In chapter 5 of Acts, Luke records the apostle's confrontation with the members of t he Sanhedrin. In our particular passage for study we read of the apostles' arrest, their miraculous escape from prison, their rearrest, and Peter's defence before the Sanhedrin. Luke records how the apostles, under the Lord, have no need to step back from their preaching mission. The authorities may rant and rave, but they are left befuddled before God's mighty hand; the gospel cannot be muffled.
v17-18. In chapter 4 we read of Peter and John's examination before the Sanhedrin following the healing of the cripple at Beautiful Gate. Peter and John refuse to stop preaching (disturbing the populous) and so, after further healings, the authorities act to arrest them.
v19-25. The religious authorities, particularly the Sadducees, were obviously planning some serious retribution, but the apostles are mysteriously freed and are again preaching "in the temple courts." Their mysterious escape at least implies that they had support in high places, so the authorities will need to take care how they proceed. Luke tells us that the apostles were not freed because of a political conspiracy, but rather by the direct hand of God; a messenger (an "angel") from God had set them free and told them to continue to preach. Naturally, the guards are fearful, following the apostles' escape, since they are responsible for the security of their prisoners.
v26-27. On hearing that the apostles are again preaching in the temple courts, the "captain of the temple guard" is sent to rearrest them, but this time with a softly-softly approach. There is an obvious need not to stir up the populous.
v28. In the presence of the Sanhedrin the apostles are reminded that they were given strict instructions not to teach the people about "that man." In fact, they have done the opposite. The Sadducees interpret the apostles' actions as an attempt to hold them responsible for the death of Jesus in the eyes of the populous.
v29. Peter, on behalf of the other apostles, answers the charge by resting on divine authority. The authority of the Sanhedrin is substantial, but the apostles must submit to God rather than the authority of man.
v30-31. Peter goes on to restate the substance of the apostolic gospel. cf. 2:22-36, 3:13-26, 4:10-12.
i] "God raised Jesus up", in the sense of establishing him as messiah, in the same sense as God "raised up David", cf. 3:26, 13:33. So, God has anointed Jesus as Israel's long-awaited prophet, priest and king.
ii] "You killed by hanging him on a tree." As prophesied, God's people set upon his "suffering servant", cursing him with an ignominious death - "he that is hanged on a tree is cursed of God", Deut.21:23. The people of Israel have inflicted disgrace on their messiah, disgrace on the innocent one.
iii] "God exalted him." Here the reference is probably to Jesus' resurrection and ascension. Jesus is now Lord and Saviour, possessing glory, authority and power.
iv] "To grant repentance and forgiveness of sins." Therefore, Jesus is authorized to provide for his people a time to repent, along with the blessing of forgiveness (peace with God).
v32. The apostles are witnesses of these truths - they "beheld his glory", they are witnesses to Christ's life, death, resurrection and ascension. This witness is confirmed by the Holy Spirit, whose power is active in the apostles' ministry.
The apostles boldly preach the good news in the temple at Jerusalem, despite repeated threats of arrest and imprisonment from the authorities. For a second time they are brought before the rulers of the Sanhedrin, a body which had previously given strict orders that they not teach in the name of Jesus. Despite this, the apostles spread their teaching all over Jerusalem - joyously telling the people all about "this new life" in Jesus. The apostles' response to the accusations brought against them is simply "we must obey God, not any human authority." This gospel of Christ, which they believed with all their heart, is something they felt compelled to share in order that others might experience this new life. The Easter event changed their lives, empowering them to preach, teach and heal in Jesus' name.
The focus of this passage is upon the irresistible communication of the gospel, yes, even to those who would muzzle it. The content of Peter's proclamation to the Sanhedrin is common to the book of Acts. In the book of Acts the punch-line of the gospel is twofold: First, the apostles proclaim the glorification of Jesus Christ in his resurrection and ascension and, by implication, his enthronement as Lord; Second, they called for repentance, with its associated gift of forgiveness - a new relationship with God, life eternal. The apostolic preaching did not develop a theology of the cross, it did not develop a redemptive theology. The atonement, as spelled out, for example, in Romans, concerns the Christian life, it assures us of our eternal right-standing in the sight of God, by grace through faith.
The lost, whether living in the first century or today, need to hear that although God's man, Jesus (the Jewish messiah), was taken and crucified by wicked men, the grave could not hold him, such that he now reigns eternally at God's right hand with the power to save. For those who turn to God (repentance), forgiveness is now assured by God's man, Jesus. Let us personally act on this truth - believe it and communicate it.
Identify the elements in Peter's gospel message and compare them with his message in 4:10-12. Compose a twenty-first century equivalent.