“What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name. So they called [Peter and John] and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus…and when they had further threatened them, they let them go…”.1Acts 4:16-18, 21a
“And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, ‘We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.’ But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’”Acts 5:27-29
What just happened?
In both instances above we see that the leadership in Israel (both political and religious forces) have repeatedly attempted to silence the messengers of what could only be described in their eyes as “a domestically extremist terrorist message.” Also known as the gospel [good-news] of the kingdom by those who worship God and His Christ—Jesus of Nazareth.
Obviously when looked at in this fashion we see that at the center of this controversy was two conflicting messages. Both parties claimed to be standing on the side of good (i.e., God). Both parties thought they were doing what was best for the individual, the family, the church, and society as a whole. The apostles of Jesus wanted to infuse the population with what they believed to be the good-news from God, their Father; whereas, the religious/political forces of Israel wanted to silence what they viewed as a dangerous message by a few radical extremists.
And so, what you have is to opposing powers at work. You have those seated in positions of authority (Church and State) charging the citizens under them to stop proclaiming the name of Jesus. As we see in v. 28 they do not want to look like the guilty party: “…you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.”
But, according to Christ’s apostles (men like Peter and John) they were guilty for taking Jesus’ life, and they darn well knew it! Therefore, the same time the religious/political forces in Israel are charging the apostles with doing wrong for disobeying a direct command from their civil governing authority, the apostles lay the guilt at their leaders feet:
“But Peter and the apostles answered, ‘We must obey God rather than man. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of ins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”Acts 5:29-32; cf. Act 4:8-12
What is the Source and Background of this Conflict?
The source of all conflicts when properly whittled down to their foundational base are presuppositional in nature. That is to say, there is a starting point from which all draw wisdom and knowledge for thinking and living in this life. When a conflict ensues it is the underlying beliefs, biases, traditions or assumptions that are the source of the disagreement. Sometimes this disagreement can be a minor thing like, “Who has the best football team?” At other times this disagreement can be much more serious, “Should I obey a law because the State (civil governing authority) requires it, or should I obey God (from which all authority is derived) rather than men who represent the authority of the State?”
At base the argument being held at the moment in the early chapters of the book of Acts is a presuppositional one. Who has the right to give a law? And to whom is obedience owed? Because someone sits in a position of authority, should I obey them? Or should I consider the rightness or wrongness of the law given? Moreover, how do I know what is right or wrong in such circumstances?
The historical context of these passages show that the religious and political forces in power at the time of Jesus of Nazareth conspired together to have Him tried and executed on a Roman cross (cf. Acts 4.23-30). Some tend to think of Jesus as a mere religious figure, but that is not how the biblical record portrays Him, and it is most certainly not how Jesus portrayed Himself. Jesus claimed a level of perfection that no person has a right to claim on his or her own merits. He proclaimed a message of repentance towards His kingship (i.e., the gospel of the kingdom, His kingdom), offering to any who would bow the knee to Him peace and rest and right standing before God. Jesus claimed equality with God at several points during His earthly ministry, and it was this claim before a nightly court that earned Him the death sentence of a blasphemer.
Another finer point that is sometimes glossed over is that those in power at the time understood the implications of Jesus’ message. Something that I hinted at above, and it is something that Peter and the apostles point to in their testimony against those religious/political leaders attempting to silence them, that Jesus is Prince or the Chief ruler over all authorities on this earth (see Acts 2.29-36; Psa 2; Dan 9.25; Rev 1.5).
In short, Jesus is King. He admitted to this to the nightly court and before Pontius Pilate the Roman magistrate who presided over His death (see Matt 26.63-66; John 18.37; cf. Matt 28.18-20).Which is why the leaders in Israel responded the way they did when Pilate asked them if they would have back their king:
“‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar’”John 19:15b
“We have no king but Caesar,” what an interesting testimony! Here we find the source of the angst against the message being proclaimed by the apostle’s. The disciples of Jesus preached another King. Jesus is not just the savior of men from sin, but from false rule. And these men are claiming and demonstrating this authority over all aspects of creation, from the lame to the civil court (Act 3.6-9; 4.19; 5.29).
What Does the Name of Jesus Represent?
The short answer is “grace and truth” (John 1.14, 17). The full embodiment of God in human form (Col 1.19). The declaration of the “name” of Jesus does not mean merely saying His name, as if giving roll-call. It is the characteristics of the “name” that are important.
To declare Jesus name is to proclaim all that He stood for, all that which His Name embodied. To state Jesus name the way in which the apostles were doing so in the book of Acts where they were being commanded by the powers to be to “be silent!”, is to declare His authority into every aspect of life. Jesus’ life was the embodiment of holiness and love. He was separated from the world because He was not a part of the world.
What was it that separated Him from the world? The Word of God, which is what He prayed would separate (sanctify) His people as they came to know and be discipled by the truth; so that, they might be able to test and adhere to what is “good and acceptable and perfect” (Rom 12.2; also see John 8.31-32, 17.17; 1Thess 5.21).
So when the religious and political forces were attempting to silence the apostles, it was because the apostles took the same stand that Jesus did: “Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10.35). It was because they were declaring opposition rule: God’s Word over Man’s! It was because they were saying and living as if their were another king named Jesus, who has ultimate authority over the kings of this earth (Acts 17.7).
What Am I Saying?
I want you to understand that when the apostles declare to the civil rule of their day, “We must obey God rather than man” that they mean on every point pursuant in the Holy Bible (Genesis through Revelation). This is not merely a religious declaration by these men, but an “all aspects of life” claim.
A consideration of the current culture…
Which brings us to today’s cultural climate. We are living in the “cancel culture” era, which means leaving behind in its destructive wake everything formerly declared as “good and acceptable and perfect.” Know this, and know it with absolute certainty and conviction, when the world around us—including the realm of civil government—tells us that we must stop declaring this truth or that; or, that we need to stop calling this practice evil and instead realize it is good, or there will be some form of retributive justice levied against you, they are in essence telling you:
“Stop preaching, stop teaching in Jesus’ name!”
A society that calls theft good and private property evil is lying. A society that calls boys, girls and girls, boys and orders the mutilation of their flesh through surgery and hormone therapy is evil. A society that demands the death of the unborn as a way to build wealth, to stay in shape, to allow for sexual promiscuity, or healthcare is a liar. A society that attempts to silence all opposing thoughts, opinions, and teachings as hate-speech is one that does not know its right hand from its left. Christians that side with these issues are no Christian that I have ever heard of. And any teachers or preachers or professors that dare claim that these things be true, when they are blatantly false are nothing more than wolves in sheep’s clothing who deserve to sit in the seat of authority with the rest of the Sanhedrin.
A consideration for living faithfully…
As Bible-believing Christians we need to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We need to be like the apostles in seeking God’s strength to be forever bold in the midst of the coming (and present) persecution:
“…when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. They they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”Acts 5:40-42
To preach in the Name of Christ is to declare and stand for all that He upheld, which is the entire Law-Word of God (cf. Matt 5.17-19); regardless, of the powers that be. It is a declaration of war against all that is “unholy and unacceptable and imperfect.” In Jesus’ Name is the terminology of our warfare.
1All Scripture unless otherwise noted shall be of the English Standard Version (ESV).