, whom God raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses.
  • c And by faith in his name has his name made this man strong, whom you behold and know, yes, the faith which is through him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.
  • d And now, brethren, I know that in ignorance you did it, as did also your rulers.
  • d But the things which God foreshowed by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled.
  • c Repent you therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ who has been appointed for you, even Jesus, whom the heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, whereof God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets that have been from of old.
  • b Moses indeed said, A prophet shall the Lord God raise up unto you from among your brethren, like unto me. To him shall you hearken in all things whatsoever he shall speak unto you. And it shall be, that every soul that shall not hearken to that prophet, shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.
  • a Yes, and all the prophets from Samuel and them that followed after, as many as have spoken, they also told of these days. You are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Servant, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.

It will be noted that in ‘a’ he begins and closes by turning their thoughts towards Abraham, and connects Him with the Servant. That he then in ‘b’ indicates that they have ignored God’s holy and righteous One while in the parallel they are not to refuse to listen to the words of God’s Prophet. In ‘c’ he points out that what is required is a response of faith in His name which makes whole and in the parallel calls for repentance to salvation. And in ‘d’ they did it in ignorance but in the parallel God foreshowed it by the mouth of His prophets.

3.13 “The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, has glorified his Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up, and denied before the face of Pilate, when he had determined to release him.”

Let them now recognise that the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the One Who had made them such great promises (verse 25), the One to whom they claimed close allegiance, was also the One who had ‘glorified’ His Servant Jesus. It was He Who had raised Him up and seated Him on His throne and given Him glory (compare John 17.5; Isaiah 52.13).

They would remember that when God had first revealed Himself to Moses as ‘the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’ it had been in order to establish His servant Moses. (All in the crowd would know the words by heart). But now a greater than Moses was here, and He had glorified His Servant Jesus. In Isaiah 41.8 the God of Abraham raised up seed to Abraham to be His Servant (see verses 25-26).

But in contrast to what God had done in ‘glorifying’ Him and raising Him up, they had rather delivered Him up, and denied that He was their Messiah before the face of Pilate, when Pilate had determined to release Him. Peter makes quite clear that it was Jewish prejudice and refusal to accept God’s chosen One that had to bear the weight of Jesus’ conviction and sentence. His desire is that they recognise their guilt and repent and change the attitude of their minds and hearts and wills.

All who read these words have also to pass their verdict on the situation. Will they side with the unbelieving Jews or recognise that Pilate, and God, were right?

‘The God of Abraham, and of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of our fathers.’ This was the name under which God spoke to Moses when He called him to deliver Israel (Exodus 3.6, 15, 16). It would immediately link what he had to say with Moses, and with God’s deliverance.

‘Glorified His Servant (pais).’ The idea comes directly from Isaiah 52.13 LXX where both verb and noun appear. Compare also 49.6; 50.10 LXX. The claim is being made that Jesus is the Servant of the Lord described by Isaiah, Who would be humiliated and made a sacrifice, bearing the sins of others, and would then be glorified.

Note on the Servant of the Lord.

Central to Isaiah 41-55 is the concept of the Servant of the Lord who is coming. He is portrayed as a righteous and gracious king (Isaiah 42.1-6), One Who acts in God’s name to bring Him glory and deliver His people and to be a light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 49.1-6), One Who being taught by God takes His message to men through much suffering (Isaiah 50.4-9) and Who coming in humility is finally offered up as a kind of sacrifice for the sins of His people (Isaiah 53.1-11), will rise again (Isaiah 53.10), and will finally be exalted in glory (Isaiah 52.13). This, putting it simply, is the idea that Peter has in mind.

End of note.

3.14-15 “But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses.”

The heinousness of their crime is brought out by contrast. They denied the Holy and Righteous One -- they refused to listen to the One Who taught and did only what was good, and chose rather the survival of a murderer. They killed -- the source and sustainer of Life. In further contrast while they killed Him, God demonstrated what He thought of their action by raising Him up. Thus while He was spurned by Israel He was vindicated by God (see Isaiah 50.4-9; 53.10-12), as they, the Apostles, can all bear witness to.

‘The Holy and Righteous One.’ For the ‘Holy One’ compare 2.27; 4.27; Psalm 16.10. He is God’s Anointed. ‘The Holy One of Israel’ was also Isaiah’s favourite title for God. For ‘the Righteous One’ compare especially Isaiah 53.11 LXX; Zechariah 9.9 LXX. He was both Servant and King. See also Isaiah 24.16 (RV; RSV). and compare 7.52; 22.14; James 5.6; 1 Peter 3.18. In Jewish apocalyptic literature The Righteous One had become a Messianic title (Enoch 38.2; 53.6).

The Holy One was the One Who above all was set apart as God’s. The Righteous One was the One Who epitomised in Himself all righteousness, The One Who had fulfilled all righteousness, the One Whose life shone bright and purely in God’s eyes. He was the very opposite of what the word ‘murder’, the dark side of man, conveyed (compare the contrast of the righteous Abel with the murderer Cain - Hebrews 11.4). We note the stress here on the sinlessness of the One of Whom Peter speaks.

Note in the construction of the passage the parallel with the Prophet like Moses (verses 22-23). Those who would refuse to listen to Him would themselves be cut off.

‘Killed the Prince (archegos) of Life.’ The contrast is almost unbelievable. The One Who was the Source, Author, Originator, Provider, Sustainer and Revealer of Life, Who came offering it to all men, ready to be their Guide and Trek Leader in leading them through to eternal life, was taken by them and killed. They were seeking to destroy the core of life itself. And in doing so they had rejected the One Who had come to bring it to them. For archegos compare 5.31; Hebrews 2.10; 12.2. The idea behind the word is of one who originates and carries through an enterprise, both as its source and its very heart, like a Wagon-train Boss, or a Safari leader. It is used of the eponymous Heroic founders of ancient cities. It pictures the one who heads the march of triumph as both its originator and object. It represents a Prince in its best and noblest sense, active on his nation’s behalf. And Israel’s folly in killing Him was evidenced by the fact that God had raised Him from the dead. That was God’s verdict on Him, and on what they had done. They had turned their thumbs down and declared Him worthy of death. But God had emphatically turned His thumb upwards, ensuring that He lived.

3.16 “And by faith in his name has his name made this man strong, whom you behold and know: yes, the faith which is through him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.”

And the fact that He had been raised and was truly the Prince of Life, and the Holy and Righteous One, was evidenced by the fact that it was His Name, as a result of faith in His Name, which had made this man strong. It was He who had healed the lame. None other could have done it. What has happened has established once for all His essential worth and power, through which this was accomplished. This once lame man was the evidence to all of Who and What Jesus was, and to the power of His being.

The faith here might signify the faith of Peter and John or it may be the faith of the lame man that is in mind. But the emphasis is on neither of these. The emphasis is rather on the One Whose Name may be totally relied on, and Who in response to faith can act in this way.

But it had nevertheless required faith, both from the Apostles and from the lame man. And the faith that they had and the faith that the man had received was ‘through Him’. It had come from the Lord Himself. And that is why it has given him this ‘perfect soundness (wholeness, completeness)’. This echoes the idea in verse 7 above. The hint is that all who hear Him can also find perfect soundness in Him if they turn to Him in faith. All can be restored to full wholeness. It is in the light of this that the later appeal to repentance can be made (verses 19-21).

In Greek the sentence is rather complicated, but by no means impossible. There is no reason for avoiding its plain sense. It is structured so as to place the emphasis on Him, and then on the faith that is required in order to benefit from Who He is..

3.17 “And now, brethren, I know that in ignorance you did it, as did also your rulers.”

Peter then makes them a concession. He acknowledges that what they had done they had done in ignorance. When they had done it they had not realised what they were doing. And this was true both of them and their rulers (compare Luke 23.34). So they were now being given another chance. Now in the light of what had happened they could have their eyes opened, recover their position and see the truth.

This attitude brings out how early on in the ministry this speech was, before attitudes had hardened. Here Peter believed that there was hope that not only the people, but also their rulers, would repent.

But ignorance was no excuse now that the light had shone. It was in ignorance that the Jews perpetrated the terrible act of crucifying their Messiah, but the thought is that now in he light of His resurrection and ensuing wonders that ignorance is no longer possible, and, therefore, there can be no excuse for their further rejection of Jesus Christ. For Christ has risen, and He has revealed Himself openly in what has happened to this lame man. This note of the terrifying responsibility that knowledge brings appears all through the New Testament. "If you were blind you would have no guilt, but now that you say `We see,' your guilt remains" (John 9.41). "If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin" (John 15.22). "Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin" (James 4.17). To have seen the full light of the revelation of God is the greatest of privileges, but it is also the most terrible of responsibilities, and it had happened in the coming of Christ.

3.18 “But the things which God showed beforehand by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled.”

However, he makes it clear that they should not have been ignorant. Let them recognise that what had happened had actually fulfilled what God had shown beforehand through the mouth of His prophets, that His Messiah would suffer. This had been made apparent in the prophecies concerning the Suffering Servant and Lamb of God of Isaiah (50.4-9; 52.13-53.12), in the Davidic Psalms such as 22.12-18, which applied to all the house of David but especially to the coming greater David, and in Zechariah 13.7 where God’s Shepherd and the man who was God’s fellow was to be smitten. Furthermore it could be discerned by the initiated in all references to the sacrifice of lambs in the Old Testament, for He was the Lamb of God (John 1.19).

In 'all the prophets' (compare Luke 24.27). Here we have a technical term by which ‘the prophets’ from Joshua (these early books which we consider historical were called the ‘former prophets’) through to Malachi (excluding basically 1 Chronicles to Song of Solomon) were known. Thus by 'all the prophets' he is really using a term signifying ‘the prophets in general’. We must not stress the ALL except as a generalisation. He could hardly be expected in a brief speech to pick out the individual prophets whom he thought specifically proclaimed Christ's suffering. We would put it, 'in the prophetic books it is taught that Christ would suffer, and none of the prophets taught otherwise’.

This could actually have been said even if there were only a few references like those mentioned above, but there can be no questioning the fact that by this time all the sacrifices described in the Old Testament were seen as foretelling Christ's suffering. 'Behold the Lamb of God' (John 1.29) comes as early as the time of John the Baptiser emphasising that Jesus was already seen as having come as the supreme sacrifice. So Peter, who had heard those words, had come to see in the sacrifices a clear portrayal of what Jesus would suffer from the beginning, even though John's words had not come home fully to him until after the crucifixion. He now saw that Jesus was Passover lamb, burnt offering and sin offering, all rolled into one. Thus he would see every mention of these in the prophets as a portrayal of His suffering. In his new found understanding, therefore, he would have seen Christ's suffering as portrayed wherever the sacrifices are mentioned, and such mention is regular in almost all the prophets. The result would be that he saw Christ's suffering as portrayed ‘everywhere’.

We must not judge Peter from the standpoint of a modern scholar. To him in the newness of the resurrection he was no doubt filled with wonder that the whole of the Old Testament had pictured Christ's suffering in this way. His eyes had been opened. It sprang out from everywhere. The whole Old Testament declared His suffering. It was no longer a handbook of ritual but a vivid declaration of Christ's sacrifice of Himself. It was sufficient to make him recognise even at this early stage that Christ's death was predetermined (compare 2.23).

3.19-21 “Repent you therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ who has been appointed for you, even Jesus, whom the heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, of which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets that have been from of old.”

Now comes the familiar call to repent. They must have a change of heart and mind. They must ‘turn again’, turning to God’s way and to the Saviour from sin, turning from sin and from their own way (Isaiah 53.6) . They must seek the prince of life. They must respond to Jesus the Messiah. Such repentance and faith are parallel ideas.

Then their sins will be blotted out (Psalm 51.1, 9; Isaiah 43.25; 44.2). And then will come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord, followed by the coming again of Messiah Himself Whom the heavens have necessarily received until the times of the restoration of all things, that time of restoration spoken of by His holy prophets from ancient times. As a result of faith in His Name they will be made whole (verse 16).

We should note that repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. The person whose faith in God is opened up and made real cannot but repent. When a person becomes aware of God they can do no other than ‘repent’, changing their hearts and minds and wills about sin and about God. Job was evidence of this. He said. ‘I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you, wherefore I hate myself and I repent in dust and ashes’ (Job 42.5-6). He did not try or struggle to repent. He saw God and he had no choice. The same was true of Isaiah in Isaiah 6.1-7. He too saw God and had no choice but to repent. Indeed every man who by faith sees Him will be driven to repentance, that is why Peter has made Him known. Once these men became aware of God as He is, and Jesus Christ as he is, repentance will be the inevitable result. Peter was trusting God that this would be true here as it had been for Job and Isaiah. All he could do was present and interpret the facts, and face them up to Jesus. Then he looked for God to work on his hearers hearts and make them know the truth about Himself and about Him. His call was therefore that on recognising that truth they would respond. Repentance is simply faith responding. Becoming aware of God and believing, they are to turn to God from their sins, yielding to His Kingly Rule and walking in His ways.

Note here the mention of ‘times and seasons’ which they can know about (contrast 1.7). The first is the ‘seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord’. This speaks of all the good things that can be known by experiencing His indwelling presence and blessing. The Apostles had known them from when they first knew the Lord. They had experienced them anew through Pentecost. The woman of Samaria had know them from when she had first believed (John 4). The whole church from when it was first indwelt and made one at Pentecost (2.1-4). They could be known by Peter’s hearers once they repented and their sins were blotted out. For they were there in the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.

The word for ‘refreshing’ (anapsukseows) means to ‘revive, refresh’. This spiritual refreshing was symbolised in the prophets by the picture of rain pouring down and bringing life and fruitfulness and of rivers of lifegiving water (e.g. Isaiah 32.1-4, 15-18; 44.1-5; 55.10-13; Ezekiel 36.25-26; 47.1-12; Psalm 36.8; 46.4). It was symbolised in terms of receiving a refreshing drink in the hottest and dryest of conditions (Isaiah 55.1-3). It was symbolised by the shadow of a great rock in a hot and weary land (Isaiah 32.1-4). It was a picture used by Jesus Himself when offering spiritual life (John 3.5-6; 4.10-14; 7.37-39). It is the result of the ‘washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit’ (Titus 3.5).

The basic idea is found in Exodus 8.15 where Pharaoh saw that there was a ‘respite’ (anapsuksis), a breathing space, from the plague of frogs. In Exodus 23.12 the verb is used of the resident alien being ‘refreshed’ on the Sabbath. In 1 Samuel 16.23 Saul was ‘refreshed’ at the playing of David’s harp so that the evil spirit left him for a while. In Psalm 39.13 the Psalmist prays that he may ‘recover strength, be refreshed’ before he goes hence to be no more. Note the contrast of this last with these new ‘seasons of refreshing which will result in the ‘times of the restoration of all things’.

These ‘seasons of refreshing’ will be followed by the ‘times of the restoration of all things’. This will be the times when all is put right, when Eden will be restored (Isaiah 11.4-9; 33.21; Revelation 22.1-5), when there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Isaiah 65.17-25; 66.22-24; Revelation 21.1-7), when the everlasting kingdom will be established. This everlasting kingdom was portrayed in earthly terms in Isaiah 11.1-9; Ezekiel 37.21-28; Zechariah 14.16-21 because any others would not have been understood. But we must read not the outward shell, but the inner heart. The New Testament knows of only one kingdom, the everlasting kingdom.

For the use of the verb ‘to restore, turn again’ on which the noun ‘restoration’ is based, in places in the Old Testament which relate to the restoration see Jeremiah 16.15; 24.6; 50.19; Ezekiel 16.55; Hosea 11.11.

Then will come again their appointed Messiah. He will come in blessing if they have become His people, and in judgment on all who have rejected Him, just as the prophets have declared. First the seasons of refreshing, and then the times of restoration. Those who benefit from the one will enjoy the other.

Some see the ‘seasons of refreshing’ as being synonymous with ‘the times of the restoration of all things’, but the whole point of Peter’s message is that what Christ has brought through His Holy Spirit is available now. The Kingly Rule of God is already here. We can enjoy eternal life (the life of the age to come) now, and then later in its fullness (John 5.24-29). We can come under His Kingly Rule now, and enjoy it in its fullness in eternity. We can have refreshing now, and full restoration later.

‘His holy prophets that have been from of old.’ Compare Luke 1.70.

3.22 “Moses indeed said, A prophet shall the Lord God raise up to you from among your brethren, like to me. To him shall you listen in all things whatever he shall speak to you.”

Peter’s thoughts now turn to justifying his position further in the light of Scripture, by showing Whom it is that they have crucified (the Holy and Righteous One) by declaring that Jesus was the Prophet who had been promised by Moses. He does this firstly by introducing the idea of the Great Prophet promised by Moses in Deuteronomy 18.15, then by stating that all the prophets pointed ahead to Him, and connects Him with the idea of Abraham, through whom the whole world was to be blessed. He clearly sees the Messiah and ‘the Prophet’ as synonymous. Many people in those days expected the coming of a Great Prophet (Mark 6.15; 8.28; John 1.21), who would introduce the blessing of Abraham, and some saw him as synonymous with the Messiah. Peter was in no doubt on the matter.

The citation is taken from Deuteronomy 18.15. His point is that Jesus is that prophet Whom God has raised up who is ‘like Moses’. No one was held in greater esteem in first century Judaism than Moses. He was exalted above all men. But men were interpreting Deuteronomy 18.15 as indicating the rise of another Prophet of equal status. And now here had come the promised new coming Moses. Let them therefore remember God’s command that they listen to all that He says to them. They had failed to listen previously, but now they have a further opportunity. Let them therefore listen to Him now. For just as those who did not listen to Moses were to be cut off (Exodus 32.33) so now those who will not listen to Jesus will be cut off.

The idea of Jesus as a prophet is common to Luke’s writings. Compare Luke 4.16-21; 7.16, 39; 13.33-34; 24.19.

It may be noted that the citation from Deuteronomy 18.15 follows neither LXX or MT. It is, however, fairly close to quotations, presumably taken from a current Hebrew text, which are found in Qumranic literature. Alternatively it may instead simply have arisen from Peter citing from a collection of texts or as a paraphrase. The sense is unchanged.

3.23 “And it shall be, that every soul who will not listen responsively to that prophet, shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.”

For God had warned severely, that if anyone did not listen to Him responsively as He spoke through that Prophet, he would be cut off from Israel. Here is a clear indication that the coming of Jesus will result in a new Israel arising out of the old, from which all who reject Him will be cut off (compare John 15.1-6; Romans 11.16-26). This new Israel will be the nation to whom God will give what the old nation has forfeited (Matthew 21.43). A new nation will be formed with the Christ rejecters cast off.

‘Utterly destroyed from among the people.’ Compare Leviticus 23.29.

3.24 “Yes and all the prophets from Samuel and those who followed after, as many as have spoken, they also told of these days.”

But it is not only Moses who had spoken of these days which have now come. It was also all the prophets who followed him from Samuel onwards (see 13.20). All such as had spoken of these days. The mention of Samuel was especially significant as he had anointed David (1 Samuel 16.13) in whom the promises of an anointed king to come had begun (2 Samuel 7.16).

‘All the prophets from Samuel and those who followed after.’ This is intended simply to signify all the true prophets, and it will be noted that he acknowledged that not all did speak of Him (‘as many as have spoken’). Thus it may be that he did not intend to indicate that Samuel had so spoken. But Samuel certainly anointed the Davidic line to rule over Israel and we need not doubt that he would have concurred with Nathan that it was to be for ever (2 Samuel 7.16). The kingship was certainly seen by him as in God’s hands (1 Samuel 13.14; 15.28; 26.4). It was probably therefore something accepted by all that Samuel had prepared the way for the Messiah.

3.25-26 “You are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, And in your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Unto you first God, having raised up his Servant, sent him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.”

So they should listen. For they are the ‘sons of the prophets’, that is they come from the same background ideas and thoughts and mind-stream and nationality of the prophets, and look to the prophets as their ‘fathers’ and are the ones who would expect therefore to obey their prophecies. To be thought of as ‘the sons of the prophets’ would certainly please most of them.

Furthermore they are the sons ‘of the covenant’ which God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They have first right to this promise and covenant if only they will receive it. And the promise given there was that in their seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12.3; 22.18; 26.4). But Scripture also promised that from the seed of Abraham God would raise up His Servant (Isaiah 41.8), through whom that blessing would come. The whole world was to enjoy the blessing, but the Servant had brought it to them first.

‘Unto you first.’ Before the earth as a whole receives His blessing, as Isaiah has made clear that it will one day through the Servant (49.6), God has first appointed it to them, (to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile). That is why He has ‘raised up’ His Servant (caused Him to come forth in His purposes - compare verse 22), so that Israel might receive the anticipated blessing of Abraham and be blessed in turning away from their iniquities. The choice now therefore lies with them. They can refuse to hear His words and be cut off from Israel (verse 23). Or they can respond and enter into the blessing of the new Israel, turning from their sin and having them blotted out as He has promised (verse 19).

‘In your seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ In Isaiah 41.8 the Servant whom God will raise up is said to be ‘the seed of Abraham My friend’. Initially that Servant and seed was the children of Jacob/Israel, but gradually the idea narrowed down to the One Who in Himself was Israel (Isaiah 49.3). It is then finally the unique Servant Who is the seed of Abraham through which the nations of the world will be blessed (for the outworking of this see our commentary on Isaiah). But Peter probably arrived there by inspiration.

It is informative to consider how many seed thoughts for the future there were in Peter’s words. They are not expounded on in depth, but they are here because Peter was taught by his Master, both before and after His resurrection, and was now inspired by the Holy Spirit Who brought them to the forefront of his thinking. These include, for example, Jesus as: the Messiah, the Holy One, the Righteous One, the Source and Sustainer of Life, the Servant, and the Great Prophet. And supporting these claims, and behind Him in them, are Moses, and all the prophets, and the patriarch Abraham himself.

Chapter 4 The Arrest of the Apostles, Their Response Through Peter And A Further Inundation From God.

It is a recognised principle of Scripture that once God begins to bless His people opposition will arise in order to seek to prevent it (consider Jesus’ words in Luke 12.4, 11; 21.12-19; John 15.18-19; 16.2-3, 33; see verses 25-26 below). It was inevitable. It was after all what happened to Jesus (see Luke 4.29; 5.21, 30; 6.2, 7, 11 etc.). Indeed it is what was prophesied to happen to the Servant (Isaiah 50.8-9; 53.8), and the followers of Jesus are also the Servant (13.47). Luke now therefore introduces the first stage in the opposition. Peter and John are arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish body politic. But Peter is undeterred and sees it as an opportunity for witness to the leading authorities of Israel (compare 3.17). This is then followed by a further infusion of the Holy Spirit, and a picture of the progression of the new Israel.

A further importance of this section is that it establishes what the crucial difference was between the old Israel and the new Israel, and that was the Name of Jesus. The old Israel rejected the name and its bearer. They would not hear it under any circumstances. The new Israel claimed that there was salvation in no one else. In chapter 2 the emphasis had been on the enthronement of the King. In chapter 3 it had been on the work of the Servant and Prophet of God. Here it is now on the Name of Jesus, and the salvation that He has brought.

In this chapter we also have illustrated the approach taken by the Jewish authorities to judicial situations. It was a good principle of their system of justice that unless persons were aware of the consequences of their crimes they could not justly be punished for them. Thus when a ‘common’ person (untrained in the Law) had committed a crime, not of a capital nature, it was considered necessary that on the occasion of the first offence such a person be given a legal admonition before witnesses. They would then only be punished if they committed the offence again (when of course they could no longer claim ignorance). In this situation ignorance of the Law was considered to be an excuse. In view of the complexity of some of the laws this was very necessary.

This explains why in the first example below stress is laid on the fact that they were ‘unlearned and ignorant men’ (that is, untrained in the Law), which is why they are let off with a warning and a legal admonition. On any repetition of the offence they will be punished in accordance with their supposed crime. Then they could no longer be seen as ignorant of their ‘crime’, because they would have been legally admonished. So rather than the accounts of the trials being duplicates of the same event as suggested by some, they beautifully illustrate the stages that would necessarily have occurred, given the attitude of the Jewish Law and the determination of the disciples.

The Hearing Before The Sanhedrin (4.1-22).

4.1-2 ‘And as they spoke to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, being sore troubled because they taught the people, and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.’

The preaching of Peter was raising eyebrows among the authorities in the Temple. It may well be that they had been willing to overlook his sermon at Pentecost because, like some of the crowd, they simply thought that he was drunk, and that it was not too serious and would not happen again. It had after all resulted from a rather unusual and inexplicable situation.

However, now that it had happened a second time they could not overlook it and felt that it was therefore necessary to examine the matter and if necessary give an official admonition. Such goings on could not be allowed in the Temple. The thing that caused most offence to the Temple authorities themselves was Peter’s teaching on the resurrection of the dead. While the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, the Sadducees, including the chief priests, most decidedly did not. And it was they who had overall responsibility for the Temple. So when Peter began teaching about the resurrection of the dead, and proclaiming that God would intervene in world affairs, they took offence.

It will be noted that those who gathered against them were all Sadducees. The priests and other Sadducees (most fairly rich and important) probably reported what they had heard to the captain of the Temple (a senior chief priest responsible for maintaining order and reverence in the temple, or one of his deputies), who then came with them in order to deal with these troublemakers. They clearly felt that their prerogatives were being trodden on. It was recognised that the resurrection from the dead might be taught in the synagogues (by the Pharisees), but not, if they could help it, in the Temple by any wandering preacher.

In fact the Sadducees would not have liked the whole tenor of the Apostolic teaching for the Sadducees also denied the principle of divine action in the world and wanted to maintain the status quo. Furthermore they still had vividly in their minds the way in which this Jesus in Whose Name these men were acting had attacked the sources of their profits in the trading that took place in the Temple.

4.3 ‘And they laid hands on them, and put them in ward until the morrow, for it was now nightfall.’

So Peter and John were arrested and locked up overnight so that they could be dealt with the next day. For Temple affairs like this were a matter for the Sanhedrin, and the Sanhedrin (the overall Jewish authoritative council) had by law to meet in daylight.

4.4 ‘But many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.’

However, this event did not affect the impact of the message (indeed as the chief priests and their denial of a general resurrection were not popular it may have helped it) and many who heard Peter’s words believed, so that the number of disciples now came to ‘the number of the men -- about five thousand’. Five thousand is probably not intended to be taken literally. It had in mind an increase from the ‘three thousand’ on the day of Pentecost, and probably had in mind the ‘five thousand men’ fed by Jesus when He broke the loaves, the picture of the covenant community. Five is the number of covenant and ‘five thousand’ therefore signified the covenant community as a whole. But it certainly signified a large number. Taking into account women and children as well this may well have been more than one tenth of the population of Jerusalem.

Note the stress on the fact that they ‘believed’. They responded to the message of the crucified and risen Jesus and committed themselves to following Him along with His people. In the terms of 3.19 they ‘repented’. They had been faced up with Jesus Christ and their hearts had responded, and from now on they would follow Him. Later we will learn that it was because they were ‘ordained to eternal life’ (13.48). As in so many incidents in Scripture God was carrying out his will, and human beings were of their own volition moving along in parallel with that will.

4.5-6 ‘And it came about on the next day, that their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the close relatives of the high priest.’

The next day a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish authority and court, was called, made up of around seventy men taken from among the rulers (chief priests), the elders (important lay persons) and the Scribes (mainly but not entirely teachers of the Pharisees). They included a number of close relatives of the High Priests. Annas was High Priest according to Jewish Law, but he had been replaced as High Priest by Caiaphas under Roman Law. Many of the people thus still considered Annas to be the true High Priest. Along with them were John, possibly the Jonathan who succeeded Caiaphas, and Alexander, of whom we know nothing. Both were no doubt close relatives of the High Priests. In fact Annas was probably still deliberately and defiantly called ‘Annas the High Priest’ by the people, and Luke may simply here be citing this popular designation. Luke is not suggesting that Caiaphas was not the High Priest as well. (According to the Jews once a person was High Priest he was High Priest until death. Even a substitutionary High Priest who had to stand in if the High Priest was prevented for some reason from conducting the Day of Atonement ritual, was seen as High Priest from then on, even if he never officiated again. Anyone therefore who had conducted the Day of Atonement was necessarily High Priest).

We may gather from Luke’s description that he was not over-impressed with the fairness of the situation. The Sanhedrin was overloaded with the men in whose name the charges had been brought.

‘In Jerusalem.’ The point is that the Jerusalem that was to be the launching pad for the Gospel (1.8) was also the Jerusalem where these men met to impede its progress. There was opposition at the very heart of the place from which the word of God was to go out to the world (Isaiah 2.4).

4.7 ‘And when they had set them in the midst, they enquired, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” ’

It had been one thing for the Sadducees not to like the Apostolic message. It was another when it was to come before the Sanhedrin. For this was a formal court and had to be conducted along legal lines. Furthermore the court had to decide the lines along which it would proceed, and the accused were entitled to put up a defence. All that the court appear to have been told was that there had been a mysterious healing in the Temple and that it had been done in ‘the Name of Jesus’ (the question of the resurrection would not be brought up. Half the court believed in the resurrection from the dead).

In accordance with Deuteronomy 13.1-5 this was good grounds for an Enquiry so as to ensure that those who brought about the healing were not undermining the faith of Israel.

Jesus had, of course, been sentenced by this court for blasphemy not long previously, before being sent off to Pilate (Luke 22.66-71), so they would not like to hear of the reappearance of His Name. The first thing therefore that they wanted to confirm was what methods these men had used in performing the healing, and in Whose name it had been done. Note that, unlike the way in which they had treated Jesus, they do not put words in the mouths of the accused. The court was seeking to be ‘fair’. If the name of Jesus is to be mentioned the men must be convicted out of their own mouths.

They recognised that a miracle had undoubtedly been done. The man, well known for what he had been, was standing before them. What was therefore necessary was to learn the source of the miracle. The suspicion would be that evil forces and incantations had been at work, and those were illegal. They therefore asked the two disciples of Jesus by what power they had healed the man and in what name it was done. The reply would enable them to hear from the accused’s own lips any connection that they had with evil spirits or any connection that they had with ‘Him’.

To be fair to the court is should be pointed out that the charge having been made that those putting themselves forward as prophets had been doing wonders and signs out them under an obligation to investigate it (Deuteronomy 13.1-5).

It will be noted that no charge was made of preaching the resurrection of the dead. That would simply have swung many of the members of the Sanhedrin, who did believe in the resurrection from the dead, onto the side of the Apostles. The charge was strictly limited to performing a healing and using the name of Jesus.

4.8-10 ‘Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “You rulers of the people, and elders, if we this day are examined concerning a good deed done to an impotent man, by what means this man is made whole (‘saved’), be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in him does this man stand here before you whole.”

‘Filled (pimplemi) with the Holy Spirit.’ Jesus had promised His Apostles that when they had to face courts the Holy Spirit would teach them what they should say (Luke 12.12). Here then the promise was being fulfilled. But we are no doubt also intended to see that this is part of the Holy Spirit’s continuing witness to Jesus (John 15.26-27) in line with the forward movement of His people. The filling was for the purpose of inspiring Peter’s words and giving them due impact before the highest authority in the land, reaching to the very heart of Jerusalem.

We note here the usual content of the early preaching. Appeal to the Scripture, reference to Jesus’ life, a pointing to the resurrection, and a final if carefully worded appeal to his hearers.

Peter’s defence is bold and clear. ‘Filled (pimplemi) with the Holy Spirit’ he addresses the Sanhedrin with due courtesy. and then stresses that the deed that has been done is a ‘good’ deed. It has no connection with evil forces. And by it a man, lame from birth, has been healed. As to how it was done, it was done in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom ‘they’ had crucified, but Whom God had raised from the dead. It will be noted that he is not seeking to be placatory but to try and bring home to these men what he considered that they had done in ignorance (3.17). He knew that he would probably never have another opportunity to speak to these men, and was possibly hopeful that some at least of them would listen.

In chapter 1 the Apostles had been told that they had to be witnesses ‘in Jerusalem’. In chapters 2 and 3 they had done so at the spiritual heart of Jerusalem, in the Temple. Now they were being enabled to do it at the political heart of Jerusalem, in the Sanhedrin.

Peter takes his opportunity (what a different man this is from the one who had cowered before a serving girl in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house - Luke 22.57). His charge is that the ones who were guilty that day were not he and John, but those who sat in judgment on them. They had caused Jesus to be crucified. But God had raised Him up. This should convince them quite clearly that they had been in the wrong. And he pointed out that a further evidence that Jesus has been raised up can be found in this healed man who is standing there before them. It was ‘in Jesus’ that this man had been made whole. If Jesus were not alive it could not have happened. As this is a reply to the question as to the name by which the man had been healed this is probably shorthand for ‘in the name of Jesus’. He may, however, be indicating that the man had been healed because he had been brought into oneness with the risen Jesus by God’s mercy.

We note that the healed man himself was there before the court. He may have been accused along with Peter and John, or he may have been called as a witness.

4.11 “He is the stone which was set at nought of you the builders, which was made the head of the corner.”

Then to support his case Peter indirectly cites Scripture. The citation is from Psalm 118.22. It is either Peter’s paraphrase or a quotation from an unknown source, probably the former. He stresses ‘set at nought’ rather than ‘rejected’. He has not forgotten the scenes that he witnessed and the ones he had heard about, when Jesus was truly ‘set at nought’. But that stone, rejected by the builders, was to be made the head of the corner, the capstone. It was the final, vital stone that mattered. This Psalm was one from which citations were made by the crowds when pilgrims entered Jerusalem (see Psalm 118.26). They thus indirectly connected it with the Future One Who would come to Jerusalem in triumph. The inference is plain. The rulers, the ‘builders’ of Israel, have rejected Him and set Him at nought, because He did not seem to fit, but God has stepped in and will make Him the cornerstone of the new Israel which holds the whole building together.

Some among those who were sat in the Sanhedrin may have grown uncomfortable at these words. They would remember how when they had challenged Jesus a month or so previously He had told the parable of the wicked tenants who had rented the vineyard and then refused to the owner its true fruits, killing first his servants and then his only son (Luke 20.9-16). Then Jesus had looked on them and had said, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner’ (Luke 20.17). Now here it was again, the charge that they had rejected God’s ‘stone’, and that somehow their rejection would lead to His exaltation.

(Incidentally we have here an interesting evidence that Luke is not just putting his own words into Peter’s mouth. Had he been doing so surely the quotations would have tied up).

4.12 “And in none other is there salvation, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.”

Then he applies the words to his hearers. There is no salvation in anyone else. Jesus is God’s capstone, His cornerstone. There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved. Eternal life and eternal forgiveness is only available through Him. The question had been in what name the lame man had been healed. This reply states that it is only in that Name that any of mankind can be healed. His appeal to them is clear although cleverly worked in as part of his explanation.

‘Salvation’ would have a Messianic ring to his listeners, especially when connected with Psalm 118. In the scrolls from Qumran ‘Salvation’ and ‘God’s Salvation’ are designations of the Messiah. This is also true in other inter-testamental Jewish literature, and it appears later in the Rabbinic writings. In their view the Messiah was to be God’s means of salvation. He was to be Salvation. Thus Peter’s words are a further claim of Jesus’ Messiahship, linked with the salvation which will bring men into the everlasting kingdom. Furthermore the name Jesus means ‘Yahweh is salvation’. Salvation is thus closely paralleled with the name of Jesus in all its senses.

But ‘salvation’ can also mean ‘making whole’ (compare the same word in verse 9). So there is the implication that the Jesus Who had made this man whole could also make the world whole. Let them then consider that what had happened to this man should make them recognise just what Jesus could do.

Thus these words of Peter were not just a challenge, they were central to the whole question of the Name of Jesus. He was Salvation because He was the Messiah, He was Salvation because that was His name given to Him by God, and He was salvation because He brought salvation to all who needed healing, whether in body or soul.

4.13 ‘Now when they beheld the boldness of Peter and John, and had perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.’

We only have recorded the words of Peter, but it is clear from these words that John had also spoken (the boldness -- of John’). And the Sanhedrin were impressed. They were used to men cringing before them, not speaking out boldly. And they were not used to having Scripture quoted at them. The fact that these were ‘unlearned and ignorant men’, that is, not officially taught in official methods of Scriptural interpretation and not cognisant of the Law as officially taught, meant that they could only be officially admonished. However, once they learned that they had been with Jesus it put them on the spot. They had rejected Jesus as a heretic and a blasphemer. But these men were still proclaiming Him and even claiming the power of His Name. Now therefore it was apparent that they were Jesus men, and that they were representing themselves as carrying on His work.

Most, if not all, of them had probably never previously noticed the disciples. Their attention had been on Jesus. Thus it is not surprising that they had not recognised in these bold men the previous rather timid (in the presence of leading Scribes and Sadducees) followers of Jesus.

4.14 ‘And seeing the man that was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.’

They now found themselves in a quandary. On the one hand they saw the man who had been healed standing among them and recognised that nothing wrong had been done in his healing. Apart from the fact that the Name of Jesus had been brought into it they could see nothing against it. But on the other was that these men were reviving the interest in the Name and the teaching of Jesus. This they could not allow. The man had been executed as a criminal and accursed by being hung on a tree (Deuteronomy 21.22-23 compare Galatians 3.13)

Really, of course , they should have gone the one step further and acknowledged that the healing of this man clearly vindicated the name of Jesus. But their minds were closed. That was something that they would not do, and in view of what they had done to Him it was not too surprising. It would have been a matter of admitting their own bloodguiltiness.

4.15-17 ‘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 that indeed a notable miracle has been wrought through them, is openly known to all who dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. But that it spread no further among the people, let us threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.” ’

So having heard the case they put the accused outside the room while they discussed what they would do. What happened there may well have been communicated to the Apostles by one of the members of the Sanhedrin such as Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea. Or other members of the court may have passed on the information, either deliberately, or accidentally through their servants overhearing what they said to heir wives.

They then discussed what they should do with these men. They admitted that a notable miracle had occurred. It could hardly be denied. Everyone was talking about it. So their conclusion was that the miracle could be quietly forgotten and that they should simply give the men an official admonishment, commanding them no longer to do things in the name of Jesus under pain of punishment (usually by beating). What mattered after all was to prevent the teaching from spreading.

Here then is the pivotal point of the whole chapter, the attitude taken towards the Name of Jesus both by these men and by the Apostles. The Sanhedrin rejected it and forbade its use. The Apostles determined that they would use every means to proclaim it, because there was salvation in no other. The same choice faces us all today.

4.18 ‘And they called them, and charged them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.’

The final communication was now made of their decision. This would have been in the form of an official admonition before witnesses. The men were not to speak at all or teach in the name of Jesus. It was not a sentence on them. It was a clarification of the situation. It was possibly understandable as ‘unlearned’ men that they had not quite realised that Jesus was not someone whose teaching was approved of. But now let there be no more of it. They were receiving an official warning. If they preached in His Name they incurred His guilt.

4.19-20 ‘But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to take notice of you rather than of God, you yourselves must judge, for we cannot but speak the things which we saw and heard.’

Both Peter and John were moved to reply. They basically did so in the form of a question as to whether these learned men really thought that in the circumstances it was even conceivable that they should cease to teach in the name of Jesus. God had clearly given His seal of approval on their so speaking by the healing of the lame man, and of many others of whom they were aware. Whom then should they obey? God or the Sanhedrin? Let the Sanhedrin be the judges. As for speaking of the things that they had seen and heard, they did not see that there was any alternative.

Here the disciples were on solid ground. Regularly would witnesses in the court be admonished to ‘speak only those things which they had seen and heard’. And yet here were the court forbidding them to do so. They were forbidding them to declare the facts, to reveal the truth of what really happened. Could they really believe their ears? Were the court really then telling them not to be honest witnesses? It was unthinkable. Let them themselves judge the matter for themselves. Was it not their solemn duty to declare what they had seen and heard? To bear false witness would be to break the covenant.

4.21 ‘And they, when they had further threatened them, let them go, finding no reason why they might punish them, because of the people; for all men glorified God for what had been done.’

But the supreme court of Israel did not want the facts. So the Sanhedrin then reiterated their injunction and let them go, warning them again of the consequences if they did not obey them and refrain from using and healing in the Name of Jesus.

They did not feel that they could punish them for their means of healing the lame man because it was clear that all the people approved of them. The people all glorified God for what had been done. Punishing the Apostles on those grounds would have been very unpopular.

4.22 ‘For the man was more than forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was wrought.’

The people glorified God because the man who had been healed had been constantly lame for over forty years, into full manhood. It was therefore not something he would grow out of. In view of what was undoubtedly the significance of his lameness in that it pointed to the lameness of the people of Israel, this may well have been intended to bring to mind how Israel had limped through the wilderness for forty years.

God’s Response To The Warnings of the Sanhedrin (4.23-31).

4.23 ‘And being let go, they came to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.’

On their release Peter and John returned to ‘their own company’. Note the comparison of the old with the new. They have left the company that represented old Israel, and joined up with the company that represents new Israel. This was where the future lay.

‘Their own company’ may here mean the twelve, or it may mean the earlier group of 1.13, both of which could meet in a house, or it may signify that they went to a larger group who were together praying in the Temple.

There they reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. There is surprisingly no reference to the Scribes and Pharisees. It would seem that they had remained in the background in the Council. In Acts they tend to be more favourable towards the infant church (5.33-40; 23.9).

Notice in this prayer their confidence in God:

  • He is Lord and Master of heaven and earth and seas and all things.
  • He is the One Who has spoken through the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures in which He has already declared the opposition that they must face.
  • He is the One Who foreordained all that is coming about.
  • He is therefore the One Who can hear the threatenings of their adversaries and give His servants boldness to speak His word, working wonders through them in order to reveal that the Kingly Rule of God is here.

4.24 ‘And they, when they heard it, lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, “O Lord (despota), you who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is,” ’

“O Lord (despota).” That is, ‘ Master’ e.g. of slaves, therefore here ‘of all things’. It is a title often used of rulers.

The response of the Christians to the threats was to pray to the Lord of all, of heaven, and earth, and sea and all that is in them. They first of all brought to mind Who it was that they served, He Who is Master and Creator of heaven and earth and sea and of all that is in them. The words almost mirror Psalm 146.6 LXX. See also Nehemiah 9.6; Isaiah 37.16; Psalm 69.34. Hezekiah’s prayer in Isaiah 37.16-20 LXX is also probably at the back of the source’s mind throughout.

Heaven and earth represented the whole of creation (Genesis 1.1). The sea often represented the troubled masses of the nations (Isaiah 57.20; Daniel 7.3). All that is in them included their adversaries here.

4.25-26 “Who of our father through the Holy Spirit, of the mouth of David your servant, said, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, And the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth set themselves in array, And the rulers were gathered together, Against the Lord, and against his Anointed.’ ”

Then they recalled what the Holy Spirit had spoken through David in Psalm 2 (cited from LXX). Note their confidence in the fact that the Psalms are the words of the Holy Spirit. In the Psalm God’s challenge had gone out to all who opposed God’s people. They raged, they imagined vain things, they set themselves in array, they mobilised. But it was all in vain, for it was against the Lord and against His Anointed, and therefore they could not win. And the Psalm goes on to point out that all such opponents will be defeated when the Lord’s Anointed achieves His triumph. It was from this Psalm that the words spoken at Jesus baptism were taken ‘You are My Son --’. Thus they saw it as quite clear from the Psalm that all the raging against the Name of Jesus would come to nothing. Jesus was God’s Anointed, and nothing could therefore stand in the way of His victory.

The Messiah is elsewhere described as the Lord’s Anointed in Psalm of Solomon 7.26, while reference to Psalm 2 as Messianic appears at Qumran. So the connection of Psalm 2 and the title ‘the Lord’s Anointed’ with the Messiah was already established.

The idea here may be that Jesus was anointed with the Spirit at His baptism when the Holy Spirit came on Him like a dove (Luke 3.22 compare Acts 10.38), something further validated at the Transfiguration (Luke 9.29, 35). Or it may simply indicate that He was seen as such because He was ‘the Son’ Who was sent from God and was full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4.1). Either way He was the Chosen One of God.

The Greek of verse 25 which we have sought to render literally is difficult, but as Luke presumably takes it from his source and does not alter it he clearly saw it as acceptable Greek.

4.27-28 “For in truth in this city against your holy Servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to come about.”

Now the same situation was being repeated. The kings and governors of the earth (Herod and Pilate) and the Gentiles and peoples (of Israel), had raised themselves up into opposition against God’s holy Servant Jesus. They had mobilised in order to rid the world of Him. But although they did not realise it they had done it at God’s behest. They were as puppets in His hands, responding to His pulling of the strings. They were only doing what God’s hand and council had foreordained. For His death had been necessary in order to propitiate for the sins of the whole world.

So Pilate, and Herod, together will all peoples, were under God’s control and did His will in such matters. It is slightly unusual for Luke to put blame on Pilate but all he is necessarily saying is that Pilate was involved in what happened, even though he did not like it, which was undeniable. Without his say-so, albeit forced from him, it could not have happened. Note that here the peoples of Israel are included among the enemies of the Lord’s Anointed. This can only be because the King now has a new people of Israel to guard and watch over. The false vine has been replaced by the true vine, the true vine of ‘Christ at one with His people’ (John 15.1-6; Ephesians 2.11-22). The church is God’s new people. The old Israel has been cut off.

4.29 “And now, Lord, look on their threatenings, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness,”

But now that was all over. Jesus Christ had risen, and it was now their responsibility to preach His Name to all nations (verse 30). Thus they committed to Him the threatenings and prayed that they might be enabled to speak the word of God with all boldness.

4.30 “While you stretch forth your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your Holy Servant Jesus.”

Meanwhile they looked with anticipation and confidence to the fact that He would continue to stretch out His hand and heal, and that He would continue to perform signs and wonders through the Name of His Holy Servant Jesus. Note here the combination of the Holy One and the Servant (compare 3.13, 14).

Their prayer was to be abundantly answered. From 5.12-16 we learn of the amazing miracles that constantly occurred, reaching out far beyond Jerusalem, as those who were sick flocked to Jerusalem in order to find healing.

4.31 ‘And when they had prayed, the place was shaken in which they were gathered together, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.’

Then once they had finished praying the place where they were gathered was shaken, regularly seen as a sign of God’s presence (compare Exodus 19.18; Isaiah 6.4). Here it was intended to be linked with the filling of the Holy Spirit, and with the certainty that God was with them and had heard their prayer. It was a physical assurance of His presence. It may have been a local earth tremor, but it demonstrated the presence of the Creator.

And they were all ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ so that they could go forth and proclaim the word of God with boldness. The mighty power of God was continually with them in the fulfilling of their ministry, and was here renewed. Those who ‘spoke the word of God’ were still at this stage the Twelve, who had already received the Holy Spirit by being breathed on by Jesus (John 20.22) and had experienced the ‘breath’, fire and other tongues at Pentecost. This is thus a further empowering so as to give them the boldness to witness powerfully.

‘Shaking’ is regularly an evidence of God’s powerful activity. See Judges 5.5; Habakkuk 3.6 LXX compare Haggai 2.6-7 where the shaking would be of heaven and earth and sea, as well as dry land. See above where God is Master of heaven and earth and sea. God was showing the disciples what He would yet do.

The Kingly Rule of God Is Evidenced On Earth In The Lives of Believers (4.32-35).

The description that follows, which is an amplification of and expansion on 2.44-45, was intended to further convey the idea of the Kingly Rule of God as being evidenced on earth, and as constantly growing. They had now become a ‘multitude’. Their prayers for the expansion of the word of God was being answered, so that they were becoming large enough to require larger scale provision.

What is also being brought out here is that the first enthusiasm had now become settled practise, and the spontaneous generosity of chapter 2 had become an established and thought through pattern. Here was the ideal existence of the people of God, an existence full of mutual love and self-giving and sharing in common, and almost parallel with the descriptions of peace and concord among the animals in Isaiah 11.5-9; 65.25. But here was an even more difficult thing, continual harmony amongst men and women. Here too poverty was being eradicated by a common sharing (see Deuteronomy 14.28-15.11). The life of the community was becoming more organised, and meanwhile the Kingly Rule of God was continually being proclaimed externally through the witness of the Apostles.

But there is no thought that they became a community separated off from others like the Qumran community, or that the sharing in common was compulsory. They continued to live normally in the world, but were bound together by their common faith and love for one another. It was a spiritual oneness.

The Jerusalem church was unquestionably at this stage in a unique situation. Jerusalem was a place to which many devout people ‘retired’, including many widows, so that they could die in the Holy City. Many devout people, especially the widowed, would be poor and supported by the different Jewish synagogues where almsgiving to fellow-Jews was seen as a major function of the synagogue. (Jerusalem was also a place of ‘hangers-on’ and beggars hoping to benefit from the religious atmosphere). But once some of these devout people turned to Jesus Christ, and there were probably many, they may well have found themselves cut off from the synagogue and from its generosity. And being a Christian would not make them popular with the religious authorities who controlled the funds donated for the poor in the Temple. Thus it would behove the newly formed ‘church, congregation’ to support them (see 6.1-3), and for this funds would need to be available.

Furthermore as a result of constant famine and economic conditions, a situation which would later greatly increase in severity, the ordinary people of Jerusalem and the surrounding area went through times of continual difficulty economically, again resulting in a need for support for many people. And prices were higher in Jerusalem than in the countryside. Later on, in fact, support would be needed from Gentile churches because of the great sufferings of the Jewish church in Jerusalem as a result of a period of famine lasting some years (compare 11.28-29; 1 Corinthians 16.1-3; 2 Corinthians 8-9).

But all such situations could only result in the fellowship of Christians, filled with the love of God, making their utmost effort to ensure that none of their number were in need. It was an expression of practical Christian love. It was probably helped on by the expectancy that Jesus Christ must return soon, but we must not limit it to that. It was rather the practical outworking of what Jesus had taught. It was spontaneous self-giving resulting from the love of Christ within.

Both the summary in 2.42--47 and here are thus intended by Luke not only to express how the church grew and became more Christlike, and how they revealed that they were living under the Kingly Rule of God, and how they were now large enough to require large scale provision, but also to indicate the passage of time and a period of spiritual consolidation following, in the first case, Pentecost and Peter’s first notable speech in the Temple, which had resulted in the ‘three thousand’. and here, after Peter’s second major speech in the Temple, which resulted in an increase to five thousand men, and which was followed by the reaffirmation of Pentecost in 4.23-30. Each step forward was being followed by consolidation, while emphasising that continual expansion also took place. The new believers were not being left to themselves. Great care was being taken of their spiritual and practical welfare.

4.32 ‘And the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul: and not one of them said that anything of all which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.’

Compare 2.44, although note the slight difference in emphasis. Here it is on the fact of their total unity with each other in heart and mind as they have grown to know each other, there it was a spontaneous ‘togetherness’. There is a growing together in love. It had been Jesus’ dictum that all men would know Christians by the love that they showed to one another (John 13.34-35; 15.12, 17). This was first fully manifested in this early Jerusalem church by togetherness and now by growing unity in heart and mind. They were a new and unique group, probably ostracised by many Jews, especially those with high positions in the various synagogues and the Temple, but now drawing together more and more in their new-found faith and hope and fellowship. They rejoiced in Jesus Christ, shared food together (2.42, 46), prayed together, learned the truth together, witnessed together, and were becoming ‘of one heart and one soul’. They constantly revealed their love for one another.

For the reasons given above there would be many who were in need, and thus there would need to be a common sharing of food and money so that all could be provided for (6.1). Here this is deliberately portrayed in terms which express a kind of divine perfection. The Kingly Rule of God is being manifested on earth, that Kingly Rule under which all food and clothing would be provided by God to those who sought the Kingly Rule of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6.19-34). They were letting their light so shine before men that they would see their good works and glorify their Father Who was in heaven (Matthew 5.16).

‘Not one of them said that anything of all which he possessed was his own.’ They had gained a new outlook on their possessions. Instead of clinging on to them they recognised that they belonged to God and were therefore to be at His disposal. And that also meant that they should be available to any in need.

‘Had all things in common.’ Many people piously tell God that they see what they possess as belonging to Him and at His disposal. But it is a different matter when it comes to following it up. Having ‘given’ it to God they cling tightly onto it. Here, however, the new community put it into practise. They actually in practise treated their possessions as available to any who needed them. They were not ‘in common’ literally, for they did not live together, but they expressed it practically in their concern for one another and provision for each other. The idea is that they did not hold anything back from each other. If any was in need he could ask and it would be provided, with none denying his right to ask. And yet it was all voluntary. There was no constraint on any.

4.33 ‘And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all.’

Meanwhile the testimony also went on through the Apostles. They witnessed everywhere with great power, testifying to the resurrection of ‘the Lord, Jesus’, the One Who had been raised from the dead and enthroned as ‘’Lord’ over all (2.36). And the whole church as a whole greatly experienced the gracious favour of God. It was a period of continual blessing and rejoicing.

‘With great power.’ While this may include the power which enabled the performing of the miracles it is not to be limited to that. The Apostles revealed power in all that they did and said. Their word was the word of the cross which is the power of God to those who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1.18). It was the word of the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe (Romans 1.16). It was the power of the word of the resurrection.

‘And great grace was on them all.’ All who are His know the greatness of the grace of God, of God’s unmerited love and favour, of His kindness and compassion. Without it none of us would be His. But this was something more. God was present among them in an unusual way. His unmerited love and favour moved them to be the same. They were filled with kindness and compassion. They walked constantly in His light. God was revealing His special favours. They were enjoying superabundance of blessing. They were fully conscious of ‘living in heavenly places’. (See Ephesians 1.4; 2.6). It is in the light of such an exalted atmosphere that we must judge the sin of Ananias and Sapphira.

4.34-35 ‘For nor was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as any one had need.’

Again we can compare and contrast with 2.45. There they sold their ‘possessions and goods’ and met each other’s needs, here they have advanced to selling ‘lands or houses’ and bring the money to the Apostles. The numbers were growing and the need was growing, and as the numbers grew, the need for funds grew, and larger assets had to be brought into account, and the requirement for administration was growing. So the spirit of unity and fellowship in Christ was nowhere better revealed than by the fact that whenever there was a lack of funds, which would be often, those who possessed larger evidences of wealth such as houses or lands would sell them and bring the prices obtained to the Apostles’ feet so that they might be distributed among the needy. Houses and lands were men’s most vital possessions. Yet they were prepared to fulfil the Lord’s command and yield even their most crucial possessions. These were the tests of discipleship and Jesus had promised that those who sacrificed such things would not lose their reward (‘houses -- and lands’ - Matthew 19.29; ‘house’ - Luke 18.29; ‘houses -- and lands’ - Mark 10.29-30).

This is not to be seen as just a duplicate of chapter 2, but as an expansion in generosity as time went by, as the system of giving and of provision became more organised. It reveals how God’s grace and the church’s response was continually expanding in response to rapidly growing numbers. Spontaneous generosity and love had become real sacrifice, and thought through generosity and love. It is also an indication that the Gospel was expanding among the more well-to-do.

‘And laid them at the Apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as any one had need.’ And the Apostles then as best they could arranged for the needy to be helped. Thus the Gospel was advancing and progressing, and not only bringing spiritual blessing to all but also provision for every need.

But we can now begin to see how what at first was a simple means of meeting obvious need, and revealing God’s love practically, was becoming a large administrative task that would begin to take up all the Apostles’ time, and would make life impossible for them. They were neither trained for this task, nor had the time to do it properly. The neglect of Hellenist widows (6.1) was not due to favouritism or lack of concern, it was due to inefficiency in organisation and planning, because no Hellenists were directly involved (which was the gap that the seven made up). As we learn in chapter 6, it could not go on. If it were to be done properly and efficiently, changes would have to be made.

This use of alms would not just be limited to Christians. It would also benefit needy Jews who were known to them. Of course, not all would be able sell lands and fields. They did not have them to sell. The examples are provided precisely because they were outstanding. Many had a responsibility to their families which they had to take into account. And not all would have spare houses to sell, and they would need somewhere to live with their families. But the point is that, because of their love for Christ, none withheld what they could reasonably, and even going beyond reasonably, spare, whenever need arose. And some went the whole way. Never before in the experience of many had such love and sacrifice been shown. Again it was a revelation of the presence of the Kingly Rule of God among men. There were to be no poor among them (Deuteronomy 15.4).

It is probably not correct to say that this was a failure or a mistake (how we love to show how superior our wisdom is). It was rather simply Christian love and compassion at work practically and without restraint. And Luke approved of it. There is no suggestion, in contrast with the foolish among the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 3.11), that they ceased work or retired from business. They simply helped each other with their needs, and withheld nothing because of their love for each other. They actually did what Jesus had taught them to do (Matthew 5.42 compare Luke 3.11). Nor are there any real grounds for saying that it led to the poverty of the Jewish church. That would be due more to outside circumstances and to religious ostracism, and it would give to the Gentile churches the opportunity to fulfil Scripture in bringing their wealth to Jerusalem.

Should the church be like this today? While the church is now too vast to operate solely on this basis, the principles here should surely be the pattern that we are following. Possibly we should not be neglecting the ‘forgotten’ Christians in the poorer and needier parts of the world, and in the light of these verses possibly it is we who need to learn a lot more of what it means to be self-giving.

Chapter 5.1-11 The Sin Of Ananias and Sapphira - The Kingly Rule of God Is Manifested By The Execution Of Those Who Withhold What Is His .

Knowing man’s human nature there had to come a time when the idyllic picture was broken. From the point of view of the world’s attitude to the Christian message that had happened when Peter and John were arrested. That was a reminder of the continuing threat from without. But now there would be something even worse, hypocrisy and dealing falsely with sacred things within the church, a trouble which had to be dealt with drastically in order to prevent it from spreading. The purity of the church had to be maintained. It is an indication of Luke’s practicality that he tempers his description of the early church with a recognition of treachery within. Yet only in order that it might be a prelude to greater blessing.

In order to understand this account we must see the position clearly in its context. The church was going forward as one. There was complete love and harmony. The Kingly Rule of God was being manifested. The temper of the new age was being made known. And then secretly and insidiously into this perfect harmony came two people with the equivalent of a spiritual time bomb, a bomb that could have destroyed all that had been accomplished. It was a root of evil that could destroy the whole. And behind it was Satan. It was he who was seeking to undermine the witness and life of the church by hypocrisy. And Ananias and Sapphira were his representatives.

When man first came into the world his desire for what was pleasant resulted in betrayal, and in his expulsion from God’s earthly Paradise (Genesis 3). When Israel were on the very verge of taking possession of the promised land a man, filled with greed, almost brought the whole project to a halt (Joshua 7). In both cases the crime was the same. They withheld from God what had been totally dedicated to Him. When Judas became disappointed with Jesus his love for money led him into betrayal, resulting in the crucifixion of Jesus and his own self-destruction. And now here again we have people whose love for money could well have proved the undoing of God’s people, another Adam and Eve, another Achan, another Judas. As the new creation, the new age, began they had had to choose between God and Mammon and they chose Mammon. But worse. They did it pretending that they were choosing God. Indeed they went a stage further. They took what had been wholly dedicated to God and kept it back for themselves.

The point of this incident is that it was a rejection of the Kingly Rule of God while professing to accept it, and that it was crucially at a time when all eyes needed to be fixed on the King because the world was about to reveal itself in a wholesale attack on the Gospel. And it was a withholding from God of what had become His right because they had dedicated it to Him. It cut right into the heart of the total dedication of God’s people. It is a reminder that the behaviour of each individual is of great concern to God. But thanks to Peter’s prompt action the church was kept pure and prepared. Had Ananias and Sapphira not been firmly dealt with, the outcome might have been very different. It was the first real test of the genuineness of the response of the early church, and the first evidence of what a serious matter it was to come under the Kingly Rule of God. And the final result was that the church continued to walk in awe of God and not of men.

There is a solemnity about this story that cannot be denied. It is clear that Peter was vividly conscious that God was directly involved in it. It is the only explanation for various elements within it. Why did Peter not admonish them and call on them to repent as he did later with Simon the sorcerer (8.22)? Why was Ananias’ body dealt with so abruptly so that even his wife was not involved in his preparation for burial? Why was she not immediately informed? Why did Peter, or some friend, not give Sapphira a warning of what might be? Why was the whole affair deliberately made so public? There is only one explanation. The deed had already been committed in the mind. The crime had been done. The dedication had been drawn back on. God, Who knew all things, had already passed His sentence. And the thing had now to be made known to all. There was no going back. It was to be an example to the early church. Peter was simply appointed to be God’s executioner.

The similarity with the sin of Achan in Joshua 7, and it was the same sin, is striking, as is the harshness of the sentence. They had appropriated for themselves what had been fully and solemnly dedicated to God. They had broken their vow to the Most High which they should have brought to the Temple of the Lord (Psalm 116.18-19; Ecclesiastes 5.4-5; Malachi 1.14; Psalm 50.14; 76.11; 116.14). In the very Temple of God they would lie to God Himself. Their sin was exposed in all its awfulness. And they were therefore to be made an example to the flock. The seriousness of their crime might best be expressed in the words of Malachi 1.14, “But cursed be the deceiver, who --- vows, and sacrifices to the Lord a corrupt thing, for I am a great King,” says the Lord of hosts, “and my name is dreadful among the nations.” And that was what they were doing. Seeking to deceive the great King.

In times of revival when God’s presence has been most vividly made apparent similar sudden deaths have been known. Ananias and Sapphira were greatly privileged in being present during the most powerful spiritual movement of all time. But great privilege and opportunity brings great responsibility.

The account begins with an example of one of Luke’s many contrasts. On the one hand was the godly man who came and gave his all. On the other was the couple who tried to keep back part of the price. It is salutary today to consider that most of the church is exemplified in the second.

4.36-37 ‘And Joseph, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of exhortation), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, having a field, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the Apostles’ feet.’

There was a man called Joseph, whose surname was Barnabas, (uncle or cousin to John Mark, writer of the Gospel - Colossians 4.10). He was a Levite, a Jew dedicated to God’s service. And he was a Cypriot, one of the Dispersion. There were many Jews living in Cyprus. And he demonstrated that he was both dedicated to God and no longer ‘far off’ from Him by selling a field that he owned and bringing all the proceeds and laying them at the Apostles’ feet. It was an act of love, sacrifice, worship and full dedication without thought for the cost.

‘Bar-nabas.’ This may mean ‘son (bar) of a nabi (a prophet)’ and thus a giver of encouragement and consolation. Or it may reflect the Aramaic newaha (‘consolation) transcribed into Greek as ‘navas’. The purpose is to bring out Barnabas’ character not simply to translate. He was an encourager and consoler. Later he will be described as ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith’ (Acts 11.24). He would continue to grow spiritually until he became the valuable companion of Paul.

No doubt one reason that he was selected as an example was precisely because Luke would shortly show that he soon rose to greater things within the Kingly Rule of God. He demonstrated that one act of dedication can lead on to another until a man becomes especially useable by God. The moment the reader saw the name of Barnabas his eyes would light up. While at this stage he was simply an unknown he would go on to greater things and become one of the most esteemed men in the church. What a contrast with what happened to Ananias. Later Luke would similarly introduce Stephen (6.5), Philip (6.5) and Saul who became Paul (7.58; 8.1, 3) in small cameos, before subsequently expounding on their fuller ministries.

They were the difference between the old creation and the new. In the new creation salvation was at work in all who were chosen to be God’s people. Thus while failure might arise God’s final triumph was assured.

But for Ananias there would be no future. Like Judas he made his choice in the wrong direction. He had given Satan leeway.

5.1-2 ‘But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being associated with him in it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.’

If we find this narrative a little offputting we must first recognise the grossness of the sin involved. This was no act of enthusiasm which simply turned out to be half-hearted (we are most of us guilty of that). This was from the beginning a planned, thought through, thoroughly discussed, deliberate act of deceit. They are depicted as scheming, conniving, barefaced and hardened liars. And they were doing it to God.

The scheme was that they would dedicate their land to God, sell it and then pretend that they were giving all the proceeds. They would make a great show of their sacrifice and dedication, (contrast the widow in Mark 12.41--44), but they would in fact hold back a good proportion for themselves. They would seek to deceive both God and His disciples who were working together in advancing the Kingly Rule of God, in order that they might gain approbation and appreciation without cost, and this in an atmosphere where signs and wonders were happening all the time, and at a time when God was manifesting Himself in visible signs, and at a time when the church was open, honest and outgoing and were constantly ‘walking in the light’ with God. It represented a cynicism and hardness of heart that it would be difficult to surpass.

We should note where their eyes were fixed. Not on reward in heaven, nor on pleasing God. If they thought about it at all they must have known that God would know the truth about their act and would not be pleased, and that what they did would therefore contribute to neither. Rather their eyes and all their thoughts were on this life. They wanted the praise of men on earth, the ‘pride of life’. They wanted recognition and honour, and they did not mind what they did to get it. They did not care if in the end it destroyed the church. They just wanted recognition for themselves for a dedication that was not genuine. Many a man’s ministry has been destroyed by such a desire for recognition and praise.

Theirs was not an instantaneous sin. We see again Eve going to Adam with the fruit and discussing the advisability of eating it. They too had discussed the matter. Was their aim to worm their way into the new ‘society’ in order somehow to gain positions of leadership for their own gain? Or was it simply in order to be idolised? Or was it because they were jealous of Barnabas? We will never know. But both were guilty of treating God as though He was but a false idol with no discernment of eye, who would not know what they were doing. They were out to make God look a fool. And they were out to rob God.

Let us at this point briefly consider what they were doing. They were hitting at the very root of the church and of all that the church was. The church was of one heart and one soul, while they were pretending to be but were not. This might thus easily have begun to eat into the whole fabric of unity. Pretence cannot be kept up for long. Their attitude would soon feed through to others. The church were holding all things in common, but these two believed in keeping something aside for themselves, while pretending otherwise. The church was open and honest. These two were secretive and dishonest. Their attitude might soon have destroyed that happy condition of openness and generosity that abounded among God’s people. The church was looking to God as being there with them and acting among them. These two were treating God as though He was afar off and did not know what they were doing. The church was fully dedicating itself to God. These two had actually dedicated their property to God, but were therefore holding back what belonged to God. What they were doing was insidiously dangerous and might easily have brought the great revival to a shuddering halt. It was the situation in mind in Deuteronomy 29.18-20 even though the idolatry here was of a more insidious kind.

So having sold the land and received the money Ananias secreted a part of it away and then brought the remainder and lay it at the Apostles’ feet, waiting for the praise, and the adulation, and the approbation and the honour which he knew he would receive, especially because he had given all. His wife did not even come with him. She was prepared to wait for her share of the credit. Perhaps she was even a little ashamed. But she was equally culpable. Both had closed their hearts to God. The next step would then have been to receive leading places in the fellowship as those who had made a special sacrifice and in whom confidence could be placed, and their work of destruction would have begun. They would lead astray those who trusted them. When Achan retained for himself what had been dedicated to God he brought disaster on Israel (Joshua 7). These two were about to bring disaster on the church and to bring the whole revival to a halt.

5.3 ‘But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land?’

But what was his surprise when Peter, instead of revealing a face full of admiration and gratitude, looked sternly at him and informed him that what he was doing was nothing but the act of Satan. Instead of being ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ he was revealing himself as ‘full of Satan’. He was lying to the Holy Spirit, God at work visibly among His people. He was doing Satan’s work. He was the enemy within. As with Judas, through Ananias Satan was intruding himself among the people of God by subterfuge (compare Luke 22.3). Ananias was letting him into the body of Christ. Note Peter’s assumption that the Holy Spirit is a person. It is significant that in the speeches of Peter the Holy Spirit always has the article.

And what was his lie? It was not about what the price was. It was about an act of avowal and consecration that was blatantly untrue. He had sanctified all to God, and had then deliberately withheld it while proclaiming that he was giving all.

Peter had discerned the heart of the matter. He had recognised in this not just the actions of two rather foolish people, but an insidious attack by Satan himself, who had planned by these means to undermine God’s work, and who had been allowed to have control in these two rather sad, but sinful people. We must not just see the failure of Ananias and Sapphira as a slight coming short of the required standard. They had allowed themselves to be take over by Satan.

We are reminded of another time when another person had been led astray by the insidious behaviour of such a tempter. That had resulted in mankind’s downfall. This could equally have resulted in the church’s downfall. We must not underestimate what was going on here. As Peter had discerned, Satan was out to destroy all that God was doing.

So here the man who had failed Jesus under pressure in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house, but had wept bitterly as soon as he realised what he had done, faced the man who was now seeking to deceive God unashamedly. Had Ananias behaved like Peter did when he was faced up to what he had done, and had he immediately repented and wept bitterly who knows what might have happened? But he did not. Rather he stood and braved it out, listening in stubborn silence, even though his heart must have been racing. He had the heart of a Judas not of a Peter. All he could think of was that he had been found out.

Ananias should, of course, have suspected that this would happen. In the Upper Room Jesus had given His Apostles’ the gift of discernment concerning man’s sins. And even if he had not known that he must have known that God could see his innermost heart. But it was all simply evidence of his unbelief. He did what he did because he did not believe, and wanted to take advantage of the poor fools who did. He did it because his eyes were fixed on earthly gain. But he had not just kept back part of the price of the land, he had kept back the whole of his life from God. And he was being the kind of example that could destroy others who might be tempted to follow his example. At this important stage in the life of God’s new people neither God or the church mattered to him. What mattered to him was prestige. But he would learn that it was unwise to touch what was holy in the eyes of God. God took dedication seriously. Ananias did not.

5.4 ‘While it remained, did it not remain your own? and after it was sold, was it not in your power? How is it that you have conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.’

Peter made the position quite clear. What he had done had not been necessary. It was not as though the Apostles had demanded that he give everything that he had. That was true of various sectaries around, such as the Qumran community, who demanded such sacrifices, but it had not been true here. He had been free to do what he chose. The money had been his to do what he wanted with.

Indeed it should be noted here that the general situation in Judaism was that only a proportion be given. When Zacchaeus expressed his love for Jesus he declared that he would give a half of his goods, as well as restitution (Luke 19.8), and this would be seen as extremely generous. The Mishnah declared that only a proportion of goods was to be offered to the Temple and that to give the whole was not valid. Elsewhere acts of charity were limited to one fifth of a man’s means. On the other hand Rabbi Johanan was deeply respected for selling all his possessions for the sake of studying the Torah. Thus those who gave all, while following Jesus to the letter (Luke 12.33), were very much going beyond the norm.

And yet in the face of the generosity of God in giving him free choice Ananias had conceived in his heart to lie to God. For that was his crime. He had chosen darkness rather than light because his deeds were evil. He did not want to walk in the light. And it had been a planned action, not a sudden impulse.

5.5 ‘And Ananias hearing these words fell down and gave up the life within him: and great fear came on all who heard it.’

The recognition that he had been exposed was too much for Ananias. His heart gave way and he breathed his last. He fell down dead before them all. If he had a weak heart the situation is quite understandable. But that we are certainly intended to see here a judgment of God comes out in what later happened to Sapphira. The point was made that God had struck him down. And the result was that all God’s people were filled with awe and recognised even more that God was not to be mocked (Galatians 6.7).

There are certain times in history where particular sins were seen as having such vital importance that the only solution was the death of the perpetrator. One example is the sons of Aaron who at the very time of the institution of the priesthood offered false fire to the Lord (Leviticus 10.1-2). Another was Achan who on first entry into the land had ‘kept back’ (in LXX same verb as in verse 1 above) some of the booty of Jericho that had been specifically dedicated to the Lord (Joshua 7). In both cases instant death was the penalty. Those were times at the beginning of something new when an important lesson of obedience and respect for God had to be taught. The same was true here. All would now know that the new Kingly Rule of God was not something to be taken lightly.

But before we retire thankfully behind the misguided confidence that therefore God’s people today need not fear the same thing happening we should remember the words of Paul, ‘for this reason there are many sickly among you, and many sleep’ (1 Corinthians 11.30). God may not act in such a devastating way now as He did then, but He still does punish those who are careless about their behaviour, especially when it affects the wellbeing of the people of God. Much might be explained if we knew the hearts of men.

5.6 ‘And the young men arose and wrapped him round, and they carried him out and buried him.’

The young men then came forward, wrapped his body in a shroud, and took it away and buried it. In the hot weather of the Middle East quick burial was advisable, but in Jerusalem, the holy city it was essential. No corpse should be left until the morning. No doubt they ensured that any official requirements as regards a sudden death were observed, although there were sufficient witnesses who could testify as to what had happened. And that is the whole history of Ananias, the man who lied to God. So quickly was he disposed of, and clearly no one wept for him. He had been just a blip in the ongoing forward movement of God’s people. What a contrast with the future of Barnabas, the shining star who would go on to greater and greater things.

5.7 ‘And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.’

Some time later (‘three hours’ could mean anything from a little over an hour upwards for a part of an hour would count as an hour) his wife ‘came in’, probably to the porticoes of the Temple, totally unsuspecting of what had happened. It is probable that all felt embarrassed and that no one had the courage to say anything, for they must have been apprehensive as to what would happen next. All were seemingly agreed that it must be left in Peter’s hands. That was the easiest and the best way. It may be a significant indication of the couple’s lack of true connection with the community that she had no best friend to warn her.

5.8 And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” ’

Peter then asked her as to whether the land had been sold at the price stated. Perhaps he even held out the money that had been handed over to show her. She was to be given the chance to repent. But she was quite determined in her crime and quite hardened, and she confirmed the price that her husband had stated. She too was ‘full of Satan’, hardened in her sin.

This bears all the marks of an official enquiry, and a deliberate attempt to make public what was happening and obtain evidence in the sight of all. Peter was not acting here like a pastor, or even like an adjudicator. He was bringing out in public that the offence for which sentence had already been passed was genuine, and that she was totally unashamed about it. He was here but an instrument in the open revelation of God’s wrath. God had made the choice. He simply carried it through knowing its inevitability.

5.9 ‘But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to try the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” ’

Then Peter challenged her as to how she and her husband could have thought of testing the Spirit of the Lord out in this way, and informed her that those who had just buried her husband were at the door, and would carry her out as well. Once again the Spirit of the Lord is spoken of as a person.

We must not see Peter as the one who passes the judgment. He simply passes on God’s judgment. What happened was not Peter’s doing, it was God’s, a sacred if awful example, given as a warning to all.

‘You have agreed together to try the Spirit of the Lord.’ The key Old Testament texts which deal with putting God to the test are Exodus 15.25; 16.4; 17.2 and Deuteronomy 16.6. Significantly they all deal with times when there was a need to satisfy physical requirements, and all refer to the fact that they were not prepared to trust God. That was why Jesus refused to put God to the test (Matthew 4.7; Luke 4.12). He did trust God. So underlying the sin of Ananias and Sapphira was unbelief and an unwillingness to trust God. And this at a time when such trust was vital to the continuation of the newborn church.

5.10 ‘And she fell down immediately at his feet, and gave up her breath, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her by her husband.’

Thus Sapphira too fell dead, and the young men came in and took her body and buried her with her husband. They would meet God together. What their fate would be was in His hands. Note that it is not said that they wrapped her body in a shroud. Under Jewish practise they could, as men, do that for a man but not for a woman. It would not have been seemly for men to beshroud a woman. However, it is probable that women were called in to perform the duty before she was buried.

5.11 ‘ And great fear came on the whole church, and on all who heard these things.’

Meanwhile the news of what had happened spread around, and the whole church were filled with awe and with the recognition that they must not treat God lightly, and many unbelievers heard, and they were made to think again about their lives. In their deaths Ananias and Sapphira would achieve far more than in their lives. They had sought credit for themselves. Instead all the credit went to God.

‘The whole church.’ This is the first mention of ‘the church’ in Luke and it simply signifies the whole body of believers within the covenant, the covenant community.

Note on ‘the Church’.

Here in 5.11 we have the first mention of ‘the church’ by Luke (in the Greek text). The word generally means a gathering or an assembly, but in Biblical use refers to a body of people seen as a whole because they saw themselves as within God’s covenant, who would regularly gather together to join in united action, and came under the same overall leadership. It was used of ‘the congregation (church)’ of Israel in the Greek Old Testament (LXX). In 7.38 it similarly refers to the ‘congregation’ of Israel. The same is true of Matthew 16.18 where the ‘new’ congregation of Israel must be in mind, the body of those who would respond to Christ and obey Him. ‘The church’ is regularly elsewhere seen as the new Israel (compare Galatians 6.16; Ephesians 2.11-22). Here in 5.11 it means the whole body of people who had responded to Christ and believed in Him, which is one of its commoner meanings in the New Testament. It can also refer to such a body of people in one particular locality, thus we find ‘the church which was in Jerusalem’ (8.1; 11.22). When it is used we must therefore often ask, what locality are we in? That will then tell us which part of ‘the church’ is being spoken of. Mention of ‘the churches’ in the plural signifies a number of such bodies in different areas or cities (9.31). In 11.26 ‘the church’, unqualified, meant in context such a body of people in Antioch, because it was said in Antioch. In 14.23 there is mention of ‘every church’, that is, a number of groups that had been established each a ‘body’ in its own locality, yet not necessarily all meeting together in one place. In 20.28 it is ‘the church of God’ and means the whole body of Christ’s people but especially as connected with those addressed. Thus it can mean the whole body of Christ’s people in totality, or the part of that body which is a body in a particular place.

But to say that "When Luke speaks of 'the church' with no qualification, geographical or otherwise, it is to the church of Jerusalem that he refers," is not strictly correct. In those cases we only actually know that it means the church in Jerusalem when the context makes it clear. As we saw the same use could be found at Antioch.

End of note.

The Kingly Rule of God Is Revealed As Present In Great Signs and Wonders (5.12-16).

What followed from Satan’s failure to cut at the root of the revival through Ananias and Sapphira, was an expansion of the revival. Satan had been rooted out and the Holy Spirit had full rein. It was a demonstration of their folly. Signs and wonders continued to multiply as evidence that what God offered was more valuable than the price of a piece of land. And through greed and desire for approbation they had lost out on it all.

Such signs and wonders were important as evidence to all that the Kingly Rule of God was here, and that the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord had come (see Isaiah 35.5-6; 61.1-2).

The order of events up to this stage is revealing. The examination before the council and asserting of their dependence on the Name of Jesus had been followed by a renewal of the Holy Spirit’s empowering, and a revelation of the establishment of the Kingly Rule of God in the daily living of the church. This had then been followed by God’s dealing with false pretence, accompanied by an awful warning, and was now followed by abundance of blessing. The Kingly Rule of God was being openly revealed in signs and wonders. To put it verbally they were ‘threatened’ and given an official warning by the authorities, they were filled with boldness by the Holy Spirit, great grace was upon them all from God, those who sought to undermine the whole were executed, and now great power was revealed among them. All preparatory to the original threats being carried out. (Note how the threatenings are closely linked with the signs and wonders in the prayers of His people - 4.29-30).

5.12 ‘And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people, and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.’

The Apostles continued to gather in Solomon’s porch to teach, and there they performed many signs and wonders. God was working through them with signs following (Mark 16.20). Their fame was now continually spreading.

‘They were all with one accord.’ This would seem to mean the body of believers who continued to accompany them at various times, (although certainly not all the 5000 at once), although some see it as meaning just the Apostles.

5.13 ‘But of the rest no man dared join himself to them: but however that might be the people magnified them.’

‘The rest’ probably means those who did not require healing, and were not recognised believers. They were in awe because of what had happened and held back from approaching the Apostles. They did not ‘cement themselves to them’.

There may have been a number of reasons for this:

  • They may have heard rumours and feared what the authorities were planning to do.
  • Instructions might have been given out by the priests warning people against having anything to do with the Apostles.
  • These twelve men may now have been seen as so awesome that people were afraid to approach them, apart that is from those driven to do so by illness. They now had such a powerful status in Jerusalem, and such an aura, that men walked in awe of them.

Nevertheless this did not mean that they were not appreciated. The people ‘magnified’ them, saw them as larger than life, and listened to them from the crowd, and were no doubt approached by believers who bore witness to them of Christ.

5.14-15 ‘And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women, insomuch that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that, as Peter came by, at the least his shadow might overshadow some one of them.’

And the result was that more and more believers were ‘added to the Lord’. They came under His Kingly Rule. The phrase is a beautifully expressive one (also used in 11.24). They were added to Him and united with Him by faith as one. And there were many of them and they included both men and women. Furthermore such was the impact of the Apostles that people began to bring their sick and lay them where Peter’s shadow could pass over them. It does not actually say that any were healed in this way. But the belief was that the shadow of a good man could pass on some of his goodness, and they no doubt hoped some of his healing power. (Just as men sought to avoid the shadow of an evil man). What is being emphasised is how the people now saw the Apostles.

5.16 ‘And there also came together the multitudes from the cities round about Jerusalem, bringing sick folk, and those who were vexed with unclean spirits, and they were healed every one.’

And people thronged into Jerusalem from cities round about, bringing their sick, and bringing those who were possessed by evil spirits, ‘and they were healed every one’. No wonder Jerusalem was stirred. No wonder that the authorities, who could not accept what they were teaching, were appalled. It was as though Jesus had reappeared in multiplied form. And while it is not stated we can be absolutely sure that they were constantly calling on the forbidden Name of Jesus.

Note that all who came were healed. There were no excuses and blaming of others for lack of faith here. There were no cases of failure. Here was clear evidence that the Kingly Rule of God was present exactly as promised by the prophets

The Second Arrest. The Kingly Rule of God Is Revealed By The Opening of Prison Doors (5.17-24).

In view of the fact that the Apostles were openly defying the stricture of the previous council, and were doing so with such obvious success, it could only be riling to the authorities, unless they were going to accept the evidence (which they did not deny) and believe in Jesus. Thus we cannot be surprised that the council acted once again. It may be questioned why they had waited so long. The explanation is probably twofold. Firstly their innate sense of justice as based on God’s Law and secondly a certain level of support among those very authorities who advised caution in the face of something which was very popular and could, if handled unwisely, cause trouble among the people. After all nothing had happened which had disturbed the Roman authorities who kept a close eye on the Temple.

But when the situation continued unabated, opposition was inevitable in the end. For these men were deliberately disobeying an official council injunction. All it did, however, was simply lead on to another wonder, the opening of prison doors (Isaiah 61.1).

5.17-18 ‘But the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy, and laid hands on the apostles, and put them in public ward.’

Once again it was the Sadducees as a party, led by the High Priest, who initiated the action, for much of the activity was still taking place in the Temple courtyards. They were ‘filled with jealousy’. Note the contrast with ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ (and earlier ‘filled by Satan’). These were the very men who should have been filled with God’s Holy Spirit, but they served another god, themselves. It was not surprising that they were jealous. They felt that in the Temple all the respect, and all the adulation, and all the worship, should be conducted through themselves. But here were these upstarts preaching a forbidden Name, drawing all the crowds to themselves, and actually performing the kind of wonders that were impossible to the priests. The priests were aware that they could declare men clean or unclean, but they could not make them so (compare verse 16 - ‘unclean spirits’ cast out). But these pretenders made men clean.

So they arranged for the arrest of the Apostles and had them locked in a public cell. Note the irony. ‘They laid their hands on the Apostles’. What a contrast with ‘by the hands of the Apostles were many wonders wrought --’. The so-called representatives of God used their hands for unholy purposes. It was left to the ignorant Galileans to use their hands for holy purposes.

5.19-20 ‘But an angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them out, and said, “Go all of you, and take your stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this Life.” ’

But that night the angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and commanded them to go into the Temple and defiantly ‘take their stand’ (aorist passive participle) and proclaim ‘the words of this life’ i.e. the ‘life’ connected with the resurrection, the eternal life that they were proclaiming. There is only one explanation for this. It was to be a deliberate act of passive defiance. Note how there is nothing here, apart from the act itself, which is seen as dramatic or the fantastic. It is stated quite openly and baldly. It is the fact that matters not the ‘miracle’.

‘An angel of the Lord.’ The use of this term is very distinctive in Acts. It very much emphasises the personal intervention of God, as it does in the Old Testament. See 7.30; 8.26; 12.7, 23. How He did it is another matter. He may well have used a human instrument who was sympathetic to the Apostles and had access to the keys. But the impression that Luke wants to give is that God Himself intervened.

In a sense this incident seems unnecessary. Why open the gates of the prison and send them back, only for them to be rearrested? The answer is in fact simple. This was a bold statement of the presence of the new age. It had been a promise of God that when His Servant and His Anointed came He would deliver the captives from prison (Isaiah 42.7; 49.9; 61.1; Zechariah 9.11 compare Psalm 69.33; 142.7) and would tell them to show themselves (Isaiah 49.9). And that is what He was doing here. It was a typical acting out of prophecy.

It was also a confirmation to them that what they were doing was right. They had no business in prison. Their business was out side preaching the word of life.

Furthermore it would be a reminder to prisoners of God in the future that no Christian ever languished in prison without God knowing. He would only be there while God permitted it. Some would be released, others would die there, but all would know that God could have released them whenever He would. They were therefore the Lord’s prisoners, and safe in His hands.

5.21 ‘And when they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and were teaching (or ‘began to teach’). But the high priest came, and those who were with him, and called the council together, and the whole board (senate) of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison-house to have them brought.’

Obedient to God’s word the Apostles went without hesitation (‘at daybreak’) to the Temple and taught. Meanwhile the High Priest and his cronies in all ignorance of what had happened called together the Sanhedrin and then sent for the prisoners to be brought from the prison house. Note how it is emphasised that it was ‘the whole board of the children of Israel’. Here the contest between Israel and the new people of God is being emphasised. All who represented Israel were against them. It may signify that there were additional Jerusalem city officials other than the members of the Sanhedrin. 5.22-23 ‘But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned, and told, saying, “The prison-house we found shut in all safety, and the keepers standing at the doors, but when we had opened, we found no man inside.” ’

For when the officers had arrived at the prison house they had not found them there, and yet , as they stressed to the captain of the Temple, when they arrived the prison-house was quite safely secured and the keepers were still standing at the doors guarding the prisoners. Then they had opened the doors with every expectancy of finding the prisoners within, but the prisoners were not there, even though there was no way in which they could have got out. Luke certainly appears to suggest here that the release had therefore been by a divine hand.

These men had thought that they had God safely locked up, but the trouble was that He was not cooperating. Apart from God’s sense of humour there were clearly deeper purposes here. God was giving the Tribunal every opportunity of recognising that His hand was in it and that these men were under His protection.

5.24 ‘Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were much perplexed concerning them as to how far this would grow.’

The news came through to the captain and the chief priests, who were seemingly not sitting at this point in the tribunal, or at least were sitting apart where they could be consulted privately. The words gave the chief priests food for thought. The captain of the Temple was second only to the High Priest (which might suggest that the High Priest was not involved in the discussions. Alternately the captain might be mentioned because he was the one to whom the report would be made, an indication of authenticity). And as they considered the matter they were perplexed and worried. They did not like these strange things that kept happening when these men were involved. How far was this thing going to grow?

Underlying these last words is a recognition that this was something uncanny, which should have required thought. But their hearts were hardened. Instead of acknowledging God’s hand in it they determined that they must get rid of these men one and for all.

5.25 ‘And there came one and told them, “Behold, the men whom you put in the prison are in the temple standing and teaching the people.” ’

To their chagrin someone arrived hotfoot to report that news had come from the Temple that the prisoners were again free and preaching in the Temple courtyards. The chief priests would be perplexed and furious at the same time. Perplexed because they did not know how they had got there but furious because they might at least have had the decency to go into hiding. This rightly saw this as a flagrant and deliberate challenge to their authority. They did not stop to pause and consider that as it was God’s Temple, and that He had the right to give them permission to preach there. (Luke has stressed that it was God Who had told the Apostles to go back there to proclaim the word of life). They simply became more and more angry.

The Third Arrest And Second Appearance Before the Sanhedrin (5.26-40).

Having previously receive their official warning not to preach in the name of Jesus the second appearance before the tribunal was always going to be traumatic. Now the court could sentence them without mercy. We should note here that many on the tribunal probably felt that they were only doing their duty. They had originally been called on in accordance with Jewish law to consider charges against people whom the Sadducees had claimed to be unruly, which had resulted in their passing their verdict against preaching in the Name of Jesus. Considering that He was a convicted criminal it had probably struck them as very reasonable thing to do. Now they were being called on because their injunction had not been obeyed.

5.26 ‘Then the captain went with the officers, and brought them, but without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.’

The Temple captain clearly recognised the ticklish job the arrest party were going to have, and himself went along with the arresting party, for he realised that the crowds were going to be none too pleased, and he did not want a riot in the Temple. Building works were still going on at the Temple and there were many loose stones around that could be picked up by an angry crowd. Thus it would seem that instead of arresting the Apostles he negotiated with them, coming to an agreement that they would accompany him and his party to where the Sanhedrin were sitting. By this means he avoided the violence that an arrest might have caused.

5.27-28 ‘And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name: and behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” ’

The Apostles having been brought they were set before the council. Then the High Priest informed the Apostles what they were being accused of. He sternly pointed out that despite the fact that the Sanhedrin had forbidden them not to teach in the name of Jesus, they had continued to do so. Indeed they had filled Jerusalem with the teaching. Furthermore in that teaching they had put the blame for the death of Jesus squarely on the Sanhedrin. Thus they were guilty on two counts. What had they to say?

5.29 ‘But Peter and the apostles answered and said, “We must obey God rather than men.” ’

The reply of all the Apostles took up from how Peter and John had finished their defence in the last hearing, where they had pointed out to the court that it was surely their duty to declare the things that they had seen and heard (4.19-20). That was surely what any reasonable court would expect. Now they pointed out to the High Priest that they had to obey God rather than men. Surely that would be what the High Priest of all people expected of them? It is apparent that Peter then took over the main defence. His speech follows the usual general pattern in which he had been trained by Jesus. He refers to Jesus’ death, followed by resurrection, and asserts His enthronement at God’s right hand as Archegon (overall Trek leader of His people) and Saviour, makes an indirect plea that they repent, and confirms that they, the Apostles, are witnesses of the resurrection and speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit on all who obey Him.

5.30 “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew, hanging him on a tree.”

He points out that they themselves (the Apostles) had been preaching nothing but the truth. As all knew it was due to the efforts of the Sanhedrin that He had been slain and hung on a tree. Thus the Sanhedrin had disgraced Him, for to be hung on a tree was to be treated as a criminal accursed of God. But the truth was that far from God seeing Him as disgraced, He had raised Him up from the dead. The Sanhedrin had subjected Him to a curse, God had declared Him blessed.

5.31 “Him did God exalt with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.”

And God had then exalted Him to His own right hand to be an Archegon (Trek-leader) and Saviour to His people, so as to give them repentance and remission of sins. The ‘exaltation’ revealed Him to be the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 52.13). The sitting at His right hand, the position of supreme authority, revealed Him as God’s chosen King. And from that position He was now acting as Trek leader for all who were being saved, giving them the gift of repentance towards God and away from sin, and the forgiveness of their sins.

The title ‘Saviour’ is used fairly regularly of Jesus in the New Testament. Compare 13.23; Luke 2.11; Ephesians 5.23; Philippians 3.20; 2 Timothy 1.10; Titus 1.4; 2.13; 3.6; 2 Peter five times; 1 John 4.14; Jude 1.25. (In Titus it continually parallels ‘God our Saviour’).

5.32 “And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to them that obey him.”

Then he asserts that the Apostles were witnesses of all this, but that there is an even greater witness, and that is the Holy Spirit Who has come from heaven at Jesus’ command, and has been received by all who obey Him. As we have seen, the Apostles were very much aware that the coming of the Holy Spirit was the strongest possible evidence of the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus. It was Jesus Who had sent Him.

Note the connection back to verse 29 of the thought of obeying, and the hint to the court that that was what they were doing, obeying God. It was because they were being obedient to God that they could depend on His Spirit Who had been given to them because they obeyed God. There was also in this the suggestion that if those to whom they were speaking lacked the Holy Spirit it was because they did not obey God.

5.33 ‘But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and minded to slay them.’

The result of Peter’s words was anguish and fury. They were ‘cut to the heart’, with that strange mixture of guilt and anger that takes hold of men when they are closing their minds to the truth, and are unwilling to face up to it. The consequence was that they began to conceive in their hearts the necessity for the death penalty. These men must be got rid of. They were embarrassing the priesthood. There is nothing like a bad conscience to make a man judge severely. Their fury probably arose partly from their own disturbed consciences, and partly from the seeming arrogance of the Apostles in flaunting themselves in the Temple, and then daring to come and challenge them. They were not used to being treated in this way.

It was apparent that the Sadducean side of the council were losing control of themselves. It was probably partly this that made Gamaliel stand up and request a private session which could be conducted without the prisoners present.

5.34 ‘But there stood up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, held in honour by all the people, and commanded to put the men forth a little while.’

So wiser heads prevailed. Gamaliel a leading Pharisee and Doctor of the Law, a man of high reputation commanded that the men be put outside while the matter was being discussed. We may assume that he was impressed with what these men had said, with their general demeanour, and with the mystery that seemed to surround them, sufficiently to feel that what they were doing had to be given the opportunity to succeed. Perhaps they had something after all.

Gamaliel was a man who was greatly esteemed, even by non-Pharisees, because of his reputation for piety and wisdom. He was clearly also too a man of moderation, and someone whom others listened to. Thus he was probably held in high honour by many of the lay elders on the Sanhedrin. He was descended from the great Hillel, was called ‘Rabban’ a title of high respect, and was so greatly respected by his fellow scholars that later the Mishnah would say of him that on his death reverence for the law died, and purity and abstinence died at the same time.

It is quite possible that Gamaliel, who would certainly have known of Jesus by reputation, and would have known that He was not an insurrectionist, was not too disturbed by what he had heard of the teaching of the Apostles. The Pharisees too believed in the resurrection from the dead and that the Messiah would interfere in history. Until he had grounds for thinking otherwise he was prepared to let their enthusiasm for their teacher run its course.

5.35 ‘And he said to them, “You men of Israel, take heed to yourselves as touching these men, what you are about to do.” ’

Thus he suggested that a little wisdom was needed here. He was clearly unsure in himself whether these men were of God or not, but appeared possibly to be leaning in their favour. So he advised caution. Perhaps these men were of God after all. Time would tell. Despite the opposition of some of them to Jesus the Pharisees tended to be the more moderate face of Judaism.

5.36-37 “For before these days rose up Theudas, giving himself out to be somebody, to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves, who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed, and came to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the enrolment, and drew away some of the people after him. He also perished, and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad.”

He reminded them of two previous examples of men who had proclaimed that they were acting in the name of God and gave out themselves to be ‘somebody’, the one Theudas, the other Judas of Galilee. It appears that Theudas had gathered around him four hundred followers. But they were soon dispersed and came to nothing.

Theudas was a common name in Palestine, and there is no reason at all, apart from the coincidence of the name, to see him as the same Theudas of whom Josephus wrote, who appeared some thirty years later, of whom Josephus said very different things, i.e. that as a wonderworker he had gathered together a ‘very great multitude’ of followers, and approached the Jordan promising that its waters would divide in front of them and they would walk over dryshod, only for his host to be slaughtered. Gamaliel’s Theudas may well indeed have been the grandfather of this one, for grandsons often received the names of their grandfathers, and insurrection tended to run in families. A young man brought up in an atmosphere of reverence for his grandfather, hatred of the Romans and belief that God would one day exercise supernatural powers through His instruments, might well have conceived such a mad scheme. They may, however, have been unrelated.

Judas the Galilean was another insurrectionist (they were fairly common among the Jews around that time) who had rebelled against the Roman’s first tax census in 6 AD, and was defeated by Quirinius, the legate of Syria. This was a very different census from the one that took place at the time of Jesus’ birth which was probably a requirement for submission to the emperor on the twenty fifth anniversary of his reign in around 3 BC. He fanatically declared that as God was the King of Israel, tribute was only due to Him, and that to pay it to Rome was blasphemy.

In both cases, Gamaliel pointed out, they had failed and their followers had been severely dealt with so that their influence had become ineffective. That was in fact only partly true for the simmering anger continued and the later Zealots would look back to Judas the Galilean as their role model.

Luke has a purpose in giving us the details of Gamaliel’s speech which was given ‘in camera’. H wants it to be quite clear to his readers that Jesus is not at all like Theudas and Judas the Galilean, for His aims and purposes are totally different. Rather than being against Rome, He has a message to be proclaimed in Rome.

5.38-39 “And now I say to you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone, for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will be overthrown, but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; lest haply you be found even to be fighting against God.”

So Gamaliel advised that the men be left alone in case their activities were of God, and pointed out that if they were of God, to fight against them would be to fight against God..

5.40 ‘And to him they agreed, and when they had called the apostles to them, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.’

His wiser counsels prevailed and the Sanhedrin agreed that that was what they would do. The chief priests were overruled. But in order to ensure good behaviour, and because it was recognised that they were in breach of the order previously given, the Apostles were beaten. Then they were reminded of the embargo put on them and warned that they must cease speaking in the name of Jesus. Thus honour was satisfied, while the Apostles were left free to carry on with their lives.

The beating would be a severe one, but it is questionable whether it would have been of the maximum allowed of thirty nine stripes. We may naturally be surprised at the beating of innocent men, but in those days the beating of innocent men was seen by courts as simply a method of ensuring continued good behaviour. Ordinary people were not looked on as very important. And in this case there was the added reason that they had disobeyed the previous injunction of the council.

Such a beating was with rods as the victim lay on the ground. It had to be carried out in the presence of the judges. Any such punishment had to be reasonable and controlled. If a man was to be beaten the judge must cause him to lie down, and then he would be beaten in his presence, probably with a rod (Exodus 21.20), the number of stripes determined by what was seen as his deserts. But the number of stripes must not be more than forty under any circumstances (see Deuteronomy 25.2-3).

The Apostles’ Response (5.41-42).

5.41 ‘They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name.’

The Apostles’ response was a worthy one. They rejoiced over the fact that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name. They were not discouraged by suffering, but brushed it off and were heartened by their release. For the use of ‘the Name’ in this section see 4.10, 18, 30; 5.40. It is worthy of consideration that their outward reputation stressed their relationship to Jesus Christ, rather than their experience of the Spirit. Jesus had said that one of the tasks of the Holy Spirit would be to exalt what He was (John 16.15)

5.42 ‘And every day, in the temple and at home, they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus as the Christ (Messiah).’

The final consequence was that the message was now proclaimed unhindered. Wherever they went, both publicly in the Temple, and more privately at home, they did not cease teaching that Jesus was the Messiah. There was no danger now of His being arrested for insurgency, and the Romans were not too bothered about other worldly adversaries. As Jesus had said to Pilate, ‘My Kingly Rule is not of this world’ (John 18.36). Meanwhile the Jews, with a deeper spiritual awareness, were made aware that He was active over the Kingly Rule of God as the Risen Lord.

Chapter 6. The Appointment of Other Officials in the Church.

Up to this point the whole responsibility for the new people of God had rested on the Apostles. Consideration had not been given concerning a wider ministry. This was both an indication of their worldly inexperience, and of the genuineness of the narrative. They were learning as they went along. It had not struck them that if Jesus’ command was to be fulfilled more assistance would be needed, and the matter was only brought home to them by what at first simply seemed like a useful expediency, which arose from the charitable side of the ministry.

The Jews had a great sense of responsibility for those among them who were less fortunate, and in the synagogue it was the routine custom for two ‘collectors’ to go round the market and the private houses every Friday morning and make a collection for the needy. This would be obtained partly in money and partly in goods. Later in the day it would then be distributed. Those who were temporarily in need received enough to enable them to carry on, while those who were permanently unable to support themselves would be provided with enough food for fourteen meals, so that they could have two meals a day during the ensuing week, together with clothing. The fund from which this distribution was made was called the Quppah (basket). In addition to this a house-to-house collection was made daily for those in pressing need. This was called the Tamhui (bowl for the poor).

It seems very probable that the Christian Jews followed something like this tradition. If this was so we can see how it had become an impossible burden on the Apostles, which would result in some with whose circumstances they were familiar being adequately provided for, while others who were possibly living in a part of the city occupied mainly by Hellenists were accidentally overlooked. It was a matter that they would now seek to remedy.

6.1 ‘Now in these days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring of the Grecian (Hellenistic) Jews against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.’

That the administration of the funds and charitable giving now being made available to the Apostles was not carried out with efficiency and precision is not surprising. They had not been trained for it, and it was really outside their sphere. They were quite rightly keeping their emphasis on their main ministry. The neglect of the widows of the Hellenistic Jews thus probably arose, not from inherent racism, but from inefficiency. The Aramaic speaking Jewish Christians were naturally more in touch with the Aramaic speaking widows, than they were with the solely Greek speaking widows, and appear therefore not have been aware of the needs of some of the latter. Naturally the Hellenists themselves (not their widows) felt a little upset about it so that the matter was eventually brought up with the Apostles. This was something that needed sorting out. It was all a part of the openness with which they treated each other.

This division between predominantly Aramaic speaking Jews and predominantly Greek speaking Jews was marked everywhere in Judaism and no more so than in Jerusalem. The Hellenists (Greek speaking Jews) tended to be more affected by Greek culture and to use the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) rather than the Hebrew Scriptures, and thus to be broader in their views and outlook. They had a tendency to interpret things differently from the more orthodox, tending to be freer spoken in religious matters and interpretation. Naturally therefore, without actually splitting off, they tended to band together both doctrinally and practically. They felt more at home with each other. In Jerusalem there would be a number of synagogues which were regarded as Hellenistic.

And it would appear that this difference had necessarily crossed over into the church. The Apostles would therefore naturally be much more alive to what was happening among the Aramaic speaking section of ‘the church’, for the church, while united, would meet in smaller groups, and this would explain the accidental discrimination. It was probably mainly due to lack of administrative ability and awareness rather than to conscious neglect, and possibly also connected with the district they lived in.

Although none of them were aware of it God was about to use this difference to set things off in a new direction, both in an expansion of the ministry to less orthodox circles, and in a change in the emphasis of the church’s teaching, both directly as a result of the activity of the Holy Spirit.

‘Murmuring.’ There was an expression of dissatisfaction. This would probably come from concerned Hellenistic Christians who saw how some of their widows were missing out and went and grumbled to their own ‘elders’. These elders would then approach the Apostles.

6.2 ‘And the twelve called the multitude of the disciples to them, and said, “It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God, and serve tables.” ’

The Apostles immediately responded to the complaint which they recognised may well be justified in the circumstances. They pointed out that it was their responsibility to spread and teach the word of God, a work which must not be restricted by the need to deal with administrative problems. It was not fitting that it should be so.

‘Serve tables.’ Whether this meant that food was gathered on table for distribution, or is simply an expression meaning ‘serving the wherewithal for meals’ we do not know. If in fact tables were set up the problem may simply have been that not all were not in a position to come to where the tables were. Either way the Apostles wanted others to take on the responsibility for it.

Note the emphasis on the fact that the twelve acted together. It was a united leadership. There is no thought of anyone having precedence in such decisions.

6.3 “Look you out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”

So they put forward the practical solution that seven suitably qualified people be selected from among their number to act as administrators, taking charge of the practical distribution of alms among the Hellenists while they themselves concentrated on preaching the word. (The system which was working well among the Hebraic believers could carry on as before). All that was necessary was that they be men of outstanding reputation, and full of wisdom in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It seemed a good and practical solution, and was quite probably decided on the basis of Jewish practise. It revealed their general naivety in that it demonstrated their limited vision. They had no idea when they did it what an avalanche they were unleashing. For God had other plans for the extending of His work, and this was the means by which He was bringing them about. He would not limit the seven to serving tables.

6.4 “But we will continue steadfastly in prayer, and in the ministry of the word.”

The administrative problems being sorted out, they hoped satisfactorily, the Apostles themselves would then concentrate on prayer and the ministry of the word. The new appointees would be administrative ‘ministers’ (deacons) and the Apostles would be ‘deacons’ of the word. We should not see here , except possibly in embryo form, a deliberate distinction between ‘deacons’ and non-deacons. It was simply a practical division of responsibilities, with all ‘serving’ (deaconing) together, while recognising the special responsibility of the Apostles.

6.5-6 ‘And the saying pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus a proselyte of Antioch, whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.’

This practical solution pleased everyone and seven men were chosen out and set apart. The Greek sounding names may suggest that they were mainly selected from the Hellenist section, it being recognised that that was where the problems lay. And this may suggest that these seven were set aside to look after the Hellenistic widows, the Hebraic ones being seen as already catered for. The first-named, Stephen, was said to be ‘a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit’. This was simply in preparation for what was to follow, for all seven would undoubtedly have been chosen precisely because they were so. Certainly Stephen and Philip were about to cause great changes in ‘the church’.

These seven men were then brought to the Apostles who prayed and laid their hands on them as a sign of oneness with them. The laying on of hands was regularly in the Old Testament evidence of identification. Men identified themselves with their sacrifices by laying their hands on them. They appointed representatives by laying hands on them. Thus by this act these seven men were designated as representatives of the Apostles.

We only know the futures of Stephen and Philip, but we need not doubt that all began to serve God in their own way, for the persecution would shortly interrupt their ministry and they would mainly be driven out of Jerusalem to new pastures.

‘Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch.’ Seemingly the only one of the seven who was a comparatively recent convert to Judaism, and not born of Jewish parents, although it may simply signify that Luke knew him personally. (There are no genuine grounds for associating him with the Nicolaitans of Revelation 2.6, 15).

6.7 ‘And the word of God increased, and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly, and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.’

The seven having been appointed this description now seals off the section. A satisfactory solution appeared to have been reached and things could now go on smoothly.

The equally satisfactory result was that ‘the word of God’ (God’s new teaching effective through the Spirit) continued to expand and spread, the number of disciples continued to multiply, and it became noticeable that large numbers of priests became followers of Jesus. This last comment was very much intended to illustrate the fact that the church was becoming the new Temple of God in preparation for Stephen’s ministry which was to follow, and brought home the success of the ministry of the Gospel among the more conservative of the Jews. A firm foundation was being laid for the future, and Luke wanted it to be recognised that in spite of what happened next, the orthodox work still carried on satisfactorily. The new Israel was firmly founded on the old.

From this point on the general ministry of the Apostles is allowed to carry on in Jerusalem unobserved by Luke (8.1) while the work is seen to expand outwards into unexpected places. And the man whom God has chosen to be the mainspring of this change was the new appointee, Stephen. None of those present could ever remotely have dreamed, as hands were laid on Stephen, a godly man bristling with faith, who was simply to help control the maintenance of the Christian poor in Jerusalem, that a revolution in thinking and activity was about to take place as a result of his faith.

‘And a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.’ Here was evidence, if such was needed, that the new ministry was firmly founded on a true Scriptural perspective. Those who were the very heart of Israel’s faith were responding to the new message and acknowledging its truth and orthodoxy. Thus, whatever followed, God had laid His seal of approval on what was happening.

It would seem quite apparent that Luke sees this as particularly significant. In a sense it was the last bastion to fall. The priests would be the most resistant to change. But now they were coming over in large numbers. the triumph of the Gospel in Jerusalem was complete.

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