A verse by verse study of Acts 5:17-42. These verses describe how the apostles were arrested and jailed but miraculously escaped and kept on preaching Jesus. .
The Apostles Arrested and Jailed
¶ "The high priest and his fellow leaders from the sect of the Sadducees were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail."(Acts 5:17-18).
Sadducees These are the same temple officials who jailed the apostles previously (Acts 4:1-3). 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).
Put them in the public prison. Freedom of speech was not on the Sanhedrin’s agenda. They had told the apostles previously to stop preaching Jesus. Now the apostles are thrown into the public jail to await another trial before the Sanhedrin.
Filled with jealousy. The officials might have been more prudent to detain the apostles in private custody. That would attracted less public attention. But blind zeal and jealousy causes even men of stature to rush in and act unwisely.
¶ "However an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors during the night. The angel brought them outside and said, 'Go stand in the temple and continue to tell the people the whole message of life.' As soon as they heard this, they went into the temple and taught. It was dawn. When high priest and his associates came, they called the Sanhedrin together, and all the eldership of the children of Israel. They then sent officers to the prison to fetch the apostles."(Acts 5:19-21).
An angel of the Lord God’s angels are "ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation"(Hebrews 1:13-14). On this occasion the “service” was to spring the apostles from prison in the dead of night. The angel managed to open the doors and shepherd the apostles out without the guards noticing, and to leave the prison doors shut and secure. Assuming the apostles were still inside the jail, the Sanhedrin convenes and sends officers to fetch the prisoners.
All the words of life. The apostles had not been able to finish their work in the temple. Many people had heard part of the message of eternal life but not all of it. So God didn't tolerate this interruption. The angel sent the apostles back to the temple to teach all of the message.
What, no breakfast? The apostles went straight from jail to the temple. It was dawn when they got there and resumed their preaching. Nothing is said about taking time for a meal. Maybe they were content to work without eating, as Jesus once said, "My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work"(John 4:33-34).
Meanwhile, back at the Sanhedrin’s assembly...
¶ "However the officers didn't find the apostles in the prison. They returned and said, 'We found the prison shut and secure. The guards were on duty at the doors, but when we opened the doors we found no one inside.' When the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard this report, they were quite disturbed about the apostles and what these events might turn into. Then someone came and told the council, 'Take note: men you jailed are standing in the temple and teaching the people.' The captain went with the officers to the temple, and brought the apostles to the council. This was done without violence, because the officers were afraid that the people might stone them."(Acts 5:22-26).
No one inside The officers found nobody in the cell, yet to all appearances nobody had left it. How could twelve apostles disappear? The dumbfounded council was no doubt relieved when an informer came in with the news that the apostles were back at work in the temple teaching the dawn worshippers. At least this was something the council could act upon.
The captain went with the officers. To try to stop the fiasco worsening, the captain of the officers went with his men to oversee bringing the apostles in; he saw to it that a tidy job was done with the least fuss.
Afraid of being stoned. The apostles were "teaching the people" and the people did not appreciate heavy handed interference with their teachers’ work. This was now the third arrest. The people would no doubt protest, and the protest could become a stone-throwing riot to overwhelm the officers, further embarrass the Sanhedrin, and raise the apostles’ public profile greatly.
¶ "The officers brought the apostles before the council. The high priest questioned them, 'Didn't we strictly command you not to teach in this name? Look! You have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and intend to bring this man’s blood on us.' But Peter and the apostles replied, 'We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, after you killed him by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him with his right hand to be a Prince and a Savior, to grant to Israel repentance and forgiveness of sins. We are his witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.' "(Acts 5:27-32).
Strictly commanded you. The apostles had defied the order of the Sanhedrin. But instead of answering “yes” to the high priest’s rhetorical question, Peter appeals to a higher authority. "We must obey God". The Sanhedrin seemed to have forgotten that God’s authority was higher than theirs. So Peter reminds them with these facts: they had killed Jesus; God had raised him up. Whom should the apostles obey? The religious leaders who had Jesus crucified, or the God who raised him back to life?
To grant repentance and forgiveness. Some people make an argument that repentance, like forgiveness, is not something you do, but something God grants to you. However it has twice been recorded that Peter preached repentance as a commandment(Acts 2:38,Acts 3:19). Peter told the people it was what they needed to do —he was responding to their question, "What must we do?"(Acts 2:37-38). So God does the forgiving; God doesn't do the repenting. God grants repentance in the sense that he provides the opportunity to repent (Revelation 2:21), and through the message shows people their need to repent. This is the grace and mercy of God.
God of our fathers. The expression “the God of our fathers” is short for "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob"(Mark 12:26-27).
Prince and Saviour. In Isaiah 9:6, the child to be born "will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." Peter is speaking to people who knew the scriptures. They would take Peter to be claiming that Jesus is God. They would also remember that the Christ is described as "Messiah the Prince"(Daniel 9:25), and interpret Peter as claiming that they had killed their Messiah.
The Apostles as witnesses Each of the apostles had seen, heard, and touched, the risen Lord. They were not preaching hearsay, but as one of them said, "what we have heard, what we have seen with our own eyes, what we beheld and our hands handled, the Word of Life"(1John 1:3).
The Holy Spirit a witness. The Holy Spirit was speaking through the apostles and "confirming the word with signs following"(Mark 16:20).
¶ "Hearing this was like having their hearts cut with a saw. They determined to put the apostles to death. But a member of the council stood up. He was a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, honored by all the people. He gave a command to have the apostles put outside for a little while. Then he said to the council, 'You men of Israel, be careful concerning these men. Think about what you are doing. For before this present time, Theudas rose up, making himself out to be somebody. He got a following of about four hundred men. He was slain and his followers were dispersed. That came to nothing. After him, there was Judas of Galilee who rose up at the time of the census. He drew away some people after him, but he likewise perished, and his followers were scattered. Now I tell you, withdraw from these men, and leave them alone. For if theirs is the counsel or work of men, it will be overthrown. If it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow it, and you would be seen to fight against God!' "(Acts 5:33-3 9).
Gamaliel’s wise counsel While the Sadducees fume, and decide to kill the apostles like they killed Jesus, a Pharisee calms them down with a bit of common sense. If this new teaching isn't of God, it will soon pass; if God is behind it, anyone who tries to stop it risks his reputation, not to mention the wrath of God.
¶ "The council agreed with Gamaliel. Summoning the apostles, they beat them and commanded them not to speak in the name of Jesus. Then they let them go. So the apostles left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for Jesus’s name. Every day, in the temple and in various homes, they never stopped teaching and preaching Jesus, the Christ."(Acts 5:40-42).
Commanded them not to speak. The council’s directive is getting a bit worn around the edges —it's the same old prohibition which the apostles continued as always to defy. The apostles were given a beating but instead of reinforcing the council’s command, it reinforced the apostles’ determination.
Worthy to suffer. Persecution is never easy to bear, but if you interpret it as "sharing in the sufferings of Christ" you can even rejoice in it, painful as it is (1Peter 4:12-19).
From house to house. The preaching of the gospel in public is supplemented by gatherings in various private homes. These “cottage meetings” as we sometimes call them, have several advantages, not least that they are an option when public preaching is disrupted by persecution.