Bible Overview is a wonderful resource for anyone interested in Bible study.
Each month we usually feature a brief overview of one book of the Bible (in order), written by Bible scholar and lecturer, Mary Jane Chaignot.
However, for the last two months we have presented background on the life and times of the disciples in order to get a better sense of what life was like in the first century for Jesus, his disciples, and Paul.
This month we look at the transformation of Jesus’ disciples after his ascension. They transition from being followers of Jesus to being leaders in establishing the church. Next month we will discuss Paul.
If you want to read about the books of the Bible we’ve already covered, you can find an overview in our archives. The Bible Time-Line is another quick reference for locating individuals or specific books.
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The Life and Times of the Disciples III
Establishing the Church
Jesus Leaves His Disciples
We know from Luke and Acts that the disciples were present when Jesus ascended into heaven. These two books also say they were absolutely dumbstruck when a cloud welcomed him and hid him from their sight. Yet before he left them, just days before the Jewish festival of Pentecost, Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem until they “received power from heaven.”
Day of Pentecost
Pentecost was a Jewish harvest festival held fifty days after Passover. It was a major festival and a time for all Jews to get gather together in order to pray and to give thanks to God.
When the festival day came all of Jesus’ followers were gathered together in one place. “Suddenly, a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.” And resting over each person was a little fiery tongue – signifying that they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.
Being filled with the Holy Spirit demanded a witness, so they all began speaking. From this time forward, the disciples speak with boldness. Speaking with boldness means telling it like it is, and it didn’t matter who’s in front of them, what can happen to them, who’s listening, or what they think about it. Speaking with boldness means the whole truth and nothing but the truth!
With Peter as their spokesman, the disciples begin to speak to the crowds that gathered when they heard the sound “like the blowing of a violent wind.” Almost immediately, Acts says, “those who accepted his message were baptized and about 3000 were added to their number that day.” So now we have about three thousand followers who had come from all over the city. That’s an impressive speech!
“Silver and gold have I none” – Peter and John at the Temple
Sometime later, Peter and John go into the Temple to pray. On their way inside, a crippled man stops them and asks for money. Peter looks at the man and says, “Silver and gold have I none,” and then heals the man.
The man is so grateful that he follows Peter and John into the Temple, leaping and praising God – causing such a ruckus, that people gathered. Presented with another audience like the one on Pentecost, Peter gives another speech – which lasts for hours. The Temple authorities notice, and after watching the crowd gather, they go over to check it out. Fearing a riot, they seize Peter and John and put them in jail for the night.
But by that time, the message has been heard, many believed and the number of men grew to about five thousand. The next morning the members of the Sanhedrin bring in Peter and John for questioning. They ask, “By what power or in what name did you do this?” The “this,” of course, is the healing of the crippled man.
Trouble with Temple Authorities
The question opened the way for Peter to give yet another speech. But these people were not ordinary Jews. These people were the Sanhedrin. These were the people who had Jesus put to death. And this is where we begin to see how the disciples really have changed.
When the disciples hid behind closed doors after Jesus’ crucifixion, they were hiding from these people – the Sanhedrin. Yet, now, standing in front of them, Peter speaks boldly, with courage. Afterwards, the Sanhedrin commands them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. Not ever again. Yet Peter stands right in front of them and says, in essence, “I’m not going to pay any attention to that. I cannot help speaking about what I have seen and heard. I have to listen to what God is telling me to do.” Because the disciples have popular support, the Sanhedrin really had no choice but to let them go.
A New Conviction
Shortly after this, the disciples are back at the Temple, in Solomon’s Colonnade, teaching and preaching – they are violating the Sanhedrin’s decree right under their noses.
And people are listening! They add to their numbers daily. People bring the sick into the streets and lay them on beds and mats so that Peter’s shadow can fall upon them as he walks by. And all are healed – by Peter’s shadow.
This is all very upsetting to the Sadducees. So they decide to throw the apostles back in jail – and this includs all the apostles, not just Peter and John. However, during the night, an angel of the Lord opens the doors of the jail and bringw the apostles out, telling them to go stand in the Temple courts and preach to the people.
There is no explanation as to how this happens other than the fact that in the middle of the night, all the doors were opened and the apostles wake up, and literally, march out. After a good night’s sleep, the disciples go back to their post, doing as they’ve been told – preaching and teaching at the Temple, in Solomon’s Colonnade.
Confrontation with Sanhedrin
In the meantime, the high priests and all their associates call the members of the Sanhedrin together and tell them that the night before the apostles had all been thrown in jail. But when the officers went to the jail to get them, the apostles were not there!
The apostles have made a mockery of the Sanhedrin. The Sadducees thought they had all the cards lined up; they thought they had everything exactly the way they wanted it. In fact, they had nothing. The power has shifted towards the apostles – and the apostles know it.
The disciples now understand that the Sanhedrin have no power over them any more. Standing in front of the Sanhedrin, Peter once again gives a speech. He says, “We have to obey God. We are not here to obey men.” He is so filled with the Holy Spirit that he is able to take on the Sanhedrin. Face on. Speaking with boldness. After Peter’s speech and one by the famous Rabbi Gamaliel the Sanhedrin are convinced not to kill the apostles. Instead, they are flogged and again ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus.
Fulfilling Jesus’ Words
But the disciples react exactly the opposite way they reacted to Jesus’ crucifixion. Rather than be disheartened or go into hiding, they leave the Sanhedrin rejoicing. Even after they had been flogged! All they could do was rejoice because they felt worthy to have had the experience.
Everything that had happened to them was a verification of Jesus’ words. Jesus said they’d be persecuted, and they had just been persecuted. So they knew they were doing something right. And if that didn’t empower them, nothing else would. Not that there was any pleasure in being flogged, but it meant they were on the right track. Consider that in contrast to their hiding behind closed doors after the crucifixion, fearing and trembling. This time they had faced their foes and were rejoicing.
Go and Preach!
From this point forward, the disciples don’t even pretend to be discreet. “They went day after day to the temple court, from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus was the Christ.” It is an ’in your face’ refusal to obey. They did not care what the Sanhedrin said. They were completely emboldened, and completely transformed. The stakes were high, though. Some of them would eventually be killed for their efforts.
They will also come across a man named Saul, the subject for next month’s article.