GETTING THE MESSAGE/Acts 4:19-20
The occasion of these words by Peter and John was a warning from the Jewish authorities not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. The apostles answered: “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.”
The civil magistrate (government), whether the Jewish state or Roman, stands accountable to God ultimately. The Lord Jesus had commissioned the apostles to spread his name and gospel, so they were bound to do so, despite the command of the Jewish authorities.
In other places Scripture requires Christians to be submissive to the government, and honor state authorities; for example, 1st Peter 2 and Romans 13. It isn’t always a clear matter as to when a Christian or church is to practice civil disobedience, but here it was. Peter and John were responding to the authorities forbidding something God had required of them. Whatever the Christian does toward the state, giving honor or practicing civil disobedience, it is to be in submission to Christ.
So the church that seeks conflict unnecessarily is not following the Lord, but neither if she doesn’t proclaim the gospel. Knowing our accountability to the Lord helps us be careful on both fronts, examine our motives, and to seek to honor the Lord. We may reach a point where the church in our land in persecuted for preaching Christ; for being faithful as the apostles were.
If the church suffers persecution while being obedient to Christ, it can be a challenge to our faith. We know the Lord is Sovereign, so we can wonder why he allows suffering from enemies in power when the church is being faithful. In the book of Acts we see the church suffering while doing what Christ had commanded her to do. But we should look at the broader picture.
First, we see that enemies have power, but no more than is given them of God, as Peter will say in verses 27-28, and as Jesus answered Pilate (John 19:11). They might prevail, but it is for a time, a limited time, and it is a short one. The time will come when there will be no more time for them.
When they do prevail over the church, it is but part only, not over the whole. They prevail over the persons, but not over the cause; that stands impregnable. They may prevail over men’s lives but not over their spirits, which we see in the case of Stephen (Chapter 7). He prevailed over his enemies when they seemed to prevail over him. God’s glory was upon him, and his eyes upon Christ, praying for his enemies even as he was being stoned to death.
The church’s enemies may prevail in some way, but they lose in another. We see in the early church, the more it was pressed, the more it multiplied. As Pharaoh sought to diminish the Israelites, yet they increased all the more, so the church has often spread in persecution.
If we could lay the beginning and the end together we would see that enemies of Christ and his church never prevailed, but their victories only hastened their own ruin. In the Day of the righteous judgment of God we shall see all promises performed, and all threats executed.
So that all opposition to Christ and his people are uncovered in the end for how futile their works were. The history of Cain, Pharaoh, Haman, Herod, and many others testify that all their plots were under a curse and tended toward destruction. There is no future in opposing Christ.
God has two things he highly regards in this world; his truth and his church, which is a product of his truth. All those in Christ are to rest in the fact that our present lives are not in our own hands, or Satan’s, or our enemies, but in God’s. God is the length of our days. So we are to focus on being faithful, and let providence fall out as it may.
When we view the faithfulness of the apostles in the midst of so much opposition, it provides stability in the seeming confusion of things in this world. The Lord is working out harmony in all this discord. He is fitting his people for a better condition even as they are suffering at their worst here; and preparing the unbelievers for destruction, even while they are at their best here.
So Peter and John, full of the Holy Spirit and love to Christ, chose to be obedient to him, rather than yield to the threats of men. And in doing so, they did their own and many other souls good.