Acts 4 Peter and John on Trial

Tod Kennedy, August 22, 1999

Applications or “So What?” from Acts 4

  1. Spiritual courage is something that we all desire. The apostles demonstrate spiritual courage while facing opposition to their ministry.
  2. Our witness to the gospel ought to be clear, gracious, and to the point.
  3. Prayer is part of our way of life. When we pray we ought also to express thanks to our heavenly Father.
  4. We believers have a relationship to human law and to God’s Word. We are to obey the laws of our nation. The exception is that when the laws contradict Scripture, we must obey the Scripture instead of the human laws.
  5. We believers have the privilege and responsibility of helping other believers who are in legitimate need.

Summary Outline and Doctrine Summary

  1. Peter and John proclaimed, in the temple area, the message about resurrection through Jesus which resulted in about 5000 people believing the gospel unto eternal life, yet the message irritated the religious leaders so much that they arrested the two apostles (Acts 4.1-4). Note that the apostles emphasized Jesus, the Messiah, and the resurrection that comes through him. They gave a clear witness to the gospel; we should do the same.  The person and work of the Messiah jerked the Jewish leadership into opposition to the apostles. Did the apostles make a public relations snafu?
    • The Jewish priests were those of the political religious order who had charge of the temple organization and service. The dedication and service to God by the priesthood had greatly deteriorated from the original standards set by Moses. The priestly functions included the following:  1. To care for the Holy Place (the incense, lamps, and bread of presence), 2. To care for the courtyard (the altars and offerings), 3. To inspect unclean persons, administer oaths, and appraise offerings for the sanctuary, 4. To teach God’s Word to the people.
    • The captain of the temple guard was the commander of the temple security police.
    • The Sadducees were one of the three religious parties at this time, the others being the Pharisees and the Essenes. The Sadducees were aristocratic priests and very rigid in their acceptance of Moses’ written law while rejecting the Pharisaic oral tradition; the Sadducees held to freedom of the will in contrast to the Pharisees who held to divine preordination; the Sadducees rejected bodily resurrection, future punishment, and angels (Matthew 22.23; Acts 5.17; Acts 23.8; Josephus Wars 2.8.1)
  2. The religious leadership kept Peter and John in prison overnight, then interrogated them. They questioned the apostles about the ability (dunami~, dunamis, the Greek word for power, might, ability) and authority (omoma, onoma, the Greek word for name). Peter and John declared that the answer to both questions was Jesus Christ the Nazarene—the rejected cornerstone, the only savior (Acts 4.5-11).
    • Religion seeks to gain God’s praise based upon human works while Christianity receives God’s blessings by faith. The religious man seeks the credit, while the Christian serves in order to honor God. These priests were not interested in faith alone in the Messiah alone.
    • The stone refers to Christ. The Father sent Christ as the cornerstone of his redemptive plan, but Israel rejected Christ. When the cornerstone is rejected, the building will not function as planned; it must be fixed.  Israel was set aside and God now works through the church. Later Israel will be brought back into God’s blessing  (Psalm 118.22; Matthew 21.42; 1 Peter 2.7).
    • When we witness we must be accurate in the message, we must be confident, and we must be ready for opposition. We also ought to expect God to do his work in the lives of those to whom we speak. Why do you think five thousand believed the gospel that day? Note 5,000 believers so soon.
    • We may be imprisoned, but the word of God is never imprisoned. These events demonstrate this. Paul’s two-year imprisonment did not hinder the Word of God. He wrote the Prison Epistles, preached, and taught the Word of God (Acts 28.30-31).
  3. Peter and John were confident about their message, ministry, and future. This confidence was based on Christ’s person and work to which the resurrection gave the ultimate authentication. The healed man was the extra bit of proof of the apostles’ message about Christ. The Jewish leadership could not argue with this kind of proof. They certainly could not explain it away. Since they could not disprove the message, they simply retreated into an attempt to outlaw the preaching of the gospel. Their real concern was that they might lose authority, prestige, and privilege in the eyes of the people to Jesus Christ, whom they had rejected (Acts 4.13-20). The two apostles gave the only right answer: “we cannot stop speaking what we have seen and heard.” They knew that the only life-giving message was the gospel. They knew the truth of 2 Corinthians 5.18-21, that God had committed to them the ministry of reconciliation (Acts 4.12-22). See Corinthians 9.16 and Romans 1.14-16.
    • Knowledge of the truth (the facts about Jesus Christ) combined with faith in that truth gave the apostles a working confidence and courage to spread the one and only life-giving message, the message of eternal life through the resurrected Christ. We, believers in Jesus Christ, have the knowledge of the truth available to us in the Word of God; we also have the ministry of the Holy Spirit to teach us and to minister through us; we have the privilege to make faith-application of  the truth; therefore each of us has the opportunity and privilege to confidently and courageously tell others about Jesus Christ.
    • Faith is the conviction that something is true. Faith must have an object. In order for a person to gain eternal life, he must believe the gospel, the only correct object of faith. In biblical terms, saving faith “is the inward conviction that what God says to us in the gospel is true” (Zane Hodges, Absolutely Free, 31). What he said was that Jesus Christ,  the Son of God, was judged by God the Father for the sins of the world, including my sins, and that because of his substitutionary, death he offers me eternal life if I will believe in him as my savior (John 1.12; 3.16; 20.31; Acts 16.31; Ephesians 2.8-9; 1 Timothy 1.15; 1 John 5.13). Jesus Christ is, as John said in John 1.29, “The lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”   
    • Believers are under the authority of the laws of their nation; we are to obey them. The exception is that when the laws contradict Scripture, we must obey the Scripture instead of the human laws. Peter and John state this in Acts 4.19-20; Peter records the principle in 1 Peter 2.11-23. Daniel faced this same kind of challenge in Daniel 6.4-17. When we choose for God instead of the human law, we honor God and his plan and at the same time help our country by presenting God’s truth.  If we are arrested or harassed we must take the consequences, all the while continuing to learn the Word of God, living by the Holy Spirit, living by faith, and applying the Word of God to life. We have recently studied principles related to these concepts in the doctrines of Human Freedom and Spiritual Freedom, Divine Institutions, Divine Establishment, and Authority.
  4. When the Peter and John were released they immediately gathered with other believers to report what had happened and to pray. The gathered believers thanked the Heavenly Father for deliverance and that his plan for history was in force; they asked that the Father would grant that they would continue to confidently proclaim the Word of God. After they prayed the Holy Spirit filled them to empower them to confidently proclaim the Word (Acts 4.23-31).
    • They applied the Doctrine of Prayer at this time: 1. Believers pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, while living by the Holy Spirit and in fellowship with God, and directed by the Word of God (Ephesians 5.20; 6.18; John 15.7). 2. Prayer shows dependence upon the Father, for He knows everything in advance. 3. Prayer is a way of life (Romans 12.12). 4. The general order of prayer is confession of sin if needed, thanksgiving, pray for others, and pray for self. 5. Prayer should, first of all, be for the spiritual life of people, then for the physical details. Sometimes God leaves the physical problems because he wants to bless us in our spiritual life (Ephesians 6.18-20; 2 Corinthians 12.8-10). We ought to pray: Lord, take care of the opposition, give us boldness, and do your work in people’s lives in order to get their attention and to verify the message we deliver. You can look up the doctrine of prayer from previous studies.
    • God the Father has a specific plan for human history. That plan centers around his Son, Jesus Christ. The specific Bible doctrines that explain this are The Attributes of God, Dispensations, The Theocratic Program, The Angelic Conflict, The Historical Plan of God, and Human Volition or Free Will.
  5. Believers in Jerusalem faced persecution during these early days of the church. To ease the struggle believers helped, supported, and encouraged each other. This help was voluntary and temporary; it supplied the temporal needs of a young and struggling church (Acts 4.32-37).
    • Paul states the principle for helping believers in Galatians 6.10. He also warned, in 2 Thessalonians 5.10-15, against supporting the lazy believer who would not work.