The scene before us is the morning after — the morning after Peter’s and John’s arrest. The two had been arrested for disturbing the peace. The peace which they had disturbed was that of the Sadducees. The Sadducees were upset because Peter and John taught the people and preached resurrection from the dead through Jesus (see v. 2).
This is not the first occasion on which the Sadducees were upset. They were much upset by that which had taken place approximately two months earlier. They were greatly upset when Jesus came into Jerusalem in the manner prophesied by Zechariah, riding upon the back of a young donkey (Zech. 9:9). Jesus, in so doing, proclaimed Himself to be the righteous King who possessed salvation. The Sadducees were upset with Jesus because they were the rulers of the roost. They saw Him as a threat to their rule.
Peter and John had been caught in the act of teaching and preaching in the temple area known as Solomon’s porch (Acts 3:11). The Roman occupiers of Jerusalem had given Sadducees the right to manage all matters related to the Jewish religion. The Sadducees maintained total control of the temple area. Peter’s and John’s teaching and preaching was an unauthorized act which took place on temple grounds. Their teaching and preaching was preceded by a miracle which took place at the entrance to the temple, the healing of a man who had been cripple from birth.
The severity of Peter’s and John’s offense was such that it stirred Annas the high priest and Caiaphas, the ex-high priest and patriarch of the ruling family to summon the two disciples to come before them. They asked, “By what power, or by what name, have ye done this?” (v. 7).
The power by which Annas and Caiaphas asked their question was by that of Rome. The power by which Peter and John did “this” was not of Rome.
Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, supplied an answer which focused on the healing of the lame man. “This” was done in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This was done in the name of the one whom the Sadducees had crucified. This was done in the name of Jesus whom God raised from the dead. This was done in the name of the stone which the builders (the Sadducees) rejected. This was done in the name of the only name under heaven by which men can be saved (v. 12).
The Sadducees were caught off guard by the boldness of Peter and John. That which Peter declared to the council was the very thing that he had declared to the people in the temple (see 3:12-16). Both the religious leaders and the people had rejected Jesus. The people did so out of ignorance; the Sadducees did so out of unbelief, fearing that they would lose their power over the people.
Evidence of the power by which Peter and John had spoken stood before them in the form of the formerly crippled man. They had no answer. They marveled (v. 13). What they saw should not be but it was. What they heard was without explanation. Peter and John, uneducated men, had just cited and applied a scripture with which learned rabbis struggle. The only explanation was that the two had been with Jesus.
After considering possible actions that they might take against Peter and John, they commanded the two not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. Peter and John answered them saying, “Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye.”
It was by the direction of the Holy Spirit that Peter and John spoke these words. Through these two disciples, God reached out to the erring Sadducees and told them that their command was contrary to His will. The Sadducees listened not; they repeated their threats and released them.
Verse 21 states that the Sadducees released them after not finding any offense that would justify punishment. This, however, is not the reason for their decision to release Peter and John. They released Peter and John because of the people. It was a political decision. The people had knowledge of the miracle and were praising God for the healing of the man. The Sadducees released Peter and John out of fear — they feared that they might lose control of the people. If such were to happen, the Roman rulers over Judea would remove the Sadducees from their positions of power.
Peter and John knew that they stood before the council who found Jesus guilty, the people responsible for His crucifixion but they were not afraid. They were not afraid because the power by which they spoke was not their own. They were empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit came upon them at Pentecost and empowered them to speak to every man in his native tongue. The Holy Spirit empowered them to heal the lame man and to teach and to preach to the people. In the text before us the Holy Spirit empowered them to declare the plan of salvation to the Sadducees. The Holy Spirit empowered them to say, “For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”
Fear flees when believers speak that which we have seen and heard. Let us be bold. Let us not squelch the Spirit.