This chapter stands, of course, in close connection with the preceding one. The apostle Peter preached his second recorded sermon (not very likely only his second sermon, even though others are not recorded), emphasizing that the miracle of the healing of the lame man was a manifestation of the power of the resurrected Christ, Whom they had killed. And in this chapter we see both the positive and the negative fruit of his preaching, the latter consisting in a renewal of the open opposition of the Jewish authorities against the Christ – something which does not seem to have become manifest between the crucifixion and this time. The chapter is important because it teaches something about the nature and characteristics of persecution and those who perpetrate persecution, because it tells something of the attitude and reaction of those who are persecuted; because it tells something of the effect and purpose of persecution upon the gathering of the church; and because it furnishes an example of the reaction of the church at large to persecution. And we surely must not fail to see, not only in regard to this first persecution as such, but also in regard to all that is connected with it, how the Lord in His infinite wisdom clearly guided and controlled all the events in the history of the church at this stage, so that His cause might not be defeated, but might grow and be established in Jerusalem and Judea before the fiercer storms of persecution began.
We may inquire into this chapter as follows:
A. The two-fold reaction to the preaching recorded in chapter three, vss. 1-4.
1. Negatively: vss. 1-3. Evidently while the apostles Peter and John were still speaking, the enemy came upon them and took them away.
a. Was it a good policy for the apostles to carry on their work, as it were, right in the enemy’s camp? Was this not practically inviting trouble? Did they not know from their experiences while Jesus was on earth, that they would stir the wrath of the enemy, if they invaded the precincts of the temple to preach and teach?
1) From a practical point of view, what was, undoubtedly, the positive reason for their going to the temple; and that too (cf. chapter 3, vs. 1) at the hour of prayer?
2) In reality, and in so far as the idea and purpose of the temple were concerned, was not the apostles’ presence there, and their preaching of the Lord Jesus and His resurrection, entirely proper? Was it not, as the Lord Himself had said once,His Father’s house? And from that same point of view, were not the enemies actually rebels and usurpers in that house? (Note: We may remember, of course, that with the cross and the rending of the veil of the temple, principally the “old things” of the temple and the temple-service had passed away. Nevertheless, for some time afterward this principal change was not fully realized, and, in fact, could not be realized in the minds and hearts of God’s people except through the preaching of the apostles and the conversion of the people of God,from the old to the new, through the means of that preaching. There is, undoubtedly, an element of this kind later on, when the question concerning circumcision and other aspects of the Mosaic law arises in the church. Things were not actually changed all at once – and could not be – even though principally the change had taken place at the cross, where all the typical elements of the law were ended, through fulfillment.)
3) Is there any support here for the idea that it is the duty of the church and of the saints to seek persecution and to go out of their way so that they may suffer for Christ’s sake?
b. Who came to arrest the apostles? We may note here that the first two terms, “priests and captain of the temple,” denote official positions; the third, “Sadducees,” is not the name of any officers, but denotes a religious movement, which at the time apparently had many adherents among those in authority in Jewry.
1) Who was the captain of the temple? Did he actually have authority to arrest, etc.? Did actions of the Jewish authorities have the sanction of the Roman government in any degree? Just what was the relationship and the division of authority between the Jewish officials and the Roman governor?
2) Why were the priests involved in this?
3) What were the characteristics and the doctrinal tenets of the sect of the Sadducees?
c. The reason for arrest is two-fold: they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead. This undoubtedly accounts for the fact that at this time there is no bickering between Pharisees and Sadducees. Can you trace the connection here? Why were the Sadducees aggrieved? Why the non-Sadducees?
1) Did they have any real reason for feeling aggrieved?
2) What does the fact that they were grieved at these things reveal concerning the Jewish authorities?
3) How is it to be accounted for that the apostles’ preaching had this negative fruit? Is it sufficient to explain this merely by saying that the aggrieved parties hardened their hearts? Proof?
d. In verse 3 we are told that the apostles were forcibly taken away (they laid hands on them), and then jailed overnight for the reason that the arrest took place at eventide, when the council could not be conveniently called together, and besides, when they were forbidden by law to hold a trial.
2. Positive fruit: vs. 4.
a. This evidently stands in contrast with the preceding, and indicates that the public arrest of Peter and John nevertheless did not hinder the positive effect of the preaching of the resurrected Christ. Does the term “believed” necessarily mean that all of these “many” were genuine believers? Cf. similar expressions, for example, in John 8.
b. Undoubtedly the number “about 5,000” does not mean that these were all converted at this occasion, but refers to the total size of the church including the many that believed after this miracle and the accompanying preaching. But assuming, as we may, that “men” is not to be taken in the general sense of “people” but as referring to male believers, how large approximately was the church at this time? What accounts for this rapid growth? Why does not the church grow by such “leaps and bounds” today?
B. The Trial: vss. 5 to 12.
1. The Court, vss. 5, 6.
a. Undoubtedly an official meeting of the Sanhedrin, involving not the Roman but the Jewish authorities, as the general term “their rulers” indicates. This Sanhedrin consisted of three groups: the chief priests (mentioned in vs. 6, adherents of the Sadducees), the elders(representing various civil precincts), and the scribes (the legal experts). They always gathered at Jerusalem; hence, the reference to Jerusalem does not refer to the place of the meeting, but rather to the fact that on such short notice only the council-members from Jerusalem were present.
b. Can you identify any of those who are mentioned by name? In view of their identity, do you suppose that they approached the present trial in complete ignorance of the case now before them and without prejudice?
2. The Trial as such, vss. 7-12.
a. The examination:
1) What question is asked of the two defendants? Why do they inquire about the “power” and the “name”? Had the Jewish authorities ever been interested in these same subjects before? When? Is it possible that, perhaps, they themselves thought of their accusation against Jesus that He cast out devils by Beelzebub?
2) Does this question indicate ignorance of the accusations mentioned in verse 2, or is it simply a formal question, asked in order to get the case formally before the court?
3) What do you think of this procedure of asking a question, instead of presenting and proving an accusation? Is it just? Does it become those who are supposed to be well-versed in the principles of justice according to the Mosaic law? Does it indicate any change of heart since the trial of Jesus?
b. The defense: vss. 8-12.
1) Peter speaks again, even as in chapters 1, 2, and 3. By what power does he speak? Could a better “case” be presented for the defense? Can this defense possibly be gainsaid? Against whom do the council take action, in the light of this 8th verse? Think of the later accusation of Stephen, Acts 7:51. Can you connect the facts of verse 8 with any promise of the Lord exactly with respect to an occasion such as this trial?
2) What facts does Peter emphasize in his account? Vss. 9-12.
a) Why does he refer to the “good deed done to the impotent man”? What does this same apostle say in one of his epistles about suffering for well-doing?
b) Why does he again emphasize their guilt in the crucifixion?
c) What reference to the O.T. is found in his defense? Where else is it similarly applied? How does this quotation emphasize their guilt?
d) What is the chief thought of verse 12, and why does Peter emphasize this idea here?
C. Deliberation and Verdict: vss. 13 to 22.
1. Deliberation, vss. 13-17:
a. What was the immediate effect of this speech upon the council? What factors led to this? Vss. 13, 14.
1) What is the meaning of “unlearned and ignorant men” in this connection?
2) What does it mean that they “took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus”?
3) In what position did the presence of the healed man put the council? Was he, perhaps, imprisoned with Peter and John? What do the words “could say nothing against it” reveal concerning the attitude of the council in this trial?
4) In the light of these facts, what should have been the immediate verdict?
b. What did the council do instead? Vs. 15.
1) Did they decide on a verdict?
2) In what dilemma did they find themselves? Vss. 16, 17.
3) What did they decide? Criticize this decision, vs. 18.
c. What does this entire proceeding reveal concerning the attitude of the Jewish council?
d. Is it merely a happy coincidence that the council at this time did not do violence to the apostles, or can you trace the controlling hand of God in this outcome?
2. The Outcome, vss. 18-22.
a. What did the council do to the apostles? Was there any ground for this “sentence”?
b. What really moved the council to set them free? Vs. 21.
c. What answer did the apostles give to the council? Vs. 19, 20.
1) What is implied in the answer of vs. 19 as to the relation of the word of the council and the commandment of God?
2) Does this rule of “heeding God rather than men” apply to any case, even when civic authorities act in their own sphere? For example, if we deem a certain war to be unjust, may we on this ground refuse to fight when the government demands it?
3) What reason do Peter and John give in vs. 20 for their decision to “hearken to God”?
4) Why do they say in vs. 19, “judge ye”?
d. Why the reference to the healed man’s age in vs. 22?
D. After Release, vss. 23-37.
1. Where did the apostles go after their release, and what did they do?
a. Why did they tell the saints about these events?
b. Were the saints in any way concerned other than for the welfare of Peter and John?
2. What was the reaction of the church at large? What did they immediately do? vss. 24 ff.
a. How did they interpret the events that had taken place?
b. Did they put a favorable or unfavorable interpretation upon them?
c. For what did they pray? Why did they not pray for freedom from persecution?
3. How did the Lord answer the prayer? Vs. 31.
a. What does it mean that they were filled with the Holy Ghost? Had they not been filled with the Spirit already, before this?
b. Is there any connection between the place being shaken, and their being filled with the Holy Ghost?
c. Is there a special meaning in the shaking of the place, or was it merely, in general, a special manifestation that the Lord had heard them?
4. Judging by the account in vss. 32, ff., did this initial persecution, and the threat of further violence, have any adverse effect upon either the church as a whole, or upon the work of the apostles?
a. What, instead, was the effect?
b. What characterized the life of the church at this time in regard to their temporal needs? Is there any possible connection between this and the persecution? What does it show concerning the Lord’s care of His church?
c. What significance must be attached to the specific example of Barnabas?