Acts 4: The Forgotten Passage

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Acts 4: The Forgotten Passage

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 52 Lesson MP3 series “Acts and the Restoration of Israel” for an extensive discussion of why Luke wrote Acts).  The restoration of Israel is on the heart and lips of the disciples in Acts 1, and it 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.

It should be observed that one of the most common errors in the study of Acts is the claim that 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 book Like Father Like Son, On Clouds of Glory for a thorough refutation of this claim. 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.

A word here 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 I mean.

For our study, we will focus on Acts 4:10-12, and vs. 23-31. As one reads these verses, he realizes that they occurred on two different occasions, in two venues. This is to observe good hermeneutic. Unfortunately, this might cause us to think that these verses are unrelated. However, this would be to forget that 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.

Both texts call the reader’s mind to 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.

Peter and John have been apprehended by the Sadducees and temple authorities for “preaching in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (4:2). (There is humorous irony here. 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.)

Peter and John are fearless in their defense of their faith.* Note that Peter affirms, right in the face of the Sadducees, that 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 that he cited, and notice a subtle (perhaps not so subtle to his audience!!), shift in its quotation by Peter.

* In my book Into All the World, Then Comes the End, I demonstrate that in the Olivet Discourse, in the section that 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 to speak so that none could resist, and Jesus would come (his 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, responded 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).

Peter (Acts 4:11), quotes from Psalms 118:22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” The “Stone” motif in scripture is very significant, and especially in the way Peter calls it to mind. To appreciate the power of Peter’s citation, we need to see the original prophecies of the Stone, and how those prophecies are used in the New Testament. We can only do a brief survey. (See my book The Elements Shall Melt With Fervent Heat for an indepth study of all of the Rejected Stone passages and their application by the NT writers.)

Psalms 118– This is a Song of Ascent, sung on each of the three major festival occasions as the travelers approached the city. The reference to the rejected stone was hotly debated in Israel. There was uncertainty as to whether this referred to Abraham, to David, perhaps to Israel as a people, or, to the Messiah. For Peter, there was no mistake. Jesus was the rejected cornerstone, rejected by the leaders. For the astute listener of Peter’s speech, to hear him say that Jesus had become the chief cornerstone, after being rejected, meant but one thing, that Stone was going to now crush them. This is confirmed in Acts 5:28 where the Sanhedrin accuses Peter and John of attempting to “bring this man’s blood upon us.” And this crushing was predicted in the Old Covenant.

In Isaiah 8:14f, the prophet spoke of the coming Suffering Servant as the Stone of stumbling and rock of offence. Many would be offended by Him and fall away only to be destroyed. This verse is cited by Simeon in Luke 2:32f when he picked up the infant Jesus. Simeon knew by inspiration that Jesus was set for the rising and falling of many in Israel. There is an unmistakable element of judgment in this citation for it is also cited by Jesus in Matthew 21:42f in his application of the parable of the wicked husbandmen. The stone they had rejected would become the chief cornerstone and crush and destroy them when the master of the vineyard came. There is an undeniable referent to the A. D. 70 judgment here, as virtually all commentators agree.

Isaiah 28:16f– Once again, the prophet foretold the laying of the cornerstone, and promised that those who accepted (approved) of it would not be ashamed. On the other hand, those who rejected the Stone would be the objects of God’s “unusual work,” the work of judgment against them. This “unusual work” would occur in the day that Jehovah would destroy the “heaven and earth” in spite of the doubt of the “scoffers.” Further, this Day, when the Stone would crush the scoffers, would be a Day like previous Days of the Lord, for Jehovah says that He would act in the manner He had acted in previous Days (Isaiah 28:21f).

Daniel 2:44— Daniel foresaw the time when a stone cut out without hands would grow into a might kingdom, crushing all who opposed it. Some have conjectured that this stone reference is different than in Isaiah, and it must be granted that the idea in Daniel is not of a foundation stone. However, since Jesus seems to conflate Psalms 118, Isaiah 8, and Daniel 2:44 in Matthew 21:41-42, we are justified in listing it as part of the Stone motif.

In each of the Stone prophecies, the motif of judgment is dominant. Those who rejected the stone would be crushed; the rejected foundation stone would crush those who rejected it. The scoffers would be destroyed in the Day of the Lord. This is exactly the way Jesus utilized the Stone motif in Matthew 21:41-42, and we have no right to dismiss that theme when other writers incorporate the Stone prophecies in their writings.

There is another motif/theme immediately linked with the Stone prophecies, and that is the prediction of the New Temple of God. But that will await another article at another time.

For now, the important thing to see is that in Acts 4, Peter and John affirmed in the strongest manner the fulfillment of God’‘s OT promises made to Israel concerning the Rejected Stone. That was a marvelously positive story, but, there was a dark cloud linked with it. That Rejected Stone was about to come in crushing destruction of “you the builders” who had rejected Him!