Acts 5:17-42: Another Look at Persecution


I would like to finish off chapter five in the Book of Acts and take another look at persecution. A few weeks ago, I gave a teaching on persecution out of the Book of Acts. In this teaching, we are going to look at another instance of persecution of the apostles. We know that in today’s world many Christians face persecution daily, and the number is continuing to increase. Sadly, there is not much attention regarding this issue as there needs to be. I encourage you to take some time and pray for the Christians around the world being tortured and killed for their faith in Jesus Christ.

The Apostles Imprisoned

In my last teaching we discussed an instance of healing in the Book of Acts from Acts 5:12-16, in this teaching I would like to pick up at verse 17 and go all the way to the end of the fifth chapter. So, I hope you have time to read this post in its entirety because this will be a bit longer than usual! Acts 5:17-18 (NKJV) tells us, “Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation,  and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison.”.  Notice in the scripture the word indignation, which means jealousy. The high priest and the council became jealous of the apostles. This issue was not only due to their unbelief but the growing number of crowds around the apostles. The apostles were getting attention from people, and the high priests did not like this because the apostle’s teachings hindered their tradition. Because of the jealousy of the high priests, the apostles were put in jail. Continuing on something awesome takes place in the next two verses, Acts 5:19-20 (NKJV) says, “But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said,  “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.”. An angel of the Lord appeared to them at night and freed them from jail, but also gave instruction to go to the temple and preach. Acts 5:21-24 (NKJV) goes on to tell us, “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. But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, saying, “Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!”  Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be.”. They discovered the apostles were gone from the prison and they are now wondering what will take place next. I am sure many thoughts were going through their minds because the high priest already had a previous encounter with the apostles regarding their teachings of Jesus Christ.

Spirit of Religion Manifested

Acts 5:25-26 (NKJV) continues, “So one came and told them, saying, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” Then the captain went with the officers and brought them without violence, for they feared the people, lest they should be stoned.”. The high priests became informed that the apostles were teaching in the temple, the police of the temple go to confront the apostles with the high priests. Notice in the scripture they avoid violence around the crowd because the crowd that was listening to the apostles was responding positively to their message. The apostles are then questioned by the high priest in Acts 5:28 (NKJV), “saying, “Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!””. The high priests and council are more concerned with maintaining their authority rather than focusing on the truth. We know that Jesus is the truth, John 14:6 (NKJV) confirms, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”.  The high priests and the Sanhedrin council had a religious spirit oppressing them, this even took place in the earthly ministry of Jesus. Some people refer to this as a Pharisee spirit, I would like to call it a spirit of religion where one is more concerned about traditions rather than Biblical truth. There are many churches today who still focus on tradition rather than the truth. But we know the truth is what sets us free, and Jesus is the truth. We know John 8:32 (NKJV) tells us, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”.

A Bold Response from the Apostles

Continuing in the Book of Acts, the apostles begin a response to the high priests. We know from previous readings in the Book of Acts the apostles spoke boldly because they are filled with the Holy Spirit, hence why we all need the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Acts 5:29 (NKJV) tells us, “But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”. The apostles bring up an excellent point here, we are to obey the law of the land, but when the law of the land conflicts with God’s Word we are to obey God’s Word. Just because Congress passes a law legalizing something does not make it Biblically correct. Just because the Supreme Court makes it legal does not mean it is fine with God. Lastly, just because the Pope says it is acceptable, does not change what the Word of God says. The apostles continue their response in Acts 5:30-32 (NKJV), “The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree.  Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him.”. As we know the apostles speak boldly because of the power they have from being filled with the Holy Spirit. In my previous teachings, I discussed how Peter’s teachings cut through the hearts of many people. Well, the teaching of the apostles in this instance did the same thing! Acts 5:33 (KJV) says, “When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.”. While we are to be loving and gentle, with the Word of God people will become offended at times, so do not be surprised when someone becomes offended when you quote scripture. Hebrews 4:12 (KJV) tells us, “For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”.

The Sanhedrin’s Response

While the Sanhedrin’s were upset over the apostle’s response a Pharisee rises and makes a statement. Acts 5:34 (NKJV) continues, “Then one in the council stood up, a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in respect by all the people and commanded them to put the apostles outside for a little while.”. Gamaliel cools their rage and suggest for them to let the apostles alone. Acts 5:38 (NKJV) goes on to tell us, “And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God.”. Gamaliel was a Pharisee and they believed that if something was of God it would come to pass, so he suggested to see what God does with the apostles. However, Acts 5:40 (NKJV) continues, “And they agreed with him, and when they had called for the apostles and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.”. The apostles were beaten, and they are told again to not preach in the name of Jesus again. When the apostles departed, they still continued to preach in the temple regardless of what the high priests commanded them, Acts 5:42 (NKJV) says, “And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”.  We are reminded that when we evangelize we may not be treated well, 1 Peter 4:13-16 (NKJV) tells us, “but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.  If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified.  But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters.  Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in this matter.”.

Personal Evangelism

This teaching should remind us of the example and standard that the apostles set for going out and preaching the Gospel to others. They did not let persecution get in their way. Today with modern technology, we have fewer restrictions than they do. We are without excuse to evangelize. We are all to go outside of our church’s walls and witness to others, this is personal evangelism. There are a few tips I would like to give you when it comes to personal evangelism along with scriptures:

  1. Use Scripture:
    • 2 Timothy 3:16 (NKJV): “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness,”
  2. Lead by Example (Don’t fall for the sinful customs of the world)
    • 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV): “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
    • 2 Timothy 2:15 (ERV): “Do your best to be the kind of person God will accept, and give yourself to him. Be a worker who has no reason to be ashamed of his work, one who applies the true teaching in the right way.”.
    • 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (ERV): “You should know that your body is a temple[a] for the Holy Spirit that you received from God and that lives in you. You don’t own yourselves. 20 God paid a very high price to make you his. So honor God with your body.”.
  3. Bear Good Fruit (Nine Fruits of Holy Spirit)
    • Matthew 7:15-20 (NKJV): ““Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Therefore by their fruits you will know them.”.
    • Galatians 5:22-23 (AMP): “But the fruit of the Spirit [the result of His presence within us] is love [unselfish concern for others], joy, [inner] peace, patience [not the ability to wait, but how we act while waiting], kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.”.
  4. Be Prepared to Answer Questions with Gentleness and Love
    • 1 Peter 3:15 (NKJV): “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;”
  5. Be Available, Not Limited
    • Mark 16:15 (NKJV): “And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.”.
    • D.L. Moody once said “I like my way of doing evangelism, better than your way of not doing evangelism”.

I encourage you to take some time and reflect on this teaching, ask yourself how you can reach out to people and bring the Gospel to them. It doesn’t mean you have to travel to another country, but maybe people in your neighborhood, school, workplace, or even Facebook friends. We all have many opportunities we can take advantage of to preach the Gospel to others.

Please be sure to stay tuned for my next teaching, which will be from chapter six in the Book of Acts.