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My question is motivated by some controversy caused by a related question I asked on Christianity Stack Exchange. On that question I make the assumption that the early Church was expecting and waiting for God to intervene, i.e., there was an element of persevering in communal prayer with expectancy, waiting for a clear response from God to their prayers before taking action on their own. This is the assumption that has been called into question by one of the mods on the other site.

Is my assumption justified? Was the early Church purposefully waiting for God's divine intervention before taking action?

Below Acts 4:23-31 (ESV) for reference:

23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, 25 who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,

“‘Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples plot in vain? 26 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed’—

27 for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place. 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.

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It is commonly understood that the book called, "Acts of the Apostles" should have been more accurately called, "Acts of the Holy Spirit" because of the way it is written - The functioning of the Holy Spirit is quoted very often.

However, in addition to the continuous work of the Holy Spirit in the life and work of the Apostles, there were also many examples of specific prayer where God's people asked God to intervene to change some situation. Here is a sample:

  • Acts 1:14 - The apostles met to pray for the gift of the Holy Spirit as instructed by Jesus in V4, 5 and John 14:16, 26, 15:26, 16:7-13, etc.
  • Acts 10:4, 31 - the prayers of Cornelius were heard by God and answered
  • Acts 8:15 - People prayed that a new believer might receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
  • Acts 12:5, 12 - Christians had gathered to pray for Peter's release from prison
  • Acts 28:8 - Paul prays for the healing of the Roman official, Publius.
  • Rom 1:10 - Paul prayed that God might make it possible for Paul to visit the Roman church
  • Rom 15:30-32 - Paul urges fellow believers to pray for him that he (Paul) might be able to visit them later
  • Eph 1:15-17 - Paul prays earnestly about the Ephesians, "asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better."
  • Eph 6:18 - Paul encourages the Ephesians to place their requests to God in prayer.
  • Phil 4:6 - Paul encourages the Philippians to place their requests to God in prayer
  • Esther 4:15, 16 - Queen Esther (and here maids) fasts and prays for several days to save the Jews being murdered.

The entire raison d'etre of prayer is to both bring us closer to God and make requests for divine intervention and/or guidance.

In the case of Acts 4:23-31 the Apostles were under persecution by Jewish authorities who wanted to silence them and prevent them preaching the Gospel of Jesus. The thrust of the prayer in V24-30 is for God to intervene to prevent the authorities stifling their evangelistic efforts. The next chapter documents a number of ways that this prayer request was very specifically answered by God, namely:

  • Acts 5:1-111 - the miraculous incident with Ananias and Sapphira caused the Apostles reputation and respect to greatly increase
  • Acts 5:12-16 - the apostles perform many signs and miracles
  • Acts 5:17-23 - the apostles arrested and then freed
  • Acts 5:24-42 - the apostles arrested again but Gamaliel's advice again frees them

CONCLUSION

Thus, Acts 4:23-31 is part of a series of incidents where the Apostles asked for and received divine intervention to change the situation and thus increase their preaching of Christ.

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OP:

I make the assumption that the early Church was expecting and waiting for God to intervene,

More expecting and less waiting.

i.e., there was an element of persevering in communal prayer with expectancy, waiting for a clear response from God to their prayers before taking action on their own.

God and the apostles were acting simultaneously. The early chapters of Acts were exciting times for the apostles.

1:6⁠–⁠11 ascension of Jesus
2:1⁠–⁠13 tongues of fire at the Pentecost
3:1⁠–⁠10 Peter and John made a lame man walk.
4:23-31 Believers prayed and their gathering place was shaken.
5:1⁠–⁠11 Ananias and Sapphira were supernaturally punished.
5:12⁠–⁠16 Apostles healed many.

The summary is in Acts 5:

12a The apostles performed many signs and wonders among the people.

There was no need to wait for God to act first. God was acting through them continuously in the early days of Acts.

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In this prayer, the disciples were pointing out one of the most important things to remember when persecution comes: The persecution was not really against them, but against the Lord.

It is also very important to take special notice of the contents of this prayer. This is the first persecution (or censorship) that the church ever experienced and their first prayer concerning persecution. What did they pray for? They did not pray for the persecution to stop - that is, they did not ask God to intervene - they knew persecution was part of this life …

MAT 5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

They didn’t pray (and ask God to intervene) for change in the religious system or government so that they could preach the Word without fear of persecution. Rather they prayed for boldness, so they could continue preaching the Word - regardless of what anyone else did.

They had a totally hostile, pagan government opposing them, yet because they were not sidetracked from their primary purpose, the message of the Gospel multiplied faster and farther in that situation than during any other period in history.

However, we must remember that the Lord’s commission is to change hearts with the Gospel, not change governments. So they were not waiting for God to change the circumstances.

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