Video Uploaded: .
The Spreading Flame - Series 1: Episode 6

The apostles under pressure

| Martin Charlesworth
Acts 4:1-22

Following the healing miracle, the Jewish authorities act against Peter and John and put them in jail overnight. They demand that they no longer speak in the name of Jesus but Peter boldly preaches that Jesus is the only way of salvation.

Following the healing miracle, the Jewish authorities act against Peter and John and put them in jail overnight. They demand that they no longer speak in the name of Jesus but Peter boldly preaches that Jesus is the only way of salvation.


We are now half way through Series 1 and thank you for joining us for this episode as we go through the book of Acts. Series 1 is about the church in Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel; the place where the Church started. We’re in that series now finding out the incredible things that happened in the very early days.

Introduction and Background

If you’ve followed the first five episodes, you’ll know that Jesus appears in chapter 1 for the final time; then his ascension to heaven takes place; then the coming of the promised Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost; the amazing church growth and development on the Day of Pentecost as three thousand people believe on the first day. Then we follow the events in Jerusalem immediately after that incredible breakthrough as the Holy Spirit came. That story has continued in the first five episodes up until something extraordinary happened in the Temple courts, right there in the centre of the city.

In our last episode, we saw the incredible story of how Peter and John one day publicly went up to the Temple, and were met by a beggar who was lame, pleading for money, and Peter immediately, through the power of the Holy Spirit, healed him. We saw the outcome of this incredible healing. The man is dancing around the Temple compound, drawing a crowd together, and Peter is preaching to a vast crowd in the middle of the Temple courts, the open areas around the Temple building, where thousands of people regularly gathered, and would certainly have gathered at this time because it was a Jewish feast day. This is the story that we’re telling and we’re halfway through that story now. It’s been an incredible story; a wonderful miracle, great joy, crowds gathered and Peter spontaneously preaching. We see in Acts 3:19, towards the end, Peter summarises his message to the Jews who were gathered by saying,

“Repent then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, and that times of refreshing may come from the Lord”.

Acts 3:19, NIV

He’s pleading to his Jewish audience to believe in Jesus the Messiah.

The Jewish Authorities React

This story could have ended at the end of that day; everybody goes home, more people have believed, the lame man goes back to his family filled with joy, and the church just moves forward. But what we see in this episode is a change. The Apostles now are coming under pressure because in that Temple complex, they are being watched. All this great revival, preaching, salvation and healing that’s taking place, is being monitored by the authorities who now make their very first move against the Apostles. We’re going to read Acts 4:1 - 6 to describe how this happened, halfway through this amazing event.

1 ‘The priests and the captain of the Temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. 2 They were greatly disturbed because the Apostles were teaching the people proclaiming in Jesus, the resurrection of the dead. 3 They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. 4 But many who heard the message believed; so the number of men who believed grew to about five thousand. 5 The next day the rulers, the elders and the Teachers of the Law met in Jerusalem. 6 Annas the High Priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the High Priest’s family.’

Acts 4:1-6, NIV

Here is a plan to try and suppress this message. The two Apostles leading this event are arrested and the authorities are trying to overcome the Christian message. Let’s think about this situation for a moment. Israel at this time is ruled by the Romans, and the Romans are in the city of Jerusalem; they have a military compound right next to the Temple. There are soldiers nearby but this is not the Romans. This is the Jewish authorities. The Romans allowed the Jews to have jurisdiction over their religion. It was a special regulation that the Romans gave to the Jews in order to keep the peace. The Jews had control over the Temple compound and it was very rare for Roman soldiers or officials to ever come into this area; they kept away from it. The people who control this Temple area were the High Priest, and the senior priest at this time was actually Caiaphas. We met him in the Gospels because he’s the High Priest who condemns Jesus. Although Annas, his father-in-law, is described as the High Priest, he had been previously the High Priest and he kept the title but he’d been deposed some years ago and he was still there. His son-in-law, Caiaphas, was actually in charge. Alongside them, they had a group called the Sadducees, who were priests with particular theological views. The High Priest ruled the Temple complex and the religion through a council of seventy men called the Sanhedrin, of which the High Priest was the chairman. He sat and presided over the council. This is the council we’re talking about here.

In the Temple compound they had a trading market, which you may remember Jesus disrupted just six weeks ago, in the last week of his life. They had a trading area where they traded in currency; they had their own currency. They didn’t allow the use of the Roman currency in the Temple. You had to exchange your Roman coins for specially produced coins, called the Temple coinage and you had to buy the animals for sacrifice in many cases. They had a market; they had a business. They also had a police guard. These are the people who appear in our story. They are the Temple police. They’re the same people who arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. They also had, within the Temple compound, a prison. This isn’t a Roman prison we’re talking about. They had a small place where they could detain people who caused unrest in the Temple compound. These are the people with this authority, who choose this moment to think, “enough is enough”. What was especially provocative to them, as stated here in the text, is that Peter and John were proclaiming, 4: 2, Jesus, the resurrection from the dead. Some of those priests didn’t believe in the bodily resurrection from the dead and they were the Sadducees. Others believed that the resurrection of people would take place universally at the end of time and that it was impossible for anyone to be resurrected from the dead until the end of time. When the Apostles said somebody has been raised from the dead physically now, it totally contradicted their view. They were hostile to Jesus and hostile to the doctrine of the resurrection.

The captain of the Temple guard was in charge of this party who came to arrest Peter and John. He was the second most powerful man in the Temple complex after the High Priest. They brought the guard; they were armed. It was a difficult situation for them because they had to extract Peter and John from a crowd, which must have numbered thousands of people because we see here that the number of disciples had grown to five thousand. Hundreds, if not thousands, had come to believe, even possibly on that day, at that event. They take Peter and John and put them in jail and try to work out what’s going to happen next.

Notice here, the very quick speed at which the Church is growing. We started with eleven Apostles and then Matthias joined them to make twelve; then we noticed there were one hundred and twenty believers praying together for ten days before the day of Pentecost; then on the Day of Pentecost the number given to us is three thousand men and now the number given is five thousand men, and of course, women as well. The numbers are greater than that. Those are just the core numbers; many thousands of people are now in the Christian church in Jerusalem.

What’s going to happen next? Jesus had warned his Apostles that they would experience trouble. They weren’t unprepared. Many times, he’d warned them. He’d specifically warned them that one source of opposition would be the Jewish authorities and indeed this is where the problem is here. Let’s read on, Acts 4: 7 - 12,

7 ‘They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name do you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! 9 If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, 10 then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. 11 Jesus is ‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ 12 Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:7-12, NIV

Peter’s Statement

Notice here, Peter’s courage and this very explicit statement that the Holy Spirit was filling him, giving him the confidence to deal with this very hostile questioning. Also notice that the trigger for this whole event is a miraculous sign. This all goes back to the healing of the man at the Temple gate, the Beautiful Gate, as recorded in Acts 3. Everything follows on from a miraculous sign.

Peter quotes the Old Testament. He quotes Psalm 118 which is a very significant psalm because Psalms 113 to 118 were used as a group of Psalms to be read and sung regularly at the major festivals, like the time of Pentecost. They were well known in the Temple compound; they were used regularly in worship. Psalm 118 had come to be understood by the Jews, before this time, as predicting or prophesying the Messiah, the Saviour, God coming in human form. The Jews already had this idea in their mind. The last few verses of Psalm 118 have two quotations that Jews considered to be significant. One of them is this one,

22 ‘The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; 23 the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes.’

Psalm 118:22-23, NIV

This is Psalm 118: 22 - 23, the passage from which Peter quotes, and he applies it very particularly to his listeners here, “the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone”. They were in the Temple compound, which was built with vast stones and vast foundations - an absolutely huge building. The cornerstones and the foundation stones of this incredible building, and the platform upon which it was built, were visible to everybody. This is a powerful symbol in their minds. The builders, the Jewish people, have rejected a stone which God wants to make the cornerstone, the foundation stone, of what he’s going to do. The use of Psalm 118 is very challenging to the religious authorities. It is particularly challenging because this very same Psalm was quoted by the crowds at Jesus’ triumphal entry. There’s another very significant verse within this Psalm, Psalm 118: 26:

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,’

Psalm 118:26, NIV

which the Jews considered a prayer inviting the Messiah to come. Many Jews considered this to be the case. In Luke 19, where we see a description of Jesus entering into Jerusalem at the time of the triumphal entry, which we discussed in the Life of Jesus, Series 11 Episode 1, it says that

‘the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:’ saying, 38 “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”

The first part of that saying is a quotation from this same Psalm, where the crowd and the disciples are saying, Psalm 118 predicts the Messiah; Jesus is the Messiah. Peter comes back to the same Psalm and says, “You builders have rejected the person who is going to be the foundation for the coming Kingdom.” Immediately in their mind, that’s what they will be thinking. Peter goes on to proclaim, in verse 12, the unique characteristic of Jesus Christ. He is the only person who can bring salvation to mankind. We’ll comment on that further when we come to the end of our episode.

The Jewish Authorities Response

Can you see the dramatic nature of what’s going on here? In this first confrontation Peter performs incredibly well. He’s ready. Do you remember we described the fact that he was ready before, when he had the crowd to deal with? He was ready on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit came. Here again, he’s ready. He’s spent a night in jail and he’s worked out, “What am I going to say?”, and he brings a very clear message to the authorities.

So, now what are they going to do? This is difficult for them. You have to bear in mind that the decision they make is also connected to the mood in the city. We now know that thousands of people in the city are tremendously enthusiastic about what’s going on; many have believed; some have experienced miraculous healing, like the lame man, and many others, who are telling their stories around the city. It was only a few months ago that Jesus was crucified, and then there were stories of resurrection appearances in the city. People remembered those things. What are they going to do? How do you deal with this situation? Let’s read the final section of this very exciting and intriguing passage. Acts 4:13 - 22,

13 ‘When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. 14 But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say. 15 So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and they conferred together. 16 “What are we going to do with these men?” they asked. “Everyone living in Jerusalem knows they have performed a notable sign, and we cannot deny it. 17 But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn them to speak no longer to anyone in this name.” 18 Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! 20 As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.’

Acts 4:13-22, NIV

The dilemma of the Sanhedrin is extreme. The man being healed is right there in front of them and he’s well known in the city; he’s forty years old; he’s been begging there for years and suddenly he’s completely healed. Everybody could see what had happened. They were astonished at Peter’s and John’s courage. They weren’t educated in the formal religious education of the Jews. They were astonished at their knowledge, but also Peter’s eloquence - his ability to preach and speak authoritatively and clearly, without being taught how to do it, which was the traditional method. This is because of the miraculous work of God in a simple man’s life. We need to take encouragement from Peter. He represents straightforward, simple, working humanity and yet, the Lord chose Peter to be at the forefront of the Apostles - not because of his training, or his education, but simply because of the call of God. Here we see him used because he’s been filled with the Holy Spirit in a wonderful way. Peter was so convinced of his message, he didn’t hesitate.

The Sanhedrin were unclear. There were much greater punishments they could have used, but they didn’t. They did not have the power to execute people. That power was withheld by the Romans, from the Sanhedrin. That’s the reason why the Sanhedrin transferred Jesus to the Roman governor for execution; they didn’t have the legal power. They couldn’t execute Peter and John without breaking Roman law but they could imprison them; they could try and exile them; and they could also impose flogging upon them, physical punishment. We’ll see more about these threats in later episodes. But on this occasion, they just warned them. Did they really believe that Peter and John would obey this warning, not to preach in Jesus’ name? They were hoping that they could intimidate them. But they hoped in vain. As our story progresses this does not prove to be a setback for the Church. They’ve been in jail for a brief time but they’re now released. This is an amazing story. It starts so well, then there’s a setback and then a vindication and a moving forward, through God working through them.


As we reflect on what we learn from a passage like this, I wonder what things come to your mind. Here are several things that I’ve found really helpful about this passage. First of all, in chapter 3 and particularly here in chapter 4, as we hear the summary and the exact words of Peter, we see very clearly, the claim of the Christian Gospel message: there is only one way to salvation, to forgiveness of sins, to reconciliation with God, to eternal life with God. Verse 12 is a well-known verse and it’s one we should commit to memory and recall many times. It’s encouraging to believers,

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”

Acts 4:12, NIV

But some of you listening to this, and viewing this video, will not yet have experienced that salvation, as the Jewish rulers had not at that particular point. I want to say to you, here is your opportunity to come to Christ; to give your life to him; to believe the things that Peter was encouraging them to believe: that Jesus was uniquely the Son of God, the Jewish title being Messiah; that his death on the cross was more than just an act of love, it was an act of sacrifice; it was a substitute; it was a form of atonement; where he took upon himself the sins, the things done wrong, the independent living and the rebelliousness that’s within us; it is transferred to him so that he pays the penalty for us, so that we can have new life and then he’s raised again, from the dead to prove that he can conquer death, and therefore he can bring his believers, those who believe in him, through to eternal life as well. That’s the core of the message that’s summarised here. Peter would have expanded and explained in much more detail on that occasion. That can be a life-saving message for people who hear this video, and I encourage you to respond. If you are a believer, I encourage you to strengthen your confidence in the Gospel message. A confidence that we want to match the confidence of the Apostles. We can lose that confidence; we can get confused; we can get distracted. Other people claim particular authority for their own religious views but it is clear that Jesus Christ came from God the Father, to do something unique as the Son of God - more than a prophet, not just a human prophet but the divine Son of God.

The second thing that I notice here is the power of miracles to transform situations. All of this happened because of a miracle. Now that can apply in our own lives as Christian believers. What it stirs me to do is to pray for more miracles; they might be miracles of healing; they might be miracles of meeting people remarkably; of God’s provision; of all sorts of different types of miracles that might take place. Why don’t we pray for miracles, which are often called in the Bible, signs, because they signpost to something beyond themselves. They signpost to a living God with power and an ability to save and change people’s lives.

A third application or reflection that I want to mention just briefly is, there’s something to learn here about the role of education. Our modern world loves education. People seek education. If you come from a nation which would consider itself developing, or poorer, you will know of the incredible power and attraction of education. It is important and it is valuable. But here, uneducated men, John and Peter, whose trade was fishing in the Sea of Galilee, are in a very prominent position. God’s calling them to serve him and to leadership is not based on qualifications. It’s based on his choice and so, don’t disqualify yourself because you think you don’t have the education. Peter and John were speaking as uneducated men to the most educated people in the country because all these priests and the Sadducees, the Teachers of the Law, were highly educated in the Jewish religion. They’d studied the Hebrew language, the language of the Old Testament, which wasn’t commonly spoken in Israel at the time; they spoke a related language, Aramaic. They’d studied the Old Testament for many years and they were the rulers. They were the wise ones, apparently, but these uneducated men, through the power of the Holy Spirit, through listening to Jesus’ teaching carefully, and through faith, were able to confront these people with the reality of the Gospel.

At this point we come to an end of what has been another exciting episode. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. The story continues. When Peter and John are released, there’s a joyful reunion with the church, and then another dynamic event occurs which follows on from everything that’s happened since that man was healed at the Beautiful Gate. So, I hope you’ll join us again for Episode 7.

Study Questions

The following questions have been provided to facilitate discussion or further reflection. Please feel free to answer any, or all the questions. Each question has been assigned a category to help guide you.

  • Exploring Faith
    Exploring Faith
    1. What do you think about education and God’s calling? Do you count yourself out for some reason?
  • Discipleship
    1. How was Peter described? What would people say of you? How can you be more like Peter?
  • Further Study
    Further Study
    1. Research the life of Peter in the Gospels and in Acts, using tagging to help.
Created by Word Online