The new Temple shows it's power
Acts 3 brings a new conflict into focus. While the disciples of Jesus have been filled with power from the Holy Spirit in the previous chapter, the demonstration of this power in public will bring them into conflict with the Temple establishment. There are, in effect, two temples now in Jerusalem. One of made of stone by human hands, and one made out of human hearts. The physical, earthly temple, and the spiritual, flexible, movable temple that is constituted by the Christian community. The old and the new. Something significant is bound to happen.
Acts 3:1-10 - Healing the Beggar at the Temple
- This is the first healing miracle in the book of Acts. It takes place in the vicinity of the Temple, in a place where people will notice what has happened.
- Notice how in verse 2, the man is regularly brought by members of the community to a place where he can beg. He is not necessarily brought directly into God's presence. There is some Biblical precedent for the exclusion of disabled people from the temple in 2 Sam 5:8. Part of the surprise and subversion of this passage comes from the fact that this man who could not walk and could not be included in the Temple services will now run and leap into the Temple because the power of God was manifested outside of the Temple.
- In 3:8, the exuberance and passion of the healed man causes him to go leaping through the temple. Note that nobody takes offence to him doing so. Instead, people are simply amazed at the miracle. Apparently this behaviour does not violate their expectations about respect and decorum in the temple, at least not given the extraordinary circumstances.
Acts 3:11-26 - Peter's Second Sermon
- The word "colonnade" refers to a walkway that has lots of pillars of columns.
- It is interesting that Peter is willing to assign collective guilt to the crowd (3:13-15) without knowing them all individually. It is worth considering that the Jews likely had a cultural understanding of collective responsibility and shame, and wouldn't have been surprised by this logic.
- Peter's words in 3:17-19 should be a strong warning against the tendency some people today have of specifically blaming Jewish people for the death of Jesus. Peter acknowledges that it was done in ignorance, and that God had a purpose for the crucifixion. It's also worth remembering that Jesus specifically called for forgiveness for the people crucifying him.
- The words in 3:19-23 seem like a direct answer to the disciples' own question in 1:6 - "“Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?” Peter seems to now understand that the restoration of Israel will come with the restoration of all things at a later time, when God will send Jesus again.
- What Peter says in 3:24-26 brings up the purpose of Israel's covenant with God, which was to bring God's blessing to all nations. This foreshadows the global mission of the church that will begin to play out more in Acts.
- 3:26 is fascinating. The wording of the NLT does a good job of communicating the meaning: "When God raised up his servant, Jesus, he sent him first to you people of Israel, to bless you by turning each of you back from your sinful ways.” Here, God's blessing consists of turning people away from sin. The opportunity and empowerment to turn around and go the right way is itself the blessing. A more literal rendering of the Greek would actually use the word "in" (ἐν), literally: "blessing you in turning each of you from your wickedness." This harmonizes with the idea that evil ends up being self-destructive - wickedness in some ways becomes it's own punishment - and that goodness is inherently rewarding.
Acts 4:1-22 - Opposition from the Temple
- Note that the oppositional group here is comprised mostly of Sadducees. Luke points out an issue that has already come up in his gospel (Luke 20:27-40) and will come up again later in Acts: the fact that the Sadducees do not believe in any kind of resurrection of the dead for anyone. It makes the claim about the resurrection of Jesus completely unacceptable to Sadducees in a way that wouldn't have been quite as offensive to Pharisees.
- This particular section can seem frustrating at first read. But it's worth noting that this is a perfect example of how people's prior theological convictions and commitments can get in the way of truly seeing what's going on even when God himself intervenes in a situation directly. The power of God has been displayed in the miraculous healing of the man at the Gate, and the Temple leaders simply cannot accept what it seems to obviously mean. They resort to threats and accusations because they have nothing else.
- The fact that the disciples are generally men with low levels of education will eventually contrast heavily when the super-educated Paul joins their ranks later.
Acts 4:23-31 - The Prayer of Empowerment
- The words from 4:24-30 are recorded as one prayer, where "all the believers lifted their voices together in prayer to God" (4:24). This is probably a good example of intentional literary imprecision by a biblical author. We aren't meant to envision a whole group of people chanting this whole paragraph in unison together. Instead, this is a summary of the kinds of things that were prayed, likely by select individuals. Although it is likely that they might have been able to recite the citation from Psalm 2:1-2 together.
- Note in verse 27 how the church community sees the blame for Jesus' death as belonging to "Herod Antipas, Pontius Pilate the governor, the Gentiles, and the people of Israel." There is not only one particular group of people to blame. Many forces coincided in bringing about the death of Jesus, and all of them fit within God's plan of salvation.
Acts 4:32-37 - Sharing Everything
- The statement in 4:30-31, that the disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit, leads directly into this section. Not only does the Spirit empower them to preach boldly, but it also motivates them to be "united in heart and mind," and to give up their personal possessions in order to provide for the needs of their community. They share drastically, and apparently this results in there being no people living in dire need among them.
- There are social consequences to being filled with the Holy Spirit, not just personal or "spiritual" ones. The church being filled with the Holy Spirit motivates specific kinds of attitudes and behaviours towards the poor and the disadvantaged.
- This is the introduction of Barnabas into the story. He will become an important player when Paul comes onto the scene, but he is also an example of how the Spirit is at work through generosity and self-denial.
- This generosity episode immediately sets up the incident with Ananias and Sapphira, which we will cover next week. We have previously covered their story here.
Chapter four ends with another outpouring of the Holy Spirit - God's very own presence. The Church is now being cemented as a new and alternative Temple to the only built in Jerusalem. One represents an old way that is passing away, and the other represents a vibrant new thing that God is doing. One stands idly by as the other overflows with the power of the living God.
But as it was in the times of the Old Covenant, there is also danger inherent in being directly in God's temple presence. And next week we will see how this danger manifests itself for the early church, God's new temple.