Peter and John had been brought before the Sanhedrin in an effort to squash the Gospel before it really began to take hold in Jewish society. The authorities found the Apostles preaching the resurrection in the Temple and arrested them, planning to hear their case the following day (Acts 4:1-3). The problem for the authorities was they put themselves between a rock and a hard place as far as squashing the new movement was concerned. To bring up the resurrection (the real reason for their arresting the Apostles; see verse-2) would have divided the court between Sadducees and Pharisees and nothing would be accomplished. What to do? So, they decided to threaten them (Acts 4:17).
Peter waxed bold in the Spirit (Acts 4:8), thus fulfilling the promise Jesus made to him a few short years ago (Mark 13:11). He simply pointed to the lame man that was made whole and declared that, if they were being questioned as to how this man had been healed, it was by the authority of Jesus of Nazareth, whom this very court had crucified. God raised Jesus from the dead, the proof of which stood before them, because how could anyone be healed through the authority of a dead man? The dead have no power—only the living have power. Therefore, Jesus is alive! He is the Stone set aside by the builders (those in authority in the Sanhedrin) and had become even their Lord! This was Peter’s case set before the Sanhedrin.
The court was speechless! They observed that Peter and John had been with Jesus, but what could they say in light of the miracle that had been done? The court sent the Apostles away while they discussed their case, but any child could see that this was going nowhere! What could be said against the miracle that had been done? Yet, the authorities refused to believe Peter’s testimony that Jesus had been raised from the dead according to the Scriptures and had been made the chief cornerstone—i.e. their own Lord and Master. They pushed that aside and decided to threaten the disciples in an effort to squash the spreading of the Gospel, because they feared that this would eventually do them harm with the people (Acts 5:28). And, it is the people whom the court really feared (Acts 4:16). Before anything could be done to these men, the court had to have the support of the people or at least the people’s indifference toward the Apostles. However, this was not the case at that time, so the court had no choice but to threaten the disciples and command them to cease teaching in Jesus’ name (Acts 4:17).
The Apostles, of course, came back with the question—which is the righteous thing to do, obey man or obey God? What does the court think God would be pleased with? With its hands tied, the Sanhedrin had to release the disciples. They didn’t like it, but when those in power underestimate the position of the weak, they often regret making such a big noise over a little matter. No one likes to back-peddle; it almost always ends with losing face and giving advantage to the very thing one meant to destroy.
For the Apostles things were looking better. They had faced the opposition and came out on top. Moreover, the Gospel was spreading. 5000 more were added to their number, and when these pilgrims returned to their homes throughout the empire, this would mean the Gospel was taking more territory in the name of Christ. The Good News of the Kingdom of God was spreading, and Jesus’ authority was extending further and further, reaching out to the ends of the earth.