Thousands Added to the Church
One day when Peter and John went up to the Temple, they saw a lame beggar seated near the gate. They commanded him in the name of Jesus to rise up and walk. In faith he obeyed, and he was instantly healed of an affliction since birth. News of the miracle spread rapidly throughout the Temple, and people rushed to see the lame man who could now walk and leap. They found him in the area known as Solomon's Porch, where he was showing his gratitude by clinging to the two apostles.
Seeing the huge crowd gathering around them, Peter began to preach about Jesus. He declared that although the Jews rejected and killed Him, God raised Him from the dead, because He was God's own Son, the Holy One. He called upon them to repent and be converted, so that their sins might be blotted out.
The same power of God that healed the beggar also worked to change hearts as Peter preached. His sermon was even more fruitful than the one at Pentecost. Five thousand men besides women and children were saved. Within days after the Ascension, the church had grown from 120 to well more than ten thousand.
The Apostles Arrested
The commotion came to the attention of the authorities. They heard that followers of Jesus were teaching in the Temple and affirming that He had risen from the dead. No doubt they heard also that the apostles had stirred up the worshipers to great excitement by performing a miracle. This information greatly displeased them.
After the Jewish leaders were apprised of what was happening in Solomon’s Porch, some priests and other Sadducees personally rushed to the scene, bringing with them the captain of the Temple. He was the head of a troop of Jewish soldiers employed by the priests as Temple guards. No doubt a contingent of his men came with him to deal with the disturbance.
Romans soldiers never served as Temple guards, for they were barred from the inner precincts, open only to Jews. They could not proceed farther inward than the Outer Court, known as the Court of the Gentiles. Although the Romans exercised strong control of the Jewish nation, they did not challenge the right of the Jews to restrict access to their Temple. They even granted that gentiles who went into areas off-limits were subject to capital punishment, as Jewish law required.4
Along with the guards hurrying to Solomon’s Porch came the leaders themselves. Perhaps they accompanied the soldiers because of past experience. Some months earlier, they dispatched the same guards to arrest Jesus when He was teaching in the Temple, but the soldiers came back empty-handed. They reported, "Never man spake like this man" (John 7:46). It was obvious that some of the soldiers were sympathetic to Jesus. Now, to assure that the soldiers would not fail to make the arrest, their superiors came with them.
When the authorities arrived, they dispersed the crowd and arrested Peter and John. It was now already evening, so it was too late to bring the apostles before any tribunal. The leaders decided to put them in jail until the next day, when they could assemble the rulers and conduct a hearing.
The Hearing before the Council
When the next day arrived, Peter and John were brought before an assembly of all the important Jewish leaders. The priests were there, including Annas and his son-in-law Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the current high priest by Roman appointment, but Annas, a former high priest, wielded the most power. Also present were John and Alexander from the priestly family and many other elders of the nation. It is likely that the assembly was a full session of the Sanhedrin.
The same Sanhedrin that examined Peter and John had met just weeks before to try Jesus.
The leaders asked the apostles, "By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?" Peter stood forward and gave an answer. Instead of currying the favor of these men who could take his life, he started by criticizing their question and finished by accusing them of a great crime.
In his opening words Peter implied that their question was inappropriate in a serious legal proceeding. Asking about "this" that the apostles had done, it was too vague. If they were being arraigned on a charge, they should have been told what their offense was. The leaders resorted to fuzzy language to avoid admitting that the offense was a miraculous good deed—hardly grounds for a criminal indictment. Peter replied by supplying the missing words. He declared that they healed a man, and that they healed him through the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. To make the identification absolutely certain, he added that this Jesus was the very man the rulers recently crucified.
Peter then argued that when the Sanhedrin tried Jesus, they came to a verdict sharply opposed to God's view of the man under trial. Whereas they killed Him, God raised Him from the dead. Peter went on to explain why God so honored Jesus. He said that Jesus was the figure described by the psalmist: "The stone which the builders refused is become the head stone of the corner" (Ps. 118:22). In the original Hebrew, "The stone the builders rejected has become the head of the corner."11
In an ancient stone building, the head of the corner was a large stone set atop the joint between two walls. It kept the walls from separating. A building without this capstone was in danger of toppling over.12
The rulers would have understood Peter’s quotation of Psalm 118 as a declaration that Jesus was the rightful king. No doubt this was a proper interpretation of Peter’s intention, as well as the Holy Spirit’s intention when inspiring the psalmist. Yet the meaning of the words quoted is much fuller. In referring to Jesus as the head stone of the corner, the psalmist meant that He would hold together God's spiritual house. The house is a suitable figure for the people of God because they are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Christ is properly compared to the chief capstone because He unites in one glorious structure a multitude of souls once scattered in the dark fields of this world.
How then can we become part of God’s house? No one can join the people of God unless his sins have been forgiven through the blood of Christ. Therefore, Peter continued by pointing to Christ as the Savior from sin. He emphasized that there is no other Savior. The Jewish rulers believed that they could save themselves by keeping the law, but Peter warned them that they were deluded. He said, "Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved." A specific other name was probably in Peter’s mind: the name of Moses, whose books contain the law that the rulers viewed as their road into God’s kingdom.
Peter's Boldness and the Council's Weakness
The rulers listening to Peter marveled at his boldness. They could see that he was a common man. The words "unlearned and ignorant" do not mean that he appeared to be stupid. They mean only that Peter had obviously received no training in either a Jewish rabbinical school or a Greek academy. In such an academy he would have learned rhetoric, the art of public speaking. In a rabbinical school he would have learned how to build an argument based on the opinions of revered rabbis. But Peter did not use rhetorical devices, and he made no reference to rabbis. Peter's boldness was surprising because normally when a man of no social importance was brought before the Sanhedrin, he quaked in their presence. But without a trace of fear Peter accused them of crucifying a man sent from God.
How did Peter know what to say to these men? He no doubt had taken to heart an instruction that Jesus gave the disciples years earlier, when He said, "And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you" (Matt. 10:18-20). Peter trusted that the Holy Spirit would enable him to speak before the Sanhedrin, and the Spirit gave him both the words to say and the ability to say them. The author of Acts accounts for the power of his speech by saying that he was "filled with the Holy Ghost" (Acts 4:8).
Standing with Peter and John was the man they healed. The authorities must have taken him into custody along with the apostles. As the rulers gazed at the three disturbers of the peace, they reached two conclusions immediately. First, "they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus." In other words, they recognized Peter and John as men who had been prominent among the disciples of Jesus in days past. Second, they saw that the third man, formerly a lame beggar who had often greeted them as they entered the Temple, was no longer lame but able to walk normally. Both conclusions made them feel uneasy. The strong connection between the two apostles and Jesus made it clear that the Jewish masses would credit Jesus with the miracle. The full restoration of the beggar forced them to abandon any hope of denying that the man was truly healed.
They therefore sent the detainees out of the council and discussed what to do. Their options were extremely limited. Everyone in Jerusalem knew that the apostles had performed a "notable miracle." To avoid public criticism for killing Jesus, the council decided to stop His followers from talking about Him. They called in the apostles and threatened severe consequences if they continued to spread Jesus' fame.
Notice that the leaders did not even consider the possibility that the apostles were doing the work of God. In the next lesson, we will discuss the reasons for their intransigence.
Obeying God First
The council did not succeed in intimidating the apostles. Both Peter and John were resolute in their determination to bring souls into fellowship with Christ. They simply refused to obey their rulers, saying that they had a higher obligation to obey God. Their exact words were these: "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye." Although they did not reveal anything about their commission to evangelize the world, they stated that their duty to God required them to speak of recent events. The Sanhedrin understood that they were referring to the Resurrection.
After Peter and John refused to stop preaching in the name of Christ, the Sanhedrin desired greatly to punish the apostles, but feared taking any action that would further diminish their own popularity. The whole city was glorifying God for the miracle the apostles had performed. Everyone was overjoyed at God's goodness to a man who had been lame more than forty years. The council at last decided to do nothing beyond making more threats. After trying to frighten the apostles into silence, they let them go.
Renewal of Divine Power
When Peter and John returned to the company of believers, they reported how the rulers treated them. The assembled brethren then prayed, addressing the Lord as the Creator of all. They acknowledged that their persecutors were only fulfilling God's plan from long ago. They were encouraging themselves with the reminder that a loving God was in control, and that no enemy of Christ could abuse His followers more than God allowed.
The company of believers quoted David's words in Psalm 2: "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed" (Ps. 2:1-2). Because the Hebrew word "anointed" is the same as the title Messiah,18 the believers understood that this psalm spoke of Jesus. Indeed, as David prophesied, a strong coalition of political forces rose up to do away with God's anointed. It included all the Jewish and gentile rulers with authority over the land of Israel. Now the Jewish rulers were setting themselves against the church also. The believers asked the Lord to give them power to continue His work despite powerful opposition.
They desired two things in particular: boldness in speech and ability to perform signs and wonders. Instead of keeping quiet, as they had been told to do, they wanted to speak out even more boldly. They wanted Jerusalem to ring with the name of Jesus. And to show that they were not mere fanatics promoting a foolish cause, they wanted God to back up their testimony with miracles. The Sanhedrin's attempt to intimidate them had failed altogether. They were more determined than ever to witness for Christ. They were so undaunted by official opposition that they did not even ask God’s protection from it.
God's answer was immediate and dramatic. The Lord responded by giving them another outpouring of the Spirit. The Spirit was already indwelling them, but now He gave them power for the specific task of witnessing without fear. Afterward they proclaimed the Resurrection with great boldness.
The believers were so filled with the Spirit that there were many other evident results as well.
- They were perfectly united in affection for each other, and in all their decisions there were no disputes.
- No man regarded his possessions as his own. He was willing to share them with any brother who had a need. The wealthy sold houses and lands so that they could give the proceeds to the church for distribution to the poor. One who was outstanding in generosity was Barnabas, later an important figure in spreading the gospel to new places. He sold land and laid the money at the apostles' feet. Scripture gives the meaning of his name—"son of consolation" (or, "of exhortation"19)—because it describes his character, evident later in the Book of Acts. He was famous as an exhorter of others.