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Acts 4

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Verses 1-4

Peter and John Arrested

The story of the previous chapter continues in this chapter. We are now faced with the first persecution of Christians. The Lord has foretold several times that His own will be persecuted (Matthew 10:16-Job :; Mark 13:9; John 15:20). This persecution comes from the side of the religious leaders who come to the apostles in three forms.

In the first place “the priests”. They have a great influence on the people because of their exclusive right to offer sacrifices. Then also “the captain of the temple [guard]” is of the party. He is the head of the temple police and as such responsible for the care of order in and around the temple. Finally, the presence of “the Sadducees” is mentioned.

It is possible that the priests are the spiritual branch of the sect of the Sadducees and the separately mentioned Sadducees are the political branch. The Sadducees dominate the Sanhedrin, the Council (Acts 5:17). The followers of this Jewish sect do not believe in a resurrection or angels or spirits (Matthew 22:23; Acts 23:8). The preaching of the apostles about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is therefore particularly to them a thorn in their side. It touches their self-willed religion in the heart.

These Sadducees come together with the priests, the special class that has the privilege to sacrifice, on which they also boast, and the head of the temple police threatening the two apostles. During the life of the Lord Jesus, the Pharisees were mainly His opponents. These people with their own righteousness were opposed to the Righteous. The Sadducees then stood more in the background. Now they come forward.

They are “greatly disturbed” that the apostles “were teaching” the people. They think that only they, that is the priests, have the right and the ability to do so. They are also “greatly disturbed” that the apostles “proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from [the] dead”. Wonders are already bad enough in the eyes of these freethinkers because they bring the power of God too close. But the resurrection from the dead and that in the Person of Jesus is unbearable for them.

It is about the resurrection “from” the dead, not the resurrection of the dead. The resurrection of the dead is general. The resurrection from the dead is something else. It is about the resurrection of someone, or a number of the dead, while the rest of the dead remain in death, in the grave. The resurrection “from the dead” shows that there is no such thing as a general, joint resurrection of believers and non-believers at the same time (1 Corinthians 15:23; Revelation 20:5).

This company of opponents of the truth seizes the apostles and imprisons them. It is already evening, so they will interrogate them the next day. The fact that it is already evening is more than the description of a part of the day. It also says something about the time in which Israel has arrived. This is a last chance for the people to receive the promised blessing before night comes over them.

Amid all the raging of the enemy, the Spirit makes mention of God’s work. The apostles can be imprisoned, but the Word is not bound and does its work. Many hear the Word and therefore come to faith. Faith is out of hearing and hearing through the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Because of the powerful effect of the Word, the number of men alone grows to about five thousand.

Verses 5-7

Interrogation by the Council

The religious leaders meet in Jerusalem the next day. The entire administrative apparatus to which the people have been delivered – they are “their rulers and elders and scribes” – is preparing to interrogate the two rebel leaders. The leaders see their authority over the people threatened. This is also the reason they killed the Lord Jesus.

At the head of this group is a small group of high priests and their families. Luke mentions a few names. Of them we know Annas and Caiaphas. Caiaphas is the son-in-law of Annas. He was high priest during the trial against the Lord Jesus (John 18:13-2 Chronicles :). John and Alexander are unknown to us. It has been assumed that they were sons of Annas, but nothing can be said with certainty. And there are still some of the high priestly family present of whom Luke does not mention the names. They let the apostles come and place them in the center.

There are Peter and John standing in front of a group with whom surely the memory of the day when the Lord Jesus stood before them will have surfaced. They thought they had wiped out the whole movement with Him, but here they are again confronted with Him in His followers.

Their interrogation is not extensive, but it is quite specific. They are not concerned with the fact of the miracle. They are not fundamentally opposed to a miracle having happened. Miracles can be a social improvement. Their great objection is that this miracle is connected to the Name of Jesus, and that causes great annoyance.

They cannot deny the miracle, but how have these simple people been able to perform this amazing miracle? Where did they get the power and what Name is behind it? Although they know very well what made the apostles do “this” – that is the healing of the lame – they still ask for it. They may want to hear something that will allow them to condemn them.

Verses 8-12

Accountability by Peter

Here Peter begins his fourth speech in this book. Again he takes the opportunity to preach the Name of the Lord Jesus and the gospel. In this he is led by the Spirit (Luke 21:12-Ezra :). He is even “filled” with the Holy Spirit.

His audience is now a company of religious dignitaries. Peter does not deny their dignity or despise their position, but he makes it unequivocally clear that Jesus Christ is far above them. There is no hesitation or fear whatsoever. Fearless, he confronts this company with the same Lord whom they condemned and put to death only a few weeks ago.

Peter points out to them the nonsense of their interrogation. It is crazy that they are being interrogated about a benefaction to a sick person! It should be a cause of great joy and gratitude and not an interrogation. Instead, the interrogators feel threatened in their position. And he knows the background to that. He knows that their resistance stems from the means used. He then elaborates on that means.

In the clearest and firmest terms, Peter tells his listeners – and over their heads the whole people – who is responsible for this man’s health. That is none other than “Jesus Christ the Nazarene”. There must be no misunderstanding about this, it must be known to everyone. This Name must have cut them through the soul.

And Peter does not leave it at that. Without fear of this highest religious judgment, he places this Name before their conscience by accusing them of having crucified Him, while he lets it directly be followed by what God has done with Him. God has raised Him from the dead. Also in this speech the resurrection of the Lord Jesus occupies an important place. It is through the Name of the resurrected Jesus Christ that the man is healed.

This presentation turns their entire world of feeling upside down and shakes their existence to its foundations. That despised Name, that Person Who is so hated and executed by them, would be alive and still working on earth?

Peter continues his defense calmly and vigorously. He underpins his argument again with a quotation from God’s Word that they know so well. Also in his previous speeches he quoted verses from the Old Testament to apply them to Christ. On the day of Pentecost he mentioned some of David’s prophecies about the death, resurrection and glorification of the Lord Jesus and the consequence that God made Him Lord and Christ. At the door of the temple, called ‘Beautiful’, he spoke of a Prophet like Moses.

Guided by the Holy Spirit he always knows how to quote the right verse at the right moment. This time he quotes a verse from Psalm 118 (Psalms 118:22). He quotes the same verse he heard the Lord use in front of a group of religious leaders (Matthew 21:42; Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17). This verse is the correct quote here to tell this group what they have done.

From the context of the psalm we see that it is about the temple, God’s house. We read about the gate of Yahweh through which the righteous enter (Psalms 118:20). It is about the house of Yahweh (Psalms 118:26) and about the altar (Psalms 118:27). The “builders” are the leaders to whom Peter speaks. They have despised and rejected the cornerstone, that is Christ.

The cornerstone is the stone that is laid on the foundation and on which the house is built. Starting from that stone, the whole building is erected. Christ is the cornerstone of the new temple with which they, the leaders, want nothing to do (Isaiah 28:16). He is also the cornerstone of the building that God is building now, His church, the house of God today (1 Peter 2:4-Judges :; 1 Timothy 3:15). On Him rests the whole new building, the church.

Peter connects to the quotation, and thus concludes his defense, pointing to the exclusivity of the Name of the Lord Jesus. Only through His Name salvation is possible. The difference with his previous speeches is that in it he offered forgiveness to the people when they repented. He does not do that to the leaders here. The only thing he does is to speak about the Name that alone can save. He is irreplaceable. Without Him salvation is unthinkable. Again and again it is about the ‘Name’.

To state that there is no salvation outside of Him means that the Lord Jesus claims to be God, because God demands in the Old Testament the exclusive right to be the only Savior (Isaiah 43:11; Isaiah 45:21). For the unbelieving Jew, the Messiah is merely a man and not God. With the fact that there is no salvation outside of Him Peter states that the Lord Jesus is God. This is reprehensible to the Jew.

If he would read his own Old Testament well, he would discover that it says that the Messiah is both God and Man (Isaiah 9:6; Micah 5:2; Zechariah 12:10). In any case the religious leaders do not want to acknowledge this, blinded as they are by the search of their own honor. The Sanhedrin rejects Him instead of leading the people to that stone.

There is no salvation in anyone but Him. That salvation is also not limited to Israel. “Under heaven”, that means on all the earth, there is no other Name given among men, by which they are to be saved than the Name of Jesus Christ, the Nazarene. That leaves no choice and no excuse. It is He and no one else; It is He for everyone; He is absolutely necessary.

Verses 13-17

Deliberation of the Council

The high company amazes at the boldness of Peter and John. The members of the Council notice that they are “uneducated … men”, that is, that they have not received theological training from rabbis recognized by them. They also notice that these two men are “untrained men” or “simple men”. They do not come from high circles, yet they are not in any way impressed by the distinction of the council members.

In their eyes, they are lay people, ignorant, because that is the meaning of ‘untrained’. Something similar has been said of the Lord Jesus during His life on earth (John 7:15; cf. Matthew 7:28-Joel :). But the power of the Spirit can manifest itself clearly in those who cannot boast of any worldly advantage.

The members of the Council are amazed that they know God’s Word so well, even though they do not come from their circles or are otherwise known as taught in the Scriptures. Then the true source of their knowledge emerges. It cannot remain hidden. They recognize that they have been “with Jesus”. Do our neighbors also know us by that, that we live a life with the Lord Jesus?

The learned gentlemen would love to lecture these uneducated people, but they are gagged by a visible proof of the right of these lay people. How serious is the position of people who on the one hand cannot deny the truth and on the other hand deliberately do not want to bow to it! They love darkness more than light because their works are evil (John 3:19).

They are clearly embarrassed with the situation. This needs to be discussed. That must take place without the presence of either of the apostles. So they are sent away. They consult because they have no grip on the matter. The power of God is manifested outside them and that means that they no longer have authority on their side. Under no circumstances do they want to admit this, but they do not dare to say it openly because they have public opinion against them.

The deliberation takes place behind closed doors, but the Holy Spirit mentions what they have discussed. God makes the hidden deliberations public wherever and whenever He wants. He sees in the darkness, for the light dwells with Him (Daniel 2:22). He exposes the work of a hardened conscience.

They acknowledge that an undeniable miracle has happened, which they even call a “sign”, as this word also can be translated. A sign indicates more than a miracle that God has something to say with it. The miracle means something. A sign points to a higher reality. For example, a sign points to an escape route. The sign itself is not that escape route. In the case of the healed man it means that God acts for the glory of His Son, the Messiah rejected by them. That Name becomes visible in this miracle which is therefore a sign. The Name of the Lord Jesus should also become more visible in our actions. To witness to Him is our great task.

They could not find any argument against the message of Peter and John. If authorities have no arguments to assert their authority, but they still want to be right, they have nothing left but to become authoritarian. All that remains for them is to threaten to stop speaking in the Name of Jesus. In this way they want to let this matter die a soft death. If the apostles would keep their mouths shut, after a while no one would talk about it anymore. Too often Christians have succumbed to a lesser threat and have remained silent where they should have spoken.

Verses 18-22

Command and Threat of the Council

The apostles were allowed to come back in and hear the verdict. They are forbidden to speak or teach in the Name of Jesus. They are simply not allowed to say anything at all about the Lord Jesus, while God honors Him so openly and rightly. By what Peter answers, it becomes clear that the leaders of Israel have lost the place of interpreters of God’s will. God does not speak through them. Peter makes that clear through his contrast.

The apostles do not expel the religious leaders and do not attack them. They leave the judgment to God. They do, however, ignore the authority of the rulers in connection with the work that God has entrusted to them. The testimony of God can now be found with the apostles and no longer with the rulers of the temple. God lives in the church and (already) no longer in the temple.

What we also see in the reaction of Peter and John is that personal conscience is placed above authority when that authority makes decisions that go against God’s Word. Conscience is bound to the Word and therefore it is placed above formal authority. In their response, Peter and John also place the conscience of the leaders before God by telling them to account to God for their judgment. As for themselves, at least they cannot disobey God, whatever the consequences.

We also see this attitude with Daniel’s friends who decided to refuse to do something that God has forbidden (Daniel 3:18) and with Daniel himself who decided to refuse to abandon what God has commanded (Daniel 6:11). They experienced the consequences of that, but also God’s salvation.

Peter and John declare that they have no choice but to speak about what they have seen and heard. These things are too important. It is about the Christ of God and the salvation of the people. How can you remain silent about that? In the same way, Paul cannot possibly remain silent about the gospel that the Lord has commanded him to proclaim (1 Corinthians 9:16; cf. Jeremiah 20:9).

The Council feels powerless in the face of the convinced apostles. All they can do is grit their teeth and sharpen their threats. None of this makes any impression. The apostles remain calm. They say and do nothing to give the Council an opportunity to punish them. The threats of the Council are expressions of weakness. This is how people express themselves who are more afraid of the people than of God.

The apostles are allowed to go. The Council cannot do otherwise. This is not because they are convinced of the innocence of the apostles, but because they are afraid of getting the people against them. Loss of popular favor is the last thing they want. How God thinks about the matter is of no significance to them. The fact that the people glorify God for what has happened does not affect them. They only see that it happens through the influence of the apostles and that they in turn act under the influence of the Name of Jesus. They hate that Name and that is why they resist.

Luke mentions that the sign of healing has happened to someone who has been ill for more than forty years from his birth (Acts 3:2). That rules out any natural healing. The healing is also not the result of a slow recovery that started once and is now complete. After all, the man was carried every day and placed at the gate of the temple. His healing was as spontaneous as it was unexpected.

Verse 23

Their Own

When Peter and John are released, they go directly to “their own [companions]”, their own people, the people with whom they are connected, their own spiritual family. They form the company brought together by the Holy Spirit, of which the Lord Jesus is the center. Their connections no longer lie with the Jewish people who have turned in enmity “against the Lord and against His Christ” (Acts 4:26). They are separated from them and from the world.

They did not have to wonder where their brothers and sisters were to be found. The faithful often came together. It is possible that Peter and John went to the upper room, the familiar place where we have seen the believers together before (Acts 1:13). Later we see that Peter knows where to find the believers when he has been in prison again and has been liberated (Acts 12:12). What a blessing to belong to such a company where you can go and where they receive you and where you can share your experiences because they have a warm interest in them.

Peter and John give a detailed account of everything the chief priests and elders have said to them. We do not hear about their own clear and fearless testimony. There are no great stories of a courageous performance. The apostles are concerned with the threat of not being allowed to testify anymore. That is their need and they want to share it.

Verses 24-28

The Need Presented to the Lord

The reaction of the disciples to the message of Peter and John shows the great connectedness with each other. When they have reported on the events, the whole company turns to God in a spontaneous prayer. It has now become a common need. This prayer comes from the testimony and service for the Lord. If we testified more and shared our experiences with each other, our prayers would become more like the prayer described here. There is unity in praying. God hears as it were one voice.

When they address Him, they address Him with “Lord”, which literally means “despot”, that is absolute ruler, sovereign owner and possessor of everything. In connection with their need that is the right form of address. Earthly authorities have threatened that they are no longer allowed to speak about the Lord Jesus. Now they turn to the supreme authority and appeal to it as the highest and absolute authority.

In their prayers they are led to the Scriptures, to also appeal to the authority of the Word. God and His Word are inextricably linked. The situation in which they find themselves reminds them of Psalm 2 (Psalms 2:1-Exodus :). In the direct sense, the psalm describes the situation in the last days, the end time, but they quote the psalm in their prayers for its application to their days. In the same way, we may also cite Scripture in our prayers. There is no better way to come to God than in connection with His Word. He wants us to come to Him that way. That means that we stand before Him at the very bottom that He Himself takes in.

Here we find out that Psalm 2 is of David, because that is not apparent from the psalm itself. We also hear again that David is the mouth of the Holy Spirit in this psalm (cf. Acts 1:16). Quoting God’s Word only has an effect if it happens in full faith in the inspiration of that Word. They speak to God about David as “Your servant”, making an even closer connection with their current situation in which opposition to God’s “holy servant Jesus” manifests itself.

David wonders why the nations have raged and the nations have invented vain things. Surely it is foolishness to rise up against the Most High, isn’t it? Yet the kings and rulers, the authorities of the world, are in rebellion against the Lord of heaven and earth and against His Christ. For although in practice only the two apostles Peter and John have been threatened by the religious leaders of Israel, it is in truth, as stated in the psalm, that the whole power of the enemy has gathered against the Lord Jesus. The apostles have to suffer, but the real reason is the hatred of God’s ‘holy servant Jesus’.

Christ is also God’s holy Servant in heaven Who from heaven through the Holy Spirit continues His work on earth for the glory of God. God anointed Him when He was on earth. That anointing still rests on Him. For the world, however, He is the rejected and despised Jesus. He was on earth and He still is.

The disciples mention the names of Herod and Pontius Pilate as the persons who are a model for the enmity of both the apostate religious world and the rebellious political world. They mocked, abused and condemned the Lord Jesus when He stood before them on earth. They did this together with the “Gentiles and peoples of Israel”. The disciples speak of Israel as belonging to the world of the Gentiles because together with the Gentiles they killed the true Servant of God, yes, they were the instigators.

In their prayer, the disciples present the acts of the hostile people to God. At the same time they also know that God is not out of control. The enemies have believed that they have been able to carry out their own plans and intentions, but the reality is that they have only done what God wanted. They have carried out His work.

Verses 29-31

Question to the Lord and His Answer

It is wonderful to note the conclusion the prayers come to. They poured out their hearts before the Lord (Psalms 62:8) and placed their needs with Him. It is enough for their hearts that they have asked His attention for the threats. They do not ask if He wants to intervene in power and destroy the enemies or take away the threats. They entrust it all to Him with the peace of mind that He knows what is needed.

All they ask is confidence to speak, despite all opposition. After all, they have been threatened by religious authority to no longer speak or teach in the Name of the Lord Jesus. Now they ask the Supreme Authority to be bold enough to resist the authority of these people and not to take any notice of the threats. All this with the aim to “speak Your word”. The disciples are full of the Word of God. Against this, the enemy tries to raise a dam; but it must be spoken to the salvation of people.

The disciples also ask the Lord for proof of His consent to their prayer. They would like Him to further manifest Himself with irrefutable proof of His power through the Name of the Lord Jesus. They ask if He wants to make the Name of His “holy servant Jesus” even greater by healing and doing signs and wonders.

As they pray, God answers. The answer is slightly different than what they have been praying for. There is a manifestation of His power, but it is only noticeable to the praying believers. It is not a manifestation of power against their opponents, but for themselves. That manifestation consists of shaking the place where they are. They feel how the place is being shaken.

The part of the prayer that asks for boldness is fulfilled. Therefore they are filled with the Holy Spirit. Being filled with the Holy Spirit means that there is no more room for the flesh to assert itself. Through fulfillment with the Holy Spirit they do not speak in languages, but they speak the Word of God. Two apostles have spoken the Word and that is forbidden to them. After they have prayed, the whole company speaks God’s Word!

Verses 32-35

Church Unity

Here we find more characteristics of this new company. Everything breathes the presence of Him Who deigned to come to earth to dwell in the believers. Without Him, all those believers would have remained just as many individuals, but now there is unity. That unity concerns not only the new life in the spiritual sphere, but also the whole of life in the community and social sphere. Their faith connects the crowd of heart and soul.

If there is such unity, it cannot but be experienced also in practice. From within there is a desire to share everything with each other. This is very different from the law, which prescribes that certain things must be shared with each other. Sharing is then an obligation. The law also states that every Israelite has a piece of land that has been given to him as a blessing from God. The fact that the believers give up this piece of land shows what a big change in the thinking of these Jews of origin has taken place anyway.

Here, grace is the origin of all facets of life. Love for Christ goes hand in hand with love for His own. That love proves itself in giving. They know that their true riches lie elsewhere. There is no ‘Christian communism’ here because the sale takes place entirely voluntarily. Communism is: ‘All yours is mine’; Christendom is: ‘All mine is yours’ and that on a voluntary basis. The right to private property has not been taken away. The community did not have the money until it had been voluntarily placed at the feet of the apostles.

The sharing of earthly goods gives extra strength to the apostles’ testimony concerning the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. It is only possible to consider earthly possessions as meaningless if there is a great impression of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Through His resurrection a territory has opened up that lies outside of this world. Whoever is connected to it, knows that all his blessings lie there.

This truth irresistibly breaks through all opposition in the early days of Christendom. The great resistance this truth evokes is proof of its great significance. The result is only that the apostles bear witness to this truth with great power.

That the enmity against the preaching of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus is great should not surprise us. The resurrection of Christ confirms the total corruption of man. What remains for a man today is either the acknowledgment of this, which at the same time brings him the full liberation that God has worked in Christ, or resisting and dying. That is why the resurrection is fundamental in the preaching. Whoever acknowledges the resurrection of Christ will acknowledge it as a proof of “great grace”.

It is remarkable what is called “great” in the early days. There is “great power” and “great grace” (Acts 4:33); there is “great fear” (Acts 5:5; Acts 5:11); “great persecution” (Acts 8:1); “great joy” (Acts 8:8; Acts 15:3); “a great number” who believed (Acts 11:21).

The “great grace” refers not only to the eternal salvation of the soul, but also to the earthly life of the church. God takes care of eternity, the believers take care of each other for the time on earth. This does not mean that the church is a club of people who do good works. What they do for each other is an effect of the great grace that is over them. Perhaps this is how it happened, that something was only sold when there was a need. In such a case, the Spirit could make clear to someone what he had to sell in order to be able to provide for the needs of others. No wish lists were submitted and no wishes were fulfilled, but they were distributed according to everyone’s needs.

In general we are not asked to sell our possessions. The rich in the present day are not called upon to get rid of their wealth, but to deal with it in the right way and not to fix their hope on it (1 Timothy 6:17-Job :). Nor do we read anywhere that we should put our gifts at someone’s feet. However, it is important that we use our possessions for the Lord’s work and the needs of fellow believers.

It is still important to see our possessions as entrusted to us by the Lord to manage for Him. The way we deal with them shows whether we are focused on the Lord and His own, or whether we live for ourselves. He who closes his heart to a brother or sister who is in need does not have the love of God in him (1 John 3:17).

Verses 36-37


Among all those who sell their possessions and bring the proceeds to the apostles’ feet, there is also Joseph, who was nicknamed “Barnabas” by the apostles. His name is mentioned at least twenty-five times in Acts and five more times in Paul’s letters.

Luke gives the meaning of his name. Literally in Aramaic his name means ‘son (bar) of prophecy (naba)’. So Luke does not give a literal translation, but he immediately gives the fully permitted specific meaning of ‘consolation’ (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:3). This will be because from his performance mentioned below it appears that comforting or admonishing is his specific gift (Acts 11:23).

Barnabas is a Cypriot by birth, i.e. he was born in the dispersion and later came to Israel. He was born outside the land, but is a descendant of Levi. The fact that he owned land is remarkable because a Levite was not allowed to have land of his own (Numbers 18:20; Deuteronomy 10:9). How Barnabas got it is not clear. Possibly he had a piece of land on Cyprus, to which the Jewish law did not apply. Like the others who sell their land, he shows that the blessing is no longer earthly, but that he participates in heavenly, spiritual blessings.

Bibliographical Information
de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 4". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kng/acts-4.html. 'Stichting Titus' / 'Stichting Uitgeverij Daniël', Zwolle, Nederland. 2021.
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