When the early disciples hear Peter and John report the warnings and threats issued by the chief priests and temple leaders, they immediately drop to their knees as one man to pray for boldness. Suddenly, instead of faithful Jews who live in a distinctive way, they are now outlaws whose way of life has become a threat to the peace of Jerusalem. Now that preaching Jesus and the resurrection is forbidden, they need courage to continue.
The disciples’ prayer involves several key doctrines about God. In their prayer, they appealing to God’s sovereignty, to His work of creation, the doctrine of inspiration, and God’s work of providence, specifically predestination. We see their theology put to work in their prayer, as they ask God to do something that only a sovereign, creative, speaking, and governing God could do. The prayer in Acts 4 shows us the necessity of good theology for good prayer.
As they pray, the disciples quote Psalm 2 back to God, lifting up David’s words, remembering what happened to Jesus, and realizing that the same thing was happening again, or maybe still happening. The Gentiles are raging, the peoples of Israel are plotting against the Church! This is why they need boldness: the kings of the earth, like Herod, and the rulers, like Pontius Pilate, are gathered together against the Lord and against his Anointed.
At the beginning of chapter 4, the gospel was annoying, and so it took a measure of boldness to preach. Now, the gospel is both annoying and illegal, which takes the need for boldness to a new level. The followers of Jesus will soon be called on to choose between following Jesus and worshiping at the temple, Jesus and their families, Jesus and their livelihood, and as we’ll see in chapter 7, between Jesus and life itself. These are the realities that are setting in as the Apostles report back to the Church. In the face of organized opposition, persecution, suffering and even death, the early Church is in desperate need of supernatural boldness to remain faithful to Jesus.
But the source of the boldness the disciples seek is even more sure than the need is desperate. In Psalm 2, when God took notice of the plots of rulers and kings, He laughed them to scorn, and instead set His own king in place. Peter and John and the rest of Jesus’ followers call on God to do that again. They don’t give each other a “be bold” pep talk, or try to guilt one another into boldness. Instead of looking sideways, they look up to the God who gives boldness. The disciples ask God to keep the miracles coming, so that Jesus can be shown to be king in Zion, since He has already been made king in heaven. The source of the apostle’s boldness is in God: both the Holy Spirit’s personal presence, and God’s miraculous actions that shut the mouths of the persecutors.
This is the kind of prayer that God loves to hear: deeply scriptural, and completely in line with God’s desires and God’s glory. And so before they finished speaking, God answered powerfully, filling them anew with the Holy Spirit and with the boldness that they had asked for. Remember, Jesus had promised his disciples that anything they asked for in His name would be given to them, and His words are proven true. God will always send His Spirit to accomplish His mission.