The Gates of Jail Shall Not Prevail

Title: The Gates of Jail Shall Not Prevail

Bible Book: Acts 5 : 12-25

Author: Terry Trivette

Subject: God, Power of; Victory



One of the most powerful things I’ve read in a long time is a letter from a father to his daughter on the occasion of her 8th birthday. The letter was written by Pastor Saeed Abedini, who is being held in an Iranian prison for preaching the gospel in that Muslim country. His daughter, Rebekka Grace, has celebrated 3 birthdays now, separated from her daddy. But he wrote to encourage her to continue trusting in the purposes and power of God.

He said, “Jesus allows me to be kept here for His glory. He is doing something inside each of us and also outside in the world.”[1]

As you read through the letter, you realize this pastor believes that while the prison may confine his life, it has not conquered His Lord. Even if Saeed dies in that prison, the foes of the gospel would still not succeed in stopping the advancement of the Kingdom Saeed serves.

If the gates of hell shall not prevail against Jesus and His church, then the gates of a jail are certainly no match for His gospel and His grace.

In Acts 5, we read a story that illustrates this point dramatically. The apostles were locked up together in the Jerusalem jail, but a lock on a prison door is nothing to Him who holds the keys to hell and the grave.

In this case, the Apostles were miraculously set free, and went right back to preaching the gospel in the same place where they had been arrested before.

Once again we see the enemy rising up to fight against the church in the book of Acts. The tide of persecution will only grow higher in the chapters to come. But the tide will not drown the church. It will only serve as the sea upon which they will go out into all the world with the unshakable, unstoppable, and “unjailable” gospel of Jesus.

Let us be encouraged as we study this passage. Satan battles the church that serves the Lord, but he cannot beat the Lord the church serves. He’s already tried that, and he got his head crushed when he did.

14. Looking at this passage in Acts 5, we are reminded first of all that:


This chapter represents a critical moment in the life of the early church. The sin and death of Ananias and Sapphira were a jolt to what had been a pretty smooth start to things.

For the first time in this book, Satan had managed to infiltrate the ranks of the church, and influence the activities of someone within the body.

What would happen now? Would there be a lapse or a lull in the progress of the church? Not hardly. In fact, it appears that the work of the Lord grew even stronger!

What we see is that when the church is submissive to the lordship and leadership of Jesus, not even a punch in the gut from the enemy is enough to slow them down.

Notice how Jesus continued to do His work through His people in this story. We see that:

A. He continued to give His power

Verse 12 says, “And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people…”

Don’t forget how the book of Acts started. Luke told us that it was the story of what Jesus continued to do in this world through His Spirit-powered church. The power that Jesus had demonstrated during His life on this earth, He continued to deliver through the hands of His apostles. Nor does the church that seeks to carry out His will in this age operate without His power. Jesus still empowers His people to do what they could not and would not otherwise do without Him. He still gives His power to His people.

I don’t agree with N.T. Wright on everything, but I do love something he writes in his book on Acts. It’s a long paragraph, but it’s worth reading some of it to you. Wright said:

“It is when the church, through prayer and wisdom and often in the teeth of opposition, acts with decisive power in the real world – to build and run a successful school, or medical clinic; to free slaves or remit debts…to enable drug users and pushers to kick the habit and the lifestyle; to see hardened and violent criminals transformed by God’s love – [it is then] that people will take the message of Jesus seriously. Of course there will be opposition, because we shall be invading territory that is currently under alternative occupation. But God’s power will be at work, and people will know it.”[2]

Satan will try to work against the church, but so long as Jesus is working through His church, the world around us will know whose power is the greatest.

And with that we see not only that Jesus continued to give His power, but we see also that:

B. He continued to grow His people

Don’t miss the sort of parenthetical statement that we find in verse 14. It says, “And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.”

While verse 13 says that many people in Jerusalem were afraid of this new group of believers, there were plenty of others who were joining up with them. Don’t forget the context of this. Two people in this church had just recently dropped dead in front of the offering plate. Obviously, this gospel was a serious matter. And yet, the Lord was still calling people into His church and growing His body exponentially with each passing day.

The church that follows Jesus with a fear of sin and fervor for holiness will certainly scare off a lot of people who have no interest in that kind of purity and piety. But to that same clean and consecrated church, Jesus will add even more people whom He calls by His power and saves by His grace.

In the sin of Ananias and Sapphira, the devil tried to infect the church and weaken it with sin. But the Great Physician was quick to remove that infection, and the church came back healthier and stronger than ever before.

We see that though he tries, the enemy cannot stall the ministry that is driven and powered by Jesus. We see further in this passage that:


In this scene, the Jewish authorities were once again aggravated by the presence of the church on what they viewed as their turf.

Verse one tells us that this now massive church was meeting right in the court of the temple, at a place called Solomon’s porch.

What made things worse was that hundreds and thousands of people were starting to join them, and even come in from the suburbs around Jerusalem – not to see the priests and visit the temple, but to see this upstart group of Galilean, gospel preachers.

The enemy can’t stand it whenever people start coming to Christ, because the more that come to Jesus, the more that are freed from the devil’s hold on them.

Notice this in our text. Consider with me:

A. Who was brought to Jesus

In verse 15, we find that as these multitudes of people were joining the church, they started bringing folks with them.

It says, “…they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and [cots]...” Verse 16 says, “There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.”

But these desperate folks – these people sick and dying, plagued by demons and diseases, they lined up in the streets hoping to be healed and helped by the church. If you think about it, this has always been the crowd that ends up coming to Jesus – the helpless and the hopeless; those people the world can’t seem to do anything for, and the ones the good, decent folk don’t want anything to do with. These are the people who come to Christ.

On the lower level of the Statue of Liberty, the words of Emma Lazarus’ poem are engraved on a bronzed plaque. It says:

“Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, your tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

Long before anybody ever came to America, past Ellis Island, the church has lifted up the cross of Jesus and said to the people of this world:

“Come ye sinners, poor and needy,

Weak and wounded, sick and sore,

Jesus ready stands to save you,

Full of pity, love, and power.”[3]

All those who come to Christ and join His church are the people who realize that He is the only hope for them, and His church is only place where they can be truly helped and healed.

We see in these sick and suffering people those who were brought to Jesus, and as they began to pile in around the apostles, we see also:

B. Who was bothered by Jesus

Look at verse 17. It says, “Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the Saducees,) and were filled with indignation.”

One translation reads, “Then the high priest took action.”[4] I imagine he had been looking out of his office window for days, watching all these sick folks lining up around the followers of Jesus.

Business in the temple was suffering. Every day, the church crowd was growing larger, and he had even heard complaints from some of his top givers that they had to step over three crippled people to get into the temple.

Verse 17 says that he and his religious buddies were filled with “indignation”. The idea seems to be that they were jealous, or threatened a bit, by how well the church was doing.

The truth is, they were losing their power over the people. Instead of everyone looking to them for religious help and services, they were turning to the church and to the power of Jesus.

Still today, the real enemy of the church, Satan, hates it when people start coming to Christ. He sees the rank of file of folks who used to be his servants and his slaves, standing gladly now in the long line behind Jesus, and it infuriates him. He sees his kingdom getting smaller, and his power over the fallen world slipping with each new soul that turns to Christ.

I’ve read of how during the great revival in the country of Wales, the bars had to close down, jails were empty, and even sporting events were cancelled because so many people were getting saved and going to the meetings in the churches.

The devil’s business suffers when sinners start coming to Christ. He loses market share and capital when people are converted, and like these religious authorities in Acts 5, it makes him fighting mad. And like these religious leaders, he will often try to stop the church that is bringing people to Jesus. The enemy can’t stall the ministry driven by Jesus, and he can’t stand the multitudes drawn to Jesus, but no matter what he may do to fight it, we find also in this text that:


They had already locked up Peter and John on one occasion. But now, they decided to round up the whole band of the apostles.

Verse 18 says that the authorities, “…laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.”

They locked them up with the street thugs and petty thieves, and they thought the prison would stop these preachers until they could figure out what to do with them. They were wrong. You can confine the ministers, but you cannot contain the message. God will see to it that the gospel gets preached, even if He has to execute a prison break to get it done.

We find in this story that the message declared of Jesus cannot be stopped because:

A. The Lord can deliver those who obey Him

They locked up the apostles in the Jerusalem jail, but they didn’t realize that not even a Supermax Prison would have been secure enough to keep the angel of the Lord out and the servants of the Lord in.

Verse 19 says, “But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth…” It doesn’t say that he unlocked the doors. It just said he opened them. You can’t lock God out. The saintly, old Matthew Henry said, “There is no prison so dark, so strong, but God can both visit his people in it, and, if he pleases, fetch them out of it.”[5]

Notice what the angel told them when he let them out. In verse 20, he said, “Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.” I love that verse, partly because it is what you might call my “life verse”. My personal website is called “Stand and Speak”. I love this verse also in this context because it points us to why the Lord delivers His people. He delivers us, not so we can run away from the trouble, but so that we can continue to serve Him, regardless of the trouble it might bring.

God can deliver those who will obey His command. Mind you, though, He doesn’t always deliver them.

John the Baptist died in Herod’s prison. James, one of the apostles that got out in Acts 5, would not escape in Acts 12.

But know this: when it is the will of God to deliver His servants, no matter how the strong the will of the enemy is against it, God can open the doors and set us free to go on proclaiming His word.

Why did God deliver them in this case? Of course it was so they could go on preaching in the temple, but I think there is even more to it than that. I think we see here that:

B. God can defy those who oppose Him

If you really look at this scene in Acts 5, it is actually kind of funny. The text tells us that early the next morning, these apostles were back in the temple preaching the gospel.

R. Kent Hughes put it this way: “With the first blush of daybreak [the apostles] were back in the temple, on Solomon’s Porch, giving out the goods. The Sanhedrin was just getting out of bed, but Christ’s ambassadors were already hard at work.”[6]

When the Sanhedrin (the Jewish authorities) finally managed to get up and get together with all their political and religious cronies, they thought they were going to show these preachers just who was in charge in Jerusalem. After the court assembled, they sent the bailiff to go get the prisoners. But they were not in their cells, or in the jail at all. He came back and reported, “The jail was locked up, and the guards were all standing there, but I am telling you, those preachers are gone. I don’t know how they got out of there, but they are certainly not in there.”

I love verse 24. It says that when the religious authorities heard this, they were dazed and confused, and wondered what in the world would come of this and where in the world those apostles could be.

And then, someone spoke up and said, “You won’t have to look far for them. They are back in the temple preaching again.”

What I find really fascinating about this is that God set them free that morning, knowing they would be arrested again before the day was over. It seems to me, though I can’t say for sure, that God was just messing with these religious leaders. He was defying them and embarrassing them. That wouldn’t be the first time God had shamed and embarrassed those who opposed His Son and His work.

Colossians, chapter 2 , of what Jesus accomplished at the cross. It says that when He died there, He took away all the sins that were against us and nailed them to His cross.

It also says in verse 15 of that chapter, that, “…having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a show of them openly, triumphing over them...”

If you think about it, what happened to the apostles in Jerusalem in this chapter looks a bit like what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem not too long before this. There, the powers of the world and the forces of Satan conspired to put Jesus down and stop His work. They nailed Him to a tree, and then He was shut up in a tomb. Imprisoned, you could say. But early Sunday morning, in the darkness before dawn, an angel came and rolled the stone away. None of the guards could tell quite how it happened, but the One they thought they had locked away in death, got up from the dead and walked out alive and well. The enemy could not stop the Man, Christ Jesus, and he cannot stop the message of Jesus.

Satan may stand against the people of God, but He will not stop the preaching of the gospel. He may lock up one preacher, but that one will get out, or ten will rise up in his place.

Church, let us not fear what might happen to us. Let us do the work Christ has given us to do. Let us reach those who are hurting and hopeless. Let us proclaim with boldness that Jesus is Lord. And if the day comes that they lock us up to try to shut us up, let us remember that the gates of jail shall not prevail against us.

[1] Wax, Trevin, “Saaed Abedini’s Letter to His Daughter on Her 8th Birthday”, 10/5/14,, accessed 2/5/15,

[2] Wright, N.T., Acts for Everyone, Part One, (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, KY, 2008), p. 86

[3] “Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy”, Hart, Joseph, 1759

[4] HCSB

[5] Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Commentaries, Vol. VI, (Fleming H. Revell, Old Tappan, NJ), p. 61

[6] Hughes, R. Kent, Acts: The Church Afire, (Crossway Books, Wheaton, IL, 1996), Amazon Kindle edition


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