Purification from Within; Persecution From Without; The Second Trial – All The Emissaries Before The Sanhedrin
It is obvious that this is not a perfect world. And it is obvious that none of us are perfect people. What is the source of this imperfection around us and within us? The source of this imperfection isn’t politics or economic injustice or war or terrorism or the environment. The source of our imperfection is our alienation from our Creator. Until we understand this Creator-creature alienation, we won’t take the appropriate action to end our shattered relationship – which is the source of all our problems.
The Word of God reveals the source of the Creator-creature alienation. Very early in human history, our first parents rebelled against our Creator, and became alienated from Him. Sin, confusion, chaos ensued and took control of humanity.
Adam and Eve (who were very real people) were alienated from the Creator. Instead of getting closer to God, Adam and Eve ran away from Him. Not just their relationship to God was corrupted, but every aspect of who they were was affected. Their bodies, their souls, their wills, their minds, their spirits – all became corrupted. They were not allowed to eat from the Tree of Life and were exiled from the delightful Garden of Eden. They were not headed toward life but death – the First Death – physical death, followed by the Second Death – Gehenna, Hell, the Lake of Fire (which is also a real place).
The consequences of the alienation of our first parents from the Creator were transmitted to all of their descendants. That ruining of body, soul, will, mind, spirit, relationship to God, that loss of eternal life – all of it was passed on like a horrible disease, infecting all of their descendants – you and me.
Because our alienation from God has so corrupted our nature, there is not enough we can do on our own to end this alienation or its many tragic consequences. We can never be good enough or religious enough to fully atone or end our alienation from the Creator or overcome the real and deadly forces of Satan, sin and death. All human efforts are inadequate.
But what we are utterly incapable of doing on our own, God is completely capable of accomplishing! The good and merciful Creator had a plan to rescue ruined humanity from our horrible and hopeless condition. God the Father sent His eternal Son whom He loves on a great mission to save many human beings. The Son of God left Heaven and through the incarnation, came into this world and became a human being. The Son of God was born into the Chosen People. The young carpenter from Nazareth became Israel’s Messiah – our ultimate Prophet, Priest and King and Savior.
Rabbi Yeshua lived a perfect, sinless, Torah-observing God-honoring life. Rabbi Yeshua taught us great truths, was used by His Father to do tremendous miracles, showing He was close to God, and would be the miraculous healer and helper and Savior of humanity and the rest of creation.
Then, He accomplished His greatest work of all. The Son of God willingly allowed Himself to be whipped, beaten, spit on, humiliated, stripped naked and crucified! By dying in this way, the Messiah became the ultimate sacrifice to fully and completely atone for all of humanity’s sins, and end our alienation from our Creator.
Because He was sinless and perfect and innocent, and always well-pleasing to His Father, death could not hold Yeshua, and the Son of God was resurrected, thereby overcoming our great enemies – Satan, sin and death.
After the Resurrected Rabbi revealed Himself to His disciples, and gave them further teaching, the Son of God returned to Heaven, to the place of greatest honor and authority – the right hand of God the Father. From there the Father and the Son poured out the Spirit They share on Yeshua’s disciples. With the empowering presence of the Spirit they would continue the Son of God’s great mission to save many of alienated humanity. Those first Messianic Jews became a unified and loving and worshiping and witnessing fellowship that would continue the Messiah’s great mission to bring the Good News of salvation to the world – starting with the Jewish people first.
Messiah’s Holy Community had been growing! Starting in Jerusalem with 120, on Shavuot they had grown to 3,000. With the miracle that took place at the Yaffa (Beautiful) gate, the community had grown to 5,000.
Well, the Yeshua-rejecting leaders of the Chosen Nation didn’t like what was happening, and Peter and John were arrested and tried before Israel’s Senate, the Sanhedrin. After hearing from Peter and John, the political and religious leaders of the Chosen People made their decision: Yeshua would not be acknowledged as the Messiah. Yeshua’s resurrection would not be acknowledged. Yeshua’s followers would be rejected by the leaders and the majority of the people who trusted the leaders. Yeshua’s followers would be threatened with punishments and ostracism to try and intimidate them into silence or compliance.
The community united and prayed for courage to endure the opposition, and prayed that God would empower them to bring the Good New about salvation to the rest of the nation. They would not be intimidated! They would not compromise! They would not be silent! They withstood this early, crucial test!
Then they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness. And they were united. And, they cared for and supported one another. Those who had material possessions sold them and brought the proceeds of the sales to the emissaries, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. Almost everyone was loving and generous to those who were in need, and operating from good motives – but not everyone. There were some tares among the wheat. That’s dangerous to a community based on faith and righteousness and integrity. A few fakes among the faithful can do a lot of damage. Their hypocrisy can discourage the faith and endurance of others. The tares needed to be weeded out to maintain the holiness and power and integrity of this Most Special Fellowship. The community would not only have to undergo opposition from without, but it would have to be purified from within. And, that was about to happen.
Like Barnabas and others, Annanias and Sapphira sold some property; but unlike Barnabas and others, Annanias and Sapphira kept some of the money of the sale for themselves, and gave the rest to Yeshua’s special representatives. This husband and wife conspired together and claimed that they had given all of the proceeds of the sale to the community. They lied to the community. They wanted to seem more generous than they really were. They wanted to look good to the community. They were more concerned about looking good to men, than being good with God.
Lying to the community was a very serious sin because lying to God’s community is the same as lying to the Holy Spirit. These were not ordinary men and this was no ordinary community! God’s Spirit lived in this Community. And lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God, because the Holy Spirit is God! This Community was indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This community was very close to God, and God was very close to this community. And, God would not allow this kind of lying, this kind of “fear men more than fear God” attitude to infect this community.
The Lord used Peter to deal with this situation. Peter confronted Annanias (which is one reason why men need to be leaders. Leading a community means confronting very difficult situations and difficult people – something men are better suited for) and just like Uzzah who touched the Ark and instantly was killed, or the two sons of Aaron, Nadav and Avihu, offered strange fire and were immediately incinerated by the Lord’s supernatural fire, Annanias was killed by the Lord – suddenly, supernaturally, miraculously.
Annanias was taken out and buried, and his wife came around about three hours later, and didn’t know what had happened to her husband. Peter of course knew, and confronted her, and asked her about the specific price of the sale, and instead of telling the truth, she lied, and the Lord immediately and supernaturally killed her too. This reinforced that what had happened to Annanias was no coincidence! God was most definitely at work, judging and purifying His Community.
The response of the community was fear – even greater respect for God, even greater respect for the leaders. I am sure that many started thinking: Wow! I had better be more careful! I had better not sin, because the Holy God is very close to this community, and maybe He will do the same thing to me if I cross moral and ethical boundaries like Annanias and Saphira.
During my time of service to the Lord, functioning as God’s representative, I have had some people lie to me. Now, I am not an apostle, but I do serve the Lord, and lying to any of God’s servants is a really bad and dangerous thing to do!
The Community had prayed for God to empower them, and He wonderfully answered that prayer! At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people (not just a few miracles but many miracles happened, which benefitted many Jewish people. But, the miracles were limited to Yeshua’s special emissaries, showing that they were closest to God and the God-ordained, God-empowered leaders); and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Colonnade (courageously meeting in the very heart of the religious life of the nation, the place closest to God on Earth).
But none of the rest dared to associate with them (because the people knew that the leaders did not accept them, and the majority of people generally follow their leaders); however, the people held them in high esteem. The people outwardly followed the leaders, but inwardly they very much respected the Messianic community. Authorities can enforce outward compliance, but it is much more difficult for them to win the minds and hearts of people.
The community was opposed by the leaders of the nation, and isolated from the majority of the people. But they were courageous and they endured! And, that made a great impression on many. Courage, love, teaching from the Scriptures that pointed to Yeshua being the Messiah that made more and more sense, miracles that validated the message – that was very attractive. And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number.
First 120, then 3000, 5000, now they were growing by hundreds and thousands! This great growth was part of the “greater works than these”, the greater response, the greater harvest than Yeshua Himself ever saw!
Not only were their numbers growing, but the miracles that were happening and the good they were doing were multiplying. To such an extent that they even carried the sick out into the streets and laid them on cots and pallets, so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on any one of them. Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed. Like Yeshua was empowered to do many miracles, and bring physical and spiritual healing to Israel, so were His representatives – especially Peter.
Authorities will tolerate small movements that oppose them, but once the small movements gain momentum and numbers, and can threaten the power of the authorities, a repressive response can be expected. This was about to happen – not directed against the entire community, but toward the leaders. But, the Yeshua-opposing authorities were about to learn that it is not so easy to oppose those who are favored by God because they were representatives of the truth!
So, there was purification from within. Next, Luke tells us about the persecution that happened from without: But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy (concerned about the growing influence of Yeshua’s followers and jealous of their growing popularity), they laid hands on the emissaries and put them in a public jail. The opposition targeted the heads of Messiah’s Holy Community (cut off the head and the body will die). But, great powers were protecting the leaders of this special fellowship.
But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life”. They had been released by a heavenly messenger. One of God’s angelic servants enabled them to escape from prison and a second trial which would be conducted by hostile authorities. The apostles were out of danger! They could escape to a place of safety! But, safety was not their goal – as the angel made clear. Their priority was to tell the Jewish people everything we needed to know about life – how we were far from eternal life, and how we could gain eternal life through the Messiah.
And, they were to go to the most visible and public place, the very center of the opposition which had just arrested and imprisoned them! Talk about holy chutzpah! Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
Luke, who was a great storyteller, informs us that the authorities were mystified by this supernatural escape. Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside”. Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this.
Their perplexity increased after hearing the following news: But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people”! You can imagine them thinking: How could this be? Who let those men out of jail? How did they escape? Were some prison guards loyal to them and helped them escape? How could they be in the temple teaching the people! This is totally unacceptable!
This was an unusual and very serious and complicated and delicate situation. Therefore the captain of the temple police personally accompanied his officers to re-arrest the escapees. Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
The Sanhedrin had been convened and was ready for the apostles’ second trial. When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council.
The high priest questioned them. We know a matter is important when the religious leader of the nation gets personally involved, and not one of his representatives. That tells us that this was a very important matter. The future of Israel was at stake. The leaders had gotten rid of the annoying young Rabbi from Nazareth, but somehow His followers were still around and growing. Would Yeshua’s messianic movement keep on growing? Could it be stopped? How? Would Yeshua’s key leaders need to be imprisoned or executed? Would the rest of the community cave in if they were? Who would be the religious thought-leaders of the nation? The future of the holy nation was at stake, and that nation was the light to the rest of the other nations of the world!
The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us”. Israel’s highest religious authority expressed two concerns regarding the apostles’ teachings. First, he was offended that his authority had been defied. We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching. And second, he was concerned that the result of the teaching would be that he and his associates would be held accountable for Yeshua’s death. You intend to bring this man’s blood upon us. He wanted assurance from Yeshua’s representatives that his authority would be respected and that he and his associates would not be blamed for Yeshua’s death.
But, even though it would cost them, Yeshua’s ambassadors would not give them those assurances. They would continue declaring the truth. They would not compromise or yield to threats or fear – no matter what the cost. But Peter and the apostles answered (Peter most likely being the spokesman for all of them), “We must obey God rather than men”. God’s laws are higher than man’s laws, and when the two conflict, as they did here, the right thing to do was engage in civil disobedience. In matters in which the high priest was issuing decrees contrary to the will of God, his authority could not be obeyed.
And, they would continue to speak the truth and tell the facts about Yeshua’s death. And, the facts were that the high priest and his associates were responsible for the death of the Messiah. But, God had overruled their criminal actions! The God of our fathers raised up Yeshua, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand (Yeshua was alive, he had risen from the dead – a teaching that the High Priest and the Sadducees denied. Not only was Rabbi Yeshua alive, but He had ascended to Heaven.
Not only had He ascended to Heaven, He had been honored by the God of Israel, and put in the place of greatest honor in the universe!) as a Prince and a Savior, (God had made it clear that Yeshua was a very great prince, the God-ordained leader of human beings, and the Savior of humanity, and humanity is in the most desperate need of this salvation that Prince Yeshua can provide!) to grant repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins (even though the nation of Israel was the Chosen Nation, we were far from God and far from a good understanding of truth, and we desperately needed repentance. The nation needed to turn away from many wrong things and turn to God’s ways of thinking and doing the right things. We needed God’s help to turn in the right directions. We also needed the ultimate atonement that God had promised in the Garden of Eden, a much greater atonement than the sacrifices at the temple could provide. We needed the forgiveness of our sins. That forgiveness was connected to Rejected Rabbi Yeshua).
And we are witnesses of these things; (Peter claimed that the 12 of them saw Yeshua die and rise and ascend. 12 is far more than enough witnesses to confirm a matter. And there was another, even greater witness – the Spirit of the Creator. And so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him”.
Peter was saying: The Holy Spirit is living in us! He is speaking through us. He is doing miracles through us. He is close to us and we are close to him, and we speak for Him, and the evidence is the miracles that He is using us to do. Why? Because we are the one who truly obey God. We are His faithful servants – not you. You are disobedient. You don’t have the Holy Spirit. You are not close to God, and He is not close to you. You have seriously erred!
Talk about speaking truth to power! Talk about boldness! Talk about courage! Talk about having a prophetic, truth-speaking ministry. This was one of the very greatest examples of it!
People generally don’t like hearing truths that challenge them, that make them look bad – especially those who are in positions of power. But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick (they were furious, and reacted out of great anger) and intended to kill them. But God is greater than the anger of man, and is able to turn leaders, even angry leaders, in the direction He wants, and He didn’t want to have the 12 killed. So, the Lord used a prominent Torah-teacher to prevent the emissaries from being executed. But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Torah, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time.
He advised a cautious, middle of the road, indecisive, put off the decision until later approach. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God”. Gamaliel understood that things were happening that indicated that God could been at work among these Messianic Jews – but maybe not. The truth was that this was not the time for indecision, but for decision – deciding to accept the truths that the apostles were declaring. But, Gamaliel was not sure of things. But, better Gamaliel’s “Don’t kill the apostles – let’s wait” strategy rather than a “Let’s kill them now” approach of the High Priest many others.
The Lord’s will overruled, and those who were at first wanted to kill the apostles concurred with Gamaliel. They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged (they were thoroughly whipped, which was very painful and humiliating) them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Yeshua, and then released them. Did this pain and humiliation intimidate them into silence? Did it depress them so that they wanted to quit? No. So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. What a great attitude! What a marvelous example of courage and boldness and hope they set for the rest of us!
And, even though they had suffered in this way, they were not intimidated into silence by the authorities. They remained faithful to do what the Lord wanted them to do. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Yeshua as the Messiah.
May we become more and more like this great and model Community – close to God and pure and powerful and loving and a bold witnessing fellowship!