Summary: But not everyone was happy with the success of the Church. The religious establishment that had opposed the ministry of Jesus, and then crucified Him, took the same hostile approach toward the Apostles.
November 21, 2013
Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles
By: Tom Lowe
Topic #II: The Church in Jerusalem, Acts 2.1-8.3
Subtopic D: Struggle from Within and Without (Acts 5.1-6.7)
Subtopic 2: The Sanhedrin and the Apostles (5:12-42)
Lesson II.D.2.b: The Jealousy of the Leaders (5:17-42)
After Pentecost, the message of the resurrection of Jesus Christ spread rapidly in Jerusalem as Spirit-empowered witnesses shared the Gospel with the lost. Signs and wonders accompanied the preaching of the Word and no one could deny that God was at work in a new way among His ancient people.
But not everyone was happy with the success of the Church. The religious establishment that had opposed the ministry of Jesus, and then crucified Him, took the same hostile approach toward the Apostles. Jesus told His Apostles, “Remember the words I spoke to you: 'No servant is greater than his master.' If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15.20). He also told them, “They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, a time is coming when anyone who kills you will think he is offering a service to God” (John 16.2). His words were beginning to be fulfilled.
It was the age-old conflict between living truth and dead tradition. The new wine could not be put into the old wineskins, nor could the new cloth be sewn on the worn-out garments (Matt, 9.14-17). The English martyr Hugh Latimer said, “Whenever you see persecution, there is more than a probability that truth is on the persecuted side.”
Commentary: Acts 5.17-42 (KJV)
17 Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect[i] of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,
18 And laid their hands on the Apostles, and put them in the common prison.
We are still dealing with the first things of the Christian Church, and now we have come to the first substantial persecution. We can see the forces opposed to Christianity, gaining courage, but it is the courage of desperation. It is easy to understand why the Sadducees launched another drive to restrain the ministry of the Apostles in the Temple area. Actually, they had five reasons for arresting the Apostles:
1. Peter and John had not obeyed the official orders to stop preaching in the name of Jesus Christ. They were guilty of defying the law of the Jewish nation.
2. The witness of the Church was refuting the doctrines held by the Sadducees, giving evidence that Jesus Christ was still alive.
3. The religious leaders were filled with envy (“indignation”) at the great success of these uneducated, untrained, and unauthorized men (Matt. 27.18; Acts 13.45). The traditions of the fathers had not attracted that much attention or gained that many followers in such a short time. It is amazing how much envy can be hidden under the disguise of “defending the faith.”
4. The healing power of Peter had attracted too much attention, and a threat of a popular disturbance loomed above the horizon. The Sadducees saw that they must take some sort of action, and take it quickly.
5. The multitudes came to hear the Apostles preach and to have their sick folks miraculously healed. The healings and miracles wrought by the Apostles gave them tremendous popularity and prestige in Jerusalem, and so enraged the religious leaders and filled them with indignation that they “rose up” in opposition against these men of God. The situation was similar to that following the resuscitation of Lazarus (John 11.47-53) when the leaders could either believe—which they would not do—or decide to take desperate measures involving violence, despite the danger from the mob (common people).
“The high priest rose up, and all they that were with him” includes not only the high priest and his relatives, but also the leaders of the Sadducees—in other words, all the Jewish religious authorities and rulers.
“Which is the sect of the Sadducees.” The Sadducees were a very powerful group—as we will see in verse 21 of this chapter. They had the power to bring the Apostles to trial and to mete out any punishment they decided upon. History assures us that the Sadducees also had the rich people on their side. It is not clear in the Scripture that Annas (high priest at that time) was a Sadducee, But Josephus in his book on Bible antiquity declares that the son of Annas was of that sect, and there is a possibility that Annas also was a Sadducee.
Of course the Apostles declared that the bodily resurrection of Jesus proved that He is the Son of God; and since the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection and life after death, they hated such a message and “were filled with indignation” against the Apostles.