The Jealousy of the Leaders Part 2 of 8
by John Lowe
(Laurens SC, USA)
The question might be asked, “Why didn’t the apostles mention their miraculous delivery when they were ordered to testify before the Sanhedrin?” At no time did these men of God dwell on miracles performed by them or on their behalf, except when those miracles were observed by men, or were used as signs of the divine power of Almighty God working in and for the Church through members of the church. Therefore it would have been foreign to the character of the apostles had they entered into a description of this miracle which had not been witnessed by those before whom they testified. No member of the council saw the angel of the Lord that night, and for the apostles to use their deliverance as grounds for their claim that they were servants of Jehovah God would only have brought down upon them the wrath of the Sanhedrin because the Sadducees would not have believed them!
We might note that when criminals escape from jail they immediately go into hiding—but that is not what these men did. They did not arrange their own escape. God delivered and then told them exactly what to do. They were to make no attempt to conceal themselves, and they were to return to the same place where they had taught and performed miracles, and they were to continue to teach the same thing. There was to be no interruption in their ministry.
Please note, too, that they were not to appeal to the multitudes for sympathy, or try to excite the crowds to rise up against the Sanhedrin. They were simply to return to their former place in the Temple and continue to teach the people the wonderful words of life—“THIS LIFE”—life after death, eternal life through faith in the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ came into the world to provide abundant and eternal life to spiritually dead people (John 11.25ii).
21 And when they heard that, they entered into the Temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
“Early in the morning”—We are not told the hour; it could have been even as early as dawn, and it could have been at sunrise—but at a very early hour the apostles went back to the Temple to take up their ministry where they had stopped (the night before) when they were arrested and taken to prison. The time they spent in prison did not shake their faith or courage.
“But the high priest came, and they that were with him.” Evidently, these men came to the council chamber to discuss what should be done to their prisoners—who were no longer prisoners (which was unknown to the Sanhedrin) but were already back at work preaching the same message they had been arrested and imprisoned for preaching!
The priest and “they that were with him . . . called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel.” This was considered by them to be a very important matter and therefore the combined wisdom of the religious authorities was hastily gathered together for this meeting. We know Gamaliel was there (v. 34), and this would indicate that not only Sadducees were present, but also all of the religious leaders and rulers of that day (including Pharisees, who disagreed with the Sadducees on the issue of the resurrection and angels).
Some Bible commentators believe that the “council” here refers to the smaller Sanhedrin and “the senate” means the older men, the great Sanhedrin made up of seventy-one elders, men who were added to the council because of their age, character, and knowledge of religious matters. Bible history and antiquity—as well as Jewish literature—tell us that such advisors were often appointed to set with the council in matters of such importance as the interrogation and trial of the apostles. And when these religious leaders were all assembled, they “sent to the prison” to have the prisoners brought to them.
22 But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told,
23 Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.
The term “officers” here seems to imply a military body, but they could have been members of the Levitical guard.
If there is any doubt that a miracle occurred here, verse 23 certainly removes that doubt. Even the prison guards—“the keepers standing without before the doors”—did not know their prisoners were missing! The closed doors had not been disturbed and the guards naturally assumed the prisoners were still inside. Silently, without disturbing locks or doors, God had removed His men from the prison cell—and not even the prison guards suspected that anything unusual had occurred until they opened the door the next morning and discovered the prisoners were gone.
This is the same sort of thing that happened at the resurrection of Jesus. The stone wasn’t rolled away to let Jesus out; He was out before the stone was rolled away. The stone was moved to let those on the outside come in. The same thing happened here. The doors did not need to be opened to let the apostles get out. They were out long before the doors were unlocked.
There is a touch of humor in this situation when we think about the shock and perhaps even fear that was produced within this distinguished assembly. Luke describes that assembly with cautious accuracy as the senate and council that is the greater and lesser Sanhedrin. Try to imagine them assembled in their robes, and dignity, and glory; everything in readiness except the prisoners. While they waited, messengers were sent to the prison, only to discover their absolute helplessness in the presence of the divine movement, because the messengers returned alone to tell them that the prisoners had escaped. And they had no explanation to offer for how they accomplished their prison break. I would imagine they brought the guards back with them to tell the story.
24 Now when the high priest and the captain of the Temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.
The “captain of the Temple” was not a military officer, but had charge of the Temple guard which was made up of priests and Levites—men who watched over the Temple to preserve order and prevent any disturbance. The captain of the Temple, who was a member of the Sanhedrin, is mentioned in Acts 4.1iii, and the Old Testament speaks of an officer whose title was “the ruler of the house of God” (1 Chron. 9.11iv).
The “chief priests” were the heads of the high priestly families and priests who had previously held the office of high priest and who continued to retain the title. These officials of the Sanhedrin apparently felt that the Christians had won converts within the circle of the Temple guards, and it looked as if this new movement would grow out of control.
“These things” heard by the high priest, the captain of the Temple, and the chief priests were simply the report which the officers brought back concerning the miraculous disappearance of the apostles when they were thought to be safely locked in a prison cell.
“They doubted of them whereunto this would grow.” These dignitaries and religious leaders were at a complete loss as to what to do about this matter. What steps should they take next to prevent things from getting out of hand? If news of this happening should spread among the common people, there was no way of knowing what might happen. They must find a way to put a stop to it—but they were at a loss to know how this could be done.
It is interesting to note that when the apostles were brought before the religious leaders they were not questioned concerning how they escaped from prison. It is clear the magistrates wanted no further testimony concerning the supernatural power by which these men had wrought their mighty miracles—and they especially wanted to avoid any testimony about their miraculous deliverance from behind the locked doors where they had been imprisoned. These religious leaders were not ignorant about the resurrection of Jesus. They had been careful to station guards at His sepulcher, and when those guards came to them on the resurrection morning and told them “all the things that were done,” they bribed the soldiers and instructed them to say that they had fallen asleep on guard, and while they slept the apostles had come and stole the body of their Lord from the tomb (Matt. 28.11-14). So the chief priests and members of this body of religious rulers knew very well that a miracle had occurred in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and they knew as well that a miracle had released these apostles from prison; but they wanted no further publicity about it. The Sadducees denied the resurrection, but they faced here a miracle which they could neither deny nor explain away. Therefore they chose to ignore it.