The Acts of the Apostles
Introduction – In this Session we will cover Acts 12. Acts 12 completes the transition from Jerusalem being the focus of revival to Antioch becoming the Apostolic Hub of the Early Church. Acts 12 gives us the account of James’ son of Zebedee’s political martyrdom by Herod Agrippa I, Peter’s angelic deliverance from the Tower of Antonia, and the Apostolic Mantle transferring from Peter to James, Jesus’ half-brother. The time stamp is AD4445.
a) The King Herod mentioned in verse 1 is King Herod Agrippa I. This Herod is the grandson of Herod the Great, and at this time is facing political challenges. He was not endeared by the people because of his Idumean (Edomite) descent and his being educated by Rome. He is looked upon as a vassal king and Roman traitor to the Jewish people.
b) Herod’s persecution would have brought acceptance and favor to the general population by the persecution of the Messianic Church of Jerusalem. Messianic believers were considered a subset of Judaism and heretics to the Law. Herod would have gained favor with the people by persecuting the Church and martyring James. Jesus asked James if he could drink the same cup as Jesus. See Matthew 20:22
c) James – Son of Zebedee, John’s brother. James and John, The Sons of Thunder were part of Jesus’ inner circle. James was the first Apostle to be martyred. In his martyrdom we see a satanic counter punch rooted in the spirit of religion and the spirit of antichrist in politics. The text says; “put death with the sword”. This is death by beheading. See Mark 3:17, Luke 9:54, Matthew 17:2, and Matthew 20:20-28 for references to James.
d) Passover Feast – Luke designates the whole week leading up to Passover the Passover feast. This is significant because this was the same season that Jesus was condemned and crucified by the Sanhedrin. Peter was facing a similar trial of blasphemy before the same court. This is a religious/political persecution of Peter; and Peter being the lead Apostle in Jerusalem at this point in Church History made him the prime target of this attack. We should keep in mind that Jesus prophesied to Peter a long life and death by martyrdom, see John 21:18-19. I am sure Peter was thinking about facing a reality in his life that did not line up with God’s promise. That is the place where we need to contend for God’s promises. The prison was the Tower of Antonia. The supporting wall or wailing wall was never part of the Temple, but a remainder of the Tower of Antonia.
a) Peter is facing imminent death, and the Church stands in the place of intercession. Clearly this is a satanic attack on the Church, on Peter’s destiny,
and an attack against the expansion of the Kingdom.
b) We can never discount the power of united intercession that partners with the promises of God.
a) I find it interesting that Peter could sleep the day before his mock trial and execution. Perhaps this speaks of Peter’s rest in God, or His confidence and security that he had in Jesus.
b) Let’s unpack this angelic encounter. 1 – We see the angelic realm interacting with the natural realm and ministering/helping the saints/Peter. 2 – This angel could physically get Peter’s attention. 3 – This angel had a specific assignment from the Lord to rescue Peter. 4 – This angel had the ability to cloak their presence from the guards and supernaturally walk out of prison. 5 – The encounter was surreal and seemed like a vision.
c) Famous Theologian F.F. Bruce reports a similar encounter in modern times: “Sundar Singh, a Tibetan Christian who was likewise freed miraculously from a prison. For preaching of the gospel, he was thrown into a well, and a cover set over it and securely locked. He would be left in the well until he died, and he could see the bones and rotting corpses of those who had already perished in there. On the third night of his imprisonment, he heard someone unlocking the cover of the well and removing it. A voice told him to take hold of the rope that was being lowered. Sundar was grateful that the rope had a loop he could put his foot in, because he had injured his arm in the fall down into the well. He was raised up, the cover was replaced and locked, but when he looked to thank his rescuer he could find no one. When morning came, he went back to the same place he was arrested and started preaching again. News of the preaching came to the official who had him arrested, and Sundar was brought before him again. When the official said someone must have gotten the key and released him, they searched for the key – and found it on the officials own belt.”
d) Peter realizes that he is delivered, and declares God’s deliverance from death. Peter realizes the goodness of God and His ability to save, and the Lord’s intimate care for him. Peter’s declaration gives us insight into the nature of the persecution against him. Peter’s reputation was probably in question after his interaction with Cornelius, and was probably the basis for accusing him of blasphemy.
a) Mary and John Mark – From verse 12 we can see that Mary was person of affluence and importance in the church at Jerusalem. We can see this because the text shows us that she has a large house. Other Scriptures tell us that she supported Jesus’ ministry, many were gathered there to pray, and she had at least 1 servant, Rhoda. Mary was probably a widow because she is mentioned in the singular context. We can see from the text that women were a prominent part of the Apostolic Church.
b) John Mark – This is the same John Mark that was with Jesus at Gethsemane (Mark 14:51-52). John Mark was Peter’s translator and travelling companion, as
well as the cousin of Barnabas. John Mark accompanied Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary trip and abandoned the mission part way through. He was the source of contention between Paul and Barnabas that led up to a split between them. John Mark is mentioned as being useful to him later in 2 Timothy 4:11 and Peter mentions him in 1 Peter 5:13 as his son. Mark wrote the gospel of Mark as an account of Peter’s testimony and teaching about Jesus. Mark specifically wrote his gospel toward a Roman or Gentile audience. Church history records that John Mark founded the Christian Community in Alexandria, Egypt. John Mark was martyred in Alexandria by a rope placed around his neck and then dragged through the city. His body was exhumed by Christian merchants in AD828 to protect it from Muslim vandalism. His body was taken to Venice, Italy and his head was given to the Alexandrian Church. The Coptic Christian Community today claims unbroken apostolic succession from John Mark.
a) Scripture presents to us a lighter side of this account with Rhoda leaving Peter at the door!
b) It is also funny that the church did not believe her, but assumed that it was Peter’s guardian angel. It is also comedy to think that they were praying for this situation and did not expect this type of outcome. The Lord surprised them with answered prayer. It is ironic that they would have expected an angelic encounter instead!
c) Guardian Angels – Matthew 18:10 – “See that you do not despise one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven.” Hebrews 1:14 – “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?”
a) Peter recounts his deliverance by the angel to the gathering at Mary’s house.
b) Peter goes to another place; probably Antioch and then back to Jerusalem later in Acts 15:17. From here the book of Acts transitions to the Apostle Paul’s ministry and the spread of Christianity into Europe.
c) Church history tells us that Peter was in Antioch for close to 7 years, returned to sit on the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, and then travelled to Rome to help build up the Church. From Rome, Peter wrote his 2 Epistles and was finally martyred by Roman Emperor Nero in AD65.
d) At this point the Apostolic Mantle in Jerusalem was passed to James, Jesus’ half brother, who wrote the Epistle of James and was maintained leadership until his death by martyrdom and then the Jerusalem Church made an exodus out of Jerusalem to Pella as the Romans surrounded Jerusalem. See Matthew 24:1520.
e) Josephus gives us an extra biblical account of James: “The aforesaid scribes and Pharisees accordingly set James on the summit of the temple, and cried aloud to him, and said: “O just one, whom we are all bound to obey, forasmuch as the people is in error, and follows Jesus the crucified, do thou tell us what is the door of Jesus, the crucified.” And he answered with a loud voice: “Why ask ye me concerning Jesus the Son of man? He Himself sitteth in heaven, at the right hand of the Great Power, and shall come on the clouds of heaven.” And, when many were fully convinced by these words, and offered praise for the testimony of James, and said, “Hosanna to the son of David,” then again the said Pharisees and scribes said to one another, “We have not done well in procuring this testimony to Jesus. But let us go up and throw him down, that they may be afraid, and not believe him.” And they cried aloud, and said: “Oh! oh! the just man himself is in error.” Thus they fulfilled the Scripture written in Isaiah: “Let us away with the just man, because he is troublesome to us: therefore, shall they eat the fruit of their doings.” So they went up and threw down the just man, and said to one another: “Let us stone James the Just.” And they began to stone him: for he was not killed by the fall; but he turned, and kneeled down, and said: “I beseech Thee, Lord God our Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do.” And, while they were thus stoning him to death, one of the priests, the sons of Rechab, the son of Rechabim, to whom testimony is borne by Jeremiah the prophet, began to cry aloud, saying: “Cease, what do ye? The just man is praying for us.” But one among them, one of the fullers, took the staff with which he was accustomed to wring out the garments he dyed, and hurled it at the head of the just man. And so he suffered martyrdom; and they buried him on the spot, and the pillar erected to his memory still remains, close by the temple. This man was a true witness to both Jews and Greeks that Jesus is the Christ. And shortly after Vespasian besieged Judaea, taking them captive.”
a) Herod puts the guards to death because of their failure to guard Peter. 1 Corinthians 15:33 – Do not be misled: Bad company corrupts good character. These men reaped fruit for being in league with evil and the enemies of God’s Church.
a) Herod’s death is mentioned by Josephus and parallels the Acts account. Herod was judged because he persecuted the Church and received praise that was only due to God. Josephus mentions that Herod was arrayed in a robe of silver panels that shone brightly in the sun. Herod was an eloquent speaker schooled in Roman oration and the combination of his clothing illuminated by the sun and his smooth speech, he was hailed as a god. That very day, he was in full blown pain in his stomach and had to be carried to his palace where he died 5 days later. Scripture tells us that an angel struck him down by decree from God. God defends his own.
a) As always the Church always prospers in the face of adversity. We should have an expectation of victory and growth when Christianity is attacked.
b) Barnabas and Paul select John Mark and bring him back to Antioch to help with the revival there.