Acts 4 – A Dangerous Gospel

There are a number of similarities between events on Acts 2 and 3. Apparently Peter and John regularly went up to the temple for prayer and worship. While they were there, they had opportunity to preach Jesus as the messiah. The gospel of the risen and ascended Jesus would have been of interest to some of the Jews who were also at the Temple worship. Prior to both Peter’s sermons in Acts 2-3 God did a miracle to demonstrate the messianic age has begun. The coming of the Holy Spirit and the healing of a lame man are both based on messianic prophecies found in the Hebrew Bible. Peter clearly declares Jesus was the messiah and he was crucified in ignorance. But this ignorance will no longer be overlooked and judgment is coming. After both sermons thousands of people believe Jesus is the messiah and he is returning soon to establish his kingdom.

annas-caiaphasAfter healing the lame man and preaching to another large crowd, the Temple authorities arrest Peter and John (Acts 4). As Ben Witherington comments, Acts 4 is the “beginnings of the power struggle for the hearts of the Jewish people” (Acts, 189). For the next several chapters there is increasing tension and persecution between the ministries of the twelve Apostles and the seven deacons, culminating in the execution of Stephen at the end of chapter 7. Preaching the Gospel, as it turns out, is a very dangerous thing to do!

Peter and John are brought before Annas and Caiaphas, the high priests responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus (Luke 22:54, cf., John 11:49). The group which is gathered includes the elders and teachers of the Law, including the high priest Annas, and men from his family, Caiaphas, John and Alexander.

There is a historical problem here. Annas was high priest from A.D. 6-15, his son-in-law Caiaphas was high priest from A.D. 18-36.  There are several explanations for this.  One possibility is that Luke lists Annas as the high priest since he is the real power behind Caiaphas (this is at least the view of John 18:13, since Jesus is brought to Annas before he is brought to Caiaphas, the actual high priest).  Caiaphas’s name has been found on a rather ornate ossuary (which does not appear to be a forgery, although Craig Evans doubts the name is the biblical Caiaphas, see Craig A. Evans, “Jesus and the Ossuaries,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 13 [2003]: 39).

Since whole Sanhedrin could have been as many as seventy men, it is unlikely the whole council met to question Peter. This is probably the high priest and his closest advisers and the questioning is intended to find out who authorized the apostles to declare publicly Jesus was the messiah (4:7). For Caiaphas and the others who were involved in Jesus’ execution, the claim God raised Jesus from the dead is more than just awkward, it is an attack on them as legitimate authority. They found Jesus guilty and killed him; God found him innocent and raised him from the dead.  Since Caiaphas and his advisers are Sadducees, they reject the possibility Jesus was the Messiah and especially that God raised him from the dead.

As Craig Keener points out, preaching in the Temple was not illegal, nor was healing a lame man or drawing a large crowd (2:1135). But it was extremely dangerous to declare a man who was executed as a false messiah was in fact the God’s messiah. It is a direct attack on the Temple aristocracy who killed Jesus. If the disciples continue to preach this message to the crowds, they will face increasing persecution from the aristocratic priesthood in Jerusalem.

Why do the disciples remain in Jerusalem? Could they not simply return to Galilee and preach the same gospel in a safer place? Why does Peter insist on emphasizing the participation of his audience in the death of Jesus? He seems to be attacking the Temple aristocracy directly, why does Peter not find a less-offensive way of preaching the Gospel?

7 thoughts on “Acts 4 – A Dangerous Gospel

  1. When it comes to preaching the Bible, evangelizing or being a missionary, it can be a very dangerous job. The disciples could have picked a safer place, maybe a place with less people, but in their minds I think they thought the more people, the better. Many people traveled into Jerusalem and the Temple contained the priests that were responsible for Jesus’s death. In the death of Jesus, is how we have salvation. If Peter did not emphasis the death of Christ, people would not realize the importance of His death. Peter could have found a less offensive way to preach, but he preached the way he should have. When wrong is being corrected it doesn’t always sounds pretty, and it shouldn’t feel good either.

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  2. Addressing the question why the disciples decided to stay in Jerusalem, I believe that Peter chose to deliver his sermon to Jews since, he felt they were the ones to have murdered Jesus. In acts 2:23 Peter addresses the Jews the by saying. “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” I believe that Paul intended to deliver the message in an attacking form of way for the Jews to realize what they had done. The Jews needed to know that the man they murdered was the messiah of God. And they need to know that this was a sin that could only be forgiven if they repent to God.

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  3. It often seems that when the disciples preached in the most hazardous situations, they had the best outcomes for Christ. The times they were most severely persecuted or in dangerous situations, they received the most amount of attention to their message. For example, in Acts 4, after preaching to the people and being put in jail, the number of believers grew to about five thousand. (Acts 4:1-4) Later on in Acts 4:23-31, the disciples go to tell their people about everything that had happened to them. God is praised and shared through the recounting of the struggles of the apostles. Whether the disciples realized this fact and were trying to be forceful in order to get noticed, or whether God’s plan for them just worked out that way, they were very successful during these times of struggle in bringing people to Jesus.

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  4. When Jesus was doing His ministry in the Bible, we find that He spent time with the sick and the prostitutes and the tax collectors, those looked down upon the most in society, because those are the people that needed Him most. The reason why they didn’t just go to a safer place like Galilee, is because those safer places to preach, although they need God as well, they are more likely to already have God. They are lashing out and persecuting because there are more people there that are both against God and in need of God the most. To quote the book “The Gutter” by Craig Gross, “The gutter is the place where we discover that we need God most.” (Gross 4). We must go where others are unwilling to go, and that’s exactly what they were doing in Jerusalem.

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  5. Preaching the Gospel is something that has always been dangerous and will probably continue to be so. The reasons that Peter didn’t just go somewhere safer to preach the Gospel is because of the fact that the people who need it most will often be the most dangerous. I think it is important to notice the fact that they were preaching Jesus’ messiahship to those who killed Him. While they may not want to hear it and reject Jesus, it gives them a chance to repent for their actions and take responsibility for their ignorance. By giving them the chance to own up to what they’ve done (even though it was what God willed), we can get an illustration of how we live today.
    The only way to be saved and go to Heaven is if we repent and accept Jesus as our savior. There is no excuse for ignorance when it comes to salvation, which is why it is so important for Christians to actively be spreading the Gospel throughout the world. Without missionaries and pastors and other members of the church working to spread God’s Word, there are (and have been) millions who miss out on the Good News, leaving them to their ignorance with no hope for salvation. This is why Peter didn’t preach where it was safe; he was preaching to those who needed it more than they realized. They were willing to give their own lives for the advancement of the Gospel.

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  6. Jerusalem is the best place to start with this new power from God. This is the place that has so many people that were all against Jesus and denied him from being free. These are the people that murdered Him. These are the people that Jesus asked God to for give them because they didn’t know what they were doing. They are already forgiven and now that apostles are going to make them aware of it so they can repent and accept that the Jesus was the true son of God.
    As Christians we are called to go out of our comfort zone. We are not suppose to go to places that have it all together, because it is the beaten and broken that God uses to share his message with the world. The anger of the high priests was still fresh, but the Apostles obeyed and stayed where Christ commanded them. I am sure they were nervous at first, but the same peace that we are given from God in tough situations was given to them as well. We are supposed to stretch ourselves and do whatever it takes to share the most important thing to all the world. The Gospel is the most precious thing we have to give to others. If we keep that for ourselves we are being selfish. Share what Christ has done for the world even if it makes you uncomfortable.

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  7. The disciples remain in Jerusalem because those are the specific directions that the resurrected messiah gave them. Also I would argue that it is not yet time for the Gentiles to receive the message and a major festival was going on around the time of Peter and John preaching and so it only makes sense for them to reach as many Jewish people as they could which would have been in Jerusalem in the temple. Peter knew the scriptures and understood the risk that he had to take for Jesus, Jesus had even warned him of the suffering it would be to be one of his followers.

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