Luke here records a second period of persecution of the church led by the temple authorities. He tells us their motive – jealousy, no doubt because they were losing influence over a considerable number of the people. The response of jealous people is usually a bit hasty, and we can see this in the action of the Sanhedrin. They resorted to physical force and threats.
The temple authorities discovered that they were grappling with another power that they could not understand. We have to remember that the Sadducees, who dominated the Sanhedrin, did not believe in a spiritual world, in the existence of angels, in the resurrection of the dead. They trusted in what they could handle, so in addition to threats they used human guards to imprison the apostles overnight. After all, on the previous occasion they had kept Peter and John in prison for a night (Acts 4:3). They had not reckoned on the wonderful fact that God can spoil all their well-made plans.
Luke mentions the ministry of angels. One reason he does this is to remind God’s people that they are surrounded by angels: they are ‘ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation’ (Heb. 1:14). Another reason, I would suggest, is that the opponents of the church on this occasion did not believe in the existence of angels. This one instance is enough to refute all their speculations.
On this occasion, while the guards were transfixed in one way or another, Jesus sent his angel to set his apostles free. Interestingly, he did not say, ‘Now that you are free, go away and hide somewhere.’ Instead the apostles were told to go back to the place where they were arrested and continue delivering the message of Life. Despite his great abilities, this angel was not allowed by Jesus to declare the gospel to sinners. If they are going to hear it, then it will have to be conveyed by humans.