Called to Give Account


Introduction: The arrest of Peter and John took place as a result of the publicly stirring nature of an apostolic sign and an apostolic sermon. The sign was the healing of a lame man so that all the people attending afternoon prayer at the temple saw the healing and heard the rejoicing of the man. This led to a sermon from Peter pointing to Christ as the source of this healing. He isolated Jesus as the only one who can so heal and, though rejected by them and crucified, God has proven by the resurrection that he is the fulfillment of the prophetic promises.

I. Peter and John greatly annoyed the Religious elite – Verses 1-4 “Annoyed” can be, ”indignant,” “highly troubled,” “grieved.”

A. Who were these alarmed people?

1. The Priests –  Among the number of priests, divided into twenty-four classes, these were the ones officiating at the temple at this time, still during Pentecost celebration probably. (See 1 Chronicles 24:1-19). Their duties were assigned by lot. Some of them might even have been the teachers among whom Jesus sat when he was twelve (Luke 2: 46, 47).

2. The Captain of the Temple – He was the chief administrator of a group of Levites responsible for maintaining order around the temple, especially during times of service. The activity of the lame man, once healed, and the resultant time of crowd-gathering and preaching would have threatened the order of the temple at this designated time of prayer. (See also 5:24-26)

3. The Sadducees – This sect of Jews controlled the high priesthood at this time (see 5:17). They were more aristocratic and political than their rival sect the Pharisees. It is probable that their name came from Zadok the high priest during David’s time (2 Samuel 8:17; 15:24-29). Their rejection of resurrection, angels, spirits, (Acts 23:8) led to pivotal confrontations with Jesus (e.g. Matthew 22:23-33) and perhaps stemmed from the influence of Greek culture on them.

B. Their annoyance at the preaching of the resurrection was three-fold.

1. One, These common men, untrained, now were “speaking, . . . teaching, . . and proclaiming” to the people, that is, in the office of teaching them the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead through the events that had happened in Jesus’ resurrection. The Priests, who were supposed to have the monopoly on the teaching function (Malachi 2:1-9) saw the power of doctrinal instruction in the speech of these untutored men.

2. Two, this preaching affirmed that the one so recently executed by them as a blasphemer now lived. A resurrection, a coming back from the dead would indicate that a miracle of the sort that only God could perform had been done. This would render false their entire judgment against him and made them, the religious leaders, opposers of the work of God.

3. Three, this proved the Sadducees wrong theologically. They denied the resurrection, but certainly could maintain their argument no longer if this proclamation were a fact. Jesus confronted the Sadducees (Luke 20:27-40) on their views,. Paul used this theological disagreement in Acts 23:6-10 to divide those who were seeking to have him accused of criminal activity. It is amazing how a single fact can destroy a canonized opinion. The resurrection of Jesus overthrew the creed of the Sadducees.

C. Their detention of them for possible religious violation was within the province of their authority as they had a semi-independent sphere of operation on some aspects of life. See Paul’s delineation of possible offenses in Acts 25:8. From them Paul had received his authority to arrest, bind, and submit to judgment the Christians that he opposed (Acts 22:5). Peter and John were put in custody until the next day for no judicial examination could take place in the evening, [contrary to what had been done with Jesus].

D. The number who believed on this occasion, added to the number that believed at Pentecost, plus those that were being added daily (2:47) brought the number of believers to 5000. This fact in itself is a powerful testimony to the truth of Jesus’ resurrection. In the place where Jesus was crucified and buried, the proclamation and teaching based on the claim of his resurrection had gained 5000 adherents, even though the cost of such belief was increasing. Had their claim been false, it easily could have been disproven by those who had deeply vested interests in its not being true, such as this cohort that now arrested Peter and John.

II. The Elite assemble and pose a question – verses 5-7

A.  The general word for the group that gathered as denominated by Luke was “rulers.” The constituent elements were elders, scribes, and the high priest’s family. According to Kitto’s History of the Bible this group, known as the Sanhedrin consisted of seventy-two members, seeking to duplicate the number of seventy elders appointed to assist Moses. Their gathering “in Jerusalem” indicates that some had to be summoned and journeyed into the city from smaller towns in the environs. The approximate distribution would be 24 priests (heads of the 24 priestly classes), 24 elders (heads of prominent families), and 22 scribes and lawyers, with perhaps at least two other members of the high priest’s family. Annas had formerly been high priest and is listed as such out of respect to his age and influence as we see in John 18:12-14. Caiphas, who actually was high priest, had just over two months before set in motion the plans to arrest and kill Jesus (John 11:49-53). They are finding it much more difficult to dispose of him than anticipated.

B. “In the midst” – This group sat in a semi-circle, cross-legged on mats and thus half surrounded Peter and John, a perfectly poised audience for this bold proclamation of the verification of Christ as Messiah and the exclusivity of his work as the means of salvation.

C. No more appropriate question could have been posed for the full manifestation of the work of Jesus. They asked about the power and the name. Just how relevant this was they had no idea but they knew that something notable had been done. The Pharisees had proposed Satan as the power by which Jesus did his miraculous works of healing and casting out of demons (Matthew 12:22-32 cf Luke 11:14-23).

II. Peter Preaches again. – Verses 8-13. Peter was only too eager to profess the Lord before this examining council as he had failed so miserably to do during Jesus’ trial (John 18:12-27).He himself would be a manifestation of the power as he proclaimed the name of Jesus.

A.  The blessing of the Holy Spirit – verse 8. As at Pentecost, a special unction from the Holy Spirit prompted Peter’s concise clarity, his boldness, and the comprehensive substance of his message.

B. Restating the occasion of the inquisition – verse 9. Peter restated the facts of the event that led to their initial sermon, the gathering of the people, and the general spirit of rejoicing that seemingly still prevailed (see verse 21) even after the arrest and the night in the temple prison.

1. Peter Addressed them respectfully, fully acknowledging their status within the Jewish community—“Rulers of the people and elders.”

2. He reminded them that this meeting was not prompted by any crime but by a “good deed,” an act of pure benevolence.

3. The object of this deed done in compassion was a “crippled man,” a debility that would have been obvious to all, with no possibility of its having been set for mere sensation by the apostles. He was “lame from birth,” and had to be carried and was “laid daily at the gate of the temple” (3:2). He was “more than forty years old” (4:22).

4.None could deny his next observation in recounting the Sanhedrin’s query, “this man has been healed.” With a stroke of Spirit-given ingenuity Peter had set forth an indisputably clear and profound scenario to give place for an answer that could hardly be denied.

C. The Answer to their query. – verse 10. They determined to give an answer in the form of a mandate that called for their consideration, but not theirs only; the truth was of universal application for it was about the long-awaited Messiah—“To all of you and to all the people of Israel.”

1. They had asked in what name this deed had been done, and Peter identified the historical person already known and hated by this group. Jesus of Nazareth. This answer shows that the disciples did not intend to create a “Christ” unattached to the real historical figure. They pointed to the historical person as the very one who was himself the Christ. As Peter already had preached at Pentecost, “God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified,” (2:36), so he now asserts.

2. He then contrasts their treatment of Jesus with God’s determined purpose concerning him. In 3:13-16, Peter had already used this rhetoric of contrast to point to the incongruity between their judgment and God’s judgment.

They crucified him, an execution reserved for despicable enemies of the nations. To turn over one of their own people to the Romans for such an execution showed a hostility and hatred of the most base sort.

God raised him from the dead. God’s seal upon the events was an absolute contradiction to their perception; Jesus is the only one through whom death will be overcome.

The lame man—who perhaps had been summoned to this hearing also—“is standing before you well,” by the power of the name of Jesus.

D. Jesus is identified as a fulfillment of a sobering prophecy – verse 11. Peter cited Psalm 118:22 as a Scripture predicting this rejection on their part. Verse 7 of Psalm 118, says in the prospective words of this one that was rejected, “I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.” This has come true. These judgments are thoroughly defeated, though they will not believe it and repent. They still reject him. They rejected him, but he has become the cornerstone. Peter refers to this same text in 1 Peter 2:7. Since one of the purposes of Scripture is to bear witness to the sovereignty of God through its unwavering truthfulness, Peter concludes that since this Scripture must be fulfilled those who rejected this cornerstone stumbled in their disobedience to the word as “they were destined to do.” Jesus now is the cornerstone of a new house being built on the basis of a new and better covenant (1 Peter 2:9, 10; Hebrews 9:11-17).

E.  A Statement of the exclusivity of salvation in Christ – verse 12.

1. There is salvation in no one else. Salvation means that one is rescued from an impending destructive force. Man, entrenched in sin and rebellion and thus subject to the wrath of God cannot escape unless a means of salvation comes to deliver them from a justly enraged God.

2. “No other name” – The name includes the fullness of the work and integrity of the person. Jesus as the God-man who bore the penalty of sin in himself, fully paid its claim, and demonstrated the acceptability of both his payment and his perfectly honorable life by loosing the bonds of death.  Death has no more claim on those who are in Christ Jesus, for it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts 2:24).

3. “Under heaven, given among men” – In the view of heaven, where God dwells no other name could warrant salvation. He alone is acceptable. For all men everywhere, this is the only solution to the problem of sin and death which prevails over every person.

4. “By which we must be saved” – This phrase points to a moral oughtness. Not one single person can escape the righteous wrath of God if they do not experience this specific rescue. Only Jesus saves. We cannot venture before God’s holy omniscience in the day of judgment if we are not clothed in the righteousness of Christ.

F. The power, confidence, and mental alacrity of Peter and John is an evidence of the truth of Jesus’ claims about himself. These men had not learned their understanding of divine truth from the schools of the day or at the feet of any of the well-respected rabbis. The Sanhedrin came to recognize that these two men were among the followers of Jesus during his earthly ministry. From him they had learned what his work on earth was and from him they had received promises of a ministry of the Spirit by which they would more clearly understand all that he had said. The Spirit also would teach them more things that they could not bear even while he was with them. The messages recorded in quick succession in the book of Acts show the truth and power of Jesus’ promises concerning the “Comforter” and “Teacher” that he would send.


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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