Acts: For the Cause of Christ
Title: Catch 22
After healing a crippled man and preaching Jesus as the Messiah in the Temple Peter and John were arrested and brought before the Highest Jewish court. When asked about what had happened and why they were teaching, Peter turns the table and tells the Jewish Leadership that they are indicted in God’s court for rejecting the Messiah. What happens now? Well as we look at the next section of chapter 4 we find that the Jewish council didn’t know what to do.
1. Conferring on the verdict – vv13-17
The Sanhedrin were surprised how bold or how freely the Apostles spoke about the details of the Old Testament. At first glance they knew these men were not formally trained in any rabbinical school. After hearing them speak they knew these men were not ignorant, but they could tell that they were not trained in the normal way of the religious and theological elites. In other words these men only graduated from the Synagogue High School of Galilee. Then the council recognized Peter and John as men who had been with Jesus of Nazareth. Their association with Jesus gave them the ability to teach and preach. They graduated from Jesus’ Seminary and not the Temple Seminary.
There was clear evidence that a miracle had occurred as the healed man was standing there next to Peter and John. They could not say anything against the healing, they couldn’t say it wasn’t a miracle. The verb used for “had nothing to say” or “no reply” is used only one other place: Luke 21:15.
Luke 21:15 – Jesus has promised wisdom and words that enemies of the Gospel wouldn’t be able to refute or give a reply. In Acts 4 whether that was Peter’s speech in the council chambers or the healed man standing there is not clear, but Jesus provided for Peter and John.
What could the council do? They sent Peter and John out of the chamber to decide. They knew they had to stop the Apostles from continuing to teach and preach in Jesus name. They thought they had solved that “problem” by getting Jesus crucified, now they have His followers continuing to preach and doing signs and wonders in the name of Jesus. And this specific healing was obviously a miraculous event, it was visible and well-known, this healing pointed straight to God’s work.
As a side note, I wonder who described what happened here to Luke? Peter and John were not in the chamber and neither were any other Apostles. Could Paul have been in the chambers now? Could Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea be there? Maybe it was just gossip from the members of the Sanhedrin? Or did the Holy Spirit just give Luke special insight when was writing? Just an interesting note.
They decide not to deny or even respond to the healing, they just want to counter it. They had to silence the teaching, since they couldn’t stop the news of the miracle spreading, they would try to stop the teaching from spreading. They decided to forbid the Apostles from teaching in Jesus’ name and threaten them. The verb for threaten often means to threaten someone with something. “If you don’t stop this now, so help me I’ll…” This is not as intense as the word used in verse 21, though it is the same root word. They were trying to intimidate the Apostles to stop teaching that Jesus is the Messiah.
2. Refusal to obey disobedient men – vv18-20
The Apostles were brought back in to hear the verdict. I wonder if Peter and John were praying that the Sanhedrin would repent. Whatever Peter and John were thinking or hoping when they were brought back in all they received were threats. The Sanhedrin probably threatened further arrests, maybe whipping and scourging, at the very least they probably threatened to expel them from the Temple and synagogues. But these men were now only Jewish by birth, not Jewish by faith.
The council ordered, this word is strengthened with “at all” near the end of the verse. The idea is an absolute prohibition to teach that God is working through Jesus. The council is trying to stop any testimony of God working through Jesus spreading. They are attempting to silence and control the Apostles, they are doing damage control.
The response given by Peter and John implies that the Sanhedrin, the Jewish leadership, no longer represents God’s will or God’s way. These men were responsible for Jesus’ death. Now they are rejecting the chance to return to God’s will and accept Christ as Messiah and Savior.
They told the council that the council should decide whether Peter or John should listen to them or obey God. Peter and John knew they must obey God over disobedient men, disobedient leadership. Peter and John refuse to obey the order they were given by the ruling Jewish authority. They are committing civil disobedience. Their reason for this is that they cannot stay silent. They must proclaim what they had seen and heard. They needed to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus. Civil disobedience as it is presented in Scripture is always presented as following a direct or clear command or teaching of God. Peter and Paul both discuss the authority the civil governments have over people. 1 Peter 2:13-17 – Peter is giving directives to Christians to honor and obey the government, for the Lord’s sake. Romans 13:1-7 – Paul is remind the Roman Christians to obey and honor the government. God established government, we should obey its rules and laws. We shouldn’t point to the exceptions given in Scripture as the normal thing. They are exceptions. If the government orders or commands you to do something that is clearly in violation of God’s Word then it is something to consider. The examples given in Scripture acted with respect and courtesy. They did not defy the law, just to defy the law. We should examine our hearts to make sure we are acting correctly and just trying to satisfy our own inner frustrations.
3. Being released – vv21-22
We don’t know how the Sanhedrin reacted other than offering more threats. The word for threaten here is the same root word as in verse 17, only with more intensity. They threatened the Apostles but could do nothing else.
They released Peter and John. The news of the healing was spreading and the people were glorifying God for the healing. The idea here is that the healing was nothing the Sanhedrin could punish Peter and John for, so they released them with some threats about teaching Jesus as the Messiah. The Sanhedrin were in a catch 22. They wanted nothing more than to silence the Apostles, but could not deny the miracle.
The healing gets one more highlight here from Luke, right at the end of the account. We are told that the man was over forty years old. This kind of healing at that age is not as likely, this in itself shows the Power of God behind the miracle.
There has always been, and there will always be opposition to the gospel. The Apostles knew their commission. To preach Christ crucified. They knew there could be and would be danger from the Jewish leadership, these were the same men that opposed Christ. But they knew that for Christ they could withstand anything opposition could bring. This was the beginning of formal opposition to gospel and church of Jesus Christ.
We have brothers and sisters all over the world that are facing great persecution for their faith in Jesus Christ. Are we willing to step outside our comfort zones to share the gospel with friends and family? Are we willing to invite someone to church?