Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 321 - February 1883
The apostles, thus miraculously brought out of prison, acted promptly on the message to the confusion of the enemy.
"And when they heard they entered about dawn into the temple and were teaching. And when the high priest arrived and those with. him, they called together the council and all the senate of the sons of Israel, and sent unto the jail to have them brought. But the officers that arrived did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported, saying, We found the jail shut in all security and the keepers standing at the doors, but on opening we found no one within. And when both [the priest—and]1 the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were utterly perplexed about them whereto this would come. And there arrived one and reported to them, Behold, the men whom ye put in the prison are in the temple standing and teaching the people. Then the captain went away with the officers, and brought them, not with violence, for they feared the people lest they should be stoned. And having brought they set them in the council; and the high priest asked them, saying, We strictly charged you not to teach on this name; and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and purpose to bring upon us the blood of this man. And in answer Peter and the apostles said, Obedience must be to God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom ye slew by hanging on a tree: him God exalted with his right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins. And we are [his]2 witnesses of these things [lit., words], and the Holy Spirit whom God gave to those that obey him." (Ver. 21-32.)
In the temple there was no hindrance to instruction in the word of God, the Old Testament scriptures and as yet none others were written. The apostles therefore used their liberty, as their Master had done before. (Matt. xxi. 23-xxii.; Mark xi. 27-xii.; Luke xx. xxi. 37, 38; John vii. 14, 28, 37; viii. 2-59; x. 23-39.) So it was too in the synagogues; and the apostles were in no way disposed to forego the opportunity of expounding the scriptures to the people, as we see in the history of Paul especially. There they were teaching at break of day; they were obedient, and their hearts in the work.
But the adversaries were not slack on their side. "And when the high priest arrived and those with him, they called together the council and all the senate of the sons of Israel, and sent unto the jail to have them brought. But the officers that arrived did nut find them in the prison; and they returned and reported, saying, We found the jail shut in all security, and the keepers standing at the doors; but on opening we found no one within." Thus the Sanhedrim met in due form, and in all the confidence of the highest religious authority. But the prisoners were no longer in custody; and, what was the most surprising news of all, without violence from within or from without. The building was found by the officials in all security, the keepers on guard at the doors; but not a prisoner was there. "And when both the captain. of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were utterly perplexed about them whereto this would come." Conscience could not but whisper, the more inexplicable to them it might seem. Strange things had Jerusalem seen and heard: not only when the Christ was here, but more widely and wonderfully since He died, and, as the disciples affirmed, rose and went to heaven. That God had somehow brought out of the prison the apostles, whom Jewish authority had put in, was rather in keeping with all that had been of late transpiring in their midst in Solomon's porch and elsewhere. But unbelief is the rebellion of the heart and may work most proudly in the face of the fullest testimony, without one solid ground of objection or a reasonable excuse. And as it is the heart that is in question, neither age nor sex, neither knowledge for ignorance, exempts a single person from its poisonous activity. Indeed an active or subtle mind, however much furnished and exercised, only gives the larger means and scope for its evil opposition to God. "Ye will not come to Me that ye might have life." For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." " He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true." Men dread consequences. Faith is subject to God's word, and seeks to please Him. The Jewish rulers were afraid of the issues now. They had no thought of God in the unseen light of eternity.
"And there arrived one and reported, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are in the temple standing and teaching the people." God took care to give publicity to the defeat of the guilty people in the hour of their seeming power over His servants. Had the council before charged and threatened them strictly not to speak at all nor teach on the name of Jesus? Had they now, filled with envy, put them in the public prison? God had by an angel brought them out from doors ever so secured and guards vigilant as they might be; and there they were in the temple standing and teaching the people. "Then the captain went away with the officers and brought them, not with violence, for they feared the people lest they should be stoned." How comforting to faith the witness of the weak strong, and of the strong weak! . Hardened as the captain and the officers might be, they were overawed, sa that they abstained from violence even to escaped prisoners; and not these but those feared lest they should be stoned. But it was man they dreaded, not God. The apostles had God before their eyes, the only true deliverance from the fear of man.
"And having brought they set them in the council; and the high priest asked them, saying, We strictly charged you not to teach on this name; and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and purpose to bring upon us the blood of this man" They assuredly had ho wish for or thought of accentuating their own powerlessness inn presence of a few poor and weak and ignorant Galileans. Yet could they not conceal from themselves any more than from others that their own commands were impotent, and the teaching of the apostles everywhere prevalent in the city, with the blood of Him whom they dreaded to name weighing heavily and increasingly on their consciences. But a little while ago Pilate had vainly washed his hands before the multitude, as if he could thus rid himself of his dark blot in delivering Jesus to their will; and then answered all the people, His blood be on us and on our children; and the priests, yea the chief priests, pleaded against the Holy Sufferer, instead of interceding for the Guiltless. Now are they the first to deprecate and feel the guilt of that blood on their own heads, and to shrink from its intolerable burden and (save to faith) irrevocable curse. There was, however, no uprightness of conscience: had there been, they would have found a sure and immediate and everlasting resource in the purging efficacy of that: bleed. What had the boldest of the apostles proved? Were they ignorant of his denying his Master? Yet was he soon after restored in soul so completely as to be able calmly and earnestly without a blush to tax the people with denying the Holy One and the Just and desiring a murderer to the granted to them! Such is the virtue of Him who came by water and blood: life is in Him only. So testifies the Holy Spirit, and He is the truth. But what did the Sanhedrim care for the truth, especially from the lips of unlearned and ignorant men in reproof of all the erudition and dignified office in Israel?
Peter and John had before this asked, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken to you rather than to God, judge ye. Now they all join Peter in his still firmer reply, Obedience must be to God rather than men. This is the great practical principle of faith, as it was the uniform characteristic of Christ in all perfection here below. "Lo, I come to do thy will, O God:" not miracles, not doing good, not teaching, not zeal, so much as unqualified and unfailing obedience rendered to God. Yet was Jesus a man approved of God unto them by powers and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in their midst beyond past example no less than present doubt. Yet was He anointed with the Holy Spirit and went about doing good, and healing all oppressed with the devil. The people too were astonished at His teaching, and all bare Him witness and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth; and the very officers sent to apprehend Him declared with truth, Never man spake like this man. And for burning jealousy for the Father's glory His disciples could not but be reminded that it was written, The zeal of Thine house lath eaten Mo up. Bit all these had their fit seasons. Obedience was always there, as unfaltering as constant, as lowly as perfect. Nor is there airy principle so essential for the Christian. He is sanctified of the Spirit unto Christ's obedience as well as to the sprinkling of His blood (as the gospel is for faith-obedience, in contrast with enforcement of law), and his soul is purified by obeying the truth to unfeigned brotherly love; for God chose him to salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and faith of the truth. Hence, though he may have sometimes to wait on God for light, obedience is the invariable place and duty of the believer. It is never a question of his rights; he is called to obey. He is bound to be subject to every human institution for the Lord's sake, whether to the King as supreme or tο rulers as sent by him, free but not having his freedom for a cloke of malice but as God's bondmen. Hence, if collision come between God's word and the ruler's requirement, his path is clear: God must be obeyed, but in suffering perhaps, not resistance to authority. He is always to obey, though in some cases it may be God rather than men. Nothing is so humble, nothing so firm. Naturally the believer might be feeble and timid; obedience by grace gives strength and courage. He might be self-confident and unyielding: obedience gives distrust in self and meekness in doing God's will. "He that doeth the will of God abideth for over;" even as sin is self-gill or lawlessness, and its end judgment and perdition. Therefore is obedience not only an inalienable duty, but the true pathway of power, and the sure means of extrication: Front every snare of the enemy. So the blessed Lord defeated Satan; and so the apostles now lay bare the tremendous fact that the Jewish heads and people were as wholly beguiled by Satan, as they themselves were in simple-hearted subjection to God. Once the elect nation had God in the world, as they had the Messiah in hope. Now that they had rejected their Messiah, they were not only without God like the Gentiles but the proved adversaries of God. They were only "men" like others; and." obedience must be to God rather than men."
This Peter proceeds to demonstrate in a few plain, pointed, irrefragable words. "The God of our fathers raised tip Jesus, whom ye slew by hanging on a tree: Him God exalted with His right hand as Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins. And we are [His] witnesses of these things, and the Holy Ghost whom God gave to those that obey Him." Here the proof is short and unanswerable, the antagonism to the God of Israel inchiefs and people, beyond question. The God of their fathers (how unlike them the children!) raised up Jesus whom ye slew (and with the deepest ignominy too) by hanging on a tree. Here, it is no longer the ambiguous word ἀνέστησεν, but the more determinate ἤγειρεν, not merely raising Him up as a living Messiah on earth, as in chap. iii. 22, 26, vii. (18) 37, xiii. 32, but waking Him up after death. Nor was resurrection all; for God exalted Him (not "to" as in Webster and Wilkinson, but) by His right hand (as Peter had preached, ch. ii. 33, in fulfilment of the undeniably Messianic psalm cx). But in what relation to them did He take His place in heaven? As Leader and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and remission of sins. The door of grace was still open. God was waiting to be gracious to His people though guilty of the great transgression; and He could afford by that blood to free them even from their guilt in shedding it. Surely Christ will appear in judgment one day. Meanwhile He is announced as Leader and Saviouir to give Israel just what they wanted—repentance and remission of sins.
There was testimony more than adequate—abundant. "And we are [his] witnesses of these things [or, words], and the Holy Spirit whom God gave to those that obey Him." Compare the Lord's own words in John xv. 26, 27: "But when the Comforter is come whom I will send unto you from the Father, the Spirit of truth which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me; and ye also bear witness, because ye are with me from the beginning." The Holy Spirit is not only their power of duly remembering the past, butt Himself the witness of the glory of Christ ill heaven. And this blessed Spirit, who wrought mightily in the apostles and others set high in the assembly, is given of God t' those who submit to the authority of the heavenly Leader. Such is the full force of the peculiar word "obey" employed here. The distinct personality of the divine Spirit is as carefully guarded his in ver. 3, though in a different way.
1) The more ancient MSS. and versions reject " the priest and" as in the Received Text. But while one can readily understand the omission from ignorance of the phrase, it is hard to see how some good copies, as well as a great many, accepted it unless genuine. " Proeliai lectioni praestat ardua" is an acknowledged maxim in such matters. The fact is however that in the Old Testament the use of "the priest" for "the high priest" is common. See Exod. xxix. 30, xxxv. 18, xxxviii. 21, Lev. iv. 5, 6, 7, 10, 16, vi. 22, xiii. 2, xvi. 32, xxi. 21, Num. iii, 6, 32, iv. 16, 29, 14, vii. 8, xvi. 37, 39. xviii. 28, xxv. 7, 11, xxvi. 1, 3, 63, xxxii. 2, 19, 21, 22, xxxi. 6, 12, 13, 11 1, 26, 29, 31, 41, 51, 54, xxxii. 2, 28, xxxiii. 38, xxxiv. 17. Nor is it only in the books of Moses that we find the use of priest" thus frequently for "high priest," fur so it is in Joshua xiv. xviii. xix. xxi. xxii., so mi &2 Sam., 1 &2 Dings, 1 & 2 Chron. So the Lord is predicted in Ps. ex., Zech. vi. We are not driven, as Krebs would seem to have supposed, to the Apocrypha (1 Macc. xv. 1, 2), though the usage is there, and in Joaephus (A. vi. 12, 1,) to whom he refers. In the New Testament itself compare Heb. v. 6, and, (not to speak of vii. 6, vii. 3, 11, 15, 17, 21, viii. 4, x. 21.
2) The greater copies exclude "his;" but the strange reading of B rather strengthens E H Ρ and the mass in holding to it.