Reading Plan – Acts 5:12-42
Solomon’s Portico was on the eastern side of Herod’s temple overlooking the Kidron Valley and facing the Mount of Olives. It was a beautiful covered and colonnaded area where the Jews could gather in sight of the temple. Jesus taught there at the Feast of Dedication (John 20:23). Multitudes were drawn there after the healing of the lame man (Acts 3:11). Now as Acts 5:12 begins, the Portico was the place where the apostles preached and performed “many signs and wonders” before ever increasing crowds. Word had quickly spread out from Jerusalem into the countryside that even if Peter’s shadow fell on a sick person, they were immediately healed. (“In the old covenant, you became unclean – ceremonially dead – if you came under the shadow of a leprous house or entered the house containing a dead body. Now the shadow of God’s new house – His people – heals”).
It was a soul stirring and spirit filled time for the emerging church. There was a great sense of unity; a deep and abiding trust in God’s power; and a single-mindedness of purpose that characterized this growing Christian community as the Holy Spirit began moving the Gospel from Jerusalem “into all Judaea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
Besides the apostles, the cast of characters in the text before us includes an angry and envious high priest; the perpetually indignant and self-righteous Sadducees (who conspired with the high priest to arrest the apostles for yet a second and third time); and one of the most famous and honored men of his time, the rabbi Gamaliel.
As the apostles were awaiting trial following their second arrest, during the night a messenger from The Lord supernaturally released them with the mandate to “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the word of this Life” (Acts 5:20). When the officials found the missing apostles, they were doing just that – boldly proclaiming the Gospel once again in the very temple that the high priest and Jewish rulers controlled. Predictably, once again they were arrested. At this point, fearing the reaction of the people, the enraged Jewish council was, for the time being, treating the apostles with courtesy. While Peter could have, no doubt, instigated some sort protest over the arrests, he did not, but rather with unwavering boldness, he laid the blame of Jesus’ crucifixion at the feet of the Jews, making it clear to the Sanhedrin that the same Jesus whom they put to death was risen and was seated at God’s right hand. “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, exalting him at his right hand…we are witnesses to these things” (Acts 5:29-32).
Meanwhile, Gamaliel, a Pharisee and a teacher of the law, was the voice of logic among the strident voices on the council. Before making his case, he ordered the apostles be put out of the room. He then posed his argument from precedent. Why these Christians were nothing new! Look at history, he says! This has happened before! Remember Theudas? Remember Judas the Galilean? Their claims and ambitions came to nothing! So, keep away from these Christians…leave them alone…if this undertaking is of man, it will fail…if it is of God, you will not be able to defeat them! “You might even be found opposing God!” (Acts 5:35-39). This time the apostles were beaten, but continued “day after day…they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah” (Acts 5:42).
That the early church would grow and thrive as it did “rips a great hole in history, a hole of the size and shape of the Resurrection” (C.F.D. Moule). This is what the apostles witnessed and proclaimed even unto death, and all these centuries later, this is what we, the church, believe by faith to be true.