In opposition to the early Christians we know that the priests and their families, the police force, and the Sadducees were all part of the opposition. But it is not only these who were involved. In verse 5, Luke lists other people as well, three more categories: 1) “the rulers,” 2) “the elders,” and 3) “the teachers of the law.” Teachers of the law probably refers to those we call scribes, those whose task it was to know and copy the Scriptures. Elders refers to the elders of the people, the distinguished older men who lived in Jerusalem and had great influence. “Rulers” is a broad category that probably includes people in various positions of authority, the heads of government departments and committees.
This gives us six categories. But there are still more, because in verse 6 Luke also refers to individuals. There was Annas the high priest. He was the true high priest. The Romans had deposed him years before, and they had installed Caiaphas, his son-in-law, in his place. But in Israel the high priest was a high priest for life. So in the minds of the Jewish people Annas would still have been the true high priest, regardless of what the Romans had done. Then there was Caiaphas, the acting high priest. These two men had conspired in the trial of Christ, Jesus having appeared before each of them. Finally, says Luke, there was John (not John the Apostle, but a John in the priestly family), Alexander, and “other men of the high priest’s family.” These were all present, and all of them were arrayed against the two apostles.
When I look at that list and realize how powerful these men were, I think of the hymn that goes:
Zion stands by hills surrounded,
Zion, kept by power divine;
All her foes shall be confounded,
Though the world in arms combine.
That last part, “Though the world in arms combine,” is what was happening to Peter and John in these early days of church history. All the forces of the land were getting together against the early Christians. Yet, as the first part of the hymn says clearly, Peter and John were kept by God’s power, as we are going to see.
What is it that disturbed these powerful rulers so much? We are told in verse 2. They were disturbed because: 1) “the apostles were teaching the people,” and 2) “they were proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead.”
That they were teaching the people was itself naturally disturbing to the priests, Sadducees, rulers, elders and teachers of the law, because these men were teachers. Teaching by others was a threat to their authority. This was one thing that had bothered them about Jesus Christ. Jesus had not been schooled in the same way they had been schooled. He had not gone to their rabbinical academies. Nevertheless, He had an intrinsic authority. People marveled at it and flocked to Him. Once they sent the temple guards to arrest Jesus, but His teaching was so powerful that it stopped the guards cold. They went back to their leaders and explained their failure, saying, “No one ever spoke the way this man does” (John 7:46).
These rulers had killed Jesus. But now they suddenly had this entirely new group of people to contend with, and they were like Him. They had not been to the rabbinic schools either. They were just fishermen and tax collectors; simple, untaught people like that. But here they were teaching as Jesus had taught, with authority—and the people were listening to them.
A second matter disturbed them even more. These men were teaching about Jesus, and the central point of their teaching was that God had raised Him from the dead. If the disciples had been teaching about the resurrection only, perhaps it wouldn’t have been so bad. Because after all, the Pharisees also believed in the resurrection. The Sadducees did not, but the Pharisees did. On a later occasion, which we will come to in these studies, Paul used that doctrine to divide the Sanhedrin (see Acts 23:6-9). But the disciples were not just teaching about the resurrection generally, that there is going to be a resurrection at the last day. They were teaching about the resurrection of Jesus. And that changed everything. If it was true, it proved that Jesus was who He claimed to be, namely, the unique Son of God. It also proved the nature and value of what He came to do.