From the sermon series Acts of the Apostles: The First Thirty Years
Based on Acts 5:17-26
Why send the apostles back to the temple? What’s the purpose? That is the question we need to ask.
Walking through the gates in Acts 5:20 to “stand in the temple and speak to the people,” they are, for the first time, wanted men. They are also different men. Different than they were when Christ was arrested and tried. They will not scatter as they had when he was struck. By the power of the Holy Spirit, they will continue to stand. Their obedience is not half-hearted either. The apostles do not wait around. They enter the temple at daybreak. The first light of dawn comes with their voices beginning to be heard in the temple.
If I were guessing, I’d suppose that the apostles were most likely in the temple complex ministering to the congregation together when they were arrested. As Daniel’s enemies knew they’d find him praying the hours (Daniel 6:10), the Sanhedrin also knew when and where they could find the apostles. The angel likely told the apostles to return to the spot of their arrest.
We aren’t given much of a time frame, but it looks like the apostles preach for a few hours in the temple. I’m guessing something like two hours, 6 to 8 AM. I doubt the Sanhedrin started their meetings at dawn. The Sanhedrin are bureaucrats. No offense to bureaucrats, but few of them are known to start work at first light. The courts were probably not up and running til about 8 AM, if not later. Sometime after the early morning hours, a messenger is dispatched from the temple to the Sanhedrin’s meeting hall around the corner to let them know the apostles are back in the temple. We’ll see his arrival there in a minute
21 Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.”
The chief priests in the temple are probably confused, having been privy to the previous evening’s arrests. It appears that the messenger is dispatched at about the same time the council discovers for themselves that the apostles are not in the public prison. I say this because the Sanhedrin’s meeting hall is in the temple complex. The messenger doesn’t have to go far. So the two scenes being described to us are happening simultaneously.
When the council discovers that the apostles are missing, the officers immediately recognize that this is not a clerical mistake. They weren’t accidentally bonded out in the middle of the night. An escape has occurred, but how? No one knows. The guards were there, watches were confirmed, paperwork checked, and nobody came in or out. But somehow, the apostles were gone in the morning. It’s like Andy Duphrane without the tunnel. There is no accounting for the escape. Luke tells us this in so many words.
24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to.
They were “greatly perplexed” and “wondering what this would come to”? Their response tells us not that they were expecting a miraculous escape, but when it does occur, the word miraculous is mumbled under everyone’s breath from the start. Why wouldn’t it be? If someone showed up in Washington D.C. and legitimately started working miracles, not illusions, verified miracles… would the word miraculous be far from your lips? Further, how would you account for it if they escaped from jail after being arrested in Washington D.C. and the close circuit cameras didn’t show anything? They’ve got the Chief of the Capitol Hill police down there looking into it. The “captain of the temple” is there with the “chief priests” investigating the scene. Heads are about to roll here, literally. That’s what happens when a guard loses his prisoner, a life for a life. The messenger from the temple arrives to find a prison on lockdown, a confused administration, and a full-blown investigation underway. He basically says when he arrives, “hey guys, I know where your prisoners are.” Acts 5:25 says, “And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.”
The plans and mood for the morning have been reset. A course had probably already been determined for them among the various leaders of the Sanhedrin. They want this new sect disbanded. And just like with Jesus, they are not above getting their hands dirty. For the good of the people, of course. Governments have been disappearing and imprisoning people for this reason since the Garden. But the miraculous escape has taken the wind out of their political machinations. We’ll see later that some in the council have been watching the apostles’ work from a distance. The legitimacy of the signs and wonders is a major concern for them. The miraculous affirmed God’s power and presence. There is a group forming within the Sanhedrin that is no longer sure they should be on board with the Sadducees. They were likely unsure before the escape, but after the escape, they appear ready to pull the ripcord on the leading party’s plan to get rid of the apostles.
Thanks for taking the time to read our blog post. Look for Part 5 of “Burning Coals: When We Are Persecuted For Doing Good.”
May God be with you!