Acts 4 Continued

18. So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.

They now call Peter and John back into court, along with the formerly lame man. They follow their determined course, and present to them a sweeping charge neither to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. The Holy Spirit here recording these events through Luke speaks the name that the Sadducees were unwilling to speak.

So the apostles are charged to cease all witness about their risen Lord. This was the Sadducees’ command to them, though they had nothing legitimate to charge them with.

19. But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge.

Peter and John give the perfect answer here to the Sanhedrin’s prohibition. They ask whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to them or to listen to God. This court had now given them the opposite orders from what God had given them. Yet it was truly the Sanhedrin, not the apostles, who were on trial before God, and so this question is asked them for their judgment.

From this verse we learn a great principle that we can carry into our lives, and that is that when human governments give us orders that go contrary to the orders of God, that we are to obey God rather than the government. Thankfully, we live in a country where such a conflict in commands is, at least for now, unlikely to happen. Yet this is a principle that we will do well to keep in mind, for we do not know what might come after this.

20. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

Now the apostles declare what is their settled conviction. They have decided to obey God, and to reject the opposing command of the Sanhedrin. These men were outspoken and bold about what they were going to do. They were ready to face any consequences that might come to them from doing this. Now, the Sanhedrin will be judged based on how they respond to this.

21. So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done.

It is clear that the Sadducees would have much preferred if the apostles obeyed them rather than God. They threaten them further, but at last, they are forced to let them go. It is not that they did not want to punish them, for the passage clearly implies that they did. The fact that they preached resurrection, irrespective of the fact that they preached it in the hated name of Jesus Christ, was enough for them to seek their harm. Yet in this case they do not believe that they can get away with it, for this miracle was too well known among the people, and they were all glorifying God for it. Certainly they were much wiser in this than their educated leaders, whose doctrinal errors and jealousy shielded them from appreciating the wonder of what God had done among them.

22. For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.

It seems that the age of the formerly lame man was part of why the people were so impressed with this miracle. He was no young man, but was over forty years old when they performed this great act of healing upon him. He had never walked this whole time, and yet now God had reversed this, and he was walking as well as anyone who had been walking for over forty years already. Anyone who has watched a baby learning how to walk will appreciate the magnitude of this. He not only walked, but leaped, and came down on his feet without stumbling. No wonder they were so impressed! This was a magnificent miracle indeed.

Thus, the Sanhedrin is stymied in their purpose. They fear the people too much to act in an oppressive way at this point. They come out of this trial humiliated, whereas the apostles are exalted in the sight of the people. Indeed, God’s government is working on the apostles’ side, and He is showing His support of them and is humiliating their enemies. How great it will be when, in the future, that government comes in in all its fullness, and likewise works to defeat all its enemies!

23. And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them.

Peter and John go back to their own companions, which probably means the other ten apostles. They report all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. They did not come in bragging about what they said, or about how they had defeated them in open court. They acted like this was only to be expected, as indeed it was when they were speaking by inspiration of God. What they focused on, rather, was the charge and command that the Sanhedrin had given them. They had ordered all testimony regarding Jesus Christ to cease. Now, if they continue to faithfully carry out their witness, they will be in violation of the orders to the highest court in the land of Israel. This was a grave matter indeed, and one that these important, Christ-appointed leaders needed to consider.

24. So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them,

When the apostles have all heard the orders of the Sanhedrin, they turn to God in prayer. From now on, as I said, for them to carry out their witness, they will have to disobey and go contrary to the orders of the rulers of their land. Thus, they seek council from God on the matter. First, they call Him “Lord.” This is not the usual Greek word Kurios, which means “Master,” but is usually used in place of the Hebrew word “Yahweh.” Instead, this is the Greek Despota, from which we get our word “despot.” This word has been corrupted in English to mean one who exercises power oppressively, but it originally meant just an owner or one who exercised absolute power. Of course, humans who exercise such rule usually do end up as despots. However, this is not the way it is with God. So they call Him their Owner and Ruler, and then they recognize the Lord as God, and thus acknowledge His status as the Creator. These men were not evolutionists. They did not believe that all these things around them had made themselves. Instead, they recognized the creative power and glory of God.

25. who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:
‘Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?

These were David’s words in Psalm 2:1-2. Here, we learn the human authorship of this psalm, for the book of Psalms itself attaches no author to this psalm. This psalm was originally written speaking of the nations that will rage against the Lord and against David when the time we call the tribulation comes to pass. Yet the apostles take these words and apply them to their own situation, where they certainly fit. Their own rulers and the leaders of their nation were behaving in a most similar way to those rebellious rulers of nations in that future time. They were raging against God, and were plotting empty things against Him.

26. The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the LORD and against His Christ.’

They continue the quotation from Psalm 2. In that future day, the kings and rulers will gather together and take their stand against Yahweh, the Lord Jesus, and against David, His anointed Prince. At this time, these rulers had taken their stand both against the Lord Jesus and against His chosen rulers, the apostles.

Remember that “Christ” in Greek is the same as the Hebrew “Messiah,” both of which mean the “Anointed One.” Others are called “anointed” in Scripture, such as David, Saul, and Cyrus. However, Jesus Christ is THE Anointed One, and He is the One here that these rulers were taking their stand against. When David originally spoke this, however, he was speaking of himself, and those who took their stand against him as God’s anointed.

27. “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together

The apostles speak now, not of their own trial before the Sanhedrin, but of the gathering of their own rulers, the people of Israel, with the Gentiles, and with both Herod and Pontius Pilate, to take their stand against the Lord Jesus. Rome, Israel, and Syria, and others doubtless as well, were gathered together against the Lord, just like that future gathering of nations.

The apostles call the Lord “Your holy Servant Jesus.” This is the same word that was used to call David God’s servant back in verse 25. Yet the word here in Greek, paida, is not exactly the word for “Servant.” This word is sometime translated as “servant,” sometimes as “child,” and sometimes as related words, even “girl.” The word does not mean a “child,” like the old King James translated it here, but it does not really mean “servant” either. The word has to do with one who renders service. It can be applied to children, who (if they obey God, at least,) render service to their parents, but it is often applied to others who render service. It is applied to Herod’s servants, to those who served in the temple, to Israel as the nation that renders God service, and so forth. “Servant” is perhaps the closest we can come in English, though we do not really refer to children as “servants” of their parents. Really, there is no exact English equivalent to this word. Suffice it to say that the Lord Jesus was God’s holy One Who rendered service to Him in all that He did.

The word for “Gentiles” is, as usual, a form of the Greek word for “nations,” ethnos. Here, it is used in contrast with the people of Israel, so it clearly means nations other than Israel in this context.

28. to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.

Here we see the twofold purpose that was being worked out in the death of the Lord Jesus. The first purpose was that of Herod, Pilate, the Gentiles, and the nation of Israel, who in their hatred and rebellion worked together to carry out a grave injustice against the Lord Jesus. The other purpose was that of God, Who had determined beforehand what must be done, and had worked through all the corrupt motives of these men to accomplish all His council concerning Jesus Christ.

29. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word,

Now they make their request to the Lord. The word for “now” is a stronger form than usual, perhaps along the lines of the English “right now.” So at this time they ask Him to consider the threats of these men against them. The Lord, upon taking such consideration, would of course see the truth of what these wicked rulers were doing. Then, they call themselves the Lord’s slaves. This is not the word for servants, but is doulois in Greek, which means a slave. This was not a word that many would even speak in polite company. To be a slave was a very lowly position indeed, and yet these men proudly proclaimed themselves to be the slaves of the Lord Jesus. They considered their position to be an honorable one based on the Lord Whom they served. They request of their Lord, then, that they would be granted to speak with all boldness the word of the Lord.

Speaking with boldness is something that few who speak the Word today are actually able to do. The preacher who must ever be afraid of the ones who give the most in his congregation, and who must be afraid of those who have the most influence, and those who sit on the board, and so forth…how can such a preacher ever speak the Word of God boldly? Few there are who are willing to speak boldly when their livelihood and their family’s livelihood is at stake. It is much easier to speak vaguely and generally, than to risk the wrath of men who are responsible for your next paycheck. Yet we are sorely in need of faithful believers who will speak the Word of God boldly to those around them. Perhaps we need to avoid the kind of moral hazards that leave us conflicted as to whether or not we should speak the truth.

30. by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”

These are the things that would give these men the boldness to speak. These were the “signs following” that the Lord had promised them in Mark 16:17-18, as being His part of the mission they were to accomplish. The things they ask for are the healing hand of God, and that signs and wonders would be granted to them to be done through the name of the Lord’s holy Servant Jesus. The word “Servant” here is again the Greek word paidos, and again means one who renders service to another, and is sometimes used of children. It is through the name of the Lord Jesus, the One Who served God in perfect faithfulness, that they ask for the power to themselves be faithful, and to be able to work the wonders they were promised.

31. And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.

These men, as the apostles of Jesus Christ, and the ones to whom He had promised these gifts of power, have every right to request the things they just asked of Him, and so their request is immediately granted. When their prayer was completed, the Lord answered them powerfully by shaking the very placed where they were assembled together. There is no doubt but that this was a miracle, and yet note that this does not say that there was an earthquake. There is no reason to think that God sent an earthquake that shook the entire town. This says that the place where they were assembled together was shaken, and there is no reason to extend the shaking beyond this place. This was a miraculous shaking, not a miraculous earthquake.

Can there be any question of the privileged position of these men, when God answered them so immediately and so powerfully? How can anyone, “missionary” or no, claim to in any way be similar to men who had such power from God? God’s power was not just working to shake houses at this time, either. His kingdom was then in the earth, and it was going to shake the very foundations of the world.

After this shaking, we read that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Yet here in Greek this is “spirit holy,” and means that they were filled with the power of the Spirit, not His Person. They had asked for boldness, and now, through the power of the Spirit, they are given boldness. This filling with the Spirit had everything to do with giving them the boldness they asked for. There is no reason to think that it had to do with anything else. Certainly, though, we can be sure that the healing and the signs they asked for did accompany them, as they had requested. Yet ultimately it was the power of the Spirit that made them bold. In the same way, we need to look to Him for our boldness to speak in this dark day, when men love darkness rather than light.

32. Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.

Though the number of the disciples has grown considerably, we learn here that their state continued much the same as we saw it back in Acts 2:44-45, where we read, “Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” So here things continue after this same manner.

This multitude of believers is not only together, but their innermost hearts are as one, and the deepest desires of their souls are as one. Thus we see further proof of the fulfillment of the prayer of the Lord Jesus which He made to His Father in John 17:20-23.

20. “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; 21. that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. 22. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: 23. I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

Now, this prayer of our Lord is answered, and these believers are all as one. Moreover, as we discussed in our study of Acts 2, they are continuing to share all their possessions in one common purse, as the disciples had always done while the Lord was with them on earth. None of them took advantage of this situation. No one was selfish, and sought to take advantage of others’ generosity to gain more for himself. This was because God had done a work in the heart of every one of these people, and they were truly one, as the Lord had requested they would be. How different this was from anything that we see going on today!

From this passage, along with that in Acts 2:41-47, we could call this period of the book of Acts the “Great Unity.” God’s work was focused on these men, it was forming them all into a unified group, and it was preparing them for the persecution and service to Christ that was yet to come. This first period was a foreshadowing in many ways of the way the world will be when God’s kingdom comes in full upon the earth in time to come. In that time, as it was in early Acts, all men will be joined together as one, and all will give their lives wholly over to the service and praise of our Lord Jesus Christ.

33. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.

The apostles, which we take here to be the twelve, are responsible for the public witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. They did this not only with great boldness, as they had asked, but also with great power from God. This was that “spirit holy” that they had received from God, and by which they did all their mighty works, and spoke all their inspired words. This was a great witness and a testimony, and it was in no way curtailed by the Godless interference of the Sanhedrin.

Then we read that great grace was upon them all. None of these people were part of this highly favored company because of some great merit or saving value in themselves. They all were made a part of this because of the great grace of God upon them. This grace it was that had made them such a unified, generous group of people. God’s grace was working powerfully towards them indeed!

34. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold,

If they had all just shared the possessions they had on hand, they might still have lacked, for many in Israel had very few possessions to share. Yet those who were wealthier among them and who owned land or houses sold these and brought the proceeds from their sale to be shared among the brethren. These were probably lands or houses that were not their own, family inheritance from God, but rather was extra land or houses that they had bought as investments. This would be as if someone today sold all their investments and gave away the money. This would not be like selling your own house to live on the street.

According to God’s law, every Israelite had land that was his by inheritance. Many Israelites, however, could not afford to tend to their land, or needed the quick money that a sale of that land could provide. This land could be sold, but it was not a permanent exchange, but just lasted until the year of jubilee, when the land would return to the original owner. The land that was sold, then, was sold according to the value of the amount of time left until the next year of jubilee. If the jubilee was far away, the sale would be for much more than if it was only a year away. Thus, a wealthy person could acquire a great deal of land, though it would not be his permanently, as we would consider it. Probably many of these who sold lands had purchased them this way, and now they sold these extra lands for the funds to provide for their brothers.

Now not all land in Israel was an ancestral plot. Some of the land was not given to any family, and this land could be bought and sold on terms more similar to what we are used to, with a free and clear title not shared in by anyone else. This land, then, too could have been owned by these more wealthy men, and could be what they were selling to give the money to the apostles.

35. and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.

The large sums of money acquired from these sales were all put into the apostles’ control. Thus, these men could have full assurance that this money would be dealt with honestly, as these twelve apostles had the Paraclete, the Holy Spirit, as the Lord had promised them in John 14:26, and He would guide them in the use of all the power they were being given. Thus, they did deal honestly with this money, and distributed it to each believer as anyone had need. This was far different from the thief Judas, who had stolen from the money bag before Christ’s death. Now, no such behavior was allowed. Now, they were in the kingdom of God.

36. And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus,

Now a specific case of a rich man selling his land and bringing the money to the apostles is given. This also introduces us to this man who is going to be a very important figure going forward in Acts: the man called Barnabas. We learn here that this man’s given name was Joses (or Ioses in Greek), though in some texts the name is “Joseph” rather than “Joses.” This was his given name, but he was named Barnabas by the apostles. This, then, was a God-given name for him, and he was one of those Bible characters who was privileged with receiving a new name from God. This name means “Son of Encouragement” or “Son of Comfort.” The Greek word is parakleseos, and is the same word that is used of the Holy Spirit by our Lord in John 14:16 and 16:7. A paraklete is one who comes alongside someone else to help, much as a defense lawyer does his client. So Barnabas was one who would come alongside people to aid them, bringing help, comfort, and encouragement. We see him doing exactly this with Paul in Acts 9:27.

This man, we learn, was a Levite, a member of the priestly tribe in Israel. Yet he was not a native-born Israelite, for he was from the country of Cyprus, which was actually an island off the coast of Syria in the Mediterranean Sea. Thus, though Barnabas was an Israelite by family descent from the line of Israel, by nationality and birth he was of another land than Israel. Yet at this time it appears he was living in Israel in Jerusalem, probably one of those who decided to move back to the land after becoming wealthy. Now, he finds himself part of this amazing work of God, and shows his enthusiasm for it by selling this land that he had invested his wealth in. Later, we will find that his background as a foreigner, however, fits him to accompany Paul on his mission to the nations.

37. having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Now Barnabas, as he is called from here on, shows his heart before the Lord. He has land, a field to be exact, for the word for “land” here is not the same word as in verse 34, but a more specific word meaning a field. Thus Barnabas shows his heart by doing the same thing with his field that the others were doing with their lands at this time. He sells it, and entrusts the money with the apostles. This is what he should have done, and yet we must commend him for it, for it shows that his heart was right in the sight of God, and he was indeed on board with this company with his whole heart.

Now we are given this elaborate introduction to Barnabas, as I said, because he will become a central figure later on in the book of Acts. For now, though, the case of his gift and his honest generosity is given to contrast with the story we are about to read in the next chapter, and the dishonest and ungodly character of two among the believers who tried to take advantage of the situation to gain glory for themselves. This story is given in the very next chapter. Really, this is a bad chapter break, as the story continues right on in chapter 5. We will examine this chapter, then, and the rest of this story in our next article.