Few of us have ever been confronted by the world and threatened such as was done to the Apostles, Peter and John, in Acts 4. Luke places a special responsibility of blame upon the Sadducees and the Annas family in particular for the rejection of the Gospel message and for the persecution of the church later. In chapter 4 Luke highlights the position of the Sadducees by comparing it with that of the ordinary Jews. Later, in the next chapter he does the same when he contrasts the positions of the two ruling parties of Judaism—the Sadducees and the Pharisees who had their own reasons for not embracing the new Jewish movement among them.
The Sadducees were principally aristocrats whose power and wealth were drawn from the land they owned. They were the nobility of the Jewish nation. It was from the ranks of this powerful party that the high priests were appointed by those who ruled the Jewish nation—the Ptolemies, the Seleucids, the Herods and the Romans. The captain of the Temple mentioned in Acts 4 was also taken from the ranks of the Sadducees. This powerful party held nearly all of the important ruling positions among the Jews, but the high court, the Sanhedrin, they shared with the Pharisees. The Sadducees were a hard-nosed group that ran the Jewish nation in a businesslike, no-nonsense manner. They conducted the affairs of the state/religion (Judaism was a theocracy) with a bare minimum of sentimentality or idealism. They had the reputation of being harsh when it came to dispensing justice, and they were very perceptive, clever and realistic when it came to negotiations with the Romans. They pursued a policy of cooperation in order to preserve the nation and their wealth vested therein.
The Sadducees became upset with the Apostles and arrested both Peter and John. They had executed Jesus, so, if the Apostles’ story of Jesus being resurrected was believed by the people, they stood to be blamed by the Law for executing God’s Anointed One, the Messiah. The ruling party would not only lose face, but much of their authority in the eyes of the people would be lost. Insurrection would not be out of the question, and the Romans would inevitably step in and perhaps replace them in order to keep the peace. So, they had a great deal to lose over this matter, and Peter and John were right in the middle of the controversy.
The problem the Sadducees had was the court (the Sanhedrin) would be divided if the term, resurrection, was brought up, because the Pharisees believed in the doctrine of the resurrection and would oppose the Sadducees in any matter relating to it. Therefore, all they could do, since a particular law had not been broken, was to ask the Apostles what authority had been used to heal the man (Acts 4:2, 7), perhaps hoping something could be made of bringing up the name of their common enemy, Jesus. It should not be a surprise, then, that this interrogation was going nowhere. After all, a healing had been done, and no law had been broken. So, what wrong had the Apostles done? At most it could be argued that the Apostles had exposed or embarrassed the ruling body for their own wrongdoing, but they were not calling for revolution, so the ruling body’s mention of the subject would be anti-productive and could only serve to further embarrass them. Therefore, it would be idiocy to make their stand on something that could only do them harm no matter what the outcome.
It seems evident that the Sadducees and particularly Annas, the high priest, was overly eager to bring the new movement to a halt. It backfired, because to pursue the matter could only end up further emphasizing their own wrongdoing. They tried to bully the Apostles into cowering away, but their efforts failed as the next few chapters in Acts show.