Acts 5:12–42 . . .
“The Apostles Heal Many but Are Persecuted”
God wants to instill unquestioning obedience into his children. Sometimes obeying God won't bring us into a safe place, but rather, into danger and harm. But, as hearty soldiers of the cross, we must be ready and willing to obey our Commander without question or complaint. Today's text follows last week's story of two disobedient people — Ananias and Sapphira — whom God struck dead as a warning to the early church against the deadly sin of hypocrisy. Verses 12–16 will show the church recovering from that frightening incident, reporting both the atmosphere in the church and in the surrounding community. No hypocrites dared to join them for fear of being struck dead! And yet the Lord was adding many more — Luke has stopped counting — to the church. And the apostles were performing extraordinary, powerful miracles of healing and deliverance in full view of the multitudes.
Here's what Luke will present to us today. It's in the context of power and popularity that the Jewish leaders rose up against the apostles, imprisoning them. But the Lord sent an angel to deliver them, and in so doing shows us the theme of this story (v. 20): “Go, stand in the temple courts . . . and tell the people all about this new life.” That command was sure to get them into big trouble! They'd just been arrested, but now they're to go right back into the most conspicuous place of all and continue proclaiming the gospel. But they didn’t question the angel's command. They didn’t even go out first for breakfast. They obeyed (v. 21), leading to their rearrest. When the high priest confronted them for disobeying their earlier commands, i.e., filling Jerusalem with their teaching (v. 28), Peter restated the theme (v. 29): “We must obey God rather than human beings!” Peter would then preach a short sermon to the Sanhedrin, reemphasizing the issue of obedience (v. 32).
When the high priest and his cronies wanted to kill the apostles, it was Gamaliel who intervened, resulting in the apostles being flogged and ordered, yet again, to speak no more in the name of Jesus (v. 40). So what did the apostles do? “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (v. 42). They were unstoppable in their obedience to God, especially on the matter of proclaiming the good news about Jesus. Thus the lesson for us is, No matter what, we must obey God by proclaiming and teaching that Jesus Christ is the risen Savior and Lord.
Today we'll look at Luke's passage as if we were watching a movie (not unlike the award-winning video production of "Acts" that is linked beneath the close of this summary). The key players in this movie drama are as follows: the apostles — all twelve of them — and the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding areas; the Sanhedrin, a coalition group composed of Sadducees and Pharisees, together acting as the highest Jewish governing body (both legislative and judicial) in Israel. The Sadducees were the liberals who didn't believe in supernatural things such as resurrection from the dead and angels. The Pharisees were more conservative and orthodox in their theology, believing in resurrection, angels, and the supernatural in general. The chief priests were all Sadducees. Finally, a cameo appearance will be made by Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law who was a member of the Pharisee party.
In our movie are three scenes: Scene 1 will be in the temple area, at Solomon’s Colonnade, where the saints met daily, and where multitudes of unbelievers gathered in the hope of being healed. Scene 2 is in the Sanhedrin's Council meeting; we'll be there as the Council convenes and as they call for the prisoners to be brought forth, only to learn they've escaped. We'll stand by as the apostles get escorted into the Council from the temple area where they've been preaching. Still in Scene 2 we'll hear the Sanhedrin's accusations and threats, followed by the apostles' response. When the courtroom gets cleared, and the Council hears the recommendation of Gamaliel, we'll witness the Council's threats and the apostles' beating. In Scene 3, the apostles leave the Council joyfully, grateful to be found worthy to have suffered for the name of Christ.
Scene 1: Solomon’s Colonnade (5:12–18)
Our first scene takes place at the temple where we'll “zoom in” on the large crowd gathered at Solomon’s Colonnade or porch. The crowd is made up almost entirely of Christians who've come to a greater appreciation of the holiness of God due to the deaths of two saints, but they don't fear gathering together in the name of Jesus. They come together for a variety of purposes, including prayer and worship and teaching (by the apostles). As the camera angle widens, we see another crowd gathered, composed of nonbelievers, reticent to join the Christians in their worship, prayers, or teaching, but who do want to be healed of their infirmities. They also hear reports that indicate that one doesn't even have to ask to be healed, but only to be in close proximity to the apostles. Stories abound of those who've been healed by falling within Peter's shadow (v. 15).
Three groups of people thus far have made appearances in Scene 1: first, the apostles, through whom signs and wonders were being performed; second, the Christians, who congregated at Solomon’s portico; and third, the multitudes who came for healing. But there was another group, one not nearly so enthusiastic about all of the miracles that were taking place — the chief priests who were all members of the Sadducee party (v. 17). They wouldn't have dignified the apostles by being seen in the crowd, but they surely had their spies watching closely for rule infractions.
If our camera were to catch the facial expressions of the priestly party, we'd see, as Luke narrates, that their underlying motivation was jealousy. Seeing that their power and position were under siege, the priests sought to scare the apostles into backing off, but it wasn’t working. Thus, they sent a party to arrest the apostles and to put them in jail. The success (a.k.a. authority) of the apostles, as depicted in vv. 12–16, was the cause of the chief priests' stepped-up opposition.
Scene 2: Trial in the Sanhedrin’s Council (vv. 17–40)
Luke's second scene takes place in the Council's courtroom. Today's courtroom proceedings would be carefully orchestrated. A few surprises were in store for the priests. Sanhedrin members probably entered the courtroom with customary pomp and circumstance, which they enjoyed. They entered the courtroom with dignity, took their seats, and with authority, ordered the prisoners to be brought in and to realize the seriousness of the situation. But something had happened of which none of the Council priests or guards were aware. During the night, God had “released” the apostles whom the priests had imprisoned. An “angel of the Lord” had let them go in the night, without the guards' knowledge of it. Until the apostles' jail-house doors were opened, no one had a clue that the prisoners were gone.
The angel didn't only release the apostles. He gave them a specific commission. They were released, not so much for their own safety from being tried by the Sanhedrin the next morning, but in order to continue to proclaim the gospel. They weren't to “tone down” their preaching as a result of their arrest and imprisonment; they were to return to the temple, not somewhere less visible and less dangerous. There they were to "tell the people all about this new life” (v. 20). In other words, they were to keep on doing precisely what they'd been doing, and not to be intimidated by the Jewish religious leaders' persecution of them.
Meanwhile, “back in court,” the high priest and the other dignitaries of the Sanhedrin party were waiting in the courtroom for the prisoners' appearance. They expected to see a frightened group of men who'd lost all of their courage during their night in prison. How “red faced” the guards must have been. And how puzzled the Council members would have been to hear the guards affirm that the cell doors were securely locked and that no one had passed them in the night. All began to question to what would this lead? The priests were no longer in control, as they so much wanted to convey to the apostles during their trial.
Very carefully, the captain and his temple guards were dispatched to the temple courts where they gently, and with a cautious eye on the crowd, escorted the apostles to the courtroom where they'd finally be tried. Gathering together all of the severity he could muster, and probably revealing a great deal of frustration and anger, the high priest began to badger the apostles (vv. 27–28). The offenses were all “personal,” i.e., the charges didn't concern violations of the Law of Moses or of Jewish traditions, but rather of disregarding the Council's orders; even worse, the priests were accused of murdering the Messiah. They'd commanded the apostles to no longer teach in the name of Jesus, yet they'd continually filled all of Jerusalem with that same teaching while seeking to place the responsibility of Jesus’ death squarely on the shoulders of the Sanhedrin. The apostles had disregarded the warnings and instructions of this duly-authorized body, and had even accused the high priests of wrong-doing. This was too much for them.
Peter’s response was brief, to the point, and polite (vv. 29–31). They'd done exactly as they'd said previously (vv. 19–20). They must obey God above men. They'd disobeyed the Sanhedrin in obedience to the Lord Jesus, the Messiah. They continued to obey the One whom the Sanhedrin had put on the cross and the One whom God had raised from the dead. The response of the priests and others in that courtroom was highly volatile. They were, as Luke tells us, "furious and wanted to put them to death.” These leaders, the highest Jewish authorities in the land, were totally out of control. Lacking impartiality and clarity of thought, it was they who were indicted, not the apostles. How incredible that these leaders had literally lost their grip, caring little for the law or for “due process.” They wanted instead to see these men dead.
Enter Gamaliel The apostles hadn't spoken in their own defense. But there was one present who'd represent them — Gamaliel, an apparently well-known and highly-regarded teacher and member of the Pharisee party. We aren't told what his motives were, only the substance of his message. With the skill and coolness that could only be contrasted with the “hotheadedness of the Sadducees,” Gamaliel first had the courtroom cleared because he didn't want the apostles hearing what he had to say. After they'd been put out of the room temporarily, Gamaliel pled with his fellow Council members to calm down, get their wits about them, and come to a more reasoned decision. Gamaliel drew upon the demise of two recent movements that momentarily found a following from among the Jews. In each case, the men died; in both cases, after the men died, their movements also died. He appealed to the Council to also give this "Jesus movement" a little time. Like the others, it would pass away. The more the movement was attacked, the longer the process would take.
There was another option that Gamaliel, as a Pharisee, was more willing to grant than were his Sadducean colleagues. There was the possibility that God was behind this movement. From a Pharisaical point of view, Messiah would come to the earth, and men could rise from the dead. This movement had some of the earmarks of one that had a divine origin. If it was of God, there was nothing they could do to stop it. In either case — if it were a movement of men or if it were of God — it would be better for the Sanhedrin to take a “wait and see” stance, rather than to act precipitously.
The Council took Gamaliel's advice, despite their wanting to kill the apostles. The intensity of their anger and evil intentions can be seen by what they did do to the twelve: On one hand we're told they took the advice of Gamaliel, yet we're further told in v. 40 that they beat the twelve before releasing them. Once again, the apostles were commanded "not to speak in the name of Jesus."
Scene 3: Joy Expressed at the Temple (vv. 41–42)
Without interruption or modification, the apostles went to the temple, day after day, proclaiming the gospel in the temple courts and from house to house. This was, we should note, the first instance of physical suffering for the name of Christ, and the apostles were able to rejoice in their sufferings because it was for the name of Christ and for the sake of the gospel. It was the beginning of a course of action that would continue throughout the history of the church. The disciples were also, for the first time, able to rejoice in response to suffering and persecution, just as Jesus had taught them (Matthew 5:11–12).
- Q. 1 Is there a matter where you know God’s will, but you’re refusing to obey?
- Q. 2 As an apostle, how would you feel during the events of vv. 18–21?
- Q. 3 Why do you think the disciples considered it worth rejoicing that they suffered in Jesus' name?
New International Version (NIV) [View it in a different version by clicking here; also listen to chapter 5.]
† Watch this video clip of Acts 4:1–5:25, starring Bruce Marchiano as Jesus, James Brolin as Simon Peter, Harry O. Arnold as Saul/Paul, and Dean Jones as Luke,
† . . . and its follow-up clip, covering Acts 5:26–7:22.
The Apostles Heal Many
12The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon’s Colonnade. 13No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people. 14Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. 15As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. 16Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by impure spirits, and all of them were healed.
The Apostles Persecuted
17Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20“Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”
21At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
When the high priest and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin — the full assembly of the elders of Israel — and sent to the jail for the apostles. 22But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, 23“We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24On hearing this report, the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests were at a loss, wondering what this might lead to.
25Then someone came and said, “Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.” 26At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared that the people would stone them.
27The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28“We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
29Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! 30The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead — whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. 34But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, who was honored by all the people, stood up in the Sanhedrin and ordered that the men be put outside for a little while. 35Then he addressed the Sanhedrin: “Men of Israel, consider carefully what you intend to do to these men. 36Some time ago Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. 37After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. 38Therefore, in the present case I advise you: Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. 39But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”
40His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.