The third and major section of this chapter shows that the blessing described in verses 12-16 was accompanied by a time of renewed persecution (vv. 17-42). It begins, as the last chapter did, with the frustration of the Jewish leaders. Christianity was beginning to spread. Thousands were responding to the Gospel. Those who were in charge of the religious and political life of the nation were justifiably distressed at what was going on in the city and were afraid it might disrupt the stable social order they were enjoying and their place in it. Three things bothered them.
1. The name of Jesus. They were bothered that the preaching of the apostles and the miracles being performed were in “the name” of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they had crucified. The way they speak of “that name” again and again shows how disturbed they were by it. From their point of view, Jesus was only an upstart rabbi. He had come who knows from where (He had no real training, certainly not the kind they had received in their rabbinic schools), and had taken it upon Himself to be a rabbi. It is true that He did it powerfully and winsomely, such that He gained a large following. But if He was not who He claimed to be—and they were not ready to bow to that claim—then Jesus of Nazareth was a false prophet, a blasphemer. He made out that He was God, cleverly, of course. He did not state His claims too openly, because if He had they could have summoned witnesses, convicted Him of blasphemy, and have gotten rid of Him early on. And in the end they did get rid of Him. But here was the devilish thing: they had destroyed Him, but “that name” was still being proclaimed before the people. I detect, as I read these chapters, that although they would have said, “We were right to do what we did,” deep in their hearts they felt guilty for having destroyed what was quite obviously a very righteous man.
2. The resurrection. They were also frustrated by the fact that the preaching of Jesus involved the resurrection. Luke notes at this point that “the high priest and all his associates…were members of the party of the Sadducees” (v. 17). The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection. It would be bad enough to be a Pharisee, to have condemned Jesus, and then have it preached in Jerusalem that God raised Him from the dead. That would be bad because, if you were a Pharisee, you would be responsible for His execution. Still, you would have believed in the resurrection at least. How much worse for the Sadducees! They did not believe in the resurrection. So for them, the preaching of Christ was also an attack on their knowledge of the Scriptures and their theological position.
Moreover, the resurrection was proof of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, if it was true. This was extremely dangerous for those in their position. In fact, for them it was an intolerable assertion.
3. Jealousy. Luke adds one other thing. He says that they were jealous. That is also interesting, isn’t it? I suppose that if you can oppose Jesus on the basis of His being a false prophet, you can at least do so with a certain degree of nobility. You can stand on a platform of truth, as crusaders usually do. “Truth is truth. Falsehood is falsehood. We must defend truth. Jesus must be opposed, as reluctant as we may be to do it.” A person can take the high road in this kind of argument. Again, as far as the resurrection goes, you can attempt an argument from Scripture. You may be wrong (I believe you would be), but you can claim to have examined the text thoroughly. You can say, “I am not convinced that the Bible teaches that there will be a resurrection. The doctrine of the resurrection is wrong.”
Yet what Luke tells us here is that the leaders were not really dealing with the claims of the apostles on that level. There was something beneath their opposition, something that had been festering away. It was jealousy. Jealousy of whom? Were they jealous of Jesus? Jesus who was dead? Were they jealous of the apostles, these whom they had observed had no education? The answer is probably “yes” to both possibilities.
They were jealous of Jesus because it was His name rather than theirs that was being proclaimed. They were also jealous of the apostles because they were preaching powerfully, doing miracles, and people were following them. The religious leaders wanted these things. They wanted to be well known, to have a “name” among the people, and they wanted people to follow them. It is the same today. Many of our contemporaries, even ministers, want to be well known and have a following. Much of the evil in the world happens as a result of jealousy. It is seldom given that name, of course. Still, when attacks are made on those who are being used much by God, it is usually jealousy that lies behind it. People resent the fact that someone else is getting the attention.