1] Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, 2] being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3] And they laid hands on them, and put them into custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4] However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
The chapter continues from chapter 3 and gives a second result of the Peter’s sermon beside the conversion of about five thousand men: he and the disciples get arrested. The chapter may be divided into three sections: their detention, vs. 1-4, their defense, vs. 5-20, and their dismissal, vs. 21-23.
The title of the post refers to the arrest described in our verses. It was the first arrest in the history of the church, but it certainly was not the last.
1. The Captors, the priests, the captain of the temple and the Sadducees, v. 1.
The priests were responsible for procedures for the offerings and sacrifices brought into the Temple. The captain of the temple was what we might call “the head of security.” The Sadducees were the liberal wing of Israel’s leadership and, as Matthew 22:23 and Acts 23:8 tell us, say there is not resurrection – and no angel or spirit. The Pharisees were the conservatives and believed in both the resurrection and angels. Paul turned that difference to his advantage in one of his trials, Acts 23:6. There was a third party, “the Herodians,” who, to one degree or another, allied themselves with Rome. Perhaps they thought, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
2. The Controversy, v. 2.
There were two things which bothered these officials:
a. they taught the people.
This may seem strange to us, but we shouldn’t overlook it. The attitude of these leaders, along with the Pharisees, was one of disdain and contempt for the “little people,” John 7:45-49, as well as any idea that any but themselves should “teach the people.” They were the spiritual leaders of the nation. The common people might listen to this interloper into the spiritual affairs of the nation, but they themselves were far above such things. It’s interesting that while we do read of Pharisees who came to the Lord, Paul being the notable example, there is no record of any Sadducee doing so.
Sadly, that attitude is still around. In my own experience, I’ve heard a seminary graduate lament that “you can’t really teach much at the ‘Sunday School’ level,” and another brother, looking forward to teaching in a “Bible Institute,” rejoiced that now he would really have to study for “those” people because the folks in the church he was pastoring didn’t require much study or preparation(!) And, yes, I really did hear these men make those statements.
I recognize the need for advance training for some, to counter the unbelief and skepticism of so-called “higher education” in our day, although the early church did alright without it, and do not necessarily say that we should do away with seminaries and such. I do deny that “the church” is in any way inferior to the seminary. The local church was intended to be the center of evangelism, and instruction, to raise up faithful men, who will be able to teach others also, 2 TImothy 2:2; Matthew 28:18-20. There is no provision in Scripture for the numerous “para-church” organizations which have sprung up. In fact, I believe that disregard of this Biblical principle has led to the deplorable and apostate condition of much of “Christianity” today.
b. they preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
For the Sadducees, at least, this was the disciples’ main offense. Not only were Peter and John teaching people these men thought to be incapable of learning, they were preaching heresy! It seems from the phrasing that they weren’t just proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus, but through Him the resurrection of everyone, as Paul later taught 1 Corinthians 15.
The Resurrection of our Lord was the message of the early church, Acts 1:22; 2:31; 4:2, 33; 17:18, 32; 24:15, 21. As Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 15:17, 19, If Christ is not risen from the dead, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable. If there is no resurrection, the sin question has not been answered. Scripture has firmly established that there is an “after” as far as death is concerned, that it is not the end of our existence, and that much of what happens in this life will not bear fruit until then: Some men’s sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later. Likewise, the good works of some are clearly evident, and those that are otherwise cannot be hidden, 1 Timothy 5:24-25.
Death might come as an interruption to this life, but really, it is only an intermission, as it were, between two acts:
But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus.
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.