- Acts 4 continues with the story we considered in Acts 3. Recall that Peter and John have encountered a man who has been lame from birth on their way to the temple to pray. Peter and John heal the lame man who begins to walk, leap, and praise God all throughout the temple complex. This has brought a crowd around Peter, John, and the lame man.
- Peter uses the opportunity to preach to the multitudes that this miracle was performed by the power of Jesus, whom they crucified, but God raised from the dead. Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Moses that a prophet would rise up from among them like him (Acts 3:22-23) and fulfilled the promise to Abraham that in his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed (Acts 3:25). Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises made by God through all the prophets. This leads us into chapter as we continue this scene.
I. Arrested In The Temple Complex (4:1-4)
A. The arrest
- Notice that what we read in Acts 4 takes place while Peter and John are teaching the people. We have the tendency to think that Peter and John have walked away and that the Jewish leaders make a quiet arrest. But that is certainly not the case. Peter and John are in the middle of preaching Jesus as the fulfillment of the prophets, when notice who comes in. Verse 1 says the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees confronted them. This would also have been very disruptive as the all of these men would have to move through the crowd to get to Peter and John.
- Why did the priests and the Sadducees care about Peter and John? We see that they were provoked and greatly disturbed because they were proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Now we see why the Sadducees cared. It is interesting that there is no mention of the Pharisees at this point, but the Sadducees who denied the possibility of a resurrection. They are also the controlling power of the Sanhedrin council.
- The Sanhedrin met on the grounds of the temple complex. This commotion that Peter and John are causing would have taken place only feet or yards away from where the Sanhedrin resided. Peter and John were teaching in front of the very authorities that had the power to arrest them.
- Therefore, the priests and the Sadducees have the temple guards arrest Peter and John and throw them into prison until the next day. Notice the scriptures say that the reason they remained in prison till the next day was because it was already evening (verse 3). This is according to Jewish law that no trials be held at night, a law that was broken with the arrest and trial of Jesus.
- This arrest was probably not surprising to Peter and John. Jesus had predicted that His apostles would endure such treatment. “But you, be on your guard! They will hand you over to sanhedrins, and you will be flogged in the synagogues. You will stand before governors and kings because of Me, as a witness to them. And the good news must first be proclaimed to all the nations. So when they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand what you will say. On the contrary, whatever is given to you in that hour—say it. For it isn’t you speaking, but the Holy Spirit” (Mark 13:9-11). Very quickly after Jesus’ death, the apostles are experiencing that which Jesus prophesied.
B. The people’s response
- Now, imagine if you had been there as one among the crowd hearing Peter preach. You have seen the lame man be healed, who has been walking, leaping, and praising God. However, you have also just witnessed Peter and John’s arrest and seen them be put in prison. What would you do?
- Perhaps some of us would go home. Clearly, listening to these men was rather dangerous. Who would want to follow Peter and John who have just been thrown in prison for the night and would stand trial the next day? Instead, we see many believing the words Peter spoke that day.
- But let us see that the faith of these people is greater than this for Peter and John were not the only ones arrested. While we do not know if arrested or if he simply went to be by their side, the lame man has gone with them also (verse 9, 14). Perhaps the temple guard also arrested the lame man so as to get the people to quit talking about this. If so, how brave of these people in the multitude to still believe in the name of Jesus and become Christians. And if the lame man was not arrested, what great faith the lame man exhibits that he is going with Peter and John wherever they go because of the great work that has been accomplished upon him. He is willing to go to the trial with Peter and John because of what has been done to Him by the power of Jesus Christ. It is a marvelous scene.
II. The Trial of Peter and John (4:5-22)
A. The interrogation
- The next day comes and it is time for the trial. The rulers, elders, scribes, and the whole high priest family assemble in Jerusalem for the trial. Just to keep the image in your mind, the Sanhedrin council numbered to about 70 people, so you can see how greatly outnumbered and how intimidating this situation is to Peter and John.
- Peter and John must stand before the council and the council asks, “By what power or in what name have you done this?” They want to know where Peter and John received their authority for what they have done. This is a proper question. Who gave you this power to heal the lame man? Who gave you the authority for what you are doing because it certainly was not from the Sanhedrin?
B. The response
- Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit, as promised by Jesus in Mark 13:9-11, and begins his defense. But do you see that this is not so much a defense of themselves as it is another opportunity to preach Jesus? Peter and John do not appeal to the law about how they have a right to teach in the complex or some other legal argument to be freed. This is about having a chance to teach the Jewish leaders the truth about Jesus.
- Peter begins by pointing out that if the only reason they are standing trial is because of the good deed done to the disabled man, then know the work was accomplished by the authority of Jesus the Messiah. But that is not quite how Peter says it. Peter says that they healed this lame man by the authority of Jesus the Messiah, “whom you crucified and whom God raised from the dead.” Peter says that they killed Jesus, who is the Messiah, but God raised Him back to life.
- Next, Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 and applies the message to Jesus. The Jewish leaders were to be the builders of God’s nation, but they rejected this stone whom God has made the cornerstone. Further, there is no other authority given to people by which we can be saved. Salvation is in no other person. Peter is saying that they crucified the one and only savior of Israel. There will not be deliverance found in any other person. There is no future Messiah and you killed the Holy One of God.
- This statement made by Peter is just as true today. There is no other name by which we can be saved. When Peter said those words, he meant there is no other authority where salvation can come from. To do something in someone’s name is to perform that action by their authority. Jesus is the authority to salvation. There is no salvation to be found in Buddah, Muhommed, Islam, or any other person or religion that does not teach that Jesus is the Son of God raised from the dead. To claim salvation in any other name on the day of judgment will be fruitless and will not save our souls.
C. The verdict of the Sanhedrin
- The response of the Sanhedrin is certainly interesting after this powerful speech made by Peter. The council observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized they were uneducated and untrained men in the law of Moses. But the council also realized that these men had been with Jesus. Perhaps verse 14 is my favorite part of this story, “And since they saw the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in response.” What can be said! The lame man is healed and it cannot be denied because he is standing right there. Peter and John claim it is the power of Jesus that the council killed about a month and a half back who has made the lame man whole. What are you going to say to that?
- So the council sends Peter and John out of the courtroom and begin to discuss the matter among themselves. Notice what they say to each other: “what should we do with these me? For an obvious sign, evident to all who live in Jerusalem, has been done through them, and we cannot deny it!” This should have been enough. If the evidence is undeniable then we ought to believe what was said. But the hardhearted priests, Sadducees, and elders would not change their hearts.
- To prevent this from spreading among the people, they call Peter and John in, threatening them and ordering them to not preach or teach at all in the name of Jesus. We must realize that the threats of the Sanhedrin were not empty. It was this very council that handed Jesus over to Pilate for death. This council had the power of the Jewish nation behind it. When the text say that the council threatened Peter and John, we need to envision how real those threats were. They were threatening their lives if they kept preaching and teaching in the name of Jesus.
D. The response of Peter and John
- Notice that Peter calls upon the Sanhedrin’s ability to judge matters. In essence Peter is saying, “You all are the judges, decide this matter: is it right in the sight of God to listen to you or to listen to God.” What a powerful argument! Peter has noticed that the council cannot refute that this miracle was done by the power of Jesus. It is undeniable. So Peter says to them, who should we listen to: you or God?
- Peter continues by saying, “for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Basically, how can we stop teaching about this because a notable miracle has been performed. Not only the miracle of the lame man, but the miracle that God raised Jesus from the dead. How can they not speak about these things.
- Verse 21 says that the council threatened Peter and John further. Again, we need to realize the severity of the threats these two men were receiving. These were not empty threats or vain commands. But, for the time, the council found no way to punish Peter and John, implying that they wanted to impose judgment upon them there. But what could they say that Peter and John had done against the law of Moses? Nothing could be said “because the people were all giving glory to God over what had been done.” They could not kill Peter and John for blasphemy or conjure up any other charge because the event caused the people to praise God. Finally we are told that the lame man was over 40 years old when he was healed. Thus, this truly was a notable miracle.
A. Should we listen to God or listen to men?
- Friends, who should we listen to: God or men? The authority rests with God and not with people. Should we listen to men who claim the world was created by natural forces over long spans of time or to God who said He spoke the world into existence? Should we listen to men who claim that hell is only reserved for the really bad of this world or to God who says that all who do not obey Him will be punished? Should we listen to me who claim that salvation is by merely praying certain words or to God who said to repent and be baptized?
- Peter and John did not cave into the pressure of these powerful men. The council said that Peter and John had their teaching all wrong. Peter and John said we need to listen to the word of God and not men. Those honest in heart will realize that we must listen to God and not what men say. If any man says anything that is contrary to what we read in the scriptures, then we cannot listen to that man but must obey God.
B. Salvation is found in the power of Jesus alone
- We cannot find salvation in another other authority or in any other book. Salvation is not found in other religions. But let me bring this closer to home: salvation is not found in our name or authority.
- Most of the religious world, while claiming to follow the scriptures, are actually following their own authority. When we ignore the clear teaching of the scriptures concerning salvation requiring confession, repentance, and baptism, we are claiming that salvation can be found in our own wisdom. When we justify our actions based not on the scriptures, but because we think God will not care, it is not a big deal, or some other reason, we are placing the power of salvation in our knowledge and not on Jesus.
C. Since Jesus is the authority, we must be saved by His conditions
- Jesus has all power and authority in heaven and on earth. We cannot change or distort that Jesus has said we must do for salvation. Mark 16:16 says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; he who does not believe will be condemned.” Jesus’ conditions are very simple.
- You may believe you are a follower of Jesus but have not been baptized. If you have not been baptized, you are not saved because baptism is one of the conditions of salvation. You may have be baptized, but have not fully repented from your sins and continue to remain in sin. You are not saved because repentance is one of Jesus’ conditions for salvation. Let us be sure we have obeyed all the conditions our Lord stated for salvation: believe, repent, confess, and be baptized.