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This is a marvellous story, especially when read carefully. The context is the apostles being extolled for their miraculous acts of healing and the church growing as a result. Opposition comes in the form of the Sadducean high priest and his community, who would not like to hear about the resurrection of Jesus. Sadducees were generally members of the upper class, often social and political leaders, and did not believe in the immortality of the soul or any kind of afterlife. Having heard the teaching of the apostles and seen the way the people were drinking it up, along with healing that symbolised resurrection life, they arrested the apostles and put them in prison to stop them. But the apostles are released by an angel who tells them to go back to the temple and continue speaking about life, resurrection life, which they do.
The next scene is intended to be amusing and reminds me a little bit of Jesus’ resurrection, when he disappeared from the tomb. When the high priest, Sanhedrin, and Jewish council send to get the apostles out of the prison for examination, they cannot be found. The prison is locked up securely and the guards are at the doors, but there is no one inside. The captain of the temple (that is, the chief of the Levites who kept guard in the temple) and the priests are, shall we say, flabbergasted. This word was used previously of Herod regarding the ministry of Jesus and the apostles (Luke 9:7), and then of the Jews who heard the disciples speaking in many different languages during Pentecost (Acts 2:12). What is going on? Suddenly someone appears to tell them that the apostles are teaching the people in the temple – precisely what they were told not to do in the previous chapter.
The temple captain and his officers go to fetch them from the temple but are afraid to use force in case the crowd rises up against them. The high priest reminds them that they were commanded not to teach about Jesus, but they respond very similarly as they had done in 4:1-21. Essentially, the message is once again: “You killed Jesus. God raised and exalted Jesus as leader and saviour, for repentance and forgiveness. We have seen this. God gives the Holy Spirit to those who obey him. We are obeying him in speaking about it.”
The high priest is associated with death: stoning (v26), blood (v28), and rage that leads to a desire to kill (v33). The apostles, on the other hand, are associated with life. The reader or hearer is being asked: Which side do you want to be on? Death or life?
Prayer: God, in a context that is filled with death and people who don’t believe in you and the reward you promise, I choose life. Help me to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and be transformed by that vision of reality. Fill me with your Spirit and so enable me to speak boldly about you.