4 May 2011

Acts 5:17-26

"But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, 'Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.' When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching." (vv. 19-21)


We are now continuing to see the development of the early Church, and Luke (the author of Acts as well as the Gospel that bears his name) gives us the account 'warts and all'. At the beginning of this chapter there is the incident of Ananias and Sapphira (vv. 1-11) followed by a picture of the church continuing to grow with a powerful healing ministry (vv. 12-16).

But the growth and development of the believers brought a response of jealousy to the high priest and the Sadducean group in the Sanhedrin. The biblical commentator Matthew Henry says, "In these verses we have the malice of hell and the grace of heaven." In such an inflammable province as Jerusalem it seemed to these authorities the best and swiftest response was to imprison not only Peter and John but also the other Apostles.

Now we come to a section that I believe Luke enjoyed writing, as the humour of the situation is brought out. The Apostles were set free from their cells at night and they went and resumed their preaching in the temple. As they did this the council sat waiting for the prisoners to be brought to them, only to be humiliated on discovering that they were doing what had been forbidden.

The activity "during the night" (v. 19) of being rescued by "an angel of the Lord" is speculated on by William Neil as being a 'sympathetic warder' or a secret sympathiser among the guardroom staff who came to be seen later as an 'angel in disguise'. I don't know whether Luke clearly intended his readers to believe that it was a heavenly visitor who not only opened the doors of the jail and brought the apostles out (v. 19), but instructed them to stand in the temple courts and publicly proclaim the full message of this new life (v. 20). In the end the captain of the temple guard and his officers re-arrested the Apostles, but they were careful in doing so because of popular sympathies (v. 26).

To Ponder

It is important to remember that Christians in some parts of the world are imprisoned for their faith. Remember them in your prayers today.

Do you think this passage shows that God has a sense of humour? Where else can you see God's humour?