The Establishment of the Church

Acts 3-5

“Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence [face] of the Lord” (Acts 3:19 RSV).

by Jeff Earl

The Establishment of the Church

In one of the most beautiful and compelling accounts in Acts, the apostles, Peter and John went to the Temple in the ninth hour (3 PM), the hour of prayer. Every day, a man who was lame from birth was carried to the gate of the Temple, where he begged for money. No one doubted that he had been lame for a long time, he was over 40 years old (Acts 4:22, forty represents a period of testing in scripture). He asked Peter for money, but instead, Peter healed him: “In the name of Jesus Christ, rise up and walk.” Then Peter grabbed his arm and helped him to his feet. The lame man was healed so that he could instantly stand! He was able to walk and leap without practice. He entered the temple with Peter and John, leaping for joy and praising God. Many who recognized him as the one who was lame for many years were astonished and inspired!

Peter’s Third Speech (3:12-26)

The news of the healing spread rapidly and Peter took advantage of the opportunity to address the crowd, which was eager to know how it happened. Peter recounted how Jesus had been delivered up to Pilate, who actually wanted to release Jesus. Instead, he gave the option to those Jews present, who chose to murder Jesus, the “Prince of Life.” Two wrongs were committed that day, the murder of an innocent man, and freeing a guilty murderer. Peter stated that God raised Jesus from the dead.

Peter continued with gripping detail. Earlier, he told the people that though they and their rulers killed Jesus, they did it in ignorance. Peter then exhorted the crowd to repent so that “times of refreshing may come.” Thus the blotting out of sin must be preceded by repentance of heart. Peter quoted Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15-19) that God would raise up a prophet and that those who do not believe that prophet will be destroyed. Under this prophet, all will be on trial for life in God’s Millennial Kingdom.

In the past, many other prophets had admonished the people of Israel and Judah to repent and turn back to God and to their Law covenant with Him, but with little result. (Punishments followed, as Israel and Judah were conquered by Assyria, Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greece, and Rome.) Finally, Jesus was sent to them. Even though he performed many miracles, they rejected and slew him.

Israel was again punished with the destruction of Jerusalem and scattered throughout the earth. But this final punishment had not yet occurred when Peter spoke to the crowd. Peter concluded his sermon by mentioning that all this was in fulfillment of the promise made to their father Abraham, that in his seed all the families of the earth would be blessed. This was a meaningful encouragement to his Jewish listeners.

Jesus is The Prince of Life

Addressing the people in the Portico of the Temple, Peter said (Acts 3:14-15), “You denied the Holy and Righteous One … and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead.” The expression the “Prince of life,” describes the power Jesus had as the pre-human Logos, the instrumentality God used in creation, in accord with his Father (Acts 4:24).

The evidence for this follows. “In him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible” (Colossians 1:16). “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). “Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6).

After his resurrection, Jesus was exalted and given additional power and authority by God to be the everlasting father (the last Adam), a lifegiving spirit (Isaiah 9:6, 1 Corinthians 15:43). Peter said that Jesus was raised to God’s right hand (Acts 5:31). The power given to Jesus will be exercised on earth during the Millennial Kingdom. The “Prince of Life” describes Jesus’ role in creation, and in bringing life to this dying world through his ransom sacrifice.

Peter and John Arrested (4:1-4)

The priests, captain of the temple, and Sadducees, were annoyed with Peter and John for teaching about Jesus and the resurrection of the dead. They arrested them and kept them in custody overnight. However, the number of disciples swelled to about 5000, influenced by the healing miracle and Peter and John’s words.

Peter’s Fourth Speech (4:5-22)

The next day, Peter and John were called before the Sanhedrin, led by Annas the High Priest. “By what power or by what name” was the lame man healed? Peter answered, “in the name Jesus Christ,” whom they crucified, and whom God raised from the dead. He referred to Psalms 118:22, describing Jesus as the foundation corner stone, whom they rejected. Peter added that there was salvation only through Christ. The council then discussed what to do with them, for it was obvious to all that they had healed the lame man. The council told Peter and John not to “speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus” — Peter and John refused. After further threats the council let them go, as the crowd praised God for the healing.

Approval from God (4:23-31)

After Peter and John were released, brethren praised God for their deliverance, “The rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed” (Psalms 2:1-2). Brethren prayed and asked the Lord to be able to speak and heal through the power of Jesus. They praised God and were filled with the holy Spirit a second time, with confidence to speak about Christ “with boldness.”

Everything Shared in Common (4:32-37)

The apostles and “those who believed” agreed to share what they possessed, which included selling land and houses. The proceeds were laid at the feet of the apostles, and the funds distributed to brethren in need. Barnabas, “son of consolation,” subsequently Paul’s companion, sold his field and gave the money
to the apostles.

This arrangement is described twice. Believers “had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:44-45). “They had everything in common … as many were possessors of land and houses sold them and brought the money from the sale and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (Acts 4:32-35).

This form of idealized communism sprang from unselfish givers, willing to share what they possessed. They likely began this believing that Christ would soon return, and they would have no need of land or houses. Similarly, this selling of land and possessions happened during the Miller movement of the 1840’s. This arrangement was not practical, as evidenced in the account of Ananias and Sapphira, who had lied, reluctant to share everything.

In this type of communal arrangement, some will work harder than others, due to differing abilities and motivation. This disparity can cause jealousy toward those who do not “pull their own weight.” The Apostle Paul perhaps commented on this communal arrangement, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his hands, so that he may be able to give to those in need” (Ephesians 4:28).

Communal living may work for a time for small groups. But for thousands (or millions), it requires a large and righteous government. In modern times, communal arrangements make everyone poor, while those in power lack accountability and get rich. This arrangement reduces the motivation for hard work and minimizes individual responsibility.

Ananias and Sapphira (5:1-11)

Ananias and Sapphira sold a piece of property and pretended to give all of the proceeds, but they held back a portion. Ananias lied about the amount of the sale and was immediately struck dead. When his wife Sapphira arrived later, she also lied about the amount and was also struck dead. This power impacted brethren, creating great awe among the church and all who heard of it. God knows all, He is not mocked, we cannot hide anything from God. These important lessons were evident to the fast-growing body of believers.

Many Signs and Wonders (5:12-26)

Many signs and wonders were performed by the apostles in Solomon’s Portico (likely the eastern side of the temple’s outer court) in this early time. This included healing the sick brought by people around Jerusalem. Due to these miracles and healings (including the removal of unclean spirits), many believed.

The high priest and Sadducees became jealous of these miracles and the resulting growth of believers. They arrested the apostles and imprisoned them. But that night, an angel opened the door, let them out, and told them to keep speaking to the people! When the high priest and council asked for the apostles to be retrieved from prison, the officers found them missing but with the prison doors still locked. They were chagrined to find Peter and John again in the temple “teaching the people.”

Power to Forgive Sins (5:26-42)

The captain and officers brought Peter and John before the council and questioned them again about teaching in the name of Jesus. The apostles answered that they must obey God rather than men. Peter and John again made the provocative statement that the Jews had killed Jesus on a tree, but God had raised him from the dead. However, this time the apostles added the more serious claim that Jesus, having been raised, was sitting on the right hand of God — and that he now had the power to forgive sins.

The council became enraged and wanted to kill Peter and John. However, a Pharisee named Gamaliel (likely the same one who taught Paul, Acts 22:3) advised caution. Gamaliel shared the examples of two men, Theudas and Judas the Galilean, who had hundreds of followers. Both were killed, their followers scattered, and their movements came to nothing.

Gamaliel advised the council to leave these men alone, saying that if Peter and John’s preaching was not of God, it would fail. But if their preaching was of God, the council would “not be able to overthrow them” and they could even be opposing God. The council took his advice. After beating the apostles they freed them, warning them not to “speak in the name of Jesus.” The apostles immediately continued to teach and preach about Jesus!

The Church was now established and growing in the power of the holy Spirit. The miracles and signs wrought through Peter and John fueled the growth of the Church in strength and numbers. Perhaps when Peter and John healed the lame man at the Temple, it reminded them that they, too, were once spiritually lame without the hope of Jesus Christ. Now they were ready to lead the infant Church, by word and by example, through its growth, adversity, and sanctification.

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