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Bible: What Does Acts 4 Teach Us About Peter and John's Ministry?

Updated on August 20, 2016

The Apostles John and Peter

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Focal Point of Peter's Message


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Acts 4: Peter and John's Bold Witness Before Jewish Religious Authorities

John and Peter in Prison for Preaching the Resurrection

Not unexpectedly, the Jewish religious authorities—Ryrie explains who they are and what they believe (New Testament Study Bible, 12)—surround the apostles and arrest them for proclaiming the bodily resurrection of Christ to “the people” (vv. 1-3a).

Peter and John spend a night in prison, but not before hearing that the number of men converted to the new faith had arisen to about five thousand (vv. 3b-4).

Peter's Answer to the Critics

The next day finds them standing before a number of elitist religious officials; Luke names Annas the high priest as the most prominent (vv. 5-6).

Considering the leaders’ opening question, it is apparent that no one told them (for some reason) why the apostles were under arrest (v. 7).

[The text reads “they,” but one spokesman must have represented all of the leaders].

In fulfillment of Christ’s words in Luke 12:12 and 21:12-15, the Holy Spirit—Jesus, in the second reference in Luke—controls Peter’s mouth, and the apostle respectfully (but boldly) addresses the Jews (v. 8).

The apostle’s reply suggests that he thinks it strange that they are judging him and John for doing a “good deed” to “a helpless man” (v. 9).

Nevertheless, Peter answers their initial question, testifying that he has healed the man “by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth” (v. 10a, c).

Furthermore, he does not hesitate to accuse the rulers and elders (as the “builders”) not only of rejecting the “stone” (Christ), but also of crucifying Him (vv. 10b-11; cf. Ps. 118:22).

The apostle also manages to insert into his defense the facts of the Resurrection (“whom God raised from the dead,” v. 10b) and of the exclusivity of spiritual salvation through the “name” of Jesus(v. 12).

In assessing the case before them, the authorities note several factors:

First, Peter and John possess an uncommon confidence. In the past, ordinary rabble-rousers had probably become cowed or belligerent when they appeared before their august body, but not the apostles (v. 13a).

Second, apparently Peter’s manner of address convinces them that he is not (and had never been) a rabbinic student (“educated and untrained”) [v. 13b]; besides, Caiaphas (whom John knew) probably already knows that John is no scholar, but only a fisherman (cf. John 18:15-16).

Third, they recognize these men as “having been with” Jesus (v. 13c).

[Does this latter expression mean that the leaders saw in the apostles an attractive moral character that reminded them of Jesus, or does the text simply say that they recalled Peter and John as having been companions and disciples of Jesus?]

Fourth, the healed man’s presence with the apostles prevents the leaders from mounting an offensive against them (v. 14).

Facing all of this combined evidence forces the Jews to dismiss the apostles temporarily so that they could confer (v. 15).

Their deliberations revolve around what treatment they should mete out to Peter and John, given the incontrovertible nature of the miracle (v. 16).

Even after reaching a consensus on how to proceed, they still had lingering doubts whether their “severe” threats—in essence, “Do not speak or teach in Jesus’ name again”— would successfully subdue the apostles’ activities (vv. 17-18).

[Either the author had a “mole” in this conference — perhaps Paul was one of the Jewish leaders present— or the Spirit simply communicated the meeting’s substance to him].

Predictably, Peter and John choose to disobey the Jews’ directive, politely but firmly turning the tables on them and forcing them to judge the circumstances from the apostles’ perspective as witnesses of God’s work (vv. 19-20).

Offended by this perceived audacity, the officials fruitlessly crank up the threat amplitude (v. 21a).

Fearing the political and religious backlash that would have resulted had they administered severe punishment to their adversaries, the Jews release Peter and John after finishing their tirade (v. 21b).

The am haretz lift their praises to God for the miracle performed upon this 40+ year-old man (vv. 21c-22).

The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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Kings of the Earth and Rulers


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Peter and John Testify at a Church Service

Meanwhile, having returned to “the one hundred twenty,” the apostles testify to the Jews’ “perspective” on their preaching about Jesus and the resurrection (v. 23).

[What Peter and John told the others Luke does not relate; however, it is certain that they spoke to them about the official threats (v. 29).]

While the text records that they (that is, the Church) “raised their voice to God with one accord,” it is highly unlikely that everyone spoke the subsequent prayer.

[Who led this prayer service is unknown; perhaps the church of Jerusalem had recognized James, the half-brother of Jesus, as their spokesman by this time.]

In addressing the “Lord,” the intercessor first designates Him as God, the Creator of the world and its creatures (v. 24).

Then he names Him as the One who prophesied through David—the NU text specifies that the Holy Spirit spoke through the patriarch; the Majority Text omits this notation as well as “our father,” referring to David (v. 25a)—about the world’s opposition to the Christ.

Luke records that the man recited Psalm 2:1-2 (vv. 25b-26), and then supplied the names of the present-day characters in these ancient verses.

Beginning at the end of the citation, the speaker identifies the Messiah as “Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed” (v. 27a).

Herod and Pontius Pilate fill the roles of “the kings of the earth” and “the rulers” (v. 27b).

[Which official belongs to which governmental position is debatable].

Finally, the raging nations (the Gentiles) and the plotting people (the people of Israel) round out the dramatis personae (v. 27c).

[Ryrie perceptively notes that both Jews and Gentiles killed Christ (New Testament Study Bible, 213).]

Although the petitioner would undoubtedly have maintained that the human elements freely chose to perpetrate their crime against Jesus, he emphasizes that God in His sovereignty gathered them all together to perform His predetermined purpose (v. 28; cf. 2:23).

Barnabas

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Winding down his prayer, this unidentified leader again addresses the Lord and asks Him to give His “servants”—not just the apostles apparently (see v. 31)—continued boldness in their witness—that is, their words and deeds (healings, signs, and wonders done in Jesus’ name)—despite the Jews’ threats (vv. 29-30).

After the speaker completes his prayer—the rest being in agreement with it—, the Holy Spirit “invades” the assembly, shaking the place of meeting and taking control of them all, so that they subsequently became confident witnesses for Christ (v. 31).

[Ryrie’s note on the Spirit’s ministry in Acts summarizes well.]

Again, Luke emphasizes that the spiritually unified Jerusalem Church so exercised Christ-like generosity toward their needy that no one lacked necessaries (vv. 32a, 34a).

A powerful apostolic witness to the Resurrection and abundant charis also characterize these early days (v. 33).

Propertied Church members voluntarily sell their stuff, and bring the proceeds to the apostles for fair distribution (vv. 34b-35).

[This "communal" condition lasted only temporarily].

One such leader so graced was Joses, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (“son of encouragement”) [vv. 36-37).

[Barnabas, of course, plays a prominent role in the Apostle Paul’s ministry in the future.]

© 2013 glynch1

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