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Acts 4-6 Listen
1 And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them,
2 Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide.
4 Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.
5 And it came to pass on the morrow, that their rulers, and elders, and scribes,
6 And Annas the high priest, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.
7 And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?
8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel,
9 If we this day be examined of the good deed done to the impotent man, by what means he is made whole;
10 Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by him doth this man stand here before you whole.
11 This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.
12 Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.
13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.
14 And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.
15 But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves,
16 Saying, What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle hath been done by them is manifest to all them that dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it.
17 But that it spread no further among the people, let us straitly threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.
18 And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.
19 But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.
20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
21 So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people: for all men glorified God for that which was done.
22 For the man was above forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was shewed.
Chapter 4 continues with an incident that began in Acts 3 (see notes). In chapter three Peter and John were just minding their own business as they headed into the temple when they were stopped by a lame man there looking for a handout. Acts 3:6 says, "Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk." Afterward the man gets up and goes into the temple with Peter and John.
The people who had been seeing the lame man day in and day out for perhaps decades sought an explanation, and bold ol' Peter feels inclined to preach to them Jesus. You can imagine the commotion this message caused - so much so that the Jewish leaders are upset...again. That's where we pick it up here in chapter 4 with verses 1-2, "And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead." Remember, the Sadducees didn't believe in the resurrection...PERIOD! Verse 4 gives us the magnitude of how rapidly the early church grew. Luke specifically tells us that this number of 5,000 represents the total number of male-only Believers at this point in time in early Jerusalem church history.
Secular historical sources tell us that the Roman Empire sanctioned specific religious activity during this period. To the government officials all the way over in Rome (about 1,700 miles northwest), Christianity was a sect of Judaism, remaining that way until 64 A.D. when Nero began specifically targeting Christians for persecution. Therefore, previous to 64 A.D., the Jewish leaders seemed to feel a certain authority over those who preached Jesus; on this occasion, they take the liberty to lock up Peter and John until they can assemble the whole council of Jewish leaders for a hearing. This Jewish council was known as the Sanhedrin, and it was these very Jewish leaders who had orchestrated the accusations against Jesus leading up to the crucifixion. The Roman government allowed the Sanhedrin to police their own people, including the disciplining of these renegade Jews known as Christians.
Just for some extra perspective here...it was the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, controlling the priesthood during this period of time. These are the ones who had Peter and John arrested on this occasion. Not only had they caught Peter and John preaching the resurrection, they were preaching that the resurrection is facilitated by Jesus Christ himself. The Sanhedrin was comprised of both Sadducees and Pharisees. The Pharisees had a running conflict with the Sadducees regarding the validity of the resurrection of the dead. However, both factions agreed that it was harmful to their cause for anyone to be preaching the resurrection with the Jesus component added.
It's worth noting in this passage that, even in the face of death, Peter is denying nothing here...nor is John. Even after a night in Jewish custody, the next day when Peter and John appear before the Sanhedrin, Peter turns loose on these men with an admirable boldness. Was he tactful? Naaaaaa! He accuses them of crucifying Jesus in verse 10 and proclaims to them that Jesus resurrected from the dead. Peter goes Messianic in verse 11 when he quotes David from Psalm 118:22 (see notes), "The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner." Isaiah had made certain that all would understand this "stone" to be a reference to the Messiah when he wrote in Isaiah 28:16 (see notes), "Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste." This verse is also used by Jesus himself in a parable to the Jewish leaders regarding his imminent crucifixion in Matthew 21:42/Mark 12:10/Luke 20:17 (see notes). So...when Peter ties the reference to the rejected stone of Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 28:16 to Jesus, and then in no uncertain terms tells the Sanhedrin that they have crucified the prophesied Messiah, that's a powerful statement of indictment against the Sanhedrin. Just to make certain they don't miss the point, Peter adds in verse 12, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." Incidentally, we also see a reference to the "stone of stumbling" prophecy in Romans 9:33 (see notes) and I Peter 2:6 (see notes).
What to do, what to do? For fear of the vast multitude who had responded to the salvation message, the Sanhedrin confers and then decides to simply threaten Peter and John. However, right there in their faces Peter proclaims in verse 19-20, "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." Because of the people, what else could the Sanhedrin do? They threaten some more and let them go.
23 And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.
24 And when they heard that, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, Lord, thou art God, which hast made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all that in them is:
25 Who by the mouth of thy servant David hast said, Why did the heathen rage, and the people imagine vain things?
26 The kings of the earth stood up, and the rulers were gathered together against the Lord, and against his Christ.
27 For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together,
28 For to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.
29 And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word,
30 By stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus.
31 And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.
The confrontation and verbal victory over the Sanhedrin is big news back with the new Believers at the church in Jerusalem. Understand the magnitude of what has just happened. Peter boldly declared that salvation was only through Jesus to the very men who orchestrated the illegal trials of Jesus leading up to the crucifixion, yet they walked away without a scratch. Notice in verses 25-26 the reference to Psalm 2 (see notes). This Messianic Psalm of David gets considerable New Testament treatment. As recorded by all three synoptic Gospels (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22 - see notes), Psalm 2:7 seems likely to be the purpose of God's voice from Heaven at the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist saying, "Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased." The capture and release of Peter and John precipitates a big prayer meeting that ends with verse 31, "And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness."
32 And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul: neither said any of them that ought of the things which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.
33 And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.
34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
35 And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
36 And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,
37 Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
Here we see that these early Christians in Jerusalem were so bonded together through their faith in Jesus Christ that they shared everything as family - even to the point of selling possessions and sharing the proceeds with the body of Believers as well. As a matter of fact, we see our first mention of Barnabas here in that context - he sells a piece of land and brings the proceeds to the Apostles for distribution. Barnabas (a Levite Believer) subsequently becomes a notable influence in the early-church movement. See the information box to the right regarding his identity and ministry.
What a way to die! (Acts 5:1-11)
1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
2 And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
3 But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
4 Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
5 And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
8 And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
9 Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
10 Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
11 And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
Not everyone was sharing their possessions with the proper attitude. After a man named Joses (Barnabas - see above) sold his land and brought the entire proceeds of its sale to the Apostles for distribution, another named Ananias and his wife Sapphira just loved the attention he had received after doing so. However, being a bit stingy, they sold a piece of property, brought some of the proceeds to the Apostles (in front of a crowd) and represented that this was the entire amount received from the sale. It's an amusing story. They arrive individually before Peter to get their recognition for their generous contribution...only to find a bigger surprise than they anticipated. The story is enhanced by the fact that they came in before the Apostles and the crowd of admiring Believers separately - first Ananias and three hours later Sapphira. Both are struck dead as they perpetuate the lie. When I hear some Christians talk about being "slain in the spirit," I can't help but reflect on this passage and think, "Well...there's your Biblical precedent for it!" Notice, their sin was lying to the Holy Spirit. Only saved people can be held accountable before God like that. This was clearly chastisement of Believers resulting in death.
Some might find these two immediate deaths troubling, and some preachers have abused this passage so as to strike fear into the hearts of their congregants. Ananias and Sapphira were NOT two sold-out Christians who simply had a lapse of judgment and good character. Their intent from the beginning was wrong...amounting to conspiracy to deceive for the purpose of garnering praise from the Apostles and the people. Their actions were not inadvertent; they were blatantly defiant against God. Thus, they become the examples of God's chastisement of Believers who exercise a cold rebellion against God. For a better understanding of chastisement, click here to read the notes on Hebrews 12:3-17.
The Apostles appear before the Sanhedrin (Acts 5:12-33)
12 And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.
13 And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.
14 And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)
15 Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.
16 There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.
17 Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,
18 And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.
19 But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,
20 Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.
21 And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
22 But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told,
23 Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.
24 Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.
25 Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.
26 Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,
28 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.
29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
33 When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.
Times are good here in Jerusalem among the Believers. A lot is happening to confirm their faith. Gathered there at the temple at Solomon's porch, people from out of town start coming to visit these new Believers, and they're bringing people with them to get healed; new people continue to get saved. The Apostles are winning the hearts of the multitude daily. Well...it's time for the Sanhedrin to get rolling again. (See the box to the right at the top of this page for information on the Sanhedrin.) They arrest the Apostles and place them in common prison until they can convene a meeting for the next day. However, an angel delivers them from prison, and the next morning they're out preaching in the temple again (now...that's bold). The guards are once again sent out to bring the Apostles before the Sanhedrin. For fear of the people, they do so with as little fanfare as possible.
Before the Sanhedrin, the high priest asks in verse 28, "Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us." That's quite an interesting statement coming from the high priest. In fact, they had been responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus, but they had made every effort to make the crucifixion look like a Roman plot from start to finish. That's why they had arrested Jesus at night and conducted six trials while the people slept. The next morning, when the Jewish populace awoke, Jesus was hanging on a Roman cross. Yup...the Jewish leaders had gone to a lot of trouble to make it look like an all-Roman crucifixion. Now, here's Peter telling the crowds of Jews the real truth. Naturally, the Sanhedrin doesn't like the truth.
Peter boldly lets loose on them again. Having heard Peter's reply, we read in verse 33, "When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them."
Rejoicin' over a beatin'! (Acts 5:34-42)
34 Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;
35 And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.
36 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.
37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
38 And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.
40 And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.
Gamaliel (a Pharisee) was part of the Sanhedrin and well respected among them. He reasons that they should release the Apostles because, if what they are preaching is not of God, it will self destruct. Obviously looking for a face-saving way out, the Sanhedrin adopts his solution. Gamaliel's words are heeded, and the disciples are released with just a beatin' in verse 40. Verse 41 says they left their beatin' rejoicing!
Incidentally, sometimes false doctrine lasts for centuries. The words of Gamaliel here, an unregenerate, but reasonable man, cannot be adopted as a doctrinal principle for Christians. As Believers, we are well aware that the power of Satan will last in this world until the second coming of Jesus Christ. So, it is not true as Gamaliel said in verse 38, "...if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought."
1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch:
6 Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
7 And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.
While it doesn't specifically say so, most assume that these men are the first deacons of the early church. The elders were overcome with responsibilities, and they sought some assistance. It appears that the Greek-speaking Hebrew widows were not getting as much attention as the Aramaic-speaking Hebrew widows. Keep in mind that this church had grown well past 5,000 men, and that's not counting women and children. When the distribution of provisions became a daunting task for the Apostles, they directed the people (probably the Hellenistic Jews) to recommend men to assist in this task. We see in verse 7 that they laid their hands on these seven men, thus ordaining them, many presume as deacons.
Those men appointed in Acts 6 were:
All seven of these men had Greek names, but they were Jews either by birth or through proselytization. It appears that the goal was to give the Greek-speaking Hebrew widows representation in Jerusalem by appointing like-minded men to help in the service of the church. These Hellenist Jews were selected to make certain there was no discrimination perceived against the Hellenist widows.
It should also be noted that Stephen's first mention after his ordination is regarding his preaching ministry and Apostolic-like miracles. Likewise, Philip engages in that same Apostolic-style ministry as we read of his missionary endeavors in chapter 8; that was after many of the Jewish Christians fled Jerusalem because of persecution. Therefore, it is not possible to deduct from these verses that these seven men had no preaching responsibilities; obviously Stephen and Philip preached.
Were these seven men the first deacons described by Paul in I Timothy 3:8-13 (see notes)? Maybe, but there's nothing here to absolutely validate that. However, the verb in verse 2 for "serve" is diakoneo (διακονέω). The noun for "deacon" is only in the New Testament in I Timothy 3 in most English translations; there it is actually a participle form of this same verb found here in verse 2. Simply stated, a participle is a verb used like a noun. So, there's no question that deacons are those who serve, and these seven men were selected to "serve." As mentioned, two of these men go on to accomplish greater tasks - Stephen's bold message and martyrdom in Acts 7 (see notes) and Philip's introduction of Christianity to the Samaritans in Acts 8 (see notes).
8 And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.
9 Then there arose certain of the synagogue, which is called the synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians, and of them of Cilicia and of Asia, disputing with Stephen.
10 And they were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake.
11 Then they suborned men, which said, We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses, and against God.
12 And they stirred up the people, and the elders, and the scribes, and came upon him, and caught him, and brought him to the council,
13 And set up false witnesses, which said, This man ceaseth not to speak blasphemous words against this holy place, and the law:
14 For we have heard him say, that this Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place, and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us.
15 And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.
Stephen's a new deacon, and he's preaching. However, he upsets some people with his proclamation of Jesus and finds himself standing before that same Sanhedrin that seems to hate this new Jesus movement. They brought him in with some trumped-up false accusations. I feel a bold message coming on. Let 'em have it Stephen! The message is found in Acts 7 (see notes).
Incidentally, we don't have much to go on regarding the "synagogue of the Libertines, and Cyrenians, and Alexandrians." There were multiple Jewish synagogues in Jerusalem attended by people of varying interests/backgrounds. The people indicated in verse 8 came from one of those synagogues. Probably, Stephen had made a stop by their synagogue, and they obviously did not appreciate his preaching.