Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation, And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison. But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said, Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life (Acts 5:17-20).
The immediate context of this passage is Acts 5:1-11 in which Annanias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit about the amount of their gift and died as punishment. The manner of the passing of this couple had a profound effect not only on the church but the community as well (5:11). The work of apostles was so magnified by this event (5:11) that the opportunities to demonstrate signs and wonders increased (5:12) and church membership multiplied. Note the credibility this gained the apostles amongst the local population (5:15-16) which drew the attention and response of the Jewish leadership (5:17-18).
Let us note the purpose of miracles. They were to prove the Deity of Jesus (John 3:1-3; 20:30- 31; Acts 2:22), to confirm the Word to hearers (Mark 16:20; Heb. 2:1-4), to verify a true apostle (2 Cor. 12:12), and finally, to fulfill prophecy (Mat. 8:17) (Fishers of Men, Lesson Three). The miracles performed by the apostles in Acts 4 and 5 plainly achieve the intended results with no room for misunderstanding (4:12-22; 5:28; Mat. 27:24-25). Remember how the Jewish leadership responded to the healing of the lame man (Acts 4:13-22). They saw the change in Peter and John (4:13), knew they had been with Jesus, could not gainsay the miracle even acknowledging it (4:14, 16), but refused to respond to the testimony of the evidence literally standing in front of them.
So far in Acts we have two public sermons preached by the apostles: the founding sermon in Acts 2:14-40; the sermon following the healing of the lame man (in the temple) in Acts 3:11- 4:2, which brought about the first confrontation with the Sanhedrin as recorded in Acts 4:3-22. In these events, we find three records of explosive growth. First, in Acts 2:41, of some three thousand souls being added. Next, we find the number increasing to, or by, five thousand in Acts 4:4. Multitudes is used to gauge the increase of souls in Acts 5:14. What did the angel of the Lord tell the apostles to preach when he said, “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life?” (5:20). Whatever it was, it must be according to Scripture (Luke 24:44-48; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).
The manifestation of the miraculous was the ongoing proof that the messenger and the message was from God (Mark 16:17-18; Acts 2:4, 6, 22; 3:7, 12-13; 4:9, 14; 5:5, 10, 12, 16). The manifested ability was consistently attributed to the working of God (2:14-22; 3:6; 4:10; 5:30-32). It follows then that the message they preached in all situations, was in fact from God (John 14:16, 26; 15:26-27; 16:13). In freeing the apostles from prison, the angel admonished the apostles to reenter the temple and speak “all the words of this life.” We now turn our attention to that topic.
The apostles merely continued the practice of Jesus speaking in the Temple (Mat. 21:23; John 18:20). It is also accurate to state that they continued His preaching. Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life” (John 6:68; 14:26). Peter, standing up with the eleven in Acts 2, sought to answer the question, “What meaneth this?” (2:12), which was asked about the outpouring and manifestation of the Holy Ghost in verses 1-11. He told them that the events of which they were witnesses were a fulfilment of Joel’s prophecy in Joel 2:28-32, that in the last days the Spirit would be poured out, that wonders would be seen before the great and notable day of the Lord and that those calling on the Lord would be saved (Acts 2:16-21).
Peter then charges his Jewish audience with cruelly murdering Jesus of Nazareth, one who was approved of God as they knew (2:22). Their cruel hands were used by God to carry out His counsel (2:23), and God raised Him up (2:24). Peter even calls their King David as witness that the Lord would be resurrected and not see corruption (2:25-28). Jesus fulfilled the prophecy that the fruit of his (David) loins would sit on David’s throne. Peter applies this to Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, and coronation (2:30-35). Given this, it would then be reasonable to conclude that the words of this life the apostles were commanded to preach would include at least the following information.
Paul teaches that death, by sin, entered upon the whole of the human race (Rom. 5:12-14). The occasion was the transgression of Adam and Eve in the Garden (Gen. 3:6-8). The consequence of that sin involved the immediate loss of fellowship with God (Isa. 59:1-2), spiritual death (Rom. 5:12), and being cut off from access to the Tree of Life, which resulted in the loss of physical immortality (Gen. 3:22-24).
However, reading the account in Genesis 3, we see the beginning of the unfolding of the Scheme of Redemption. The coming Seed of woman would defeat Satan after receiving a minor wound but would crush Satan in the process (Acts 3:15). We likewise see, by implication, the first blood sacrifice for sin in Genesis 3:21, which God used to dress Adam and Eve with coats of skin. It is safe to say that skin generally comes from the bodies of animals. Since the blood of animals would be used to atone for sin (Heb. 9-10), which were only offered in prospect of the sacrifice of Jesus (9:11-15; 10:9-10, 22; 13:12; 1 Pet. 1:22), and since God assured them death would follow transgression, and they did not die, it can be inferred that an atoning blood sacrifice for their sin was offered.
Imagine yourself standing at a vantage point that provided you a clear view of either the door to the Tabernacle or, later, the appropriate gate to Solomon’s Temple. In this scenario, you are in a time when Israel, as a whole, was reasonably faithful. What you would see would be an ongoing stream of supplicants arriving with animal sacrifices for sins and even for peace offerings or sacrifices of thanksgiving. Think of the number of animals being offered. The blood that flowed from that stream of animals was tremendous. The point of all of this was to illustrate the sinfulness of sin and the need to be assured of sanctification and fellowship with God (Rom. 7:7-13). The Law demonstrated the sinfulness of sin. What is more, every year the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies twice on the Day of Atonement: once for his own sins (Lev. 16:1-14) and then for those of the nation (16:15-16). Somewhere in all of this, the faithful perceptive Israelite would have to proclaim as did Paul, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24).
The plan of God from before the foundation of the world was for man to be restored to fellowship with God his creator as Adam was in the Garden (1 Pet. 1:13-21). Only the holy can stand before God and be in fellowship with Him (1:15- 16; Hab. 1:13; Exo. 33:1-11).
Jesus is preached as the quickening force bringing all that are dead in sin into spiritual life (Eph. 2:1; John 10:10). All accountable humans are lost because of their life choices based on fleshly desires (Eph. 2:3-4; Rom. 6:23). God quickens us (makes us alive) and raises us from being spiritually dead in Christ (Eph. 2:4-6; 1:19-20). How is this done?
Paul says we are chosen to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth by being called by the Gospel (2 The. 2:13-14). Being taught of God (John 6:44-45) and believing in Jesus as the Christ (8:24), we willingly repent of our sins (Luke 13:3), confess Him as Lord (Mat. 10:32-33), and are immersed for the remission of sin (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38). When we obey the Word of the Lord (16:30-31), He becomes the author of our salvation (2:47). We are saved from our sins because He has washed us from our sins in His own blood (Rev. 1:5; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3-4, 16-18). We are sanctified by the Lamb in His blood through obedience to the truth (1 Pet. 1:22; Heb. 9:21; 10:22; 13:11-12).
Just prior to the Lord’s ascension, He charged His apostles that they were to speak His Word throughout all the world and that He would be with them (Mat. 28:18-20). Part of that commission was to teach the disciples what He had taught them and would, through inspiration, yet teach them. Paul commanded Timothy to find and teach faithful men able to teach others also. The command to go and teach is just as valid today for us as it was for the apostles and Timothy. We are to stand and speak only those things and all of those things commanded for mankind to become faithful Christians and to be able to work and worship as God has directed and then to gain heaven.
To go stand and speak all the words of this life is simply to sow the seed of the kingdom in the hearts of as many as we possibly can. It is done by literally standing and speaking, but also by any and all methods that do not violate any other command of God.
The church is a teaching institution with a message imparted only by teaching. May each of us realize our task and privilege to speak forth the unsearchable riches of Christ.
All Scripture quotations are from the King James Version unless otherwise indicated.
Fishers of Men, Search For Truth. Lesson Three. Hernando, MS: Fishers of Men, 2001. 18 Apr. 2017.
Reprinted from the 2017 The Bellivew Lectureship, Pensacola, Florida, 2017, Set up a Standard in the Land (Jer. 51:27). Ed. Michael Hatcher.