The high priest and his associates, the Sadducees, have arrested the twelve apostles (Acts 5:17-18), but they were to learn that a Higher Power than they could release those whom they had imprisoned. An angel came that night, opened the doors to the prison, and instructed the apostles to go to the temple and preach. They did (Acts 5:19-20). The Jewish leaders were ignorant of the angel’s visit, and early the next morning they sent to the prison to have the twelve brought to trial before them. But their prisoners were not there. The doors were locked in all security; the jailers were standing guard, but they had not realized they were guarding an empty cell!
The rulers were perplexed. What could have happened to their prisoners? They soon had the answer to that question: One came and told them “the men whom you put in the prison are in the temple, standing and teaching the people” (Acts 5:26). Immediately they sent to bring the apostles before them. But without violence: They feared the multitude would stone them. At this period of time the apostles were held in high regard by the people.
Angrily the rulers accused the apostles: “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name and behold you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (Acts 5:28). What a difference in attitude with that of those same rulers from a few weeks earlier when Pilate had, in their presence, washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man, see ye to it” (Matthew 27:25). Then, without hesitation, the people responded, “His blood be on us and our children” (Matthew 27:25). Now they “sing a different tune”, yet they have learned nothing from the things which they have seen and heard. Just a few months earlier Jesus had given sight to a man who was born blind in John 9. They had been given incontestable evidence that a miracle had been worked, but the Jews told the blind man, “We know God spoke unto Moses, but as for this man, we know not whence he is” (John 9:29). The blind man responded, “Why, herein is the marvel that ye know not whence he is and yet He hath opened mine eyes” (John 9:30). A few weeks after Jesus healed the blind man, He stood at the tomb of Lazarus and said, “Lazarus, come forth” — and he did. He had been dead four days when Jesus raised him from the dead (John 11:43-44).
There were many witnesses to the resurrection of Lazarus, friends who had come from all around to comfort Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha. Some of these friends believed while others ran immediately to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. The Pharisees asked, “What do we? This man doeth many signs” (John 11:47). They could have believed but they did not. They even sought how they could entrap and put Him to death more feverishly than before.
A few weeks later their wicked intents materialized. They got what they wanted: Jesus was crucified. After He was dead and buried they then remembered something else: Jesus had predicted that the Jews would kill Him but that God would raise Him from the dead in three days. Some of them actually did understand what Jesus meant when He had earlier said, “Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up” (John 2:19). They rushed to Pilate and once more sought his help. He gave them a guard to watch Jesus’ tomb in case some of Jesus’ disciples come and steal His body away and say He had been raised from the dead (Matthew 27:62-65). The guards could likely have prevented His disciples from that, but they could not stand against the angels who rolled the stone away from the tomb, nor Jesus Himself who was raised to life just as God had promised. These guards told the rulers what had happened. Did the rulers then become believers in Jesus? You know the answer to that. Jesus gave sight to a man born blind; raised Lazarus from the dead, was raised from the dead Himself, and most recently had released twelve men from their custody. None of them could have done any of these things.
What had these miracles (and multitudes more) taught these rulers? Nothing. They were the kind of people to whom Isaiah had been sent to preach: “By hearing ye shall hear, and shall in no wise understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall in no wise perceive: For this people’s heart is waxed gross and their ears are dull of hearing and their eyes they have closed; lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should turn again, and I should heal them” (Matthew 13:14-15). Some of these rulers had taunted Jesus while He was on the cross saying, “He saved others, himself he cannot save … let him come down from the cross and we will believe on him” (Matthew 27:23). Would they have believed? Certainly not.
It seems incredible that with the compelling evidence that came from those who actually saw, touched, and handled Jesus after He was raised from the dead that was given to people in the first century there were still men who did not believe in the resurrection of Jesus. Yet the truth is, even with the evidence that came from their own eyes, more did not believe than did.
And what about our day? Our generation? We have as much compelling evidence that Jesus was raised from the dead as would be possible except for actually witnessing it, and still our world does not believe. Most of the people in the first century learned nothing from the miracles they witnessed. Sadly, most of our world has learned nothing from the incredible evidence given to us that Jesus was raised from the dead. Are we among the many or the few?