TRACINGS FROM THE ACTS OF THE
III. A MIRACLE AND ATTEMPTED INTIMIDATION.
ACTS iii.iv. 31.
MANY wonders and signs Luke has told us were done by the
Apostles (Acts ii. 43). As yet we have had no detailed account of any. He will,
however, now proceed to tell us of one, and which evidently was regarded as,
and surely was, a most remarkable one. And as we have had depicted the
happiness of the company, and its growth, we are shortly to learn of the first
attempt to intimidate the leaders of the movement by the arrest of Peter and
The Ninth Hour. - Frequenting the Temple daily, the Apostles were found in its courts at the time of public prayer. To one of these occasions our attention is now to be directed by the historian, but he fixes not the date of it. On a certain day Peter and John were going up, as we should translate, into the Temple at the hour of prayer. Belonging to what we may call the inner circle of the Apostles, these two are frequently found together. To them was entrusted by the Lord the service of making ready the upper room for the last paschal supper (Luke xxii. 8). Together they were on the morning of the Resurrection, when Mary made known that the tomb was empty ; and together they ran to the sepulchre, to find that her report was correct (John xx. 2-8). Together, too, they went at the request of the rest to visit the new converts in Samaria (Acts viii.). Now, on the afternoon to which Luke refers, they were going up to the Temple together. For though that word should be left out of the narrative, it is plain in that they were together that day. It was at the ninth hour, the hour of prayer, about 3 p.m., when the evening burnt offering was offered up in the court, and incense was burnt on the golden altar within.
Hallowed was that hour, and connected with memories of the past. At that time, though far from God's altar at Jerusalem, Elijah, having repaired the altar of the Lord on Mount Carmel, arranged the bullock for the sacrifice, and supplicated the Lord to consume it by fire from heaven. And as the incense, as we may believe, was perfuming the holy place at Jerusalem, God responded to His servant at Carmel by sending the fire from on high, the token that He was the true God (1 Kings xviii. 38). At that same hour, centuries later, when Daniel, a captive in Babylon, was in prayer, Gabriel touched him, announcing the welcome news that his prayer was heard, and revealing to him the prophecy of the seventy weeks, the last part of which has yet to come (Dan. ix. 21). At that same hour it was that the Lord, of whose coming and death Gabriel had told the prophet, uttered on the cross that solemn cry, "My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" and then shortly after expired. Now, at that same hour of the day, Peter and John, entering the Temple, were to witness for the crucified One, and to manifest before all there assembled the power of His name. A Miracle. - As they were going up a lame man was being carried, to be laid at the gate of the Temple called Beautiful,* to solicit alms. He lived, it would seem, on the charity of the public, extended to him as they entered the sacred precincts. Forty years old was he now, and daily was he carried and laid down at that gate. Had he ever seen the Lord passing in or out? Certainly, if he had, healing power had not been exercised on his behalf. Every cripple, every sick one, did not receive benefit from Him. Witness the great multitude of sick folk at the Pool of Bethesda, waiting there on the day that the impotent man was cured. Now, however, the hour in the counsels of God had arrived for this one to be made whole. Seeing Peter and John, he asked an alms. It was his wonted request. It was all he asked, and evidently all he expected (Acts iii. 5). A little temporal relief he craved. He was, however, to get healing. He had been indebted to the kindness and support of others to get there, and was actually at the moment being carried, an evidence of his helplessness, when, in answer to his petition for an alms, Peter said, "Silver and gold have I none ; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarean walk" (iii. 6). We should here omit "rise up." The omission makes it more graphic. He was to walk.
* It is questioned where this gate was. Of one, especially beautiful, Josephus writes, calling it the Corinthian gate, because covered with Corinthian brass. He writes (Wars of the Jews, V. v. 3): "There was one gate that was without [the inward court of] the holy house, which was of Corinthian brass, and greatly excelled those that wore only covered over with silver and gold. . . . The magnitudes of the other gates were equal one to another; but that over the Corinthian gate, which opened on the east over-against the gate of the holy house itself, was muclv larger; for its height was fifty cubits; and its doors were forty cubits ; and it was adorned after a most costly manner, as having much richer and thicker plates of silver and gold upon them than the other." From his description one would suppose this was the gate.
Lame from his mother's womb, he had never walked. His feet and ankle bones had never borne the weight of his body. Walk! How could he? Peter showed him that his words were no vain words. For he took him by the right hand, and raised him up, and strength, such as he had never known, he received at once. With the agility of one who had always had the use of his limbs, he leaped up. The weight of his body these limbs, so powerless for forty years, now perfectly sustained. He stood. And the activity proper to man was his in common with others around. He began to walk, as we should translate. No arm even to lean on did he need. No crutch to support him was in requisition. With no tottering gait did he move. Carried as he had been to the precincts of the Temple, he entered the Beautiful gate of it a sound man, walking and leaping and praising God. In open day this occurred. In the most public place in the city, in the presence of a multitude about probably to pass through that Beautiful gate to engage in prayer, the man formerly lame, and well known to be such, passed in. with the crowd, demonstrating to all beholders his new powers, for he walked, and manifesting his ]oy, for he was praising God. He held Peter and John, it is true, but not to support himself. His benefactors he deemed them, and so naturally clung to them.
Peter's Address. - Wonder and amazement filled the people when they saw the man walking, and they ran together unto the Apostles in the porch that is called Solomon's, greatly wondering (ver. 11). This porch, or portico, was a relic, it is said, of Solomon's work, which had escaped destruction till then.* In this same porch the Lord was walking when questioned by the Jews as to whether He was the Christ (John x. 23). In this same place, evidently one of concourse, the Apostles were found later on (Acts v. 12), before they were beaten by order of the Sanhedrin. To the assembled crowd Peter now addressed himself. In the previous chapter his audience of course was a mixed one, composed not only of native but of many foreign Jews speaking various languages, because collected from different countries upon earth. On this occasion, the feast of Pentecost being over, we may conclude that the foreign element, of which there was always some in Jerusalem (vi. 9), was reduced to its normal proportions. "Ye men of Israel," he began, "why marvel ye at this" (referring probably to that which is stated in ver. 9) ; "or why look ye so earnestly on us, as though by our own power or holiness [rather, godliness] we had made this man to walk?" (iii. 12). No credit would they take to themselves, nor allow the people for one moment to think of them as something extraordinary. How different was this from Simon Magus, who, exercising Satanic power, gave himself out to be some great one (viii. 9). The natural man loves to exalt himself. The Apostles would give all the glory to God, arid to His servant Christ Jesus. The miracle was undoubted. Peter distinctly admits it. But the power by which it had been accomplished was Divine.
* To this porch Josephus refers. "These," he writes, [eastern] "cloisters belonged to the outer court, and were situated in a deep valley, and had walls that reached four hundred cubits [in length], and were built of square and very white stones, the length of each of which stones was twenty cubits, and their height six cubits. This was the work of King Solomon, who first of all built the entire Temple." (Josephus, Ant., XX. ix. 7).
The God of Abraham, of Isaac, and of Jacob, the God of their fathers, was working still in their midst, but now for the glory of His servant Jesus. Bold indeed is Peter. In the Temple court he affirmed that Jesus, the rejected and crucified One, was Jehovah's servant. Of One so called Isaiah had written (xlii. 1). Of that same One Peter here spoke. Delivered by the people to Pilate (as he reminds them), that Roman governor was desirous to release Him, and was only prevented by the clamorous importunity of the rulers and people. They denied before Pilate their true Messiah. The holy One and the righteous One they denied. They asked for a murderer to be given them. They killed the Prince (or, Originator) of life.** A heavy indictment indeed! Yet the simple truth. And with the facts still fresh in the memory of them all, no one did, no one could, impugn the correctness of the accusation. Man's work had been like Cain's - to put the righteous One to death. God's power, however, had been displayed in raising Him from the dead. And now He had glorified Him ; and in His name, and by faith in His name, that miracle had been wrought, and that man healed.
* "Servant" he calls him. Pais ; not Son, Hyog.
** The Greek word archegos is variously translated, " Prince," " Author," " Originator." It is used in the New Testament here, and elsewhere, only of the Lord (Acts v. 31; Heb. ii. 10, xii. 2).
A crime, a murder, had taken place, and the people had consented to it, and had insisted on it. But done as it was by rulers and people through ignorance, Peter assured them that the door for repentance was still open. Great, too, as the crime was, it had been foreseen and predicted. "God before had showed by the mouth of all the prophets that His Christ [so Peter said] should suffer." That He had fulfilled. "His Christ," then, it was whom they had crucified. What a crime that was! Was all lost? No, but deferred. And now it rested on the repentance of the people as to when the Messianic blessing, which for ages had been expected, should really be enjoyed. "Repent ye therefore," continued the Apostle to his audience, "and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that so there may come seasons of refreshing from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send the Christ who hath been appointed for [not, preached unto] you, even Jesus: whom the heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, whereof God spake by the mouth of His holy prophets which have been since the world began." We have followed the Revised Version rather than the Authorised Version in citing this passage, because there are several variations in the text consequent on better readings, and one very important mistranslation is by the former corrected, which seems to have originated with the Vulgate. The times of refreshing depend on, and are a consequence of, the repentance of the people. This the Authorised Version fails to exhibit. The Christ was now on high, and would remain thero, till repentance working in the people, God should send Him back. To that Dent. xxx. 1-10. looks forward as well as other Scriptures.
To the future they must therefore turn. There was, however, a word for them in the present. He who had been in their midst was really the Prophet like unto Moses, to whom all were to hearken. Present responsibility then rested on them whilst awaiting the future. For if that Prophet had come, and Jesus Christ was that Prophet, it was incumbent on all men to hearken to Him, lest judgment should overtake the rebellious (Acts iii. 22, 23). Further, they were the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with their fathers, saying to Abraham, "And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed." Hence to them first God, having raised up His servant [Jesus should be here omitted], sent Him to bless them, in turning away every one of them from their iniquities. A caution may here be needed as to what that raising up refers. It is clearly not the Resurrection that is pointed to, but the Lord's first coming to earth, in accordance with the words just quoted from Deut. xviii. 18: "A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up," etc.
So familiar are we with this history, that we can scarce take in the full effect on the people of that which had been seen or heard. In the very porch where the Jews had challenged the Lord for proofs of His Messiahship, Peter announced that the man had been healed in the name of Jesus the Nazarean. In the precincts of Jehovah's house, who never gave His glory to another, a miracle had been wrought avowedly in the name of Him whom the Sanhedrin had not long before adjudged to be a blasphemer, and worthy of death. The controversy about His claim to be a Divine Person was more than settled, but in a way the Jews never expected. God had glorified His servant the Nazarean, in allowing a miracle to be wrought in His own house in the latter's name. Jesus Christ, the Nazarean, was the only one of whom Peter had spoken to the lame man. If, then, His name, without the mention of the God of Abraham, etc., was powerful in the sacred precincts, the crucified One must be more than a mere man. And God, by what had taken place, clearly owned Him as His fellow. A miracle wrought elsewhere would have been a wonderful event; but wrought only in the name of Jesus Christ, and in the court of Jehovah's house, was evidence which could not be rebutted of the truth of the Lord's claim, when on earth, to be equal with God. No marvel, then, is it, that out of the many wonders and signs done at that early time by the Apostles this one has been detailed at length, and is the only one of that date which Luke has been directed to record. No miracle could there be to show in a plainer way the divinity of Him whom the nation had put to death.
An Arrest. That it was a miracle the multitude firmly believed ; and those who had the greatest interest in denying it, the high priest and all with him, found themselves confronted with a fact to which they were unable to shut their eyes. It was established in a manner that defied contradiction, and effectually refuted any suggestion of collusion. The man once lame, and well known to have been such from His birth, was walking, and had entered the Temple on his own legs. Nor was that a mere spasmodic effort, for the power acquired he was still using. He who had entered the Temple would shortly appear before the high priest and the company sitting with him. No one denied it. No one attempted to deny it. They were not able, as the historian states, to say anything against it (iv. 14). Moderns have tried to explain it away. Contemporaries attested, however unwillingly, the truth of it. But measures, it was felt, must be taken to stop the movement. Those interested in checking it now interfered. Peter and John were teaching the people, a duty which belonged specially to the priests. They boldly proclaimed the Lord's resurrection from the dead. The Sadducees felt that one of their pet tenets was touched. So "the priests, and the captain of the Temple, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being grieved that they taught the people, and preached through Jesus the resurrection from the dead" (iv. 1, 2). In the Lord's life the Pharisees were His great opponents. The Sadducees seem for the most part to have let Him alone. But the truth of His resurrection stirred them up, and in the Acts we find them active against the Apostles (v. 17, xxiii. 6-8). Resurrection of the dead the Pharisees held. The Sadducees, who denied resurrection, could nevertheless sit in the council with them. But resurrection from the dead, a fact actually accomplished, brought out their antagonism to the truth all the stronger. If apostolic preaching was true, resurrection could no longer be denied. Peter and John then must be arrested. Their liberty indeed might be curtailed. Power could effect that; and it did. Yet was the work to be stopped? Many who had heard them believed; and the men - for of the males only is the number stated - now reached to five thousand. What the whole assembly numbered, when the women were reckoned in, is left unstated.
Before the Council. The two Apostles, kept in ward for the night, for it was evening when they were arrested, were to be brought before the council on the morrow. These two Galilean fishermen were for the first time placed in the position of defendants before the leading people of their nation. Annas, the high priest,* and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and as many as were of the kindred of the high priest, with the rulers, elders, and scribes, were gathered together in Jerusalem. The sight of that assembly might naturally have overawed the prisoners. And perhaps it was intended by such an array to intimidate them. But did it ? Their position, though to them a new one, had been foreseen by the Lord, who had warned them that they would be brought before kings and rulers for His sake. He, too, had encouraged them by the promise of the Holy Ghost to teach them what they should then say. His words were verified as to their standing before rulers. Would His promise also be fulfilled ? We shall see. Before Annas, and before Caiaphas, the Lord had stood, and was formally adjudged by the latter to have been a blasphemer. What must have been the feelings of these men as they looked on the two disciples, and were aware of the miracle wrought in the name of Jesus Christ 1 Had they stamped out the movement? It had taken new life since its Founder's death. And these two humble men, questioned as to the power and the name in which they had healed the man, Peter, filled with the Holy Ghost, now answered without hesitation. The Lord's promise to His disciples was indeed fulfilled.
* The high-priestly dignity was conferred on different persons by the Roman government. Annas had been deposed, and Caiaphas, his son-in-law, appointed in his place. That Annas had authority morally, though not actually, the Lord's examination before him (John xviii.) indicates. He may therefore still have been called high priest (see Luke iii. 2), as having once filled the pontifical office. Sure we are that Luke is writing of that which he had searched out. So if we cannot explain the reference here to Annas as high priest, it is because there is something with which we are unacquainted. Considering, too, how many things have heen cleared up in our day previously unexplainable, it is wiser for us to confess our ignorance,
and to wait for fuller light, than to charge the historian with ignorance, till we are quite sure that we are better informed than he was. Of John and Alexander nothing definite seems known. Lightfoot identifies the former with Rabbi Johanan Ben Zacoai. Grotius says he was known to rabbinical writers as "John the priest." Alexander has been identified by some as the brother of Philo Judaeus. The names of the two defendants are household words, and their service is imperishably preserved in the inspired writings. The history of John and Alexander, well known at the time, has sunk into almost oblivion. Great ones of earth are often well-nigh forgotten, when servants of God of their day are remembered and had in honour.
We give the Apostle's reply in the words of the Revised Version: "Ye rulers of the people, and elders, If we this day are examined concerning a good deed done to an impotent man, by what means this man is made whole; be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth [or, the Nazarean], whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even in Him doth this man stand here before you whole. He is the stone which was set at nought of you the builders, which was made the head of the corner. And in none other is there salvation: for neither is there any other name under heaven, that is given among men, wherein we must be saved " (iv. 8-12).
Such a bold reply was probably anything but expected. It would seem to have taken them very much by surprise. Unlearned and ignorant men they thought these two. Not understanding that they were, as we might say, graduates in a school to which these doctors were strangers, they marvelled at them, and took knowledge of them that they had been with Jesus. And the man which was healed being present with them, they could say nothing against it. Sadducees as they were, the miraculous cure they could not gainsay, though done in the name of One whom, according to their tenets, they could only regard as a dead and non-existent man. Twice already have we had addresses by Peter. In both, as in this one, the resurrection of the Lord is a prominent feature. In each, too, some Old Testament scripture prophetic of Christ is adduced. So by degrees truth about Him is unfolded ; and we learn in these early chapters of the Acts of different lights in which He was presented. On the day of Pentecost Peter called attention to the predictions by David of his death, resurrection, and ascension, and the consequences deducible - that God has made Him both Lord and Christ. In Solomon's porch Peter told his hearers that He was the Prophet like unto Moses, of whom that lawgiver had written. And now before the council he declared that the Lord was the stone referred to in Psalm cxviii. One marked difference, however, has to be noticed in these addresses. To the people the Apostle offers forgiveness and full blessing if they repented. To the rulers he does not here mention repentance, contenting himself with telling them that in none other name was there salvation, than in the name of Jesus Christ whom they had crucified. And though on another occasion (Acts v. 31) he tells the rulers that God has exalted Jesus to be a Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins, thus leaving them without excuse for continuing in their opposition to the truth, there is no pressing on them, as there was on the people, to avail themselves of present grace and salvation. It was indeed for them as for others, if they would; but not in their capacity of rulers. They must come into it simply as penitents.
Deliberation, The council had heard the defence. Deliberation next followed, the Apostles having been first commanded to go outside, till the decision should be communicated. But we, privileged, as it were, to be present at their deliberation, know what passed within the council chamber. The arrest had been evidently a great mistake, for they found that they could do nothing to the Apostles. The judicial power can never afford rashly to take up a case, and then to find it must drop it. Such a course necessarily tends to bring itself into disrepute and discredit before men. Yet what had they done? They had kept two men in ward for a whole night for a good deed done to an impotent man! That was the light in which Peter put it, and against which they could urge nothing. A semblance of authority must, however, be maintained; so they decided to threaten them. But why threaten people who admittedly had only done a good deed? Foolish indeed did these doctors and rulers appear.
The Decision. In solemn form, doubtless, the Apostles were called in to hear the sentence of the court. They charged them not to speak at all, nor teach in the name of Jesus (iv. 18). Vain attempt on the part of Annas, and Caiaphas, and John, and Alexander, and all the kindred of the high priest! Submission to that order on the part of the Apostles, which perhaps they had expected, they learned at once was refused. And now Peter and John together speak (the former only had addressed the council before), and distinctly refuse compliance with their demand, but base refusal on grounds which none could challenge: "Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye: for we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard" (19, 20). Again and still more did the rulers threaten them, but "let them go, finding nothing how they might punish them, because of the people; for all men glorified God for that which was done" .
Thus ended the first conflict with the ecclesiastical power. From it the council did not come off victorious. The Apostles were not intimidated by the high priests' presence, nor did they fear their threats. The rulers, however, feared the populace. What had been gained? The miracle had been the more extensively advertised, and the highest ecclesiastical authority in the land had set its seal to its reality. The enemy was this time completely foiled. The Galilean fishermen, ignorant and unlearned men, as they regarded them, had braved the anger of the council, which confessed itself powerless to punish them.
Their own Company. Permitted, as it were, as we have been to be present at the deliberation of the council, we are now permitted to be present in the same way with the apostolic company in the place where they were assembled. The two rejoining the rest, repeated all that the chief priests and the elders had said unto them. Did any heart in the company quail? Did any question the propriety of the boldness of the two ? All, we learn, were of one accord, and with one voice they lifted up their hearts unitedly in prayer to God as the Lord, the Adon or Adonai of the Old Testament - Luke probably translating into Greek what they uttered in Aramaic, and so using the term for Lord, Despotes, found in the Septuagint at times * as the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew Adon or Adonai. To Him, the Lord and the Creator, they turned, and quoted the opening clauses of the second Psalm, which they, divinely taught, understood had begun now to receive its fulfilment. The conflict of which it speaks had commenced with the Lord's condemnation and crucifixion. The Psalm is distinctly prophetic. To no king of old could it refer in any measure of fulness. Of the Lord Jesus, and of God's counsels about Him, and the advice to people with reference to Him (12) the Psalm treats. For the conflict then begun will only end in the final victory and supremacy of that Son, Jehovah's Anointed. Those gathered together in prayer recognised then the character of the times, and asked for that which they required. What was that? Shelter from persecution? Power to crush their enemies? No. But that with all boldness they might speak the Word, God stretching forth His hand, not to shield them, but to heal others, and that signs and wonders might be done in the name of His holy servant Jesus, What a picture is presented! The whole company in prayer before God, asking for boldness to speak, and looking up for Him to work in the name of His holy Servant! Were they ignorant of what that might involve? Assuredly not. Bold had been Peter and John before the council. Was it bravado assumed for the occasion? We see here that it was not. And we must be impressed with the intense earnestness of them all, who, whilst realising the gravity of their position, were undismayed by the threats uttered, and by the power that might be called out against them.
* Once only, Prov. xxix. 25, is Despotes used in the Septuagint to express Jehovah.
The Answer. They had prayed. They were heard, and speedily answered. The place was shaken "where they were assembled, and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the Word of God with boldness" (Acts iv. 3.1). "They were filled with the Spirit" - a term used for the most part of some special act on the part of God, making the vessel full for the time being of the Spirit, and which should be distinguished from the phrase "full of the Spirit." To fresh attempts to mar and to stop the work are we next introduced.
Go To Chapter Four
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