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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 5

 

 

Verse 1-2

‘But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, and kept back part of the price, his wife also being associated with him in it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.’

If we find this narrative a little offputting we must first recognise the grossness of the sin involved. This was no act of enthusiasm which simply turned out to be half-hearted (we are most of us guilty of that). This was from the beginning a planned, thought through, thoroughly discussed, deliberate act of deceit. They are depicted as scheming, conniving, barefaced and hardened liars. And they were doing it to God.

The scheme was that they would dedicate their land to God, sell it and then pretend that they were giving all the proceeds. They would make a great show of their sacrifice and dedication, (contrast the widow in Mark 12:41--44), but they would in fact hold back a good proportion for themselves. They would seek to deceive both God and His disciples who were working together in advancing the Kingly Rule of God, in order that they might gain approbation and appreciation without cost, and this in an atmosphere where signs and wonders were happening all the time, and at a time when God was manifesting Himself in visible signs, and at a time when the church was open, honest and outgoing and were constantly ‘walking in the light’ with God. It represented a cynicism and hardness of heart that it would be difficult to surpass.

We should note where their eyes were fixed. Not on reward in heaven, nor on pleasing God. If they thought about it at all they must have known that God would know the truth about their act and would not be pleased, and that what they did would therefore contribute to neither. Rather their eyes and all their thoughts were on this life. They wanted the praise of men on earth, the ‘pride of life’. They wanted recognition and honour, and they did not mind what they did to get it. They did not care if in the end it destroyed the church. They just wanted recognition for themselves for a dedication that was not genuine. Many a man’s ministry has been destroyed by such a desire for recognition and praise.

Theirs was not an instantaneous sin. We see again Eve going to Adam with the fruit and discussing the advisability of eating it. They too had discussed the matter. Was their aim to worm their way into the new ‘society’ in order somehow to gain positions of leadership for their own gain? Or was it simply in order to be idolised? Or was it because they were jealous of Barnabas? We will never know. But both were guilty of treating God as though He was but a false idol with no discernment of eye, who would not know what they were doing. They were out to make God look a fool. And they were out to rob God.

Let us at this point briefly consider what they were doing. They were hitting at the very root of the church and of all that the church was. The church was of one heart and one soul, while they were pretending to be but were not. This might thus easily have begun to eat into the whole fabric of unity. Pretence cannot be kept up for long. Their attitude would soon feed through to others. The church were holding all things in common, but these two believed in keeping something aside for themselves, while pretending otherwise. The church was open and honest. These two were secretive and dishonest. Their attitude might soon have destroyed that happy condition of openness and generosity that abounded among God’s people. The church was looking to God as being there with them and acting among them. These two were treating God as though He was afar off and did not know what they were doing. The church was fully dedicating itself to God. These two had actually dedicated their property to God, but were therefore holding back what belonged to God. What they were doing was insidiously dangerous and might easily have brought the great revival to a shuddering halt. It was the situation in mind in Deuteronomy 29:18-20 even though the idolatry here was of a more insidious kind.

So having sold the land and received the money Ananias secreted a part of it away and then brought the remainder and lay it at the Apostles’ feet, waiting for the praise, and the adulation, and the approbation and the honour which he knew he would receive, especially because he had given all. His wife did not even come with him. She was prepared to wait for her share of the credit. Perhaps she was even a little ashamed. But she was equally culpable. Both had closed their hearts to God. The next step would then have been to receive leading places in the fellowship as those who had made a special sacrifice and in whom confidence could be placed, and their work of destruction would have begun. They would lead astray those who trusted them. When Achan retained for himself what had been dedicated to God he brought disaster on Israel (Joshua 7). These two were about to bring disaster on the church and to bring the whole revival to a halt.


Verse 3

‘But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land?’

But what was his surprise when Peter, instead of revealing a face full of admiration and gratitude, looked sternly at him and informed him that what he was doing was nothing but the act of Satan. Instead of being ‘full of the Holy Spirit’ he was revealing himself as ‘full of Satan’. He was lying to the Holy Spirit, God at work visibly among His people. He was doing Satan’s work. He was the enemy within. As with Judas, through Ananias Satan was intruding himself among the people of God by subterfuge (compare Luke 22:3). Ananias was letting him into the body of Christ. Note Peter’s assumption that the Holy Spirit is a person. It is significant that in the speeches of Peter the Holy Spirit always has the article.

And what was his lie? It was not about what the price was. It was about an act of avowal and consecration that was blatantly untrue. He had sanctified all to God, and had then deliberately withheld it while proclaiming that he was giving all.

Peter had discerned the heart of the matter. He had recognised in this not just the actions of two rather foolish people, but an insidious attack by Satan himself, who had planned by these means to undermine God’s work, and who had been allowed to have control in these two rather sad, but sinful people. We must not just see the failure of Ananias and Sapphira as a slight coming short of the required standard. They had allowed themselves to be take over by Satan.

We are reminded of another time when another person had been led astray by the insidious behaviour of such a tempter. That had resulted in mankind’s downfall. This could equally have resulted in the church’s downfall. We must not underestimate what was going on here. As Peter had discerned, Satan was out to destroy all that God was doing.

So here the man who had failed Jesus under pressure in the courtyard of the High Priest’s house, but had wept bitterly as soon as he realised what he had done, faced the man who was now seeking to deceive God unashamedly. Had Ananias behaved like Peter did when he was faced up to what he had done, and had he immediately repented and wept bitterly who knows what might have happened? But he did not. Rather he stood and braved it out, listening in stubborn silence, even though his heart must have been racing. He had the heart of a Judas not of a Peter. All he could think of was that he had been found out.

Ananias should, of course, have suspected that this would happen. In the Upper Room Jesus had given His Apostles’ the gift of discernment concerning man’s sins. And even if he had not known that he must have known that God could see his innermost heart. But it was all simply evidence of his unbelief. He did what he did because he did not believe, and wanted to take advantage of the poor fools who did. He did it because his eyes were fixed on earthly gain. But he had not just kept back part of the price of the land, he had kept back the whole of his life from God. And he was being the kind of example that could destroy others who might be tempted to follow his example. At this important stage in the life of God’s new people neither God or the church mattered to him. What mattered to him was prestige. But he would learn that it was unwise to touch what was holy in the eyes of God. God took dedication seriously. Ananias did not.


Verse 4

‘While it remained, did it not remain your own? and after it was sold, was it not in your power? How is it that you have conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God.’

Peter made the position quite clear. What he had done had not been necessary. It was not as though the Apostles had demanded that he give everything that he had. That was true of various sectaries around, such as the Qumran community, who demanded such sacrifices, but it had not been true here. He had been free to do what he chose. The money had been his to do what he wanted with.

Indeed it should be noted here that the general situation in Judaism was that only a proportion be given. When Zacchaeus expressed his love for Jesus he declared that he would give a half of his goods, as well as restitution (Luke 19:8), and this would be seen as extremely generous. The Mishnah declared that only a proportion of goods was to be offered to the Temple and that to give the whole was not valid. Elsewhere acts of charity were limited to one fifth of a man’s means. On the other hand Rabbi Johanan was deeply respected for selling all his possessions for the sake of studying the Torah. Thus those who gave all, while following Jesus to the letter (Luke 12:33), were very much going beyond the norm.

And yet in the face of the generosity of God in giving him free choice Ananias had conceived in his heart to lie to God. For that was his crime. He had chosen darkness rather than light because his deeds were evil. He did not want to walk in the light. And it had been a planned action, not a sudden impulse.


Verse 5

‘And Ananias hearing these words fell down and gave up the life within him: and great fear came on all who heard it.’

The recognition that he had been exposed was too much for Ananias. His heart gave way and he breathed his last. He fell down dead before them all. If he had a weak heart the situation is quite understandable. But that we are certainly intended to see here a judgment of God comes out in what later happened to Sapphira. The point was made that God had struck him down. And the result was that all God’s people were filled with awe and recognised even more that God was not to be mocked (Galatians 6:7).

There are certain times in history where particular sins were seen as having such vital importance that the only solution was the death of the perpetrator. One example is the sons of Aaron who at the very time of the institution of the priesthood offered false fire to the Lord (Leviticus 10:1-2). Another was Achan who on first entry into the land had ‘kept back’ (in LXX same verb as in Acts 5:1 above) some of the booty of Jericho that had been specifically dedicated to the Lord (Joshua 7). In both cases instant death was the penalty. Those were times at the beginning of something new when an important lesson of obedience and respect for God had to be taught. The same was true here. All would now know that the new Kingly Rule of God was not something to be taken lightly.

But before we retire thankfully behind the misguided confidence that therefore God’s people today need not fear the same thing happening we should remember the words of Paul, ‘for this reason there are many sickly among you, and many sleep’ (1 Corinthians 11:30). God may not act in such a devastating way now as He did then, but He still does punish those who are careless about their behaviour, especially when it affects the wellbeing of the people of God. Much might be explained if we knew the hearts of men.


Verse 6

‘And the young men arose and wrapped him round, and they carried him out and buried him.’

The young men then came forward, wrapped his body in a shroud, and took it away and buried it. In the hot weather of the Middle East quick burial was advisable, but in Jerusalem, the holy city it was essential. No corpse should be left until the morning. No doubt they ensured that any official requirements as regards a sudden death were observed, although there were sufficient witnesses who could testify as to what had happened. And that is the whole history of Ananias, the man who lied to God. So quickly was he disposed of, and clearly no one wept for him. He had been just a blip in the ongoing forward movement of God’s people. What a contrast with the future of Barnabas, the shining star who would go on to greater and greater things.


Verse 7

‘And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.’

Some time later (‘three hours’ could mean anything from a little over an hour upwards for a part of an hour would count as an hour) his wife ‘came in’, probably to the porticoes of the Temple, totally unsuspecting of what had happened. It is probable that all felt embarrassed and that no one had the courage to say anything, for they must have been apprehensive as to what would happen next. All were seemingly agreed that it must be left in Peter’s hands. That was the easiest and the best way. It may be a significant indication of the couple’s lack of true connection with the community that she had no best friend to warn her.


Verse 8

And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” ’

Peter then asked her as to whether the land had been sold at the price stated. Perhaps he even held out the money that had been handed over to show her. She was to be given the chance to repent. But she was quite determined in her crime and quite hardened, and she confirmed the price that her husband had stated. She too was ‘full of Satan’, hardened in her sin.

This bears all the marks of an official enquiry, and a deliberate attempt to make public what was happening and obtain evidence in the sight of all. Peter was not acting here like a pastor, or even like an adjudicator. He was bringing out in public that the offence for which sentence had already been passed was genuine, and that she was totally unashamed about it. He was here but an instrument in the open revelation of God’s wrath. God had made the choice. He simply carried it through knowing its inevitability.


Verse 9

‘But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to try the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” ’

Then Peter challenged her as to how she and her husband could have thought of testing the Spirit of the Lord out in this way, and informed her that those who had just buried her husband were at the door, and would carry her out as well. Once again the Spirit of the Lord is spoken of as a person.

We must not see Peter as the one who passes the judgment. He simply passes on God’s judgment. What happened was not Peter’s doing, it was God’s, a sacred if awful example, given as a warning to all.

‘You have agreed together to try the Spirit of the Lord.’ The key Old Testament texts which deal with putting God to the test are Exodus 15:25; Exodus 16:4; Exodus 17:2 and Deuteronomy 16:6. Significantly they all deal with times when there was a need to satisfy physical requirements, and all refer to the fact that they were not prepared to trust God. That was why Jesus refused to put God to the test (Matthew 4:7; Luke 4:12). He did trust God. So underlying the sin of Ananias and Sapphira was unbelief and an unwillingness to trust God. And this at a time when such trust was vital to the continuation of the newborn church.


Verse 10

‘And she fell down immediately at his feet, and gave up her breath, and the young men came in and found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her by her husband.’

Thus Sapphira too fell dead, and the young men came in and took her body and buried her with her husband. They would meet God together. What their fate would be was in His hands. Note that it is not said that they wrapped her body in a shroud. Under Jewish practise they could, as men, do that for a man but not for a woman. It would not have been seemly for men to beshroud a woman. However, it is probable that women were called in to perform the duty before she was buried.


Verse 11

‘ And great fear came on the whole church, and on all who heard these things.’

Meanwhile the news of what had happened spread around, and the whole church were filled with awe and with the recognition that they must not treat God lightly, and many unbelievers heard, and they were made to think again about their lives. In their deaths Ananias and Sapphira would achieve far more than in their lives. They had sought credit for themselves. Instead all the credit went to God.

‘The whole church.’ This is the first mention of ‘the church’ in Luke and it simply signifies the whole body of believers within the covenant, the covenant community.

Note on ‘the Church’.

Here in Acts 5:11 we have the first mention of ‘the church’ by Luke (in the Greek text). The word generally means a gathering or an assembly, but in Biblical use refers to a body of people seen as a whole because they saw themselves as within God’s covenant, who would regularly gather together to join in united action, and came under the same overall leadership. It was used of ‘the congregation (church)’ of Israel in the Greek Old Testament (LXX). In Acts 7:38 it similarly refers to the ‘congregation’ of Israel. The same is true of Matthew 16:18 where the ‘new’ congregation of Israel must be in mind, the body of those who would respond to Christ and obey Him. ‘The church’ is regularly elsewhere seen as the new Israel (compare Galatians 6:16; Ephesians 2:11-22). Here in Acts 5:11 it means the whole body of people who had responded to Christ and believed in Him, which is one of its commoner meanings in the New Testament. It can also refer to such a body of people in one particular locality, thus we find ‘the church which was in Jerusalem’ (Acts 8:1; Acts 11:22). When it is used we must therefore often ask, what locality are we in? That will then tell us which part of ‘the church’ is being spoken of. Mention of ‘the churches’ in the plural signifies a number of such bodies in different areas or cities (Acts 9:31). In Acts 11:26 ‘the church’, unqualified, meant in context such a body of people in Antioch, because it was said in Antioch. In Acts 14:23 there is mention of ‘every church’, that is, a number of groups that had been established each a ‘body’ in its own locality, yet not necessarily all meeting together in one place. In Acts 20:28 it is ‘the church of God’ and means the whole body of Christ’s people but especially as connected with those addressed. Thus it can mean the whole body of Christ’s people in totality, or the part of that body which is a body in a particular place.

But to say that "When Luke speaks of 'the church' with no qualification, geographical or otherwise, it is to the church of Jerusalem that he refers," is not strictly correct. In those cases we only actually know that it means the church in Jerusalem when the context makes it clear. As we saw the same use could be found at Antioch.

End of note.


Verse 12

‘And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people, and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch.’

The Apostles continued to gather in Solomon’s porch to teach, and there they performed many signs and wonders. God was working through them with signs following (Mark 16:20). Their fame was now continually spreading.

‘They were all with one accord.’ This would seem to mean the body of believers who continued to accompany them at various times, (although certainly not all the 5000 at once), although some see it as meaning just the Apostles.


Verses 12-16

The Kingly Rule of God Is Revealed As Present In Great Signs and Wonders (5:12-16).

What followed from Satan’s failure to cut at the root of the revival through Ananias and Sapphira, was an expansion of the revival. Satan had been rooted out and the Holy Spirit had full rein. It was a demonstration of their folly. Signs and wonders continued to multiply as evidence that what God offered was more valuable than the price of a piece of land. And through greed and desire for approbation they had lost out on it all.

Such signs and wonders were important as evidence to all that the Kingly Rule of God was here, and that the times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord had come (see Isaiah 35:5-6; Isaiah 61:1-2).

The order of events up to this stage is revealing. The examination before the council and asserting of their dependence on the Name of Jesus had been followed by a renewal of the Holy Spirit’s empowering, and a revelation of the establishment of the Kingly Rule of God in the daily living of the church. This had then been followed by God’s dealing with false pretence, accompanied by an awful warning, and was now followed by abundance of blessing. The Kingly Rule of God was being openly revealed in signs and wonders. To put it verbally they were ‘threatened’ and given an official warning by the authorities, they were filled with boldness by the Holy Spirit, great grace was upon them all from God, those who sought to undermine the whole were executed, and now great power was revealed among them. All preparatory to the original threats being carried out. (Note how the threatenings are closely linked with the signs and wonders in the prayers of His people Acts 4:29-30).


Verse 13

‘But of the rest no man dared join himself to them: but however that might be the people magnified them.’

‘The rest’ probably means those who did not require healing, and were not recognised believers. They were in awe because of what had happened and held back from approaching the Apostles. They did not ‘cement themselves to them’.

There may have been a number of reasons for this:

· They may have heard rumours and feared what the authorities were planning to do.

· Instructions might have been given out by the priests warning people against having anything to do with the Apostles.

· These twelve men may now have been seen as so awesome that people were afraid to approach them, apart that is from those driven to do so by illness. They now had such a powerful status in Jerusalem, and such an aura, that men walked in awe of them.

Nevertheless this did not mean that they were not appreciated. The people ‘magnified’ them, saw them as larger than life, and listened to them from the crowd, and were no doubt approached by believers who bore witness to them of Christ.


Verse 14-15

‘And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women, insomuch that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that, as Peter came by, at the least his shadow might overshadow some one of them.’

And the result was that more and more believers were ‘added to the Lord’. They came under His Kingly Rule. The phrase is a beautifully expressive one (also used in Acts 11:24). They were added to Him and united with Him by faith as one. And there were many of them and they included both men and women. Furthermore such was the impact of the Apostles that people began to bring their sick and lay them where Peter’s shadow could pass over them. It does not actually say that any were healed in this way. But the belief was that the shadow of a good man could pass on some of his goodness, and they no doubt hoped some of his healing power. (Just as men sought to avoid the shadow of an evil man). What is being emphasised is how the people now saw the Apostles.


Verse 16

‘And there also came together the multitudes from the cities round about Jerusalem, bringing sick folk, and those who were vexed with unclean spirits, and they were healed every one.’

And people thronged into Jerusalem from cities round about, bringing their sick, and bringing those who were possessed by evil spirits, ‘and they were healed every one’. No wonder Jerusalem was stirred. No wonder that the authorities, who could not accept what they were teaching, were appalled. It was as though Jesus had reappeared in multiplied form. And while it is not stated we can be absolutely sure that they were constantly calling on the forbidden Name of Jesus.

Note that all who came were healed. There were no excuses and blaming of others for lack of faith here. There were no cases of failure. Here was clear evidence that the Kingly Rule of God was present exactly as promised by the prophets


Verse 17-18

‘But the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy, and laid hands on the apostles, and put them in public ward.’

Once again it was the Sadducees as a party, led by the High Priest, who initiated the action, for much of the activity was still taking place in the Temple courtyards. They were ‘filled with jealousy’. Note the contrast with ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ (and earlier ‘filled by Satan’). These were the very men who should have been filled with God’s Holy Spirit, but they served another god, themselves. It was not surprising that they were jealous. They felt that in the Temple all the respect, and all the adulation, and all the worship, should be conducted through themselves. But here were these upstarts preaching a forbidden Name, drawing all the crowds to themselves, and actually performing the kind of wonders that were impossible to the priests. The priests were aware that they could declare men clean or unclean, but they could notmakethem so (compare Acts 5:16 - ‘unclean spirits’ cast out). But these pretenders made men clean.

So they arranged for the arrest of the Apostles and had them locked in a public cell. Note the irony. ‘They laid their hands on the Apostles’. What a contrast with ‘by the hands of the Apostles were many wonders wrought --’. The so-called representatives of God used their hands for unholy purposes. It was left to the ignorant Galileans to use their hands for holy purposes.


Verses 17-24

The Second Arrest. The Kingly Rule of God Is Revealed By The Opening of Prison Doors (5:17-24).

In view of the fact that the Apostles were openly defying the stricture of the previous council, and were doing so with such obvious success, it could only be riling to the authorities, unless they were going to accept the evidence (which they did not deny) and believe in Jesus. Thus we cannot be surprised that the council acted once again. It may be questioned why they had waited so long. The explanation is probably twofold. Firstly their innate sense of justice as based on God’s Law and secondly a certain level of support among those very authorities who advised caution in the face of something which was very popular and could, if handled unwisely, cause trouble among the people. After all nothing had happened which had disturbed the Roman authorities who kept a close eye on the Temple.

But when the situation continued unabated, opposition was inevitable in the end. For these men were deliberately disobeying an official council injunction. All it did, however, was simply lead on to another wonder, the opening of prison doors (Isaiah 61:1).


Verse 19-20

‘But an angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them out, and said, “Go all of you, and take your stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this Life.” ’

But that night the angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and commanded them to go into the Temple and defiantly ‘take their stand’ (aorist passive participle) and proclaim ‘the words of this life’ i.e. the ‘life’ connected with the resurrection, the eternal life that they were proclaiming. There is only one explanation for this. It was to be a deliberate act of passive defiance. Note how there is nothing here, apart from the act itself, which is seen as dramatic or the fantastic. It is stated quite openly and baldly. It is the fact that matters not the ‘miracle’.

‘An angel of the Lord.’ The use of this term is very distinctive in Acts. It very much emphasises the personal intervention of God, as it does in the Old Testament. See Acts 7:30; Acts 8:26; Acts 12:7; Acts 12:23. How He did it is another matter. He may well have used a human instrument who was sympathetic to the Apostles and had access to the keys. But the impression that Luke wants to give is that God Himself intervened.

In a sense this incident seems unnecessary. Why open the gates of the prison and send them back, only for them to be rearrested? The answer is in fact simple. This was a bold statement of the presence of the new age. It had been a promise of God that when His Servant and His Anointed came He would deliver the captives from prison (Isaiah 42:7; Isaiah 49:9; Isaiah 61:1; Zechariah 9:11 compare Psalms 69:33; Psalms 142:7) and would tell them to show themselves (Isaiah 49:9). And that is what He was doing here. It was a typical acting out of prophecy.

It was also a confirmation to them that what they were doing was right. They had no business in prison. Their business was out side preaching the word of life.

Furthermore it would be a reminder to prisoners of God in the future that no Christian ever languished in prison without God knowing. He would only be there while God permitted it. Some would be released, others would die there, but all would know that God could have released them whenever He would. They were therefore the Lord’s prisoners, and safe in His hands.


Verse 21

‘And when they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and were teaching (or ‘began to teach’). But the high priest came, and those who were with him, and called the council together, and the whole board (senate) of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison-house to have them brought.’

Obedient to God’s word the Apostles went without hesitation (‘at daybreak’) to the Temple and taught. Meanwhile the High Priest and his cronies in all ignorance of what had happened called together the Sanhedrin and then sent for the prisoners to be brought from the prison house. Note how it is emphasised that it was ‘the whole board of the children of Israel’. Here the contest between Israel and the new people of God is being emphasised. All who represented Israel were against them. It may signify that there were additional Jerusalem city officials other than the members of the Sanhedrin.


Verse 22-23

‘But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned, and told, saying, “The prison-house we found shut in all safety, and the keepers standing at the doors, but when we had opened, we found no man inside.” ’

For when the officers had arrived at the prison house they had not found them there, and yet , as they stressed to the captain of the Temple, when they arrived the prison-house was quite safely secured and the keepers were still standing at the doors guarding the prisoners. Then they had opened the doors with every expectancy of finding the prisoners within, but the prisoners were not there, even though there was no way in which they could have got out. Luke certainly appears to suggest here that the release had therefore been by a divine hand.

These men had thought that they had God safely locked up, but the trouble was that He was not cooperating. Apart from God’s sense of humour there were clearly deeper purposes here. God was giving the Tribunal every opportunity of recognising that His hand was in it and that these men were under His protection.


Verse 24

‘Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were much perplexed concerning them as to how far this would grow.’

The news came through to the captain and the chief priests, who were seemingly not sitting at this point in the tribunal, or at least were sitting apart where they could be consulted privately. The words gave the chief priests food for thought. The captain of the Temple was second only to the High Priest (which might suggest that the High Priest was not involved in the discussions. Alternately the captain might be mentioned because he was the one to whom the report would be made, an indication of authenticity). And as they considered the matter they were perplexed and worried. They did not like these strange things that kept happening when these men were involved. How far was this thing going to grow?

Underlying these last words is a recognition that this was something uncanny, which should have required thought. But their hearts were hardened. Instead of acknowledging God’s hand in it they determined that they must get rid of these men one and for all.


Verse 25

‘And there came one and told them, “Behold, the men whom you put in the prison are in the temple standing and teaching the people.” ’

To their chagrin someone arrived hotfoot to report that news had come from the Temple that the prisoners were again free and preaching in the Temple courtyards. The chief priests would be perplexed and furious at the same time. Perplexed because they did not know how they had got there but furious because they might at least have had the decency to go into hiding. This rightly saw this as a flagrant and deliberate challenge to their authority. They did not stop to pause and consider that as it was God’s Temple, and that He had the right to give them permission to preach there. (Luke has stressed that it was God Who had told the Apostles to go back there to proclaim the word of life). They simply became more and more angry.


Verse 26

‘Then the captain went with the officers, and brought them, but without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.’

The Temple captain clearly recognised the ticklish job the arrest party were going to have, and himself went along with the arresting party, for he realised that the crowds were going to be none too pleased, and he did not want a riot in the Temple. Building works were still going on at the Temple and there were many loose stones around that could be picked up by an angry crowd. Thus it would seem that instead of arresting the Apostles he negotiated with them, coming to an agreement that they would accompany him and his party to where the Sanhedrin were sitting. By this means he avoided the violence that an arrest might have caused.


Verses 26-40

The Third Arrest And Second Appearance Before the Sanhedrin (5:26-40).

Having previously receive their official warning not to preach in the name of Jesus the second appearance before the tribunal was always going to be traumatic. Now the court could sentence them without mercy. We should note here that many on the tribunal probably felt that they were only doing their duty. They had originally been called on in accordance with Jewish law to consider charges against people whom the Sadducees had claimed to be unruly, which had resulted in their passing their verdict against preaching in the Name of Jesus. Considering that He was a convicted criminal it had probably struck them as very reasonable thing to do. Now they were being called on because their injunction had not been obeyed.


Verse 27-28

‘And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name: and behold, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” ’

The Apostles having been brought they were set before the council. Then the High Priest informed the Apostles what they were being accused of. He sternly pointed out that despite the fact that the Sanhedrin had forbidden them not to teach in the name of Jesus, they had continued to do so. Indeed they had filled Jerusalem with the teaching. Furthermore in that teaching they had put the blame for the death of Jesus squarely on the Sanhedrin. Thus they were guilty on two counts. What had they to say?


Verse 29

‘But Peter and the apostles answered and said, “We must obey God rather than men.” ’

The reply of all the Apostles took up from how Peter and John had finished their defence in the last hearing, where they had pointed out to the court that it was surely their duty to declare the things that they had seen and heard (Acts 4:19-20). That was surely what any reasonable court would expect. Now they pointed out to the High Priest that they had to obey God rather than men. Surely that would be what the High Priest of all people expected of them? It is apparent that Peter then took over the main defence. His speech follows the usual general pattern in which he had been trained by Jesus. He refers to Jesus’ death, followed by resurrection, and asserts His enthronement at God’s right hand as Archegon (overall Trek leader of His people) and Saviour, makes an indirect plea that they repent, and confirms that they, the Apostles, are witnesses of the resurrection and speaks of the coming of the Holy Spirit on all who obey Him.


Verse 30

“The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you slew, hanging him on a tree.”

He points out that they themselves (the Apostles) had been preaching nothing but the truth. As all knew it was due to the efforts of the Sanhedrin that He had been slain and hung on a tree. Thus the Sanhedrin had disgraced Him, for to be hung on a tree was to be treated as a criminal accursed of God. But the truth was that far from God seeing Him as disgraced, He had raised Him up from the dead. The Sanhedrin had subjected Him to a curse, God had declared Him blessed.


Verse 31

“Him did God exalt with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins.”

And God had then exalted Him to His own right hand to be an Archegon (Trek-leader) and Saviour to His people, so as to give them repentance and remission of sins. The ‘exaltation’ revealed Him to be the Servant of the Lord (Isaiah 52:13). The sitting at His right hand, the position of supreme authority, revealed Him as God’s chosen King. And from that position He was now acting as Trek leader for all who were being saved, giving them the gift of repentance towards God and away from sin, and the forgiveness of their sins.

The title ‘Saviour’ is used fairly regularly of Jesus in the New Testament. Compare Acts 13:23; Luke 2:11; Ephesians 5:23; Philippians 3:20; 2 Timothy 1:10; Titus 1:4; Titus 2:13; Titus 3:6; 2 Peter five times; 1 John 4:14; Jude 1:25. (In Titus it continually parallels ‘God our Saviour’).


Verse 32

“And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to them that obey him.”

Then he asserts that the Apostles were witnesses of all this, but that there is an even greater witness, and that is the Holy Spirit Who has come from heaven at Jesus’ command, and has been received by all who obey Him. As we have seen, the Apostles were very much aware that the coming of the Holy Spirit was the strongest possible evidence of the resurrection and enthronement of Jesus. It was Jesus Who had sent Him.

Note the connection back to Acts 5:29 of the thought of obeying, and the hint to the court that that was what they were doing, obeying God. It was because they were being obedient to God that they could depend on His Spirit Who had been given to them because they obeyed God. There was also in this the suggestion that if those to whom they were speaking lacked the Holy Spirit it was because they did not obey God.


Verse 33

‘But they, when they heard this, were cut to the heart, and minded to slay them.’

The result of Peter’s words was anguish and fury. They were ‘cut to the heart’, with that strange mixture of guilt and anger that takes hold of men when they are closing their minds to the truth, and are unwilling to face up to it. The consequence was that they began to conceive in their hearts the necessity for the death penalty. These men must be got rid of. They were embarrassing the priesthood. There is nothing like a bad conscience to make a man judge severely. Their fury probably arose partly from their own disturbed consciences, and partly from the seeming arrogance of the Apostles in flaunting themselves in the Temple, and then daring to come and challenge them. They were not used to being treated in this way.

It was apparent that the Sadducean side of the council were losing control of themselves. It was probably partly this that made Gamaliel stand up and request a private session which could be conducted without the prisoners present.


Verse 34

‘But there stood up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, held in honour by all the people, and commanded to put the men forth a little while.’

So wiser heads prevailed. Gamaliel a leading Pharisee and Doctor of the Law, a man of high reputation commanded that the men be put outside while the matter was being discussed. We may assume that he was impressed with what these men had said, with their general demeanour, and with the mystery that seemed to surround them, sufficiently to feel that what they were doing had to be given the opportunity to succeed. Perhaps they had something after all.

Gamaliel was a man who was greatly esteemed, even by non-Pharisees, because of his reputation for piety and wisdom. He was clearly also too a man of moderation, and someone whom others listened to. Thus he was probably held in high honour by many of the lay elders on the Sanhedrin. He was descended from the great Hillel, was called ‘Rabban’ a title of high respect, and was so greatly respected by his fellow scholars that later the Mishnah would say of him that on his death reverence for the law died, and purity and abstinence died at the same time.

It is quite possible that Gamaliel, who would certainly have known of Jesus by reputation, and would have known that He was not an insurrectionist, was not too disturbed by what he had heard of the teaching of the Apostles. The Pharisees too believed in the resurrection from the dead and that the Messiah would interfere in history. Until he had grounds for thinking otherwise he was prepared to let their enthusiasm for their teacher run its course.


Verse 35

‘And he said to them, “You men of Israel, take heed to yourselves as touching these men, what you are about to do.” ’

Thus he suggested that a little wisdom was needed here. He was clearly unsure in himself whether these men were of God or not, but appeared possibly to be leaning in their favour. So he advised caution. Perhaps these men were of God after all. Time would tell. Despite the opposition of some of them to Jesus the Pharisees tended to be the more moderate face of Judaism.


Verse 36-37

“For before these days rose up Theudas, giving himself out to be somebody, to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves, who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were dispersed, and came to nought. After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the enrolment, and drew away some of the people after him. He also perished, and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered abroad.”

He reminded them of two previous examples of men who had proclaimed that they were acting in the name of God and gave out themselves to be ‘somebody’, the one Theudas, the other Judas of Galilee. It appears that Theudas had gathered around him four hundred followers. But they were soon dispersed and came to nothing.

Theudas was a common name in Palestine, and there is no reason at all, apart from the coincidence of the name, to see him as the same Theudas of whom Josephus wrote, who appeared some thirty years later, of whom Josephus said very different things, i.e. that as a wonderworker he had gathered together a ‘very great multitude’ of followers, and approached the Jordan promising that its waters would divide in front of them and they would walk over dryshod, only for his host to be slaughtered. Gamaliel’s Theudas may well indeed have been the grandfather of this one, for grandsons often received the names of their grandfathers, and insurrection tended to run in families. A young man brought up in an atmosphere of reverence for his grandfather, hatred of the Romans and belief that God would one day exercise supernatural powers through His instruments, might well have conceived such a mad scheme. They may, however, have been unrelated.

Judas the Galilean was another insurrectionist (they were fairly common among the Jews around that time) who had rebelled against the Roman’s first tax census in 6 AD, and was defeated by Quirinius, the legate of Syria. This was a very different census from the one that took place at the time of Jesus’ birth which was probably a requirement for submission to the emperor on the twenty fifth anniversary of his reign in around 3 BC. He fanatically declared that as God was the King of Israel, tribute was only due to Him, and that to pay it to Rome was blasphemy.

In both cases, Gamaliel pointed out, they had failed and their followers had been severely dealt with so that their influence had become ineffective. That was in fact only partly true for the simmering anger continued and the later Zealots would look back to Judas the Galilean as their role model.

Luke has a purpose in giving us the details of Gamaliel’s speech which was given ‘in camera’. H wants it to be quite clear to his readers that Jesus is not at all like Theudas and Judas the Galilean, for His aims and purposes are totally different. Rather than being against Rome, He has a message to be proclaimed in Rome.


Verse 38-39

“And now I say to you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone, for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will be overthrown, but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; lest haply you be found even to be fighting against God.”

So Gamaliel advised that the men be left alone in case their activities were of God, and pointed out that if they were of God, to fight against them would be to fight against God..


Verse 40

‘And to him they agreed, and when they had called the apostles to them, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.’

His wiser counsels prevailed and the Sanhedrin agreed that that was what they would do. The chief priests were overruled. But in order to ensure good behaviour, and because it was recognised that they were in breach of the order previously given, the Apostles were beaten. Then they were reminded of the embargo put on them and warned that they must cease speaking in the name of Jesus. Thus honour was satisfied, while the Apostles were left free to carry on with their lives.

The beating would be a severe one, but it is questionable whether it would have been of the maximum allowed of thirty nine stripes. We may naturally be surprised at the beating of innocent men, but in those days the beating of innocent men was seen by courts as simply a method of ensuring continued good behaviour. Ordinary people were not looked on as very important. And in this case there was the added reason that they had disobeyed the previous injunction of the council.

Such a beating was with rods as the victim lay on the ground. It had to be carried out in the presence of the judges. Any such punishment had to be reasonable and controlled. If a man was to be beaten the judge must cause him to lie down, and then he would be beaten in his presence, probably with a rod (Exodus 21:20), the number of stripes determined by what was seen as his deserts. But the number of stripes must not be more than forty under any circumstances (see Deuteronomy 25:2-3).


Verse 41

The Apostles’ Response (5:41-42).

‘They therefore departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name.’

The Apostles’ response was a worthy one. They rejoiced over the fact that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonour for the Name. They were not discouraged by suffering, but brushed it off and were heartened by their release. For the use of ‘the Name’ in this section see Acts 4:10; Acts 4:18; Acts 4:30; Acts 5:40. It is worthy of consideration that their outward reputation stressed their relationship to Jesus Christ, rather than their experience of the Spirit. Jesus had said that one of the tasks of the Holy Spirit would be to exalt what He was (John 16:15)


Verse 42

‘And every day, in the temple and at home, they ceased not to teach and to preach Jesus as the Christ (Messiah).’

The final consequence was that the message was now proclaimed unhindered. Wherever they went, both publicly in the Temple, and more privately at home, they did not cease teaching that Jesus was the Messiah. There was no danger now of His being arrested for insurgency, and the Romans were not too bothered about other worldly adversaries. As Jesus had said to Pilate, ‘My Kingly Rule is not of this world’ (John 18:36). Meanwhile the Jews, with a deeper spiritual awareness, were made aware that He was active over the Kingly Rule of God as the Risen Lord.

Chapter 6. The Appointment of Other Officials in the Church.

Up to this point the whole responsibility for the new people of God had rested on the Apostles. Consideration had not been given concerning a wider ministry. This was both an indication of their worldly inexperience, and of the genuineness of the narrative. They were learning as they went along. It had not struck them that if Jesus’ command was to be fulfilled more assistance would be needed, and the matter was only brought home to them by what at first simply seemed like a useful expediency, which arose from the charitable side of the ministry.

The Jews had a great sense of responsibility for those among them who were less fortunate, and in the synagogue it was the routine custom for two ‘collectors’ to go round the market and the private houses every Friday morning and make a collection for the needy. This would be obtained partly in money and partly in goods. Later in the day it would then be distributed. Those who were temporarily in need received enough to enable them to carry on, while those who were permanently unable to support themselves would be provided with enough food for fourteen meals, so that they could have two meals a day during the ensuing week, together with clothing. The fund from which this distribution was made was called the Quppah (basket). In addition to this a house-to-house collection was made daily for those in pressing need. This was called the Tamhui (bowl for the poor).

It seems very probable that the Christian Jews followed something like this tradition. If this was so we can see how it had become an impossible burden on the Apostles, which would result in some with whose circumstances they were familiar being adequately provided for, while others who were possibly living in a part of the city occupied mainly by Hellenists were accidentally overlooked. It was a matter that they would now seek to remedy.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 5:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/acts-5.html. 2013.

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