Who would you say is the most prominent individual in the opening chapters of Acts? It is clearly the apostle Peter. He preached the first sermon on the Day of Pentecost, explaining how the Spirit was baptizing believers into a living fellowship (Acts 2:1-36). Along with the other apostles, he led in the early experience of being opposed, hated, jailed, and persecuted (Acts 4:1-22; 5:17-42). He laid hands on the first converts in Samaria (Acts 8:14-17). He was the door through which God invited Gentiles to join the Church of Christ without having to first become Jews (Acts 10:1-11:18). But now, in chapter 12, we see the last of Peter; he goes out with a bang with an escape from prison and death. Except for a brief mention in chapter 15, this is the last Luke speaks of Peter. Who takes his place as the most prominent individual in Acts? It is Paul!
Acts 12 is the end of one era, and chapter 13 is the beginning of another. We see in this chapter the transition from Peter to Paul, from the Jews to the Gentiles, and from Jerusalem to Antioch. >From here on out, the churches that are founded and that grow are predominantly Gentile in makeup.
The new center for world evangelization has been set up at Antioch, and Luke wants us to know that the old will now be put away. The message of chapter 12 is simple. Jerusalem was faced with the choice between a new "King of Israel," appointed by Rome, and the Messiah sent by God. They chose the king sent by Rome and sought to destroy those who represented the King sent from God and enthroned in heaven. The result will be that Peter "departed and went to another place," the king is smitten for blasphemy, and Jerusalem will no longer be required in furthering God's purposes.
From now on Jerusalem will drop out of the picture, and the hope of the earthly kingdom will cease. The outreach to the world will take over as being what is of prime importance, carried out through the Holy Spirit from centers such as Syrian Antioch, which has already been prepared as a full functioning church ready for takeover (11:19-30).
From this time on the apostles will no more be depicted as openly witnessing in Jerusalem. No more will signs and wonders be described as taking place there. From this chapter onwards there will be no further thought of massive outreach and evangelism, or signs and wonders in or from Jerusalem. It will be as though all such had ceased.
As chapter 11 ends, Luke does not follow Barnabas and Saul in their tour through the districts in Judea, but, leaving them for awhile, introduces a very interesting episode concerning events that were then transpiring in Jerusalem:
Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church, in order to mistreat them. (Acts 12:1 NASB)
"About that time"--this is about the time of the famine predicted by Agabus the prophet in verses 27 to 30 of chapter 11. Remember, the church in Antioch had sent an offering up to Jerusalem, because the famine was going to hit during the time of Claudius Caesar, and about the time the famine was coming, Herod began to mistreat the church.
The Greek word translated "mistreat" here is kakoo, which means: "to deliberately do evil to someone, to injure or harm." This expression, "mistreat," is used in Acts 7:6, 19 of Pharaoh's mistreatment of Israel. And here it is used of the death of an apostle.
"Herod"--was not a name; "Herod" was a title. There were multiple Herods. There were three Herods in the New Testament. It starts with Herod the Great, who is the Herod that the magi appeared to when Jesus was born. That was the Herod who was responsible for executing all of the male infants in order to somehow eliminate the Baby born King, because he feared the competition. Herod the Great would have been the grandfather of the Herod in Acts 12. Herod the Great was a lunatic. When the Herod of Acts 12 was four years old, his grandfather executed his father, so that gives you a little bit of family history there.
The next Herod we come across in the New Testament is actually the uncle to the Herod in Acts 12, which would have been Herod Antipas. He was the Herod who enjoyed hearing John the Baptist speak, but ultimately had him beheaded; he was also the Herod that was part of the trial and execution of Jesus. This is now the third Herod in Acts 12, Herod Agrippa I. This Herod, when he was younger, had some serious problems. Tiberius the Caesar didn't like him at all and threw him in prison, and it was really kind of an up and down story. But when Tiberius died, Caligula took over as emperor. He and this Herod were friends as children, so he took him out of prison and gave him a fairly significant role. When Caligula died, Claudius took over. He, too, was a childhood friend of Herod's, and so by this time in the story, Herod Agrippa I has a fairly significant area he's responsible for.
The Herod in our story today desperately wanted the Jewish people to like him. It was very important that if the emperor gave Herod an area that he was responsible for, that he kept peace, because if things started to get out of hand, he would immediately be removed, and somebody else would be put in his place. To do that, Herod needed the Jewish people to respect him and to like him. He lived a very orthodox life when he was in Jerusalem; he followed all of the laws, followed all the religious rituals, and tried to be very much like the Jews. So that's the background behind the story in Acts 12. (For a detailed and very interesting history of this prince, see Josephus's Ant., Books 18 and 19.)
The Mishnah portrays him as a king approved by the people. It describes an incident when he was performing the reading of the Law at the Feast of Tabernacles, saying, "King Agrippa received it [the scroll] standing, and read it standing, and for this the sages praised him. And when he reached, 'You may not put a foreigner [he was half-Edomite] over you who is not your brother' (Deuteronomy 17.15) his eyes flowed with tears, but they called out to him, 'You are our brother, you are our brother, you are our brother.' " (M Sotah 7.8). Thus it is clear that they who rejected the true born Messiah according to the Law, were willing to ignore the Law and accept a half-Jewish king, contrary to the Law. It is illustrative of the continual attitude of the Jews in those days.
This now meant that in Jerusalem two kings were in competition. There were two rival claimants to the loyalty of Israel. The first was Jesus, through His apostles. He had been declared Messiah and Lord, and His apostles had been seeking to bring men under His rule for a number of years and had been working vigorously in Jerusalem to that end. They wanted Him crowned as King of Jerusalem. The other was King Agrippa I, who would begin to seek vigorously to dispose of the apostles of the Messiah. And Jerusalem had to choose between them as to whom they would have to reign over them.
In the face of the choice, Jerusalem did not sit on the fence. It made its selection. And its selection meant that it chose Agrippa and rejected Christ, and therefore, encouraged the execution of the apostles.
We are not told explicitly why Herod intends to persecute the Church. He may be responding to a stir caused by the apostles' fraternizing with the Gentiles (compare 21:27-32). All Luke tells us is that the beheading of James pleases the people. This meant that things were changing, notice:
Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, lest they should be stoned). (Acts 5:26 NASB)
Back in Acts 5 the people were on the side of the apostles, that is no longer the case.
And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. (Acts 12:2 NASB)
This is James, one of the twelve, the brother of John, one of the select three of Jesus' inner circle of Peter, James, and John; the James who was at the transfiguration of Jesus. It seems remarkable that the death of this great man, James, is summed up in a brief sentence--"James...put to death with a sword." That's it! Not much of an obituary! We do find more of an obituary in Church History. Eusebius relates a story from Clement of Alexandria, who says that the soldier who guarded James before the judge was so affected by his witness that he declared himself a Christian also and was willingly executed for Jesus along side of James (Eusebius, Church History 2.9.2-3).
In Jewish law death by the sword was the penalty for murder or apostasy (Sanhedrin 9.1; compare Deuteronomy 13:2-15). Killing with the sword was the punishment, which, according to the Talmud, was inflicted on those who drew away the people to any strange worship, The apostles were, therefore, being treated as apostates from Judaism. This was the first death of an apostle that we know of and must have baffled the church.
This is the James that in Mark 10 asks Jesus for a privileged position in the kingdom:
And they said to Him, "Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left." (Mark 10:37 NASB)
What was Jesus' response to this request?:
But Jesus said to them, "You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or to be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized?" 39 And they said to Him, "We are able." And Jesus said to them, "The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized. (Mark 10:38-39 NASB)
The cup that Jesus was referring to was the cup of suffering and the cup of God's wrath regularly mentioned in the Scriptures. Jesus tells them, "The cup that I drink you shall drink," not referring to the cup of the wine of the wrath of God, for that was for Jesus only, but to the cup of suffering. In one way or another, they would find themselves "partakers of Christ's sufferings." This martyrdom was the fulfillment of that promise for James.
Herod thought that he would stamp out Christianity, kill the apostles, and stop the movement. Notice what the Psalmist says:
Why are the nations in an uproar, And the peoples devising a vain thing? 2 The kings of the earth take their stand, And the rulers take counsel together Against the LORD and against His Anointed: 3 "Let us tear their fetters apart, And cast away their cords from us!" (Psalms 2:1-3 NASB)
This Psalm relates to Jesus Christ, and predicts the vain attempts made by Jewish and heathen powers to suppress Christianity. Notice the Lord's reaction to these men:
He who sits in the heavens laughs, The Lord scoffs at them. 5 Then He will speak to them in His anger And terrify them in His fury: 6 "But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain." " (Psalm 2:4-6 NASB)
God laughs at their futile attempt to stop His plan. They reject the Cornerstone, but God makes Him the foundation of the New Temple. No wicked act, not even the slaughter of the righteous, takes place apart from the sovereign will of God. God did not lose control when Herod killed James.
Those who teach that it is always God's will to deliver us from sickness, tragedy, and death are false teachers. The so-called "Word of Faith" teachers say that deliverance from any trial is ours if we simply claim it by faith. They brazenly state that God must obey us when we speak a word of faith! That's rubbish! God rules, and in His plan is the death of His saints.
By the death of James, the number of the apostles was reduced to eleven; and we do not find any of the apostles being replaced. The apostles never had any successors: God has continued their doctrine, but not their order.
And when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. (Acts 12:3 NASB)
The response of the people to the actions of Herod reveal a change in the attitude of the masses toward the followers of Jesus, the Church. After the resurrection of Christ and the birth of the Church, the Church (and the apostles) were held in high regard by the masses. Thus, in Acts 4, the Sanhedrin had to take the masses into account when they persecuted the apostles (4:16-17). But here, in Acts 12, the tide has turned, the people are now opposed to the Church. What happened? Well the actions of the apostles in response to the salvation of "non-Jews" may have offended their prejudices and aroused their intense anger and opposition. The final straw seems to have been Peter's visit to the house of a Gentile and the conversion of all of these folks. The church in Jerusalem, after hearing Peter's defense, accepted this as the plan and purpose of God. This was too much to endure! The church had to go! So now Peter is arrested and his execution planned.
So again we find the Jews playing the part which has brought upon them"wrath . . . to the uttermost," according to I Thessalonians 2:14-16.
"Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread"--It is ironic that as the Jews celebrated God's deliverance from their bondage, the Christians found their leader imprisoned:
And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people. (Acts 12:4 NASB)
Peter is guarded by four soldiers; two on the inside, with the prisoner chained to him, and two on the outside, in shifts of six hours each, sixteen soldiers in all, the usual Roman custom.
Why this maximum security for a lowly preacher? Do you remember what happened to Peter in previous arrests?:
But an angel of the Lord during the night opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 "Go your way, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life." (Acts 5:19-20 NASB)
Herod had no doubt been warned how Peter, together with his companions, had previously managed to escape, and he wanted to ensure that it did not happen this time.
"Intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people...."The KJV here reads, "intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people." Perhaps there never was a more absurd translation than that in our text. Easter is the Persian name for Asherah; she is the goddess of orgy. She was symbolized by the egg and the bunny. The Easter celebration is pagan, even the name comes from a pagan god. Easter is a pagan holiday. There is nothing about Easter in the Bible. Easter is never mentioned by the Lord or the apostles, nor was it ever observed by the early church!
"Passover" was the popular term for the continuous eight-day combined Passover and Unleavened Bread festival.
So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. (Acts 12:5 NASB)
Luke, the literary genius, uses the art of understatement skillfully, when he sets all of the opposition of the Jews and their king in contrast to the prayers of the church and the power of God.
All the power of the earthly kingdom was being called on to keep him chained up. The God of the apostles was being challenged. But on the other side, the church met together and made fervent prayer to God for him. They didn't organize a prison relief committee. They started praying.
The word "fervently" here is from the Greek word ektenes, which is a medical term, and it has to do with stretching a muscle to its limit. It means: "total effort." They were striving in prayer. The word is used of Jesus when He prayed in the garden in anguish and great drops, as it were, great drops of blood fell from Him. That's the same term. This is not a casual prayer time; they were fervently pouring their hearts out to God on behalf of Peter. What were they praying for? What did they pray for the last time they were arrested?:
"And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Thy bond-servants may speak Thy word with all confidence, (Acts 4:29 NASB)
The Greek word for "confidence" here is parrhesia, which means: "free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness." They understood that persecution would naturally incline men to draw back, to soften up on the message which they preached. Thus, the prayer for boldness.
They did not ask to be delivered from persecution. They did not even ask that God judge or punish their opponents. They were more concerned about their mission than their comfort. I see no reason to think the church changed their prayer. I think they were praying for boldness.
And on the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. (Acts 12:6 NASB)
The same night that Herod's getting ready to execute Peter in the morning, Peter is sleeping. If you thought your head was getting chopped off in the morning, would you be sleeping? Why was Peter sleeping? Two reasons: He had a promise from Christ, and he was confident in God's sovereignty. Jesus had told Peter:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself, and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go." 19 Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, "Follow Me!" (John 21:18-19 NASB)
Jesus said, "Peter, you're going to die when you get old." You know why Peter was sleeping in this jail? He wasn't old. He had nothing to fear. Also do you think Peter knew Job 14:5?:
"Man, who is born of woman, Is short-lived and full of turmoil. 2 "Like a flower he comes forth and withers. He also flees like a shadow and does not remain. 3 "Thou also dost open Thine eyes on him, And bring him into judgment with Thyself. 4 "Who can make the clean out of the unclean? No one! 5 "Since his days are determined, The number of his months is with Thee, And his limits Thou hast set so that he cannot pass. (Job 14:1-5 NASB)
Peter knew that he was immortal until the Lord was finished with him. No one can cut short what God intends for your life. No wicked scheme will prevent you from finishing the race. It ends when it's time to end, because the Lord has determined the year, month, day, and hour of your death.
So, how are you sleeping? God is in control! Rest in Him!
And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter's side and roused him, saying, "Get up quickly." And his chains fell off his hands. (Acts 12:7 NASB)
Charles Wesley probably had this scene in mind when he wrote the verse of his great hymn, "And Can It Be?":
Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature's night;
Thine eye diffused a quick'ning ray, I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free; I rose, went forth and followed Thee.
"Angel of the Lord"--the use of this term is very distinctive in Acts. It emphasizes the personal intervention of God, as it does in the First Testament (See Acts 7:30; 8:26; 12:7, 23). The word "angel" is from the Greek word aggelos, which means: "a messenger." The divine emissary may or may not be some sort of supernatural being. I think it is clear here that this was a divine messenger. The impression that Luke wants to give is that God Himself intervened.
We know there were four guards on duty. We know that two are chained to Peter. We also know from Luke's account of the aftermath of Peter's escape that none of the guards "saw" anything that happened. When Peter was found missing in the morning, no one had any explanation for what had happened. This tells me that throughout this entire escape process, not one guard was awake, nor was any guard conscious of what was happening.
And the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and put on your sandals." And he did so. And he said to him, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me." 9 And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. (Acts 12:8-9 NASB)
These step-by-step commands, like those given to a child, show that Peter is drowsy and disoriented. They certainly underline the fact that this escape is all the Lord's doing. He was sound asleep. He was not trying to pick the lock on his chains or dig a tunnel. He did not scold the angel for coming so late, nor did he propose an escape plan. Peter's deliverance, we could say his resurrection, like the resurrection of every saint, was the work of God, and not of man. It is God alone who raises the dead.
And when they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street; and immediately the angel departed from him. (Acts 12:10 NASB)
The Greek word for "by itself" is automatos, where we get automatic. Unlike us, Peter had never before seen an automatic gate opener.
And when Peter came to himself, he said, "Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting." (Acts 12:11 NASB)
Notice that Peter says the Lord rescued him from "the Jewish people." It was now Peter, the apostles, and the church who represented the true Israel (Ephesians 2:11-22; 1 Peter 2:9). These people were no longer "the people," because they had rejected the Messiah Jesus:
'And it shall be that every soul that does not heed that prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.' (Acts 3:23 NASB)
These were no longer "the people," they were simply "the Jewish people."
Why is it that James was put to death, and Peter was set free? The Scriptures tell us that some perish by the sword, others are saved from the sword (Hebrews 11:34, 37). It all happens by God's design.
The Lord showed Herod, the church, and us that when James was martyred just days before, it was NOT because the Lord couldn't save him. It was not because he was weak or incompetent. God can release, and God can sustain and empower in martyrdom. That is the point of releasing Peter and not James. God is in control over this little Herod in both cases.
Tertullian, the Christian defender of the faith, who died in 225, said to his enemies, "We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is [the] seed [of the church]." (Apololgeticus 50). And Jerome said about 100 years later, "The church of Christ has been founded by shedding its own blood, not that of others; by enduring outrage, not by inflicting it. Persecutions have made it grow; martyrdoms have crowned it" (Letter 82).
And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. (Acts 12:12 NASB)
They needed to know that God was still in control, because Herod was really turning up the heat.
This is the first time that Luke mentions John Mark. John Mark wrote the second Gospel. John Mark was the man who accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (13:5). He was Barnabas' cousin (Col. 4:10), who traveled with Barnabas to Cyprus when Paul chose Silas as his companion for his second missionary journey (15:37-39). According to early church tradition, he wrote the Gospel that bears his name, served as Peter's interpreter in Rome, and founded the church in Alexandria.
Notice again that the church is praying. Prayer is the most natural and normal response of a heart that is dependent upon God. If you are really counting upon God to do something, then you will pray about it. You will trust Him; you will communicate with Him. If you are not counting on Him, you will not pray.
And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 And when she recognized Peter's voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. (Acts 12:13-14 NASB)
From the description of the home's entryway, "door of the gate, gateway, or vestibule," we learn that the house was spacious. Its layout included at least a main building separated from a gatehouse or vestibule by an open court.
In a playful touch of comic irony, which lends realism to the account, Luke relates how a maidservant named Rhoda ("rosebud"), charged with answering the door, is so overcome with joy (Lk 24:41) at the sound of Peter's voice that she leaves him standing there while she rushes in to announce his arrival:
And they said to her, "You are out of your mind!" But she kept insisting that it was so. And they kept saying, "It is his angel." (Acts 12:15 NASB)
I think they were so surprised because they were not praying for his release. Evidently the Christians thought Peter's guardian angel had appeared (v.15; Dan. 10:21; Matt. 18:10). Another explanation is that we should understand "angel" as a reference to a human messenger that Peter had sent. A third possibility is that the Christians thought that Herod had killed Peter, and that the apostle's spirit had come to visit them.
But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. (Acts 12:16 NASB)
When we remember that these disciples were so familiar with miracles, it is rather surprising that the deliverance of Peter should have caused so much astonishment.
But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, "Report these things to James and the brethren." And he departed and went to another place. (Acts 12:17 NASB)
Jerusalem was being left to its unbelief. He was going "to another place." This is backed up by a comparison with Acts 5:25. There the response to release was to return to the temple to proclaim the name of Jesus at the command of God. Here it is the opposite. It is to depart, to simply disappear.
Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. 19 And when Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. And he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there. (Acts 12:18-19 NASB)
"No small disturbance" is one of the great understatements of the Bible; Herod was furious that his prized prisoner had escaped. It was sheer panic. These men recognized not only that Peter was missing, but that Herod was furious. They knew that they were now the endangered species. And what was worse, they did not have the foggiest idea what had actually happened. It is one thing to get caught doing wrong and to have to suffer the consequences; it is another to be condemned and not even know what happened.
Herod must have known that the escape of Peter was miraculous, so the execution of the guards was an act of insane fury. I wonder how many soldiers were eager to guard Christians after this!
Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king's chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king's country. (Acts 12:20 NASB)
Tyre and Sidon were not his subjects, but they were the recipients of government aid, which seems to have been distributed by Herod. The people of Tyre and Sidon were very eager to appease the wrath of this king, for their own benefit; and thus they played the game of politics to the hilt.
And on an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. 22 And the people kept crying out, "The voice of a god and not of a man!" (Acts 12:21-22 NASB)
On the set day, Herod clothed himself regally and sat on his throne and made a great speech to them. The purpose was to make an impression and bring glory on himself. The Messiah rejecter was now exalting himself.
One interesting note is that Luke is fond of recording speeches. He records many of Peter's and Stephen's and other lengthy sermons, but when it comes time for Herod waxing eloquently, not one word is recorded.
Josephus, the Jewish historian, describes how, on the second day of the festival, Agrippa entered the theater clad in a robe of silver cloth, with the sun glinting on the silver, producing such an effect that the people (who of course wanted to please him) cried out that this was a god come to them. Josephus then goes on to tell us that at once a sudden and terrible illness fell on him from which he never recovered, and he died of severe abdominal pains five days late:
And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died. (Acts 12:23 NASB)
When he did not rebuke them, he immediately got a severe and violent pain in his belly. After five days of awful suffering, he died at age 54. Herod knew enough about God that he should have seen God's hand in Peter's deliverance and realized that he was fighting against God. He should have remembered the story of King Nebuchadnezzar, whom God humbled for his pride (Daniel 4). Peter would later write, "God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied. (Acts 12:24 NASB)
In chapter 12 the Rule of God is contrasted with a physical earthly Kingdom of Israel, a Kingdom whose king is brought into judgment and whose people are rejected. But the word of the Lord continues to grow.
The Prophet Daniel foretold of these days:
"Then the iron, the clay, the bronze, the silver and the gold were crushed all at the same time, and became like chaff from the summer threshing floors; and the wind carried them away so that not a trace of them was found. But the stone that struck the statue became a great mountain and filled the whole earth. (Daniel 2:35 NASB)
The Church marches on, it is unstoppable, it will fill the whole earth. What a tragedy to live out your life, pouring it into something that fifty years from now will not make any difference. When we talk about living for the things of God, pouring yourself into God's unstoppable Church, we're not talking about investing in something that may survive. We're not talking about something that may triumph. We're talking about something that is guaranteed to triumph.
In the midst of all troubles and afflictions that Kingdom of Heaven, which is like a grain of mustard seed, grew and increased and became a mighty tree which is now filling the whole earth.
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark. (Acts 12:25 NASB)
Luke has set the death of James and the deliverance of Peter in the midst of the offering of the saints of Antioch to the saints in Judea. Just prior to chapter 12. we are told that the offering was sent with Barnabas and Saul (11:30), and the last verse of our chapter (12:25) reports the return of Barnabas and Saul to Antioch, accompanied by John Mark.
It must surely be seen as significant that once this chapter is completed, apart from the gathering of the apostles and prophets to consider the question of what Gentiles should be required to observe of Jewish Law (in chapter 15) and Paul's last abortive visit, Jerusalem fades from the scene. In the beginning of Acts everything had centered on Jerusalem, but from now on it ceased to be the center of the ongoing of the word. As far as Luke is concerned, it has descended into insignificance.
We see in this chapter that Israel, national Israel, is becoming the enemy of God (12:3--"it pleased the Jews"). The death of Jesus' followers pleased the Jews. What happens to Israel historically when she becomes the enemy of God?:
But they rebelled And grieved His Holy Spirit; Therefore, He turned Himself to become their enemy, He fought against them. (Isaiah 63:10 NASB)
Israel became the enemy of God; they were persecuting God's children. The leader of Israel, Herod, persecutes the church, and so God crushes him. This is very symbolic. He becomes God's enemy. and God destroys him. Israel became God's enemy, and God destroyed her.
The death of James and the deliverance of Peter is another lesson in the sovereignty of God. There are tremendous contrasts present here, and they have profound implications. There is nothing mechanical about the Christian life. God is not obliged to treat all Christians alike, and the record of Acts (among other books of the Bible) is that God deals differently with each individual. Summed up in one word, God is sovereign. He works all things according to His own good pleasure.
There is in this text (as in Acts as a whole), a strong emphasis on prayer. It was not that these prayers were so accurate, or that the saints had so much faith, but that these saints acknowledged their dependence upon a sovereign God, who is in control of this world, including its kings. In Acts. and in life, the prayers of the saints accomplish much.
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