Chapter 12: In prison again! and out again!
12 And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch. 13 Yet none of the rest dared join them, but the people esteemed them highly. 14 And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, 15 so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. 16 Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed.
17 Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, 18 and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. 19 But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.” 21 And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, 23 saying, ‘Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!’ 24 Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be. 25 So one came and told them, saying, ‘Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!’
26 Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned. 27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28 saying, ‘Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!’
29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men.30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. 31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.32 And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him’.
Signs and wonders
God continues to use the apostles miraculously by their doing ‘many signs and wonders’. This influences those gathered in the porch of Solomon’s Temple. It builds more credibility for their message of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ. Others, scared of the religious authorities, dare not join them. The people esteem the apostles highly, and ‘increasingly’ many new believers are ‘added to the Lord’. In fact, ‘multitudes of both men and women’ come to Christ.
God so marks out Peter and the apostles as His messengers at this key time in the church’s history that they place sick people so that Peter’s shadow will fall on some. Presumably that heals some, or why do they do it? From Jerusalem and around, ill and demon-possessed people gather to the apostles. All who come are healed. This is exceptional and a million miles from the contricks of some tele-evangelists and pretended healers of today.
Arrested by men and released by God
But all this hardens the prejudice and the jealous hearts of the high priest and his Sadducee associates. Clearly, Jesus has risen from the dead. People know it is so. They see that the risen Lord is changing peoples’ lives through the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the apostles. So it’s back to prison for the apostles—but not for long! In the public jail that night God’s angel opens the prison doors—we are not told how1—and brings them out. He tells them, ‘Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life’. They obey and begin to teach there ‘early in the morning’. Think how this will further focus the attention of their hearers on the message they preach!
Where are our prisoners?
Presumably with pomp and ceremony, ‘all the elders of the children of Israel’ now congregate with the high priest and the Council to hear these men held in custody. The officers go to fetch the prisoners. There is just one problem. The prisoners have gone! The officers return empty handed! The angel did a great job, when leading out the apostles. The guards never knew they had left. Either the apostles were given exceptional quietness and invisibility, or the guards were put to sleep, or both. The angel certainly needed no keys, which presumably were still on the guards’ belts or key chains. No wonder their ‘keepers’ are now greatly perplexed and fear for their future. Perhaps their lives, as well as their career paths, are in great jeopardy now? Are the men by now miles away, having made good their escape?
Then an unexpected message is delivered. The men are in the temple again, openly ‘teaching the people’! Off go the captain and officers to bring them back peacefully. They dare not risk being aggressive because the people may stone them. The general public are very sympathetic to the apostles and their message. One wonders how many more people will be in Heaven because of that extra time of gospel preaching in the temple on this eventful morning.
Does this sound familiar?
Now, back before the Council, the high priest ignores the well-established but staggering fact that the lame man has been healed. Instead he objects to the apostles’ teaching in Jesus’ name. How Jesus is hated! But the high priest also unwittingly compliments Peter and the apostles in his opening criticism. He says, ‘Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us’. That is music in the apostles’ ears. In such a short time they have ‘filled Jerusalem’ with the news that Christ died for sinners, rose again, and will save those who repent and turn to Him! The high priest is guilty of orchestrating the cruel, unjust and unconstitutional shedding of Jesus’ blood. But in another way, the apostles would love to bring Christ’s ‘blood on’ him for his blessing. What joy will be theirs if the high priest himself admits he is wrong, believes in Jesus, and discovers—as they have—that ‘the blood of Jesus Christ His [God’s] Son cleanses us from all sin’.2 Sadly, that does not occur. Why do guilty sinners—religious or irreligious—refuse to yield to Jesus?
Can you guess what the apostles’ reply is to the high priest? They repeat that they ‘ought to obey God rather than men’. He has heard a similar response before!3 They then remind him of four things. First, Jesus is alive from the dead. Second, He died as a result of the direct sin of the high priest and his prejudiced colleagues. Third, Jesus has been exalted, by which they refer both to His resurrection and His ascension to Heaven. Fourth, those who obey God’s command to repent and believe in Christ receive the Holy Spirit.
God gives the Council yet another opportunity to own up to their wrongs, do a humbling U-turn, believe in the crucified and living Christ, and know God’s pardon and presence by the Holy Spirit in their lives. How will they respond or react? We will see as we consider Acts 5:33–42 in the next chapter. Have you responded personally?
Questions on Chapter 12
In prison again! and out again!—Acts 5:12–32
A. How many acts of God can you find mentioned in this passage?
Acts 5:12–32 (especially verses 12, 16, 19, 30, 31, 32)
B. What facts do the Council ignore to support such biased opposition against preaching in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ? Why do they oppose the apostles?
Acts 5:12–32 (especially verses as in A., above) Acts 5:17, Acts 5:28, Isaiah 53:3
C. How many positive things can you find here about the apostles’ witness?
Acts 5:12–32 (especially verses 12, 21, 25, 29–32), Acts 4:18–20, Acts 4:12, 1 Corinthians 2:1–5