12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. 14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. 16 The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. – Acts 5:12-18 ESV
After the surprising deaths of Ananias and Sapphira, Luke provides a brief description of the emotional state of the church: “Great fear gripped the entire church and everyone else who heard what had happened” (Acts 5:11 NLT). News of God’s judgment against Ananias and Sapphira had spread. And it seems that, because Peter had been the primary spokesperson during the interrogations of this unfortunate couple, their deaths became associated with him. He was the one who called them out and so, it must have been him who struck them down. At least, that’s how it appeared to all those who had witnessed the events first-hand. And as a result, the reputation of Peter and the other apostles grew in stature among the people. Their ability to perform “signs and wonders” was attracting crowds and the attention of the religious authorities. Just as in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, the high priest and the Sanhedrin found themselves dealing with a growing movement that was threatening their status as religious leaders. The people were turning to the apostles, initially attracted by their miracles, but also intrigued by their message concerning Jesus’ resurrection and His offer of eternal life. Luke tells us, “more and more people believed and were brought to the Lord—crowds of both men and women” (Acts 5:14 NLT). But there were others who, out of fear of the Jewish religious leaders, avoided any association with the apostles and their ever-expanding congregation. There was still a risk associated with this new and growing sect, and many wanted to steer clear.
Peter, John and the other apostles continued to meet in Solomon’s Portico, one of the few spaces large enough to hold the growing number of converts who flocked to hear their teaching. And anywhere the apostles went, large numbers of the infirm and suffering followed them. These people had everything to gain and nothing to lose. They had no reason to fear the Sanhedrin, because their lives were already filled with suffering because of their physical conditions. And Luke records that their desire for healing was so great and their belief in the apostles’ miraculous powers was so strong, that they thought even Peter’s shadow passing over them could provide healing. Luke does not tell us whether this actually happened or if it was simply a case of wishful thinking on the part of those who were sick and lame. But this kind of thing would not have been unheard, because Luke later records a similar scenario involving the apostle Paul.
11 God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. 12 When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled. – Acts 19:11-12 NLT
All we know is that God was at work, moving among the people and utilizing the apostles as His instruments of healing and as His witnesses to the resurrection power of Jesus. People were hearing of all that was happening within the city of Jerusalem and soon, there were others arriving in town from the outlying villages. Good news travels fast. Miracles attract crowds. Messages of hope tend to get peoples’ attention. News of what was happening in Jerusalem was getting out. The rumors that Jesus was alive had begun to spread. Reports were circulating that the very same kind of miracles, signs and wonders He had performed were taking place again. This time, at the hands of His disciples. The lame walked. The blind saw. The demon-possessed had their demons dispossessed. And thousands of Jews were placing their faith in Jesus Christ as their Messiah and Savior. These were heady days for the disciples. It seems that all they did was blessed by God. Their preaching was powerful and impactful. They possessed the power to heal and the authority to cast out demons. They were respected and, due to the incident with Ananias and Sapphira, feared by the people. But they were also despised. Luke will use these verses as a transition to set up the battle the apostles were going to face due to their efforts on Jesus’ behalf. They had already been hauled before the high priest and the Sanhedrin. Now, Luke tells us:
17 The high priest and his officials, who were Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. – Acts 5:17-18 NLT
Suddenly, the apostles found themselves experiencing incarceration, rather than public adulation. They went from basking in accolades to confinement in the stockade. And it was all in fulfillment of Jesus’ words.
“Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me.” – John 15:20-21 NLT
“You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers.” – Luke 21:12 NLT
It would have been easy for the disciples to have looked at what they had been able to do and see their efforts as fulfillment of Jesus’ promise.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” – John 14:12 ESV
But, their ability to do the works of Jesus would be accompanied with the requirement that they suffer like Jesus. They had most likely forgotten what Jesus had said regarding this matter.
“Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.” – John 15:20 NLT
Jesus faced opposition, and so would they. He was forced to endure the hatred and animosity of the religious leaders, and so would they. Doing the works of Jesus will inevitably bring with it the suffering of Jesus. Obeying the will of the Father will always attract the wrath of the enemy. The disciples were quickly discovering that they were in a spiritual battle. There were forces gathered against them that were determined to oppose and annihilate them. Peter and his companions were learning the invaluable lesson that the apostle Paul so clearly pointed out:
For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 6:12 NLT
Their good deeds would be met with evil intent. Their efforts on God’s behalf would be opposed by Satan and his minions. And the sooner they realized that this was a spiritual battle, the more seriously they would take their role and their total need for God’s assistance. The apostle Paul understood the nature of this spiritual battle and man’s complete dependency on God for survival and success.
3 We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. 4 We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. 5 We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ. – 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NLT
Peter, John, and the rest of the apostles found themselves in jail. They were facing some serious opposition. The Sanhedrin was made up of powerful men who had tremendous influence and who could not only make the apostles’ lives miserable, but non-existent. Their hatred for the apostles was palpable. Their animosity toward the name of Jesus and anybody associated with it was unquestionable. And they were out to destroy any and all who spoke in His name. The growing number of followers and growing reputation of the apostles was being met with the increasing animosity of the enemy. The battle lines were being drawn. The tension was mounting. But the apostles would soon learn that what Jesus had said to Peter was true. When Peter had confessed, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT), Jesus had responded: “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it” (Matthew 16:17-18 NLT). All the powers of hell will not conquer the church that Jesus was establishing on this earth. The efforts of the apostles would be opposed, but they would not be thwarted. The church would face persecution, but it would never face elimination. What the apostles were doing was the work of God, and as a result, they would face the worst the enemy had to offer. But they would prevail.
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.