Chapter four introduces the first major pushback since the crucifixion. Naturally, the religious leaders thought they had done away with Jesus for good. However, his followers were still preaching his message with results that made the leaders furious. As Peter and John were speaking to the crowd from chapter three, they were arrested and put in jail overnight. Luke noted that the people had already responded, though. The initial band of “ABOUT THREE THOUSAND PEOPLE” (Acts 2:41) had multiplied between five and ten times to “ABOUT FIVE THOUSAND MEN” (easily 15,000 – 30,000 people including families; Acts 4:1-4).
When Peter and John stood before the ruling council, it must have been surreal to know that Jesus stood there only months before. They certainly must have wondered if they would be crucified next, yet this did not stop them. Two years earlier Jesus had told them, “WHENEVER THEY HAND YOU OVER FOR TRIAL, DO NOT WORRY ABOUT HOW TO SPEAK OR WHAT TO SAY, FOR WHAT YOU SHOULD SAY WILL BE GIVEN TO YOU AT THAT TIME. FOR IT IS NOT YOU SPEAKING, BUT THE SPIRIT OF YOUR FATHER SPEAKING THROUGH YOU” (Matthew 10:19-20). On this day Peter was “FILLED WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT” and began to preach Jesus to the very ones who had dragged him to Pilate (Acts 4:8-12).
At that point, the religious leaders recognized four things: 1) these were not the same timid men who ran away a few months earlier when Jesus was arrested; 2) they were working under an influence that did not require formal training; 3) the man was undeniably healed; and 4) they had no legitimate case against the apostles. With the influence the apostles were gaining among the people, the leaders must have felt they were experiencing déjà vu (Acts 4:13-22). The only thing they could do was order the apostles to not preach Jesus again. When the apostles replied that was impossible because of the things they had experienced, the leaders could only double down on their insistence.
Upon being reunited, the church celebrated God’s work in and through them. Amazingly, instead of praying for relief from what was certainly going to be growing persecution, they prayed specifically for boldness “TO SPEAK YOUR MESSAGE WITH GREAT COURAGE,” which God granted them (Acts 4:23-31). The unity of the believers during this time was remarkable, especially compared to the petty divisions that would come very soon. They genuinely cared for one another, taking care of each other and submitting to the authority and wisdom of the apostles (Acts 4:32-37).