Easter Friday – First Reading

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 the apostles include the priests, the captain of the temple guard and Sadducees. The priests were those responsible for the Temple liturgies. The temple guard was 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 to be 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 after that. 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, including 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,

…this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.

Quoting from Psalm 118, Peter tells them about Jesus:

The stone that the builders rejected
has become the chief cornerstone.
(Ps 118:22)

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, was quoted as using this text about himself.

The passage ends with:

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.

The message is very clear. In the Roman world in the time of 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 second, we can be assured that we will be provided with what we need when faced with hostility and even persecution.

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