Burning Coals: Bearing A Faithful Testimony Part 1

The Burning Coal Series is based on Acts 5:17-42. The following essay is the second essay in the series. The first essay debuted last week, covering Act 5:17-26, and was called “Burning Coals: When We Are Persecuted For Doing Good.” Here is a link to Part 1 of that essay in case you want to start there. 

Based on Acts 5:27-32


Acts 5:27-32 is part of a larger context. Acts 5:17-42 covers one event. We are midway through the telling of the second arrest involving an apostle. The first arrest and trial happened in Acts 3 and involved only Peter and John. However, Peter was the main healer and speaker in that passage. This time it is the entire apostolic band that is arrested. Peter appears to be the main speaker this round too, but the other apostles also speak at the trial. 

Last week we saw the apostles arrested because of the jealousy of Caiaphas and the Sadducees. But why? Why were the Sadducees jealous of the apostles? The easy assumption for a person to make is because of “the signs and wonders” being done by them. Acts 5:12; 16 both mentioned the miraculous works of the apostles, with verses 17-18 being their arrest. But were they jealous because of the magic show? I cautioned us against jumping to that conclusion last week. The Sadducees do not believe in the afterlife, a future resurrection, the eternal nature of the soul, angelic intervention, or even God working in the material plane. The Sadducees were like the Jewish version of the Pelagian heresy. They believed man made his own way by free will. When a man pleased God (who was distant and detached), wealth and ease were the rewards of obedience. God was not involved in the rewarding personally however, his principles yielded them. They were only concerned with the here and now. For the Sadducee, this is all there is or ever will be. 

They were not jealous of the miracles done by the apostles’ hands. They were jealous of the social capital the miracles brought to the apostles. They envied the praise, love, and esteem being afforded to the apostles by the people. We should pay attention to the following verses leading up to the apostles’ arrest. “None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem. “14 And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.” (Acts 5:13-14) I surmised that the aristocratic class is the “None of the rest dared join them” crowd. Barnabas became a patron of the church by selling a field and laying the proceeds “at the apostles’ feet.” (Acts 4:36-37) There were others before him, if you remember. (Acts 4:35) Ananais is of this wealthy class too (Acts 5:1). Do you know who else is wealthy? The Sadducees. They are the aristocratic class. That being said, I think the aristocratic class soured on the new Christian sect after Ananias and Sapphira’s death. One possibility I did not consider at the time was that Barnabas and Ananias both could have been Sadducees. The one would represent the loss of an educated man to the Galilean sect (redneck losers)—the other the embarrassing death of one of their member families through their dealings with the apostles. It is an interesting theory.

The apostles are siphoning off money, people, and public respect. That would be enough to arouse the jealousy of the Sadducees. At any rate, their jealousy was not provoked by the signs and wonders themselves but by the dent in their social standing. They are down in the polls. They’re losing their constituency. Who is that? The everyday schlubs and merchants of Jerusalem that they look down on and need to tax… eh hem, I mean that need their guidance. In a few minutes, we’ll see that that is their real concern. In their opening statement at the apostle’s trial they’ll reveal their true motives. 

Also, remember that the apostles’ trial was delayed that morning. It would have begun earlier, except the apostles had inexplicably escaped. That caused some to become “greatly perplexed about them,” and to start to wonder “what this would come to?” (Acts 5:24). The escape cools the jets of the Pharisees. The Pharisees are the political and religious opponents of the Sadducees, and some in their ranks have been watching the apostles’ ministry with growing concern. The first miracle they observed could not discredit. The healing of the lame man was genuine. (Acts 4:16). And now Jerusalem is full of genuine miracles worked by the apostles (Acts 5:16). The alliance that existed between the Sadducees and Pharisees appears to have been hanging on by a thread, and the impossible escape at the hands of an angel is the scissors that cut it. We know this from both the party and the caliber of the speaker the party puts forward. He is “a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people” (Acts 5:34) and a former theological professor to none other than the apostle Paul (Acts 22:3)

Last week was really about answering two major questions. The first question was, “Why were the apostles arrested?” “The answer is, “They were growing too popular with the common people.” The second question was this, “Why did the angel, who could have led them to safety, instead lead them to a certain and swift re-arrest?” The answer was to break up the alliance between the Sadducees and Pharisees that had existed since the crucifixion. God secured the apostles’ ability to speak freely without losing their lives through their miraculous escape. They return to the council more under subpoena than arrest. They are not brought “by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.” (Acts 5:26). Caiaphas’ plans are turned upside down. And though we are not told precisely about his plans, we should not doubt that he has some end in mind. Ultimately, the apostles will leave this encounter more secure in their ability to minister instead of dead. And dead was the likely desired outcome. Let’s move forward now and add the next piece of the puzzle.

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog. Look for Part 2 of “Burning Coals: Bearing A Faithful Testimony” tomorrow (9/28/22).

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