“As they were speaking to the people, along came the priests, the chief of the temple police, and the Sadducees. They were thoroughly annoyed that they were teaching the people and proclaiming that ‘the resurrection of the dead’ had begun in Jesus.” Acts 4:1-2
Imagine a mafia leader personally presiding over the assassination of a rival power, only to find that a short time later, the same subversive actions were happening in a different location and they seemed to be occurring through a power awakened by evoking the already assassinated leader’s name. I imagine that would be a situation to be described as “thoroughly annoying”, from the perspective of the mafia leader.
The Sadducees and the chief priests were not mafia members but they were power brokers who did not approve of the doctrine of the resurrection. To the Sadducees and priests, the doctrine of the resurrection was a dangerous political position that might lead to an armed revolt by the people of Israel against Rome. People who believe that God will ultimately give them back their bodies will not be so reluctant to hazard those bodies in a Holy revolution. The Priests and the Sadducees knew that an armed revolt would end badly for the Jewish nation and they were set against it. The priests and Sadducees were generally of the upper classes among the Jews and were more apt to let “well enough alone.” But the majority of the Jewish people were of the Pharisees who longed for an overthrow of Roman authority and the establishment of God’s promised kingdom of justice (see Isaiah 11:1-9, Psalm 2).
The Sadducees’ and the priests’ justification for the murder of Jesus was plainly stated by Caiaphas the high priest in John’s gospel,
“...it is expedient that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish.” John 12:50.
And this reasoning by the Sadducees’ party and the collusion of the Pharisaic party (for their different reasons) is what Peter draws on for his sermon in Acts 3:
“...you denied the Holy One, the Just One, and requested instead to have a murderer be given to you; so you killed the prince of life.” Acts 3:14-15
Peter wants to draw out the irony of their decision. They are in theory waiting for a kingdom of justice from God, and in their zeal, they murder a man unjustly.
But herein lies the problem, the man whom they thought they had disposed of seems to have power even from the grave. Peter and John heal the man by evoking the name of the assassinated, would-be, Messiah. Hence, the Sadducees’ and the priests’ “thorough annoyance’.
It would be no big deal to the priests and Sadducees if the disciples of Jesus had been going about the country claiming that Jesus was alive again but having nothing to show for it. Who would take them seriously? But the fact that the acts of Jesus were taking place again was greatly troubling to the powers that be.
The Sadducees and priests were opposed to the doctrine of Resurrection on the grounds of political expediency. The Sadducees and priests already opposed those who taught the hope of a future resurrection. But the claim that the disciples were making was much more potent than simply “there will be a resurrection one day.” The claim that the disciples were making was “the resurrection has begun to happen in Jesus.” This is more than a claim of faith in possible future events. This is a claim on the present time. Things will be and must be different now because the day of the resurrection has been brought forward into the present through the name of Jesus. That is what greatly troubled the priests and Sadducees - because....
Nobody in Israel had anticipated a day when only one man would be resurrected ahead of all the others. But that is what happened with Jesus. The Pharisees (including Jesus’ disciples) believed in resurrection but they anticipated a day when all the righteous dead would be raised at once. But instead, one man, Jesus, was raised ahead of all the others. The disciples are now adjusting to the situation, particularly since the day of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Now, the future resurrection, which has begun to happen in Jesus, is brought forward into the present by evoking the name of Jesus and by the coming of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul would describe the coming of the Holy Spirit as the “downpayment” of the inheritance to come. The Holy Spirit is God’s future coming to meet us in the present, equipping us to live as people of the future in the present. This is more than revolutionary theory - which is dangerous enough for a Sadducee - this is revolutionary reality. The powers of the world have been shaken and nothing will ever be the same.
The Sadducees and priests know that something real is taking place, but that doesn’t mean that they will like it or let it lead them to repentance - at least not yet.
“What can we do to these men?” They concluded, ‘This is a spectacular sign that has happened through them. All Jerusalem knows it and we cannot deny it! But we certainly don’t want it to spread any further among the people. So, let’s threaten them with awful consequences if they speak anymore in this name to anybody.’ So they called them in and gave them orders not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” Acts 4:16-18