On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:5-12)
Thinking about these verses from the viewpoint of Annas, Caiaphas and the rest of the Sanhedrin made me chuckle a bit. This is the same group that opposed and ultimately condemned Jesus. At the crucifixion, they must have thought they were finally done with this upstart preacher from Galilee, who challenged their authority and all their preconceptions about God and the Law. Suddenly, however, his disciples are causing as much of a problem as Jesus did. If you go back a few verses, it says that the Sadducees were, “greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2).
In addition to being annoying, the disciples behavior must also have been shocking. This was a group that showed absolutely zero backbone during Jesus’ ministry. We recently saw in Matthew that they worried that Jesus was offending the Pharisees. And of course they all fled when Jesus was arrested, with Peter infamously denying him three times. At the time of the Resurrection, we see the disciples hiding, wondering what to do next. The fact that Peter and John were now boldly preaching and healing in Jerusalem blindsided the Pharisees and Sadducees, especially given their humble backgrounds: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
The sudden authority behind their words and actions made the Jewish leaders take notice: “By what power or by what name did you do this?” (Acts 4:7) What made this group of men, formerly characterized by fear and lack of faith, follow the path of their Teacher in preaching, healing, and challenging the religious leaders? By what authority were they doing these things? The answer is found in Peter’s Holy-Spirit-inspired response, where he elaborates on his confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” from Matthew 16:16:
1. Jesus is the Risen One. (Acts 4:10)
Peter makes it clear that the Jesus in whose name they were preaching and healing was the same Jesus crucified by order of the Sanhedrin. But he also makes it clear that what gave them their authority was the fact that God raised him from the dead. Simply put, the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ is the only thing that accounts for the disciples’ sudden change from cowards to prophets. The knowledge that death has been defeated is what gives the disciples of Jesus (including those of us alive today) the courage to boldly proclaim his kingdom. The Resurrection is also what confirms Peter’s confession. Had Jesus stayed in the tomb, the assertion that he was “the Christ, the Son of the Living God” would have been absurd. But in light of the Resurrection, Peter’s confession stands as a powerful statement of Jesus’ identity.
2. Jesus is the Rejected Stone that has become the Cornerstone. (Acts 4:11)
Peter here quotes Psalm 118:22. Traditionally the stone had been interpreted as a reference to Israel, but Peter (inspired by the Holy Spirit) applies it to Jesus, which makes it a Messianic prophecy. The concept of the “skandalon” is an important one in Matthew’s gospel: the idea that Jesus is a rock of offense that causes us to stumble. A “rock” is a frequent symbol of God throughout the Old Testament. Daniel prophesied the Messiah and his kingdom as a stone that smashes the world’s empires. Paul refers to Jesus and the crucifixion as a stumbling block or stumbling stone to the Jews. Both Peter and Paul refer to Jesus as the Cornerstone in their epistles. This symbolism of a rock or stone is loaded with divine imagery in Scripture. J. Vernon McGee even connects Peter’s quoting of Psalm 118:22 with Jesus’ statement after Peter’s confession that “on this rock I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18). Jesus is the foundation for the faith, preaching, healing, and authority of the disciples.
3. Jesus is the only means of salvation. (Acts 4:12)
Peter’s declaration that there is salvation in no one else but Jesus echoes back to Jesus’ words in John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” At the beginning of Matthew we saw the angel tell Joseph, “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (1:21). Psalm 118, which Peter quoted in verse 11, also speaks of salvation:
Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me free. (Ps. 118:5)
The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation. (Ps. 118:14)
This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it. I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation. (Ps. 118:20-21)
Save us, we pray, O LORD! (Ps. 118:25)
The quotation of Psalm 118 in conjunction with this idea of salvation, indicates that Jesus is not only the exclusive means for individual salvation, but also the exclusive means for the salvation of the nation of Israel. The Sanhedrin must of been seething as they heard this. They were the ones who interpreted the Law, regulated Jewish life and culture, and made sure the nation stayed on a path that would ensure favor with God. To hear that their salvation, both as individuals and as a nation, depended solely on the man they had just crucified would have been infuriating. But as J. Vernon McGee wrote in his Thru the Bible Commentary:
“There is no other name under heaven that can save you. The law can’t save you. Religion can’t save you. A ceremony can’t save you. One alone, the name of Jesus, can save you. Jesus is the name of that Person who came down to this earth to save His people from their sins. When any person comes to Him in faith, that person is saved. There is no other place to turn for salvation.
Isn’t it interesting that in the long history of this world and all the religions of the world and all the dogmatism that these religions have, not one of them can offer a sure salvation? … There is none other name under heaven whereby you can be saved. If you come to Him, if you trust Christ, then you are saved. That guarantees your salvation.”
Things to Reflect on in Light of This Passage:
1. Do I view the physical resurrection of Jesus as the thing that verifies everything else in the gospels, especially the assertions that Jesus is God and the only means of salvation? Does the knowledge that death is defeated give me the courage in this life to boldly proclaim his kingdom?
2. Is Jesus the Cornerstone of everything I do? Is my life, is my faith, built upon that rock?
3. By what power or by what name do I live life, work in ministry, raise my children, etc.? Am I relying on my own abilities and my own authority or do I do all things in the name of Jesus Christ?
4. Do I thank God that he has answered me and has become my salvation? (Ps. 118:21)