Acts 4:23-31

”’On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David:

“‘Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.’

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.””’

– Acts 4:23-31, New International Version


Peter and John encountered a lame man at the gate of the Temple called “Beautiful” (Acts 3:1-10). The man, who was about 40 years old, had been lame from his mother’s womb. Peter commanded the lame man to walk in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. The lame man was healed.

A crowd gathered, and Peter preached (Acts 3:11-26). Many people believed in Christ when they heard his message. When added to the people who were saved on the Day of Pentecost, the number of men who believed came to be about five thousand. The church was rapidly growing.

Peter and John were arrested by the Temple guard and the Sadducees (Acts 4:5-12). The next day the rulers and elders questioned Peter and John. They wanted to know by what power and in what name Peter and John had done this. Their question, as Peter understood it, referred to the healing of the lame man. Peter told them that the man was healed in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene. Moreover, he proclaimed that salvation was through Christ alone.

The elders and rulers, even though they considered Peter and John to be uneducated and untrained, observed their confidence (Acts 4:13-22). They knew that a miracle had happened and that all of Jerusalem was aware of it. The rulers and elders then met privately and decided to warn Peter and John to speak no more in the name of Jesus. Concerning this warning, Luke writes:

‘But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”‘
– Acts 4:19-20

When the elders and rulers heard this, they threatened Peter and John further. Then, they released on account of the people who were glorifying God. Also, they could find no basis on which to punish them.

The Spirit Inspires David

When Peter and John were released, “they went to their own companions” (New American Standard Bible) or “to their own people” (NIV) (Acts 4:23). The Greek text (pros tous idious) just says to their own. The words companions and people are supplied by the translators.

The phrase to their own obviously refers to believers. However, just which believers were present is not explicit in the text. Some believe that Luke refers to the apostles, but others think he has more than the apostles in mind. Citing other usages of the word idios, Robertson says that Luke means, “their own people” as in John 1:11; 131; Acts 24:23; 1 Timothy 5:8; Titus 3:14, not merely apostles (all the disciples) (p. 54). I accept this view as the more likely conclusion. The disciples, in my view, would include new believers as well as those who believed at Pentecost.

Peter and John reported all that the chief priests and elders had said. When the people present heard this, they lifted up their voices to God with one accord to pray. It was a powerful prayer by believers in the face of adversity. They began by addressing God as Lord and by acknowledging that it was He who made the heaven, the earth, the sea and all that is in them. The Greek word used by the people for Lord is despota. It can be translated Lord Almighty or Sovereign Lord.

It was this Sovereign Lord “who spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David,” (Acts 4:25). According to Bruce, this text in Greek is very awkward. Most interpreters hold that David is the mouthpiece of the Holy Spirit. Another view is that David spoke by the mouth of the Holy Spirit. The latter translation is very doubtful. In Acts 11:6 Peter spoke of a prophecy that the Holy Spirit spoke by the mouth of David concerning Judas. Now, the companions of Peter and John again refer to the Holy Spirit speaking by the mouth of David. David was inspired by the Spirit to speak.

Now, the assembled believers cite Psalm 2:1-2. They attribute this passage to David who spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Here is what the Spirit said through David:

“Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.”
– Acts 4:25-26

Jesus the Anointed One

In Acts 4:26 Luke uses the Greek word Christou for Christ. The verb chrio means “to anoint”. In Psalm 2:2 David says that, “The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together against the Lord and against his anointed.” Specifically, the anointed of God is the Messiah. As Bruce (p. 106) says, Messiah represents (Heb. mashiach), a passive participle from the verb mashach (anoint).

According to the prayer of the disciples, the Jews and Gentiles were gathered “against your [God’s] holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed,” (Acts 4:27). Jesus is both Servant and King. In Isaiah 42:1 the Servanthood of Jesus is emphasized. The Kingship of Jesus is presented in Psalm 27. Both of these passages lie in the background of Luke 3:22. When the Spirit of God descended on Jesus after His baptism, the voice from heaven said Luke 3:22, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

When was Jesus anointed with the Spirit? The descent of the Spirit upon Him at His baptism was an anointing. With this anointing, He was authenticated as the Messiah and empowered for His service. It was a special moment of the Spirit’s presence in His life. The Spirit, however, was present throughout Christ’s life. Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20). The Spirit was powerfully present in His ministry (Luke 4:14, 18; and Acts 10:38). Later, at the time of His exaltation, Christ received the promised Spirit (Acts 2:33).

As the disciples prayed, they applied David’s prophecy to Herod, Pontius Pilate, the Gentiles, and to the peoples of Israel (Psalm 2:1-2). Both Jews and Gentiles are implicated in the death of Jesus. The Romans were the Gentiles who raged against Jesus. Herod represents the kings of the earth. A representative of the rulers is Pontius Pilate. Also, the Jewish rulers and elders were gathered against Jesus.

Even though the Jews and Gentiles were guilty, what they did was within the plan of God. The prayer of the disciples says that these enemies had gathered to do “what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen” (Acts 4:27-28). In this passage free will and predestination are brought together without any attempt to reconcile them. The Jews and Gentiles were guilty, but God is achieved His purpose.

The Prayer Request

Now, the disciples make their request. They knew that powerful forces were arrayed against them. They knew, as well, that Peter and John were determined to continue their witness. Therefore, they prayed:

“Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
– Acts 2:29-30

They prayed for strength to speak the Word of God with confidence. Then, their prayer includes their expression of faith that God would extend His hand to heal and works signs and wonders in the name of Your holy servant Jesus. While they spoke, God would work His wonders!

Filled with the Spirit

Now, God answers the prayer of the disciples for confidence in speaking the Word. The place where they had gathered was shaken. Opinions vary as to whether the shaking was figurative or literal. Believing the shaking was literal, some writers say the shaking was caused by an earthquake. Others believe the shaking was caused solely by the powerful presence of the Spirit. Whatever the shaking involved, we know that the Spirit was powerfully present.

The disciples were all filled with the Holy Spirit. Here, Luke uses the same Greek word (eplesthesan) as he used for the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4; also, see Luke 14:1 and 16:7). It is the aorist passive indicative of pimplemi. As the verb indicates, the disciples were filled with the Spirit on this occasion in answer to prayer.

As indicated above, the prayer group no doubt included apostles, members who believed at Pentecost, and new believers. Given this, whom does the word all include?

According to Ervin, the word all refers only to the new converts who had not been filled at Pentecost (Drunken, p. 63). The disciples who had been filled at Pentecost remained filled. They were not filled anew. Ervin holds that one who is already filled cannot be filled again (Drunken, p. 67). In my view this is a faulty understanding of the nature of being filled with the Spirit.

Our view is that all the disciples in the prayer group were filled with the Spirit on this special occasion. Being previously filled does not preclude being filled again. As Turner states The Lukan use of these expressions [filled and full] allows that a person might on many occasions be ‘filled with the Holy Spirit’ while nevertheless remaining ‘full’ of the Spirit (Power, p. 168).

They Spoke with Boldness

The result of the filling was that the disciples “began to speak the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31, NASB). The Greek verb elalaloun may be simply translated, “spoke the word of God boldly,” (NIV). The word “began” is supplied by the NASB. The result was a direct answer to prayer. Clearly, the disciples spoke the Word of God with boldness. They were empowered to be witnesses. To that calling they were faithful.


Arrington, French L. The Acts of the Apostles. Peabody Hendrikson Publishers, 1988.
Bruce, F. F. The Book of Acts. Grand Rapids Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1975.
Ervin, Howard M. Conversion-Initiation and the Baptism in the Holy Spirit Peabody Hendrickson Publishers, 1984.
Ervin, Howard M. These Are Not Drunken As Ye Suppose. Plainfield Logos International, 1968.
Haenchen, Ernst. The Acts of the Apostles. Philadelphia The Westminster Press, 1971.
Horton, Stanley M. The Book of Acts. Springfield Gospel Publishing House, 1981.
Horton, Stanley M. What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit. Springfield Gospel Publishing House, 1976.
Lenski, R.C.H. The Acts of the Apostles Minneapolis Augsburg Publishing House, 1961.
Rea, John. Bible Handbook on the Holy Spirit. Orlando Creation House, 1998.
Robertson, A. T. Word Pictures in the New Testament, Vols. 1-6. Nashville Broadman Press, 1930.
Swete, Henry Barclay. The Holy Spirit in the New Testament. London Macmillan and Company, 1910.
Turner, Max. Power from On High. Sheffield Sheffield Academic Press. 1996.

© Copyright 2002 GMF

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