The Public Confrontation: Acts 4:1-4
“1) As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2) being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3) And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4) But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” Acts‬ ‭4‬:‭1‬-‭4‬
Peter’s Second message took place on the temple ground. By way of review, the healing of the lame beggar paved the way for an open air gospel meeting. As the crowd gathered, Peter seized the opportunity to preach the gospel. The people were very attentive because the Holy Spirit was working.
This provoked wrath from the priests, the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees. The scene had all the elements of a great open air meeting. There was a miracle that caught the attention of the crowd, a vocal preacher who eloquently shared the gospel, intense opposition from adversaries of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit at work persuading people.
The group that opposed the preaching of Peter and John were the key players in crucifying Jesus. Let’s look at the motives of each of the opposition party briefly. What motivated them?
The priests were there fighting for their jobs. Jesus was about to displace them as the new High Priest and His sacrifice totally fulfilled the sacrificial system making it obsolete. This transition from the old to the new is the core focus of Hebrews 3-10. They were trying to stop the gospel because it pointed to the new and living way for people to go directly to God through Jesus Christ without a human mediator.
The captain of the temple guard was there fighting for his reputation. He had been entrusted with the task of guarding the tomb and then paid to spread the rumor that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus. (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-15) Now he was desperately trying to stop the preaching of the gospel, because its core message focused on his failure.
The Sadducees were there fighting for their theological dogma. Their core belief system was based on denial of life after death, a resurrection or any form of eternal judgement. (See Acts 23:8) The message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the gospel challenged, exposed and obliterated their false teachings.
God not only allowed their opposition, He used the controversy to draw greater attention to the gospel. What a contrast! When Jesus or His disciples laid hands on people, it was to anoint or heal them. When this group laid hands on people it was to assault or arrest them. Peter and John preached faith. The religious leaders resorted to force. The crowd could clearly see the difference.
The end result was the direct fulfillment of the words of Jesus in Acts 1:8. The power of the Holy Spirit was unleashed to undergird the preaching of the gospel so that thousands were converted. Look at Acts 4:4; “But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.”
So many were becoming believers that they resorted to a different counting system. Instead of counting every conversion, they now start counting the men. When the women and children are factored into this verse, a conservative estimate might be 15,000 to 20,000 believers. The gospel was exploding and many were coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
How can this be explained? There is only one answer. As Jesus pointed out in Acts 1:8, the primary ministry and power of the Holy Spirit would be to undergird the spread of the gospel. This observation is consistent throughout the whole book of Acts. Every extraordinary movement of the Holy Spirit in the book of Acts was in some way connected to the spread of the gospel.
I fully recognize the Holy Spirit has numerous roles, but His primary ministry is connected closely to the spread of the gospel. If your spiritual life is mundane and dry it’s probably because you have distanced yourself from actively sharing the gospel. The power of God always shows up on the front lines of spreading the gospel just as Jesus said in Acts 1:8.
Let me give a clarification; you can be busy with good stuff and even do humanitarian work with a packed schedule and still be dry, powerless and barren. You can be religious and empty. You can play church and still seldom see God work. You can even be a theologian and still be an agnostic about the power of God. That describes the priests and Sadducees in this story! They were on the wrong side of the gospel.
The Holy Spirit is most active and the power of God is most evident when Jesus is being lifted up and the gospel is actually being shared through Gods anointed messengers! God doesn’t waste miracles, signs or wonders. They are not for human entertainment; they are for Divine engagement. (Consult Matthew 12:38-39 & Matthew 16:1-4) The New Testament screams that signs, wonders and miracles are very purposeful and are used to promote Jesus, advance the gospel or confirm Gods approved messengers. (Hebrews 2:1-4)
These four verses at the beginning of Acts 4 set the stage for Peter’s third message and a show down between the religious elite and the Spirit anointed disciples of Jesus Christ. Stay tuned as the drama builds.
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global