Persecution in the Early Church (Acts 3-5)
Welcome to Lesson 7 of your Bible Study of Acts.
In this lesson we want to take a look at the topic of persecution through the lens of Acts 3, 4 and 5 and the apostle Peter’s arrest, persecution and defense. Afterward, we will look at other areas of Acts, most notably the persecution of Stephen and Paul.
Persecution as a topic forms a major theme in Luke-Acts. We see this clearly in the life of Jesus in Luke’s gospel. We also see this in the way that Luke connected Jesus and the apostles through the theme of suffering.
The following questions will guide our study:
- What is the context of persecution in Acts 3, 4 and 5
- What are some modern applications based on these narratives?
Context of persecution in Acts 3, 4 and 5
Read Acts 3:1-26 and 4:1-4
- Who is doing the persecution and what is the reason given? Be specific.
- Why would the apostles’ actions be deemed grounds for being jailed?
Read Acts 4:4-14
- What occurred after Peter and John were arrested? Who was present?
- What is the question that prompts Peter’s response?
- What does Peter say in response to the question from the religious leaders?
- What instructions were given to Peter and John? (Note the similarity to 4:2) What is Peter’s response? How does this compare to his response in 5:26-32 after his second arrest?
- What did Peter and John do after their release and what was God’s response?
Read Acts 5:40-41
- What occurred to Peter and John after their second arrest and release? What was their response?
- What does this say about how God may respond to his servants in times of persecution?
Some questions to reflect on your life
- Have you or are you currently suffering because of your faith? This need not be something as drastic as the apostles in Jerusalem.
- How do you deal with this type of situation?
- What are some possible responses you might have to suffering or persecution in your life?
Some modern applications of Acts 3-5
- Those who speak about Jesus or the gospel will often suffer. If they persecuted the master they will persecute the disciples. Luke purposely links the suffering of Jesus (in the gospels) with that of the apostles (in Acts) to show that his followers carry on in his tradition.
- Nothing can stop the progress of the gospel (not opposition, persecution, abuse, rulers or religious leaders).
- The Spirit of God accompanies his servants and often communicates through his servants in situations of persecution. This is something Jesus promised his disciples (Mat 10:19, Mar 13:11, Luke 12:11)).
As this study shows persecution is an integral part in the book of Acts. In fact, this persecution was anticipated in the ministry of Jesus and forms an important link between Jesus and his apostles. It shows that what Jesus began to do and teach, now is being carried on by his servants (Acts 1:1-3).
Ultimately, this persecution is linked with the great conflict that the gospel generated among the Israelite population. Although there were many conversions among the Jewish people (even among priests and Pharisees), this group formed the largest opposition to Jesus and his followers.
For us, this issue must awaken us to the certainty that sufferings, afflictions and persecutions always come because of the gospel.
In Acts, the apostles show their courage and dependence on God in those moments where they answer their accusers. Furthermore, Acts shows us that God cares for His servants amidst persecution though he does not always relieve them of the charges or suffering that come through the hands of their oppressors.