Bible Class
Discussion Guide
by Edward Thomason

Power struggles in Jerusalem
Acts 4:1-22 

warm up
   1. How do most people respond when they feel that their authority is being threatened or undermined? Why?  
   2. Discuss some appropriate responses to such threats to one's authority in the following situations:
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Parental authority v/s protesting teens
Police authority v/s protesting citizens
School authority v/s rebellious children 
wise up

While the new faith was gaining popularity and favor among the people of Jerusalem (Acts 2:47), it was in conflict with the religious rulers of the city. It's teaching about a resurrected Christ was unacceptable to the Sadducees who did not believe in the possibility of any kind of resurrection. And the public teaching of Peter and John brought out the jealousy of the priests. (The apostles were encroaching upon their turf.) They considered the apostles to be "unlearned and ignorant" (Acts 4:13) probably because they did not attend the rabbinical schools that they attended. (Although we might say they had their "Master's degree" from having been with Jesus for over three years.)

As this story unfolds we can see the "power struggle" between the apostles and the rulers being played out. 

Power play - round one. Vs. 1-16

   1. In the first round, the rulers were insinuating that the apostles had "crossed the line" of religious authority. They asked, "By what name (authority) have you done this?" (Vs. 7.) In his response, Peter suggested that the rulers had actually been the ones that "crossed the line" by rejecting the stone (Jesus) which is now the head of the corner. (Vs. 10-11.) In fact, Peter went on point out a "new line" that the rulers were not yet aware of when he asserted that there is no other authority except Jesus that can save. (Vs. 12.)
   2. The miracle of chapter 3 had occurred around 3:00 pm (Acts 3:1) and Peter and John were arrested by the temple captain at eventide (or about 6:00 pm). During those three hours the crowd had gathered, Peter had preached, and many had been persuaded to believe. How many men were recorded as having been believers according to verse 4. Could this great increase in numbers been part of what had alarmed the priests? 
   3. In verse 6 we learn that the highest ruling religious leaders of the city gathered to examine the authority with which Peter and John had healed the lame man. These were the very men who had plotted the betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus.  In verse 9, Peter made it clear that they were being examined about a "good deed."  Is it normal for people to be arrested and examined for doing good deeds? What kind of effect do you think Peter's reference to their arrest for doing a "good deed" would have had on the leaders? Would it have knocked some of the wind out of their sails?
   4. Does Peter turn the tables on the leaders in verse 10? Read verse 12 again. Was Peter saying that this new faith of Christianity excludes all those religious people who seek salvation in some other authority except Christ? When it comes to line drawing, verse 12 is too narrow for many. But who drew that line?
   5. Logically, "for every effect there must be a cause." According to Peter, what or who was the cause behind the miracle of chapter 3? According to verses 14 and 16 were the religious leaders unable to deny the validity of the effect or miracle? Discuss the logical dilemma that the rulers faced in trying to deny the cause (Christ) of the effect (the undeniable miracle.) To admit the miracle was valid was to admit that the message Peter preached about a resurrected Christ was correct.

Power play - round two. Vs. 17-22

   1. In the second round of discussions the rulers countered by drawing a "new line" of their own, coupled with a threat not to cross it. What did they command Peter and John not to speak or teach at all? (Vs. 18.) What was their response? (Vs. 19.)  The essence of their response was: "Which line do you think we should pay more attention to fellas.... your line or God's?" 
   2. When one's authority is being threatened, many will use their authority to produce threats. In this case, the threats are idle. The rulers knew that they had no legal grounds to punish these men for doing a "good deed."  But they did not want them to "speak at all" in the name (or authority) of Jesus. Look ahead at Acts 5:28. What was it about their preaching that really bothered these rulers?
   3. When we are made to chose between crossing a line that God has drawn and a line that man had drawn, which should we chose? According to verse 20, Peter and John had seen and heard things that they could not keep quiet about. Have you ever wanted to tell something to others so much that you felt like you might explode if you didn't say it? Well that is probably about how these men felt. They would die before they would be silent. Discuss how this in itself helps to validate their claim that Jesus was resurrected.? 

wrap up

   1. A discussion of authority in religion is one of the most important and basic discussions that one can have. It is no surprise that this issue came up early in the history of the church. The same power struggle continues even today!


  Please read Acts 4:23-37 for next week   copyright 2001