Share in Suffering as a Good Soldier of Christ Jesus

Acts 5:12–42

The mighty work of the Holy Spirit through the ministry of the apostles continued. The death of Ananias and Sapphira for lying to the Holy Spirit had been followed by “many sign and wonders” regularly performed among the people (5:12). This was an immediate answer to the prayer of 4:30. The work of regeneration continued as “multitudes of men and women” (5:14) were added to the church as believers. Healing and exorcisms were regular and plentiful, even accomplished through the passing of the shadow of Peter over the sick who were laid close to the path where he would walk (5:15). Influenced both by the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira and the rising hostility of the Jewish leadership, the population in general kept their distance from the apostolic fellowship although they held the believers in high esteem (12:13). Finally, the great hubbub about Jesus so irritated the religious leaders that they arrested the apostles, apparently all twelve (5:18, 29), and imprisoned them.


I. God grants a miraculous release, and the apostles give faithful proclamation (19–26).

A. An angel opened the doors and brought them out (12:19).

Their opening of the doors did not raise any alarm and apparently the guards were kept from seeing this event. At the break of day, the guards were in place and the doors were shut, but the prisoners gone (23).

B. Angels had rolled the stone from the tomb of Jesus and announced to the visitors that Jesus was risen.

They had appeared at the ascension of Jesus, had questioned the people about their standing and gazing, and announced that “this same Jesus” would return. Now they released the apostles and instructed them to go stand in the temple and preach, ”the words of this life.” As Hebrews says (1:14), angels are “ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation.” The release of the apostles showed God’s purpose in keeping them in the call of preaching the resurrected Christ; Also, God had more people in the city who would hear the gospel and would believe—“Faith comes by hearing.”

C. In response, the apostles followed the angel’s command and at daybreak began to teach the people that were gathering there.

The preeminence of this message calls for radical measures for its proclamation. We should never lose the sense of urgency connected with the events that constitute its core (the death, burial, resurrection of Christ, and his return in glory), and that prompted the angels to give this release for the purpose of continued preaching (5:25).

D. Upon the discovery that their intentions of putting a quick end to the proclamation of Jesus, the resurrection, and his evident messiahship, a sense of desperation began to overwhelm the Sanhedrin.

Note two things.

    1. Verse 24 indicates their great perplexity – “wondering what this would come to.” They had been expressing their mode of panic since early in the ministry of Jesus, plotting to kill him for the sake of maintaining the security of their place and power in their political arrangement with Rome. (See John 7:1, 32, 47; 8:59; 11:47–53; Luke 22:1, 2 et al.). Now these clouds of fear gathered again, for the one they thought was dead seemed to be multiplying in his power even after their successful eclipse of his life.
    2. As they went to regather the apostles to bring them to the Jewish authorities, they had to deal gently for “they were afraid of being stoned by the people” (26). This same dynamic occurred during their times of seeking a way to arrest Jesus (Mark 14:1, 2, 49; Luke 22:1, 2;52, 53). The “people” seemed to make more candid evaluations of what was occurring than the religious leaders who were blinded by their false religious assumptions (See John 9:24–34 for an individual example of this irony).


II. The apostles receive a stern warning and deliver a faithful response (27–32).

A. The high priest upbraided them for their disobedience to their previous warning (Acts 4:17, 18), and opened up one of the chief reasons for their fear—that it might be made clear that indeed they had manipulated justice and had killed, not only an innocent man, but the very Messiah:

“You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” Peter and the apostles did exactly that (Acts 2:23; 3:15; 4:10). Had the facts as reported in the apostolic preaching not been true, the Jewish leaders had every reason and abundant opportunity to disprove the truthfulness of the central doctrinal idea of their proclamation—the resurrection. All they must do is produce the body, but they are reduced to the tactic of intimidation.

B. Even as the high priest repeated his warning, so Peter and the apostles repeated their commission, “We must obey God rather than men” (29).

    1. The events of 4:18, 19 and 5:28, 29 give a clear contrast between the sphere of the kingdom of God and that of the authority of men. Jesus had stated this relationship in John 18:36–38 in his interview with Pilate.
    2. The point made by Peter is that humans misperceive their legitimate sphere of authority and claim too much to themselves. Truth transcends the temporary interests of any earthly institution. The kingdom of God is eternal in covenant intention (that is, the eternal covenant of redemption). It is enduring and increasing in its historical manifestation from age to age and place to place. It covers the whole earth and will continue gathering adherents and willing martyrs until this present earth dissolves by the heat of God’s judgment. The apostles saw that there was one King, one message that demonstrated the eternal infinite wisdom of God. Their commission could not be undone in the interests of earthly power or prompted by any degree of earthly fear.
    3. The “charge” or “strict command” of the priest (28), seeking to control his very limited sphere of influence, contradicted the command of Christ, to whom was given all power, to go into all the world to the end of the age (Matthew 28:18–20).
    4. At the point of this contradiction only, did Peter and the apostles feel the necessity of disobedience and so obey God “rather than” man. He did not reject human authority in spheres reserved for their administration. Human authority has an appropriate place in matters of public justice, peace, and protection (Romans 13:1–7; 1 Peter 2:13–17). In the sphere of eternal truth and matters of the kingdom of God, civil authorities have no warrant to invade the conscience. In issues where we know we will give an account in the day of judgment to God alone, and no other person shall answer for us, we must reserve our obedience for God. As Thomas Helwys wrote to King James in 1612, “O, let the king judge, is it not most equal that men should choose their religion themselves, seeing that they only must stand before the judgment seat of God to answer for themselves?”
    5. They took advantage of this detention to preach again. In this short record of Peter’s (and the other apostles’) answer we find a full presentation of gospel truth, both from its objective provision as well as its subjective manifestation.
      • They identify themselves with the Sanhedrin by saying “the God of our Fathers.” The God of whom they speak is the God who chose Israel, gave the prophets, and promised a Messiah. This is the God they claim to know and of whom they pretend to teach. They are sons of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and are waiting for a prophet like Moses and a king like David.
      • Note the internal contrast of Peter’s statement. The God of Israel showed his regard of Jesus by raising him from the dead, exalting him to his right hand, and making him the Leader (or Prince, or the Beginner as in Hebrews 12:2, “the author” of faith) and Savior. The Sanhedrin showed their evaluation in killing him by hanging him on a tree. This particular manner of death, put graphically by Peter, is reminiscent of Deuteronomy 21:22, 23 as the execution of a man accursed. It is used again by Peter in 1 Peter 2:24 and by Paul in Galatians 3:13. It is peculiarly in this manner of death, pursued aggressively by the leaders and at the same time providentially arranged by God, that Jesus is made Savior. Look at this same way of presentation in Acts 2:23 and 4:27, 28.
      • “To give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” Jesus gives both the internal change of mind and heart (repentance) and the objective removal of the consequences of guilt. These two things always are essential in salvation: an objective provision and an internal change of heart. Jesus as the “author and finisher of faith” gives them both.
    1. “We are witnesses and so is the Holy Spirit.” Again, we find two things present in the saving witness to the truth.
      • First is the apostolic witness. Their observation of these things to which they testify, their preaching of them under the authority of Christ’s commission to them, and their writing that provides a foundation for the intrinsic credibility of the historical message, all constitute their witness.
      • The Holy Spirit gave revelation of the true meaning of the events of Christ’s life and teaching, inspired the apostles both in the manner of speech and the content of their writing, and impresses, illumines, and recreates the soul to convince of the truth and to provide the ground for the reception of it. He prepares the good soil for a fruitful reception of the sower’s seed (Matthew 13:8, 23).
      • “To those who obey him” – The trait that distinguishes those who have forgiveness and are recipients of the work of the Spirit from those that don’t is hearty obedience to the apostolic message. “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart, having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever. … Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you” (See 1 Peter 1:22–25).


III. The Sanhedrin gives an irrational response but hears wise counsel (33–39).

A. Upon hearing their presentation, the Jewish leaders wanted to kill the apostles.

This was because the apostles’ resolution and the content of their message contradicted both the authority and the theology of most of these leaders. It called into question their knowledge of the God of Israel by saying that they had judged in a way opposite to him. Also, it seemed to give an empirical way to affirm the truth of resurrection of the body and the continued consciousness of the human spirit after death, ideas rejected by the Sadducees.

B. Gamaliel, a Pharisee (34), calmed them down and led them to think more rationally.

Hearing their message of resurrection probably appealed to him and he was more deliberate in considering evidence and arguments in the context of competing discourse. He set forth a way by which the truth of their claims might be judged and, if false, gave some hope that the movement would die of itself and not prompt another series of executions. “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men.”

    1. Gamaliel reminded them of two uprisings, one led by Theudas and another by Judas the Galilean (36, 37).
    2. He reminded them of similar outcomes to these uprisings following soon on the death of the leader.
      • The leader was killed.
      • The followers soon dispersed implying that without his inspiration and instruction the energy and definition for the movement was gone.
      • Likewise, if this movement had a similar dynamic, its claims and goal soon will dissipate and the body of followers will vanish.
      • If, however, these radical claims of resurrection and exaltation are true, then it is a dangerous thing to oppose it, for it is of God. You might, even as they have suggested in their answer to you, find yourself fighting against God. That is a losing battle for sure, my fellow Israelites!
    1. Surely Luke inserted this reasoning of Gamaliel to prompt the reader to a reflection on the evidence. If a movement that depended solely on the claims to a resurrection found that this resurrection had not occurred, they would not hazard their lives for the delusion. If, however, the resurrection did occur, and Jesus did appear to them and give them instructions to testify, and did send the Holy Spirit to empower their message, and did promise them eternal life, then their faithfulness to death would not be irrational or a deceitful masquerade. As we saw in Acts 1:3, Luke is very interested in the accumulation of evidence that the Jesus event and the preaching that followed was not merely a pious legend but a true verifiable manifestation of the power and purpose of God for forgiveness of sins.


IV. The apostles are dealt a punishment to which they respond with praise (40–42).

A. The Jews dropped their plans to kill them, but beat them, commanded them not to preach, and let them go.

Even this action shows how filled with blinding spite were these haters of the Way. They would let them go but not a sound drubbing and a malicious exertion of authority. They could not bear their confident and clear proclamation of the name of Jesus.

B. The response of the Apostles gives evidence of the truth of their proclamation.

    1. When they left the presence of the council, they rejoiced that for the name of Jesus they had suffered this recrimination and dishonor. In reality, it was verification of their changed lives and the infinite worthiness of the call to serve such a Savior as Christ. “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21–23). Peter had seen that and had failed in the first confrontation before these same people (John 18:12–27).
    2. Showing their true commitment to the Lordship of Christ, “Every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.” They did not for a moment entertain any doubt about the reality of Jesus of Nazareth, his death, burial and resurrection and his commission to them. They were setting forth a way of true life both here and hereafter that conformed to the glory and power of God. It was to make its way, not by the sword or force, but by the proclamation of truth and a willingness to suffer.


Power and compassion led to healing and conversion.
Peter’s shadow brought God’s grace to all who came with trust.
Sadducees joined the high priest with jealous mean aversion.
Hatred of God’s saving grace made all their plans unjust.
A bit of rant and rail,
Then throw them in the jail.

An angel came and let them out and said go preach new life.
Morning found them round the temple teaching the whole crowd.
When the Sanhedrin found them gone, they panicked, filled with strife.
An empty jail, a full courtyard, truth still preached aloud.
“These rebels! Bring them here.
We’ll teach them whom to fear.

Before the council once again through zealous threats they stood.
“You have disobeyed our orders, teaching in that name.
Determined now you seek to bring upon us this man’s blood.
Throughout the city, you still speak. Stop or bear the blame!”
“To you we cannot bow.
Jesus risen reigns now.”

“The One you hung upon the cross is now at God’s right hand.
Our fathers’ God approved His work, put Him on the throne.
His pow’r now works to grant repentance, so you understand
That sin may be forgiven now in His name alone.
Our witness thus is true,
Sealed with the Spirit too.”

“Death to them!” the council screamed. Could one cooler head prevail?
“If they testify the truth, then God has done this thing.
You’ll put your status in great peril, all to no avail.
Let it go and we will see if this is Christ and King.”
They beat them; then encore,
“Speak of Jesus no more.”

In imitation of their Lord, the men were cut and bruised.
While backs were bleeding, mouths were speaking, praising the Lord.
From day to day and house to house fresh joy was now infused.
The temple courts heard words of truth of Him they adored.
“He’s Prophet, Priest, and King;
Let ev’ry tongue now sing”

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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