1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. – Acts 4:1-4 ESV
Let’s recall how Peter ended his somewhat short sermon. He concluded with the statement:
“God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.” – Acts 3:26 ESV
He reiterates the purpose behind Jesus’ coming. He appeared in human flesh, not just as any man, but as a Hebrew. But John would later restate what Peter said in his sermon:
He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. – John 1:11 ESV
We know that when He began His earthly ministry, Jesus preached a message of repentance. He picked up where John the Baptist had left off, after ha had been arrested and imprisoned by Herod.
From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” – Matthew 4:17 ESV
But as Peter made clear earlier in his message, that they were guilty of putting to death their very own Messiah.
14 You rejected this holy, righteous one and instead demanded the release of a murderer. 15 You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. – Acts 3:14-15 NLT
But Peter had also boldly proclaimed that God had raised Jesus back to life. This is made perfectly clear when Luke describes the reaction of the Jewish religious leadership to the words Peter had spoken.
These leaders were very disturbed that Peter and John were teaching the people that through Jesus there is a resurrection of the dead. – Acts 4:2 NLT
Peter’s message elicited at least two different reactions that day. First of all, the religious authorities of the day made their thoughts known, in no uncertain terms. They were perturbed. The word Luke chose to use means, “to be troubled, displeased, offended, pained, to be worked up.” To put it another way, they were not happy campers. But why? What was it that Peter said that so incensed them? After all, he had offered them times of refreshing and an opportunity to repent and receive forgiveness for their sins. But rather than responding with gratitude and humble submission, these religious leaders were put our and offended. And they had Peter and John arrested.
In order to understand just what is going on here, it is important that we take note of how Luke describes the religious authorities who got wind of Peter’s message and showed up at Solomon’s Portico that day. He writes, “And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them” (Acts 4:2 ESV). His mention of the Sadducees is important, because they were a powerful religious sect made up of Levitical priests. Their name derives from the Hebrew word, sadaq (tsahdak), which means to “to be righteous.” They were highly influential and usually came from the governing class of the Jews. It is believed that most, if not all, of the high priests were Sadducees. And, interestingly enough, the captain of the temple guard was also a Sadducee. These men viewed themselves as the orthodox keepers of Jewish religious faith, and one of their major distinctions was their denial of the resurrection. The Jewish historian, Josephus, confirms that the Sadducees denied the resurrection, the immortality of the soul, eternal rewards, or the “world to come” (Josephus, Antiquities, 18.1.4 ; Wars, 2.8.14 ). So, we can begin to see why they were so upset at what Peter had been saying. His claims of Jesus being the Messiah and having been raised from the dead were a real problem for them, which is why Luke records that they were “greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2 ESV). Even Peter’s declaration that Jesus was the Messiah would have been hard for them to swallow, because they did not believe in a literal, human Messiah.
“For them the Messiah was an ideal, not a person, and the Messianic Age was a process, not a cataclysmic or even datable event.” – Richard N. Longenecker, “Acts,” in John-Acts, vol. 9 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 212
For them, Peter’s claims were without basis and totally unacceptable. He was nothing more than a heretic and a purveyor of false teaching who would end up causing them nothing but headaches. So, they broke up Peter’s impromptu sermon in the portico and had him put into custody until the next day. They most likely had the crowds dispersed in an attempt to restore order to the Temple grounds.
But there was another reaction that day. Peter’s words did not fall on deaf ears. While the religious authorities heard nothing but heresy, there were those in the crowd who heard truth, and they responded. And Luke matter-of-factly records, “But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand” (Acts 4;4 ESV). Notice that he says, “the number of the men.” That means the 5,000 figure did not include women or children who expressed faith that day. The actual number was most likely much higher, as much as double. These people heard what Peter had to say and, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, repented and believed. His offer of forgiveness of sins and times of refreshing had struck a chord with them. They were ready to accept what he was offering and Luke tells us that they did.
What we see here is an example of the gospel’s polarizing potential. Whenever the truth concerning salvation through faith in Christ alone is preached, we will see these two reactions. There will be those who reject and refute it. Talk of sin and the need for a Savior will always turn off some. Discussions of repentance and the need for redemption because of man’s sinfulness will be offensive to many. Talk of resurrection and eternal life will come across as nothing more than wishful thinking or the superstitious and simplistic reasonings of the ignorant and uneducated. But there will also be those who hear the very same message and who respond in belief. What’s the difference? Is one group smarter than the other? Are some more spiritually aware and able to hear the gospel more clearly? Why did the religious leaders reject the words of Peter, while more than 5,000 others listened and believed?
There was another gathering that took place in Solomon’s Portico, back when Jesus was still ministering in His earthly body. The apostle John records that Jesus was confronted by a crowd of people, which included some of the religious leadership of the Jews.
22 Then came the feast of the Dedication in Jerusalem. 23 It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple area in Solomon’s Portico. 24 The Jewish leaders surrounded him and asked, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” – John 10:22-24 NET
Pay careful attention to the words of Jesus, recorded by John.
25 Jesus replied, “I told you and you do not believe. The deeds I do in my Father’s name testify about me. 26 But you refuse to believe because you are not my sheep. 27 My sheep listen to my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish; no one will snatch them from my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. 30 The Father and I are one.” – John 10:25-30 NET
What does Jesus say to these religious leaders? “You are not my sheep.” And the proof was that they didn’t listen to His voice as their Shepherd. When He called, they refused to come. And He goes on to say that it was because they had not given to Him by God. Later on, in His High Priestly Prayer, recorded by John in chapter 17 of his gospel, Jesus prayed to the Father, “I have revealed you to the ones you gave me from this world. They were always yours. You gave them to me, and they have kept your word” (John 17:6 NLT). He was obviously speaking of the 12 disciples who had followed Him and participated alongside Him in His earthly ministry. But just a few verses later, we have Jesus expressing the following words to His Father: “My prayer is not for the world, but for those you have given me, because they belong to you. All who are mine belong to you, and you have given them to me, so they bring me glory” (John 17:9-10 NLT). And then He provides further clarification, saying, “I am praying not only for these disciples but also for all who will ever believe in me through their message…Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am. Then they can see all the glory you gave me because you loved me even before the world began!” (John 17:20, 24 NLT).
God gave. It was He who moved in the hearts of those who heard and caused them to respond that day. He opened their deaf ears to that they were able to hear and understand the truth of the gospel. He opened their blind eyes so that they might see the beauty of the Son of God and the reality of their own sin and their need for a Savior. Peter would later write in one of his letters:
1 I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. 2 God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:1-2 NLT
The apostle Paul write virtually the same thing in his letter to the believers in Ephesus.
4 Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do, and it gave him great pleasure. – Ephesians 1:4-5 NLT
There were two reactions that day. Some believed, while others didn’t. They all heard the very same words spoken by Peter. They were all given the same opportunity to respond. But why did some believer while others became angry? The Sadducees weren’t the only ones in the crowd who found the concept of the resurrection difficult to understand or believe. They weren’t the only ones who had a hard time with the idea of Jesus being their Messiah and long-awaited Savior. So, what was going on? To put it simple, God was at work. He moved through the power of His Holy Spirit and “many of those who had heard the word believed” (Acts 4:4 ESV).
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.