By Tyson Thorne

June 10, 2014

PrisonBreak large

The events may have played out in the Temple courts rather than on 34th Street (Acts 5.17-.42), but a miracle occurred all the same. With thousands of Jews becoming followers of Jesus in Judaism’s capital city, we’re told the high priests and all the Sadducees became jealous and ordered the arrest of the apostles. I’ve always had trouble with the word “jealous” used in this passage. While a proper translation of the Greek word zalou, it could be clarified with a more expansive translation. Contextually, this verse follows a description of the apostle’s ministry and the exhibition of signs and wonders so it would be easy to conclude that the religious authorities were jealous of the powers of the apostles. But I think the opinions expressed by the majority of the religious leaders a few verses later reveal this is incorrect. The concerns of the high priests and the Sadducees is much more political than religious and it would best be understood that they were guarding their authority (political power base) with vigilance (or jealously).

Therefore, feeling the support of the people moving away from the religious leadership and toward the apostles, they felt an urgent need to round up the Jesus-movement’s leadership and arrest them, which they did. However, during the night, something extraordinary occurred: An angel of the Lord dropped by orchestrated a prison break! In chapter 5 verse 19 we see that the angel opened the doors and led them safely away, but it’s clear from verse 23 that something more had happened. The guards had maintained their posts and certainly would have noticed an angel and the apostles fleeing the scene. Somehow the angel was able to cloak the entire event – either by causing the guards to sleep through it, or using some stealth ability or mind trick (“these are not the apostles you are looking for”) – but one way or another the task was accomplished with complete secrecy.

The apostles did as instructed and the next morning began preaching in the temple courts about Jesus once more. And why not? If God was willing to break them out of jail then surely they had little to fear from religious and political authorities. Indeed, once the high council convened and learned of the nights events they sent the guards to round them up again and bring them in for questioning. As it turns out, the Sadducees had reason to suspect their power base was eroding, for even the temple guards did not want to arrest the apostles publicly fearing the people might react violently.

The outcome of this meeting was little different than when Peter and John were arrested and questioned. The high council had the disciples beaten and released, which only encouraged the Jesus-followers all the more. If they had any doubt about God’s willingness to protect them, they were extinguished in a single night.

The lesson here is a valuable one: God can rescue his people from any circumstance. Even so, it is equally important to remember that he doesn’t always do so. If you recall from Luke’s gospel account John the Baptist was imprisoned and later beheaded. Jesus was around at the time and did nothing to stop the execution. How does God decide whom to save from such circumstances? That depends on his plan and purpose, to which we are not privy. And we do not need to know the details of God’s plans in order to obey him. Even when the outcome is questionable, our response should be like that of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

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