When Peter and John had first appeared before the Sanhedrin (4:1-22), they were not guilty of any particular offense against the Jewish leadership, but this time they were guilty of continuing to preach Christ after they had been ordered to cease and desist. In addition, there was the matter of their little escape from custody; surely the Twelve had cause for concern, and ample reason to be very careful about what they said.
The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.” (5:27-28)
So, here is the scene: They have been brought forward to be questioned by the high priest in front of the full leadership, only the high priest has no questions for them; look at what he said, there was no question asked at all. Any lawyer would tell the apostles to remain silent at this point.
The high priest, rather than ask a question, has made accusation without asking a question which I would suggest is a rather ominous sign that he has already made up his mind about what happens next. In fact, his accusation that the apostles have acted in disobedience to his previous command is accurate, for they have most assuredly disobeyed his order to cease and desist. Of course there is a rather humorous note to all of this when he accuses the apostles of being “determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood” which of course everyone in the room knows that they are guilty of.
If you were in the apostles’ sandals, what would you do at this point?
Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings! The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (5:29-32)
Well, “in for a penny, in for a pound” as the saying goes; Peter and the others fire a full broadside at their attackers, who by the way are also their judges. That they must obey God and not humans is about the equivalent of telling the court that it lacks competent jurisdiction to judge them, not usually a wise assertion for a defendant to make. Then, they make their assertion that the Jewish leaders were in fact guilty of Jesus’ blood, which in this instance would be essentially a guilty plea considering what they’ve been accused of. Finally, they claim that Jesus sits at the right hand of Almighty God and is ready to forgive the Jewish leaders of their sins if they will only repent of their misdeeds.
At this point, we must remember who these leaders are; they consider themselves the most righteous and holy of all Creation, they keep the Law of God best of all, just ask them. Forgiveness they don’t need forgiveness; they keep the Law.
At this point, we must come to grips with the real facts of the matter, which are that the apostles have only just begun to carry out their Commission from our Lord, and that Commission is God’s eternal purpose to build up a Body of believers on the earth. As long as the apostles still have work to do on the earth, no human authority is going to stop them.
Yet if we look upon this scene from an earthly perspective, the apostles are doomed:
When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death. (5:33)
It was now time for God to make His next move…