Acts 4 – Peter Speaks to the High Priest

In Acts 4, Peter and John are arrested and brought before the high priest and some of his associates. In the previous two chapters Luke has described the ministry of Peter in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost and just after that time.  He and the twelve seem to have gone regularly to the temple for prayer and worship. While they were there, they had opportunity to preach Jesus as the messiah and the gospel of the risen and ascended Jesus to groups of religiously minded Jews who were also in the Temple for prayer and worship.

Peter and John DoreIn both cases God does a miracle which demonstrates that the messianic age has begun (the descent of the Holy Spirit and the healing of a lame man), and in both cases Peter’s sermon is based solidly on messianic prophecies found in the Hebrew Bible.  Both sermons show that Jesus was the messiah, and that while he was crucified in ignorance, that ignorance will no longer be overlooked, judgment is coming. In each case they have great success with thousands of people believing that Jesus is the messiah and that he will return soon to establish his kingdom.  As Ben Witherington comments, it is in this chapter that we “see the beginnings of the power struggle for the hearts of the Jewish people.” (Acts, 189).

Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit as he addressed the meeting. That Peter is filled with the Holy Spirit is an indication that Luke sees this speech in the tradition of the Prophets of the Hebrew Bible.  Luke is presenting Peter as giving a prophetic speech like Isaiah or Jeremiah, directly to the leadership of the Jewish people, calling even the High Priest to repent of the sin of killing the Messiah.

The words which follow are therefore a prophetic speech of condemnation, which amazes the listeners.  But it is not Peter’s skills as an orator which is important, but that the words come through the Holy Spirit.   In fact, Luke uses this phrase in a number of places in his gospel and in Acts before a prophetic speech.*  In each case, the target of the speech is Jewish; 9:17 refers to Paul receiving the Spirit, 11:24 refers to Barnabas as a man “full of the Spirit.”

Peter asks if the healing of a lame man is a good deed or not.  If this is an act of kindness, then it must come from God.  The obvious answer seems to be yes, it is a good deed from God.  If they agree it is a good deed from God, then they have a problem:  Peter states the man was healed by the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the one put to death by this very council only two months before!

The last line of his defense is a classic statement of the gospel: “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  This is a strong statement of total dedication to Jesus Christ.  There is no possibility of religious pluralism, Jesus is in fact the only way, truth and life.  If humans (these people before Peter or any human) expect to be right with God, they can only do it through the name of Jesus. This is really an outgrowth of the belief that God raised Jesus from the dead and seated him on his right hand (Marshall, Acts, 100). The name of Jesus is now the highest authority possible, so that Paul can say in Phil 2 that at the name of Jesus every knew will bow.

There is a remarkable boldness in this statement, but from the modern perspective of religious pluralism.  The boldness is that Peter is saying this to a group of highly religious Jews who thought that they were the ones who held the right way to salvation. If you wanted to be right with God, you had to come to them and hear their interpretation of the Law and participate in worship only in the Temple, which they control.

Peter is saying that salvation now comes through Jesus, not the Temple.  Little wonder why these men were shocked at Peter’s boldness!

*See Luke 1:15, 1:41, 1:67; 4:1, Acts 2:4, 4:31, 6:3-5, 7:55, 9:17, 11:24, and 13:9.

10 thoughts on “Acts 4 – Peter Speaks to the High Priest

  1. When reading this text, I found a couple things interesting, the first one is how after Peter and John were jailed, it states that many had heard and the number of believers grew to 5000 Vrs 4. Well at first its like sweet they grew, but then it some questions popped up, they grew to 5000 from what, how did you count that (did they all sign commitment cards) and don’t we as believers usually get frustrated (at least I do) when some body has a revival or a place where they share the Gospel and they state that 500 kids got saved, 200 recommitted, 100 said they would think about Jesus, and 200 were going to give away there shoes (Acquire the Fire) all of there talk is about numbers. My last question is why did the 5000 not stick up for them, Peter and John and the other persecuted believers, look at Egypt right now (not about Christianity but is against the government) with that many believers they would have had a big group to support them.

    Another thing I noticed and enjoyed greatly was how the rulers were noted that Peter and John were unschooled and ordinary men who had courage and had been with Jesus vrs13. I would not mind be labeled that and ordinary guy, with courage who has experienced Jesus (well is grace at the least), and it also shows how highly the rulers thought of themselves. It’s a great reminder of how God uses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise-1 Corinthians 1:27

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  2. When I first read chapter 4 I was just amazed with what Peter was saying to the high priest. My first question is if they were preaching in the temple regularly, then i’m sure that it was not the first time the high priest had heard of it. so, why did he choose that day to take them in? Did they think that they should step in and try to stop them because everyone was listening? When I got to the section when Peter is in front of them and telling them that they are calling them in and jailing them for doing a good deed, I was amazed with what he was saying to them. In verse 10 when he told them that the man was healed by the name of Jesus, the same man that they had killed, and then added in “but whom God raised from the dead.” I feel like at this point the Holy Spirit while speaking through Peter was telling them that yeah you made a mistake by killing Jesus, but its ok God fixed what you did. When I read this chapter I was thinking about the courage that they had to stand up there and say those things and then you get to verse 13 and Luke talks about how they could see the courage in them. Thats like me talking back to Sherstad, I may know i’m right, but I will just sit there and take it. But, Peter being filled with the Holy Spirit is filled with courage and puts the accusers in a tough spot. In verse 16 they say “what are we going to do with these men?” I feel like after Peter said everything to them they were kind of like “well you got us there Peter”. So, they let them off with a warning and tell them to no longer preach the name of Jesus in the temple, fulling knowing that they are still going to.

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  3. I couldn’t help but read Ch 4 and think from the Jewish Leaders perspective. Here is an uneducated man preaching to the High Priest, with the conviction of the Holy Spirit. I am not sure whether I would be fuming mad because someone would dare to speak to me this way. Or if I would be terrified, because he spoke so convincingly and believed every word he said. I wonder if that is why they let him of with just a warning. They were scared to make the same mistake again. Stefan, in reply to your point about numbers I am with you. I struggle with people just throwing out huge numbers. I was almost one of the statistics of people who got saved and then went right back to the way he lived before. But by the Grace of God I got surrounded by a couple of good people who took me in the right direction. Too often churches are looking for numbers and not focused enough on discipleship. I don’t think it is the moment in time when you get saved that is most important, but what happens after that. Is it a true conversion or just some words uttered to make you feel better about yourself for a day?

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  4. In Acts chapter 4 it talks about how Peter and John are preaching the Gospel and the Priest said to them that he doesn’t want them to preach in the name of Jesus Christ. Of course they kept on preaching and of course the priest arrested them and brought them to jail. Then during the night an angel came and freed them and told them to go to the town and preach. If I were them, I would preach as well because I would be doing the Lord’s work and not obeying men. I don’t know if Peter and John would get killed or in trouble for this but if they got put in jail again, they could preach to the men in the jail because they still would be preaching.

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  5. What P. Long said about Peter speaking in tradition with the prophets, to the Jewish leaders, really interested me, and kind of put things in a different perspective. I had never thought of the apostles in reference to prophets, but I guess in a sense they were like them. They were called by God, literally Jesus told them to be his witnesses in” Jerusalem and all of Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth…”. They were sent to spread the gospel, to tell people to repent and believe that Jesus was/is God and lived, died and was resurrected to take away the sin of the world. They were vessels through which the Holy Spirit spoke.
    The Jewish leaders’ pride in their rituals and rules, seems to blind them to the truth in the apostle’s words(and the miracle of the lame man). How could they not see that the words and miracles could come only from the power of God? They seemed so focused on tradition without heart, which is just like the Israelites in the Old Testament, who did the sacrifices and the rituals, but their hearts were far from God. God sent them the prophets to speak his words to the “leaders“, to tell them to repent of their sins. Which, IN A SENSE,the apostles are again doing here before the jewish leaders, but with the good news of Jesus also.

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  6. Verse 13 says “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” This really shows us the bravery that Peter and John when they preached to these people. Reading through Acts, it is amazing to note the number of times that God saved the disciples while they were doing his will. This is a good lesson to anyone nowadays who is frightened to share their faith in front of their friends. Peter and John were nothing special, but they listened to God’s will in their lives and they were blessed because of it.

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  7. I have never really been all that interested in this account from Acts, but since going over it for this class it has seemed much more interesting to me. We see in this passage that “Luke is presenting Peter as giving a prophetic speech like Isaiah or Jeremiah, directly to the leadership of the Jewish people, calling even the High Priest to repent of the sin of killing the Messiah” (Long).

    The idea of Peter being filled with the Holy Spirit is essential to the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. The Old Testament is filled with prophetic language describing the events of the coming of the Messiah. This prophesy not only depicted the direct actions of the Messiah, Jesus Christ himself, but it described the events after His coming. Some of these predicted signs of validation were taking place in a time of great fulfillment of Old Testament Prophet’s promises. And so, as it was predicted we see great prophetic speeches being given by Peter. It is amazing how perfectly planned and executed the process of redemption has been throughout history. It can also be encouraging to believers of this current Dispensation of Grace by pointing out that Christ was not the only fulfiller of prophesy and that God chose to use sinners in His plan of redemption. So too, may we be used in His plan of redemption.

    I also find it fascinating to see Peter boldness when directly confronting the High Priest whom Peter claims must repent of HIS sins in the crucifixion of Christ! WOW! Now that is the kind of boldness we must all preach the Gospel of Christ with!

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  8. Yes, I agree! Verses 13 and 14 stood out to me and they draw to the same conclusions. Especially when we really take into account the authority that Annas had and the extent to which Peter definitely didn’t acquiesce in his presence. And this statement that 2000 more men believed after the lame man was healed (vs.4) followed by this line in verse 13, “And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” even seems to bring more closure to the question of the authority by which the Apostles were performing these miracles. And “they had nothing to say in opposition.” That boldness that comes from an unshakable faith in the power of God is not only what propels the proclamation of the Gospel forward, but also what stands as concrete evidence that these testimonies are indeed absolute reality like the men and women in that context had never known before.

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  9. – It is quite interesting to hear the beliefs of the Jews during this time; when it talks about in the end that they believe that people have to go through them for salvation first and this is especially interesting after Paul says, “There is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.” Basically saying the only way to be right is to be right with God and that is only through Jesus Christ just like another passage in the Bible… it states, “no one comes through the Father except through me.” This is reiterating that it is not through man we are saved it is purely through Jesus Christ. This blog really got me thinking about the Catholic church and its belief system. When I went to Mexico almost four years ago we went into the town and we were about to visit this huge Catholic Church and as we were approaching it there were hundreds of parent holding their infants. I asked our missionary what it was all about and he said that Catholics believe that you have to be baptized as a baby to go to heaven. Nowhere do they acknowledge salvation in that belief and we know through scripture that baptism does not save you? Another example I think about relating to the Catholic Church is the term “confession” when you have to go to the high priest and tell him your sins to be forgiven. This relates to the beliefs of the Jews as they propose that you have to go through them to get to Jesus Christ.

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  10. I wonder what it would be like to address the high priest with such boldness. I wonder what the power distance between the simple men like Peter and John to someone like the high priest in the company of priests was while being in their presence at the temple. More so, I wonder how all the priests might have felt by having a simple man shush them on “their turf”. It would take a lot of humility for any of the leaders to submit to the truth in Peter’s words. Unfortunately, they were too stuck in politics and public image to revert to such place of humility. I wonder how different the books of Acts would be if the Jewish leadership had heeded Peter’s words right then. How long would it have taken for the kingdom to be fully inaugurated?
    But no, at that point, it was easier for the religious leaders to hold on to their traditions, image, pride, and jealousy, and let their hearts hardened. They also had no other explanation for the healing of the crippled man. So, what did their minds conceive? I do not know. But their resistance to Jesus as the Messiah ultimately led to gory persecution of the apostles and the interruption of the inauguration of the kingdom. In Acts 6-7, we see the same boldness of Peter in Stephen’s speech as well as their fate in being imprisoned by the Jewish leadership. But the result is Stephen stoned to death by the Jews. The ESVSB comments on Acts 4:13 example of boldness as “Spirit-inspired courage and confidence to speak in spite of any danger or threat” (John B. Pulhill, p. 2088). What does this kind of boldness look like in the Church today?

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