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The Book of ACTS

Chapter 12

THEME: Death of James; arrest of Peter

In this chapter, more persecution strikes, through Herod Agrippa I. James is executed and Peter is imprisoned . . . but is miraculously delivered. Herod dies a horrible death by a judgment of God. Although persecution comes, the church grows and the Word of God is multiplied.

Death Of James Acts 12:1-4

Luke does not follow Barnabas and Saul in their journey through the districts in Judea, but, leaving them for awhile, introduces a very interesting episode concerning events that were then transpiring in Jerusalem. (1) “Now, about that time, Herod the king stretched forth his hand to afflict certain persons of the Church, (2) and killed James the brother of John with the sword.”

The persecutions which we have seen so far were conducted by 'religious' people in Jerusalem, with no active part of the civil authorities. Now we are introduced to one in which the reigning prince is the leader, while the old enemies of the Truth are working behind the curtain, if at all.

Many of the brethren suffered in this persecution, though James the brother of John is the only one who is said to have suffered death. He is designated as the “brother of John” to separate him from the other James, who is the author of the epistle bearing this name. He was the first of the apostles to suffer death, and his brother John was the last. In the death of both were fulfilled the words of Jesus, uttered on a memorable occasion, when they asked Him for a seat, one at His right hand, and the other at His left (Mat.20:23). He asked them if they were able to undergo the immersion which he would undergo. They said, “We are able” (Mat.20:22). He replied, “You shall, indeed, drink of my cup, and be immersed in the immersion in which I am immersed; but to sit on my right hand and on my left is not mine to give, but to them for whom it is prepared by my Father.” As the sword of the executioner was made bare, and the neck of James laid upon the block, I wonder if he remembered what Jesus had said. It is certain that he understood too, far better than when he first made the request, what it is to sit at the right Hand of Jesus.

Why James, one of the sons of thunder, was selected for this murderous example, in preference to any other of the apostles, we are not informed; but we have seen that the blow of persecution usually fell upon those most prominent in the activity. Considering this fact, gives us some ground for the conclusion that, though Peter and John had acted most prominently in Jerusalem, this time James was in the foreground in the conflict with the unbelieving Jews. It could have been his zealous and earnest preaching, making him all the more hated by Herod.

Acts 12:1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. (KJV)

Now about that time . . . The famine was in Judea, and Saul and Barnabas were sent there with what the church at Antioch had collected.

Herod the king . . . is Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great (who attempted to put the Lord Jesus to death at the time of His birth). There never was a family more at enmity against God. As far as we know, not a single member of the Herod family ever really turned to God, the same Herod by whom John the Baptist was beheaded.

Acts 12:2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. (KJV)

Up to now, the persecution against the church had been largely from the religious rulers, mostly the Sadducees. But, now it moves to the government. My friend, beware, our government also persecutes the TRUE church! And it shall get worse and worse! Persecution seems to always swing from religion to politics. Maybe Herod did this to gain favor with certain influential groups, like today! We do know that he stretched forth his hands to anger and trouble certain of the church. He really carried on a brutal, unfeeling persecution of the church.

The fact is stated very bluntly . . . he killed James with the sword. James now becomes another martyr in the early church. He is the second martyr who is named. I am sure that there were many others who had already died for the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and there shall be many more.

Acts 12:3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) (KJV)

James is killed, but Peter will be miraculously preserved in all of this. This is a wonderful example of the sovereign will of God moving in the church. I'm sure there were many who asked, "Why was James put to death and Peter allowed to live? Why would God do that?" Many ask that question today. The answer: it was the sovereign will of God! He still moves like this in today's church. Life and death are in the hands of a sovereign God. Any time you and I rebel against His decision, we shall suffer. This is Almighty God's Universe, not ours. It is God's church, not ours. The Hand of a sovereign God moves in the church.

James apparently was one of the heads of the church in Jerusalem. God allows Herod to slay him. Peter must have been a leader too. God permits him to live.

Acts 12:4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people. (KJV)

This is the only place in the Bible where the specific word Easter is used. And here it really could be "Passover." They are at the same time since Jesus ate the meal with His disciples just before He was crucified. And the Jews in Jerusalem at this time would have been celebrating the Passover, not Easter.

Herod really put Peter under guard here. The guard is strengthened and enlarged. Four quaternions of soldiers to keep this man! 4 quaternions =16 soldiers. Herod really expected someone would try to free Peter!

Peter's Deliverance (12:5-19)

Acts 12:5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. (KJV)

Much earnest prayer was made by the church unto God for Peter. The church earnestly prayed that Simon Peter be delivered. Their hearts were in their prayers.

Acts 12:6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. (KJV)

HOW could Peter sleep between two soldiers? He was at peace! If you remember, he also went to sleep in the Garden of Gethsemane. I do not think Peter was troubled with insomnia. He didn't have any trouble at all sleeping. It seems he could sleep just about any place and any time. What a wonderful trust he had in God to be able to sleep between these two soldiers!

Acts 12:7-9 And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. 8 And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. 9 And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. (KJV)

In the Old Testament, most often the "Angel of the Lord" was the preincarnate Christ . . . but here it is just "an angel of the Lord." This messenger from God tells Peter to do a very reasonable thing . . . get dressed. How could he get dressed when he was chained to two guards? Simple! The chains fell off! WOW! I am sure that all this was so astonishing, so unexpected, so wonderful, that Peter could not realize that it was true. There was no alarm, just sensible directions.

Acts 12:10 When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him. (KJV)

Herod certainly had enough guards to keep Peter locked securely . . . BUT. . . Herod never considered for one moment Peter's Master! I really think Herod expected something because of all the multiple guards . . . but NOTHING like what happened! The Lord Jesus had come forth from the grave. That was a real embarrassment to them. They did not intend to let something like that happen to them again . . . so they more than doubled the guard . . . BUT when God makes up His mind, great things can happen.

Remember that the church in Jerusalem is praying for Simon Peter while this is happening . . . probably non-stop! The prayers of the church are definitely answered. As soon as Peter is out of danger, the angel lets Peter go on his own.

Acts 12:11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews. (KJV)

And when Peter was come to himself . . . he could not comprehend what had just happened! When Peter was out in the open and free, he immediately realizes that Almighty God has delivered him.

Acts 12:12 And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying. (KJV)

The church at this time, and for about 150 years after this, did not have church buildings. Today, when we talk of a church, we usually mean a building. Actually, the building is NOT a building at all; it is just where the body of believers meet. When the church first began, the believers did not meet in a public building, they met in homes.

Mary, the mother of John Mark, most likely was a woman of means and had a home large enough for the believers to meet there. They were gathered together in her home praying for Simon Peter to be delivered.

Acts 12:13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. (KJV)

To hearken . . . means the girl came to the door to listen. These were days of persecution. It was important to know WHO was knocking. Rhoda was probably a servant girl.

Acts 12:14 And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. (KJV)

When Rhoda heard Peter's voice, she got so excited that she just left him standing there at the gate while she ran back to the people who were praying.

Acts 12:15 And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel. (KJV)

When she tells them Peter is at the gate, they think she is crazy. "No," she tells them, "Peter is at the gate." "Well, did you see him?" "No, I didn't open the gate, but I heard him and I know his voice." They think it is his spirit. In other words, they think Peter is dead, that he was killed by Herod.

Interesting! While the church is praying for Peter to be delivered, he IS delivered . . . BUT when what they had prayed for happens, they don't believe it. They think he has been killed, and his spirit has appeared. They didn't believe that Simon Peter had actually been delivered. Isn't that same thing true of us so many times? When we do have an answer to our prayer, we rejoice and talk about it as if we are really surprised. And we are surprised . . . to be honest, we really didn't expect an answer. Yet God heard and answered our prayer. How wonderful He is!

Acts 12:16-17 But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished. 17 But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place. (KJV)

What did Peter do? He kept knocking! That's just like Peter. Peter wants in. And when they finally opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

Peter then got out of town. Since God had delivered him, couldn't God have kept him safe in Jerusalem? Shouldn't Peter have stayed in Jerusalem? Of course, God could keep him. But God expects us to use our common sense. Sometimes what looks like a tremendous faith in God is actually tempting God. Even after God has done some wonderful thing for you and for me, He still expects us to use our common sense.

Acts 12:18 Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter. (KJV)

Luke says "no small stir." When he says there was no small stir, believe me, he means there was a mighty big uprising! Also in Acts 15, when Judaism came into the church, Luke says they had "no small dissension" Acts 15:2). He meant they had a regular knock-down-drag-out fight!

When the soldiers found what had happened and realized that Simon Peter was gone, I think they called out half the army. They must have made a house-to-house search. Maybe they set a guard around the city to prevent his escape. Herod went nuts!

Acts 12:19 And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode. (KJV)

Herod is cold-blooded and he is hardhearted. He has no regard for human life. By executing the guards, he is saying to the world that he does not believe Peter's escape was an act of God. He is holding his men responsible. He executes all the soldiers who were guarding Peter. Then he goes down to Caesarea, which is a resort area on the Mediterranean. Pilate enjoyed it down there, and many of the Roman rulers stayed there. Actually, it was the Roman headquarters. Romans, like Pilate, didn't care for Jerusalem. They certainly didn't love Jerusalem as King David had. So now Herod runs down to Caesarea for a vacation.

Death Of Herod (12:20-25)

Now we will see that God holds Herod responsible for the light He has given him.

Acts 12:20 And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king's chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king's country. (KJV)

Tyre and Sidon did business with Herod and when he was displeased, it hurt the economy of Tyre and Sidon. So they came down to try to get back on Herod's good side.

Acts 12:21 And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. (KJV)

Herod was arrogant and lifted up by pride. He was also a pleasing speaker. He was the kind of politician who would have been elected no matter what party he would run for. Herod is a miniature Antichrist. John tells us this in 1 John 2:18: "Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time." The people hail Herod as a god.

Acts 12:22-23 And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. 23 And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. (KJV)

God will NOT share His glory with anyone! "I am the Lord: that is my name: and my glory will I not give to another, neither my praise to graven images" (Isa. 42:8). Herod REFUSED to glorify God through the miracle of Peter's escape from prison. And now he is allowing the people deify him! SO . . . God judges him. All glory should always go to GOD . . . not man!

Herod's death was a Divine judgment on him for his receiving glory as a god. Josephus says of him that he: "did neither rebuke them, [the people,] nor reject their impious flattery. A severe pain arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. And when he was quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and the seventh of his reign."

Josephus does not mention that it was done by an angel, but says that when he looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a rope over his head, and judging it to be an evil omen, he immediately became melancholy, and was seized with the pain. What a lesson we have here!

Acts 12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied. (KJV)

The number of those who were converted by the Word embraced and professed it. The church increased; even with the persecution against it by Herod while he was living. After his death, it still gained more ground, met with less opposition, and was more freely professed. Persecution didn't hurt the church at all.

Acts 12:25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark. (KJV)

John Mark goes back to Antioch with Barnabas and Saul. Remember that they had gone to Jerusalem with the gift to the church there.

We now to the end of the second period of the Book of Acts. The Gospel has gone into Judea and Samaria. Beginning with the next chapter we will see the movement of the Gospel to the uttermost part of the Earth. We are still in that movement today.

Book of Acts

Ch.1 . . Ch.2 . . Ch.3 . . Ch.4 . . Ch.5 . . Ch.6 . . Ch.7 . . Ch.8 . . Ch.9 . . Ch.10 . . Ch.11 . . Ch.12 . . Ch.13 . . Ch.14 . . Ch.15 . . Ch.16 . . Ch.17 . . Ch.18 . . Ch.19 . . Ch.20 . . Ch.21 . . Ch.22 . . Ch.23 . . Ch.24 . . Ch.25 . . Ch.26 . . Ch.27 . . Ch.28

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