In Acts 3, Peter and John come to the Temple. At the gate called Beautiful, they meet a lame beggar. Peter speaks to the man and commands the beggar in the name of Jesus to stand and walk (Acts 3:6). The miraculous healing draws a large, to which Peter preaches (Acts 3:11, et seq).
Acts 4 records that the authorities seek to stop the work of the apostles by arresting Peter and John, however, the Word has already begun to work:
1 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. Acts 4:1–4 (ESV)
The authorities were angry because “they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead”. The authorities were seeking to squelch the word. Witherington notes the irony:
Here and elsewhere Luke will emphasize that measures, including the use of force, taken against the followers of Jesus are not effective; indeed, they often backfire and lead to further growth of the Christian group. Thus, in v. 4 we hear that in spite of what was said in the previous verse many heard and believed the word of Peter, and we are told they numbered about five thousand.
Ben Witherington, III, The Acts of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1998), 190. While the authorities sought to stop the power by arresting the Apostles, they failed to realize the true source of their power:
The force on the side of God’s people is the Holy Spirit. It says that when Peter began to speak he was “filled with the Holy Spirit” (v. 8). When we were looking at the account of Pentecost I pointed out that in Acts, on every single occasion, what follows specific mention of a person being filled with the Holy Spirit is strong verbal testimony to Jesus Christ. When people are filled with the Holy Spirit they always speak about Jesus. That is how you can know whether you are filled with the Holy Spirit.
James Montgomery Boice, Acts, An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997), 76.
The Word of God, empowered by the Holy Spirit, has a power which supersedes and runs independently of human control. While the Apostles were officially and publicly discredited and attacked, the Word of God brought men and women to salvation. When the Apostles were in custody and vulnerable to physical pain and loss, the Word of God broke out and Peter spoke:
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, Acts 4:8 (ESV)
Not only does Peter speak, but he starts right in one exactly the point which got him into trouble in the first place:
10 let it be known to all of you 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 is standing before you well. 11 This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:10–12 (ESV)
With 5,000 followers, Peter could have at least caused some sort of physical grief for his captors. But he makes no such play. Rather, Peter continues with words:
3 For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. 4 For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. 5 We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, 6 being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. 2 Corinthians 10:3–6 (ESV)
When Peter and John were released they are returned to the congregation and there they pray. They do not pray for any ease of persecution, or privilege or security. Instead, they pray specifically for courage to continue to proclaim the Word despite their circumstance. They rehearse the persecution and perseverance of Jesus, and then seek the same boldness in their own lives:
29 And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, 30 while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” 31 And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. Acts 4:29–31 (ESV)
The operation of the Spirit and the Word of God brought them to a new and living hope: they were no longer frightened of death and thus could speak with absolute courage:
The Holy Spirit takes from us the fear of death and the grave. The end of unbelievers is certain; the enemy is already doomed; he is living on a lease, as it were. He received that mortal wound when Christ died on the cross, and his time is limited. That is why he is raging. But Christ will come, and with the breath of His mouth He will destroy that arch liar, the enemy of God and of humanity, and send him to everlasting destruction. Do not forget that when the devil plies you with his lies.
Look at the boldness of the apostles as they defied the authorities. They were no longer afraid of death. The early martyrs and confessors went gladly to the lions in the arena, praising God and thanking Him that at last He had accounted them worthy to suffer for the name of their blessed and dear Lord. “They died well,” as John Wesley put it. Why? Because they had a hope of glory; they could see that this is only a transient world. This is not the world of reality; this is the world of appearances. But there is a world that remains.
There is a land of pure delight
Where saints immortal reign.
There is a glory yet to be revealed, a day coming when the glory of the sons of God shall be made manifest. A crowning day is coming, a day of ultimate victory and of triumph, when Jesus shall reign from pole to pole. In the light of that day these men and women lived the lives they did and had a joy that persisted even in the midst of tribulations.
David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, vol. 2, Courageous Christianity, 1st U.S. ed., Studies in the Book of Acts (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2001), 284-85. In his letter to the churches, Peter notes that the operation of the Spirit and the Word of God is set one’s hope and life upon an undying foundation. It is to be born again of a seed which cannot fail:
23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; 24 for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, 25 but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. 1 Peter 1:23–25 (ESV)
Thus, the Word of God by the operation of the Spirit begets an undying, unfading life – which moves one into realms the world cannot touch.