“When they bring you before the synagogues, rulers and authorities.” This seems to be an extract from Jesus’ later Jerusalem teaching, recorded in all three synoptics. It fits in well in this discussion of fear and confession. It is also apposite to Jesus’ journey: he himself is soon to be ‘hauled before authorities.’ But Jesus seems to project forward to a future time of more widespread persecution, such as we read of in Acts. The disciples will then be called on to confess him before courts. In fact, many chapters of Acts will be taken up with arrest or courtroom scenes of one sort or another (cf. Acts 4-7, 12, 16, 18, 21-28).
“Do not be anxious about how to answer their charges or what to say.” These human courts are not the ones to fear. But how will these uneducated fishermen stand up and be unafraid under such pressure? How will they be able to function under intense public scrutiny and condemnation? ‘The Holy Spirit will teach you at the time what to say.’ They will receive help so they can operate ‘above their pay grade’.
This is not to say that they will mount a successful defence and avoid condemnation: certainly Jesus did not. Rather, because they have placed themselves under the jurisdiction of the true judge, less is at stake in the outcome of these merely human trials. Defence may not even be the right response. Jesus mounts no defence of his conduct before the Jerusalem authorities (Luke 22-23). Nor does Stephen seem to in Acts 7.