Acts: Chapter 4

Major Theme:

  • Courage: Patrick Schriner, in his Acts Commentary, writes, “Chapter four develops the picture of the early church introducing a theme that will be carried throughout the rest of the narrative: opposition. The text begins to answer the question of who has legitimate leadership over Israel, and it all centers on a clash over the temple space. Will it be the old temple authorities or these new simple-upstart-disciples who were with Jesus? This parting of paths is determined by their response to Jesus and his witnesses. And the opposition of the Sanhedrin to the church and the gospel of Jesus allows for the apostles to display the courage given through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit encouraged Jesus on earth and in his greatest time of need when being crucified. And, Jesus by giving the church his Spirit gives us that same courage to do right even when it may cause us harm. Peter and John display that courage for us in Acts 4 and this will be a running theme through the whole book. We do not face the same level of opposition that the apostles did, but we do face the opposition of a consumeristic, self-centric culture, a culture that focuses on self pleasure instead self giving. And, standing up to that does take courage. When reading Acts 4 and the whole of Acts, be reminded that the apostles had courage not because of their own power but because of Holy Spirit. They witnessed the resurrection and knew nothing could separate them from the love of God, and the same is true today. Have courage because Jesus has overcome sin, death, and the devil!

People:

  • Sadducees (vs. 1): “This name was applied in the time of Jesus to a portion or sect of the Jews, who were usually at variance with the other leading sect, namely, the Pharisees, but united with them in opposing Jesus and accomplishing his death, Matthew 16:1-12; Luke 20:27. The name would seem to be derived from a Hebrew word signifying the just; but the Talmudists affirm that it comes from a certain Sadoc, or Sadducus, who was the founder of the sect, and lived about three centuries before the Christian era. The Sadducees disregarded all the traditions and unwritten laws which the Pharisees prized so highly, and professed to consider the Scriptures as the only source and rule of the Jewish religion. They rejected the demonology of the Pharisees; denied the existence of angles and spirits; considered the soul as dying with the body, and of course admitted no future state of rewards and punishments, Matthew 22:23. While, moreover, the Pharisees believed that all events and actions were directed by an overruling providence or fate, the Sadducees considered them all as depending on the will and agency of man. The tenets of these freethinking philosophers were not, in general, so acceptable to the people as those of the Pharisees; yet many of the highest rank adopted them, and practiced great severity of manners and of life. Many members of the Sanhedrin were Sadducees, Acts 23:6-9; and so was the high priest in the time of Christ seems to have added bitterness to their hatred of Christianity, Acts 4:1; 5:17.”

  • Annas the High Priest (vs. 6): “A high priest of the Jews, Luke 3:2; John 18:13,24; Acts 4:6. He is mentioned in Luke as being high priest along with Caiaphas, his son in-law. He was first appointed to that office by Cyrenius, or Quirinus, proconsul of Syria, about A. D. 7 or 8, but was afterwards deprived of it. After various changes, the office was given to Joseph, also called Caiaphas, the son-in-law of Annas, about A. D. 25, who continued in office until A. D. 35 or 36. In the passages of the New Testament above cited, therefore, it is apparent that Caiaphas was the only actual and proper high priest; but Annas being his father-in-law, and having been formerly himself high priest, and being also perhaps his substitute, had great influence and authority, and could with propriety be still termed high priest along with Caiaphas. It was before him that Christ was first taken on the night of his seizure. He also assisted in presiding over the Sanhedrin which sat in judgment upon Peter and John, Acts 4:6.”

  • Caiaphas (vs. 6): “High priest of the Jews, A. D. 27 to 36. He was a Sadducee, and a bitter enemy of Christ. He counseled the death of Christ for the political salvation of the nation. These plots against Christ, Matthew 26:1-5 Mark 14:1 Luke 22:2, led to his seizure, and he was brought first before Annas, formerly high priest, who sent him to Caiaphas his son-in-law. Caiaphas examined Christ before the assembling of the Sanhedrin, after which the trial went on, and Christ was condemned, mocked, and transferred to Pilate for sentence and execution, Matthew 26:57-68 Mark 14:53-72 Luke 22:54-71 John 18:13-27. Not content with procuring the death of the Savior, Caiaphas and his friends violently persecuted his followers, Acts 4:1-6 5:17,33. But a few years after the ascension of Christ, and soon after the degradation of Pilate, Caiaphas also was deposed from office by the Roman proconsul Vitellius.”

  • John and Alexander (vs. 6): “Relative of Annas the high priest, present when Peter and John were examined before the Sanhedrim (Acts 4:6).”

Culture:

Cultural Background

  • The Jewish High Court: “The Jewish high court consisted of 71 members - 70 elders, according to the pattern of Numbers 11:16, with the high priest as the presiding officer. It was dominated by the priestly Sadducees with a Pharisaic minority, represented mainly by the scribes (lawyers) of the court. Annas is designated as high priest. (Much like U.S. presidents, high priests seem to have retained their title for life.) He had served that role earlier (A.D. 6-15) and was the controlling figure in the high priestly circle, which may explain why he is given the title here. His son-in-law Caiaphas was the official high priest at this time (serving A.D. 18-36), and Annas’s son John would serve in the role later (A.D. 36-37).”

Contemplating God:

Voice of the Past:

  • God Encourages His Church with a Sign: “God heard their prayers of the early church, and manifested this, by shaking the place. For when they had prayed, it is said, the place shook (Acts 4:31). Why did God do this? List to the prophets, when they say, “He looks on the earth, and makes it to tremble” (Psalm 104:32). With this sign, God is telling the church he is present with them in their prayer. And again, another prophet says, The earth was shaken, and did tremble at the presence of the Lord. (Psalm 18:7). God did this...to lead them to trust him and be more courageous. After this sign from God, they gained increased boldness. It was the beginning of the church’s ministry and they prayed for boldness, so God gave them a sign — but no other event like this happens after — therefore we can infer that great and mighty was the encouragement they received...Think on this truth: “The place was shaken,” and that made the church all the more unshaken.”

Footnotes:

ATS Bible Dictionary. “Sadducess.”

Ibid. “Annas.”

Ibid. “Caiphas.”

Easton’s Bible Dictionary. “Alexander (relative of Annas).”

Commentaries on Acts. F.F. Bruce. Chapter 4.

Homilies on Acts. John Chrysostom. Homily 11.

Peter Elliott