A Commentary by John Stott
Acts 4:1-22. The council brings the apostles to trial.
Luke makes it plain that both waves of persecution were initiated by the Sadducees (4:1 and 5:17). They were the ruling class of wealthy aristocrats. Politically, they ingratiated themselves with the Romans, and followed a policy of collaboration, so that they feared the subversive implications of the apostles’ teaching. Theologically, they believed that the Messianic age had begun in the Maccabean period; so they were not looking for a Messiah. They also denied the doctrine of *the resurrection of the dead*, which the apostles proclaimed *in Jesus* (2b). They thus saw the apostles as both agitators and heretics, both disturbers of the peace and enemies of the truth. In consequence, they were *greatly disturbed*, ‘annoyed’ (RSV), even ‘exasperated’ (NEB), by what the apostles were teaching the people (2a), for this was ‘unauthorized preaching by unprofessional preachers’.
Led by *the captain of the temple guard* (1), that is, the chief of the temple police, who was responsible for the maintenance of law and order, and who held a priestly rank second only to the high priest, *they seized Peter and John* and *because it was evening* and too late to convene the council, *they put them in jail* overnight (3). Luke assures his readers immediately that the opposition of men did not hinder the Word of God. The Sadducees could arrest the apostles, but not the gospel. On the contrary, *many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand* (4) – not counting the women and children, he seems to mean.
*The next day the rulers* (that is, the Sanhedrin, which consisted of seventy-one members, presided over by the high priest), including both the *elders* (probably clan leaders) and the *teachers of the law* (the scribes who copied, conserved and interpreted it), *met in Jerusalem* (5). *Annas… was there*, Luke tells us. He also calls him *the high priest* because, although the Romans had deposed him in AD 15, he retained among the Jews his prestige, influence and title (cf. Lk. 3:2). *Caiaphas* was there too, Annas’ son-in-law. Both men had figured prominently in the trial and condemnation of Jesus (cf. Jn.18:12ff). Luke also mentions *John* and *Alexander* (of whom nothing is known for certain) and *the other men of the high priest’s family* (6). As they sat in their customary semi-circle, and *Peter and John* were *brought before them* (7a), Memories of the trial of Jesus must have flooded the apostles’ minds. Was history to repeat itself? They could hardly expect justice from *that* court, which had listened to false witnesses and unjustly condemned their Lord. Were they to suffer the same fate? Would they too be handed over to the Romans and crucified? They must have asked themselves such questions.
a). Peter’s defence (4:8-12).
The court began the interrogation with a straight question to Peter and John: ‘*By what power or what name did you do this* [ie, heal the cripple]?’ One is reminded of the Jewish leaders, who had asked Jesus by what authority he had cleansed the temple (Lk.20:1-2). In reply the apostles bore witness to Jesus Christ. Whether they were preaching to the crowd in the temple or answering accusations in court, their preoccupation was not their own defence but the honour and glory of their Lord. In that moment of need, and in fulfilment of Jesus’ promise that ‘words and wisdom’ would be given them whenever they were brought to trial (Lk.21:12ff), Peter was freshly *filled with the Holy Spirit and said: ‘Rulers and elders of the people! (8) If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple* (for what could be objectionable about that?) *and are asked how he was healed (9), 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, that this man stands before you healed (10). He is “the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone”*’ (11). This is the third time that Peter has used the graphic formula ‘you killed him, but God raised him’ (2:23-24; 3:15), for Jesus is the stone of Psalm 118 which the builders rejected but God has promoted to be the capstone (11), a text which Jesus himself had quoted (Lk.20:17). Moreover, ‘*salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved*’ (12). We notice the ease with which Peter moves from healing to salvation, and from the particular to the general. He sees one man’s physical cure as a picture of the salvation which is offered to all in Christ. His two negatives (*no-one else* and *no other name*) proclaim the positive uniqueness of the name of Jesus. His death and resurrection, his exaltation and authority constitute him the one and only Saviour, since nobody else possesses his qualifications.
Tomorrow: Acts 4:13-22. b). The court’s decision.
The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of Acts. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.