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Acts 12

Chapter 12 is not long but it is packed with people, places, and power.  Luke immediately references member of the Herod family.  Luke 12:1 reads, "It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church..."  It is wise to take a moment to organize the family of Herod the Great....

We remember Herod the Great for a couple of reasons:  he remodeled the Temple and he ordered the murder of all male babies in Bethlehem in an attempt to kill the new born Messiah.  But Herod the Great had children and many of his offspring were even more ruthless.  Consider the chart below:

This chart represents only a portion of Herod the Great's children and grandchildren.  Herod Antipas, Herod Archelaus, Herod Phillip, and Phillip the Tetrarch ruled various portion of the Middle East early in the first century.   By the mid-first century, the grandson, Agrippa I, was in power.  Luke is speaking of Herod Agrippa I in this passage.  With that in mind, let us begin reading Acts 12:

"It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.

Herod Aggrippa put James (brother of John) to death with a sword.  James is the first Apostle to die but he would not be the last.  At the end of this blog I have included how each of the Twelve were killed because of their faith in Jesus.  Continue reading at verse 5:

So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.  The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.  Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.

Multiple jail door locks, guards, and two chains were no match for this angel from God.  Peter understood and did as directed, following the angel outside the prison.  Continue reading at verse 11:

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”  12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”  15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.” 16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.

While Luke noted that James, the brother of John, had been killed, here Peter was referring to “James the Lord’s brother” (Gal. 1:19),  one of the pillars of the primitive Christian church (Gal. 2:9), and the author of The Epistle of James.  In verse 12 Luke notes another person named John, also called Mark.  This is the first time that Luke references John Mark.  This John Mark is the (human) author of the gospel of Mark.  Continue reading at verse 18:

18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.  Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him."

Tyre and Sidon were in the region of Phoenicia, in the Roman province of Syria.  Both cities are sea ports just north of Israel, in fact Jesus visited these cities in noted in Mark 7:24.  Continue reading at verse 20:

"After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.  21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died."

Herod Aggrippa chose poorly.  It was not yet time for Peter to be killed.  So after Aggrippa I died his son, Herod Aggrippa II rose to power.  We will learn more about him later.  Continue reading at verse 24:

24 But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.  25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark."

John Mark is the author of the Book of Mark and the nephew of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10).  More importantly, he was a close associate of both Paul and especially Peter.  The Gospel of Mark is considered Scripture because it was written under the authority of Peter.

The following slides illustrate how each of the Twelve went on the proclaim the Gospel of Jesus and were later killed for their faith.


Posted by Bruce Powers with

Acts 13-14 (1st journey)

In chapter 13 Luke's narrative focuses outward as phase three begins.  Chapters 13 and 14 will be covered together because they comprise Paul's first missionary journey.  Paul set out from Antioch in 46 AD and returned by early 48 AD.   We turn now to Luke's account:

"Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul. While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off."

In chapter twelve, Barnabas traveled to Tarsus to find Paul.  Now we find both men in the Antioch church worshiping.  The Holy Spirit calls for Barnabas and Saul (Paul) to begin phase three.  The congregation at Antioch then sends them off as the Holy Spirit directed.  Continue reading at verse four:

The two of them, sent on their way by the Holy Spirit, went down to Seleucia and sailed from there to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. John was with them as their helper."

The map above illustrates the complete journey that Paul and Barnabas just began.  Antioch was the capital of the Roman province of Syria and the third biggest city in the Empire. Only Rome and Alexandria were larger.  Today, Antioch is in southeast - Turkey, west of Syria and north of Lebanon.  Simeon “was a Jew by birth, perhaps from an African-Jewish community.”  “Niger” (as in Nigeria) means black.  The Church was already in parts of Africa!  Lucius of Cyrene was likely among the first group of Christians to preach in Antioch.  Manean was foster brother to Herod Antipas, the king who beheaded John the Baptist.  The church in Antioch had a major influence on the spread of the early Church.  What do you make of the statement, “The Holy Spirit Said…”  How does the Holy Spirit speak today?

From Antioch they traveled to the port town of Seleucia where they got on a ship headed for the Island of Cyprus. In first five we are told that John was with them – as their helper.  This is not a reference to the Apostle John but rather to John Mark, the writer of the Gospel of Mark.  We know this from Acts 12:12.  At a minimum we now know that Paul traveled with Barnabas and John Mark.   Why do you think Paul and Barnabas first traveled to Cyprus – as opposed to the mainland route?  (Perhaps two reasons:  More trade on the islands and faster route to Phrygia – their destination.)  Continue reading from verse 6:

They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”

This sorcerer (false prophet) was named Bar-Jesus or son of Jesus.  The intent was to make people think he was acting by the authority of Jesus – certainly not the case.  He is also called Elymas, which means sorcerer.  By the power of the Holy Spirit Paul understands the truth about this man.  Ironically, Elymas is temporarily blinded - just as Paul years ago!  As Luke explains:

"Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 12 When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was amazed at the teaching about the Lord."

How does God use this sorcerer (Elymas)?  What do we learn about Paul and the Holy Spirit in this passage?  Luke's narrative continues at verse 13:

13 From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem. 14 From Perga they went on to Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they entered the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a word of exhortation for the people, please speak.”

From Paphos, Paul and his companions sailed to Perga in Pamphylia, where John left them to return to Jerusalem.  At this point Luke doesn't provide much detail on why John-Mark left the team.  Later in Acts, this issue arises again and Luke does explain that Paul was not happy about this decision by John-Mark.  For now, the team has sailed on to the main land of Asia minor.  While attending a synagogue in port town of Perga, Paul has been invited to address those in attendance.   Continue reading Paul's message from verse 16 through 41:

16 Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Fellow Israelites and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17 The God of the people of Israel chose our ancestors; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt; with mighty power he led them out of that country; 18 for about forty years he endured their conduct[a] in the wilderness; 19 and he overthrew seven nations in Canaan, giving their land to his people as their inheritance. 20 All this took about 450 years."

“After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21 Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22 After removing Saul, he made David their king. God testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse, a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’

23 “From this man’s descendants God has brought to Israel the Savior Jesus, as he promised. 24 Before the coming of Jesus, John preached repentance and baptism to all the people of Israel. 25 As John was completing his work, he said: ‘Who do you suppose I am? I am not the one you are looking for. But there is one coming after me whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.’

26 “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. 27 The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. 28 Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. 29 When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. 30 But God raised him from the dead, 31 and for many days he was seen by those who had traveled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.

32 “We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors 33 he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm:  “‘You are my son;
    today I have become your father.’  34 God raised him from the dead so that he will never be subject to decay. As God has said, “‘I will give you the holy and sure blessings promised to David.’ 35 So it is also stated elsewhere:  “‘You will not let your holy one see decay.’  36 “Now when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his ancestors and his body decayed. 37 But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay.

38 “Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. 39 Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. 40 Take care that what the prophets have said does not happen to you: 41 “‘Look, you scoffers, wonder and perish, for I am going to do something in your days that you would never believe, even if someone told you.’”

The first part of Paul’s sermon spans a period of about 500 years from the Exodus to the reign of King David.  What is Paul’s strategy here?  Continue reading at verse 42:

42 As Paul and Barnabas were leaving the synagogue, the people invited them to speak further about these things on the next Sabbath. 43 When the congregation was dismissed, many of the Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.

44 On the next Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of the Lord. 45 When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy. They began to contradict what Paul was saying and heaped abuse on him.

46 Then Paul and Barnabas answered them boldly: “We had to speak the word of God to you first. Since you reject it and do not consider yourselves worthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us:  “‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’”

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.  49 The word of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jewish leaders incited the God-fearing women of high standing and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and expelled them from their region. 51 So they shook the dust off their feet as a warning to them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit."

I like that Dr. Luke covers the times that Paul and Barnabas were successful AND the times they were less than successful.  We ought to expect the same thing.   Paul did not turn back.  He went on to the next region and continues his first missionary journey.  The disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit.  The journey continues is chapter 14:

"At Iconium Paul and Barnabas went as usual into the Jewish synagogue. There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up the other Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So Paul and Barnabas spent considerable time there, speaking boldly for the Lord, who confirmed the message of his grace by enabling them to perform signs and wonders. The people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, others with the apostles. There was a plot afoot among both Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, to mistreat them and stone them. But they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding country, where they continued to preach the gospel."

How does the people’s response to Paul in Iconium compare to those Antioch in Pisidia?   Did the Gospel spread more because of Paul’s work in Antioch Pisidian or Iconium?  How would you feel if you were constantly under siege like Paul and Barnabas? Continue reading at verse 8:

In Lystra there sat a man who was lame. He had been that way from birth and had never walked. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. Paul looked directly at him, saw that he had faith to be healed 10 and called out, “Stand up on your feet!” At that, the man jumped up and began to walk.

11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought bulls and wreaths to the city gates because he and the crowd wanted to offer sacrifices to them."

How do the people of Lystra respond to Paul and Barnabas?  We need to be concerned when people point to us.  Far better when we point them to Jesus.  Notice how Barnabas and Paul respond in verse 14:

14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.” 18 Even with these words, they had difficulty keeping the crowd from sacrificing to them."

Note the different tone of Paul’s words when he speaks to Gentiles.  Paul is more effective with Gentiles than with Jews – even though he is a master of the Jewish faith.  Continue reading at verse 19:

19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead. 20 But after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas left for Derbe.  21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust. 24 After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, 25 and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.

Have you ever experienced rejection from those who previously had accepted you?  Have you every experienced this type of persecution?  How does Paul and Barnabas respond?   After great success in Derbe, what does Paul do?  How can we strength and encourage the disciples?  Do you think you’d be willing to go back to Iconium and Antioch Pisidea?  Continue reading the final narrative of Paul's first missionary journey:

26 From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they stayed there a long time with the disciples."

This concludes Paul’s first Missionary Journey.  Explain the ways in which it was successful?   When have you experienced rejection?  How willing would you be to suffer persecution?  How might you be able to strengthen believers?

Posted by Bruce Powers with

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