The Unforeseen Benefit of Persecution and Suffering: Acts 4:21-22
“21) When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22) for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed.” Acts 4:21-22
God does not bow to human threats, nor should His disciples. In Matthew 28:18-20, the resurrected Christ gave authority to His disciples to go into all the world and make disciples and teach all that He had commanded them. He promised to be with them.
Here, in Acts 4:19-23 we encounter a battle between two authorities. The command of the Council not to teach or preach in the name of Jesus Christ was in direct opposition to the command of the resurrected Christ to preach and teach the gospel to the whole world. To obey one was to deny the other.
Peter and John put the Council on notice that they were going to obey God rather than man. They refused to back down. ( See Acts 4:18-20) When we align with God rather than men we trigger the principle that God steps up and does the fighting for us. But let me give a caution; doing this means that we are prepared to suffer for righteousness sake. This is the hallmark of disobedience to false or liberal religious authorities for the sake of obedience to God.
Daniel 3:13-30 is the foundation text for religious disobedience. When King Nebuchadnezzar built his image and issued a command for all to bow down and worship, it placed Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego in opposition to the religious order of the king.
Their answer to the king was classic. It is found in Daniel 3:16-18. Let me quote; 16) “Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego replied to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to give you an answer concerning this matter. 17) If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18) But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.””
Sure enough, the king accepted their challenge and bound them hand and foot and had them thrown into the furnace of fire. They were willing to suffer and die for allegiance to God. That’s when God stepped up and intervened. But what if he hadn’t? Obeying God with a clear conscience was a higher value to them than life. This is the cornerstone to the doctrine of suffering. God meant more to them than life.
There is a subliminal subtext to this doctrine. It comes in the form of two words for “life” in the Greek language. There is difference between “bio-life” and “zoe-life.” The first refers to mere physical life. The second refers to Spirit life.
The early Christians were willing to give up physical life for the greater value of embracing the higher spiritual life found through faith in Jesus Christ. “Zoe” is the word for life found in John 1:4; “in Him was life, and the life was the light of men” Jesus had deeper life in Him than mere physical life. The concept of “eternal life” in texts like John 3:16 is also based on the Greek word “Zoe.”
When I first heard the concept of “Zoe life” it seemed strange and even awkward for me. Over time it has become very precious. I now equate Zoe life with the walk in the Spirit. This is the deeper abundant inner spirit life Jesus promised to give His followers in John 10:10.
So what does “Zoe life” have to do with the doctrine of suffering? The early Christians understood that threats against biological or physical life could not affect the deeper “Spirit life” found “in Christ.” Persecution and martyrdom could destroy the physical body, but they had no affect on the soul or spirit. To the contrary, outward suffering can enrich the soul and spirit. This physical suffering principle also applies to physical ailments and aging. (See 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)
We could spend considerable time on this theme, but this is why the threats from the council had no negative affect on Peter and John. They were no longer living according to the flesh but rather according to the Spirit. To the contrary, they understood that physical suffering throws spiritual gasoline on inner spirit life. This can happen no matter the source of physical suffering. Pruning the flesh can always produces fruit in the spirit… if we respond to it properly.
After they were released, we discover the full extent to which the threats from the Council fueled the awakening that was unfolding. The next section of the story is very profound and enlightening. It shows how to cry out to God in the face of persecution and suffering. God is always magnified through the storm!
Daily Bible Commentary By Terry Baxter: Cofounder of GoServ Global