Jerusalem To Rome

The Acts of the Apostles

By Charles Fremont Sitterly

A. The Jewish Period—Chapters I-VII

From the Ascension of Christ until Stephen’s Martyrdom.—A. D. 30 To A. D. 33

Chapter 4

First Collision with the Jewish Authorities



While they were speaking thus to the people there came upon them the priests, the Captain of the Temple, and the Sadducees, greatly vexed at their teaching the people and proclaiming the resurrection of the dead as instanced in the case of Jesus. So they laid hands on them, and as it was already evening, put them in custody till the following day. Many, however, who had heard the Word, believed, so that the number of men alone came to be about five thousand.

An assembly followed on the next day, of their rulers, elders, and scribes in Jerusalem. Annas the High Priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander and those who belonged to the High Priest’s family. Then they arraigned the Apostles and began to ask them, “By what power or in what name have such men as you done this?”  


We have in the chapter division here a case of the careless work not infrequent in the early books of the New Testament. At least the first five verses of this chapter should have fallen with Chapter 3.

Peter must have spoken with great success, as we see both from the friends he made for his cause and the enemies he stirred into action. It would appear too that the day must have been either a Sabbath, or new moon, or feast day, so numerous was the response to Peter’s appeal and so formal and fully attended an assembly of officials called together, not at once, but on the morning following. It is well to note that the Sadducees take the foremost part now in opposing the new Way, their aversion to the doctrine of the resurrection being a large factor in such antagonism, as we shall find all through the book. However, it appears that every type of functionary connected in any way with Temple hill was deeply stirred at the egregious presumption of these Galilean fishermen in taking upon themselves the function of doctors of law and teaching the people, boldly setting themselves up as teachers of the Holy Writings. True to type, those of least real authority make the greater demonstration and act with more severity before than after the hearing of the case on its merits. As it is now late and they wish to clear the courts before going to dine, the Captain and his deputies arrest Peter and John and throw them into the common jail overnight. Meanwhile the hierarchy is led by the priests, who were on duty, to take action, and a general call was sent out for a convocation of the Greater Council the day following. How like in purpose and personnel it is to the gathering at Passover which condemned Jesus! There is the same crafty Annas and his son-in-law in the high-priesthood, Caiaphas. John and Alexander of the same large household are named, and doubtless the groups of rulers, elders, and scribes referred to are identically the same as on the greater occasion but a few months earlier. Even the formal question of the court is the same. “By what authority or in whose name do such men as you perform what the people call ‘miracles’ and unduly disquiet them in the Temple on sacred feast days?”  


Paragraph 2. PETER ADDRESSES THE SANHEDRIN. Verses 8-15.

Upon that Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, replied to them:

“Rulers and Elders of the people, if we are arraignedthis day for a kind deed done to a helpless man, and are asked how he was cured, let it be well understood by you all and by all the people of Israel that it is in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, it is in Him, I say, that this man stands sound again before you. This is


“Moreover, there is no salvation in any-one else, for there is no other name under Heaven given among men through which we must be saved.”

They began to wonder as they contemplated the outspoken manner of Peter and John, and perceived that they were unschooled and artless men, and came to realize that they had been companions of Jesus. They also saw the man who had been cured standing there with them, and could say nothing against it. So they ordered them to withdraw from the Sanhedrin and began to hold a consultation.  


Again Peter leaps eagerly to his task. Again we are told and can see for ourselves that he was filled with the Holy Spirit. Since the night of the- Last Supper, when Peter was told in Gethsemane that two swords were enough, and later that these must be sheathed, he has developed swordsmanship of another sort and has become adept in swinging with swift execution the two-edged sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The Peter of Pentecost and of Solomon’s Portico here stands undaunted before the greater Council of the Sanhedrin and charges their rulers, as he had the common people, with crucifying their King, with setting aside the chief stone—the corner stone, indeed, in the permanent temple of Jehovah—with killing the Curer of souls and Healer of broken hearts, vainly trying to discredit the credentials of the only Saviour, who when among them had given the touch of healing to the outward in order to prove His power to save the inward man, and who, in the case of this confirmed cripple, never able before to stand alone, has given new evidence of His invincible power. All this and more leads up to his ringing climax: “There is no salvation in any other nor any other name under Heaven given to men through which we must be saved.” These words seem to parallel the outspoken and otherwise unequaled claim of Jesus himself before this same judge and court, when he said that he was verily the Son of God and that hereafter He should be seen sitting at the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of Heaven. No wonder that the undesigned compliment is given to these unschooled and artless men in the observation that their auditors perceived a likeness in speech and manner between Master and disciples: they had learned of Him. Moreover, there stood by their side the proof of all that had been claimed—the cripple whom they had familiarly known for years now alert and agile and eager to testify in his turn. The Sanhedrin is most perplexed. The prisoners are ordered to withdraw, that unembarrassed consultation may be held.



“What are we to do with these men?” they asked. “For the fact that a significant miracle has been wrought is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we are unable to deny it. But lest it spread any further among the people, we had better threaten them not to speak in future about this name to any-one whatever.”

Then they called them back and ordered them neither to speak nor teach at all about the name of Jesus. But ' Peter and John answered them:

“Judge yourselves, whether it is right before God to listen to you rather than to God. Surely, it is not possible for us to cease speaking of what we have seen and heard.”

After they had threatened them still further they let them go, for they could find no way to punish them on account of the people, for every-one was praising God for what had happened. For the man on whom this miracle of healing had taken place was over forty years of age.  


And now craft and privilege, unequal to the task of meeting on equal ground these Galileans, are fearful lest their witness is all too true and lest He whom they crucified may suddenly appear and vindicate His claims and those of His unquailing representatives. But more than this, they fear to attempt anything drastic lest they have to reckon with the people, for by this time there is a large section of the Jerusalem populace, including not a few families of station and influence, who are favorable to the new movement. Among the five thousand confessed followers of the new faith we must remember there were such citizens as Joseph of Arimathza, Simon and Lazarus of Bethany, Cleophas, Nicodemus, Stephen, Barnabas, Ananias, and an ever-growing number of priests and leaders becoming convinced by the plain and unanswerable power of the events preceding and following the fateful Passover of the Crucifixion. Gamaliel and his favorite disciple, Saul of Tarsus, were no doubt already debating what might come from this strange fanaticism. As yet, however, not even the Sadducees were ready to join issue to the point of persecuting this sect within the Pale. They, therefore, called back the disciples and enjoined strict silence as to the doctrine and name of Jesus. But Peter and John, instead of quietly acquiescing, assert binding allegiance to the higher powers, and the baffled Sanhedrin can only threaten future discipline of a severer nature, and let them go.



When released they went to their friends and told them all that the High Priests and elders had said. And on hearing it they all raised their voices with one accord to God and said,

“O Sovereign Master, Thou art the Maker of heaven, earth, and sea, and all that in them is. Thou didst speak by the mouth of our father David Thy servant through the Holy Spirit, saying,





(Psa. ii, 1-2).

“For there actually gathered in this very city against Thy holy Servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the nations and the peoples of Israel, but only to accomplish what Thy hand and Thy purpose had already determined should be done. So now, O Lord, look upon their threatenings and grant to Thy servants power to speak Thy Word with untrammeled freedom, while Thy hand is stretched forth to cure and to work signs and portents through the name of Thy Servant Jesus.”

When they had finished praying the place where they had gathered was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak boldly the Word of God.  


Returning to their friends, evidently assembled together in supplication for their safety, Peter and John report their experiences, and praises for their release fill all hearts. The formal phrasing of this outburst is one of the series of noteworthy expressions of like kind preserved in the Lukan writings, ranking with Simeon’s and Elisabeth’s outpourings in the Gospel, the Old Testament being quoted in the same way and the deity of the Lord stated in well-nigh creedal terms. Such petition and such demonstration of unafraid loyalty are sanctioned by a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit and eloquent outbursts on the part of the believers, who declare everywhere their testimony to the risen and reigning Saviour.  


Paragraph 5. THE COMMUNITY OF GOODS. Verses 32-37.

The whole body of those believing was of one heart and soul; not one of them called anything he possessed his own; on the contrary, everything they had was common property. Meanwhile the Apostles kept giving their testimony with great efficiency to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus and great favor was shown to them all. Indeed, there was not one destitute person among them, for those who had property or houses would sell them and keep bringing the proceeds of the sales, laying it down at the feet of the Apostles, who made distribution to each one just as he needed it.

Thus it was that Joseph, who had been called Barnabas by the Apostles, which means Son of Comfort, a Levite born in Cyprus, sold a farm which he possessed, brought the money, and laid it down at the feet of the Apostles.  


When the now fast-growing church was again visited with special tokens of the Spirit’s control the same state of social equilibrium is remarked. Differences in matters of station or possession tend to disappear, not, as far as may be seen from the narrative, because of any pronounced expectation or teaching of the Saviour’s soon return to earth, but as a spontaneous and normal tribute to the vanishing sense of the importance of outward circumstance and the rise of higher standards of estimate, so that the physical and seen give way to the spiritual and unseen. This is always the tendency wherever like conditions prevail. It is the carrying out into actual life of the injunction of Jesus to the rich young man, and appears akin to the generous sharing of one’s possessions so often enjoined by Paul and commended in his Epistles. Not only did it prevail in Jerusalem but it seems to rest in the background at Lydda, Joppa, Cęsarea, Damascus, Antioch, Colosse, Philippi, Corinth, Ephesus, Puteoli, and Rome. In the last two communities even the catacombs still reflect it. Too much has been made of its formal or artificial features, whereas it is more a spontaneous tribute to the spiritual unity of believers without prescription or definition, being an outward sign of an inward grace and left entirely to free expression. In the two particular cases cited, namely, those of Barnabas, here, and the deceitful pair, in the following chapter, it is evident that we have nothing more than the working out, under the basal laws of character expression, of the two tendencies, the one beneficent and the other baleful, controlling soul-development. The Apostles have formulated no fixed rules, and apply none in judgment, save those controlling every moral action. The fact that they are formally recognized as both the receivers and dispensers of such funds does not in the slightest degree appear to lay any obligation upon the conscience of the other members of the growing community of believers than that which a share in the outpouring of the same Divine Spirit always occasions and abundantly accounts for. When and wherever the whole body of believers are of one heart and soul, as Luke says of the early Christians twelve times in this wonderful story, they will inevitably learn neither to call any man common or unclean nor to withhold any of their temporary possessions from service to the common weal.