Acts Chapter Four

Persecution And Prosperity

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In our study of Acts chapter four, we see how the persecution of the believers by the religious establishment cannot stop the growth of the early church.

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Acts 4:1 & 2

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. They were greatly disturbed because the apostles were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.

The Sadducees that are referred to here were generally the priests of the rich. They did not look for a coming day in fact they did not believe in resurrection, heaven, or hell. They believed that the soul died with the body and basically that was it. Generally speaking, when the New Testament refers to the "chief priests" they are referring to this group of people. With this in mind, it is easy to see why they would be upset about Peter and John speaking to the crowd about Jesus' resurrection. If what Peter said was true, then the Sadducees would be discredited. They would lose all of their power, money, and influence. We may think that this was just back in the history of the early church but there are many people who believe the same type of thing today.

Acts 4:3 & 4

They seized Peter and John, and because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand.

We may find it hard to believe that you can be thrown in jail just for telling people about Jesus but that is exactly what happened here. The same thing happens in several countries to many Christians even today. You see, this teaching about Jesus endangered the rule of the Sadducees as well as the Pharisees. If the people believed in Jesus then the rulers were done because there was no need for a priest to be between God and man. The pattern is still the same today as what happened here. We are told that at the end of the speech to the crowd, the number of men who believed was five thousand. The same thing can happen today, if people boldly tell about Jesus, people will be saved.

Acts 4:5 & 6

The next day the rulers, elders and teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and the other men of the high priest's family.

After being arrested and thrown in jail over night, now, Peter and John are brought to the temple for judgment. Now, they have to stand before people that have much to lose if the resurrection of Jesus is true. You see, if the resurrection is true, then there is no longer any reason for the high priest. If he lost his place, the whole family would lose wealth and power.

Acts 4:7

They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: 'By what power or what name did you do this?'

Now the leaders of the temple start to ask them about who gave them the authority to heal the beggar and to talk to the crowd. You see, Peter and John are a threat to them. We have the same opportunity as Peter and John. You see, by their actions, people start to ask them questions. This is an opportunity to share with people about Jesus.

Acts 4:8-10

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: 'If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, 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.'

What a comeback for someone who had denied Christ three times on the day that Jesus was crucified. Now, that same Peter is standing up and boldly proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus. He boldly states that it is only through the power of our risen Savior that the crippled man was healed. Can you imagine how easy it would have been for Peter to take credit for what happened? But, no, Peter informs them that it is through the one that they had crucified. Are you prepared to boldly proclaim the Gospel as Peter did? We are all called to be ready to do so.

Acts 4:11 & 12

'He is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.'

In the first part of these verses, Peter is quoting from the Psalms and King David. He is reminding the crowd once again that they rejected salvation through Jesus Christ. The capstone he is mentioning was not like the other stones in building. It was cut better and was the stone that the others were aligned with to make the building square. Peter reminds them that no matter whether they accept it or not,. Jesus is the only way to salvation. That is as true as ever today. It is popular to say that all the "religions" need to get along and that we are all going to the same place only taking different paths. That is a lie out of the depths of hell. Just as Peter said here, there is no other name.

Acts 4:13

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

This verse holds so much for us and our culture today. In our time, it is thought that you basically are not qualified to do anything important unless you have at least one college degree. In fact, many pastors and religious leaders are not content until they have two or three degrees where they can add letters to the end of their title. Here we see that because Peter and John were ordinary people, the religious leaders took note. Since they could not give credit to them and their learning, it says that "they took note that these men had been with Jesus". Which do you think brings more glory to God, a bunch of college degrees or being with Jesus? We have been given God's book to study and his Spirit to help us to understand it. Why do we think that we need more?

Acts 4:14

But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.

After Peter had told the religious leaders all this, there was nothing that they could say because the fact remained that the crippled man had been healed. Peter and John had told them straight out that it was through the power of Jesus' name that it had happened. The man was healed and standing there before them. As they say, case closed. There is also encouragement in this for us. At those times when those around you are persecuting you and calling you names like 'Jesus freak', do your actions leave them with nothing to say? You see, it is during the difficult times in life, that others get to see your faith and know that it is real.

Acts 4:15 & 16

So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and then conferred together. 'What are we going to do with these men?' they asked. 'Everybody living in Jerusalem knows they have done an outstanding miracle, and we cannot deny it.'

After hearing Peter and seeing the previously crippled beggar, the religious rulers now have a problem. You see, they wanted to deny that the crippled man was healed but everyone knew that it wouldn't work. This also is a good lesson for us today. Are your actions such that it is undeniable that you are a follower of Jesus? Are you "walking the talk"?

Acts 4:17

'But to stop this thing from spreading any further among the people, we must warn these men to speak no longer to anyone in this name.'

The religious leaders are wrapping up their meeting about what to do with Peter and John. They have already figured out that ignoring the situation or denying it happened are not going to work. Now, they simply decide to tell them not to do it (speak about Jesus) anymore. Are we so boldly declaring the name of the Lord that the enemies of God want us to shut up or are we going about our lives not even being noticed in the struggle for men's souls?

Acts 4:18 & 19

Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, 'Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God's sight to obey you rather than God.'

Now the religious leaders decide to limit the problem by telling Peter and John to quit teaching about Jesus. Can you imagine the surprise on their faces when they received the answer to their order? We, like Peter and John, have situations where those that are in charge try to make us do something that goes against God's Word. It is well for us to remember the answer that Peter and John gave them. We have to remember what is right in God's sight and hold firm in the faith that God is control. Are you faithful through the tough times?

Acts 4:20

'For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.'

Here Peter and John are telling the religious leaders why they cannot stop teaching about Jesus. Does their answer describe you in your daily walk? I remember when I was first baptized and the excitement that I had. I wanted to tell the whole world what had happened to me. That is kinda what they are describing in this verse.

Acts 4:21 & 22

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. For the man who was miraculously healed was over forty years old.

Finally, the religious leaders decide to let Peter and John go because they didn't know what to do with them. The people who had witnessed the miracle were praising God and it was impossible to deny that it happened. The question for us today is are we such bold Christians that it is impossible for those who have met us to come to any other conclusion than praising God?

Acts 4:23 & 24

On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. 'Sovereign Lord,' they said 'you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.'

After their release, Peter and John went back to the people. Upon hearing what happened, the people lifted up their voices in prayer. Is that the first thing that we do? They begin their prayer by saying that God has made everything. Since God made everything, He is in control. There is comfort just in knowing that.

Acts 4:25 & 26

You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: 'Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Annointed One.'

The friends of Peter and John continue their prayer here. They quote David and Psalm 2. In this Psalm, David is asking God why the authorities plot in vain against the chosen of God. That is probably a question that we, as believers, ask ourselves today. Does it seem to you that sometimes those around you are ganging up on you to beat you down because of your faith? When those times occur, hold tight to the fact that God is in control.

Acts 4:27-30

'Indeed Herod and Pontious Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the People of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Strectch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.'

The people are still praying after the return of Peter and John from the religious authorities. In the first line of this passage, we see that it was the fault of all people that Jesus was crucified. (Notice it says the Gentiles as well as the people of Israel.) It goes on to say that the crucifixion of Jesus was God's decision and His will. The group goes on to pray for Peter and John and asks for God to give them boldness as well as to use His power for signs. When faced with persecution, do you turn to God and ask for boldness to speak and God's power to be demonstrated? That, my friends, is where the victory comes from.

Acts 4:31

After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.

Does this describe your prayer time? Probably not but it could. You see prayer brings us into close contact with God. When that truly happens, things are shaken up and changed. Do you have the Spirit? If not, do you know how to get it? If so, are you speaking the gospel boldly?

Acts 4:32

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had.

This is such a powerful contrast to our culture of living for self. It is hard to get two or three people to agree on anything today but here we are told that the group of believers were one in heart and mind. Through our own efforts this is probably impossible but with the Holy Spirit we can all be focused on God and be in agreement. The last part of this scripture seems to contradict the "American dream" mentality that we have today. We live for our own gains but we are told that is not how it was with the early church.

Acts 4:33

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all.

The apostles continued to tell people about the risen Savior. You notice they did not argue about a bunch of tiny issues, they simply told people that Jesus was alive and because of that we can be saved. The last part of the verse is interesting because it says that "much grace was upon them all". The simple definition of grace is unmerited favor. This tells us that, as they spoke of the resurrection and followed Jesus, they were granted favor. That promise is ours today as well.

Acts 4:34 & 35

There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.

Does this sound like the church of today? Probably not but that is how it should be. You see, the people then loved Jesus more than a car, fancy house, or large fancy church building. The church in the USA has given the responsibility of taking care of the poor over to the government. Imagine the impact the church would have if it acted in this way.

Acts 4:36 & 37

Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles' feet.

Now, we are given an example of the principle of sacrificial giving. Joseph sold his field and gave the money to the apostles. That is sacrificial giving because he was not only giving the land but it also meant that he was giving away the crops from that land. Imagine what the church and the world would look like if we, as Christians, would follow this example.