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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Acts 4

 

 

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Verse 1-2

‘And as they spoke to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, being sore troubled because they taught the people, and proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.’

The preaching of Peter was raising eyebrows among the authorities in the Temple. It may well be that they had been willing to overlook his sermon at Pentecost because, like some of the crowd, they simply thought that he was drunk, and that it was not too serious and would not happen again. It had after all resulted from a rather unusual and inexplicable situation.

However, now that it had happened a second time they could not overlook it and felt that it was therefore necessary to examine the matter and if necessary give an official admonition. Such goings on could not be allowed in the Temple. The thing that caused most offence to the Temple authorities themselves was Peter’s teaching on the resurrection of the dead. While the Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the dead, the Sadducees, including the chief priests, most decidedly did not. And it was they who had overall responsibility for the Temple. So when Peter began teaching about the resurrection of the dead, and proclaiming that God would intervene in world affairs, they took offence.

It will be noted that those who gathered against them were all Sadducees. The priests and other Sadducees (most fairly rich and important) probably reported what they had heard to the captain of the Temple (a senior chief priest responsible for maintaining order and reverence in the temple, or one of his deputies), who then came with them in order to deal with these troublemakers. They clearly felt that their prerogatives were being trodden on. It was recognised that the resurrection from the dead might be taught in the synagogues (by the Pharisees), but not, if they could help it, in the Temple by any wandering preacher.

In fact the Sadducees would not have liked the whole tenor of the Apostolic teaching for the Sadducees also denied the principle of divine action in the world and wanted to maintain the status quo. Furthermore they still had vividly in their minds the way in which this Jesus in Whose Name these men were acting had attacked the sources of their profits in the trading that took place in the Temple.


Verses 1-22

The Hearing Before The Sanhedrin (4:1-22).


Verse 3

‘And they laid hands on them, and put them in ward until the morrow, for it was now nightfall.’

So Peter and John were arrested and locked up overnight so that they could be dealt with the next day. For Temple affairs like this were a matter for the Sanhedrin, and the Sanhedrin (the overall Jewish authoritative council) had by law to meet in daylight.


Verse 4

‘But many of those who heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.’

However, this event did not affect the impact of the message (indeed as the chief priests and their denial of a general resurrection were not popular it may have helped it) and many who heard Peter’s words believed, so that the number of disciples now came to ‘the number of the men -- about five thousand’. Five thousand is probably not intended to be taken literally. It had in mind an increase from the ‘three thousand’ on the day of Pentecost, and probably had in mind the ‘five thousand men’ fed by Jesus when He broke the loaves, the picture of the covenant community. Five is the number of covenant and ‘five thousand’ therefore signified the covenant community as a whole. But it certainly signified a large number. Taking into account women and children as well this may well have been more than one tenth of the population of Jerusalem.

Note the stress on the fact that they ‘believed’. They responded to the message of the crucified and risen Jesus and committed themselves to following Him along with His people. In the terms of Acts 3:19 they ‘repented’. They had been faced up with Jesus Christ and their hearts had responded, and from now on they would follow Him. Later we will learn that it was because they were ‘ordained to eternal life’ (Acts 13:48). As in so many incidents in Scripture God was carrying out his will, and human beings were of their own volition moving along in parallel with that will.


Verse 5-6

‘And it came about on the next day, that their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the close relatives of the high priest.’

The next day a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish authority and court, was called, made up of around seventy men taken from among the rulers (chief priests), the elders (important lay persons) and the Scribes (mainly but not entirely teachers of the Pharisees). They included a number of close relatives of the High Priests. Annas was High Priest according to Jewish Law, but he had been replaced as High Priest by Caiaphas under Roman Law. Many of the people thus still considered Annas to be the true High Priest. Along with them were John, possibly the Jonathan who succeeded Caiaphas, and Alexander, of whom we know nothing. Both were no doubt close relatives of the High Priests. In fact Annas was probably still deliberately and defiantly called ‘Annas the High Priest’ by the people, and Luke may simply here be citing this popular designation. Luke is not suggesting that Caiaphas was not the High Priest as well. (According to the Jews once a person was High Priest he was High Priest until death. Even a substitutionary High Priest who had to stand in if the High Priest was prevented for some reason from conducting the Day of Atonement ritual, was seen as High Priest from then on, even if he never officiated again. Anyone therefore who had conducted the Day of Atonement was necessarily High Priest).

We may gather from Luke’s description that he was not over-impressed with the fairness of the situation. The Sanhedrin was overloaded with the men in whose name the charges had been brought.

‘In Jerusalem.’ The point is that the Jerusalem that was to be the launching pad for the Gospel (Acts 1:8) was also the Jerusalem where these men met to impede its progress. There was opposition at the very heart of the place from which the word of God was to go out to the world (Isaiah 2:4).


Verse 7

‘And when they had set them in the midst, they enquired, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” ’

It had been one thing for the Sadducees not to like the Apostolic message. It was another when it was to come before the Sanhedrin. For this was a formal court and had to be conducted along legal lines. Furthermore the court had to decide the lines along which it would proceed, and the accused were entitled to put up a defence. All that the court appear to have been told was that there had been a mysterious healing in the Temple and that it had been done in ‘the Name of Jesus’ (the question of the resurrection would not be brought up. Half the court believed in the resurrection from the dead).

In accordance with Deuteronomy 13:1-5 this was good grounds for an Enquiry so as to ensure that those who brought about the healing were not undermining the faith of Israel.

Jesus had, of course, been sentenced by this court for blasphemy not long previously, before being sent off to Pilate (Luke 22:66-71), so they would not like to hear of the reappearance of His Name. The first thing therefore that they wanted to confirm was what methods these men had used in performing the healing, and in Whose name it had been done. Note that, unlike the way in which they had treated Jesus, they do not put words in the mouths of the accused. The court was seeking to be ‘fair’. If the name of Jesus is to be mentioned the men must be convicted out of their own mouths.

They recognised that a miracle had undoubtedly been done. The man, well known for what he had been, was standing before them. What was therefore necessary was to learn the source of the miracle. The suspicion would be that evil forces and incantations had been at work, and those were illegal. They therefore asked the two disciples of Jesus by what power they had healed the man and in what name it was done. The reply would enable them to hear from the accused’s own lips any connection that they had with evil spirits or any connection that they had with ‘Him’.

To be fair to the court is should be pointed out that the charge having been made that those putting themselves forward as prophets had been doing wonders and signs out them under an obligation to investigate it (Deuteronomy 13:1-5).

It will be noted that no charge was made of preaching the resurrection of the dead. That would simply have swung many of the members of the Sanhedrin, who did believe in the resurrection from the dead, onto the side of the Apostles. The charge was strictly limited to performing a healing and using the name of Jesus.


Verses 8-10

‘Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “You rulers of the people, and elders, if we this day are examined concerning a good deed done to an impotent man, by what means this man is made whole (‘saved’), be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in him does this man stand here before you whole.”

‘Filled (pimplemi) with the Holy Spirit.’ Jesus had promised His Apostles that when they had to face courts the Holy Spirit would teach them what they should say (Luke 12:12). Here then the promise was being fulfilled. But we are no doubt also intended to see that this is part of the Holy Spirit’s continuing witness to Jesus (John 15:26-27) in line with the forward movement of His people. The filling was for the purpose of inspiring Peter’s words and giving them due impact before the highest authority in the land, reaching to the very heart of Jerusalem.

We note here the usual content of the early preaching. Appeal to the Scripture, reference to Jesus’ life, a pointing to the resurrection, and a final if carefully worded appeal to his hearers.

Peter’s defence is bold and clear. ‘Filled (pimplemi) with the Holy Spirit’ he addresses the Sanhedrin with due courtesy. and then stresses that the deed that has been done is a ‘good’ deed. It has no connection with evil forces. And by it a man, lame from birth, has been healed. As to how it was done, it was done in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth whom ‘they’ had crucified, but Whom God had raised from the dead. It will be noted that he is not seeking to be placatory but to try and bring home to these men what he considered that they had done in ignorance (Acts 3:17). He knew that he would probably never have another opportunity to speak to these men, and was possibly hopeful that some at least of them would listen.

In chapter 1 the Apostles had been told that they had to be witnesses ‘in Jerusalem’. In chapters 2 and 3 they had done so at the spiritual heart of Jerusalem, in the Temple. Now they were being enabled to do it at the political heart of Jerusalem, in the Sanhedrin.

Peter takes his opportunity (what a different man this is from the one who had cowered before a serving girl in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house - Luke 22:57). His charge is that the ones who were guilty that day were not he and John, but those who sat in judgment on them. They had caused Jesus to be crucified. But God had raised Him up. This should convince them quite clearly that they had been in the wrong. And he pointed out that a further evidence that Jesus has been raised up can be found in this healed man who is standing there before them. It was ‘in Jesus’ that this man had been made whole. If Jesus were not alive it could not have happened. As this is a reply to the question as to the name by which the man had been healed this is probably shorthand for ‘in the name of Jesus’. He may, however, be indicating that the man had been healed because he had been brought into oneness with the risen Jesus by God’s mercy.

We note that the healed man himself was there before the court. He may have been accused along with Peter and John, or he may have been called as a witness.


Verse 11

“He is the stone which was set at nought of you the builders, which was made the head of the corner.”

Then to support his case Peter indirectly cites Scripture. The citation is from Psalms 118:22. It is either Peter’s paraphrase or a quotation from an unknown source, probably the former. He stresses ‘set at nought’ rather than ‘rejected’. He has not forgotten the scenes that he witnessed and the ones he had heard about, when Jesus was truly ‘set at nought’. But that stone, rejected by the builders, was to be made the head of the corner, the capstone. It was the final, vital stone that mattered. This Psalm was one from which citations were made by the crowds when pilgrims entered Jerusalem (see Psalms 118:26). They thus indirectly connected it with the Future One Who would come to Jerusalem in triumph. The inference is plain. The rulers, the ‘builders’ of Israel, have rejected Him and set Him at nought, because He did not seem to fit, but God has stepped in and will make Him the cornerstone of the new Israel which holds the whole building together.

Some among those who were sat in the Sanhedrin may have grown uncomfortable at these words. They would remember how when they had challenged Jesus a month or so previously He had told the parable of the wicked tenants who had rented the vineyard and then refused to the owner its true fruits, killing first his servants and then his only son (Luke 20:9-16). Then Jesus had looked on them and had said, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, the same was made the head of the corner’ (Luke 20:17). Now here it was again, the charge that they had rejected God’s ‘stone’, and that somehow their rejection would lead to His exaltation.

(Incidentally we have here an interesting evidence that Luke is not just putting his own words into Peter’s mouth. Had he been doing so surely the quotations would have tied up).


Verse 12

“And in none other is there salvation, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved.”

Then he applies the words to his hearers. There is no salvation in anyone else. Jesus is God’s capstone, His cornerstone. There is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved. Eternal life and eternal forgiveness is only available through Him. The question had been in what name the lame man had been healed. This reply states that it is only in that Name that any of mankind can be healed. His appeal to them is clear although cleverly worked in as part of his explanation.

‘Salvation’ would have a Messianic ring to his listeners, especially when connected with Psalms 118. In the scrolls from Qumran ‘Salvation’ and ‘God’s Salvation’ are designations of the Messiah. This is also true in other inter-testamental Jewish literature, and it appears later in the Rabbinic writings. In their view the Messiah was to be God’s means of salvation. He was to be Salvation. Thus Peter’s words are a further claim of Jesus’ Messiahship, linked with the salvation which will bring men into the everlasting kingdom. Furthermore the name Jesus means ‘Yahweh is salvation’. Salvation is thus closely paralleled with the name of Jesus in all its senses.

But ‘salvation’ can also mean ‘making whole’ (compare the same word in Acts 4:9). So there is the implication that the Jesus Who had made this man whole could also make the world whole. Let them then consider that what had happened to this man should make them recognise just what Jesus could do.

Thus these words of Peter were not just a challenge, they were central to the whole question of the Name of Jesus. He was Salvation because He was the Messiah, He was Salvation because that was His name given to Him by God, and He was salvation because He brought salvation to all who needed healing, whether in body or soul.


Verse 13

‘Now when they beheld the boldness of Peter and John, and had perceived that they were unlearned and ignorant men, they marvelled; and they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.’

We only have recorded the words of Peter, but it is clear from these words that John had also spoken (the boldness -- of John’). And the Sanhedrin were impressed. They were used to men cringing before them, not speaking out boldly. And they were not used to having Scripture quoted at them. The fact that these were ‘unlearned and ignorant men’, that is, not officially taught in official methods of Scriptural interpretation and not cognisant of the Law as officially taught, meant that they could only be officially admonished. However, once they learned that they had been with Jesus it put them on the spot. They had rejected Jesus as a heretic and a blasphemer. But these men were still proclaiming Him and even claiming the power of His Name. Now therefore it was apparent that they were Jesus men, and that they were representing themselves as carrying on His work.

Most, if not all, of them had probably never previously noticed the disciples. Their attention had been on Jesus. Thus it is not surprising that they had not recognised in these bold men the previous rather timid (in the presence of leading Scribes and Sadducees) followers of Jesus.


Verse 14

‘And seeing the man that was healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it.’

They now found themselves in a quandary. On the one hand they saw the man who had been healed standing among them and recognised that nothing wrong had been done in his healing. Apart from the fact that the Name of Jesus had been brought into it they could see nothing against it. But on the other was that these men were reviving the interest in the Name and the teaching of Jesus. This they could not allow. The man had been executed as a criminal and accursed by being hung on a tree (Deuteronomy 21:22-23 compare Galatians 3:13)

Really, of course , they should have gone the one step further and acknowledged that the healing of this man clearly vindicated the name of Jesus. But their minds were closed. That was something that they would not do, and in view of what they had done to Him it was not too surprising. It would have been a matter of admitting their own bloodguiltiness.


Verses 15-17

‘But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, “What shall we do to these men? for that indeed a notable miracle has been wrought through them, is openly known to all who dwell in Jerusalem; and we cannot deny it. But that it spread no further among the people, let us threaten them, that they speak henceforth to no man in this name.” ’

So having heard the case they put the accused outside the room while they discussed what they would do. What happened there may well have been communicated to the Apostles by one of the members of the Sanhedrin such as Nicodemus or Joseph of Arimathea. Or other members of the court may have passed on the information, either deliberately, or accidentally through their servants overhearing what they said to heir wives.

They then discussed what they should do with these men. They admitted that a notable miracle had occurred. It could hardly be denied. Everyone was talking about it. So their conclusion was that the miracle could be quietly forgotten and that they should simply give the men an official admonishment, commanding them no longer to do things in the name of Jesus under pain of punishment (usually by beating). What mattered after all was to prevent the teaching from spreading.

Here then is the pivotal point of the whole chapter, the attitude taken towards the Name of Jesus both by these men and by the Apostles. The Sanhedrin rejected it and forbade its use. The Apostles determined that they would use every means to proclaim it, because there was salvation in no other. The same choice faces us all today.


Verse 18

‘And they called them, and charged them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.’

The final communication was now made of their decision. This would have been in the form of an official admonition before witnesses. The men were not to speak at all or teach in the name of Jesus. It was not a sentence on them. It was a clarification of the situation. It was possibly understandable as ‘unlearned’ men that they had not quite realised that Jesus was not someone whose teaching was approved of. But now let there be no more of it. They were receiving an official warning. If they preached in His Name they incurred His guilt.


Verse 19-20

‘But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to take notice of you rather than of God, you yourselves must judge, for we cannot but speak the things which we saw and heard.’

Both Peter and John were moved to reply. They basically did so in the form of a question as to whether these learned men really thought that in the circumstances it was even conceivable that they should cease to teach in the name of Jesus. God had clearly given His seal of approval on their so speaking by the healing of the lame man, and of many others of whom they were aware. Whom then should they obey? God or the Sanhedrin? Let the Sanhedrin be the judges. As for speaking of the things that they had seen and heard, they did not see that there was any alternative.

Here the disciples were on solid ground. Regularly would witnesses in the court be admonished to ‘speak only those things which they had seen and heard’. And yet here were the court forbidding them to do so. They were forbidding them to declare the facts, to reveal the truth of what really happened. Could they really believe their ears? Were the court really then telling them not to be honest witnesses? It was unthinkable. Let them themselves judge the matter for themselves. Was it not their solemn duty to declare what they had seen and heard? To bear false witness would be to break the covenant.


Verse 21

‘And they, when they had further threatened them, let them go, finding no reason why they might punish them, because of the people; for all men glorified God for what had been done.’

But the supreme court of Israel did not want the facts. So the Sanhedrin then reiterated their injunction and let them go, warning them again of the consequences if they did not obey them and refrain from using and healing in the Name of Jesus.

They did not feel that they could punish them for their means of healing the lame man because it was clear that all the people approved of them. The people all glorified God for what had been done. Punishing the Apostles on those grounds would have been very unpopular.


Verse 22

‘For the man was more than forty years old, on whom this miracle of healing was wrought.’

The people glorified God because the man who had been healed had been constantly lame for over forty years, into full manhood. It was therefore not something he would grow out of. In view of what was undoubtedly the significance of his lameness in that it pointed to the lameness of the people of Israel, this may well have been intended to bring to mind how Israel had limped through the wilderness for forty years.


Verse 23

‘And being let go, they came to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them.’

On their release Peter and John returned to ‘their own company’. Note the comparison of the old with the new. They have left the company that represented old Israel, and joined up with the company that represents new Israel. This was where the future lay.

‘Their own company’ may here mean the twelve, or it may mean the earlier group of Acts 1:13, both of which could meet in a house, or it may signify that they went to a larger group who were together praying in the Temple.

There they reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. There is surprisingly no reference to the Scribes and Pharisees. It would seem that they had remained in the background in the Council. In Acts they tend to be more favourable towards the infant church (Acts 5:33-40; Acts 23:9).

Notice in this prayer their confidence in God:

· He is Lord and Master of heaven and earth and seas and all things.

· He is the One Who has spoken through the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures in which He has already declared the opposition that they must face.

· He is the One Who foreordained all that is coming about.

· He is therefore the One Who can hear the threatenings of their adversaries and give His servants boldness to speak His word, working wonders through them in order to reveal that the Kingly Rule of God is here.


Verses 23-31

God’s Response To The Warnings of the Sanhedrin (4:23-31).


Verse 24

‘And they, when they heard it, lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, “O Lord (despota), you who made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is,” ’

“O Lord (despota).” That is, ‘ Master’ e.g. of slaves, therefore here ‘of all things’. It is a title often used of rulers.

The response of the Christians to the threats was to pray to the Lord of all, of heaven, and earth, and sea and all that is in them. They first of all brought to mind Who it was that they served, He Who is Master and Creator of heaven and earth and sea and of all that is in them. The words almost mirror Psalms 146:6 LXX. See also Nehemiah 9:6; Isaiah 37:16; Psalms 69:34. Hezekiah’s prayer in Isaiah 37:16-20 LXX is also probably at the back of the source’s mind throughout.

Heaven and earth represented the whole of creation (Genesis 1:1). The sea often represented the troubled masses of the nations (Isaiah 57:20; Daniel 7:3). All that is in them included their adversaries here.


Verse 25-26

“Who of our father through the Holy Spirit, of the mouth of David your servant, said, ‘Why did the Gentiles rage, And the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth set themselves in array, And the rulers were gathered together, Against the Lord, and against his Anointed.’ ”

Then they recalled what the Holy Spirit had spoken through David in Psalms 2 (cited from LXX). Note their confidence in the fact that the Psalms are the words of the Holy Spirit. In the Psalm God’s challenge had gone out to all who opposed God’s people. They raged, they imagined vain things, they set themselves in array, they mobilised. But it was all in vain, for it was against the Lord and against His Anointed, and therefore they could not win. And the Psalm goes on to point out that all such opponents will be defeated when the Lord’s Anointed achieves His triumph. It was from this Psalm that the words spoken at Jesus baptism were taken ‘You are My Son --’. Thus they saw it as quite clear from the Psalm that all the raging against the Name of Jesus would come to nothing. Jesus was God’s Anointed, and nothing could therefore stand in the way of His victory.

The Messiah is elsewhere described as the Lord’s Anointed in Psalm of Solomon Acts 7:26, while reference to Psalms 2 as Messianic appears at Qumran. So the connection of Psalms 2 and the title ‘the Lord’s Anointed’ with the Messiah was already established.

The idea here may be that Jesus was anointed with the Spirit at His baptism when the Holy Spirit came on Him like a dove (Luke 3:22 compare Acts 10:38), something further validated at the Transfiguration (Luke 9:29; Luke 9:35). Or it may simply indicate that He was seen as such because He was ‘the Son’ Who was sent from God and was full of the Holy Spirit (Luke 4:1). Either way He was the Chosen One of God.

The Greek of Acts 4:25 which we have sought to render literally is difficult, but as Luke presumably takes it from his source and does not alter it he clearly saw it as acceptable Greek.


Verse 27-28

“For in truth in this city against your holy Servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, were gathered together, to do whatever your hand and your council foreordained to come about.”

Now the same situation was being repeated. The kings and governors of the earth (Herod and Pilate) and the Gentiles and peoples (of Israel), had raised themselves up into opposition against God’s holy Servant Jesus. They had mobilised in order to rid the world of Him. But although they did not realise it they had done it at God’s behest. They were as puppets in His hands, responding to His pulling of the strings. They were only doing what God’s hand and council had foreordained. For His death had been necessary in order to propitiate for the sins of the whole world.

So Pilate, and Herod, together will all peoples, were under God’s control and did His will in such matters. It is slightly unusual for Luke to put blame on Pilate but all he is necessarily saying is that Pilate was involved in what happened, even though he did not like it, which was undeniable. Without his say-so, albeit forced from him, it could not have happened. Note that here the peoples of Israel are included among the enemies of the Lord’s Anointed. This can only be because the King now has a new people of Israel to guard and watch over. The false vine has been replaced by the true vine, the true vine of ‘Christ at one with His people’ (John 15:1-6; Ephesians 2:11-22). The church is God’s new people. The old Israel has been cut off.


Verse 29

“And now, Lord, look on their threatenings, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness,”

But now that was all over. Jesus Christ had risen, and it was now their responsibility to preach His Name to all nations (Acts 4:30). Thus they committed to Him the threatenings and prayed that they might be enabled to speak the word of God with all boldness.


Verse 30

“While you stretch forth your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of your Holy Servant Jesus.”

Meanwhile they looked with anticipation and confidence to the fact that He would continue to stretch out His hand and heal, and that He would continue to perform signs and wonders through the Name of His Holy Servant Jesus. Note here the combination of the Holy One and the Servant (compare Acts 3:13-14).

Their prayer was to be abundantly answered. From Acts 5:12-16 we learn of the amazing miracles that constantly occurred, reaching out far beyond Jerusalem, as those who were sick flocked to Jerusalem in order to find healing.


Verse 31

‘And when they had prayed, the place was shaken in which they were gathered together, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.’

Then once they had finished praying the place where they were gathered was shaken, regularly seen as a sign of God’s presence (compare Exodus 19:18; Isaiah 6:4). Here it was intended to be linked with the filling of the Holy Spirit, and with the certainty that God was with them and had heard their prayer. It was a physical assurance of His presence. It may have been a local earth tremor, but it demonstrated the presence of the Creator.

And they were all ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ so that they could go forth and proclaim the word of God with boldness. The mighty power of God was continually with them in the fulfilling of their ministry, and was here renewed. Those who ‘spoke the word of God’ were still at this stage the Twelve, who had already received the Holy Spirit by being breathed on by Jesus (John 20:22) and had experienced the ‘breath’, fire and other tongues at Pentecost. This is thus a further empowering so as to give them the boldness to witness powerfully.

‘Shaking’ is regularly an evidence of God’s powerful activity. See Judges 5:5; Habakkuk 3:6 LXX compare Haggai 2:6-7 where the shaking would be of heaven and earth and sea, as well as dry land. See above where God is Master of heaven and earth and sea. God was showing the disciples what He would yet do.


Verse 32

‘And the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and soul: and not one of them said that anything of all which he possessed was his own; but they had all things common.’

Compare Acts 2:44, although note the slight difference in emphasis. Here it is on the fact of their total unity with each other in heart and mind as they have grown to know each other, there it was a spontaneous ‘togetherness’. There is a growing together in love. It had been Jesus’ dictum that all men would know Christians by the love that they showed to one another (John 13:34-35; John 15:12; John 15:17). This was first fully manifested in this early Jerusalem church by togetherness and now by growing unity in heart and mind. They were a new and unique group, probably ostracised by many Jews, especially those with high positions in the various synagogues and the Temple, but now drawing together more and more in their new-found faith and hope and fellowship. They rejoiced in Jesus Christ, shared food together (Acts 2:42; Acts 2:46), prayed together, learned the truth together, witnessed together, and were becoming ‘of one heart and one soul’. They constantly revealed their love for one another.

For the reasons given above there would be many who were in need, and thus there would need to be a common sharing of food and money so that all could be provided for (Acts 6:1). Here this is deliberately portrayed in terms which express a kind of divine perfection. The Kingly Rule of God is being manifested on earth, that Kingly Rule under which all food and clothing would be provided by God to those who sought the Kingly Rule of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:19-34). They were letting their light so shine before men that they would see their good works and glorify their Father Who was in heaven (Matthew 5:16).

‘Not one of them said that anything of all which he possessed was his own.’ They had gained a new outlook on their possessions. Instead of clinging on to them they recognised that they belonged to God and were therefore to be at His disposal. And that also meant that they should be available to any in need.

‘Had all things in common.’ Many people piously tell God that they see what they possess as belonging to Him and at His disposal. But it is a different matter when it comes to following it up. Having ‘given’ it to God they cling tightly onto it. Here, however, the new community put it into practise. They actually in practise treated their possessions as available to any who needed them. They were not ‘in common’ literally, for they did not live together, but they expressed it practically in their concern for one another and provision for each other. The idea is that they did not hold anything back from each other. If any was in need he could ask and it would be provided, with none denying his right to ask. And yet it was all voluntary. There was no constraint on any.


Verses 32-35

The Kingly Rule of God Is Evidenced On Earth In The Lives of Believers (4:32-35).

The description that follows, which is an amplification of and expansion on Acts 2:44-45, was intended to further convey the idea of the Kingly Rule of God as being evidenced on earth, and as constantly growing. They had now become a ‘multitude’. Their prayers for the expansion of the word of God was being answered, so that they were becoming large enough to require larger scale provision.

What is also being brought out here is that the first enthusiasm had now become settled practise, and the spontaneous generosity of chapter 2 had become an established and thought through pattern. Here was the ideal existence of the people of God, an existence full of mutual love and self-giving and sharing in common, and almost parallel with the descriptions of peace and concord among the animals in Isaiah 11:5-9; Isaiah 65:25. But here was an even more difficult thing, continual harmony amongst men and women. Here too poverty was being eradicated by a common sharing (see Deuteronomy 14:28 to Deuteronomy 15:11). The life of the community was becoming more organised, and meanwhile the Kingly Rule of God was continually being proclaimed externally through the witness of the Apostles.

But there is no thought that they became a community separated off from others like the Qumran community, or that the sharing in common was compulsory. They continued to live normally in the world, but were bound together by their common faith and love for one another. It was a spiritual oneness.

The Jerusalem church was unquestionably at this stage in a unique situation. Jerusalem was a place to which many devout people ‘retired’, including many widows, so that they could die in the Holy City. Many devout people, especially the widowed, would be poor and supported by the different Jewish synagogues where almsgiving to fellow-Jews was seen as a major function of the synagogue. (Jerusalem was also a place of ‘hangers-on’ and beggars hoping to benefit from the religious atmosphere). But once some of these devout people turned to Jesus Christ, and there were probably many, they may well have found themselves cut off from the synagogue and from its generosity. And being a Christian would not make them popular with the religious authorities who controlled the funds donated for the poor in the Temple. Thus it would behove the newly formed ‘church, congregation’ to support them (see Acts 6:1-3), and for this funds would need to be available.

Furthermore as a result of constant famine and economic conditions, a situation which would later greatly increase in severity, the ordinary people of Jerusalem and the surrounding area went through times of continual difficulty economically, again resulting in a need for support for many people. And prices were higher in Jerusalem than in the countryside. Later on, in fact, support would be needed from Gentile churches because of the great sufferings of the Jewish church in Jerusalem as a result of a period of famine lasting some years (compare Acts 11:28-29; 1 Corinthians 16:1-3; 2 Corinthians 8-9).

But all such situations could only result in the fellowship of Christians, filled with the love of God, making their utmost effort to ensure that none of their number were in need. It was an expression of practical Christian love. It was probably helped on by the expectancy that Jesus Christ must return soon, but we must not limit it to that. It was rather the practical outworking of what Jesus had taught. It was spontaneous self-giving resulting from the love of Christ within.

Both the summary in Acts 2:42--47 and here are thus intended by Luke not only to express how the church grew and became more Christlike, and how they revealed that they were living under the Kingly Rule of God, and how they were now large enough to require large scale provision, but also to indicate the passage of time and a period of spiritual consolidation following, in the first case, Pentecost and Peter’s first notable speech in the Temple, which had resulted in the ‘three thousand’. and here, after Peter’s second major speech in the Temple, which resulted in an increase to five thousand men, and which was followed by the reaffirmation of Pentecost in Acts 4:23-30. Each step forward was being followed by consolidation, while emphasising that continual expansion also took place. The new believers were not being left to themselves. Great care was being taken of their spiritual and practical welfare.


Verse 33

‘And with great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was on them all.’

Meanwhile the testimony also went on through the Apostles. They witnessed everywhere with great power, testifying to the resurrection of ‘the Lord, Jesus’, the One Who had been raised from the dead and enthroned as ‘’Lord’ over all (Acts 2:36). And the whole church as a whole greatly experienced the gracious favour of God. It was a period of continual blessing and rejoicing.

‘With great power.’ While this may include the power which enabled the performing of the miracles it is not to be limited to that. The Apostles revealed power in all that they did and said. Their word was the word of the cross which is the power of God to those who are being saved (1 Corinthians 1:18). It was the word of the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation for those who believe (Romans 1:16). It was the power of the word of the resurrection.

‘And great grace was on them all.’ All who are His know the greatness of the grace of God, of God’s unmerited love and favour, of His kindness and compassion. Without it none of us would be His. But this was something more. God was present among them in an unusual way. His unmerited love and favour moved them to be the same. They were filled with kindness and compassion. They walked constantly in His light. God was revealing His special favours. They were enjoying superabundance of blessing. They were fully conscious of ‘living in heavenly places’. (See Ephesians 1:4; Ephesians 2:6). It is in the light of such an exalted atmosphere that we must judge the sin of Ananias and Sapphira.


Verse 34-35

‘For nor was there among them any who lacked, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as any one had need.’

Again we can compare and contrast with Acts 2:45. There they sold their ‘possessions and goods’ and met each other’s needs, here they have advanced to selling ‘lands or houses’ and bring the money to the Apostles. The numbers were growing and the need was growing, and as the numbers grew, the need for funds grew, and larger assets had to be brought into account, and the requirement for administration was growing. So the spirit of unity and fellowship in Christ was nowhere better revealed than by the fact that whenever there was a lack of funds, which would be often, those who possessed larger evidences of wealth such as houses or lands would sell them and bring the prices obtained to the Apostles’ feet so that they might be distributed among the needy. Houses and lands were men’s most vital possessions. Yet they were prepared to fulfil the Lord’s command and yield even their most crucial possessions. These were the tests of discipleship and Jesus had promised that those who sacrificed such things would not lose their reward (‘houses -- and lands’ - Matthew 19:29; ‘house’ - Luke 18:29; ‘houses -- and lands’ - Mark 10:29-30).

This is not to be seen as just a duplicate of chapter 2, but as an expansion in generosity as time went by, as the system of giving and of provision became more organised. It reveals how God’s grace and the church’s response was continually expanding in response to rapidly growing numbers. Spontaneous generosity and love had become real sacrifice, and thought through generosity and love. It is also an indication that the Gospel was expanding among the more well-to-do.

‘And laid them at the Apostles’ feet, and distribution was made to each, according as any one had need.’ And the Apostles then as best they could arranged for the needy to be helped. Thus the Gospel was advancing and progressing, and not only bringing spiritual blessing to all but also provision for every need.

But we can now begin to see how what at first was a simple means of meeting obvious need, and revealing God’s love practically, was becoming a large administrative task that would begin to take up all the Apostles’ time, and would make life impossible for them. They were neither trained for this task, nor had the time to do it properly. The neglect of Hellenist widows (Acts 6:1) was not due to favouritism or lack of concern, it was due to inefficiency in organisation and planning, because no Hellenists were directly involved (which was the gap that the seven made up). As we learn in chapter 6, it could not go on. If it were to be done properly and efficiently, changes would have to be made.

This use of alms would not just be limited to Christians. It would also benefit needy Jews who were known to them. Of course, not all would be able sell lands and fields. They did not have them to sell. The examples are provided precisely because they were outstanding. Many had a responsibility to their families which they had to take into account. And not all would have spare houses to sell, and they would need somewhere to live with their families. But the point is that, because of their love for Christ, none withheld what they could reasonably, and even going beyond reasonably, spare, whenever need arose. And some went the whole way. Never before in the experience of many had such love and sacrifice been shown. Again it was a revelation of the presence of the Kingly Rule of God among men. There were to be no poor among them (Deuteronomy 15:4).

It is probably not correct to say that this was a failure or a mistake (how we love to show how superior our wisdom is). It was rather simply Christian love and compassion at work practically and without restraint. And Luke approved of it. There is no suggestion, in contrast with the foolish among the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 3:11), that they ceased work or retired from business. They simply helped each other with their needs, and withheld nothing because of their love for each other. They actually did what Jesus had taught them to do (Matthew 5:42 compare Luke 3:11). Nor are there any real grounds for saying that it led to the poverty of the Jewish church. That would be due more to outside circumstances and to religious ostracism, and it would give to the Gentile churches the opportunity to fulfil Scripture in bringing their wealth to Jerusalem.

Should the church be like this today? While the church is now too vast to operate solely on this basis, the principles here should surely be the pattern that we are following. Possibly we should not be neglecting the ‘forgotten’ Christians in the poorer and needier parts of the world, and in the light of these verses possibly it is we who need to learn a lot more of what it means to be self-giving.

Chapter 5:1-11 The Sin Of Ananias and Sapphira - The Kingly Rule of God Is Manifested By The Execution Of Those Who Withhold What Is His .

Knowing man’s human nature there had to come a time when the idyllic picture was broken. From the point of view of the world’s attitude to the Christian message that had happened when Peter and John were arrested. That was a reminder of the continuing threat from without. But now there would be something even worse, hypocrisy and dealing falsely with sacred things within the church, a trouble which had to be dealt with drastically in order to prevent it from spreading. The purity of the church had to be maintained. It is an indication of Luke’s practicality that he tempers his description of the early church with a recognition of treachery within. Yet only in order that it might be a prelude to greater blessing.

In order to understand this account we must see the position clearly in its context. The church was going forward as one. There was complete love and harmony. The Kingly Rule of God was being manifested. The temper of the new age was being made known. And then secretly and insidiously into this perfect harmony came two people with the equivalent of a spiritual time bomb, a bomb that could have destroyed all that had been accomplished. It was a root of evil that could destroy the whole. And behind it was Satan. It was he who was seeking to undermine the witness and life of the church by hypocrisy. And Ananias and Sapphira were his representatives.

When man first came into the world his desire for what was pleasant resulted in betrayal, and in his expulsion from God’s earthly Paradise (Genesis 3). When Israel were on the very verge of taking possession of the promised land a man, filled with greed, almost brought the whole project to a halt (Joshua 7). In both cases the crime was the same. They withheld from God what had been totally dedicated to Him. When Judas became disappointed with Jesus his love for money led him into betrayal, resulting in the crucifixion of Jesus and his own self-destruction. And now here again we have people whose love for money could well have proved the undoing of God’s people, another Adam and Eve, another Achan, another Judas. As the new creation, the new age, began they had had to choose between God and Mammon and they chose Mammon. But worse. They did it pretending that they were choosing God. Indeed they went a stage further. They took what had been wholly dedicated to God and kept it back for themselves.

The point of this incident is that it was a rejection of the Kingly Rule of God while professing to accept it, and that it was crucially at a time when all eyes needed to be fixed on the King because the world was about to reveal itself in a wholesale attack on the Gospel. And it was a withholding from God of what had become His right because they had dedicated it to Him. It cut right into the heart of the total dedication of God’s people. It is a reminder that the behaviour of each individual is of great concern to God. But thanks to Peter’s prompt action the church was kept pure and prepared. Had Ananias and Sapphira not been firmly dealt with, the outcome might have been very different. It was the first real test of the genuineness of the response of the early church, and the first evidence of what a serious matter it was to come under the Kingly Rule of God. And the final result was that the church continued to walk in awe of God and not of men.

There is a solemnity about this story that cannot be denied. It is clear that Peter was vividly conscious that God was directly involved in it. It is the only explanation for various elements within it. Why did Peter not admonish them and call on them to repent as he did later with Simon the sorcerer (Acts 8:22)? Why was Ananias’ body dealt with so abruptly so that even his wife was not involved in his preparation for burial? Why was she not immediately informed? Why did Peter, or some friend, not give Sapphira a warning of what might be? Why was the whole affair deliberately made so public? There is only one explanation. The deed had already been committed in the mind. The crime had been done. The dedication had been drawn back on. God, Who knew all things, had already passed His sentence. And the thing had now to be made known to all. There was no going back. It was to be an example to the early church. Peter was simply appointed to be God’s executioner.

The similarity with the sin of Achan in Joshua 7, and it was the same sin, is striking, as is the harshness of the sentence. They had appropriated for themselves what had been fully and solemnly dedicated to God. They had broken their vow to the Most High which they should have brought to the Temple of the Lord (Psalms 116:18-19; Ecclesiastes 5:4-5; Malachi 1:14; Psalms 50:14; Psalms 76:11; Psalms 116:14). In the very Temple of God they would lie to God Himself. Their sin was exposed in all its awfulness. And they were therefore to be made an example to the flock. The seriousness of their crime might best be expressed in the words of Malachi 1:14, “But cursed be the deceiver, who --- vows, and sacrifices to the Lord a corrupt thing, for I am a great King,” says the Lord of hosts, “and my name is dreadful among the nations.” And that was what they were doing. Seeking to deceive the great King.

In times of revival when God’s presence has been most vividly made apparent similar sudden deaths have been known. Ananias and Sapphira were greatly privileged in being present during the most powerful spiritual movement of all time. But great privilege and opportunity brings great responsibility.

The account begins with an example of one of Luke’s many contrasts. On the one hand was the godly man who came and gave his all. On the other was the couple who tried to keep back part of the price. It is salutary today to consider that most of the church is exemplified in the second.


Verse 36-37

‘And Joseph, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas (which is, being interpreted, Son of exhortation), a Levite, a man of Cyprus by race, having a field, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the Apostles’ feet.’

There was a man called Joseph, whose surname was Barnabas, (uncle or cousin to John Mark, writer of the Gospel - Colossians 4:10). He was a Levite, a Jew dedicated to God’s service. And he was a Cypriot, one of the Dispersion. There were many Jews living in Cyprus. And he demonstrated that he was both dedicated to God and no longer ‘far off’ from Him by selling a field that he owned and bringing all the proceeds and laying them at the Apostles’ feet. It was an act of love, sacrifice, worship and full dedication without thought for the cost.

‘Bar-nabas.’ This may mean ‘son (bar) of a nabi (a prophet)’ and thus a giver of encouragement and consolation. Or it may reflect the Aramaic newaha (‘consolation) transcribed into Greek as ‘navas’. The purpose is to bring out Barnabas’ character not simply to translate. He was an encourager and consoler. Later he will be described as ‘a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith’ (Acts 11:24). He would continue to grow spiritually until he became the valuable companion of Paul.

No doubt one reason that he was selected as an example was precisely because Luke would shortly show that he soon rose to greater things within the Kingly Rule of God. He demonstrated that one act of dedication can lead on to another until a man becomes especially useable by God. The moment the reader saw the name of Barnabas his eyes would light up. While at this stage he was simply an unknown he would go on to greater things and become one of the most esteemed men in the church. What a contrast with what happened to Ananias. Later Luke would similarly introduce Stephen (Acts 6:5), Philip (Acts 6:5) and Saul who became Paul (Acts 7:58; Acts 8:1; Acts 8:3) in small cameos, before subsequently expounding on their fuller ministries.

They were the difference between the old creation and the new. In the new creation salvation was at work in all who were chosen to be God’s people. Thus while failure might arise God’s final triumph was assured.

But for Ananias there would be no future. Like Judas he made his choice in the wrong direction. He had given Satan leeway.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 4:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/acts-4.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Thursday, August 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 15 / Ordinary 20
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