Acts 11:27 – 12:18

Sunday Morning Bible Study

February 15, 1998


We’ve just witnessed the most amazing thing. Pagan Gentiles have actually been getting saved, and a church of Gentile converts has been started to the north in Antioch.

11:27-30 Prophets and famine

:28 And there stood up one of them named Agabus

Church tradition has it that Agabus was one of the "seventy" disciples that Jesus sent out in Luke 10. We’ll see Agabus again, many years later in Caesarea, when Paul is on his last trip to Jerusalem (Acts 21:10-15)

:28 that there should be great dearth throughout all the world

Lit., "that there was about to be a great famine". The famine was right at the doorstep.

:28 which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar

The different ancient historians record that there were at least four famines throughout the Roman Empire during Claudius’ reign (AD 41-54). Two were in Rome, one in Greece, and one in Judea. The famine in Judea was especially severe, and the Jewish historian Josephus records that many people died for lack of money to buy any whatever food was available.

:30 sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul

Some years later, Paul would take up another offering for the church in Jerusalem (Acts 24:17), an offering he would receive from the Gentiles churches (1Cor.16; 2Cor. 8-9)

Acts 12:1-2 James’ death

:1 Herod the king

This is Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, King of Palestine AD 42 to 44. He was a favorite of the Roman Emperor and wanted to please the Romans, so he built theaters and held games. But he was also half-Jewish, and also tried to please the Jews. Josephus records that he actually tried to live according to the Jewish laws, even making sacrifices.

:1 stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.

vexkakoo – to oppress, afflict, harm

:2 James the brother of John

James was one of the "inner three", the famous "Peter-James-John" trio that went everywhere with Jesus. They were the disciples closest to Jesus.

When Jesus began to call men to become His disciples, he found a fisherman named Peter, who worked with his business partners, James and his brother John. (Luke 5:10)

When Jesus raised a little girl from the dead, only three of the disciples were allowed in to see the miracle: Peter, James, and John. (Mark 5:37)

When Jesus went up to the mountain and allowed His glory to peek out, meeting Moses and Elijah, there were only three disciples with Him: Peter, James, and John (Mark 9:2).

When Jesus went off to pray in the Garden of Gethsemane, there were three disciples that followed him to His prayer place, Peter, James, and John (Mark 14:33).

In one incident, we get a little prophetic taste of what will happen to James.

Mat 20:20-28 Then came to him the mother of Zebedee's children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. {21} And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. {22} But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. {23} And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father

The news of James’ death has to have hit the church hard.

:2 killed ... with the sword.

Tradition (Eusebius, Clement) tells us that James was beheaded with a sword. When James’ accuser saw his courage as he was about to be executed, the accuser repented, and joined James in being beheaded.

How come James dies by the sword, yet Peter will be set free? I thought Jesus said the "gates of hell shall not prevail" against the church!

Sometimes we don’t always understand why things happen.

Lesson #1:

Faith doesn’t always eliminate problems.

Somehow we’ve gotten the idea that if we just have enough faith, that all of our problems will disappear. But in truth, sometimes the person who has faith has to go through problems, sometimes even to death.

Heb 11:33-39 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, {34} Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. {35} Women received their dead raised to life again: and others were tortured, not accepting deliverance; that they might obtain a better resurrection: {36} And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment: {37} They were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword: they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins; being destitute, afflicted, tormented; {38} (Of whom the world was not worthy:) they wandered in deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. {39} And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

I remember how the death of Keith Green affected many of us in 1982. Keith had a tremendous music ministry and was a fiery preacher. He lived a life of "no compromise". He developed a huge following, leading many to the Lord and urging many to follow the Lord into the ministry. He never charged for any of his concerts, not even at the Anaheim Convention Center. He’d give away his albums if you couldn’t afford them. But he died in an unexpected plane crash on his ministry’s ranch, at the age of 28. The plane had too many people in it when it was trying to take a family on a tour of the ranch. Why? Who knows?

Lesson #2:

When it doesn’t make sense, rely on what you DO know.

There are times when we have to simply realize that God’s ways are not like ours, and His thoughts are not like ours.

(Isa 55:8-9 KJV) For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. {9} For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.

At times like this, we have to rely on the basics:

1) He is good.

1 John 1:5 This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

2) He loves me.

Rom 8:38-39 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, {39} Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

3) He is going to work it out, somehow.

Rom 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.


When a ball team starts on a losing streak, what do they do? They often go back to the basics, to the fundamentals. You can’t get far if you don’t have the fundamentals down.

These truths are the fundamentals of our lives. We may not understand what God is doing, but we have to trust Him with the fundamentals.

:3-19 Peter’s arrest and rescue

:3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews

Herod is a good politician.

:3 (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)

The feast of Unleavened Bread was a part of the Passover celebration.

:4 delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers

quaterniontetradion – A guard consisting of four soldiers. Two soldiers would be chained to either side of the prisoner, while two guards stood watch outside. Four quaternions of soldiers would be used to guard one all night, one for each of the four night watches.

It’s possible that Herod has heard of Peter’s previous escape from prison (Acts 5:19), when an angel released Peter and told him to keep preaching. Herod isn’t taking any chances.

:4 intending after Easter

Easterpascha – from the Aramaic word for Passover (pesach), meaning "the Passover"

:5 prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him

prayer was made – Luke writes this in kind of an odd way. He doesn’t just say, "the church prayed", but literally, "prayer was being made".

It’s not just that they added Peter to some list. They organized prayer meetings, they set about to do a work in prayer, to "construct" prayers that would be useful before God’s throne.

without ceasingektenes – "stretched out"; intently, earnestly; strained; fervently

We could translate the phrase, "but stre-e-e-e-e-e-tched-out prayer was being made by the church to God for him".


The work of prayer.

I think that sometimes I underestimate what God will do in prayer, as well as underestimate how serious my prayers are to Him.

The Bible tells us that when our prayers reach heaven, they are like bowls of incense.

(Rev 5:8 NASB) And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

How do you think the vials are "full" of incense?

I kind of wonder if every time we pray, if a little more incense doesn’t make it’s way into one of those golden bowls. And there are some answers to prayer that seem to only come when there’s enough incense in the bowl, for it to be "full".

One of Paul’s traveling partners was a man of prayer ...

(Col 4:12 KJV) Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ, saluteth you, always labouring fervently for you in prayers, that ye may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God.

labouring ferventlyagonizomai – to enter a contest: contend in the gymnastic games; metaph. to contend, struggle; strive.

It’s not that prayer has to be physically hard work, but sometimes it’s a struggle just to get started praying. Sometimes it’s a struggle just to put away the distractions and start interceding for others.

I’d love to see a stronger prayer ministry during our Sunday services, with folks who see the importance of the work they do interceding for others in the church.

:6 And when Herod would have brought him forth

This is a "last minute" deliverance, the night before Herod is going to execute him.

:7 he smote Peter on the side

smotepatasso – to strike gently – wake up sleepy!

:9 wist not that it was true

Peter didn’t understand if he was dreaming or not.

:10 opened to them of his own accord

of his own accordautomatos – The first "automatic door"!

:11 and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod

deliveredexaireo – to pluck out; to rescue, deliver

(Psa 25:15 KJV) Mine eyes are ever toward the LORD; for he shall pluck my feet out of the net.

(Psa 34:4 KJV) I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears.

(Psa 34:7 KJV) The angel of the LORD encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them.

:12 Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark

Mary – Paul tells us that she is Barnabas’ sister. (Col.4:10)

Mark – Mark is the same as the one who will write the third gospel. Mark would be an assistant to Paul and Barnabas for awhile. Early church historians say that Mark would eventually be Peter’s interpreter in Rome, and that his gospel was essentially the preaching of Peter written down.

:12 where many were gathered together praying.

manyhikanos – sufficient; enough

I’m not sure the idea is that there were huge crowds at Mary’s house, but there were enough people there to hold a prayer meeting.

How many people does it take to have a "sufficient" prayer meeting?

(Mat 18:19-20 KJV) Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. {20} For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

:13 a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda

or, "a young gal named Rose"

:14 And when she knew Peter's voice

knew – She was familiar (epiginosko) with Peter’s voice. She knew it was him.

:14 she opened not the gate for gladness

Rose is so excited, she forgets herself and leaves Peter standing outside.

:15 And they said unto her, Thou art mad

Does this sound like a bunch of "faith-filled" believers?


Sometimes we don’t believe our own prayers!

The story is told of a small town in which there were no liquor stores. Eventually, however, a nightclub was built right on Main Street. Members of one of the churches in the area were so disturbed that they conducted several all night prayer meetings, and asked the Lord to burn down that den of iniquity. Lightning struck the tavern a short time later, and it was completely destroyed by fire. The owner, knowing how the church people had prayed, sued them for the damages. His attorney claimed that their prayers had caused the loss. The congregation, on the other hand, hired a lawyer and fought the charges. After much deliberation the judge declared, "It's the opinion of the court that wherever the guilt may lie, the tavern keeper is the one who really believes in prayer while the church members do not!"

:15 Then said they, It is his angel.

The Jews had a notion that there were times when angels took the form of specific people, the idea here being that an angel was appearing in the shape of Peter.

:17 beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace

They were making too much noise and going to wake the neighbors. He shushes them.

:17 Go show these things unto James, and to the brethren

This James is the half-brother of Jesus, and the pastor of the church in Jerusalem. Apparently James and the rest of the leaders of the church were not at Mary’s house.

:19 commanded that they should be put to death

There is nothing unusual or extra cruel about this. If you were a guard, and your prisoner escaped, typically you would be given the same sentence your prisoner had.

:19 And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea

Caesarea was the Roman capital of the area. Herod Agrippa made his home in Jerusalem, but he went to Caesarea to the public games in honour of Emperor Claudius.

Lastly ... (back to vs.5)

The chapter began with Herod on the throne, James beheaded, and Peter in jail. It ends with James in heaven, Peter released, and Herod will be eaten by worms.

At least part of that is due to prayer, as faithless as it was.


Prison to Prayer

Do you know someone in prison? (maybe it’s you!)

I don’t necessarily mean a real prison like San Quentin, but perhaps a prison like drugs, or a cult.

Perhaps it’s time to get "enough" people together for a prayer group.

Perhaps it’s time to be praying some "stretching" prayers.

James 5:16-18 Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. {17} Elias was a man subject to like passions as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it might not rain: and it rained not on the earth by the space of three years and six months. {18} And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth brought forth her fruit.