Commentary on Acts 4:1-12
The next stage in the mission of the disciples now takes place: after the proclamation and healing comes the persecution and harassment, as promised by Jesus.
As in the Gospel, we see the contrasting reactions between the Jewish leaders and the people. The leaders, mostly Sadducees who did not believe in resurrection after death, are objecting to the apostles’ teaching about the resurrection of Jesus and put them under arrest (together with the man they had healed).
Those arresting them include the priests, the captain of the Temple guard and Sadducees. The priests were those responsible for the Temple liturgies. The temple guard were composed of Levites and their captain ranked next to the high priest. The Sadducees, among other things, were drawn from the priestly families and from the upper classes. The high priest was one of their members. They tended to be pro-Rome and hence found Jesus and his followers a dangerous element. The Sadducees were strongly opposed to and by the Pharisees.
As it is late in the day Peter and John are thrown into jail for the night. The evening sacrifices ended about 4 o’clock in the afternoon and the temple gates would be closed. Judgements involving life and death had to be begun and ended during daylight hours.
In spite of the religious authorities’ actions, many of the people who had heard Peter’s preaching did believe in his message and their numbers had swollen to 5,000, up from 3,000 on the day of Pentecost – an amazing number in such a short time.
On the following day Peter and John are made to stand before a meeting of the top leadership together with the high priest and members of his family. They are led by Annas. He was officially high priest from AD 6-15 but deposed by the Romans and succeeded by his son, Eleazar, and then by his son-in-law, Caiaphas (whom we meet during the account of Jesus’ passion). However, Annas was still recognised by the Jews as the real high priest. The John mentioned with him may be a son, while Alexander is otherwise unknown.
What strikes one in this scene is the boldness of Peter, when compared to his behaviour during the passion of Jesus. As Jesus had promised in his lifetime, Peter is filled with the Spirit which gives him both his courage and his eloquence to speak out boldly. What they have done, they tell their accusers, has been done in the name of Jesus, “the one you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. By this name and by no other…this man is able to stand up perfectly healthy, here in your presence today.”
Quoting from Psalm 118, Peter tells them that Jesus “is the stone rejected by you the builders, but which has proved to be the keystone”. In general, the fulfilment of Old Testament prophecies was important in early Christian preaching. This is especially the case with Matthew’s gospel. Jesus, himself, is quoted as using this text about himself.
“There is no salvation through anyone else nor is there any other name under heaven given to the human race by which we are to be saved.” The message is very clear. In the Roman world in the time of the Acts, salvation was often attributed to the emperor, often hailed as a ‘saviour’ and a ‘god’. Peter, however, affirms that real salvation can only come from Christ.
A passage like this gives us encouragement. First, we ought not be surprised that we will be mocked and attacked for our faith in Christ and his Gospel, and, secondly, we will be provided with what we need when faced with hostility and even persecution.