The use of force is the last resort of every false religion, but Jesus works on a different principle. The only power that He uses is the compelling, drawing power of His love. Jesus invites all who desire to choose His way to follow Him.
Shortly after Jesus had been crucified and raised from the dead, a crippled man was seen begging in the porch of the temple in Jerusalem. Unable to work and support himself, he begged for money to get food and other necessities. Seeing Peter and John entering the temple, he asked alms from them. Peter said to him, “ ‘Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, arise and walk.’ … and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength. So he, leaping up, stood and walked and entered the temple with them—walking, leaping, and praising God” (Acts 3:6–8).
“As the lame man who was healed held on to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the porch which is called Solomon’s, greatly amazed. So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: ‘Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified His Servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he was determined to let Him go. But you denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Prince of life, whom God raised from the dead, of which we are witnesses’ ” (verses 11–15).
Peter went on to say, “ ‘Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out …’ That heaven must receive the Christ, Jesus, until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” (verses 19–21, literal translation).
Then, he said, “ ‘All the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed. To you first, God, having raised up His Servant, Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities” ’ ” (verses 24–26).
A great number of people who witnessed this event believed the words of Peter. They were stricken in their conscience, realizing that they were responsible for the death of the Messiah, for the death of Christ. A great number of them believed and the religious leaders became alarmed.
“Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and Sadducees came upon them, being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. However, many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of men came to be about five thousand” (Acts 4:1–4).
The religious leaders in Jerusalem were more disturbed, more terrified, and angrier than ever before because they reasoned with themselves that if one or two discourses from the apostles could produce results as marvelous as 5,000 being converted, what would be the result of further preaching by the apostles. We don’t know how many were in the church at this time. There were 5,000 men, in addition to that, of course, there were the women and children. The temple leaders thought that the world would soon believe on Christ, and their influence would be lost. So, they seized the apostles, thrust them into prison, wanting to intimidate them and cause them to be silent.
However, the disciple who had denied his Lord was not going to deny his Lord anymore. And when the apostles had opportunity to speak the next day, the Bible says that the rulers, as well as Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest, who was responsible for the decision to crucify Jesus, said, “By what power or by what name have you done this” (verse 7)?
The miracle in the sight of a multitude of people could not be denied. They demanded an answer. “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the “stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.” Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ ” (verses 8–12).
There have been, and there are still, many religions in the world, but it is only the Christian religion that has demonstrated in its leader and founder the ability to raise the dead. This is not referring to spirits or apparitions, but about a bodily resurrection. Only by the power of the leader of the Christian religion has anyone been given the ability to raise people from the dead.
Every person in the world who is saved and has eternal life will receive the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Peter said that there is no salvation in anybody else, and “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” This was a very bold assertion, considering that the speech was given to the very people who were responsible for the crucifixion of Christ. The Bible states that the Pharisees did not know what to do because the man that had been healed was right there, and there were many witnesses.
“But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred among themselves, saying, ‘What shall we do to these men? For, indeed, that a notable miracle has been done through them is evident to all who dwell in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But so that it spreads no further among the people, let us severely threaten them, that from now on they speak to no man in this name.’ So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus” (Acts 4:15–18).
The people were forbidden to testify concerning their religious beliefs. If they did they would pay the price with their life.
Remember, force is the last resort of every false religion. If any religious system uses force to preserve itself, propagate its beliefs, or gain adherents, you can know that it is a false religion. Jesus never used force to win converts. He said, “Come unto Me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest to your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28, literal translation).
The invitation given by the One who inspired the Bible, in Revelation 22:17 is, “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.”
Jesus invites all who will to come to Him and be saved. He will give you a different way of living.
There are no prisons in heaven. There are no armies and no wars. The government of heaven does not operate by force and there is no army of angels on the ready with weapons of destruction. Force is contrary to the principles of God’s government. When Lucifer, the covering cherub became Satan and chose to rebel against the government of God, he asserted that he would use force if he was not given what he wanted.
Revelation 12:7–9 says, “War broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.”
This scripture says the devil deceives the whole world. The book of Revelation reveals the devil’s plan to deceive as many as he can and only those who study and understand Bible prophecy will be able to avoid being deceived. When the devil has completed his devious work, he will attempt to kill the faithful few that stand firm to principle. Only by getting rid of these so-called rebels can he have complete control of the whole world. This has been the devil’s strategy from the beginning. First, deceive the majority, then kill the few people that you cannot deceive. Thus, the apostles were threatened, just as Christians have been threatened in every generation, right down to the present. New Testament Christians, people whose desire is to live by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, like Jesus did, have been threatened in every generation by the devil’s agents who profess to be the Lord’s servants.
The apostles were threatened by the people who claimed to be God’s true people. They claimed to know from Bible prophecy and the Old Testament that they were God’s people, yet attempted to stop Jesus’ mission at every turn. Eventually, realizing there was no other way to stop Him, He was crucified. They were mistaken in their thought that Christ’s work would stop, but after He was resurrected, their hatred turned to the apostles who continued the work that He commenced. The apostles were working miracles in Christ’s name. How could Christ be dead if these people with various forms of sickness were now made well, and they were made well in the name of Jesus.
The apostles said that the miracles they performed were evidence that Jesus was not dead, but raised and gone to heaven. With unleashed anger, they were threatened that if they continued to speak in the name of Jesus or teach in His name, they would pay with their lives. These people were not now as willing to take the blame for the crucifixion of Christ as they were when, just before Jesus was crucified, they said to Pilate, “His blood be on us and on our children” (Matthew 27:25).
Peter and John answered and said to the temple leaders after they had threatened them, “ ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.’ So when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way of punishing them, because of the people, since they all glorified God for what had been done. For the man was over forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed” (Acts 4:19–22).
After the rulers had let them go, they went back and prayed asking for power to preach with boldness whether they were put in prison, threatened with death, or no matter what happened to them.
It was not long before the disciples were in trouble again with the high priests and officers, the religious leaders of the Jews, and once more they were put in prison. This time, the same thing happened. First there was an attempt to stop them from witnessing, to stop the Christian church founded by Jesus from developing. At that time, there were only a few thousand people in the whole world who believed in Christ and it was believed that if they could be stopped in the beginning, this new faith would never become established.
A study of the history of the Christian religion reveals that it is a miracle that there are any Christians left alive in the world today because of the continual attempts by the devil and his agents, who, claiming to be the servants of God and His true people, have since the beginning attempted to destroy the true Christians throughout the world.
What resulted from the persecution served to augment the fears of the religious leaders, increasing their hatred? The Bible records in Acts 4:32, first part, “The multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul.” The tremendous harmony and unity between the believers had never before been witnessed in the early, primitive Christian church. Continuing, it says, “Neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostle’s feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. And Joses, who was also named Barnabus by the apostles (which is translated “son of encouragement”), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostle’s feet” (verses 32, last part–37).
Priests and leaders witnessed this harmony and unity and they also saw that the Holy Spirit was in charge of events in this church. So, when a couple, Ananias and Sapphira, tried to lie to the leaders of this new sect about what they were doing, Peter said, “ ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit? … While it remained [before you sold the land] was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God’ ” (Acts 5:3, 4). And when Peter said these things, Ananias fell down dead. Three hours later his wife came in and told the same lie (verses 5–8). “Then Peter said to her, … ‘The feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.’ Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. … So great fear came upon all the church …” (verses 9–11).
All realized that this was not just a human organization. This movement was being directed by the Holy Spirit of God. The lesson to be learned from the story of Ananias and Sapphira is that it is a serious business to save people. Therefore, do not play games of pretend with God and think that you are going to be religious.
Because the temple leaders saw that something more had to be done to crush this powerful “heresy,” once more the disciples were arrested and imprisoned. The Sanhedrin was called to try their case and a number of learned men, in addition to those on the Sanhedrin council, were summoned to discuss together the wisest way to deal with these disturbers of the peace. The Bible record states, “They (the Jewish rulers) laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, ‘Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life’ ” (verses 18–20).
Notice what happened. The religious leaders threatened them, admonishing them not to speak any more in the name of Jesus. But an angel from heaven said, “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life” (Acts 5:20).
The Bible says, “And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought” (verse 21). But they were not there. The doors were still bolted and the soldiers were all there, but the apostles were gone. Soon they were found standing in the temple and teaching the people (see verse 25)!
“When they had brought them, they set them before the council” (verse 27), then they said in verse 28: “… Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name?” Now notice, an angel from heaven told them to keep preaching, the religious leaders told them not to. “… look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man’s blood on us!”
“But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: ‘We ought to obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Saviour, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him’ ” (verses 29–32).
The Christian should obey every human, civil law. The apostle Paul wrote in Romans 13 that the Christian is to obey the laws of men until the laws of men command him to disobey the laws of God, the laws of heaven. When that happens, Peter said, “We should obey God rather than men.” When Peter said these things to them, they became so furious that they decided they would kill them right on the spot. The Jews had killed others without taking them to Roman authorities, but the authorities had been bribed to turn a blind eye to it. However, while they were getting ready to do this, a rabbi among them by the name of Gamaliel gave them a warning. “He said to them: ‘Men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what you intend to do regarding these men. For some time ago …,’ ” and then he mentions a number of different cases where different heresies had arisen and they came to naught. “Now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God” (verses 35–39).
O, friend, that is a question that leaders of all religions need to ask themselves today. Remember, force is the last resort of every false religion. If you use force to get your way, you are using Satan’s methods. No stronger evidence can be given that you are inspired by the spirit of Satan and doing his will and are part of his kingdom. The religion of Jesus Christ is a religion where people are invited—not forced. The Lord says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you” (Jeremiah 31:3).
How is it with you, friend? Are you willing to be drawn by the love of Jesus so your life can be changed and you can receive eternal life?
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church of Free Seventh-day Adventists in Wichita, Kansas.