A few reactions to Acts 5

A few reactions to Acts 5 May 30, 2020

 

J'lem Temple model
The remarkable model of Herod’s Temple at the Israel Museum, in Jerusalem.  The long structure with a red roof at the left is a representation of “Solomon’s Portico” as archaeologists think that it may have appeared.   (Wikimedia Commons public domain photograph)

 

I continue to be impressed by the change between the behavior of the apostles on the Saturday before the first Easter (as recorded in the gospels) and the behavior that is recorded in the first chapters of Acts.  These men have gone, within the space of a very short time, from cowering fear to fearless public advocacy.  Note, for example, Acts 5:27-33:

 

27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them,28 saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them.

  • Peter and John had already spent a night in prison (Acts 4:3), and they had been ordered to stop preaching about Jesus (4:18) — an order with which they expressly and candidly refused to comply (4:19-20).
  • Now, they are standing yet again before the highest authority figures in Judaism, the highest in their nation besides the Roman occupation.  The high priest charges them with violating his order (5:28).  Peter and the apostles not only don’t deny it, they say “We must obey God rather than men” (5:29).  That’s rather . . . well, cheeky.  After all, the high priest effectively claims to speak for God.
  • The high priest, sounding almost rather hurt, complains that “you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (5:28).  Do Peter and the apostles deny the complaint or try to soften it?  Not even slightly.  (How could they?  The high priest was Annas, and with him was Caiphas.  These two men were directly responsible for Jesus’ execution.)  “You killed [Jesus] by hanging him on a tree,” they say (5:30).  “We are witnesses to these things,” they add (5:32).
  • And, once again, they place God in direct opposition to the high priest and his party: The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed . . .  God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior . . . And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (5:30-32).  Presumably Annas and Caiphas are not listed among those who obey God and enjoy the Holy Spirit.
  • Is it any wonder that, when Annas and Caiphas and the other grandees of ancient Jerusalem heard these words, “they were enraged and wanted to kill them” (5:33)?

 

In the end, Luke records of Annas and his associates that

 

they beat them [the apostles] and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.  (5:40-41)

 

These are not the beaten, defeated, and fearful apostles who fled on Good Friday and hid from the authorities on Holy Saturday.  They have been utterly and completely transformed.

 

On other matters:

 

It takes little imagination to visualize the likely reaction of today’s secular anti-Mormons to the horrible story told in Acts 5:1-11.  They would denounce the materialism and exploitative greed of the Church’s leaders, even though there is no more evidence that the ancient apostles were enriching themselves at the expense of the membership then than there is against the modern apostles today.  The Church would be denounced as being “all about money,” more a business than a spiritual movement, and so forth.  And certainly there is far more evidence of financial offerings being “mandatory” and “coerced” in the Christian movement of Acts 5:1-11 than there is for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints today.  (And yet precisely that accusation is not uncommonly leveled against the modern Church.)

 

Also, the apostles certainly spend a great deal of time in the temple, according to Acts 5:

 

12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico.

20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.

25 And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.”

42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.

 

Obviously, of course, the temple is a central and very public place and a good location in which to preach to substantial audiences of religiously-minded people.  But it’s tempting to conclude, as well, that the apostles continued to venerate the temple.  There is no particular evidence here that they had rejected it as irrelevant, although many subsequent generations of Christians have claimed precisely that.

 

 


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