The Primacy of Jesus’s Resurrection
Acts 4 and 5 continue to describe the ramifications of Peter’s healing in the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Peter again lays out the gospel, and again, the focus is not so much on Jesus’s death as it is on His resurrection and continuing power. Acts 4:10 again describes Jesus’s death as being the fault of the Jewish leaders, and His resurrection being by God. Acts 4:27-28 does place this in the context of God’s hand guiding the whole process:
Acts 4:27-28 “For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together (28) to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done.
But beyond this general admission of God’s sovereign providence, the gospel as it’s preached in these chapters seems to be all about the power of Jesus and His resurrection. For example, Acts 4:33 says, “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.” What was that witness? That quote is in the context of describing the way the believers lived together – in mutual love, sharing their property in common, with great grace. All of that spoke somehow to the resurrection of Jesus. Why does that life of love have anything to do with Jesus’s resurrection? Because they all believed (rightly) that this new life of mutual love was only possible if Christ was somehow living in them.
Obedience to God / Acting As If From Oneself
One of my favorite passages in these two chapters is Acts 5:29-32:
(29) But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. (30) The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. (31) Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. (32) And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”
There’s a lot in here that I love. First of all, once again, the emphasis is on God’s primary role as being to raise up Jesus, after His death came at the hands of the Jewish authorities. Jesus has been raised up to the right hand of God to be Prince and Savior.
As it is throughout the book of Acts, God and Jesus can seem to be two separate persons; but references to “God’s right hand” and calling Jesus “Savior” hint at the deeper truth, that Jesus is God’s manifestation and power, and therefore God Himself in human form.
In calling Him Savior, Peter is once again assigning one of Jehovah’s names to Jesus. Isaiah 43:11 says, “I, even I, am Jehovah, And besides Me there is no savior.”
And the image of God’s right is found throughout the Old Testament, and always as a part of God. Psalm 98:1 speaks of God’s right hand: “Oh, sing to the LORD a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory.” Throughout the psalms, there is reference to God saving with His right hand or arm (e.g. Psalm 60:5, 108:6, 138:7). The right hand here clearly does not mean His literal right hand, but His Divine power, and especially His power to save.
But the most notable thing here, I think, is the summary of Jesus’s mission: to be exalted to the right hand of God, as Prince and Savior, and “to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins.” Jesus came to offer repentance as a gift. Without His coming, repentance would have been impossible, and so he came to give that – and it is in that gift of repentance that Israel’s sins are forgiven.
One big emphasis in Emanuel Swedenborg’s writings is on the need for a person to obey God as if from himself while acknowledging that any of that ability comes from the Lord Jesus Christ alone. I think this verse suggests that same thing. Again and again, the apostles admonished the people to repent. Clearly it was something that they were encouraged to do of their own volition. And yet here the truth of the matter is shown: it is Jesus who, in overcoming Satan and being raised to power, gives that opportunity and power to repent.
And verse 32 drives this home: “And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.” To some Protestants, the idea that the Holy Spirit would be given as a result of obedience may be squirm-inducing at best, heresy at worst. And yet, that seems to be the plain meaning here – God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey Him. Now, of course, the ability to obey in the first place comes from God’s presence with a person, so the Holy Spirit must be working on a person even before he can be said to have been given the Holy Spirit. But this verse is another clear indication that there is something a person has to do, effort he has to put in, to even receive the Lord’s presence. That effort is the effort to repent and obey the Lord, and that repentance and obedience opens a person up to receiving the Holy Spirit. That same message is present throughout the gospels, too, especially in the gospel of John, where it is said that those who do the truth come to the light (John 3:21), that those who do the Father’s will would know that Jesus’s doctrine was true (John 7:17), that abiding in the truth leading to discipleship leads to knowing the truth and being made free (John 8:31,32), that if they were Abraham’s seed they would do the works of Abraham and believe in Jesus (John 8:39-41), that if they had been of God they would hear Jesus (John 8:47), etc. (Joel Willits had a blog post a while back about this Johannine theology of obedience, and the difficulty some of his students had with the second half of a quote by Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Only the believing obey, only the obedient believe”.)
Does that mean that the person is trying to earn his own salvation? No. If he sees even his ability to obey as a gift from God, there’s no merit attached to it. It’s as if the Lord is pouring out salvation, and the person simply hold his cup upright to have it filled. And even that ability to hold the cup is from God. No one in that position would say they’d earned salvation – and yet, there is something they have to do on their part to receive it, and that something, as indicated in Acts anyway, seems to consist in repentance, obedience, and faith in Jesus Christ.