Read the Passage: Acts 5:12-42
Ministry and Arrest (5:12–21)
Acts 5:12–16 records that God was pleased to facilitate many signs and wonders among the people during the early days of the church. One of these signs, albeit an unfortunate one, was the death of Ananias and Sapphira. This occurred at the word of Peter, as was recorded in Acts 5:1–11. In Acts 5:13–14 we are told that the effect of these signs and wonders was twofold: many unbelievers esteemed the apostles, while many new believers joined the church. In Acts 5:15–16 Luke reports that Peter’s reputation spread, and that the sick and infirm desired for his shadow to fall on them. Moreover, multitudes of sick and demon-possessed people came from surrounding cities “and they all were healed” (Acts 5:16). Note that these miraculous events were a direct answer to the prayer of the church, after the disciples’ first arrest, as is recorded at Acts 4:29–30.
In Acts 5:17–21 we read that the disciples’ ministry, the growth of the church, and especially the gospel message resulted in the high priest and religious leaders becoming jealous and fearful (cf. Acts 5:28). Consequently, the rulers had the apostles imprisoned for a second time—their first incarceration was recorded at Acts 4:1–22. In a continuation of the miraculous events, Luke reports, “At night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, ‘Go stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of life’” (Acts 5:20). This must have seemed like a tenuous idea at best, for this is exactly what had gotten the disciples arrested two times already. This event seems designed to demonstrate to those who esteemed the apostles, but were afraid to believe and join the church (cf. Acts 5:13), that there is no need to fear, for God is sovereign over all things.
Trial and Defense (5:22–32)
In Acts 5:21 Luke records that the morning after the disciples were arrested, the religious leaders convened a council and “sent to the prison to have [the disciples] brought.” This gathering was likely identical to the tribunal reported at Acts 4:6 and was assembled for the same purpose—that is, to display the leaders’ authority and to rebuke the disciples. Yet, here in Acts 5:22–25 Luke narrates the shock of the rulers as the disciples were not found in the prison. Even more shocking, however, is the fact that the authorities found the apostles preaching in the Temple! These events communicated to all that: (1) the disciples did not fear the religious authorities, (2) the authorities had no power to stop the progress of the gospel or the apostles’ ministry, and (3) the message that the disciples were speaking was true, for many were listening and presumably believing in Jesus as the Messiah.
After summoning the disciples to appear before the council, the befuddled leaders betrayed their rationale for arresting the apostles as they asked, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us” (Acts 5:28). Apparently, the rulers had forgot their own statement of responsibility at Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matt. 27:25). Unfazed by the self-important rulers and their pretense of authority, as he had said at their earlier trial (cf. Acts 4:19), so here Peter said, “We ought to obey God rather than man” (Acts 5:29). Further, Peter again indicted the leaders for their murder of Jesus, saying that the disciples were eye-witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, the rulers’ murder of Christ, Jesus’ ascension, and the gospel message (cf. Acts 5:30–31).
Ruling and Rejoicing (5:33–42)
Not surprisingly, Peter’s rebuke of the council infuriated the rulers, leading to their plot to kill the disciples (cf. Acts 5:33). Luke then reports that a respected teacher, Gamaliel intervened. This is the same Gamaliel whom Paul studied Judaism under (cf. Acts 22:3). In fact, Paul may have been one of Gamaliel’s pupils at this time. Essentially, Gamaliel’s argument was one of logic, as he suggested just letting events play themselves out, saying, “If it is of God, you cannot overcome it, lest you be found to fight against God” (cf. Acts 5:39). As they had done earlier (cf. Acts 4:18, 21), so here the rulers decided to threaten and beat the apostles, commanding them not to preach the gospel. The response of the disciples is interesting, as Luke reports, “So they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).
- Are you willing to identify yourself as a Christian in public settings, even if doing so will result in physical, emotional, or financial persecution?
- Why was God pleased to display miraculous signs and wonders in the early days of the church, yet such signs and wonders are rare today?
- When is it okay, if ever, for Christians to disobey the governing authorities? How do you think the apostles’ deliverance from prison affected their ministry?
- Given the miraculous events that were on public display in Jerusalem, why did the rulers not believe and so underestimate the disciples (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14)?
- Why do you think the apostles reacted with joy when then were beaten by the authorities (cf. Phil. 1:27–29; 1 Pet. 2:11–12)?