Acts 12

Chapter twelve closes the first half of the book focusing on the Jews, Peter, and Jerusalem. Although the story comes back to Jerusalem periodically, the rest of Acts emphasizes the Gentiles, Paul, and “THE FARTHEST PARTS OF THE EARTH” (Acts 1:8). Sadly, but somewhat appropriately, this part of the story begins with the first martyr from among the apostles, James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John. Verse three is interesting: “WHEN [HEROD] SAW THAT THIS PLEASED THE JEWS, HE PROCEEDED TO ARREST PETER TOO.” Even under the persecution that had started in chapter eight, Luke noted in Acts 9:31 that the Church had mostly “EXPERIENCED PEACE.” Apparently, that was no longer the case.

The story of Peter’s imprisonment is a Sunday School favorite. God sent an angel to release him (similar to Acts 5:17-21), but he had to wake Peter up first (Acts 12:4-11). Luke humorously noted that Peter obeyed the angel, even though he thought it was just another vision. He was standing outside before he realized the truth.

The rest of the story is just as ironic. Peter’s friends had gathered to pray, presumably for Peter and the future of the church (Acts 12:12-17). When he showed up outside the gathering, none of the adults believed that it was actually him at the gate; only the servant girl did. When they finally let him in, he told them what had happened then went somewhere else so they would not get into trouble as well. One of his instructions was particularly significant. He said, “TELL JAMES AND THE BROTHERS THESE THINGS” (Acts 12:17). Since “JAMES, THE BROTHER OF JOHN” had been executed (Acts 12:2), this was obviously a different James. However, since the first James (Acts 12:2) had to be identified, whereas the second did not (Acts 12:17), it is clear that the second James had already become highly influential in the Jerusalem church. He must have been “JAMES THE LORD’S BROTHER,” who Paul wrote about in Galatians 1:19, who led the council in Acts 15, and who wrote the letter that carries his name.

The chapter concludes with two notes. First, God killed Herod. The backstory has to do with a quarrel between Herod and the people of Tyre and Sidon (Acts 12:20-23). Herod was an arrogant man, and when his supporters began to worship him as a god, the true God finally executed him. Second, Luke brought the story back to where he left off in Acts 11:30. In fact, Acts 11:30 and Acts 12:25 could originally have been together if Luke added chapter twelve later.

Acts 11

Chapter eleven records Peter’s account of the events of chapter ten as he told them to the Jews back in Jerusalem, so Acts 11:1-18 is essentially a repeat of the previous chapter. One specific point to note is Peter’s choice of words in Acts 11:15-16. Charismatics and non-charismatics often debate whether the events of chapter two count as “Spirit baptism,” because those words are not there. However, here Peter identified the Spirit’s coming on Cornelius the same “AS HE DID ON US AT THE BEGINNING.” “THE BEGINNING” has to refer to Pentecost in chapter two, making that the apostles’ “Spirit baptism” The group concluded that this truly was the work of God, even among the Gentiles (similar to what Peter concluded in Acts 10:34).

Luke took this opportunity to introduce the foundational Gentile church in Antioch, so he could transition to that story in chapter thirteen. Referencing the persecution he already mentioned in Acts 8:1, Luke said that the scattered Jews preached only to other Jews (Acts 11:19-26). However, some proselytes began to expand that message to the Gentiles as well, with the result that “THE HAND OF THE LORD WAS WITH THEM, AND A GREAT NUMBER WHO BELIEVED TURNED TO THE LORD” (Acts 11:21). This caught the attention of the Jerusalem church, which responded by sending Barnabas to investigate. Recognizing the ministry possibilities there, Barnabas tracked down Saul to help him teach the people. 1 In reality, Antioch became the first Gentile church and Christian seminary. There was such a faithful response to the teaching that the name “Christian” was applied to them there. 2 Acts 11:27-30 record the prophecy of a severe famine that would hit the world. Thus began Saul’s ongoing ministry of collecting funds from Gentile churches to support the believers in Israel.

Notes:

  1. After leaving Damascus and some other events, Saul/Paul spent about ten years preaching in and around his home city of Tarsus (see Galatians 1:13-17). This probably formed the foundation of his work in southern Galatia.
  2. Interestingly, the term “Christian” is very rare in Scripture, occurring only here, Acts 26:28, and 1 Peter 4:16.

Acts 9

Chapter nine begins with “MEANWHILE,” an ominous segue pitting God’s great work through Philip with Satan’s work through Saul. That was about to change. Securing warrants for all Jewish believers found in and around synagogues (their jurisdiction), Saul traveled to Damascus, more than 150 miles north of Jerusalem, to arrest these Jews who had turned to worship Jesus (Acts 9:1-9). On the way, Jesus himself stopped Saul, and Saul was converted as well. However, the encounter blinded him, so he spent three days fasting and praying in darkness.

One of the disciples in Damascus Paul certainly would have arrested was Ananias. In a vision, God told him to go to Saul and lay hands on him so he could see again (Acts 9:10-12). Naturally, Ananias was reluctant, but God told him that Saul was God’s man now, the one who would present the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9:13-16). Ananias obeyed. Saul regained his sight and immediately began preaching Christ, which caused him to have to run for his life (Acts 9:17-25). Paul included more detail in Galatians 1-2 than Luke does here, but eventually Saul made it back to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles, with Barnabas vouching for him (Acts 9:26-30).

During this time Peter also did some itinerant preaching, performing miracles as Jesus did, including healing a paralyzed man and raising a woman from the dead (Acts 9:32-43). This solidified the focus of the two men – Peter to the Jews and Paul to the Gentiles (Galatians 2:7-9).