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?

9 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?

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  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.

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    • 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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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.

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  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?

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  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.

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  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.

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