Begin today by reading Acts 3:1-4:4 here. Don’t forget to answer the questions in the comments below. A Bible study is only as good as the discussion it starts, so don’t be silent!
After the amazing birth of the church on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, Luke thrusts us quickly into normal life in Acts 3. We start with Peter and John making a trip to the temple “at the time of prayer.”
It is interesting to note that Peter and John are not praying alone in their own houses at this point. Neither are they cloistered away with the other 3,000 believers somewhere of their own choosing. They are still fully engaged with the Jewish temple and the lifestyle that surrounded it. They are out in public to participate in normal Jewish life just like Jesus called them to. Remember that in Acts 1 we learned that Jesus’ command was to first be witnesses in Jerusalem. The apostles are doing just that.
In Jesus’ Name
Peter and John come across a man lame from birth on their way to the temple and Peter commanded the man in Jesus’ name to stand up. He did, fully healed, and danced an jumped his way into the temple with the two. For as many people as Jesus healed during His life, he apparently left a few for His followers to continue healing after His departure.
All the people in the temple recognized the man and Peter again seized upon an opportunity to carry out Jesus’ command to be His witness in Jerusalem. This time, Peter is even more forceful and accusatory in his altar call this time than he was in Acts 2.
Peter starts his impromptu sermon with the foundation of the gospel: he and John had not healed the man because of their own righteousness, but by the power of Jesus. He then accuses them of their wrongdoing in crucifying Jesus. Paul gives us a little insight into why Peter is so forthright with his accusation in Philippians.
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God.
The Bad News First
What Paul is saying is that when we suffer for the sake of Christ at the hands of the ungodly, we reveal the darkness in their own hearts and the destruction that lies ahead of them when they are judged by God at the end of time. We may think of ourselves as not needing a revelation of our own destruction that lies ahead, but without it we are hard-pressed and hard-hearted to see a need for Jesus. Peter knew he could not go soft on this crowd, and so deny them their great need to see their depravity.
Peter gives them an out, though. He acknowledges that they killed the Son of God in ignorance. There is grace available to them. Peter tells them all to repent so that their sins would be forgiven. He again returns to bad news saying that anyone who rejects the Prophet like Moses that God would raise up (Jesus) would be cut off.
The results were again astonishing. On this occasion, another 2,000 or so people decided to follow Jesus so that their number grew to 5,000. But it also cost Peter this time, as well.
Peter hadn’t just given this message within earshot of the market. No, on this day he was standing in the temple. He was on the sacred ground of the religious rulers of Israel, and they did not appreciate Peter’s boldness to teach something they had not pre-approved. They were especially disturbed that the apostles were teaching about Jesus, that “troublemaker” they thought they had done away with.
It is interesting to think that the first 3,000 converts on the day of Pentecost had somehow escaped the attention of the religious rulers. Jerusalem was a large city, but it seems that even in one of our largest cities today a group of 3,000 people being mass-baptized would be hard to miss. But these 2,000 people in the temple courts were too much for anyone to miss. They were not doing anything in hiding, but right out in the open for all to see.
The apostles showed their bravery here. Peter knew exactly where he was when he was giving this message. He knew to whom he was speaking. Peter knew what these people had done to His Messiah just a few days earlier, but he showed no sign of flinching to clearly explain salvation to all who were there, at the peril of his own life.
Just weeks earlier, all the apostles had fled from this exact same group of people. Now they were boldly proclaiming the truth directly to them, and it got Peter and John arrested.
A Little Background
It might be helpful to understand who it was that arrested Peter and John. Luke tells us it was the priests and the temple guard. The priests were a specific group of Levites, one of the three distinct tribes of Israel that had survived the Babylonian and Assyrian captivities. Judah, Benjamin and Levi were the only tribes accounted for who returned. Because Judah was the most numerous, they became the de facto group recognized as Israel. They are where we get the term Jew from today.
These priests were descended from the line of Aaron, Moses’ brother, as ordained by God in the Law. When King David brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem and made preparations for the temple, he instituted gatekeepers to guard the temple. These men had no standing with the Roman rulers of the day, but because the Romans wanted to keep a rebellion down among the Jews, they allowed them to maintain their own temple guard. They were like the gatekeepers David had given instruction for hundreds of years before.
The Romans allowed the Jewish leaders to arrest, try and detain anyone they wanted so long as they did not interfere with any Roman laws. This was a constant struggle for the Romans because they never fully understood that to Jews, the religious and legal aspects of life were inseparable. The Romans had a secular form of government that was somewhat separate from their religious observations. A man named Josephus wrote the greatest extra-biblical account of antiquity of the life and times of the Jews with the intention of explaining to his Roman overlords their ways. His work stands today as a testament of just how unfamiliar the world was with how the Jews thought.
Next week we will see the powerful encounter that happens as a result of Peter and John’s boldness and faithfulness.
Questions for Chapters 3-4:4
1. Do you have a “time of prayer?” If so, what is it? If not, how can you take steps to carve out that time?
2. Do you have the authority to heal today? If no, why not? If yes, how often do you pray for healing?
3. Do you think your church would grow if miracles like this took place?
4. Would you be bold enough to say what Peter did in front of the same people who had already killed for a similar message? Why or why not?