Observations & Commentary on Acts 4:1-14

Acts 4…

Vv. 1-2 The group of people who show up to see what’s going on are all leaders in the temple, people with authority. Understanding who they were and what they were about will help you see how diverse a group of people were united in their opposition to Jesus.

PRIESTS — Priests are from the tribe of Levi. They live all over the nationa of Israel and serve rotational duty in the Temple, receiving offerings, performing sacrifices, and all the other activities that were part of life in the Temple. There is no indication that the priests who approached Peter were anything more than ordinary priests. There is good reason to assume that, while the priestly leadership might be universally corrupt, the rank and file priests were of the variety of integrity and piety that we might expect to find in any vocation.

CAPTAIN OF THE TEMPLE — The Captain of the Temple was the second in authority in the Temple, only behind the High Priest. Luke is the only New Testament writer to use this term. It appears that this person was the person in charge of maintaining order in the Temple. Bear in mind that unlike churches today, the Temple staff included the Temple Guard. The New Bible Dictionary tells us, “The Temple had its own police department known as the Temple Guard, who were mostly Levites and whose task, among other things, was to keep out the forbidden Gentiles.” (©1996, Intervarsity Press)

SADDUCEES — There are some things we know about the Sadducees. They denied the resurrection of the dead, the continuation of the soul beyond death and judgment after death. Unlike the Pharisees, who relied greatly on oral tradtion to guide their interpretation of the Old Testament, the Sadducees rejected strongly rejected this oral tradition and rooted themselves firmly and solely in the Torah, the books of Moses, the first five books of the Bible. The current scholarly consensus is that the Sadducees were an aristocratic party among the priesthood, wealthy, well-connected, and willing to work with whatever political leadership was in power. Acts 5:17 tells us that the party of the Sadducees were aligned with the High Priest, who was most certainly wealthy, corrupt and self-serving, since the high priest put in place by the Romans, likely at great cost in money and loyalty. The sadducees appear to be well-educated and cynical, denying any non-material world, from human spirits surviving death to angels and demons.

The beliefs of the Sadducees explain why verse 2 tells us that they were greatly annoyed because Peter was “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.” To clarify this annoyance, it is painfully disturbed as opposed to how one might be annoyed by something minor like a squeeky hinge. They are driven to put a stop to Peter’s public speach.

v. 3 In this verse we get a little hint of how different things were back then. The priests didn’t like what Peter and John were saying, so they arrested them.

v. 4 Too late. The people have heard and believed. The church that was 120 a short time ago and had swelled to about 3,000 people on the day of Pentecost has now reached about 5,000 people.

V. 5-6 Some new characters appear in our narrative, gathered to interrogate Peter and John.

RULERS — This is a general word for those with authority or power in the situation. Satan is called the “ruler of demons” (Matt. 12:24) and the ruler of this world (John 12:31).

ELDERS — As the name implies, these are not young men. But it was more than simply the old guys. This is a title that designates those who are looked upon as leaders because they have attaind and displayed the wisdom that can be acquired with age. It may also be a title or office into which these people are placed.

SCRIBES — Scribes were specially trained in reading and writing. The word would be used of town clerks, lawyers and other who work specifically with words. In the Temple context, the scribes are experts in the law of Moses (as opposed to the priests who performed the Temple rituals).

ANNAS THE HIGH PRIEST — Annas is not, at the time of these proceedings, officially the High Priest. He was deposed by the Romans in 15AD. Five of his sons and his son-in-law, Caiaphas, also served as High Priest. In the trial of Jesus, Annas conducted a pretrial questioning prior to the official trial before Caiaphas. That Annas continued to have great influence long after being removed from office is shown by his being called “High Priest” and by how many of his relatives served as High Priest after him. The authority of Annas was so clear that in John 3:2, the apostle tells us that John the Baptist’s ministry began during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas even thought Annas had been officially out of office for 12 years.

It should also be noted that the High Priest, in Jewish thought, is a lifetime office. It was only under Roman rule that the High Priest was put in place and deposed (by the Romans).

CAIAPHAS — Caiaphas, at this time, holds the officially designated office of High Priest, serving from 18AD – 36AD. Caiaphas interrogated Jesus and handed him over to Pilate.

JOHN — John appears to have served as High Priest from 36AD – 37AD. He was deposed and the office was given to his brother, Theophilus. He was briefly restored to office in 44AD.

ALEXANDER — We don’t know anythingn about Alexander except that he was part of the high priestly family. There is no indication that Alexander ever ascended to the office of High Priest.

THE HIGH PRIESTLY FAMILY — Can you say, “nepotism”?

v. 7 The gathered leadership would sit in a semicircle on a raised platform.

The first big thing to notice is that the miracle is not denied. This miracle cannot be denied because a well-known crippled beggar can now walk.

There were many itinerant rabbis, healers and exorcists. In Acts 19:13 we hear of some of these trying to co-opt the name of Jesus for their work: “Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” (It doesn’t go so well for those folks because the name “Jesus” is not a magical power word. You’ll have to look it up if you want to find out what happened.)

The question of the Temple leaders insinuates that the power that healed was not the power of God because God’s name does not get spoken. Jesus was accused of casting out demons by the prince of demons (see Luke 11:14-26).

v. 8 The Holy Spirit resides in all believers. We are told that no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 12:3). The filling of the Holy Spirit is a repeatable experience whereby the Holy Spirit gives boldness and wisdom. Remember that this is Peter who only recently swore with curses on himself that he didn’t know Jesus. We will also hear in a few verses (v. 13) that the educated leaders of the Temple were amazed because Peter and John were “uneducated, common men.”

Notice that Peter begins to speak politely and with respect. He will not pull punches, but neither will be be needlessly disrespectful or inflammatory.

vv. 9-10 Instead of resenting the insuation of their question, Peter uses it to bring in the name of Jesus, connecting his resurrection (which one might deny) to the healed cripple, whom they cannot deny.

Also, Peter frames his answer around having to respond to doing a good deed. Who can question a good deed? Crimes should be investigated, not good deeds.

v. 11 In this verse, Peter connects Jesus to Old Testament prophecy by directly quoting Psalm 118:22, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” (ESV)

v. 12 This is the boldly restrictive sentence. Based in Jesus being the stone, salvation is found through him.

v. 13 Jewish boys in Jesus’ day would go to school at the local synagogue for 1/2 day six days per week from age 5 to 11 after which their schooling would be finished unless they shows special special promise. If they were to continue their education, they would go to a rabbinical school. Peter and John, as would be apparent from the way they spoke, were not educated beyond the minimum for Jewish boys. Typically, one would not expect a lower class fisherman to speak boldly and eloquently before the educated and wealthy Temple leadership gathered to examine them. In trying to figure out their boldness, they recognized that these men who were now healing in Jesus’ name had been with Jesus.

v. 14 What can they say? Remember that most of these leaders are of the Sadducees, so they don’t believe in a spiritual reality. But there is the cripple healed and standing right there in front of them.