Acts, Lesson 6: Persecution from the Jewish Leadership

Peter before the Sanhedrin (610x352)In last week’s lesson, Ananias and Sapphira had decided to deceive the Apostles and congregation in Jerusalem by stating they sold property for a certain amount, deliberately understating the amount they had received. After that fear-inducing event, Luke takes us to see what is going on with the Apostles in Jerusalem, in particular, Peter.


Signs and Wonders through the Apostles’ Hands

Read Acts 5:12-16

  • Who are the “people” to whom Luke refers in verse 12?


The people of Israel witnessed miraculous signs and wonderful proofs similar to those that God worked by Moses when Israel gained its identity as a nation.

Deuteronomy 6:22: Before our [the people of Israel] eyes, the LORD did miraculous signs and amazing wonders on Egypt, on Pharaoh, and on all his household.

Jeremiah 32:20-21: You [God] performed miraculous signs and amazing wonders in Egypt as you do to this very day in Israel and everywhere else. You made a name for yourself that continues to this day. You brought your people Israel out of Egypt with miraculous signs and amazing wonders, with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and with great terror.

  • By giving such abilities to the Apostles, what could God be telling the people of Israel?


  • In verse 13 and 14, we find more people being brought to faith, but also people who dared not join them? What could be the source of their fear for not joining?


  • What would healings taking place through material objects of the Apostles or physical proximity to them signify? (see also Acts 9:17; 19:11-12, and 20:10)


  • Discuss Luke’s specific mention of “those afflicted by unclean spirits” in verse 16.


Opposition Increases

Read Acts 5:17-21a

  • What did the High Priest do with the Apostles?


  • What did God do with the Apostles?


John 11:25: Jesus said to her [Martha], “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even if he dies.”

John 17:3: This is eternal life: to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

Luke calls Jesus as “the author of life” (Acts 3:15), Christian conversion as “repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18), and those who believe the Word of the Lord are “appointed for eternal life” (Acts 13:48).

  • What was “the Life,” which the angel of the Lord told them to proclaim?


Like God’s use miraculous signs and wonderful proofs during the time of Moses, the Angel of the Lord also actively worked in Moses’ day and in the earliest days of the New-Covenant Church. (Also see Acts 8:26; 10:3-6; 12:7-10, 23; and 27:23-24.)

  • What does the Angel of the Lord doing such deeds affirm about the New Covenant?


Read Acts 5:21b-26

  • What were the Apostles doing when the High Priest and his men found the Apostles?


The Apostles again before the Sanhedrin

Read Acts 5:27-32

  • What again do we see the Sanhedrin charging the Apostle not to do?


  • How do they refer to Jesus? (vs. 28) What does such a reference tells us about the Sanhedrin’s (especially the Sadducees) feelings about Jesus?


  • What principle do we learn from Peter about following God and other authorities? (vs. 29)


  • What does Peter again begin to do before the Sanhedrin?


  • When Peter said, “the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him,” what did He imply the Sanhedrin needed to do?


Gamaliel Intercedes

Read Acts 5:33-40

  • Why would a Pharisee, Gamaliel, look more kindly on the Apostles than the Sadducees?


  • What was his line of argumentation?


  • Discuss Gamaliel’s argument. What do with his argument about Islam etc?


  • What did the Sanhedrin do with the Apostles?


Excursus: “Hanging on a Tree”

Peter’s reference to “hanging him [Jesus] on a tree” in Acts 5:30 (see also 10:39) comes from the Law of Moses. Deuteronomy 21:22-23 mandates: “If someone commits a sin punishable by death and is executed, and you hang his body on a tree, not leave the body hanging overnight on the tree. Bury him that day, for anyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.”

The Law originally referred to the corpse of a criminal who had been executed, whose body was then hung on a tree as a deterrent to others. That Law was saying that because God’s curse and judgment is resting on that evildoer, his body should not remain on display, because God’s judgment is enough.

Later, the Jews applied that curse of being hung on a tree to crucifixion, the cruel form of execution that Jews suffered at the hands of the Persians and later the Romans. The expression came to refer, not only to hanging a corpse on a tree, but also to nailing someone to a wooden cross (thus, using the word “tree” figuratively), there to suffer torment until finally dying. The Apostle Paul wrote how Jesus willingly suffered this “curse” for us: “Christ ransomed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’” (Galatians 3: 13).


Read Acts 5:41-42

  • What do the Apostles do in verse 41?


  • How did the Apostles view persecution in way that we may not?


  • What two functions of the pastoral office does Luke specifically mention that the Apostles were doing?


The Church Establishes the Office of Deacon

Read Acts 6:1-6

In the same way the New-Covenant Church adopted “elder” from her Jewish roots to refer to a pastor, so also was the case for “deacon.” The Hebrew word hazan referred to Levites who assisted the priests in their duties (like Zechariah, John the Baptizer’s father). And it was from this understanding that the Office of Deacon emerged.

Read Exodus 18:17-23 to understand the Old-Covenant precedent for New-Covenant deacons. 

The dictionary for New-Testament Greek (The BDAG lexicon) describes a deacon this way: “one who gets something done, at the behest of a superior, assistant.”

  • What was the original concern in that prompted the Church in Jerusalem to create the Office of Deacon?


  • What does “wait/serve on tables” mean?


  • What were the Apostles going to focus their efforts on instead of “waiting/serving on tables”? (Remember how the direct article in the Greek preceding the word “prayer” in Acts 6:4 influences what that verse says.)


  • In a Lutheran congregation, what best describes what we call a deacon?


Excursus: Did Deacons do more than wait on tables?

Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy mention men who are “deacons.” They served with bishops (the term the Greek, Gentile congregations preferred over the ethnically Jewish congregations’ use of “elder”). The texts imply that bishops and deacons had some duties that overlapped, for the biblical qualifications for a bishop/pastor and deacon are similar.

Ignatius, a student of the Apostle John, tells the congregation to submit to the bishop, but not to the deacon. Yet, Ignatius also reminds the congregation that deacons do more than serve tables. He says that deacons are “servants of the mysteries of Jesus Christ” (Letter to the Trallians 2:3); that’s the same phrase Paul used to describe apostles and pastors.

In a sermon by Chrysostom (347 – 407) said:

[In the Lord’s Supper] Let no Judas receive, lest he suffer as Judas did. This Gathering is also the Body of Christ. Watch therefore, you who fulfill the office of deacon in these Sacred Mysteries, that you do not provoke the anger of the Lord by not purifying His Body: that you do not give a sword in place of food.

  • Knowing now what functions deacons performed in the early Church, how does this help us make sense of Acts 6:6 with the deacons and that they [the Twelve] “laid their hands on them”?


In 1st Timothy, Paul addresses qualifications for bishops and then goes on to deacons. This shows they are two different offices. Yet, Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:8: “deacons likewise.” By mentioning deacons with the same breath alongside bishops and demand of them the same moral requirements that he did of the bishops, shows that deacons also had a spiritual function, yet secondary and supportive to that of the bishop/pastor.