It is an understatement to say that Acts 4 is not the focus of intense eschatological debate. Seemingly, it is considered by many to be just “filler” between the highly significant, and intensely debated, chapter 3 and the great temple speech of Stephen in Acts 6-7. While Acts 4-5 is sometimes quoted, it is seldom cited as eschatologically significant. Most times, we refer to it as a demonstration of the now unswerving faith of Peter and John, as opposed to their earlier equivocation during Christ’s Passion. However, when we take a closer look at Acts 4, in the light of the prophecies quoted there, all of a sudden Acts 4 comes to life and shows us marvelous things!
One thing that needs to be noted is the purpose of the book of Acts. While this is debated, it seems to me that the theme of Acts is patently the restoration of Israel. (See my MP3 series on “Acts and the Restoration of Israel” for incredibly insight into this critical theme). I cannot develop my proof for this claim here. However, I certainly am not the first to believe that this is true. (See for instance David W. Pao, Acts and the Isaianic New Exodus, (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2002). The restoration of Israel is on the heart and lips of the disciples in Acts 1.
One of the most common errors in the study of Acts 1 is the claim the disciples were still infected with the idea of an earthly kingdom, (amillennial and postmillennial writers), or that the disciples had never changed their ideas of the kingdom, and were patently still anticipating the restoration of national Israel. Both these views are in error, but we cannot develop this at length here. See my Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory book for a full discussion of this passage. In a word, the disciples were not mistaken about the nature of the kingdom in Acts 1, and they were no longer anticipating a nationalistic restoration of the kingdom!
The theme of the restoration of Israel is the core of Paul’s ministry in Acts 24-28, where he states that he preached nothing but “the hope of Israel.” How does Acts 4 fit into the message and theme of the restoration of Israel? Amazingly well.
First a word about hermeneutic. It is common when we read, to overlook a vital issue, and that is the overall theme of the writer as opposed to the simple recording of historical pericopes. Here is what we mean.
For our study, we will be focusing on Acts 4:10-12, and vss. 23-31. As one reads these verses, he realizes they occurred on two different occasions, and in two venues. This is to observe good hermeneutic. Unfortunately, this might cause us to think these verses are unrelated. However, this would be to forget Luke is writing his book with a definite over-arching theme in mind. What this means is that while the two stories record events occurring in two different venues, thematically, they are inextricably linked! They both call to the mind of the Acts reader prophecies of Israel’s last days, when God would establish His New Temple, and Messiah would be king and Priest on the throne! Before he could rule however, he must be rejected. In a word, the record found in these two verses, more specifically the prophecies they call to mind, proclaimed that there were good times and bad ahead! Let’s take a closer look.
ACTS 4:11– THE STONE REJECTED
Peter and John have been apprehended by the Sadducees and temple authorities for “preaching in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (4:2).
This is actually quite funny, while lamentable at the same time! The Sadducees rejected out right the doctrine of resurrection in any form. Yet, the resurrection of Jesus had happened, as it were, right in front of them, and here were his followers preaching about his resurrection! The Sadducees must have been totally paranoid and desperate to put a stop to the preaching of Jesus! They understood that the preaching of Jesus’ resurrection meant their doom, in more ways than one! See Acts 5:28.
However, Peter and John are fearless in the defense of their faith.
In my book Into All the World, Then Comes the End, I demonstrate from the Olivet Discourse, in the section amillennialists and postmillennialists alike admit refers exclusively to the events leading up to the A.D. 70 catastrophe, there is a four-fold pattern: Preaching, Persecution, Power, Parousia. Simply stated, Jesus said the gospel would be preached everywhere. As the disciples preached, they would be persecuted. However, they would be divinely empowered (power) to speak so that none could resist, and Jesus would come (parousia) in vindication of their suffering, in that generation.
In Acts 4-5 every one of those tenets is present. In Acts 4:1-3, Peter and John are arrested (persecution), for preaching Jesus. When given the opportunity, Peter opened his mouth and with great power of the Spirit, responds to the charges against them (4:8). As we will see, his sermon includes in it an indictment, and implicit threat of impending judgment, (i.e. parousia, 4:11) and the Sadducees understood it very well (5:28).
Note how Peter affirms, right in the face of the Sadducees, how God had raised Christ from the dead. He then said, “This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.” Not only must we admire Peter’s courage, we must look at the text he cited, and notice a subtle (perhaps not so subtle to his audience!!) shift in its quotation by Peter. We will do that in the next installment.