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ch. 4:1-23     ch.4:23-31   ch. 4:32-37

Peter And John Before The Sanhedrin (ch. 4:1 - 22)

This section in Acts describes the arrest of Peter and John.  In verse 1 when Luke speaks of "the council", or, "the Sanhedrin", he is speaking of the ruling council of men over the Jews.  You might say that these men were like a parliament.  The Sanhedrin was led by one man, called the "high priest".  There were 71 men in this group, although some say there were 70 or possibly 72 men.  They were divided into two groups, the Sadducees and the Pharisees.   Although the Sadducees were the smaller group they seemed to hold more sway in the Sanhedrin.  They were rich men, and usually the high priest was a Sadducee.  The main difference between these two groups was doctrinal differences.  You will see Paul use this difference later as a means to defend himself before the Sanhedrin.  Some think that the Sanhedrin was an outgrowth of the 70 elders that Moses chose, but whatever the case, they went far beyond the role that Moses laid out for them. Israelis were under Roman domination.  That being said, Rome allowed them to have a certain measure of limited autonomy, thus the reason for the existence of the Sanhedrin.  


In verses 1 and 2 Luke says the priests, the captain of the temple guards, (or police) and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John as Peter was preaching.  We can safely assume that Peter was preaching at the temple, which at the time, seemed to be his practice.  Someone most likely had told these men of the Sanhedrin that Peter was preaching about the resurrection of the dead, something the Sadducees did not believe in.  This disturbed them greatly.  The Sadducees differed from the Pharisees in that they believed the soul died when the body died.  Now Peter is preaching that the soul does not die with the body.  Not only were Peter and John teaching a resurrection, they were teaching the resurrection of Jesus, the One the Jews had put to death with help from Rome .  To be specific and accurate, I believe the specific resurrection that Peter was preaching was the resurrection of the body to either everlasting paradise or everlasting damnation.  Of course, the resurrection of Jesus is part of resurrection the story in general, so, I'm sure Peter spoke about the resurrection of Jesus as well.   


You will note that the word "priests" is plural.  You might remember that the Law of Moses provided for one high priest from the tribe of Levi.  Much has changed in Judaism by this time. Under the Roman rule the priest was a political plumb, that is to say, the elites in Judaism purchased the rights to be priest.  Along with these rights were proceeds from the selling of merchandise in the temple. 


Verse 3 says that "they seized Peter and John and put them into jail until the next day".  The Greek verb tense here suggests a quick and possible violent seizing. 


In verse 4 we note the results of Peter and the apostles' preaching.  More people came to Jesus.  Luke says that the number of men now in the church was about five thousand men.  This would suggest that there were many women as well.  Being a male dominated world, this might be the reason why Luke only counted the men.  That being said, there are some who believe in what is called "household salvation".  This means that if the father of the house gets saved, all in the family are saved.  I personally do not believe this.  Each and every individual must come to Jesus on his own.  


Verse 5 says that Peter and John were brought before the "rulers, elders and teachers".  These were all men of the Sanhedrin.  Some men, more laymen with expertise in certain areas were part of the Sanhedrin.  These men were called elders.  The teachers were the experts in the Old Testament Law, as well as rabbinical teaching, which normally consisted of Pharisees.  The captain of the guards was the second most powerful man in the Sanhedrin.


The word "Sanhedrin" is derived from a Greek word, not a Jewish word.  This shows us how Rome influenced the Jews in these days.  


We see in verses 6 and 7 that Peter and John were brought before these men and were questioned.  "By what power or what name did you do this"?  The men of the Sanhedrin were greatly disturbed, but on the other hand there had to be some amazement on their part as well.  So their question is an obvious one.


We should note that like the miracles of Jesus, the Jewish leaders could not deny this miracle.  Therefore, they had to approach Peter and John from a place of, "who gave you the power and authority to do this".  In other words, "you guys weren't authorized by us to preach or to heal this man".  The whole matter boils down to Jesus' authority over against the Sanhedrin's authority.  These men felt threatened.  They were thinking the common Jew would leave them for Peter and John.      


Verse 8 says, "Then Peter filled with the Holy Spirit…” began to answer their question".  Notice once again that Peter was the spokesman.  Also notice that Peter was "filled with the Holy Spirit".  This is one of those instances in Acts where you see the phrase "filled with the Spirit". Another similar phrase is "the Spirit was poured out", or the "outpouring of the Spirit", as we saw in Acts 2 at Pentecost.  Being "filled with the Spirit", as seen in this case, is one of those special moments when for one reason or another the Holy Spirit, who is already in you, also comes on you and fills you up.  There is more to the Holy Spirit than one body can contain and this is why you can have the Spirit in you and also have Him come on you, or fill you up with His presence.


When the Spirit fills you, it is for a reason.  The reason here was to aid Peter in his speaking to these men who opposed him.  In some Pentecostal circles one gets the impression that the only reason why the Holy Spirit comes on a person is to make them feel good.  If that is your thinking, He will soon not come on you any longer.  That is not why we are filled with the Spirit.  Every time in the book of Acts people are filled with the Spirit, something dramatic happens in a form of a witness to Jesus to others.   The out pouring of the Spirit on a believer should not be seen as being merely a spiritual high, as I believe I used to see among some in the 1970's Charismatic Renewal.     


In verses 10 and 11 we see Peter being very bold once again.  The Sanhedrin has the authority to do as they wish with Peter, but Peter could care less about that.  He says that if you are inquiring "about the act of kindness shown to the cripple ... then know this, you and all the people of Israel ; it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom you crucified, but whom God raised from the dead, this man stands before you healed".  


Peter’s words here are very similar to those of his first sermon in chapter 2.  He told the Jewish leadership that they killed Jesus, yet God raised Him from the dead.  This clearly took supernatural power for Peter to say such a thing in the face of what could, and did happen.


Peter calls Jesus, "Jesus Christ of Nazareth".  I believe Peter did not want these people to have a misunderstanding of what Jesus he was talking about.   The Jesus in whose name Peter and John healed the crippled man was that same Jesus of Nazareth that they knew very well from His own ministry, not too many days earlier.  It was the Jesus they killed.  There were other men named Jesus.  Jesus was not an uncommon name.  There were also a number of so-called Messiahs, so-called Christs, in those days.  Peter wanted everyone to be clear who he was talking about.  The Jesus who gave them power and authority to heal the crippled man was in fact the Messiah of Israel.  This would be blasphemous to the ears of those in the Sanhedrin.  


You might want to actually think a bit of this beggar who was healed since he is mentioned again in verse 10.  He was standing with Peter and John before the Sanhedrin.  I doubt that he was an educated man.  I just wonder what would have went through his mind as he saw and heard the dialogue between the two sides, between Peter and the Sanhedrin.  His head must have been spinning.  He was probably dumbfounded that the men in the Sanhedrin couldn't bring themselves to admit that Jesus had healed him. 


In verse 11 Peter quotes Psalm 118:22 in his defense of the gospel.  Note that more than just defending himself, Peter was defending the gospel he was preaching.  The first century apostles were more interested in defending the gospel than defending themselves.  The Psalm says, "The stone you builders rejected has become the capstone".  (or cornerstone)  Peter calls these Jewish leaders builders, and indeed they were the builders of the Jewish community, but in Peter’s mind they have rejected the most important stone in the construction site.  Jesus is referred to as the "cornerstone", the most important part of the building.


As we saw in Acts 2, Peter and John are fulfilling Jesus' prediction in Acts 1:8 where He told His followers that once the Holy Spirit came to them, they would be witnesses, and they'd begin in Jerusalem .  This was being fulfilled right here in Acts 4.  The Sanhedrin was hearing the gospel, and therefore, they would have no excuse on the Day of Judgment.  A day of judgment did come to them in 70 A. D. when Rome came and burned the city of Jerusalem.     


If you have ever attended Sunday school as a child you would have memorized Acts 4:12.  It reads, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given to men by whom we must be saved".  There is a lot in this one verse.  First of all, we have the word "salvation".  The Messiah would bring salvation to His people, the children of Abraham.  When thinking of salvation, these Jewish people would think in terms of national salvation or national deliverance from their enemies.  They would promptly think of being delivered from Rome at this stage in the game, yet Peter is speaking of another type of deliverance.


Peter is speaking of a spiritual deliverance or personal salvation.  As Christians, when we first enter into God’s salvation, we are delivered from many things.  We often think in terms of being delivered from, or saved from hell,   yet this is only one aspect of salvation.  We are saved from hell, but the most important thing that we are saved from is God Himself.  It is God who will send the sinner to Lake of Fire.  In the long run, salvation is all about us being delivered from the wrath of God.   


We are also saved from other secondary things, such as the world and ourselves.  Both the world around us and the world within us brings us into condemnation.  God’s salvation that is implemented through His Holy Spirit enables us to be free from the world of temptation that lies within us and around us.


This salvation "is found in no one else", Peter says.  Salvation, in Biblical terms is only found in Jesus.  This is where Christians are deemed to be exclusive, and exclusive we are.  We do not believe that there is more than one road to God.  We do not believe that all religions end up at the same destination.  There is only one way to God, and that one way is found in the name of Jesus Christ out Lord.  Peter says, "There is no other name given under Heaven.  The name of Jesus has been given to us as a gift from God to save us.  Jesus Himself was offered as a sacrifice on the cross in our place to bring us salvation, so we could escape the wrath and anger of the Almighty God.


What Peter is saying is especially important in Evangelical circles here in 2013.  The so-called Emergent Church that has come from Evangelicalism teaches unity among religions.  This flies in the face of what Peter is saying. Christians cannot be united with Muslims.  Any attempt to bring all religions together under one umbrella destroys the very fabric of what Christianity is all about.  You might as well rip Peter's words out of the Bible because they are meaningless.  The Emergent Church is an end time anti-Christ cult.    


These words took great courage for Peter to say.  Yes, he was normally the one to speak up first.  Maybe he was impetuous and barged in where others feared to go, yet this Peter was the one who was afraid to tell the truth when Jesus was arrested.  He denied even knowing Jesus, but not this time.  The Holy Spirit had changed Peter and given him the courage and the boldness to tell the truth as it should be told, no matter the consequences or cost.


Two things caught the Jewish leader's attention about Peter and John in verse 13.  They were amazed at their courage and the things that they said, because they "were unschooled", or unlearned men.  Peter and John were standing before the elite and educated men in Jerusalem and speaking directly to them as if they were well educated men themselves.  We need to get something straight here.  I've often heard preachers talk about Peter and John to be country bumpkins, just two uneducated guys, but this is not the case.  Peter had a well established and probably lucrative fishing business.  If you remember, when Jesus was arrested, John knew the high priest Caiaphas.  Some scholars suggest that John might well have had a home in Jerusalem and often frequented Caiaphas.  If this is so, John was no country bumpkin.  What these men were not well educated in was the details of the rabbinical laws.         


This might raise the question concerning Peter’s knowledge of Scripture, since he quoted specific verses from the Old Testament on this occasion as well as on the day of Pentecost.  He must have had some knowledge of these things.  I suggest that Peter had some, maybe even a lot, of education concerning the Old Testament.  If you read his letters, you'll certainly see he was no dummy.


I've heard preachers in the past use this verse concerning being uneducated in their defense that education is not important.  I believe Biblical education is important.  Look at Moses, the most important man in the Old Testament concerning Biblical teaching.  He was well educated. Look at the apostle Paul.  Most New Testament teaching comes from him and he too was well educated.  We cannot throw out education. 


The second thing that the men in the Sandedrin took note of was that "these men had been with Jesus".  They had first hand information, first hand experience with the One they were speaking about. It was these same Jewish leaders that started the proceedings that killed Jesus, and now His followers have come back to haunt them.  For this reason they probably did not feel very good about the situation, but could do little at the moment to stop them.


The reason why they could do little was because the man that the apostles had healed was standing before them as a living witness to the power of Jesus.  How can you criticize Peter and John when you see the proof of their preaching standing beside them, healed and well?  This put the men of the Sanhedrin at a distinct disadvantage.  They were trapped and they were getting very angry.


After hearing what Peter had to say, and seeing the crippled man who was made whole, they told Peter and John to leave their immediate presence while they decided what to do. 


In verse 16 the men ask themselves, "what are we going to do with these men?  Everyone in Jerusalem knows that they have done an outstanding miracle and we cannot deny it".  Do you see the problem that the men of the Sanhedrin have?  They do not want Peter and John to continue to preach about Jesus.  Theologically speaking, they disagree with the apostles, as they did with Jesus, but a great miracle has been done.  All the people in Jerusalem know about it and may want to follow Peter and John and what they teach.  This would mean that the learned men of the Sanhedrin would lose respect from the people.  This shows us the real concern of those in the Sanhedrin.  They may lose their following if Peter and John don't stop evangelizing their people. So, the best thing they felt they could do is to tell Peter and John to stop preaching.


One thing to note at this point in the narrative is that the men of the Sanhedrin could not admit to this man's healing in front of Peter and John.  We do see them admit it to themselves in verse 16, but Peter and John were not in the room at the time.   


Verse 18 says, "Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus “.  Peter, being who Peter was, and inspired by the Holy Spirit would not accept this command.


In verses 19 and 20, both Peter and John replied, and maybe in unison.  Out of a sense of amazement, indignation, and disgust they said, "Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God.  For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard".  You can't get much bolder than that, especially under the circumstances.   


The time might well come for Christians in the western world to be as bold as these two men.  As we move away from the Christian consensus that our culture once had, Christians will become more isolated and despised.  We will have to stand up for what we believe in, despite what happens to us.  We'll certainly need the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in our lives to withstand the pressure ahead.


Once again, a witness is someone who speaks about "what he has seen and heard".  Jesus, in Acts 1:8 said that these men would be witnesses, and so Peter and John say to their opposition that it is impossible for them to do nothing else but to speak about Jesus.  Furthermore, who should these men obey?  The men of the Sanhedrin would obviously say that Peter and John should obey God, but their understanding of obeying God is obeying them and their rabbinical laws.   Peter and John would have nothing to do with that. 


We see in verse 21 that the Sanhedrin wanted to do more than to issue a command, but the people in Jerusalem were so taken by the preaching of Peter and the resulting miracle that they could do nothing else at the moment but to let them go.  They didn’t really want to let them go, but at the moment they were trapped in a corner.  This would not be the end of the Sanhedrin’s opposition to the apostles. Things were about ready to really heat up. 


Verse 22 tells us that this crippled man was forty years old.  I therefore suggest that this man probably had been begging for money at the temple for years.  This shows us the difference between religion and relationship.  This man had been begging for years.  He received no real physical help.  It wasn't until Peter and John came along, who had a vital and living relationship with Jesus, stretched out their hands in healing for this man.      


The Believers Prayer (ch. 4:23 - 31)


In verse 23 Luke says that "Peter and John went back to their own people" and told them everything that had happened.  Note the words "their own people".  This is a significant change in the apostles thinking.  Who were their own people?  Well, at this time their Christian brothers and sisters were their own people, even beyond their own Jewish brothers and sisters.  The words "their own people" are in direct correlation to the Sanhedrin, who no longer was their own people.  Before Jesus came along, all Jewish people would have been classified as Peter and John’s own people, but that was no longer the case.  Only believers in Jesus were classified as "their own people".  How true this is.  Even with us today, brothers and sisters in Jesus feel more like family than our biological family, that is if our biological family isn't believers. 


Upon hearing what Peter and John had to say, in verse 24 the others in the room, along with Peter and John, "raised their voices" in prayer.  They prayed, "Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.  You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David; 'why do the nations rage and the people plot in vain?  The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against His Anointed One…'" 


We need to understand the "the Lord" spoken of here is Yahweh and His Anointed One is Jesus.  The leaders of Israel were standing in opposition to their God and to Jesus.  They were enraged.  This shows us the conflict that was now being mounted against the early church.  Remember, Jesus said that if they hate me they will hate you and here we see Jesus' words coming true.  The same will be true in the western world in the days ahead, something the western church hasn't experienced in the past.       


It appears that all the believers in the room immediately broke out into corporate prayer.  They must have been cut to the heart and their prayer of response was immediate.   


Their prayer begins with telling God how powerful He is.  This is a good example for all of our prayers.  I suggest that way too often when we pray we just jump right in and start asking for things from God.  I think this is a bit disrespectful.  We should acknowledge the great God that we are coming before in prayer before we start asking things from Him.


In verse 25 the believers recognize the fact that the Holy Spirit inspired David to write his portion of the Psalms.  This points us to the doctrine of Inspiration of Scripture that we see was evident at this early stage in the life of the church.      


Note the words "Sovereign Lord: in verse 25.  We need to know that God is sovereign.  By this we mean that there is no authority higher than God Himself.  He can and He will do what He wants to do, whether we like it or not.  He has the supreme prerogative to do as He pleases, because He is God and there is no one like Him.  This is what sovereignty means.  These people understood the sovereign nature of their God, and so should we.


Within the context of the prayer is a quote from Psalm 2:1 - 2.  In this Psalm David is asking God why the nations, or heathens, rage war against the Sovereign God.  To him it seems so very futile.  It's important to understand how this Psalm is used in this particular circumstance.  The heathens that these people are praying about are those men in the Sanhedrin.  The heathens are their fellow Jews.   These believers, even in these early days of Christianity, believe that Jews can be heathens. 


In verse 26 the prayer quotes David to say that the nations of the world gather together against God's Anointed One.  The words "Anointed One", or, "Chosen One", are obviously in reference to Jesus.  Peter doesn't say this hear, but I believe this Psalm is also a reference to the last great end time battle that brings this age to an end.  In both cases, that is to say, in Peter's day and on that last day of this age, the nations and heathens will rage against Jesus Himself.  This is what the Battle of Armageddon is all about.  


In verse 27 the believers who are praying rehearse the account of Herod and Pilate conspiring together with the Jews to kill Jesus, yet as before, Peter and the believers point out the sovereignty of God.  In verse 25 they pray, "they did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen".  These words are similar to the words that Peter spoke in Acts 2:23.  The early church believed strongly that it was God’s will for Jesus to die, and that the Jews with the help of wicked men, meaning the Gentile authorities, were the way in which God's will was done in having Jesus executed.  A close reading of Isaiah 53 will show you that it was God's will to crush Jesus.  See Isaiah 53:10.


Verse 29 is so important for us today because I believe the future of all Christians throughout the world will look very much like what we see here.  We will come under persecution just as the early church came under persecution.  Understanding the situation that these believers found themselves in, the disciples asked the Lord for even more boldness to continue to speak about Jesus.  They did not want to give into fear, or the will of man.  They weren't about to wimp out on Jesus.  They would preach Jesus no matter the cost.  In this they would fulfill Jesus’ prophecy of Acts 1:8 again.  They would be Jesus' witnesses. 


Verse 30 says, "Stretch out your hand to heal and to perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus".  Note here that the people praying believed that it was God Himself that heals, but He did so through them.  They are asking God to "stretch forth His hand to heal".  How this took place practically was seen in the last chapter.  God's hand became Peter's hand.  God's lips became Peter's lips.  God's words of healing became Peter's words of healing. 


The Sanhedrin attributed the healing of the crippled man specifically to Peter and John as if they did some kind of magic trick, but Peter and John attributed the healing to God Himself, something that the men in the Sanhedrin could not bring themselves to admit or believe.


In verse 31 Luke reports that after these people finished praying, the house where they were praying shook.  He also says that "they were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly".  Note that these same people who were filled with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 are also refilled again here.  As a matter of fact, this is now the fourth mentioned time that Peter is filled with the Spirit.  Some people have suggested that being human, we leak.  That is to say, the Holy Spirit leaks out of us and that's why we need to be filled again and again.  There might be some truth to that but I believe that's a simplistic way of looking at this issue.  From time to time the Lord fills us with His Spirit, or in other words, "pours His Spirit out on us" for a specific reason.  The reason is mentioned right here, and that is so we can boldly preach and proclaim Jesus.  We don't get filled simply to enjoy the experience.  If we just view the filling of the Spirit in our lives as a great experience, we'll soon lose these fillings. 


There's something else to think about here.  Pentecostal and Charismatic doctrine states that a person gets saved and then at some second experience receives what they call the Baptism in the Holy Spirit, as seen in Acts 2.  This baptism is a filling of the Spirit, or, a pouring out of the Spirit.  The fact is, and I use Peter as an example, there is no second work of the Spirit when it comes to being with Him.  It has been noted that this is the fourth time in the first four chapters of Acts that Peter has been filled with the Spirit.  If you follow Pentecostal logic, then Peter has had a third work of grace and a fourth work of grace.  The simple fact is that Peter received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 for the first time in his life.  He received the Spirit through a pouring out, or, a filling.  Then subsequent to Acts 2, Peter had many, maybe even daily, the same experience or similar experience as he had in Acts 2.  We should expect many outpourings of the Spirit in our lives and we should expect them for the same reason these believers expected them, and that was to preach Jesus and be His witness



The Believers Share Their Possessions (ch. 4:32 - 37)


Verse 32 says that the believers were of "one heart and mind".  How nice that sounds.  Things have sure changed over the years.  They all had the same focus on Jesus and the direction they were going.  


In the next few verses we see for the second time the communal nature of the infant church.  Verse 32 says that “all the believers were one in heart and mind”.  It appears that all of the new converts had one focus, "one in heart and mind".  As I said earlier, this does not mean that they all believed alike, because they were still young in the faith and did not necessarily know exactly what they believed.  Yet they were of the same mind in that they trusted in Jesus and wanted to see the gospel spread.  By this time their numbers had reached to at least 5000 men, not counting women and children, so their numbers were great.


In times past some people used this passage to promote communal living, but the passage really doesn't say they lived all together in one place.  Besides, there were way too many Christians to live together communally.  The communal aspect was a matter of the heart, and an expression of love when needed.    


Luke mentions again about these early Christians mentality that they believed "everything they had was not their own.  They would share when necessary to those who had need.  As time went on, you will see this sharing got more organized, but at the moment it seemed to be spontaneous.  This is what communal living means in this passage.  Communal living in this context is merely being available and ready to share with your brothers and sisters in Jesus when the need arises.  We shouldn't make anything more of this.               


It's important to understand what Luke means when he said that the believers had all things in common.  He was not talking about communal living.  He was not saying that whatever family A owned was also owned by family B.  The very fact that in the next chapter Ananias and Sapphira is said to have their own property (Acts 5:1) that they sold tells us that what people owned was theirs.  It did not belong to everyone.  They were simply willing to share it when needed.   


As Luke also said earlier in chapter 2, "with great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection…"  Once again, this is in fulfillment of Acts 1:8 where Jesus said that they would be His witnesses.  We also see mentioned again that it was the apostles with the great power.  I'm not saying that some ordinary Christians didn't have great power because men like Stephen, Philip, and others, did as we will see.  It just seems to me that the apostles were the ones demonstrating most of the power.  


In verse 33 Luke says that "much grace was upon them all".  Who does the "all" refer to?  The word "all" is in reference to the five thousand new believers. 


The word "grace" here is important.  There are two aspects of grace found in the Bible.  One is God's unmerited favour.  The other is God's divine ability given to us to do His will.  I believe both usages apply here.  


In verses 34 and 35 we note that Luke also says that there "were no needy persons among them".  Why was this so?  Luke says that "from time to time those who owned land and houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostle's feet and it was distributed to anyone who had need".  Note here that these things were happening "from time to time".  Also note that the money was brought to the apostles, and they were the ones who gave it to those in need.  In chapter 6 we will learn that this changed.  The apostles simply had no time to do these things and preach the word of God as well. 


Luke names “Joseph, a Levite” as an example of a person who actually sold some land and handed the proceeds over to the apostles.


I think we should view these acts of kindness as being led by the Holy Spirit and not being forced on the people by the apostles.  I don't believe the apostles were dictators, or once who had heavy handed authority.  One cannot use this passage as a proof text for some kind of Christianized socialism. 


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