SCRIPTURE: Acts 5:17-26
The Apostles Are Persecuted
17 Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, 18 arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.” 21 When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.
When the high priest and those with him arrived, they called together the council and the whole body of the elders of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the temple police went there, they did not find them in the prison; so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on. 25 Then someone arrived and announced, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.
Kenneth O. Gangel shares that “Overt efforts to proclaim the gospel in an alien environment will often result in persecution, but God takes care of his people. Enter the bad guys in the black hats, the same crowd we met in chapter 4. As they had done earlier, they arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. At that point the story changes. These verses record the first of three ‘jail door miracles’ in Acts (12:6–10; 16:16–28). In chapter 4 God’s grace intervened in the minds of the Sanhedrin, and the apostles were released. Here we have a physical deliverance and a divine revelation directing them precisely back to what they were doing, preaching the gospel in the temple courts. A new word enters the narrative at the end of verse 20—life (zoe). It appears thirty-six times in the New Testament, often as a synonym for the Lord himself (John 1:4; 1 John 1:1–2). Since the Sadducees did not believe in angels, we might find it a bit amusing to see God’s choice for the instrument of delivery.”
The apostles and early church faced quite a bit of persecution, and for maybe more reasons than we would initially realize. Obviously, we read right in verse seventeen that the high priest was filled with jealousy over the success the apostles were having with the people. But another factor in the Sadducees wanting to quash this growing movement was political. As the high priest, the Sadducee’s leader wanted to keep things quiet and not draw attention from the Romans. If the Romans thought things were getting out of control, EVERYONE was going to suffer, not just the apostles. So as a way to try and keep his power and position, the high priest needed the apostles to go away and stop stirring up trouble. So, in addition to the faith-related trouble, the apostles were causing the high priest, they were also causing political trouble for him as well. This seems rather appropriate in my mind given that the Gospel not only stirs up things in regard to people’s faith but also in the political arena when we look at Jesus’ teachings about freeing the oppressed, caring for the widow/orphan, welcoming the stranger/immigrant, etc.
When reading this passage, what is the first thing that came to your mind? After reading Gangel’s words, what was the first thing that you thought about? How did these two sets of thoughts differ or overlap?
Holy God, we know that you are always with us, especially when we are working to share the Good News with others and doing the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, help us to remember that we can always trust in you, and may we continue to grow in our relationship with you. Amen.