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Acts 12

Thursday Evening Bible Study

December 12, 2013


Do people see Jesus? Is the gospel preached? Does it speak to the broken hearted? Does it build up the church? Milk – Meat – Manna Preach for a decision Is the church loved? Target 4400 words

On the day of Pentecost, the church was born. It began with the Holy Spirit filling the believers. As the apostles preached about Jesus, the church began to grow.

By chapter seven, the church was beginning to experience persecution. Stephen was the first one to die for his faith. With the persecution, the church began to scatter, and the message of the gospel actually increased as more people heard about Jesus.

One of the main men behind the persecution was a man named Saul. But when Saul headed for the city of Damascus to pursue the Christians there, he was knocked off his horse by a bright light and he met Jesus. We will see Saul in a few weeks using a new name, Paul.

Recently we’ve seen a new chapter in the history of the church – God saving Gentiles.

We’ve even see the gospel go as far north as the city of Antioch, where a growing number of Gentiles are coming to follow Jesus.

Barnabas and Paul spent a year in Antioch teaching these new Christians. We ended last week with Barnabas and Paul being sent with a financial gift to Jerusalem to help with the coming famine. While they are there, some interesting things happen.

12:1-4 Herod trouble

:1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church.

:1 Herod the king

This is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great the one who remodeled the Temple and who killed the babies at the time of Jesus’ birth.

:1 to harasskakoo – to oppress, afflict, harm, maltreat

This is the verb form of the word for “evil”. This is to do “evil” to someone.

Peter will be included in this harassing. About twenty years later, Peter would use this word and write,

(1 Pe 3:13–17 NKJV) —13 And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
Pay attention to what Peter says.  He’s lived what he teaches.

:2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.

:2 James the brother of John

There are two men named “James” who were important to the early church.

One was the half-brother of Jesus, who would eventually be recognized as the head of the church in Jerusalem and would write the book of “James”.  That’s not this guy.

This James was one of the twelve disciples and one of the three disciples closest to Jesus.

He was a fisherman, along with his brother John (author of the Gospel of John). They were sons of a man named Zebedee. (Mt. 4:21)
(Mt 4:21 NKJV) —21 Going on from there, He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets. He called them,
When Jesus raised Jairus’ daughter, he was one of the guys who saw it.
(Lk 8:51 NKJV) When He came into the house, He permitted no one to go in except Peter, James, and John, and the father and mother of the girl.
Along with his brother, he was one of the “sons of thunder”, probably because of their temper, like when he wanted to call down fire on the Samaritans (Lk. 9:54)
 (Lk 9:54 NKJV) And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”
Along with John, he had once petitioned Jesus to be made one of the top guys in the kingdom… (Mk. 10:35)
(Mk 10:35 NKJV) Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Him, saying, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask.”
Gayle Erwin likes to joke about why Jesus kept Peter, James, and John so close to Him all the time – much like how a teacher will keep the troublemakers close to them on a field trip. I sometimes think Gayle is on to something.
Along with Peter and John, he saw Jesus’ transfiguration…
(Mk 9:2 NKJV) Now after six days Jesus took Peter, James, and John, and led them up on a high mountain apart by themselves; and He was transfigured before them.
In the Garden of Gethsemane …
(Mk 14:33 NKJV) And He took Peter, James, and John with Him, and He began to be troubled and deeply distressed.

And now Herod has put James to death.

Can you imagine how devastating this was for the early church, one of the chief apostles is dead.
James is the first of the apostles to die for his faith. He won’t be the last. All of them will die for their faith except for John who somehow survived into old age.
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.

:3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread.

:3 it pleased the Jews

Herod is simply trying to score political points with the Jews.

:3 the Days of Unleavened Bread

It’s the time of the Passover.

Unleavened Bread and Passover are two feasts that go together. The Passover is the first day, then Unleavened Bread is the whole next week.
The year is approximately 43 AD.
It’s been 10 years since Jesus died … on the Passover.

:4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.

:4 had arrestedpiazo – to lay hold of; to take, capture

:4 squadstetradion – a guard consisting of four soldiers.

This was a Roman way of guarding prisoners. Two soldiers were confined with the prisoner and two kept guard outside.

Four quaternions of soldiers would be used to guard one all night, one for each of the four night watches.
This is a total of sixteen soldiers in four groups of four.

They are being extra careful to guard Peter.

The last time Peter was arrested (a couple of years earlier)…
(Ac 5:19 NKJV) But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out…
This time they’re taking no chances.

12:5-19 Peter is freed

:5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.

:5 constantektenes – stretched out; intent, earnestly, without ceasing


Prayer work

Sometimes prayer can change things quickly and dramatically, but sometimes prayer changes things slowly and almost invisibly. But either way, prayer is powerful.
We’ve seen in the early church how much prayer was a part of what was happening.
The Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost after a season of … prayer.

(Ac 1:14 NKJV) These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brothers.

When Peter healed the lame man at the Temple, it happened at the hour of … prayer. (Acts 3:1)

(Ac 3:1 NKJV) Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.

When the apostles asked the church to set up deacons to help them with the work of the ministry it was because they began to realize that they were beginning to neglect the important ministry of … prayer.

(Ac 6:4 NKJV) but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”

When the door for the gospel was opened to the Gentiles, it happened to a Gentile man who had been … praying.

(Ac 10:4 NKJV) And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.

We will see here that the implication is that Peter’s deliverance was directly related to the prayers of the church.
Don’t neglect prayer. Your prayers are effective.
(Jas 5:16 NKJV) Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.

:6 And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison.

:7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands.

:7 an angelaggelos – a messenger, envoy, one who is sent; an angel

The term “angel” is sometimes used to describe a human who is acting as a “messenger”.

Here, the “messenger” is of the “heavenly angel” type. Someone supernatural.

:7 struckpatasso – to strike gently – wake up sleepy!

:8 Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.”

:8 Gird yourselfperizonnumi – to fasten garments with a girdle or belt

:8 Put onperiballo – to throw around, to put around; of garments, to clothe one

Apparently Peter was sleeping in a bit of an undressed state. The angel tells him to put some clothes on.

:9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.

:9 thought he was seeing a vision

It seemed very unreal to Peter

:10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.

:10 which opened to them of its own accord

of its own accordautomatos – The first “automatic door”!

I imagine this was part of what seemed so unreal to Peter.  He had never seen a door open by itself.  It probably was a little like an Amish man seeing an elevator for the first time…


An Amish boy and his father were visiting a mall. They were amazed by almost everything they saw, but especially by two shiny, silver walls that could move apart and back together again. The boy asked his father, “What is this, Father?” The father (never having seen an elevator) responded, “Son, I have never seen anything like this in my life. I don’t know what it is!” While the boy and his father were watching wide-eyed, as an old lady in a wheel chair rolled up to the moving walls and pressed a button. The walls opened and the lady rolled between them into a small room. The walls closed and the boy and his father watched small circles of lights with numbers above the walls light up. They continued to watch the circles light up in the reverse direction. The walls opened up again and a beautiful 24-year-old woman stepped out. The father said to his son, “Go get your mother!

:11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”

:11 deliveredexaireo – to pluck out, draw out, to rescue

God had “plucked” Peter out of harm’s way.

Note: God didn’t “deliver” James.


Faith doesn’t eliminate all 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.
Look at the great chapter about the heroes of “faith” –
(Heb 11:33–38 NKJV) —33 who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked 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, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens. 35 Women received their dead raised to life again. Others were tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection. 36 Still others had trial of mockings and scourgings, yes, and of chains and imprisonment. 37 They were stoned, they were sawn in two, 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 mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.
Faith is not about having magic power to get rid of your problems.
Faith is about trusting God, no matter what.
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego were threatened by King Nebuchadnezzar that they better bow down to his statue or else be thrown into the fiery furnace, look at their reply –
(Da 3:17–18 NKJV) —17 If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. 18 But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.”

We will trust Him no matter what happens.

:12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.

:12 to the house

Tradition has it that this was also the house where the last supper was held.  Now it had become one of the gathering places for the church in Jerusalem.

:12 Mary

We believe that she was a relative of Barnabas.

Paul tells us that Mark was a cousin to Barnabas (Col. 4:10), so Mary might have been Barnabas’ aunt.
(Col 4:10 NKJV) —10 Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, with Mark the cousin of Barnabas (about whom you received instructions: if he comes to you, welcome him),

She may have had some wealth since she is the one hosting the prayer meeting in her home.

We know that Barnabas had been a property owner who had sold his property and gave it to the church (Acts 4).

Keep in mind that at this time Barnabas and Saul are visiting in Jerusalem and possibly staying with Mary.  They may have been a part of the prayer meetings that are going on for Peter.

:12 John … Mark

This is the fellow who would one day write the gospel of Mark

He will be going along with Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey.

He will be at the center of a controversy between Paul and Barnabas, eventually leading to their splitting up.

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 many were gathered together praying

Back in vs. 5 we were told that the church was praying.

Now we know of one of the places they were gathered.

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?

(Mt 18:19 NKJV) “Again I say to you that if two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven.

:13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer.

:14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate.

She knew what Peter sounded like.  She recognized his voice.

:15 But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”

:15 You are beside yourself! mainomai – to be mad, not to be in his right mind

It is used of persons who speak and act in such a way that they appear to others as being out of their mind or senses.

Our English word “maniac” comes from this word.

They think she’s crazy

:15 It is his angel

Some Jews believed 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.

:16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

:16 they were astonished


Believe it or not

They had been praying for Peter, but when an angel releases him, they don’t believe it.
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!”
This does challenge the idea that God only answers according to our “unwavering faith”.  Sometimes it seems that God answers despite our faith.

:17 But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.

:17 James

This is James the half-brother of Jesus.

It would seem that by this time James was considered the leader of the church in Jerusalem.

:18 Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter.

:19 But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there.

:19 examinedanakrino – examine or judge; to investigate, scrutinize, sift, question; specifically in a forensic sense of a judge to hold an investigation; to interrogate, examine the accused or witnesses

:19 put to death

The penalty for allowing your prisoner to escape was that you had suffer whatever they were going to suffer.

:19 from Judea to Caesarea

Play Jerusalem to Caesarea map

Herod goes from Jerusalem to Caesarea.

12:20-24 Herod’s death

:20 Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king’s personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country.

:20 Tyre and Sidon

Play Tyre, Caesarea, Theater clip

The people are from the cities in the north, the remnants of the old Phoenician empire, located in modern Lebanon.
They came and met with Herod in Caesarea, and most likely this next scene will be taking place on the stage at the large open air Theater in Caesarea.

:20 made Blastus … their friend

The people of Tyre and Sidon imported their grain from the area of the Galilee.

For some reason, Herod was punishing these cities with some sort of economic embargo.

They hired this fellow Blastus to act as a lobbyist to persuade Herod to be nice to them and allow them to buy grain from the farmers under Herod’s authority.

:21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them.

:22 And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!”

:23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.

:23 struck himpatasso – to strike gently.  This was the same word used to describe how an angel woke up Peter while he was sleeping in prison (12:7).

We kind of think of Peter being woken by a little poke by an angel.  I’m not sure it’s any different here with Herod.  An angel doesn’t need to exert much effort.

:23 he did not give glory to God

Josephus gives us an account of Herod Agrippa’s death, taking place at one of the festivals he had organized to honor Caesar –

“On the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of texture truly wonderful, and came into the theater early in the morning, at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him.  And presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good,) that he was a god.  And they added, -“Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.”  Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery.”
It was then that he was struck with a pain in his gut.  He died five days later.  He died in 44AD.

Play Caesarea Stage clip


Cultivating Humility

Pride only leads to trouble.
(Pr 16:18 NKJV) Pride goes before destruction, And a haughty spirit before a fall.
God alone is glorious and deserving of our praise.  He doesn’t share His glory.
(Is 42:8 NKJV) I am the Lord, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images.
The root of Satan’s fall and the cause of most of our sin is pride.
What are the things we can do to cultivate humility and avoid the trap of falling into pride?
Admit faults
(Lk 18:9–14 NKJV) —9 Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Jesus told this parable for the purpose of dealing with pride.

The man who “humbled himself” was the one who confessed his sin to God and asked for mercy.

It is humbling to admit your sin.  But humble is good.

I think this can also work in our relationships as well.  Are you a person who can say those two awful words, “I’m sorry”.  Or even worse, “I was wrong”?
Embrace weakness
(2 Co 12:7–10 NKJV) —7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure. 8 Concerning this thing I pleaded with the Lord three times that it might depart from me. 9 And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul’s “thorn in the flesh” was not some sort of sin.  But it was something that made him “weak”.

Paul came to realize that this weakness was being used by God to promote humility as well as a dependence upon Jesus.

Are there things in your life you wish you were better at?  Are there things you are a little embarrassed about?  Some of us don’t like the way our body looks.  Some of us are tired of the physical infirmities we struggle with.

Note:  This isn’t an excuse for not taking care of your weight.  You owe it to God if you are overweight to take care of your health.

Play “If animals were fat

Serve others
(Php 2:3–8 NKJV) —3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. 5 Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, 7 but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.

Paul goes on to talk about Jesus’ own life of humility, especially that Jesus took on the role of a servant.

One of the great pictures of Jesus’ servant-hood is seen on the night of the last supper when He washed His disciples’ feet.  He was doing the lowly job that was reserved for a slave. 

After doing this, Jesus said,

(Jn 13:15–17 NKJV) —15 For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. 16 Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Serving others is one of the ways we cultivate humility.

If you’re too good to get up and take care of someone else’s needs, then you’ve got too much pride.

:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

Even with these new persecutions, the church grew.

12:25 Paul and Barnabas return

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

:25 Barnabas and Saul returned

Play Jerusalem to Antioch map clip

Barnabas and Saul had been in Jerusalem with money for the church, to prepare for the coming famine.

Now that they’ve delivered their gift, they head back to Antioch.

Next week we will pick up the story up in Antioch…