Acts: Chapter 4
Let’s begin by reading (Acts 4:1-12).
The first persecution of the new “church.”
(Verse 1) “And as they spake unto the people, the priests, and the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them”
“The Priests” – These were the Levites, the Israelite tribe set apart by God to serve Him first in the Tabernacle, and later in the Temple (See: Num 8:5-26).
“The Captain of the Temple” – He was 2nd in command after the High Priest, and the leader of the Temple police. We first see the “officers” he led in the book of John, when they were sent to arrest Jesus in (Jn Ch. 7), but failed to do so, and later in (Jn Ch. 18), when they were again sent to arrest Jesus, and did so the 2nd time. We will see the “captain” again in the next chapter (Acts 5:24,26).
“The Sadducees” – They did not believe in resurrection from the dead, angels, or spirits (Acts 23:8). They also believed that “only” the Pentateuch was God-inspired Scripture. The Sanhedrin, who we will see Peter addressing beginning in Verse 8, was composed primarily of Sadducees. The Sadducees primarily controlled the Temple, and the High Priest usually came from them.
(Verse 2) “Being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead.”
Obviously, since the Sadducees denied that there was “resurrection from the dead,” hearing that Peter was preaching that Jesus had been “resurrected from the dead” (Acts 3:15) would “grieve” the Sadducees. They had worked hard to have the despised Jesus killed, and now Peter was saying He was alive. In addition, they almost certainly resented the fact that Peter and John were “teaching the people,” since they believed that was a job only they could do.
(Verse 3)(NASB) “And they laid hands on them and put them in prison until the next day, for it was already evening.”
As we saw in the previous chapter, Peter and John went to the Temple at “the ninth hour” (3 p.m.), which was considered the time of the Jewish “evening prayer.” In addition, this was about the time of the “evening sacrifice,” which God had commanded to be done daily at the Tabernacle/Temple (Ex 29:36-42)(Num 28:3-8)(2 Chr 2:4). After the prayer and sacrifice were done, the gate to the Temple was closed for the day. Jewish history (I find nothing in the Bible on this) says that Jewish law prohibited trials at “night,” therefore, Peter and John were placed in custody until the next day, when the Sanhedrin could be convened.
(Verse 4) “Howbeit many of them which heard the word believed; and the number of the men was about five thousand.”
Notice the use of the word “men.” In stating that 5000 “men” (Gr: “aner“) believed, this almost certainly means that when “women” and “children” are added, the number of “believers” was even higher. (For a similar parallel, see Mt 14:21, where it says that Jesus fed “5000 men, besides women and children.”)
***Note: Some scholars (i.e. MacArthur, Barnes) believe that the “5000” includes the “3000” (Acts 2:41) who had been saved previously at Pentecost.
Peter Addresses The Sanhedrin.
(Verses 5-6)(NASB) “On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; (6) and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent.”
The group of people mentioned here are the Sanhedrin.
A little about the “Sanhedrin.” The Sanhedrin convened at (or near) the Temple in Jerusalem in a building most believe was called the “Chamber Of Hewn Stones.” They would make decisions on things of “national” importance. For instance, declarations of war, issues dealing with whole tribes, an issue with the High Priest, false prophets, etc… In addition, they dealt with matters pertaining to ritual and Jewish law such as blasphemy, adultery, tithing, idolatry, etc… It also appears that some or all death penalty cases may have been filtered through them (when they actually had the power to carry out the death penalty). They functioned much like our Supreme Court today.
The Sanhedrin (usually translated as “council”) was made up of 71 members, with the High Priest being in charge (the president or “nasi”), and a 2nd in command vice-president. The other 69 members were mainly Sadducees (chief priests and elders [family heads]) or Pharisees (scribes). These were the 2 main groups in Judaism, and are mentioned numerous times in the New Testament. There was also division between the two groups at times (See: Acts 23:6-10).
It appears that the number 71 came from (Num 11:16-17), when the Lord told Moses to commission 70 “elders of Israel” to help him rule over the people of Israel (Also see: Ex 18:13-26, Deut 1:9-19).
For more on the Sanhedrin, you can go here: https://jesusalive.cc/sanhedrin-definition.
“Annas” previously appears in (Jn 18:12-24), placing Jesus on trial before His crucifixion. We are told in (Jn 18:13) that he was “the father-in-law of Caiaphas who was the high priest that year.”
Annas had been the High Priest from 6 – 15 A.D., however, he was deposed by the predecessor to Pontus Pilate, who was named Valerius Gratus. Annas’ son-in-law Caiaphas was made High Priest in his place. However, since the position of High Priest appears to have been a lifetime appointment (Num 35:25,28)(Josh 20:6), most Jews likely viewed Annas as the “true” High Priest. This is certainly why Luke calls “Annas” the “High Priest” here instead of “Caiaphas,” who was really the High Priest.
“John and Alexander” – We know nothing about either of these men. My “Zondervan NIV Study Bible” speculates of John, “May be Jonathan son of Annas, who was appointed High Priest in A.D. 36. Others suggest it was Johanan ben Zaccai, who became the president of the Great Synagogue after the fall of Jerusalem.”
(Verse 7) “And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?”
This question gave Peter the perfect opening for to be able preach Jesus to the Sanhedrin. (It seems clear that the Sanhedrin’s focus wasn’t on the healing of the “lame man,” but rather on “how he was healed.”)
(Verse 8) “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, said unto them, Ye rulers of the people, and elders of Israel.”
Peter now begins his 3rd sermon since the Holy Spirit was given at Pentecost. “Filled” with the Holy Spirit, he begins a powerful message to the Sanhedrin. This brings to my mind the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark:
(Mk 13:9-11) “But take heed to yourselves: for they shall deliver you up to councils; and in the synagogues ye shall be beaten: and ye shall be brought before rulers and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them. (10) And the gospel must first be published among all nations. (11) But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do ye premeditate: but whatsoever shall be given you in that hour, that speak ye: for it is not ye that speak, but the Holy Ghost.”
(Verses 9-10) “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.”
Peter immediately answers the question of the Sanhedrin. The “lame man” was healed “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.”
“Jesus Christ of Nazareth” – As we mentioned in Acts Chapter 2, Jesus was referred to by this exact name 12 times in the Gospels: (Mt 21:11)(Mt 26:71)(Mk 1:24)(Mk 10:47)(Mk 16:6)(Lk 4:34)(Lk 18:37)(Lk 24:19)(Jn 1:45)(Jn 18:5,7)(Jn 19:19), and 7 times in Acts: (2:22, 3:6, here, 6:14, 10:38, 22:8, 28:9)
“Whom ye crucified” – Peter reminded the Sanhedrin that they were directly responsible for crucifying Jesus (the “Messiah”). The Gospels show us that they plotted to have Jesus murdered (Jn 11:47-53), paid Judas Iscariot 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus (Mt 26:14-16)(Mk 14:10-11)(Lk 22:1-6), had Him arrested and tried Him using false witnesses to accuse Him (Mt 26:47-66)(Mk 14:43-65)(Lk 22:47-53)(Jn 18:1-27), then pressured Pontus Pilate into having Him crucified (Mt 27:1-26)(Mk 15:1-15)(Lk 23:1-25)(Jn 18:28-19:16). (It is interesting that the Sanhedrin was not to meet on the Sabbath or holy days, but broke this rule to condemn Jesus.)
“Whom God raised from the dead” – Remember our little lesson from the previous chapters in Acts (Acts 2:32)(Acts 3:15). “Who raised Jesus from the dead?” God did: here and (Acts 2:32). Jesus did: (Jn 2:19). The Holy Spirit did: (Rom 8:11). The Father did: (Gal 1:1). How can this be? Because ALL are God, and ALL are one! This points to a triune God.
(Verse 11)(NKJV) “This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.”
This is an Old Testament prophetic quote, taken from (Ps 118:22), which pointed to Jesus (the “Messiah”). Jesus also used this verse to refer to Himself in (Mt 21:42)(Mk 12:10-11)(Lk 20:17). It is also referred to in (Eph 2:19-22)(1 Pet 2:4-8).
My “Nelson’s NKJV Study Bible” explains this verse well: “The Old Testament refers to the cornerstone as the foundation of the earth (Job 38:6), the foundation (Is. 28:16), the stone for the corner (Jer. 51:26), the head cornerstone (Ps. 118:22), or the headstone (Zech. 4:7). Thus the image of a cornerstone is used as both the chief stone and the stone at the corner of a foundation. In the first century A.D., the expression chief cornerstone was also used to refer to the stone placed on the summit of the Jerusalem temple. Thus Peter used the phrase to point out that when the people rejected Jesus Christ, they rejected the One who completed the plan of God for humankind. The phrase and its significance here would have been well understood in the first century, especially among Jewish rabbis and people who knew the Scriptures.”
(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.”
A GREAT verse for those who believe that there are “many” ways to be saved and get to Heaven. Can you think of some other verses which tell us that salvation is ONLY through faith in Jesus Christ?
Next, lets read (Acts 4:13-22).
(Verse 13) “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled.”
In contrast to the members of the Sanhedrin, Peter and John had no formal rabbinical training. In light of this, the fact that they were so knowledgeable, eloquent, and bold astonished those in the Sanhedrin. What was it that made Peter and John so knowledgeable, eloquent, and bold?
(Verse 13) “they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”
This likely means that the words and actions of Peter and John reminded the Sanhedrin of Jesus.
(Verse 14) “And beholding the man which was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.”
The Sanhedrin could argue against Peter and John’s words and actions, but they could find nothing to say about the “lame man” whose life had been changed.
I believe we can look at this as a picture that while unbelievers can argue against the words or actions of a Christian, they cannot argue against the changed life of a Christian. This is why our Christian testimony is such an important witnessing tool. Sharing how Jesus Christ “changed” our life is hard for unbelievers to deny.
(Verses 15-17) “they (the Sanhedrin) 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.”
The Sanhedrin wanted to punish Peter and John for their words and actions, but could “find no way to punish them” (verse 21). The people were “glorifying God for (the miraculous healing that) had been done,” and the Sanhedrin was afraid of what they would do if Peter and John were punished.
Therefore, since the Sanhedrin could not punish them, they wanted to make sure that word of the miracle that was done in the “name of Jesus” would “spread no further among the people.” So, we go to verse 18.
(Verse 18) “And they called them, and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.”
The solution the Sanhedrin came up with was to “command” Peter and John not to “speak or teach in the name of Jesus.” (Did they really think this threat would work?)
(Verse 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.”
When a Christian is forced to make a decision between obeying God, or obeying man, the Bible is clear that we must obey God. Peter and John made this choice.
Can you think of other examples in the Bible where people put God before man? Can you think of examples where we may have to do this today?
(Verse 20) “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
I found these parallel verses from Jeremiah interesting:
(Jere 20:7-9)(NJKV) O Lord, You induced me, and I was persuaded; You are stronger than I, and have prevailed. I am in derision daily; Everyone mocks me. (8) For when I spoke, I cried out;
I shouted, “Violence and plunder!” Because the word of the Lord was made to me A reproach and a derision daily. (9) Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire Shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not.”
(Verse 22)(NASB) “for the man on whom this miracle of healing had been performed was more than forty years old.”
We learn here that the “lame man” who was healed in the previous chapter was more than 40 years old.
Finally, let’s read (Acts 4:23-36).
(Verse 23) “And being let go, they went to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said unto them.”
After being threatened and released by the Sanhedrin, Peter and John returned “to their own company.” Based upon the upcoming verses (32-37), their “own company” is likely referring to the believers spoken of in (Acts 2:40-47). (It could also be the other disciples, or the “about 120” that we read about in Chapter 1.)
(Verse 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:”
It is interesting to note that the word “Lord” used in this verse is a Greek word that is rarely used in the New Testament. That Greek word is “despotes,” and it means “an absolute ruler.” It is translated as “Lord” in (Lk 2:29)(Acts 4:24)(2 Pet 2:1)(Jude 1:4)(Rev 6:10), and as “Master” in (1 Tim 6:1-2)(2 Tim 2:21)(Titus 2:9)(1 Pet 2:18). It is where we get the English word “despot” from.
Notice the first thing the fellow believers did when they heard the news from Peter and John: they prayed and worshipped.
Let’s look at different the different aspects of this prayer:
#1. (Verse 25) They acknowledged and praised God, that He is the “absolute ruler” (“despotes“) and the creator of all things.
#2. (Verses 25-26) My “Believer’s Bible Commentary” says this: “Then they adopted the words of David in Psalm 2 (verses 1-2), which he spoke by the Holy Spirit in connection with the opposition of governmental powers against His Christ. Actually, the Psalm points forward to the time when Christ will come to set up His kingdom and when kings and rulers will seek to thwart that purpose. But the early Christians realized that the situation in their day was similar, so they applied the words to their own circumstances.”
***Note: Looking at (Ps 2:1-2), we see that the author of that Psalm is not named. However, “David” is likely the author since that is mentioned here.
#3. (Verses 27-28) They recognized that the “Gentiles” (represented by “Pilate”) and the “people of Israel” (represented by “Herod”) were responsible for what happened to God’s (the Father) “holy Servant Jesus.”
***Note: If you remember back to Acts Ch. 3, we mentioned that Jesus is referred to by the title “Servant Jesus” in only 4 places (Acts 3:13,26) and here (as well as verse 30). This was an Old Testament prophecy / description for the Messiah (Isa 42:1-4)(Isa 49:5-7)(Isa 52:13)(Isa 53:11)(Mt 12:18). Peter used this word to show that the “Servant” described in Isaiah is speaking of Jesus. Jesus performed the greatest act of “servanthood” that any person can do, that is to give up their life for another (Mk 10:44-45)(Phil 2:5-8)(Jn 15:13)(Mt 20:28).
#4. (Verse 28) tells us that the actions of those who harmed Jesus (verse 27) were done according to what God’s “hand and purpose predestined to occur.” While it can be difficult to understand, we must realize that even though those who harmed Jesus were carrying out God’s “predestined” plan, they still made a “free will” choice to do what they did, and therefore they were responsible and accountable for their sinful actions.
#5. (Verse 29) I LOVE this verse! May we ALL pray this verse: “And now, Lord, behold their threatenings: and grant unto thy servants, that with all boldness they may speak thy word”
I know I could use more “boldness” in my witnessing, and I am sure you could too. And, look at what happened when they finished praying!
(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” (caps emphasis mine)
*** Goal For My Life: To be praying fervently in a building with fellow Christians, and suddenly the power of the Holy Spirit literally “shakes” that building, and everyone in it is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and begins to “speak the word of God with boldness!”
Two other sections of Scripture I like regarding “boldness:”
(Eph 6:19-20) (Paul’s Prayer) “And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known thy mystery of the gospel, (20) For which I am ambassador in bonds: that therein I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak.”
(Jer 1:6-10) (Spoken by Jeremiah) “Then said I, Ah Lord God, behold, I cannot speak: for I am a child. (7) But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child; for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. (8) Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. (9) Then the Lord put forth his hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. (10) See, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant.”
#6. (Verse 30)(NASB) ” while You extend Your hand to heal, and signs and wonders take place through the name of Your holy servant Jesus.”
The believers prayed that God would continue to perform “signs and wonders… through the name of Jesus.” The New Testament tells us in several places that “signs and wonders” were used by God to confirm that He was with those who were speaking the Word (2 Cor 12:12)(Mk 16:19-20)(Heb 2:3-4)(Rom 15:18-19)(1 Th 1:5).
Finally. in (Acts 4:32-47), we have a parallel to the verses in (Acts 2:40-47), which some use as an outline for what the “church,” consisting of all believers should be. As in those verses (particularly Acts 2:44-45), we see that the believers “had all things in common,” being willing to sell their possessions to provide for those in need in the church.
(Verse 32) “And the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul”
Ellicott’s Commentary says, “Of the two words used to describe the unity of the Church, “heart” represented, as in Hebrew usage, rather the intellectual side of character (Mark 2:6; Mark 2:8; Mark 11:23; Luke 2:35; Luke 3:15; Luke 6:45, et al.), and “soul,” the emotional (Luke 2:35; Luke 12:22; John 12:27, et al.).”
(Verse 33) “And with great power gave the apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus: and great grace was upon them all.”
MacArthur says this of the words “great grace” – “This means “favor” and carries a twofold meaning here: 1) favor from the people outside the church. Because of the believers’ love and unity, the common people were impressed (cf. 2:47), and 2) favor from God who was granting blessing.”
I love this quote from my “Believer’s Bible Commentary,” which is found after verse 33: “It seems that when God finds people who are willing to turn their possessions over to Him, He gives their testimony a remarkable attractiveness and force. Many argue that this sharing of goods was a temporary phase of life in the early church and was not intended to be an example to us. Such reasoning only exposes our own spiritual poverty. If we had the power of Pentecost in our hearts, we would have the fruits of Pentecost in our lives.”
(Verses 36-37) “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.
This is the first mention of Barnabas in the book of Acts. We will see and learn much more about him later in Acts. He is mentioned by name 23 more times in Acts between (Acts 9:27 – Acts 15:39), and 5 more times in 3 other books, mostly in conjunction with Paul.
We see here that his actual name was not “Barnabas,” but rather Joseph (“Joses”). However, he was given the name Barnabas by the apostles, because it means “son of encouragement” (“consolation”). As we read about him in Acts, we find that this perfectly describes Barnabas, because he was constantly encouraging people.
We also see here that Barnabas was from Cyprus, and a “Levite” (descended from the priestly tribe of Levi). It is interesting to note that Barnabas “had land, and sold it,” since God had said that the Levites were not to own any land in the Promised Land (Num 18:20,24)(Deut 10:8-9). (They were to be given a portion of land within the land of each of the other 11 tribes in which to live – See: Josh Ch. 21.) So, how did he have land that he could sell?
There are several theories. One of the three supplied in my “Zondervan NIV Study Bible” are most likely.
#1. Although Levites owned no inherited land in the Holy Land, these regulations may not have applied to the Levites in other countries, such as Cyprus. So perhaps Barnabas sold land he owned in Cyprus and brought the proceeds to the apostles (v. 37).
#2. Or he may have been married, and the land sold may have been from his wife’s property.
#3. It is also possible that the prohibition against Levite ownership of land in the Holy Land was no longer observed.