This page is a verse by verse study of Acts 4:1-22. These verses describe how the religious rulers of Jerusalem tried to stop Peter and John from preaching after the healing of the man born lame.
Peter and John Arrested
¶ "As they spoke to the people, the priests came over to them with the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees —very annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. They arrested them, and because it was evening by now, they put them in custody until the next day."(Acts 4:1-3).
Priests, captain, Sadducees The temple was run by priests who were descended from Moses’s brother Aaron. The temple had security guards and their captain was present. The Sadducees were a powerful sect of the Jews. Sadducees did not believe in spirits, angels, or in any resurrection of the dead (Acts 23:8). When Jesus was preaching, his opposition came mainly from the Pharisees, but now the Sadducees are conducting the persecution.
¶ "But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number, counting the men alone, grew to about five thousand."(Acts 4:4).
Hearing and believing. Some people interpret this to mean that faith alone is necessary to be saved. However Luke has previously recorded that "as many as received Peter’s word were baptized"(Acts 2:41). Instead of pitting Luke’s statements against each other, let's simply put them together. People were save and added to the church in Jerusalem by:
Hearing and believing the word (Acts 4:4).
Repenting and being baptized (Acts 2:38).
These two versions of what people did aren't contradictory; they're complementary. All these things, hearing, believing, repenting, being baptized, are essential to being added to the number of the saved.
¶ "In the morning a gathering took place in Jerusalem of their rulers, elders, and scribes. Annas the high priest was there, with Caiaphas, John, Alexander, and a full contingent of the high priest’s family. They stood Peter and John in the center of the council, and put to them the question, 'By what power, or in what name, have you done this?' "(Acts 4:5-7).
Gathering of Rulers The official high priest Annas was appointed by the Roman government, but the rightful high priest by Jewish laws was Caiaphas, so effectively, and awkwardly, there were two high priests (cf John 18:12-14,24). The council now trying Peter and John was the sunhedrion (Sanhedrin), a high court of the Jews (Acts 4:15,Mark 15:1).
The Question. The council itself was not unjust in its dealings with Peter and John. It asks a very fair and appropriate question, and gives Peter the opportunity to answer it.
¶ "Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, 'Rulers of the people, and elders of Israel: if we are examined today about a good deed done to a crippled man, and if the question is how this man has been healed; be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead —in him this man stands here before you in perfect health.' "(Acts 4:8-10).
Filled with the Holy Spirit. Jesus had made a promise to his disciples which was now coming true. "When they arrest you and deliver you up, don't be anxious beforehand about what you are going to say, but simply say what is given to you in that hour, for it isn't you who speak, but the Holy Spirit."(Mark 13:11).
Peter’s Defense. Peter briefly defends himself and John by showing that, although they have been hauled before the court, they have done no crime to warrant it, but have done a good deed.
Peter’s Answer. Peter in effect tells the council that the finger nof accusation is pointed not at Peter and John, but at the council and its friends. The name and authority by which the miracle was done is the very Jesus whom they had crucified.
Two Raised Up The man who was raised up from being lame from birth was healed by the power of Jesus who was raised up from death.
¶ " 'This Jesus is the stone that you, the builders, rejected. He has now become the head stone of the corner. There is salvation in nobody else —nor under heaven is there given among men any other name but this by which we must be saved' "(Acts 4:11-12).
Rejected stone. Peter is alluding here to Psalm 118:22. The corner stone was the one from which all the foundation of a building was laid out. Jesus is the cornerstone of Israel, but its religious leaders rejected him. In doing so they rejected the very counsel of God for theselves, just as they had in rejecting John the Baptist the herald of Christ (Luke 7:30).
¶ "When they saw the confidence of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. They recognized that these men had been with Jesus. Furthermore, seeing the man who was healed standing with them, they were without an argument."(Acts 4:13-14).
Uneducated men. Peter and John were country folk. They were not men of letters; they'd had only the basic schooling. Yet here they were confounding these august scholars.
Recognized these men. The council recognized Peter and John as disciples of Jesus. Jesus had never conducted a secret society. He and his retinue of disciples had spent a lot of time in public.
Without an argument. Peter’s very short statement to the court was met with silence. The council was speechless. There was little they could say. The Holy Spirit, through Peter, had said it all. And the full stop to Peter’s statement was the man born lame, standing with Peter and John, perfectly healed.
¶ "However, they commanded the prisoners to wait outside and leave the council to confer in private. The council then said, 'What shall we do to these men? Because indeed a notable miracle has been done through them. This can be plainly seen by all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that this spreads no further among the people, let us warn them, that from now on they speak to nobody in this name.' "(Acts 4:15-17).
Sent them out. The council needed to confer, so they sent Peter and John outside to wait. Luke however has information on what then went on inside, no doubt from one of the assembly who later became a Christian (Acts 6:7)..
Miracle done through them. The council would not admit, even in private, that this miracle had been done through Jesus. They said only that it was done through Peter and John —which is contrary to Peter’s testimony that it was not he and John but rather Jesus Christ who had healed the man.
Notable miracle, plainly seen. They did however admit that the miracle was not hearsay and was evidence in plain view. However they did nothing with that evidence, except reluctantly to let the apostles go under the condition that they speak no more in the name by which the miracle had been done.
¶ "The council recalled the prisoners, and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, 'Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you instead of to God, you judge for yourselves. As for us, we can't stop telling the things which we saw and heard.' "(Acts 4:18-20).
We can't stop telling. When told that they musn't preach Jesus anymore, Peter and John call upon a higher authority. They must obey God rather than men, and they can't stop telling people about Jesus. They got away with this defiance for the present, as the next verse shows.
¶ "When the council had further threatened the prisoners, they let them go, finding no way to punish them. The people were the problem: everyone glorified God for the deed that was done. The man on whom this miracle of healing was performed was more than forty years old."(Acts 4:21-22).
Everyone glorified God. The populace got it right. They gave credit to God for this miraculous sign, that a man who'd been crippled for more than forty years was now made whole. The popular acceptance of Peter and John’s testimony of Jesus was a main influence in the council’s lack of action against them. It's a pity it wasn't what Peter and John claimed that led the council to release them.