Acts 4 – Peter and the Holy Spirit

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. In 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.

Peter SanhedrinBoth 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).

In 4:8 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. John Polhill points out that the verb used (an aorist participle of πίμπλημι) is used for “special moments of inspiration,” see Luke 1:15, 1:41, Acts 6:3-5, 7:55, for example (Acts, 143). Luke is therefore 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 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.”

This “filling with the Holy Spirit” is salvation in a Pauline sense, but rather an enablement to speak boldly before a crowd of people who can (and will) physically persecute Peter for what he says in this brief speech.  In what other ways is the activity of the holy Spirit evident in this chapter?

14 thoughts on “Acts 4 – Peter and the Holy Spirit

  1. There are a couple ways in which you can see the activity of the Holy Spirit in this chapter of the book of Acts. One very powerful way the Holy Spirit acts is shown in verse 31 where it says, “After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God clearly.” Right after that, in verses 32-35, there is an account of the believers sharing their possessions. Now when you ask of activities of the Holy Spirit, I’m not sure exactly what you mean. I want to say that this is an act of the Holy Spirit, when these believers are being, “one in heart and mind” (vs. 32) and giving their possessions so that there was “no needy persons among them.” I have a question about the Holy Spirit. You talked about it towards the end of your post when you said that the “filling with the Holy Spirit” was in Pauline sense, salvation. If we are filled with the Holy Spirit when we are saved, when we accept Christ’s death on the cross for our sins, then whats the difference between being filled with the Holy Spirit then and this filling with the Holy Spirit that is in verse 31?

  2. Thank you for sharing about the Holy Spirit working through the earthquake, Jake. There are many ways that the Holy Spirit worked in this chapter. One way that the Holy Spirit worked in the lives of the people is in Acts 4:21. The Sanhedrin saw Peter and John do miracles, and they did not approve of it. In Acts 4:15-16, they got together to devised a plan to stop Peter and John from teaching about Jesus. They called Peter and John together and told them that they could not teach about Jesus anymore (Acts 4:18). Peter and John boldly replied that they could not stop telling the people what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:19-20). Acts 4:21 says, “After further threats they let them go. They could not decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened.” Peter and John were “filled with Holy Spirit,” and the Holy Spirit was working in the lives of the people (Acts 4:8). They were praising God for the miracles He had done. The Holy Spirit was working in the situation. The Sanhedrin could not hurt Peter and John because the people would not let them. God protected Peter and John.

    • I think you are right in pointing out that the people praising God while Peter and John were before the Sanhedrin is a work of the Holy Spirit (4:21). Through that, Peter and John were protected. Another way I see the Holy Spirit working is found in verse 33. At the end of the verse it says, “and much grace was upon them all.” The concept of grace being upon them makes sense, but why does the author point out that ‘much grace’ was upon them all? A similar phrase is found in Luke 2:40, where it says, “And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.” This verse, talking about Jesus says that he grew with the grace of God upon him. I think that this is another way that the Holy Spirit was working in the believers in Acts and also in Jesus. God was pouring out His love for these people and through that love they were building a strong fellowship of believers. The Holy Spirit working in them was empowering them not only to speak boldly, but also to extend the grace that they were given, creating that community.

  3. Something that I though of when I read verse 34-35 where people that owned lands, or anything of value sold them and brought them to the apostles to do with them what they thought best. A lot of times when the Holy Spirit moves people think it is only in words, as in “the Holy Spirit is doing something in me and I want to tell everyone.” That is true and does and needs to happen. But a lot of the times the holy spirit moves people to do things like the believers did in verse 34-35, they sold things and gave them to the apostles feet to give to the people that needed them more. This last Christmas dinner with my family, I sat down at the table with my family and started digging into a beautiful Spiral Ham, the best thing i have ever tested. As I was going to town, hand over fist, my Dad said to me someone from church bought us this Ham. That is something the Holy Spirit does when He moves. Not only in words but also in deeds/actions.

  4. One thing that stuck out to me was that “no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had” (4:32). While the culture was different in that time, people still probably were somewhat prideful and selfish with what they had earned. I can definitely see the Holy Spirit working in the peoples’ lives through these continuous acts, which is another thing that I found interesting. It didn’t say that they just helped others out when necessary, but that everyone shared everything. Even if a church thought sharing was a great way to show Christ’s love today, it would practically be a miracle to have everyone participate and share all of their possessions. The Holy Spirit was at work here.

  5. If one carefully observes the first couple of chapters in Acts it’s evident that that the Holy Spirit is very active. Every reply on this post so far has contributed at least one way the Holy Spirit was present in this scene in Jerusalem. I agree with Jake’s statement when he mentioned the Spirit working in the people forming community among them. Without the Holy Spirit they would not have been able to find familiar ground in their heart and their minds. This is one element of the Holy Spirit’s activity in this passage that was evident. Another is Peter’s courage and fearlessness before the Sanhedrin. His response to these high officials was out of character. He had no shame and spoke boldly what needed to be spoken. And his courageous speech was not in vain. “When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13). The Sanhedrin quickly acknowledged that these men were not qualified to be doing the things they were doing or saying the things they were saying. It is only by the Holy Spirit that they had the courage to respond to the Sanhedrin basically saying that they would not listen to them because they could not keep quiet about what they had seen and heard. The Holy Spirit is the only explanation for this act of courage and boldness. Especially from a person who only a week earlier denied the same person three times that he was now proclaiming.

    And I thought I might give a shot at answering Jake’s question. I might regret this decision. But here is my explanation.
    There is no difference between being filled with the Holy Spirit and the filling of the Holy Spirit we read about in verse 31. I believe that verse 31 is just emphasizing the fact that the things that had just happened were a direct result of the Holy Spirit.

  6. Thanks for taking note of my question John. This is actually something that has come up in my life before. Some people from this church I went to were trying to convince me that we are filled with the Holy Spirit when we can speak in tongues and they said that there are two different kinds of “filling of the Holy Spirit.” This really aggravated me because they were telling me that I haven’t been filled with the Holy Spirit because I did not acquire the spiritual gift of tongues. I figured that this was wrong and I was just reminded of this whole conflict when I saw this post and read this chapter. Any other input?

  7. Other than Peter being filled with the Holy Spirit, they recognize later int he chapter in verse 25 that David, had spoken words from the Holy Spirit and also they were praying that Jesus would strengthen them, and give them power to do signs to spread the name of Jesus. then the group of believers who was praying were filled with the power of the Holy spirit. I thought that this was quite odd considering that usually you only see two people filled with the Holy Spirit at a time. the group of believers wasn’t small and it is just amazing that they were ALL filled. God does amazing things that our minds can’t comprehend sometimes. After Ananias and Sapphira lie to the Holy Spirit and drop dead, the Apostles continue doing miracles with the power of the spirit. They were taken to council time and time again but verse 42 says that every day they never ceased talking/ proclaiming that Jesus was the Messiah. Jake’s question is one that I haven’t considered as differences but will be good for someone to bring up in class.

  8. I know from experience that it would be nice to have an extra dose of Holy Spirit before standing in front of people and giving a speech. Especially while giving a speech on the same level as Peter’s speech in front of the Sanhedrin. We also see the Holy Spirit being poured out later on in the chapter to other believers in verse 31 saying, “After this prayer, the meeting place shook, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Then they preached the Word of God with Boldness.” Once these believers received the Holy Spirit we see an immediate drastic change in their lifestyles. They now can see that every possession they have does not actually belong to them. After this decision was made, they sold what they had and gave all the money to the apostles to give to people who were in need. After this happened, there were no needy people thanks to the works of the Holy Spirit.

  9. The work of the Holy Spirit is evident throughout the book of Acts. In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit enabled the apostles to speak in other tongues and share the gospel with those who spoke different languages and allowed the members of the church to be in relationship with God. In Acts 3 when Peter healed the lame man, he said that it was done by faith in Jesus’ name. Just as Jesus healed people, faith in His name also healed people. “Jesus Himself imparts this kind of miracle-working faith to people’s hearts” (Polhill, 2086). This implies that Jesus imparted this miracle-working faith through the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is how we have a personal relationship and connection to God. In Acts 4:8 it says that Peter was filled with the Holy Spirit before he began to speak with boldness. The Holy Spirit was speaking with boldness through Peter to the Jewish high court. “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” (Long). Luke is indicating that Peter’s speech was a prophetic speech like those of Jeremiah and Isaiah. Peter was telling the Jewish high court to repent of being responsible for Jesus’ crucifixion and death (Long). The believers also prayed for boldness in verse 23 and were filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking the word of God with boldness in verse 31. In Acts 4:32 it says, “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.” Those who gave in this community of believers had done so voluntarily. It was something that was put on their hearts by the Holy Spirit (Polhill, 2085).

  10. The working of the Holy Spirit is evident all through out the book of Acts. But as we focus in on Chapter 4, their’s a few obvious places we can see the Holy Spirit at work. Other than the example shared of Peter being “filled with the Holy Spirit” to confidently speak to the Leadership of the Jewish people. We also see the Spirit at work in verse 24 “And when they heard this, they raised their voices to God with one mind.” In this moment, the community of people who heard of what Peter did were all in the same sense filled with the Holy Spirit, and began to praise God. The evidence of this is in Verse 31 “And when they had prayed, the place where they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.” The place they were together began to shake, whether physical or not, I don’t know. But a sense of presence was there. Just as Peter spoke the word boldly to the Jewish leaders, these people did the same. As a community, praising the word of God. The Spirit was evident. I think this goes to show that the Holy Spirit is not only present in very important moments, but even in moments where we might not thing are “as important”. Moments of praise, moments of speaking truth, moments of confidence, and moments of every day life. Although, we can pull out specific moments in this passage and the book of Acts where the Spirit is at work. I think it’s safe to say that, the Spirit is at work through it all, in all those who believe, and God is present. Being filled with the Spirit does have sense of salvation ties, but also moment of the spirit evidently active and working.

  11. The Holy Spirit dwells within believers and works through us in several ways. One of the ways that the Holy Spirit works through us is that it gives us the power to witness to others by providing us with the words to say in order to influence and inform others about salvation through Jesus Christ. This was in God’s plan to give us the Holy Spirit to help witness to others so that we can expand His kingdom. In the book of Acts, we read about the Holy Spirit working through the apostles by enabling them to speak boldly before a crowd of people. Having boldness was important for the apostles because it “show[ed] a determination to directly disobey the command of the Sanhedrin” (Polhill, 2008, p. 2089). Even though they would be physically persecuted, the Holy Spirit enabled them to speak boldly about the truth of Jesus. In addition, there are other ways in which the activity of the Holy Spirit is evident in Acts. For example, when the believers had gathered together to pray for boldness, “the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 4:31). Polhill (2008) states, “The place where they were gathered was shaken as if by an earthquake, and the Spirit descended upon them in a way they could perceive,” and enabled them to continue speaking the word of God with boldness (p. 2089). The Holy Spirit also worked through believers by giving them an understanding that they were of one heart and soul, and that they had everything in common (Acts 4:32). Acts 4:33 also states that the apostles had great power in them as they gave their testimony to the resurrection of Jesus, and that great grace was upon them all.

  12. The Holy Spirit is powerful and capable of many things, many of which we could never imagine. The movement and activity of the Holy Spirit is evident in chapter 4 of Acts. After Peter healed a lame man and gave a speech referring to several of the Old Testament prophets, he is arrested and tried. He is brought before the high priest, Annas, and is asked how such a miracle was possible for him to perform. Rather than citing the prophets of the Old Testament, Peter himself begins to prophesy in Acts 4:8 through the power of the Holy Spirit like Isaiah or Jeremiah (Long, Peter and the Holy Spirit). Up until this point, we have seen the Spirit move by coming upon believers, healing a lame man, and now speaking through Peter to the Jewish leaders. After Peter is released and returns to his friends, they pray for the continual opportunity to speak the Word of God boldly. God fills those who were praying with the Holy Spirit and enables them to continue to speak with boldness (Acts 4:24-31). Another way we see the Holy Spirit working in this chapter is in the interpretation of scripture. Polhill states that the believers prayed and quoted Ps. 2:1-2 “which they treated as a messianic prophecy inspired by the Spirit speaking through David” (Polhill, pg. 2088). Not only had the Holy Spirit worked through David in the Old Testament but is at work again as He shows believers how to interpret and understand Scripture. The Holy Spirit continues to do this for believers today. The only difference between believers in Acts and believers today is that we know the believers in Acts were memorizing and reading Scripture. Do we memorize and read Scripture enough today to allow the Holy Spirit to do this same kind of work?

  13. The Holy Spirit’s work is present in nearly every moment during Acts chapter four. What I may love the most during almost all of Peter’s sermons is the boldness that he speaks with, and that boldness is of course coming from the Holy Spirit. If you’re in Peter shoes, how can you not be bold in every moment? You’re speaking in the name of Jesus, healing in Jesus’ name, yet Jesus Himself is not physically present. Everyone who does not know Jesus during that time has every right to be skeptical. But Peter does not waiver, He does not hesitate, He boldly proclaims the truth of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. He accuses the Israelite people numerous times of being the ones responsible for putting Jesus on the cross, and of course, He is right for saying this. But it takes guts to make such bold statements- but this righteous boldness comes from the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit alone. It’s clearly evident to me that the Holy Spirit in Peter is not only present in his boldness, but in his courage. The Holy Spirit gives him the courage to speak truth, and the boldness results from the courage that was graciously given to him.

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