Peter and John Get Arrested
So, Peter is speaking at Solomon’s Portico to the men of Israel. Among those men are a group called the Sadducees. Between the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and Peter’s sermon the power within the Sanhedrin changed from the Pharisees, who were the legalists, to the Sadducees, the rationalists or modernists or aristocrats. They did not believe in the resurrection. They did not believe in the supernatural and had a strong emphasis on free will. They were very oriented in ethics, not theology, and even held the Pharisees in contempt. The fact that Peter is constantly mentioning Jesus’ resurrection is really getting to them, and so we read that they got “greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming n in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2). And so they arrested Peter and John and put them in custody because it was already evening and the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court, comes together in the morning (although they did not do so with Jesus’ trial). Yet Peter’s sermon achieves the desired result as “the number of men came to about five thousand” (Acts 4:4). And so Luke continues cataloging the growth from 120 (1:15) to 3,000 (2:41) and now the men alone were about five thousand, suggesting that the total number of Christians would have been well in excess of 10,000. The incredible growth of the church occurred in response to two activities empowered by the Holy Spirit: the powerful preaching of the gospel message about Jesus and the “many wonders and signs.”
Before the Sanhedrin
The Jewish high court consisted of 71 members (70 elders according to the pattern of Numbers 11:16 plus the high priest as presiding officer). It was dominated by the priestly Sadducees with a Pharisaic minority, represented mainly by the scribes (lawyers) of the court. Annas was of the Aaronic priesthood, but he was deposed by the Romans, and Caiaphas was put in his place. Caiaphas was the acting high priest, but appointed by the Romans; he was not of the line of Aaron. Caiaphas was in power for the Romans, but not really accepted by the Jews. Annas is still of powerful influence, although not officially in power. When Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin the next morning, they are asked by what power or name they do their work. Again it’s Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, who takes charge and speaks up, saying that if they are being charged for doing “a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead – by him this man is standing before you well.” (Acts 4:9-10). Peter doesn’t point to himself for healing the lame beggar. He also doesn’t just point to Jesus. He makes it perfectly clear that it is the Jesus whom the Sanhedrin crucified and whom God raised from the dead. Again Peter is pointing to the finished work of Jesus Christ and also putting the finger where it hurts. He says to the Sadducees that Jesus was raised from the dead and alive as they speak. Then Peter continues by quoting from Psalm 118:22, which is the psalm the Jews sang on Palm Sunday, and is also a reference to Isaiah 28:16, where Peter points out again that the miracle is because of Jesus Christ. He is answering their question twice. A double whammy!
And then Peter tops it off by verse 12: “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved“. Wow, talk about directness and boldness. He is definitely not beating around the bush here. Peter’s statement that there was salvation in no other name was an implicit invitation to the Sanhedrin to place their faith in Jesus. It was Jesus’ name that brought physical deliverance to the lame man, the same powerful and exclusive name that brings eternal salvation to all who call upon him. Peter emphasizes this by saying that it is the only name under heaven by which a person can be saved. Further, there is no other name among men that saves. This echoes the words of Jesus on all sides, who said that “all things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27), and who said “I am l the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
Boldness, and More Boldness
“Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition” (Acts 4:13-14). The boldness of Peter and John, combined with the fact that they were uneducated common men who had been with Jesus, shut the Sanhedrin up. They had nothing to say. After they conferred with each other, the Sanhedrin cowardly don’t even confirm publicly that a miracle has happened, while the lame beggar is standing right there! Instead they command Peter and John not to talk or teach in the name of Jesus anymore. Peter is really on a roll here and continues his attack against the Sanhedrin saying, “whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:20)
Now when Peter and John return to their friends and explained what had happened, what do you think they did? They not only pray for even more boldness (Acts 4:29-30), but they also pray for the Sanhedrin! They are praying to God who made the very material world which the Sadducees rely upon! Their prayer for boldness in witness shows a determination to directly disobey the command of the Sanhedrin. They do not pray against those who persecute them but pray for their own faithfulness in witness. They quote Psalm 2 which is a dialogue between the world (we have no king but Caesar), God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And in light of that they define the world as Herod (the Hebrew authority), Pontius Pilate (the Roman authority), the Gentiles (all nations), and the peoples of Israel (Acts 4:27). So basically everybody. Their prayer is based on the sovereignty, wisdom, and active government of God. And what happens? The LORD grants their prayer, and “they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31).
The Sanhedrin was the leading Jewish authority at that time. Do you stand up against our current day authorities when the finished work of Jesus Christ is put into question? Do you pray for the authorities you have to deal with? Do you pray for more boldness to stand against any opposition to Jesus Christ? Are you expectant of being filled by the Holy Spirit and your dependence on Him? This is a call for boldness. Do you accept the challenge?