17Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, 18arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, 20“Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.” 21When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching. When the high priest and those with him arrived, they called together the council and the whole body of the elders of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22But when the temple police went there, they did not find them in the prison; so they returned and reported, 23“We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on. 25Then someone arrived and announced, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!”
26Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. 27When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”
The apostles continue their teaching in the temple – and the high priest and his friends have them arrested and put into prison. Don’t you imagine the high priest brushing his hands together and saying, “There, that is how we will deal with these blasphemers who are leading the people astray, following this renegade, Jesus!” But – his plan didn’t work. During the night, an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and told the apostles to go back and preach in the temple, and that is exactly what they did!
The next morning, the high priest called the Sanhedrin to meet and told the guards to bring the prisoners. But the guards return, saying the prison was locked, the guards were in place, but the prisoners were gone. And then, someone came in saying “Those men you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” They sent the guard to bring them from there, although very politely for the guard were afraid of being stoned by the people!
The high priest questioned them – why did they go against his specific orders? Why are they so determined to fill the city with this teaching and lay this man’s blood on him, the Chief Priest? I love Peter’s response, joined by the other apostles, “We must obey God rather than any human authority.”
The apostles were not starting riots against the system; they were not stirring up violence. But they were standing firm in what God was calling them to do, even if it meant standing against authority and being arrested by the authorities.