ACTS - CHAPTERS 11: 19-30 – Ch. 12

Tuesday Morning Bible Study

April 12, 2022, the Year of Our Lord

Pastor Carolyn Sissom


Barnabas and Saul sent to Judea; James the Great is Martyred;

An Angel Loses Peter from Jail


Angels are a normal part of the life of the New Testament church.  Two angels spoke to the disciples when Jesus was taken up into heaven (Acts 1).  The angel of the Lord opened the prison doors for the apostles (Acts 5).  Another angel appeared to Philip and told him to go to Gaza (Acts 8).  An angel spoke to Cornelius about sending his servants to Joppa to get Simon (Acts 10).  An angel loosed Peter from his cell in prison (Acts 12).  An angel of the Lord smote Herod with worms (Acts 12).       When Paul and Silas were imprisoned, an earthquake shook doors and loosed their fetters (Acts 16).  The Angels ministered to Jesus on many occasions.” (Kathie Walters). 


We begin our journey through the Book of Acts this week after the saving of Cornelius’ household by a supernatural visitation of an angel and the Angel of the Lord visited Peter releasing the church to a world-wide ministry to the Gentiles.


Meanwhile, those who had fled the city of Jerusalem, because of the persecution triggered by Stephen, traveled as far as Phoenicia, and Cyprus, and Antioch, sharing the message with Jews only, and no one else.


Luke flashes back in his story to take up the account of what happened to those who fled Jerusalem.  So far, they have only ministered to the Jews, but they will now be used to create the great Gentile church at Antioch.  Among them would be Nicolas (the 7th deacon - Acts 6:5) for he was a proselyte from Antioch.


Antioch is located about 10 miles up the Orontes River.  This was the capital of Syria (presently Antalya, Turkey).  Today Antalya, Turkey boasts the Church of St. Peter is the world’s first Christian church.  The church is composed of a cave carved into the mountainside.   Antioch ranked third in size and importance of all the cities in the Roman Empire next to Rome and Alexandria. The city was a Gentile city, but tolerant of all religions.  The city of Antioch is about to enter a new phase in its history.  It is about to become the center of Gentile Christianity.


11:20-21: Some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus.  The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the LORD.


At this time, many of the Greeks were looking for a divine Lord who could give them eternal life.  Thus, the city of Antioch was ripe for the gospel.  The Greeks happily received the word of Christ.   The Holy Spirit backed the witness of the Hellenists and pagans began turning to the Lord in wholesale fashion. At this time, the Jerusalem church was reluctant to do more than open the door to the Gentile world. 


11;22-24: Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch.  When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.  For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.  And a great many people were added to the Lord. 


It is 425 miles from Jerusalem to Antioch.  Scripture does not tell us how Barnabas traveled. It appears the preferred way would be by ship up the Mediterranean.


When the leaders of the Jerusalem church heard that a Greek (Gentile) church had been started at Antioch, they sent a delegation, headed by Barnabas.  He was himself a Hellenist (from Cyprus), and would be more sympathetic than any of the Christian Jews.  True to his name (Son of Encouragement), he gave the Greek missionaries and converts all the help he could. 


Barnabas laid stress on the person of Christ.  The goal of the gospel is intimacy with Christ.  Christianity is fellowship with the one who made us.  Christ and His Body are one; not two entities. 


11:25:  Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul.


Tarsus is in modern day Turkey and is 86 miles from Antioch by ship and land across the eastern Mediterranean. 


The church in Antioch was founded by laymen.  Now it had reached the place where it needed a full-time leader.  Barnabas had seen Saul risk his life speaking to Greek speaking Jews in Jerusalem.


11:26:  When he had found him, he brought him to Antioch.  So, it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people.  The disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. 


Saul had fled to Tarsus for safety.  We are not given the details of Barnabas and Saul’s ministry, but they were so successful that Antioch became the world headquarters for the spreading of the gospel. 


In Greek, the name Christian means Christ-people.


So mighty was the revival which broke out, that the main scene of Christianity shifted from Jerusalem to Antioch.  Within the year, the capitol of Syria (now Turkey) became the world headquarters for spreading the gospel among the heathen.  Let us call in all the seed deposited in Antioch to recover the region from the Muslims.

11:27-30:  In these days, prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch.  Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar.  Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea.  This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.


Claudius Caesar was emperor of Rome for thirteen years (A.D. 41-54).  Scholars are of the opinion that the famine referred to here is one reported as having occurred in A.D. 45.  It affected most of Palestine and Syria.  Agabus’ prophecy was strictly fulfilled, for Italy itself and the other Provinces of the Roman Empire were afflicted with crop failures and famines during Claudius’ reign.  If the A.D. 45 date is correct, Dr. Luke pin-points time for us.  That is why I am so careful to date everything I teach and preach; because it is helpful to go back on those notes and apply them to current events.  The word used for “world” is the same word from which we get our word “economy.”  Thus, the reference is to the Roman Empire and not the earth’s surface.


In the timing of God, the Christians and Jews in Judea received relief from the Gentile believers in Syria.  The Lord used the relief funds as a means for uniting Jewish and Gentile believers in Christian fellowship.  Note, Dr. Luke refers to Barnabas and Saul.  At this time, Barnabas is still the leader of the group.   As we journey through the Book of Acts, that will change and Paul will take the leadership.


Chapter 12 – Death of James and Deliverance of Peter:


The time of peace for the Jerusalem church has now come to an end.


12:1-2:  About that time, Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church.  Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.


This is Herod Agrippa, I, the grandson of Herod the Great, who slaughtered the infants after Jesus’ birth.  Herod Agrippa, I, was a half-Jew, a descendant of the Edomites of the family of Esau.  He was a favorite of the Roman court and was given the title of king in AD 37.  By A.D. 41, he ruled over all of Palestine, including Judea.  He pretended strict observance of Jewish custom.  In a display of Pharisaical zeal, he executed the Apostle James.  Herod ordered the first execution of an apostle.


As we studied in chapter 1, this is James the Great, one of the three men who comprised the inner circle of the Apostles---Peter, James and John.  James was the elder brother of John the Beloved.  With John and their father, Zebedee, he plied his trade as a fisherman in the Sea of Galilee.  James was with Jesus from the beginning and like Peter, Andrew and John, he was the first to be called.  James is recorded as being involved during Jesus’ miracle works.  James was the first to be martyred.  He was murdered by King Herod Agrippa I about the year 44 A.D (Acts 12: 1-2). Legend places James in missionary work in India and Spain.  Most historians doubt that the Spanish tradition is correct because his time was too short.  The Spanish tradition is, however, that the Apostle James founded the Christian church in Italy.  James and John were given the surname “Boanerges,” which translated means “Sons of thunder.”


12:3-4:  Because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also.  Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread.  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.


Peter was arrested at the beginning of the seven-day Passover holiday.  Herod did not risk angering the Jews by conducting any legal business during the holy days, so he kept him in custody under heavy guard.  He was aware that Peter was once delivered from prison.  Four squads of soldiers would be four-men to a squad,


The Christians knew how serious the situation was because James has been killed in the past two weeks. 


12:5-7:  Peter was kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.  When Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers.  The guards before the door were keeping the prison.  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!”  His chains fell of his hands.  


God harkened to the prayers of the saints.  The angel was sent in answer to their prayers.  Interesting that while Peter was on death-row, the night before his execution, he was sleeping. 


12: 8-11:  The angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals;” and so he did.  The angel said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.”  He went out and followed him.  He did not know what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.  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.  Immediately the angel departed from him.  When Peter came 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.”


This story stands as a testimony of God’s delivering grace, the sovereignty of His providence for Peter’s destiny; and the power of earnest prayer.  Praying and decreeing God’s words activate angels.  Pray the word.  Those who seek a human explanation for this story do themselves no favor.


12: 12-15:  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.  As Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl name Rhoda came to answer.  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.  They said to her, “You are beside yourself!”  Yet she kept insisting that it was so.  So, they said, “It is his angel.” 


Peter is a fugitive.  Surely the angel directed him where he should go.  We are here introduced to John Mark who will later accompany Paul on his missionary journeys.  He is also identified with Mark the evangelists, the writer of the Gospel of Mark (inconclusive).    Luke adds a touch of humor in reporting the excitement of the young serving girl.  What is surprising that the believers don’t have faith that their prayers have been answered.  I wonder what their pre-conceived idea was of how they expected the Lord to answer their prayers.  This was obviously not it.  This is proof in the Word of God that our angel does look like us.  At least one of them.  When we pray, we should expect God to answer, and not limit in our thinking the method by which he will answer our prayers.


12:16-17:  Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.  He motioned to them with his hand to keep silent.  He declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison.  He said, “Go tell these things to James and to the brethren.”  He departed and went to another place.


It is believed that this James is the Lord’s brother.  There is another Apostle known as James the Less, but he is the brother of Matthew.  The Lord’s brother was known as James the Just and Old Camel Knees.  James led the church at Jerusalem until his violent death in AD 62.  It is believed he was stoned to death by the Pharisees on order of High Priest Ananus ben Ananus. 


The elders (brethren) were undoubtedly with James.  They would be encouraged by Peter’s deliverance.


We are not told where Peter went.  It would only be conjecture to suggest he went to Antioch where revival had broken out and he would be out of Herod’s jurisdiction.  Only James remained behind to lead the church. 


12: 18-23:  As soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter.  When Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death.  He went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there.  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.  On a set day, Herod arrayed in royal apparel sat on his throne and gave an oration to them.  The people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!”  Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God.  He was eaten by worms and died.

It would appear that Herod was humiliated by Peter’s escape.  Most people would have been humbled and repented in the fear of God.  Josephus, the Jewish historian, tells us that Herod set his throne facing the East; and sat on it wearing a robe of silver woven with amazing workmanship.  When struck by the rays of the sun, it gave the king a resplendent and awesome appearance.  The Phoenicians trying to get on his good side were flattering him.  Filled with vanity, he forgot his Jewishness and allowed the people to worship him as divine. 


Herod Agrippa I, was the last ruler of the Herodian dynasty.  King Herod the Great built the Jewish temple for the perpetuation of his name.  He also ordered the killing of the babies in Judea at the birth of Jesus Christ. We will never hear of the Herod’s again.  Josephus states he died five days later at the age of 54.  It was the 7th year of his reign. 


Yes, Peter was sent forth from Jerusalem by Herod’s persecution; but Herod also left Jerusalem because of his humiliation and was never to return.  The angel who released Peter also released Herod. 


An angel of the Lord struck him.  Angels are sent by God to bless, to protect, rescue, heal, and deliver, but they are also sent to execute God’s judgment. 


12:24-25:  But the word of God grew and multiplied. Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry.  They also took with them John whose surname was Mark. 


Next week Saul’s name is changed to Paul and he becomes the leader of the missionary team. 


Post Script:  At the end of the service, a powerful prophecy came forth to send forth Apostles and Prophets to Antalya, Turkey to stir the fires of revival deposited by the New Testament Church. 


Carolyn Sissom, Pastor

Eastgate Ministries Church

Scripture from N.K.J.V. – I entered into the labors of C. S. Lovett’s Lights on Acts; and quoted as indicated from Kathie Walters.  Comments and conclusions are my own and not meant to reflect the views of those who I entered into their labors.


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