SYNOPSIS – In response to threats from the high priest, the Spirit filled the fledgling church with “boldness of speech” – Acts 4:5-31.
After the healing of the lame man near the Temple gate, Peter and John were confronted by the priestly authorities, including representatives of the Sadducees, who were disturbed because they had “proclaimed the resurrection.” The Sadducees rejected the doctrine of the resurrection, although Luke stresses that the disciples claimed that it now takes place “in Jesus,” which made their interpretation of the resurrection of the dead distinct from all others – (Acts 4:1-4).
The next day, the high priest and his entourage interrogated Peter and John, after they had spent the night in custody:
“Their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired – By what power or in what name, have you done this?” (Acts 4:5-7).
In response, Peter was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” This does NOT mean he had lost and then recovered the gift that he first received on the Day of Pentecost. Any notion of his having lost the original gift is contrary to everything in the book of Acts that has occurred prior to this point. In this statement, Luke wishes us to recall the words of Jesus:
“And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven; but to him that slanders the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven. And when they bring you before the synagogues, and the rulers, and the authorities, be not anxious how or what you will answer, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” – (Luke 11:10-12).
Jesus promised that the Spirit would equip his disciples to speak when they were hauled before “rulers and authorities” for his sake. Based on the original context of this saying, an inference is that the priestly “rulers” were in danger of slandering the Holy Spirit. The Greek term rendered “rulers” is a verbal link to the passage from the gospel of Luke, and a key to what follows in Peter’s sermon, testimony, and subsequent prayer.
The lame man was “saved” (sozô) AND “made whole” (hugies), all in the name of Jesus. “Made whole” is significant in this context. Peter and John were testifying before the represents of the Temple. Under the Levitical code, a “lame” person was prohibited from full participation in the Temple rituals:
(Leviticus 21:17-21) – “Whoever of your seed throughout their generations that has a blemish, let him not approach to offer the bread of his God. For whatever man he be that has a blemish, he shall not approach – A blind man, a lame man, or he that has a flat nose, or anything superfluous… no man of the seed of Aaron the priest that has a blemish shall come nigh to offer the offerings of Yahweh made by fire.”
The “lame man” was not just “saved” and “healed” in the name of Jesus, but made “whole” – Now, fully acceptable before God for participation in the worship activities of the covenant community.
“In the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” The name of the same man whom the “rulers of the people crucified”; however, God “raised him from the dead,” thus vindicating him and his ministry. Although rejected by the leaders of Israel:
“The stone set aside by the builders, has been made the head of the corner. And in no other is there salvation, for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, by which we must be saved.”
The high priest and his associates took notice of the “boldness of Peter and John.” Unable to deny that a genuine miracle had occurred, they had no alternative but to release the two men, though they charged them “not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus.”
(Acts 4:18-21) – “And they called them and charged them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus…And they, when they had further threatened them, let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them.”
The term “boldness” anticipates the prayer of the church in reaction to these events, and the answer of the Holy Spirit to that prayer – (“Grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness”). “Boldness” translates the Greek noun parrésia, which had an original sense – “freedom of speech; boldness of speech” – (Strong’s – #G3954).
In reaction, after Peter and John related these events to the assembly, the members of the young church prayed in unison for divine assistance:
(Acts 4:23-31) – “And being let go, they came to their own company, and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said unto them. And when they heard it, they lifted up their voice to God with one accord, and said, O Lord, You that made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and all that in them is: who by the Holy Spirit, by the mouth of our father David your servant, didst say, Why did the GENTILES rage, And the peoples imagine vain things? The KINGS OF THE EARTH set themselves in array, And THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER, against the Lord, and against his anointed one. For of a truth in this city against your holy Servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel were gathered together to do whatsoever your hand and your council foreordained to come to pass. And now, Lord, look upon their threatenings, and grant to your servants to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch forth your hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of thy holy Servant Jesus.”
(Psalm 2:2) – “Why do the nations rage, and the peoples imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against Yahweh and against his anointed.”
The prayer of the church is the conclusion towards which the account has been building. Note well how the prayer ties together the several terms that have figured previously in the passage – “rulers,” “gathered together,” “threatening,” and “boldness.”
Significantly, the prayer applies the messianic passage from the second Psalm to the events and characters surrounding the execution of Jesus, and now to the “threats” of the high priest against the apostles.
The term “signs and wonders” was introduced in Acts when Peter cited the prophecy from the book of Joel to the crowd of pilgrims on the Day of Pentecost. Thereafter, it becomes a thematic link in the first half of Acts – When the Spirit is present, “signs and wonders” follow – (Acts 2:22, 2:43, 4:30,5:12, 6:8, 8:6, 8:13, 14:3,15:12).
The Spirit responded immediately to their prayer:
(Acts 4:30-31) – “And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were gathered together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.”
Once more, “boldness” translates the Greek noun parrésia. As with Peter and John, this was not another baptism in the Spirit – They had received the gift previously – but an energizing by the Spirit that was present in them. The result was even more “boldness of speech” to proclaim the gospel despite the threats and hostile actions of the priestly rulers of the nation.