Archive for June 2008

Acts 4

June 7, 2008

In the middle of the sermon that Peter and John were preaching, the Establishment (in the form of priests, Sadducees, and the captain of the Temple guard [1]) seized and jailed the two apostles for teaching independently of the priests. especially regarding the resurrection of the dead as evidenced in Jesus. But at least two thousand men were converted [2].

The next day, the rulers, elders and teachers of the Law, led by high priest Annas and comprising the Sanhedrin [3], conducted an investigation. Filled with the Holy Spirit, Peter answered them that the healing of the cripple was done by the name of Jesus. Quoting Psalm 118:22, Peter declares that Jesus is the capstone, the sole means of salvation. Dismissing Peter, John, and the former cripple from the Sanhedrin, the leaders of Israel decided that the best they can do is to threaten Peter and John to be silent to try to keep “this thing from spreading further.” Peter and John rejected the command to remain silent. The Sanhedrin, however, were unable to decide how to punish them, since people were praising God for such an extraordinary miracle– the cripple was over 40, after all.

Peter and John went back and reported to the followers of Jesus what had happened, and quoted Psalm 2:1-2 (“Why do the heathen rage… against the Lord and His Anointed One?”) They blamed Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel for conspiring against Jesus who, they said, God had anointed. They asked God to enable them to speak boldly and to perform healing and miraculous signs. There was an earthquake, and the followers of Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit.

The community was marked by solidarity and by strong testimony: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. There were no needy persons among them.” People who owned land and houses, such as Barnabas (also known as Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus), sold those properties and provided the apostles with money [4], which was distributed to the needy.

1. The opponents of Peter and John were the priests, the captain of the Temple Guard, and the Sadducees. Matthew Henry thinks that the captain of the Temple Guard would have been a Roman, but this seems doubtful, since the Romans weren’t allowed in the Temple. The Sadducees were named after Sadoc, the high priest in the times of David and Solomon and were hellenizers, aligned with the ruling elite.
2. The math gets a little hard to follow. In Acts 1, there are 120 believers of both genders. In Acts 2, three thousand (gender unspecified) are converted. In Acts 4, the number of male believers increases to 5,000, but since we don’t know how many of the 3,100 are men, we can only be certain that at least 1,900 men were converted in Acts 4.
3. Matthew Henry points out that the Sanhedrin met the day after the arrest, unlike the trial of Jesus, in which he was tried the same night as His arrest.
4. The sale of lands and houses were very extreme steps, implying a breakup of communities and perhaps even families. Matthew Henry presents an argument that it was the time of the Jubilee, meaning that land could not be reclaimed for 50 years, but the argument is based on dubious numerology. Perhaps people may have been convinced that the End of Day was upon them. J.W. Carter draws attention to the point that Barnabas was a Levite, the one tribe that had not been allotted land in Old Testament days. (Carter uses that to argue that Barnabas was therefore not obligated to donate the land to the church, but the conclusion does not seem to follow). Perhaps the early church would have found that particularly satisfying, since the Levites were not supposed to own land, so a Levite sacrificing his land would seem to be a removal of a historical corruption.
Certainly the feature of sharing as a fundamental mark of Christians is noteworthy. Christians claim to be members of the same body, the body of Christ. If there is not a smooth sharing of necessities in that community, the claim of following Christ is probably not true.