The Sanhedrin confers in closed session over their dilemma. Jesus' followers and their message are unacceptable, yet they have performed an outstanding miracle (literally, manifest sign). It is outstanding in that everyone knows about it, and a sign in that it points beyond itself to make claims for the dawn of the age of salvation in Jesus (compare 4:22; 8:6; Lk 11:16, 29-30). There is no denying the reality of this miracle.
Note that the council does not even consider seeking to discredit the apostles' message by marshaling evidence against Jesus' resurrection. Their pragmatic solution is to stop the spread of the message, either temporally or in degree, by warning the apostles to speak no longer to anyone in (on the basis of) this name (pointing to the divine power and authority of Jesus; Foulkes 1978:123).
Calling the apostles back in, they command them in the strongest terms possible to stop speaking (literally, proclaiming) and teaching on the basis of the name of Jesus. Thus the Sanhedrin not only seeks to cope with truth by the only effective means known—silencing it—but also creates a basis for further judicial proceedings against the apostles. And the method is still the same today. Tentmaking missionaries seeking to penetrate "creative access" countries should not be surprised to find people who are kept ignorant of the gospel's truth by those who control the media and make laws against "proselytizing."
Again taking the offensive, Peter and John command the council to make a judgment: is it right in God's presence to obey (literally, hear; compare 3:22) a human council, even one that views itself as ordained by and speaking for God, rather than God? They show their basic submission to the council's authority by calling on them to make that judgment (see 1 Pet 2:13-17). Yet at the same time, as our Lord did, they show the council members both the limits to their authority (compare Lk 20:25) and how they abuse it when they prohibit divinely commanded actions.
The council will need to make that judgment now, or in the very near future, for the apostles serve notice that they cannot help speaking what they have seen and heard. In obedience to the risen Lord's mandate they must continue to be eyewitnesses of these salvation truths (Lk 24:48; Acts 1:8; 3:15; 2 Pet 1:16-18).
Such a declaration of loyalty to God in the face of human opposition has been echoed often in church history, not least during the Reformation. Think of Martin Luther before the Diet of Worms, or the Scots Reformer John Knox, of whom it was said "He feared God so much that he never feared the face of any man" (Barclay 1976:41). And today the church faces the same challenge when confronted with human authorities that demand that it stop advancing in its mission. The church's willingness to keep spreading the Word despite threats of peril is clear evidence that its message is truly from God.
That Peter and John spoke and acted as they did should challenge Theophilus and others to consider the gospel's claims all the more closely. If these Jews were willing to put their highest tribunal on notice that they were going to continue to obey God, then their message must be true!
The council released them unpunished for two reasons. Judicially, they could not find a punishable offense on which to base a verdict (NIV's smoothing of the syntax obscures this point by referring to the means of punishment). This had not stopped them in Jesus' case (Lk 23:14-15, 22-25). Now the people make the difference. They are praising God (literally, glorifying God) for this miraculously healed man who was over forty years old (compare Lk 5:26; 7:16). To punish the human instruments of the miracle would not be a good move politically.
Luke ends his account of this episode in triumph. In reminding us of the man's helplessness, a congenital defect of long standing (see 3:2), he stresses the greatness of the miracle. But he also calls the miracle "this sign of healing." God's act of kindness has a significance beyond the beggar's physical restoration or even the amazement and praise of the crowd. It points to a salvation now offered to all in a gospel message whose proclamation, by the Spirit's power and the messengers' obedience, is unstoppable.
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