Acts 5:21

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. Acts 5:21

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The angel who had set the apostles free from the prison instructed them to go and stand in the temple in order to speak to the people “all the words of this life.” With that instruction, the apostles complied as is evidenced in this verse, beginning with, “And when they heard that.”

It is referring to the apostles. They heard the instruction they were given and having understood, they next immediately complied, as Luke next records that “they entered the temple.”

In this, there isn’t just compliance, but immediate compliance. One might think that they would tell the disciples how they were, what had happened, or where they were going. Or, maybe, after a long night of being in the prison, they might decide to get two hours of sleep or at least stop along the way for a bit of falafel. However, the record indicates that they immediately headed to the temple. Luke notes it was “early in the morning.”

The Greek reads, “at the daybreak.” It is a word used for the third and last time, othros. That comes from oros, meaning a mountain or hill. As such, one gets the sense of the rising of the light and thus the breaking of the day. It is literally as the sun is starting to shoot forth that they entered the temple “and taught.” The verb in Greek is imperfect. Literally, they “were teaching.”

Luke’s words give us the sense of immediate compliance and continued action. This then sets up the words to come. While everyone else was having a nice night of sleep, the apostles were in custody. By the time others were getting up, they were already at the temple teaching. And as the coming events are recorded, they were still in the temple teaching. The narrative continues to unfold with the words, “But the high priest and those with him came.”

This may be the same group noted in Acts 4:6, or it is some other group that happened to be with the high priest at the time. Luke didn’t feel it necessary to name them as he had in verse 4:6, and so it may be that either the eyewitness he interviewed was unsure, or the same people are again together. Having noted this, it says that they “called the council together.”

This would be the entire Sanhedrin. Along with them, Luke next notes, “with all the elders of the children of Israel.” This is a word found only this once in Scripture, gerousia. That is derived from the word gerón, an old man. Thus, it is the body of elders. Vincent’s Word Studies gives a detailed description of who these would be –

“From γέρων, an old man, like the Latin senatus, from senex, old. Taking on very early an official sense, the notion of age being merged in that of dignity. … The word in this passage is the name of the Spartan assembly, Gerousia, the assembly of elders, consisting of thirty members, with the two kings. ‘The well-known term,’ as Meyer remarks, ‘is fittingly transferred from the college of the Greek gerontes to that of the Jewish presbyters.’ They summoned, not only those elders of the people who were likewise members of the Sanhedrim, but the whole council (all the senate) of the representatives of the people.”

The obvious meaning is that the high priest and his associates wanted a full debate over what to do, and they certainly were hoping for a complete crushing of this sect that had arisen. With the elders of the land involved, every city would be apprised of the council’s decision, and they would then work to implement whatever was decided in each city they came from. Once this large body of men was gathered, Luke next notes that they “sent to the prison.”

This is the third description of the place of their incarceration. The first was verse 5:18 and it signified public custody. The next was in verse 5:19, and it was described as a prison. Now, the word desmótérion is used. It is a dungeon, a place of bondage. Hence, the different aspects of their confinement are carefully noted by Luke. First, there is the public custody, then being placed under guard, and finally their being put into bonds.

Noting this, then, adds weight to the miraculous delivery from incarceration. The angel didn’t just walk into a public custody and usher them out, but he loosed them from their bonds, delivered them from the guards, and didn’t stop to sign them out at the register. With them out of the prison, but without the knowledge of this, the great assembled council has sent “to have them brought.”

There will certainly be a surprise and curiosity ahead for all involved in this.

Life application: As has been often noted, Acts is describing the events that occurred. And they really happened. The apostles were safely brought out of a guarded dungeon and then they immediately went out to tell others about the good news of Jesus.

People claim all kinds of fancy things from Acts and apply them to their own doctrine or life situation, but it is not likely that they will ever claim that they fully expect to be delivered miraculously from prison. They may be brought out through the legal system, through an inventive escape plan, or delivered from execution, but it is doubtful people held in prison today go in expecting that an angel will transport them out of the cell and to safety.

In considering this, we see the folly of attempting to turn Acts into prescriptions over things we want to apply to our religious experience, like a visible manifestation of the coming of the Spirit. That is no more prescriptive than is the account now being evaluated. Both merely describe what occurred, they prescribe nothing, and neither is to be considered normative for the church today.

Let us carefully evaluate Acts because it gives us marvelous insights into how the church developed but let us never attempt to co-opt parts of stories for our own experiences when they are simply not going to happen.

It is so very wonderful to know that You have the power to deliver us from all trials and troubles, Lord. But we also know that we have been placed here to experience exactly such things in our walk before You. We are molded, shaped, and formed into more perfect followers of You through such times. And so, Lord, help us to accept such things as precious tools of instruction. Thank You for all such things as this that mold us for Your purposes! Amen.