The Apostles Are Jailed by Men, Freed by God
[Acts chapter 5, verses 17-28]
For better small screen viewing, click here 🙂
Last week when we left off off at verse 16 of Acts chapter 5, the apostles and all the others with them had been released from jail and had promptly gone on a marathon of healing and ministry as far as their feet would carry them. Moreover, the exponential growth of Christianity in the first century A.D. had enraged the local government officials as well as the Sanhedrin, the governing religious body of that time period. And so this week, as we continue our ongoing study of the writings of the apostle Luke, we’ll be moving on to part 2 of Acts 5, where we will shortly find that there was a downright visceral reaction from the authorities I mentioned when they saw the dizzying success of early Christianity. So let’s take up where we left off last week, beginning at verse 17.
“Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducee’s, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the apostles and put them in a public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. ‘Go, stand in the Temple courts’, he said, ‘and tell the people the full message of this new life.’ At daybreak they entered the Temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people. When the high priests and his associates arrived, they called together the Sanhedrin – the full assembly of the elders of Israel – and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there. So they went back and reported, ‘We found the jail securely locked, with the guards standing at the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside.’ On hearing this report, the temple guard and the chief priests were puzzled, wondering what would come of this.” (Acts 5, verses 17-24)
The apostles healed people just by casting a shadow of themselves upon them! The sheer power of the Holy Spirit of the Risen Savior was upon them all, and it showed. This threw the Sadducee’s, who were all accessories to the murder of Christ, into a jealous rage. The apostles soon found themselves jailed for the second time, having only recently been released from the captivity we studied in part one of chapter four (you can find that particular study here), only to be released by an angel (a secret operative in the Spirit) during the night. And the angel said to them all, “Go, stand in the Temple courts’…. and tell the people the full message of this new life.” Not ‘this new religion’, mind you all, nor ‘this new church’ nor ‘this new denomination’, nor any other such spiritual sophistry as any of that. This is the part of the message of Christ that has been lost in the translation on too many occasions! Christianity is not just a special type of faith, nor is it merely a creed of beliefs that mandates adherence to a set of rules. It certainly can’t be defined as an ideology! No – Christianity is an entirely different way of life, and if you will take the time to study the 4 gospels and the Book of Acts, you will find this to be true – and in a life-changing way!
“At daybreak they entered the Temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.” Is it any wonder the apostles were so filled with zeal that they arrived at the Temple courts at daybreak? If I had just been released from jail by an angel from heaven, I’d be excited too! Another factor in play here is that of discovery – discovery that there was a much better way of life than that which they were living. In spite of the centuries that have slipped by since then, nothing much has changed except for the advent of digital technology. Life is still a dog-eat-dog existence for the majority of the world’s population. In wealthier countries as well as poor, one must continually work at an occupation to earn enough money to buy the things we all need. But as we saw 2 weeks ago, the early Church had a communal living arrangement that worked perfectly (see Acts 4, verses 32-37). Instead of every man for himself, there is more than enough for everyone if we all agreed to share. Christianity, when practiced as it was originally intended, is the only effective way to accomplish this.
“….they called together the Sanhedrin – the full assembly of the elders of Israel – and sent to the jail for the apostles. But on arriving at the jail, the officers did not find them there.” As the following verses go on to say, there was much consternation that morning in the full assembly of the Sanhedrin. These people thought they had put to an end the teachings of Jesus Christ and his apostles, and the disciples under them, only to find this Movement mushrooming into something far bigger than it ever had been before. To borrow a phrase from a best-selling novel of a couple of decades ago, the Sanhedrin – and to a lesser extent their Roman overlords – saw Christianity as a “clear and present danger” to their positions of power and authority, and that was something they simply could not tolerate. And so once again, the chief priests and the ruling council moved to cut the head off Christianity, as we move on to part two of our study, picking up at verse 25.
“Then someone came and said, ‘Look! The men you put in jail are standing in the temple courts teaching the people.’ At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared the people would stone them. Having brought the apostles, they had them brought before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. ‘We gave you strict orders not to speak in this name’, he said. Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.’” (Acts 5, verses 25-28)
So the apostles, who everyone thought were in jail when the “full assembly of the elders of Israel” (from verse 21) convened – for what we would call a ‘joint session of Congress’ today – were teaching in the temple in place of the very authorities who had locked them up! One can only imagine the uproar that this must have caused! And there was nothing they could do about it. I mean, how does one person, or a hundred men in the case of this full assembly, oppose God, or oppose those who legitimately represent God? But these Sadducee’s were determined to do exactly that. “At that, the captain went with his officers and brought the apostles. They did not use force, because they feared the people would stone them.” I don’t know how much time elapsed from the time of the convening of the Council until the time the apostles were brought before the Sanhedrin, but keep in mind that nearly everyone traveled on foot back then. So physically walking from the Council chambers to the temple to arrest the Twelve (including Matthias), and then bringing them all back again, must have taken 30 minutes to an hour or more. This was more than enough time for the word to spread among the believers that the apostles had been arrested again. That’s why the guards and officers did not use force, a wise decision on their part since they were vastly outnumbered.
“… they had them brought before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. ‘We gave you strict orders not to speak in this name’, he said.” Now let’s understand the apostles’ situation; they were held in contempt of court because they had been previously, and recently, jailed for the same offense. But they were also charged with escape from jail, a very serious offense indeed. To put it concisely, the apostles were in a whole lot of trouble. But more than that, the temple where they had been ‘caught’ preaching and teaching the Good News of the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus was sacred territory as far as the all-Jewish Sanhedrin was concerned. The temple was their place of ‘worship’, a worshiping in vain as Jesus had called it. And so for anything other than the empty teachings of the Jewish ruling body to be taught in the temple was heresy as far as the Sanhedrin was concerned.
“Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” To the apostles, at that moment in time, this must have sounded a lot like a complement from the Lord. But more than that, the Sanhedrin obviously still didn’t understand, or were in a state of denial, as to the actual identity as the Son of God that Jesus was. Although they were well aware of Christ’s crucifixion since they had engineered it, they thought the apostles’ eyewitness testimony that Jesus had risen from the dead was the equivalent to a modern-day conspiracy theory. ‘How dare you teach this lunacy in our temple!’, was how their line of questioning must have seemed to the apostles at the time. The high priest’s line of questioning was so accusatory, so inflammatory and so condescending that Peter spoke up in retort to their accusers. But for now, we’ll have to be back here at this time next week to find out what Peter’s response was. So come on back this time next week for part 3, and we’ll see how all this turns out….