13 Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. 14 But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. 15 But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” 18 So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, 20 for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” 21 And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. 22 For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old. – Acts 4:13-22 ESV
The Jewish council or Sanhedrin had a problem on their hands, and it was one they had experienced before. While they had hoped that the death of Jesus would have put an end to all the talk about Him being the Messiah, they found themselves dealing with Him once again. This time, it was His disciples preaching and healing in His name and claiming that Jesus was not dead, but had been brought back to life by God, confirming His role as Messiah. And these uneducated, common men were drawing large crowds of followers, just like Jesus had done while He was alive. In fact, they say virtually the same thing about Peter and John as they did about Jesus.
The Jews therefore marveled, saying, “How is it that this man has learning, when he has never studied?” – John 7:15 ESV
The Jews had expected nothing from Jesus when He appeared on the scene, because He was nothing more than a lowly carpenter from the backwater town of Nazareth. And Jesus had told them the source of His ability to teach.
16 So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. 17 If anyone's will is to do God's will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority. 18 The one who speaks on his own authority seeks his own glory; but the one who seeks the glory of him who sent him is true, and in him there is no falsehood. – John 7:16-18 ESV
Like Jesus, Peter had simply been doing the will of the Father. His authority to do and say the things he did was from God, passed on to Him by the Son. At the point in time when Jesus had given the disciples their commission, He had told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18 ESV). And He had passed that authority on to each of them.
The members of the Sanhedrin were at a loss as to what to say or do. Luke uses the Greek word thaumazō to describe their response to the surprising boldness and eloquence of Peter and John. It's a word that conveys the idea of wonder, even admiration at what they had seen. These men lacked formal education, but they spoke with power and authority. They weren’t intimidated by having to stand before the 70 members of the Sanhedrin, in their flowing robes and palpable air of superiority. The demeanor of the two disciples and the presence of the former;y lame beggar left the religious leaders speechless and at a loss as to what to do. So they sent Peter and John out of the room in order to discuss next steps.
They had to admit that a miracle had been done. Peter and John had performed an undeniable sign and the gentleman who had been seen leaping, dancing and worshiping in the Temple was proof. And there were plenty of witnesses, including the thousands who had expressed belief in Jesus at the words of Peter and John. The Sanhedrin had a problem. They wanted this to all go away, but they were reluctant to punish Peter and John because they feared the reaction of the people. But they desperately wanted to put a stop to the disciples spreading their talk of Jesus being alive, so they came up with the plan to threaten Peter and John.
17 But to keep them from spreading their propaganda any further, we must warn them not to speak to anyone in Jesus’ name again.” 18 So they called the apostles back in and commanded them never again to speak or teach in the name of Jesus. – Acts 4:17-18 NLT
Armed with their authority as the official religious leaders of Israel, they demanded that Peter and John refrain from talking about Jesus any longer. They put a gag order on them, believing that these two men would acquiesce our of fear of reprisals. But they were in for an even greater shock. Peter, as usual, was the first to respond to their demand.
“Do you think God wants us to obey you rather than him? We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard.” – Acts 4:19-20 NLT
Peter answers with logic. What the Sanhedrin were demanding of he and John was absurd. Were they really expecting the disciples to willingly disobey God and stop speaking about Jesus, the Messiah? Did they really believe they could stop what God was doing by shutting up Peter and John? That was what they had tried to do by putting Jesus to death, and look how successful that had been. This was much bigger than the Sanhedrin, the high priest, Peter and John, or even Rome. They would not be able to stop would God had ordained. Peter most likely recalled the words Jesus had spoken to him when he had described Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16 NLT). Jesus had blessed him and told him that this testimony was God-given, revealed from the Father Himself. And then Jesus had said, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18 NLT). Peter’s testimony concerning Jesus’ identity as the Messiah would be the “rock” upon which the church would be built. And no one and nothing would be able to conquer it, including the all-powerful religious leaders of Israel. They were completely impotent when it came to stifling the work of the Spirit of God. Yes, they could punish the disciples. They could imprison them, beat them, even kill them. But Peter and John most likely recalled the words of Jesus, recorded in Luke gospel. “Dear friends, don't be afraid of those who want to kill your body; they cannot do any more to you after that” (Luke 12:4 NLT). Jesus had been killed, but had been raised back to life, and Peter and John had seen it with their own eyes. So, they weren’t exactly intimidated by the threat of death. They believed that what they were doing was the will of God and nothing was going to prevent them from doing what they had been commissioned to do.
The Sanhedrin were flabbergasted by the disciples’ response and were at a loss as to what to do next, so they threatened them one last time and released. And Luke records, “everyone was praising God for this miraculous sign—the healing of a man who had been lame for more than forty years” (Acts 4:21-22 NLT). God had shown up and this man’s healing had been the proof. But his healing had been intended as a sign. It was evidence of Peter and John’s God-given authority to speak on behalf of Jesus and act as His representatives on earth. The healing had validated their claims of apostleship. Their real mission was not to heal the sick, but to save the lost. Their primary calling was to restore sinners to a right relationship with God, not sight to the blind or the ability to walk to the lame. Those actions, while miraculous and attention-getting, were a means to a greater end, and Peter had made it perfectly clear: “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 NLT).
It is so easy to get hung up on the signs and miss out on the Savior. We can become enamored with the idea of miracles and lose sight of the Messiah. Jesus had many followers when He walked the earth, but there were those in the crowds who only wanted physical healing, not spiritual renewal. Others were waiting to see if He would feed them, but failed to recognize Him as the bread of life. The majority were seeking a sign, but when it showed up, they never saw the Savior behind it. They missed the point. Peter and John were out to save souls. They were determined to preach the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. And nothing was going to stand in their way, not even the Sanhedrin.
English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.