Acts 4

1. Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them,

This chapter takes up right where the previous chapter left off. Peter and John, going into the temple at the hour of prayer, had healed a man lame from his mother’s womb who begged daily at the Beautiful gate of the temple. A beggar is the kind of man who would have impressed himself upon all those who dwelt in Jerusalem, and who frequented the temple at the hours of prayer. All the inhabitants of Jerusalem, even those who did not normally use the Beautiful gate, would have at one time or another seen this man begging, and would have been aware of who he was and what his infirmity was. Yet now this man was healed, and was walking like he had been doing it all his life. As the leaders themselves admitted in verse 16 of this chapter, this was “a notable miracle,” and it was “evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.”

Yet these leaders are less than happy about what Peter and John have been doing in the temple. Now, a group of men made up of the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees comes upon them. Perhaps one of their agents had informed them of what was taking place, or perhaps some of them had been in attendance, and had gone to get others.

2. being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.

The word for “greatly disturbed” here is diaponeomai, and means that they were exasperated. As I said earlier, they thought they had taken care of Jesus Christ and His teaching, but now they find that this is not the case.

There were three things that must have bothered them about this. First of all was the fact that they taught the people. The priests were the ones who had the right to teach in Israel. Generally, they had not performed this duty, satisfying themselves instead to merely perform the rituals. Yet they had delegated the teaching task to the scribes, and they did not approve of anyone else stepping into what they believed was their arena to teach the people. Secondly, Peter and John were preaching these things in the name of Jesus Christ. These leaders had rejected Jesus Christ, had handed Him over to Pilate, and had demanded that He be crucified. They thought that this would bring an end to His following and His teaching. The last thing they wanted was someone else preaching in His name. And finally, they were preaching the resurrection from the dead. The Sadducees were a group that did not believe in resurrection, as is clearly stated in Acts 23:8. In fact, it seems that they believed in no afterlife at all, and so their religious activities were done mainly to bring them what they thought would be God’s benefits in this life only. Thus, the preaching of this truth of the resurrection out from among the dead would have angered them all the more.

It appears that the Sadducees had a considerable amount of power at this time. They were generally less influential than the Pharisees, yet they often held positions of power and authority. In this case, they lead the way in opposing the preaching of Peter and John.

Peter and John were not just teaching resurrection, but resurrection out from among the dead. The resurrection from among the dead is different from the general resurrection of the dead. They were not just teaching the resurrection of all men, but rather a special resurrection out from among the dead that would take place for those who were in the Lord Jesus.

3. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening.

In Greek, the word for “laid hands” is epebalon, and means literally that they threw their hands upon them. This probably means that they took them with a show of force, or at least with some level of force due to their frustration with their teaching.

Otis Sellers points out that these men are unfortunately much like far too many religious leaders today. When a person agrees with them, he is a great and noble and admirable individual. However, if he disagrees with them, he is a dupe and a tool of Satan. These men are ready to brand the apostles as criminals, merely because they taught things contrary to what they thought and believed. Let us strive for a more Christ-like attitude than this, and when faced with opposing viewpoints instead turn to search the Scriptures to determine whether or not the things we hear are true.

It was evening, and perhaps too late to get together a trial, so Peter and John are left in custody until the next day. Perhaps the Sadducees also did this purposefully, for it would certainly be a humiliating thing to be kept in prison overnight. However, these corrupt leaders will find that the men they are dealing with do not hesitate to suffer shame for the sake of their Lord.

Just the fact that these men were kept overnight like this was a most definite travesty of justice. This lame man had done nothing but be healed of his lameness, and yet he is thus imprisoned for this “crime.” Peter and John had done nothing but heal him and tell how they had received the power to do so, and they are imprisoned.

One must wonder what the lame man thought of all this. Yet one thing we know. Though the circumstances were not ideal, he was together with Peter and John that night, and thus he had an opportunity for one-on-one conversation and learning with them that most of us would love to be able to experience.

4. However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.

We should not think, just because Peter’s message ended in his arrest by the religious leaders, that those who heard were unwilling to listen to God’s message. Instead, the results of this brief exposition are actually quite phenomenal, as the number of men who believe increases at this point to about five thousand. In Acts 2:41, the number had been about three thousand. Now, the number has increased to about five thousand, and that is by no means an insignificant increase. Many of those who heard Peter believed. It is true that some rejected, but let us not allow this fact to blind us to the reality that there were truly many hundreds who believed.

The large numbers who responded here, however, were not exactly like the common sinner today who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. In John 10:27, the Lord Jesus had declared, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” His sheep were those who already belonged to Him. All those who heard already had a relationship with the Lord. This was due to the fact that they were a part of God’s chosen people and His chosen nation, Israel. Yet there were among them those who were sheep, and those who were not. When the sheep heard the truth of God about Jesus Christ, they responded like sheep would, and followed the leading of their shepherd. Those who rejected this teaching, however, proved they were the opposite. As the Lord had declared in John 10:26, “But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you.” So the men who rejected this teaching proved that they were not sheep, just as the Lord had said.

When a sinner believes in the Savior today, things are different. He was not already a sheep, and he does not respond as a sheep hearing the voice of his shepherd. This was something that could only happen among a people who already had a relationship with God under a previous work of His, who were now coming on board His new work. Since God has been doing the same work for over 1,900 years now, it is not possible for this sort of thing to happen today.

The Greek for “word” here is logos, which is used to designate Jesus Christ as the Living Word of God. As we discussed in our study of John, this means the expression of God, and in the case of Jesus Christ refers to Him as the One Who expresses God in human form. In this case, it is a reference to God’s words as expressing His mind and His truth. This was the spoken word, whereas as Christ is the Incarnate Word.

5. And it came to pass, on the next day, that their rulers, elders, and scribes,

So Peter, John, and the formerly lame man remain in prison overnight, and now we come to the next day. Now, the various members of the Sanhedrin, the corrupt group that had condemned the Lord Jesus to death, begin to gather to try the apostles. Three groups are mentioned here in particular: the rulers; the elders, who were probably the chief of the rulers; and the scribes. The scribes probably had the job of recording the proceedings, as well as participating in the trial.

6. as well as Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the family of the high priest, were gathered together at Jerusalem.

Now we come to a list of names that gathered for the trial at Jerusalem. Perhaps some of them lived in the surrounding towns and the countryside, and were now gathered together for this important proceeding. We recognize the names of Annas the high priest and Caiaphas from the trial of our Lord Jesus in John 18, though John and Alexander are new to us. Certainly there could be no greater honor than to have your name recorded in Scripture in a positive light. Likewise, there could hardly be a greater disgrace than to have your name in a list of men like this, who were rejecters and haters of the Lord Jesus.

Finally, the family of the high priest is listed as attending. Nepotism was not something that these rulers were concerned with, but had as many of their family members in high positions as they could.

7. And when they had set them in the midst, they asked, “By what power or by what name have you done this?”

Peter, John, and the formerly lame beggar now stand in the same place the Lord Jesus had stood when He had been tried and condemned by these men. In this case, however, these men are not on trial for any crime, but rather are facing what we might call a judicial investigation of what had taken place.

Now, the court asks them to declare by what power or by what name they had done this. The word for “power” here is dunamei, related to dunamis, from which we get our English word “dynamite.” Dunamis is power in action, but particularly refers to inherent power. Or, they asked, by what name had they done this? By this, they were asking, if this was not their inherent power, then who gave them the power and the authority to do what they did? The Sanhedrin could clearly see that these men had access to some sort of power, but they do not know what the source of that power might be. Thus, they are asking if they have some sort of inherent power that allowed them to do this, or if they have acted on behalf of another who granted them the power to do this.

Notice that the Sanhedrin refers to what they did as “this.” They do not specify what exactly “this” is. If they did, they would have to admit that what these men had done was to do a good deed by healing a lame man. This in turn would point out the obvious fact that they had just kept two men in jail overnight whose only crime was healing a lame beggar, and a man whose only crime was being a lame beggar who was healed. By not referring to what “this” was, they hide their own inexcusable actions. Peter, however, as God’s spokesman will not fail to point this truth out to them.

The truth of this situation is that in God’s sight, it is not Peter, John, and the lame man who are on trial, but rather the very Sanhedrin themselves. The Lord Jesus Christ had bought pardon for them by pleading with His Father that they did not know what they did. Now, however, they are to be tried again, and this time the truth will be made very clear to them. Their response to what they are about to hear will be held against them. Thus, the rulers, elders, and scribes are the ones who truly are on the spot in God’s sight.

8. Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel:

Peter once again becomes the spokesman, and yet we read that these were not his words, but that he spoke as he was filled with the Holy Spirit. This was God’s response to these rebellious men, and His words by which they were now to be tried. Peter’s filling here was in direct fulfillment of the promise of the Lord Jesus made in Matthew 10:19-20.

19. But when they deliver you up, do not worry about how or what you should speak. For it will be given to you in that hour what you should speak; 20. for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father Who speaks in you.

Therefore, Peter had not spent a long time considering this moment and what he was to say. Instead, he was given the exact answer to give to the Sanhedrin by God’s holy power.

The words “Holy Spirit” in Greek here are without the articles, thus: “spirit holy,” and so the power, not the Person, of the Spirit is emphasized. Yet the point here is that God was giving Peter the words to say, and he was saying them. Certainly, the Person of God was still intimately attached to what was going on here, even if the power of God is what is emphasized by the use of this phrase.

Peter addresses them as the rulers of the people and the elders of Israel. This was true, for that is what they were. They should have been much more than that, for they were leaders over God’s people, and thus could have received many privileges from Him. However, they had not been faithful to God with what they had been given. May we always strive to honor the gifts the Lord has given us!

9. If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well,

The court had been reluctant to say what it was they were questioning these men about, since it was not a crime for which they should have been imprisoned. Peter, however, lays it all out, and points out exactly what it was they were being judged about. They had done a good deed to a helpless man, and had made him well. This was the “crime” for which he and John were charged.

The Greek word for “has been made well” here is a form of the word sozo, which means “saved.” In the Greek, healing is often called “saving.” This is not something we do with our word “save” in English, but the connection is understandable, since healing someone is the same as saving him from a disability or disease.

10. let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole.

Peter now speaks very boldly to these men. He has nothing to hide, like they do. He wants them all to know, and all the people of Israel to know as well, that it is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, the very One Whom they had rejected and crucified, by which this lame man now stood before them whole. And Peter tells them how this can be: for God has raised Jesus Christ from the dead. This is certainly a sharp contrast with what they had done to Him!

We may miss the significance of Peter calling Him “Jesus Christ” in our English translation here, but if we remember that “Christ” and “Messiah” are the same word according to John 1:41, then we realize that Peter is boldly declaring to the Sanhedrin here that their hated enemy, Jesus of Nazareth, was in reality their long-awaited Messiah.

11. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’

Peter here refers to Psalm 118:22, showing them that what they had done was all in accordance with the prophecies made in Scripture. These men, in spite of the fact that we can charge them with rejecting the Lord Jesus, were in reality the builders of Israel. They were attempting to restore the nation to its former glory, and longed for the day when their country and their people might be out from under the control of Rome at last.

Now these men had, for a time, considered the Lord Jesus as being a possible part of their building. We can clearly see that in the statement of their member Nicodemus in John 3:2, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Yet they had decided that this stone had no proper place in the building that they were planning, and so they had cast it aside, treating the Lord with contempt. God, however, had a far different view of both the building He wanted built and the place of the Lord Jesus Christ within that building. Jesus Christ was now the chief cornerstone, the very central stone that is the standard by which all other stones are placed and measured.

12. Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Peter again uses the Greek word sozo, and so we see the connection that does not come through in the New King James Version. The man had been saved in the name of Jesus Christ, and, indeed, there is no other name by which we can be saved. We often give the word “saved” in a theological context a very limited meaning. We think of it only in terms of salvation from sin and death. Yet in other contexts we allow it a much freer meaning. I do not save my money from sin and death when I save it in the bank. Salvation has to do with deliverance, yes, but it also has to do with preservation and blessing. I believe that is what Peter has in mind here. The preservation and blessing of their nation, which Peter and John desired as much as the Sanhedrin did, could be found in no other one than in Jesus Christ.

I do not believe that it is personal salvation that is in mind here. The context of the builders proves that it is national salvation that is being spoken of. However, we cannot deny that, though this might be the true interpretation of the passage, that it certainly is appropriate in application to individual salvation as well. For the individual believer today, just as much as for the nation of Israel, there is no salvation in any other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, there is no other name under heaven (which probably here means under God) given among men by which we must be saved. For Israel, this was true for them as a nation. Only Jesus Christ can restore and bless the nation that is truly Israel in God’s sight. Yet for us individually, we know that this Name is the only one whereby we can ever be saved. Our deliverance, preservation, and blessing are found only in Him.

13. Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus.

No doubt standing before the Sanhedrin, the religious leadership of all Israel, was something that was quite intimidating for most all common Israelites. These men were probably used to seeing those they questioned trembling before them. Yet Peter and John show no signs of terror or fright. Instead, they are outspoken and bold, not only proclaiming the truth, but also pointing out the glaring injustice of what the Sanhedrin had done in regards to Jesus Christ. Now such boldness before them might have at least been understandable, if not common, in men who themselves were educated, important men. Yet they perceive that Peter and John are not of the intellectual and highly educated class, but are merely ordinary men, with no reason that they can see to have such unusual confidence when facing the powerful leaders of their nation. Thus, they marvel, and it seems their astonishment temporarily outweighs their anger, for they certainly could not have been pleased by the answer Peter had given. The Sadducees among them, at any rate, would have been furious at the teaching of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, just as they were the previous day when they arrested them.

Now the leaders realize that these men had been with Jesus. The word for “realize” here is epeginoskon, and indicates that they took further knowledge of them to discover this truth. Remember that the Lord had stood alone when He had been on trial before these men. However, enough of them had followed His activities and listened to Him during His ministry that it seems that some among them recognize Peter and John as being two who were with Him at that time.

14. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.

The lame man was standing with them, as we see here, and so had probably been arrested with them, as I suggested earlier. According to the record we have he said nothing, and yet no words were necessary, for just his presence standing on his feet was enough to give eloquent testimony that all that Peter was saying was true. Thus, with such incontrovertible evidence before them, they can just say nothing at all against what Peter had testified.

15. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves,

These men never expected that they themselves would be the ones on trial here, and yet that is the position in which they find themselves. Though they cannot counter the testimony of Peter, sadly they are not ready to admit their own guilt and to submit themselves before God. Thus, they just have no answer to give to Peter and John, and so they put them aside out of the Sanhedrin so that they can confer privately to decide how they are going to respond.

The Greek word for “council” here is sunedriou, from which we get “Sanhedrin,” the name of this highest national and religious court in Israel. Again, this was the same court that had so unjustly tried the Lord Jesus. Alas, at this point they are no more ready to do what is right than they were then.

16. saying, “What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it.

The Sanhedrin never considers admitting that they are wrong. However, they face the quandary of what to do now about these men. They know very well that a notable miracle has been done through them and that all who dwell in Jerusalem know about it. They simply cannot deny it, therefore, or they will look ridiculous. However, they want to save face somehow, since they have arrested these men and kept them in prison overnight. Thus, they must appear to do something to at least give the impression that the men they arrested, and not they themselves, are the ones in the wrong.

17. But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.”

Since they cannot deny the miracle, they decide to attempt to stop its spread. They determine to severely threaten Peter and John to speak to no man from now on in the name of Jesus Christ. Since Peter and John had already displayed no fear of them whatsoever, this seems an unlikely conclusion. However, it is the only one they can think to make, and they were probably very used to their threats working wonders. These men had all the power in Israel, and no one wanted to cross them.

Notice that they fail to actually say the name of Jesus Christ. This aversion is still common among those who are called Jews today who have rejected their Messiah. When these do speak His name, they still tend to refer to Him as “Jesus of Nazareth.”