Acts 5:17-42

Empty Prison Cells

17 Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,

[High priest, and ... Sadducees, ... were filled with indignation,] As we have previously discussed (see previous page), the current Jewish religious leadership felt threatened by the apostles' teaching about Jesus Christ and was determined to stamp it out.

18 And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.

[Put them in the common prison.] Intending to hold them overnight until the council could be convened in the morning.

19 But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,

[Angel of the Lord ] The angel of the Lord was frequently sent by God to facilitate special projects.

[Opened the prison doors, and brought them forth] This was a miracle in the eyes of all who knew the details. In verse 23 we are informed that the keepers of the jail were unaware that the apostles had been transported out of the jail. This event provided encouragement to the apostles by showing them that even as they were being persecuted for their faithful witness the Lord was aware of their circumstance and had the ability to deliver them. Mark 13:9-11.

20 Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.

[Speak ... all the words of this life] Return to the temple and continue telling them the good news about Jesus. (You may wish to review Peter's first sermon. Acts 2:22-39.)

21 And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
22 But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned and told,
23 Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.

[The high priest came ... and called the council together,] This is about like the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives meeting for a joint session of congress. All of the important people were present. Then, surprise! When they called for the prisoners the cells were empty. What kind of magic was at work here?

24 Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.

[They doubted of them whereunto this would grow.] Well, now what? Those annoying Nazarenes have already healed a well known paralytic and have convinced thousands of good Jewish worshippers that Jesus of Nazareth is Messiah and that he was crucified by men and was resurrected by God. If word of this unexplainable event gets out there is no telling how many new believers it will attract. We are trying to suppress this teaching, not encourage it.

25 Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.

[Standing in the temple, and teaching the people.] That took courage. The apostles had been jailed only a few hours before for defying the sanhedren and continuing to teach about Jesus. Now the angel of the Lord had sent them back to the same place to teach some more.

26 Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.

[And brought them without violence] There were enough believers present that even the temple guard felt discression was necessary. I am sure that their invitation to the apostles to come meet with the sanhedren and answer a few questions was very polite. Since the apostles had been miraculously released from jail a few hours before they were comfortable that God was looking out for them and agreed to go.

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,
28 Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.

[In his name] That is, of Jesus as the Christ (Messiah). The apostles' message had been single minded and effective.

[Intend to bring this man's blood upon us.] To teach that Jesus was innocent yet condemned and delivered to the Romans with a demand for his death logically leads to the conclusion that the leadership was in error. As those who purported to be the representatives of God, the religious leaders could not publicly admit to such an error.

29 Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.

[We ought to obey God rather than men.] A simple response to the question, "Did not we straightly command you... ?"

30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
31 Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.

[The God of our fathers raised up Jesus] Response to the statement regarding attributing guilt for Christ's death. To paraphrase: You slew; God raised up; God exalted. Which God? The God of Moses and Abraham and the prophets whom you honor and claim to be their spiritual descendents.

32 And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.

[We are witnesses] We only teach what we know to be true by first hand experience. Also, the Spirit of God agrees with our witness. By the way, those who obey God have the witness of the Holy Spirit within themselves. Do you????

33 When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.

[They were cut to the heart] Not with conviction or remorse, but with outrage and malice. How dare you question our relationship with God? We will deal with you the same way we dealt with Jesus. We will kill you.

34 Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;
35 And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.
36 For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.
37 After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
38 And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
39 But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

[Gamaliel] This is very likely Rabban Gamaliel the first, the grandson of Hillel. Hillel was founder of a famous rabbinical school and had great influence upon Scriptural interpretation. At this time Gamaliel was head of the school. One of his notable pupils was Saul of Tarsus. Acts 22:3.) The title Rabban was reserved for presidents of the Sanhedren.
While Gamaliel does not appear to be a particular friend of Christianity (witness his pupil Saul's attitude toward Christians, Acts 9:1-2.) he was mature and spiritually sensitive enough to give good advice to those who were preparing to murder the apostles.

40 And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
41 And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
42 And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.

[And daily] Is it any wonder that the church grew in those early days? The message was direct and unrelenting. We should pray that God would give us a zeal for the Gospel in these latter times to match those early days.


This page updated 01/06/2008

Copyright (C) 2008 Robert C. Denig. All rights reserved