And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly…
The Jewish priesthood was of great dignity and influence. The office was hereditary, and its members constituted a national aristocracy. Every priest could trace back his pedigree to Aaron, and no matter to what straits of poverty he might be brought his social position was unchanged. He was exempt from taxation and military service. The number of priests during the period of our Lord's life, Josephus estimated at twenty thousand. For reasons plainly to be seen, the Jewish authorities arrayed themselves in bitter hostility against the Prophet of Nazareth, and the most blood-thirsty of His enemies were God's anointed priests. The political condition of Palestine was then strange and anomalous. David's throne was occupied by a creature of the Emperor of Rome, and foreign soldiers kept the Jewish people in subjection. The Church outrivalled the state in degeneracy. Her priesthood, greedy, dissolute, and infidel, demanded unlawful fees for every temple service, disgraced the religion they professed, by the inhumanity and profligacy of their lives. With such a condition of things, no wonder that the Son of God met with the cruelty that He did: no wonder that even the chief priests were loudest in their clamours that He should die. When the Saviour rose from the dead, His scattered followers forthwith flocked about His standard, and began their great work of the conversion of the world. The first martyr, Stephen, laid down his life for the truth. On the very eve of his ordination to the office of deacon we are told that "the Word of God increased, and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." It is no longer merely a company of ignorant fishermen and soft-hearted women who are found to take sides with the crucified Jesus, but the very class of men who could have been least expected to make such a sacrifice. Surely, among all the evidences afforded of the truth of the Christian religion, this is one of wonderful force and significance. Had one or two priests yielded to the overwhelming proofs vouchsafed, that Jesus was the Messiah, it would have been a testimony of no little value; but how the weight of testimony is increased when we read that a great company of those who occupied this high social position abandoned everything, and exposed themselves to opposition, ridicule, contempt, persecution, and death, that they might carry out their convictions of duty, and prove, as no men have ever done more clearly, that the religion of our Lord Jesus Christ is worthy of all acceptation. Once, the contemptuous question had been asked: "Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on Him?" (John 7:48). And yet, even then, many" among the chief rulers "already believed in Jesus, "but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue" (John 12:42, and John 19:38). The day was at hand when "a great company of the priests" would acknowledge Jesus to be the Saviour of the world. Faith is here put for the Christian religion, and we are assured in this brief statement that they not only embraced the truths of the gospel as an act of the understanding, but that they pledged themselves to obey its requirements. Surely, then, they who, in our own day, claim to be unbelievers, ought to have very substantial ground to go upon before they rush to the conclusion that the multitudes who have embraced the Christian faith, and who have passed into another world, cheered and comforted by its promises, have all believed a lie!
(J. N. Norton, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.