Acts 4:23-31 – Response to Suffering

The reaction of the followers of Jesus to Peter and John’s arrest is raise their voices together in praise and prayer (Acts 4:24). This runs counter to what the council intended. The disciples of Jesus ought to have been filled with remorse after they were shown their so-called gospel blasphemy. They ought to have humbly submitted to their elders and ceased their preaching of Jesus as the resurrected messiah.

On the contrary, they rejoice because they have been counted worthy to suffer persecution in a similar way to what Jesus faced. Opposition to Jesus’ teaching began with the Pharisees and Sadducees and Jesus was told he was not doing miracles by the power of God. Jesus was also subjected to traps to get him to state a false teaching publicly. Peter and JohnIn short, this resistance to the apostolic teaching is exactly the same as Jesus faced. The rejection of the teaching is far more grave, however, since the people acted in ignorance when they killed Jesus (Acts 3:17). But ignorance is no longer an excuse: the rejection of the Holy Spirit will result in a most dire judgment.

The disciples see this persecution as the fulfillment of Scripture, specifically Psalm 2. This Psalm is cited as proof that the apostolic mission is having the intended effect. The “nations” in the original Psalm are the gentiles, or generically the “enemies of God.” The gentiles did plot against Jesus and did put him to death, but now Peter is applying that same thinking to the actions of the High Priest. Peter is calling the High Priest and his inner circle “gentiles.” Arnold points out when Peter prays that God “stretch out his hand” he is alluding the events of the Exodus – when God brought his people out of Egypt with miracles and great signs and wonders (Arnold, Acts, 34). I think Peter is consciously connecting the Exodus, the great salvation event of the Hebrew Bible to the events of Pentecost – the new age is dawning and it will be like a new Exodus.

The Jewish resistance to the Holy Spirit is therefore interpreted here as the same thing as Gentile resistance to the people of God in the Hebrew Bible. Perhaps most significant is that this resistance will be  just as futile ans Egypt’s resistance to God in the first Exodus.

As they prayed, the meeting was shaken and they once again are filled with the Holy Spirit and they all spoke the word of God boldly. Just as Peter was filled with the Spirit and spoke boldly before the High Priest, now the whole community speaks boldly. The council commanded silence, but the community reacts by boldly witnessing concerning the truth concerning Jesus.

This is the first example of an arrest turning into a victory for the Jesus community (there are several more to come in the book of Acts). In Acts, no earthly power can hinder the power of the Holy Spirit and the witnesses to the Gospel of Jesus. The attitude of the earliest Jesus-followers seems the opposite of contemporary Christianity, especially in its American form. Christians are quite quick to decry some minor resistance to Christian practice as a “war” on the faith. Yet here in Acts, serious attacks (and physical suffering) are welcomed as signs the Gospel is effective and suffering results in a clear witness to the Gospel. How can we return to this attitude found among the earliest followers of Jesus?

17 thoughts on “Acts 4:23-31 – Response to Suffering

  1. I think that it is such a powerful picture to realize that often the growth of the church explodes the most under severe persecution. While certainly some will turn away from their faith in the face of persecution, those who do not recant will likely become all the more passionate in their convictions. We see this happening in the world today, where nations that have the worst persecution of Christians also have some of the most passionate groups of believers, whereas in America (where our self-pity for our “persecution” in society makes a mockery of what real persecution really means) the church is enabled to become stale, lukewarm, and complacent.

    The believers in Acts are beaten, imprisoned, and killed for their faith in Jesus, yet they will not stop preaching the Gospel of the resurrected Christ.

    “On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went” (Acts 8:1-4).

    Even after the public stoning of Stephen, when strong persecution comes upon the Christian community and the believers are scattered and many are put in prison, the Gospel just spreads that much farther.

  2. But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.
    Acts 4:19 (KJV)

    Pain, torture, humiliation, persecution – God again uses the unexpected ways to bring glory to Himself. The church not only survives, they thrive, knowing that they are privileged to shred in the suffering that Jesus also went through.

    From a very spoiled American view, I have never faced this persecution – and I know it would be a challenge to rejoice as they did. However, this is not a theme that has disappeared among Christians, throughout modern persecution and even death. I think specifically of the ISIS attacks on believers, who then watch their children beheaded in front of them, or some other equally horrific experience. I would suggest that we simply can’t grasp the significance of this rejoicing in suffering as those who have gone through it can.

    The obedience to God rather than man, there seems to be no hesitation on the part of Peter & John. No hesitation on the part of any of the believers, even Stephen – the very first martyr. Even in hard times like this, they did not deny Christ – they did what was right in God’s eyes. This challenged me quite a bit: Would there be hesitation in our churches today? Would there be rejoicing in my response to God’s plan of suffering and temptation?

  3. The Sadducees and the priests and the captain of the temple were completely blinded to all the things that Jesus did. Here these leaders of the Jewish nation have been teaching so strongly according to the law and the guidelines they had set up and Jesus comes along and preaches a new message, basically negating the importance of their teaching. I would think that their pride would have driven them to cling that much tighter to what the law required. It says that they were, “greatly annoyed because they [Peter and John] were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2).
    When we understand this element, it is astounding to see how the people who hear this new message, turn and believe in Jesus by the thousands (v. 4). These priests and leaders that they used to follow and live under, now are preaching the wrong thing. These people who were supposed to be their religious leaders whom they had followed for so long, are persecuting the following of the true Messiah. In the post it says that, “The ‘nations’ in the original Psalm are the gentiles, or generically the ‘enemies of God.’ The gentiles did plot against Jesus and did put him to death, but now Peter is applying that same thinking to the actions of the High Priest. Peter is calling the High Priest and his inner circle ‘gentiles.’”
    People recognized the freedom and truth of the gospel of the risen Christ and they were willing to go against these religious leaders and praise God regardless of the persecution they were facing.

  4. When looking back in history one will see that many individuals in the Bible experienced persecution due to their religious beliefs. For example, Luke and Peter were imprisoned multiple times and even beaten because of preaching about Jesus’ resurrection (Acts 4:3, Acts 5:40). Job is another well-known Bible character who faced extreme measures of persecution when Satan was allowed to test Job (Job 1:6-12). While even Jesus himself experienced persecution when he was nailed to the cross (Matthew 27:32-56). One of the most important parts regarding each type of persecution in the Bible is those in that situation knew within their suffering they were playing a part in spreading the word of God (Acts 5:41, Job 6:8-10, and Matthew 26: 36-46).

    This type of positive attitude towards enduring Christian persecution in the sake of spreading the word of God has started to diminish in today’s society. Therefore, the question is how do we get back to this state of mindset? How do we, as believers, welcome suffering so that we are able to clearly witness the gospel? I believe there are two ways to get back this type of mindset. First, is by reading the word of God more. Individuals today are so quick to say ‘I went to church for an hour on Sunday morning. I am good for the rest of the week. I do not need to read my Bible’. According to Adelle Banks “…even among worship attendees less than half read the Bible daily (2017).” If individuals are not reading the word they will not know what is in it such as the many verses that advise us to endure persecution for the gospel and except it to happen as a follower of Christ (2 Timothy 3:12, John 15:18). A key verse a believer should study is 1 Peter 4:12-14 “… But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” Therefore, reading the word will help Christians return to the attitude that the founding followers of Christ had. Second, I believe another way to get this type of mindset back is by allowing the Holy Spirit to take control over one’s life. In Acts, Peter and John were both filled with the Holy Spirit allowing them to be able to endure and conquer the tremendous suffering they faced (Acts 4:8). This type of power was not only given to the disciplines of Jesus; rather, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit was for everyone from that day, for everyone in this day, and for everyone in future days to come. “…God’s salvation is for all people, as it speaks of the Spirit poured out on ‘all flesh’ (Jipp, 2018, pg. 42).”If individuals allowed the Holy Spirit to flow throughout their life they will start to rejoice when in suffering because of the power the Spirit will give them. They will know they are helping the word of God spread. In conclusion, if Christians want to learn how to turn towards the attitude found among the earliest followers of Jesus they need to read their Bible more and allow the Holy Spirit to work through them.

    Banks, A. M. (2017, April 25). The Bible – helpful, but not read much. Retrieved from

  5. When I first read Acts five earlier this week, I was stunned by the apostle’s reaction to their suffering. I questioned the reaction but later thought deeper about what it looks like to be excited about persecution. My conclusion on this subject of why they would be so excited is for a few reasons. The first is the power of the Holy Spirit. Acts 5 is very clear on the power of the Holy Spirit, it starts off with Ananias and Sapphira directly lying to the Holy Spirit. Immediately he fell and died. This was not an act of man. Peter was made aware of the lying from both Ananias and Sapphira, he was the one to make confront them. The second is their faith in God and prayer. The apostles may have not always been the most functional people, they knew the risk of their ministries, and probably were nervous at times. They did not let this stop them, they pressed on, but they did not do it on their own strength. We see this specifically in Acts 4:24-30, they prayed knowing God’s previous promises, God’s will, and for boldness. Third, they were focused on the overall goal. The book discusses this idea of aligning your thoughts and understanding of God’s plan (Jipp, 26). The apostles internalized the life of Jesus and the significance and necessity of Him dying on the cross. They got the point and they wanted in. The apostles were leading the coming kingdom in their actions and miracles. After reading of the apostle’s reaction to suffering, I think of what it would be like to have this kind of faith and excitement in suffering. My first step to getting closer to this attitude would begin with prayer. The idea of knowing God’s promises and work and praying for boldness that he would open my eyes to opportunity. The second step would be moving forth in boldness. The third step would be acknowledging God as the full strength to the work. If we had the boldness and reaction like the apostles, I think our churches would need bigger buildings and we would need more volunteers to work with students.

  6. The followers of Jesus faced many sufferings and persecutions. The church leaders were very opposed to the message that they were spreading and were attempting to silence them. Jipp says, “Israel’s temple leaders and many of the people have murdered the Messiah and continue to reject the offer of salvation through his witnesses” (59). Not only had these leaders rejected Jesus Himself, but they were now rejecting His spirit (Long). Because of their harsh rejection they tried to keep the news of the Spirit under wraps. They imprisoned and threatened Peter and John for healing the sick and preaching the news of Jesus (Acts 4:1-21). Despite these threats and actions, the believers carried on. Instead of quieting down, they praised God (4:24). It was shocking to the church leaders who had hoped for silence. It shocks most readers of Acts as well. The readers see the hardship, pain, and suffering that is threatened, and it would make sense to them for the believers to grow silent. However, this is not what happened. They praised God and spread His word all the more. Why is this so surprising to readers today? Because anytime believers face confrontation or hardship they act attacked and offended. Instead of taking the opportunity to declare God all the more, they suggest that they are facing “war” and they are crippled by it (Long). The problem is that believers’ perspective of trials and persecution has shifted. Believers need to see the hardships they face as an opportunity to better themselves and to spread God’s love and message more. That is what the believers of the early church were doing. They were learning from the struggle, growing from it, and developing their faith in God. They did not care what was thrown at them, they were working for the kingdom of God and nothing was going to stop them. Modern day believers should take this as an example. They should not be soft when the confrontation comes; they should be strong in the Lord and proclaim Him all the more.

  7. It is intriguing that the early believers accepted suffering as something to be obtained for the sake of Christ because this seems to go against human nature. I can imagine that when the first martyr was made known, they would have had an immense fear for their own safety and wondered if it was worth it. In today’s society, we work extremely hard to be safe and comfortable all while claiming we are willing to suffer for the Gospel. Can you be comfortable and suffering at the same time? Matthew 16:24 is commonly used to encourage believers that suffering is necessary for our Christian walk. But what does it mean to suffer and still praise God? There has to be a difference between enduring suffering for a cause while saying the words of praise, versus be constantly encouraged and upheld because of your unwavering faith in Christ. I think a major advantage the early believers had was being eyewitnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus. It is easier to proclaim and stand firm in a belief or statement when you were there from the beginning ( Acts 4:10-11). The disciples saw Christ as the embodied God on earth, they were there for the burial AND the resurrection. I think what the current church needs is to take Acts 4:25-28 and stand in the eternal truth that God has promised us as his followers. When we put aside our fear of the flesh and focus on the spiritual truths, we will see the purpose behind the suffering.

  8. I think one of the reasons why we don’t have this same attitude is because we don’t rely and trust as much as they did. In general, Christians today are comfortable with where they are at and with what they have. We don’t have the threat of persecution that these people did, and as a result, (whether consciously or not) we don’t think we have to depend on God as they did. This causes a different mindset, one of self-sufficiency. Because of this, when the threat of persecution arrives, we do not view it as from God, but as a threat to our comfort and lifestyle.

    Another reason why we don’t have the same attitude is our culture and mindset, and how we Christians conform to it. This is somewhat similar to my previous point, but we are generally materialistic today. We enjoy our possessions and our lifestyles, and we fear anything that threatens this. Persecution in the name of Christ would be one of these things.

    I think one of the ways to solve this issue is to change our mindset and our ultimate goals. Instead of trying to live a comfortable life, we should strive to live a life that brings honor and glory to God. Instead of trying to live by our own means, we should have a similar attitude as the believers described in Acts 2:45 – that we should give up what we have to God. Instead of viewing trouble and persecution with fear, as 1 Peter 4:12-14 puts it, we should glorify God because of it. In sum, we need to totally rely on God, not ourselves, and we should focus on serving Him and giving Him glory. This is how we can change our attitude on persecution.

  9. The apostle’s response to the persecution brought upon them by the Pharisees and Sadducees is rooted in pure joy. A large part of their joy comes from the fact that they were expecting persecution. Jesus warned the disciples when he was with them of the suffering they were going to endure at the end of times. “You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22). “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me” (Matthew 24:9). The apostles believed that this persecution was what Jesus spoke of. Therefore, the apostles rejoiced not only because they were worthy of persecution, but also because they believed they were nearing the end of times that was to go along with their persecution. American Christians, on the other hand, seemingly have no concept of the return of Christ or the truth of suffering for Christ. In many ways, we are too content with our lives here on earth to be focused on the glory of Christ’s return. In many ways, our trust is found not in Christ, but in our government and our money. Instead of counting it joy when we are persecuted, we call upon our government to defend our rights as citizens. Instead of being willing to give all of our possessions away for the work of Christ, we use the blessings God has given us to accumulate wealth for ourselves. We are blind to our failings. In order to return to the attitude of the early Christians, we must follow Jesus’ earliest instructions in our own lives. We must put our trust in him alone, not relying on our wealth or our government.

  10. I think that when talking about persecution in the church, obviously that hits everyone a little different. For me, the only “persecution” I’ve had for my faith is the demeaning words coming out of frustration by my fellow classmates in High School. I was put down, and often “pushed aside” from many things because I lived differently as opposed to everyone else. No matter what our circumstance, we need to be prepared to speak boldly about the person of Jesus Christ. Even though I can’t truly fathom, I need to at least anticipate the coming of punishment on me for my faith and prepare for that day to come. The reason why the “punishment” if you will for me (which was definitely more of a mental/societal thing) was benefiting the gospel because of what it set me up to do. If I was put into a place to be pushed aside for my faith, I would act (and sometimes say) that no matter what they do to me, or how I’m treated, I’m going to have a great day, and I’m going to keep praying for others, and to keep reading my Bible in class. A lot of what the Disciples were “channeling” was abiding in the Spirit and trusting His leading. Acts 4:23 the disciples pray for boldness, and they were “filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness”. “The Holy Spirit’s power did not come on them automatically but in answer to their expectant, believing in prayer” (Polhill, 2089). When we talk about anticipating punishment, and furthering the Gospel, we have to rely on the support and the drive of the Spirit, because if God wasn’t involved, we wouldn’t be able to do it anyway.

  11. Peter and the apostles were “rejoicing that they were worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” of Jesus (Acts 5:41). It is very true that “The attitude of the earliest Jesus-followers seems the opposite of contemporary Christianity, especially in its American form” (Long). In today’s world, persecution rates are skyrocketing. We pray for the persecuted. We do not celebrate the persecution. We do not, as humans like getting hurt whether that is emotionally, mentally, or physically. It seems almost crazy to me that the apostles rejoiced at the time of their attack when they were beaten because that is the complete opposite of what we do today.
    In the Bible, it says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you…I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt. 28:19-20). We should think back to God’s commands, follow through in our responses, and always remember that God dwells within us as believers. We should be happy to be able to spread the Gospel and to have discriminatory situations happen because God commanded us to spread His Word. Therefore, we should be grateful for what we are doing because it is what the Lord asked of us. We can also be grateful that we can live, especially in America, in a safe area to preach God’s Word. So, to answer the question, we can return to the attitude of the earliest Jesus followers by thinking of how grateful we are to be able to follow Jesus’ commands of spreading the Gospel to others and rejoice and be glad in it.

  12. I enjoyed this article because I learned how many times the old testament parallels the new testament and prophecy is fulfilled which is amazing. The apostles were able to recognize that (Acts 4:25-26) and I personally believe that must have provided them with encouragement because they rejoiced in those parallels even though it meant persecution towards them (Acts 4:24). The apostles had an attitude that was so honoring to God because they were in awe of Him and considered it an honor to suffer for Him, which the church has lost this same attitude it seems. The best way for the church to return to this attitude would be first to make sure they are studying God’s Word properly. If they aren’t, that is how many misinterpretations come in and that is even how the prosperity gospel came into existence. Pastors must make sure they are digging deep into the original languages and understanding contexts and historical backgrounds before relaying a message to the congregation. Every believer in Christ must hold themselves accountable for finding a pastor who digs deep and teaches properly because if not they will be led astray and believe false teachings. (2 Tim 2:15, Jer 29:13). It’s also imperative that believers in Christ utilize the power of the Holy Spirit by fulfilling the continual command to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 2:18). That’s the only way we can produce the fruit of the Spirit, is when we are allowing ourselves to be controlled and led by Him. (Rom 8:14). By naming our sins to Him is how we remain on the correct path of light (1 John 1:9).

  13. The concept of rejoicing in our suffering may seem unusual to Christians in America. Speaking as one such individual, I had to hear about it for a long time before I started to wrap my brain around why suffering would be a good thing. My understanding began with the cross. Jesus suffered a most excruciating death, but his sacrifice redeemed the world from sin. Thus, the suffering of Christ is a good thing. It flips everything we thought we knew about the Messiah’s victory upside down. Though this isn’t the first time we’ve seen God’s plan fulfilled in unexpected ways. Moses was a coward, too afraid to speak to pharaoh. Jacob stole his brother’s birthright. King David had his mistress’s husband killed. In spite of their failings, God used each of these men as a part of his plan for the salvation of the world. And these three are only a few examples of the times God has used broken and suffering people in his plan. These examples just go to show that the use of Jesus’s death on the cross as God’s means of victory over sin and death is not as unexpected as it might seem to the modern reader. To the average member of the Acts 4 church, these examples would not have been far from their minds. Especially considering the church’s leadership at the time consisted of the apostles, who had followed Jesus and witnessed his death and resurrection firsthand. Furthermore, there is evidence to suggest that these believers thought that the return of Christ was imminent. This gave them all the more reason to rejoice in their sufferings. Not only are they counted among others who have suffered for God’s plan, the plan has now almost come to completion. Their hope is in the future return of Jesus, nothing can deter them because soon none of it will matter.

  14. In Acts 4, the reaction of the followers of Jesus is essential to take note of. Knowing how they are filled with excitement to have suffered the way that Jesus had while he was suffering on the cross and was crucified. This chapter of Acts also explains how important to not reject the Holy Spirit because it is simply also rejecting God and Jesus and that sin is way more punishable than any other sin that could be committed. It seems to be a recurring theme of individuals resisting the Holy Spirit which occurs other times throughout biblical history staying that many resist God and need to reflect on what they are really doing in their lives that is not living in the name of the Holy Spirit. Many people who speak the word of God and live their lives devoted to him are the individuals who have the ability to share the gospel and promote the kingdom of God. I like how the people in the community denied the council and stood above them to share the word of Jesus Christ because it shut the council down even after these people were punished for teaching the word of God to others. This goes to show how important God is in the lives of those in the community sharing his word because they are not afraid of what could happen for speaking publicly about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit.

  15. While reading through the Bible we can become accustomed to not allowing these accounts to amaze us. However, by seriously studying this passage in Acts 4:23-31 it is truly miraculous how God saved Peter and John in the midst of great persecution. Today, the church is experiencing different forms of persecution all around the globe. For some believers, they may find themselves in a similar situation where their community is hostile towards God, and they are in prison due to their boldness in Christ. While in America Christians do not face the same persecution as this, there are different forms of persecution, and my reflection question would be “would comfortable Christians be able to respond to suffering like Peter and John did?”. Because of the deliverance of Peter and John, the believers praised God, acknowledging His divine power, and once again God showed up by shaking the foundations of the meeting place (4:31). What amazes me even more is that even after being threatened by the leaders of the day, the disciples still “continued to speak” with even more eagerness and boldness; their faith did not waver!

  16. We are very much blind to our failings. To return to the attitude of the early Christians, we should follow Jesus’ earliest instructions and include them in our own lives. We must put our trust in him alone, not relying on our wealth or our government. Also, most of what the Disciples were “channeling” was abiding in the Spirit and trusting His leadership. Acts 4:23 the disciples pray for boldness, and they were “filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness.” When we speak about anticipating punishment, and furthering the Gospel, we must rely on the support and the drive of the Spirit, because if God were not involved, we would not be able to do it or carry it out.

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