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.