The First Prisoners for Christ
Acts 4:3
And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold to the next day: for it was now eventide.…

It appears that by this time the movements of the apostles were beginning to be an object of serious concern to the religious authorities in Jerusalem. Probably the Sadducee party, which succeeded in securing our Lord's death, was still predominant in the great council; this is indicated by the prominence given to the "Resurrection by the enemies of the disciples. In addition to the general annoyance at the public preaching of the apostles, the officials of the temple were grieved at the crowding of the people round the new teachers in the temple courts. So in the name of order, but really in the spirit of jealousy, they were arrested, late in the evening, and put in safe keeping until the next day. Jewish rules did not allow judgment to be given at night. Imprisonment was only a precautionary measure; the Jews did not punish by imprisonment. Where mention is made of it, as used for punishment, in the Scripture records, the authorities who inflicted it were not Jewish. The point to which we now direct attention is, that a confession of moral impotence is made in all physical attempts to stop and crush teachers. Intellectual and moral error can only be fairly met by the teaching of the corrective truth. Only when men fail to conquer by reasoning, can they wish to take up material weapons of any kind. When reason fails then men imprison, and beat, and torture, and kill. And physical forces never can succeed in crushing moral ones. It has been true for every age, and is as true as ever today, that the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church." Physical restraints are only proper in relation to wrongs that disturb the social order. They are wholly out of place in connection with matters of opinion.

I. THESE PRISONERS WERE ONLY TEACHERS. They only talked to the people. They only appealed to mind and judgment. They only announced some new truths. They only invited the people's belief. Part of the offence against them arose from the known fact that they were unlearned and ignorant men; not specially trained rabbis, and so not regarded as fit to preach. An instance of the class-prejudice which sadly prevails still. Illustrate from the story of great missionaries. They have only been teachers, yet how often, in different countries, they have excited prejudice and suffered persecution! The same is still, in measure, true of all great thought-leaders; all men who are "before their time" must expect to be misunderstood and persecuted.

II. THESE PRISONERS TAUGHT NOTHING AFFECTING SOCIAL ORDER. They did not encourage vice or lawlessness. They did not interfere with family life, local government, social customs, or politics. Like their Master, they dealt with broad and general principles, expecting these, when implanted, to gain their own growth and expressions. Even their little excitement in the temple courts, and temporary interference with the temple order, was a matter of no moment. There was no occasion for the temple police to interfere with them.

III. THESE PRISONERS TAUGHT NOTHING AFFECTING CEREMONIAL RITES. There were, indeed, personal examples of diligent and devout Mosaism; strict in all matters of ceremonial duty. They never uttered a word that could be regarded as disrespectful to the temple or the Jewish system. They never tried to break one single person away from his ceremonial duties. Their teachings were within Judaism, and the most jealous conservators of the old system had no good reason for fearing their influence. This, however, applies to true Mosaism, and not to the burdensome ritual added by the rabbis, against which both our Lord and his disciples vigorously pleaded. But on this particular occasion the apostles had not even attacked the rabbinical system.

IV. THE TEACHINGS OF THESE PRISONERS ACTUALLY TENDED TO PRESERVE SOCIAL ORDER AND MAKE BETTER CITIZENS. Such is everywhere the natural results of the preaching of Christ and the teaching of Christianity. Loyalty to Christ helps to secure loyalty to the earthly ruler, and the virtues Christianity cultivates find their expression in the social and national spheres. Then why were these men arrested? Because the men in power were jealous of the influence they were gaining, and feared they would lose their own authority and influence on the people. Self-seeking is at the root of all religious persecution. And because the men who opposed them could not meet and answer them in argument, they had to fall back upon the unworthy weapons of threatening and force (see vers. 16, 17). Impress that no physical bonds have ever yet been forged that could bind in the truth. - R.T.

Parallel Verses
KJV: And they laid hands on them, and put them in hold unto the next day: for it was now eventide.

WEB: They laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was now evening.

Peter and John Before the Council
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