There is evidence that the death of Ananias and Sapphira attracted much public attention at Jerusalem, but it does not seem to have been formally inquired into by the authorities.
In Eastern cities many things pass without notice, which would not fail to be fully investigated in communities such as our own; and in this case perhaps sufficient enquiry has been made, or report rendered to the Jewish rulers, to satisfy them that it offered no ground of charge against the apostles, and that any official notice of its occurrence could only tend to exalt them in the opinion of the people. Indeed, we are told that, as it was, this event inspired the unconverted Jews with great reverence for the apostles; and that while it deterred the worldly-minded or hypocritical pretenders to sanctity from joining the church, the strength and character of which could only have been injured by their presence, it by no means repelled the sincere and well-disposed, who were, indeed, attracted in large numbers by this new evidence of the Divine authority by which the apostles acted, and by the power with which they preached the doctrines of the gospel. Moreover, while they were authorized and enabled to show, that to their hands was in some measure entrusted the sword of God’s judgments upon hypocrites, the exercise of mercy and kindness was more congenial to their functions; for their miracles of healing were performed without stint—all who applied—all who were presented to their notice, were forthwith healed. The fame of this spreading abroad—and nothing spreads like this—the sick were brought from the neighboring towns to Jerusalem, to be healed by the apostles. Peter, from his readiness in speaking and in acting, and from his part in the recent transaction, was regarded with especial honor, and was conceived to be specially gifted in this respect, and he was more looked to than the other apostles by the multitude; and at length the popular appreciation of the powers with which he was invested rose so high, that the sick were laid upon their beds along the streets he was in the habit of passing, in his daily going to and from the temple, in the expectation that the mere falling of his shadow upon them would be effectual for their cure. As he returned, after he had attended the evening service, and had remained discoursing to the crowding adherents and auditors in Solomon’s Porch, which we are informed was the usual place of resort, it was probably towards sunset when he returned, and his lengthened shadow would be thrown far across the way as he passed. It is not expressly stated that those who took this course were actually healed; and it is clear the circumstance is mentioned in order to show the estimation in which the healing powers of the apostles were held. But the complexion of the statement, taken in connection with the context, seems to make it clear that they were healed. And this impression is confirmed by the analogous instances of the woman who secretly touched the hem of our Lord’s garment; Note: Mat_9:21-22. and especially of the application to distant sick of handkerchiefs and aprons, that had been in contact with the person of Paul. Note: Act_19:12. In both these instances cures were effected, and therefore probably in this also, as nothing to the contrary is said; and any argument that might be urged, from the improbability that an apparent superstition would be thus sanctioned, is at least as applicable to the “handkerchiefs,” in the case of Paul, as to the “shadow,” in the case of Peter. It is clear, however, that the power of healing was not in the shadow of Peter, any more than in the vestments of Jesus, or the handkerchief of Paul, but in the faith of the patients in the power of the Master and his servants to heal. Nor did Peter and the other apostles sanction any such notions, but constantly professed that they did not show forth these mighty deeds by any power of their own, but solely through the Divine power of Jesus.
The publicity of these proceedings, with the crowds who gathered around the apostles daily in Solomon’s Porch, at length led the Jewish rulers to believe that they could no longer neglect with safety, to take some steps to stem a movement so rapid and so strong. The step they did take was very decided, for they sent and apprehended the apostles, shutting them up in “the common prison.” It is not without meaning that the sacred historian mentions this as especially the act of the Sadducees, with the high-priest, who seems to have been of the same sect. It would appear that at this time the Sadducees had gained a paramount influence in the Sanhedrin, and took this measure without the concurrence of the Pharisees who were members of that assembly. The animosity between these two sects was specially calculated to move the Sadducees to hostility against the apostles, as the latter gave great prominence to the doctrine of the resurrection, by insisting that Christ had risen from the dead, thus affording their sanction, and gaining popular adhesion to a doctrine which was hotly contested between the two sects; for the Sadducees utterly denied the resurrection of the dead, which the Pharisees as strongly maintained. Now therefore, that the Sadducees were able to arrest the apostles, shows that they were at this time in power; and that the apostles upheld a favorable tenet of their opponents, supplies a special inducement for their action in this case, where the Pharisees would probably have been passive; while the leniency of the latter towards the apostles is explained by the same circumstance. Besides this, the Sadducees were proverbially severe in action and austere in judgment—and their prominence in the Sanhedrin would alone indicate the probability of active measures being taken against the teachers of the new doctrines.
So the apostles were imprisoned, with a view to their examination the next day before the Sanhedrin. But during the night an angel was sent to open the prison doors, and set them free. What course they might have taken if left to themselves, it is needless to inquire; but they were directed by the angel to pursue exactly the same course, of publicly teaching in the temple, that they had followed before their imprisonment. We shall not now enter into the circumstances of this event, as a similar deliverance, related with more circumstantiality, will ere long engage our attention.
The next day there was a very full meeting of the council to examine the prisoners, whom the apparitors were sent to fetch from prison. These officers speedily returned, in strange excitement, and related that they found everything secure in the prison—the doors fastened, and the guards keeping watch before them; but when the door of the chamber into which the apostles had been thrust was thrown open, the place was found to be empty—no prisoners could be found. Before the assembly had recovered from the astonishment which this strange story produced, news was brought that the men cast yesterday into prison were now at large, and were as usual teaching freely and undauntedly in the temple. On hearing this, the captain of the temple himself, with a suitable force, was sent to apprehend them. But from the manifest indications of the popular regard for the apostles, they found it necessary to act with great caution, lest any roughness or violence towards persons so venerated should awaken a commotion in which they might themselves be stoned to death—for the works of the temple, still in progress, caused many stones to be lying about, which had already more than once offered a ready resource for tumultuous resistance to armed men. They therefore behaved gently and civilly, and informed the apostles that the council then sitting desired their presence. The apostles at once obeyed the citation; and the people, seeing that they quietly followed the officers, did not attempt to interfere.