16. The Apostle´s Imprisonment, and their Release by an Angel (Acts 5:17-25)
17 But the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy, 18 and laid hands on the apostles, and put them in public custody. 19 But an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors by night, and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.” 21 When they heard this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and taught. But the high priest came, and those who were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But the officers who came didn’t find them in the prison. They returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison shut and locked, and the guards standing before the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside!” 24 Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these words, they were very perplexed about them and what might become of this. 25 One came and told them, “Behold, the men whom you put in prison are in the temple, standing and teaching the people.”
Wherever the Lord builds His church, Satan founds beside it a temple for his evil spirits to dwell in. The hatred of hell springs up wherever people are converted in the name of Jesus. This happens naturally, so do not be surprised, dear believer, if opponents violently attack your missionary efforts. Jesus Himself died on the cross, at the center of His redemptive work.
When the chief priests saw that the apostles had not been mindful of their demand to cease from speaking about the name of Jesus, they lost patience entirely. Multitudes of people had joined this faith, calling upon the triumph of Him who had been raised from the dead, and whose power had born a thousand-proof testimony to complete reconciliation to God. The High Priest became enraged. He was probably fearful for the unity of the nation, thinking that he, as a shepherd of the people, had a holy duty to destroy this new heresy. All the inflexibility of classical and liberal thought and prejudice went into motion. The religious leaders imagined that in getting rid of Christianity they sere serving God. Those that were the most forthright in joining with them were the sect of the Sadducees, who had a particular enmity to the gospel of Christ, a belief that confirmed and established the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, a doctrine they emphatically denied. They were filled with indignation at Jesus’ followers, who bore powerful testimony to the One who had defeated death.
The apostles and the church felt that growing dislike, but they neither fled nor went into hiding, but gathered together in the courtyard of the temple before all the people. Christianity is not called to hide itself, but is to appear in broad daylight. On a determined day, the rulers arrested all twelve of the apostles and put them in prison, pursuant to the proverb: “If you cut off the serpent’s head you will not be mindful of its wriggling.”
Christ, however, thought contrarily, for He, and not the apostles, bishops, or ministers, was the head of the church body. He sent His angel at night to silently open the prison gates. Suddenly this magnificent being stood before the perplexed apostles, who had been praying in preparation for the trial. The astonishing thing is that the angel did not intend to deliver the apostles from the trial. Neither did he bring them a bed or a comfortable mattress, or command them to run away. Instead, he advised them to enter the courtyard of the temple and proclaim in public what Christ had worked and said. From these words of the gospel eternal life would swell up in the hearts of the listeners. The angel commanded them to speak to the people, in spite of opposition and threat, all the words of life in God. Observe “all the words”, that is, without any omission or exclusion for fear of enemies. This is God’s command to you, dear brother, and to every believer: speak to your people all the words of life. Your words and awareness are not important at all, for they are filled with death. But testimony about the life of Christ produces eternal life in those who come to believe.
The twelve apostles rose up and went out, leaving their prison in the midst of the guards. They entered into the courtyard of the temple at dawn and started teaching the pilgrims and visitors who had come early. They waited, perplexed and uncertain about their Lord’s design. They felt that something big was about to happen to them, for the living Lord had interfered greatly in the course of events through His glorious angel.
At the break of day, all the Sanhedrim, the great council of the Jewish nation, composed of seventy chief priests, revered elders, and cunning legal experts, convened. Moreover, the high priest also called for the notables of the people. His design was to wipe out this heresy of Jesus of Nazareth once and for all. When all the men had appeared and been seated the head of the council sent orders to the prison to have the arrested apostles brought before them. But when the officials arrived at the prison they became fearful and greatly surprised, for in spite of the tightly locked doors and contact seals the prisoners had completely vanished. Not a trace of them was to be found. When the council heard the report that they had disappeared they were at a loss for words. They were all aware of the miracles the apostles had worked, for even the shadow of Peter had brought healing to the sick.
This report was a violent shock to those who were contemplative, and brought shame upon him who had called for the trial. God had once previously shaken these judges in order to clearly show them that they were about to condemn innocent believers among the faithful children of the nation. Christ’s hand protected His apostles. In obedience they had preached the complete word of life to their people.
PRAYER: O Lord, You are God, and Your life is manifested in Your gospel. Help us to proclaim Your name with all boldness, humility, prudence, and love to all those who hunger for righteousness, that they may be filled with Your life for salvation.
- What was the significance of the angel’s command to the imprisoned apostles?