“Then the High priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. They arrested the Apostles and put them in the public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. “Go, stand in the Temple Courts,” He said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.””
There is something wonderful about the way that Luke keeps alternating in the early chapters of the Book of Acts between the general and the specific. He writes, as a summary, in chapter 5:12-16, about how the Church is growing dramatically in response to the prayer of Acts 4:25ff. Then in the seventeenth verse of chapter five Luke goes back to his specific account. Now it is about the way that the world around the believers, in the form of the High Priest and Sadducees is roused to jealousy and responds to the growth of the Church by putting the Apostles in jail, and subjecting them to a trial with the hope that they might be put to death. Fruitfulness leads to persecution here in Acts five, as it always does in one form or another.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, in his sermon, “The Outpouring of the Spirit” proclaims the following about an awakening that took place in the United States in the late 1850’s and early 1860’s.
“The work still progresses, if anything, at a more rapid rate than before, and that which makes me believe the work to be genuine is just this – that the enemies of Christ’s holy gospel are exceedingly wroth at it. When the devil roars at anything, you may rest assured there is some good in it. The devil is not like some dogs we know of; he never barks unless there is something to bark at. When Satan howls, we may rest assured he is afraid his kingdom is in danger. Now this great work in America has been manifestly caused by the outpouring of the Spirit, for no one minister has been a leader in it. All the ministers of the gospel have cooperated in it, but none of them has stood in the van. God Himself has been the leader of His own hosts. It began with a desire for prayer. God’s people began to pray: the prayer meetings were better attended than before; it was then proposed to hold meeting at times that have never been set apart for prayer; these also were well attended; and now, in the city of Philadelphia, at the hour of noon, every day of the week, three thousand persons can always be seen assembled together for prayer in one place.”
Looking at Acts 5:17-20, and the verses which follow, we see that in response to the preaching of the gospel the Jewish Leaders rise up, in opposition. They are going to do everything in their power to bring this movement to an end. The Apostles are arrested and put in the public jail. Plans are put into effect for the calling of a trial of these apostles for the purpose of putting them to death. The problem that the Christians posed was to be brought to a speedy end. They made their plans, but God intervened. The Angel of the Lord, at the very least an angel, but perhaps the Lord Himself, set the Apostles free. The point here is to confirm what Luke has been saying right from the beginning of the book, this is about the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the prime mover behind the spread of the Gospel.
The Apostles are set free and told to stand their ground in the face of the opposition they will be facing. Sometimes the only way forward for believers is to stand our ground in the face of severe opposition. The leaders rise up and the Apostles stand firm with the Gospel message. This can only be the result of a prayerful abiding in Christ. They stand firm in the Spirit of God and the consequence is the advance of the Gospel in the face of opposition. This is what the Apostle Paul calls the Church at Ephesus to in Ephesians 6:10-13.
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”