The city of Jerusalem was in an uproar, and the courts of the temple grounds were utterly shaken. During Pentecost, the apostles of Yahshua the Messiah had proclaimed salvation and resurrection from the dead in the name of the man Yahshua who had been hated by the Jewish leaders and murdered to quell any uprising from the people.
Now thousands were believing and being baptized into the Community of Messiah. Jerusalem had never seen such a marvel. Household after household was being established throughout the region. Men, women, and whole families were moving into the area from countries all around the Mediterranean world, selling their homes, their farms, and possessions, and giving all to meet the needs of the new community.
What an upheaval this was to those of the Jewish high priestly order! Even some from among the priesthood had believed. They had joined this sect and were participating wholeheartedly, with unabashed love for one another, in demonstration of a life together. Their common life was the talk of the town.1
Then, sometime after the day of Pentecost, there was more explosive growth. Another two thousand joined the community. The apostles had again preached salvation in the name of Yahshua the Messiah, right in the Court of the Gentiles. The whole city was aware of what was taking place, but they didn’t fully understand what caused these people to start living together. They could see the contrast between the cynical, yet powerful, religious leaders of Jerusalem, and the simple devotion and love of the new followers of Messiah. The Pharisees and religious leaders knew something had to be done quickly. This was worse than when Yahshua Himself was alive!
Several thousand within the region of Judea now claimed faith in this Messiah, and as a result they daily served and cared for one another, laying down their lives for one another.2 Their love for one another flowed out of the forgiveness they had received for their own sins. They had no higher preoccupation than this: to daily give themselves to meeting the needs of the brotherhood. They worked with unlimited vision and zeal.
This new life was what Yahshua meant when He taught His disciples about the gospel of the Kingdom.3 The community in Jerusalem was a foretaste of God’s reign â€” His Kingdom on earth.4 The greatest witness, far beyond the miraculous cures at the apostles’ hands, was the miracle of this new life together. Their oneness of heart and unselfish love and care for one another were the works only God could bring about.5 These were the greater works Yahshua had spoken of in John 14:12. It would be the outstanding witness6 of His life on earth.7
Social, educational, and language barriers fell before this love, losing their power to divide mankind. All those who believed were together and shared all they had together.8 Going from house to house they fed and clothed one another. They worked together, serving each other in deep gratitude and thankfulness for this new life. They shared a mutually supportive economic structure that expressed the reality that they were seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.9 And just as the Savior had promised, all their needs were abundantly supplied through their common life without having to strive for them as the Gentiles did. In obedience to the gospel, they had left all behind them and had received a hundred times more in exchange for what they had given up. This proved the genuineness of their faith, showing that they were also forgiven and washed clean of all their sins.10 They no longer lived for themselves or sought their own occupations, but were employed with the daily preoccupation of building the Community of Messiah,11 a brand new life and culture.
The apostles faithfully preached the “many other words”12 of the gospel, teaching those who heard to obey all that Messiah had commanded.13 They were repeatedly warned and taken into custody to quench their zeal, but nothing could hinder the outpouring of the Holy Spirit that was upon them. It wasn’t long before the tension escalated and the religious leaders in Jerusalem decided that enough was enough! They conspired together to destroy the disciples and bring an end to the confusion they were causing among their Jewish brothers. They would be thrown into prison and then it would be decided what should be done with these men who were promoting this new religious sect among the Jews. They marched in carefully, so as not to cause a riot, and took Peter and John into custody.
In the midst of their suffering, in the stillness of the night, from within the darkness of the prison walls, an angel appeared and the doors opened.
“Go, stand in the Temple Courts,” he said, “and tell the people the full message of this new life.” (Acts 5:20)
There was no stopping them now. The whole message of this new life, which was being lived out in community right in front of the eyes of the people of Jerusalem, could not be hidden. The angel commanded that the whole message of this new life had to be explicitly14 understood by those who were seeing it. The consequential effect of their witness and behavior must not be lost on the people of Jerusalem.
The authority of that angel came upon them and the apostles knew what to do.15 They took a fearless stand and began boldly teaching about this new life of community right there in the temple courts. The people of Jerusalem needed someone to explain the significance of this new life and where it came from so that they too could be saved. Otherwise, the people of Jerusalem would not have understood it.
The message could now be fully proclaimed because that life was already in existence. The angel could not have given Peter this command before the community in Jerusalem was established. The witness of the Kingdom16 was an observable life together in community and was an integral17 part of the good news. That’s what the angel was telling them. So, the gospel needed to be articulated in clearly defined terms that explained the reality of the life it produced. Of course, the life the angel was speaking of in Acts 5:20 was none other than the life the Holy Spirit had caused to be described in the previous chapters. You can read about it yourself in Acts 2 and 4!
But let’s put the shoe on the other foot: What if the angel were to come to you? What would you confidently go out to proclaim? How would you explain your “life in Christ” to the people of the modern world? Would it be in words very similar to Peter’s that day, full of his testimony of the vibrant life of the Community of Jerusalem? Or could you only tell them about your Sunday School class and Sunday worship service and your Bible study on Wednesday night? Or how you try to be a good witness at your job, and are faithful to pay your tithes? But do you really suppose that the Holy Spirit would have described in such detail the vibrant community life of the church in Jerusalem if it were not an example to be imitated?18
Peter had a confidence that all believers are to have. No, all believers are not apostles as he was, but all should have the confidence of knowing that the gospel they preach is lived out as a witness, observable by all, just like the church in Jerusalem â€” the Community of the Redeemed. That was the witness of those who believed. They lived together, sharing all things in common, being devoted to the teachings of the apostles and their fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer at their daily gatherings.
Their life was “set apart” and distinct from the common Roman or Judaic lifestyle, a life that stood in stark contrast to the principles that governed modern society. It was the result of obeying all that Yahshua commanded.19 Their acceptance of His sacrifice on their behalf and their obedience to His commands for discipleship20 was the basis for the Holy Spirit to be imparted to them.21
Wherever the veritable22 gospel was preached, this pattern of the life of Messiah in community would be the result.23 The words of the gospel, together with the life of community (which is the fruit of that gospel), is the witness of the Body of Messiah on earth. You can’t have the one without the other.