The commotion connected to the healing of the lame man reached the temple authorities. They were annoyed at the message of Peter and John and arrested them (4:1 indicates that John had joined Peter in speaking to the crowd). It is interesting to note how Luke describes the message of the apostles – he says that they were proclaiming the resurrection of the dead through Christ. This message would have been very offensive to the priests and Sadducees because they did not believe in the possibility of a resurrection. Therefore they had the apostles arrested. There are three brief points we can note about this response.
First, the opposition to the preaching of the gospel often comes from religious persons. This was the case in the history of the Scottish church at the Reformation and during the days of the Covenanters. Today, the loudest critics of the gospel in the western world often are persons who believe in a form of liberal Christianity. Of course, opposition and persecution can come from atheistic governments, as was the case in the twentieth century and continuing yet in several countries, for Christians in communist countries or from countries dominated by another religion such as Islam.
Second, we are not to expect that the devil will allow a work of God to progress without an attempt to interrupt or destroy it. Satan’s choice of who to use in hindering the gospel will vary according to the situation. Nevertheless, spiritual wisdom requires the true church to anticipate opposition. This was Paul’s concern about the new church he and others had founded in Thessalonica: ‘For this reason, when I could bear it no longer, I sent to learn about your faith, for fear that somehow the tempter had tempted you and our labour would be in vain’ (1 Thess. 3:5). Often the devil shows his malice by instigating opposition to the gospel at its inception. But he can also display it towards a church that is established, and one such church was the congregation in Smyrna: ‘Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life’ (Rev. 2:10).
Third, opposition does not prevent true conversions. No doubt, the prevention of such is one of the goals of the devil. Yet opposition does not usually deter true converts. Such realise that deliverance from the power of sin and the subsequent presence of inner peace is so important that they will persevere in the faith. This was the case here because many people responded to the message of Peter (the reference to 5,000 may mean that 5,000 were converted on this occasion or that these additional converts caused the church to grow to over 5,000 men in Jerusalem). It is usually in times of opposition that the church grows.