Acts 12:1-23 by Robert Dean
It is Christ who builds the church through the Holy Spirit. If the pastor and congregation are obedient, the Church is protected. This doesn’t mean horrific things won’t happen. Our role in God’s plan is crucial and our focus may not always be clear, though His is. Our walk is one of faith. Our God will take care to preserve and protect us in spite of men’s accomplishments, personalities, methods and false success. As opposition to the Church in Jerusalem moves into the arena of government, look into the genealogy of the Herods, and how, in spite of their despicable rule and degenerate character, God grows His Church. The Church didn’t escape suffering, but in that suffering God performed miracles that gave no doubt who was in charge and who would persevere in Truth.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 2 mins 45 secs

God, Not Man or Methods, Protects, Promotes, Provides for the Church. Acts 12:1-23

At the end of chapter eleven we saw God's expansion of the church. One message that comes across all through Acts is that it is Christ who is building the church through the Holy Spirit. This takes us back to a couple of different events in the teaching of our Lord in the Gospels. The two we focus on are in Matthew 18 where Jesus asked Peter, "Who do men say that I am?" Peter replied, "You are the Messiah, the Son of God." Jesus then comments that it is on this rock that I will build my church," a recognition of that statement that it is on that faith perception that Jesus is the Messiah that Christ is going to build the church. Christ said: "I will build the church." In the 21st chapter of John Jesus shows up on the beach of the Sea of Galilee and the disciples are out fishing and haven't had any luck. Jesus tells them to throw out the net on the other side of the boat, which they do, and receive a load that is too heavy for them to pull into the boat. About that time it begins to dawn on them who it is that is on the beach. After they had eaten the Lord begins to drill Peter to see if he has learned anything over the past few days in relation to all that the Lord had taught him about love and forgiveness prior to the cross, and Peter's betrayal of the Lord the night that Jesus was arrested, and now the Lord says to Peter, "Do you love me?" There is this interchange that takes place where three times the Lord asks Peter, "Do you love me." Peter says, "Yes Lord, I love you." As a result the Lord gives three commands, Basically, feed the little lambs; feed the old ewes; feed the sheep. And that is the purpose for the pastor and the apostle: it is to feed the sheep. Jesus said: "I will build my church; you feed the sheep."

What we have today is an environment in American Christianity which we are exporting around the world where for some reason it is the pastor who is a sort of a manager, leader, motivator, but he is not the teacher. In many churches there is more of a superficial message on Sunday morning and sadly many of these pastors don't realise how superficial they've become, because that is all they've heard. With many their heart is right, they think they are doing well but they haven't ever been exposed to any in depth biblical teaching, and they don't have any deep level of training. So they think they are teaching the Word when they are really just presenting pablum. They are at a nursery school, pre-school level in whatever it is that they are teaching on Sunday morning, and biblical instruction is sort of left to the non-professional, the untrained who are teaching in Sunday school. And the pastor's job is to build the church; he needs to understand all the different methods that are out there for developing church growth, the things that come out of the Rick Warren type ministries and several others that give a blueprint for how to build the church.

But the blueprint of the Scripture is that if the pastor and the congregation do what God says to do in their spiritual life, and in the exercise of their spiritual gifts, numerical growth of the church, the protection and oversight of that congregation is the Lord's responsibility. What happens is, we get these things confused and people try to take over and anybody in the power of the flesh who is a good business man and a hard worker can build a large organisation and the Holy Spirit had nothing whatsoever to do with it.

All through the book of Acts what we see is this continuous emphasis on God the Holy Spirit growing the church; God protecting the church. But that protection of the church does not mean that horrible things didn't happen. There was persecution and opposition. There was the assault on Stephen and he was martyred, and in this chapter we see that James, the brother of John, is going to be arrested by Herod Agrippa I and beheaded. Then Peter is going to be arrested. So the fact that God is protecting you doesn't mean that you are without adversity. Because God is watching over us doesn't mean that things are going to go well. In fact, God may watch over us and put us in what we think are some pretty horrendous, horrible circumstances. But we don't see the big picture, and so within the framework of where God has placed us we need to be faithful and focus on the fact that we have a crucial role to play in that arena where God has placed us and we don't have any idea how that is going to play out. 

We see an example of God's protection, provision and promotion here in Acts chapter twelve. We've seen this with the expansion of the church north to Antioch and it would become a major focus of missionary activity and spiritual growth for the next four centuries. The point of this section is that God, not men or methods, protects, promotes and provides for the church. It is not based on methods and it is not based on men or personalities. Yet as human beings that seems to be what we gravitate to in the flesh. If we just had the right method; if we just had the right technique; if we just had the right pastor with the right personality, then we could build a great church. But then you're building is not on the bassi of the Word of God and positive volition to truth, you are building the church on the basis of human personality and human skill.

When we come to chapter twelve se see opposition to the church arise again in Jerusalem. This time it is not from the Jews and their hostility to the Christian that have come out from their midst, it is now coming down officially from the government powers, specifically Herod the king. Acts 12:1 NASB "Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. [2] And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. [3] When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread." The days of Unleavened Bread is used as a synonym for Passover. It is a week-long festival that begins with the day of Passover. This is the same time of year as the crucifixion and so the early church would be observing an remembrance of the crucifixion and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is at that time when they are celebrating Passover that Herod seeks to curry favour with the people.

We need to see who this Herod is. Reading about the Herods makes modern-day soap opera seem rather mild. These people would have made the Chicago political machine look pristine and innocent. They were backstabbers and paranoid, they were killing off one wife to marry a sister and all kinds of things. We need to go through a little history here to understand why this Herod is so significant. This is actually Herod Arippa I and he had messianic pretensions. That is one of the reasons this is put in here, although that is not really brought out too overtly in the text but it is clearly present in the text. So the patriarch of this clan is referred to as Antipater, the father of Herod the Great. He was an Edomite (these were the descendants of Esau). The Edomites were distant cousins to the Jews but there was a lot of suspicion and hostility.

Antipater had curried favor with the Romans and had elevated to a position of power, and so there was a lot of fighting going on at this time in history between the Romans who were expanding westward and were running up against another empire to the east, the Parthians. Today we call then Iranians, Persians, the same general group of people that are coming out of Iran which is modern Persia, and they were pushing west. So this was always a problem for Herod. In 40 BC the Parthians gained control of Jerusalem and established Antigonus who was a Jewish leader as a puppet in Jerusalem. They captured Herod's brother and were going to torture him and kill him but he committed suicide. This put great fear into Herod's heart. He knew he would be next and so he managed to escape, first to Egypt and then to Rome. When he went to Egypt he was taken care of by Cleopatra. Then she gave him money to get to Rome. She helped him plan his strategy as to how he would go back and reclaim his throne and power in Judea and defeat the Parthians.

What he did during this time was protect his family. He sent them to Masada, a fortress on a small flat top down by the Dead Sea that was extremely difficult to reach. He had sent up some supplies there so that they could be protected and isolated from the Parthians. He goes to Rome and meets there with Caesar and Mark Anthony. Mark Anthony made the promise that he would be made the king of Judea and he supported him in the Roman Senate.

Herod was also very close at this time to Octavius, Julius Caesars nephew, and would soon be Caesar Augustus. When Augustus became emperor at that time his second in command was a man by the name of Agrippa. That is where the name Herod Agrippa comes from: his close friendship and relationship with Caesar's number two man, Agrippa. It was said that in Augustus's affection Herod was second only to Agrippa and in Agrippa's affection he was only second to Augustus. So he was very close to the most powerful people in the Roman empire and they are going to back him with all the strength that they have to put him back on the throne in Judea to protect their eastern flank from the Parthians.

The first thing he does is go down to Masada to liberate his family who are hiding there. Then he launched an assault from Galilee. A couple of years later he captures Jerusalem and in doing so slaughtered thousands of Jews. That didn't make him popular among the Jews. He captured Antigonus and sends him to Rome where Mark Anthony executed him.

As Herod grew older, maybe from disease, he became quite paranoid and was quite concerned that his sons were trying to steal the kingdom from him. That fact was that they were. They were getting tired of him hanging around so long and they wanted their taste of power while they were young enough to enjoy it. Two of his sons, Alexander and Aristobulus, committed treason and were arrested. Aristobulus is important because he is the father of Agrippa I. He was executed by strangulation at Samaria. That made Antipater the sole heir. But he became impatient. Herod has two sons he has executed, the inheritance is now going to go to Antipater, but he became impatient and tried to poison Herod. The plot failed when Herod's brother drank the poison by mistake and died. So Herod put Antipas in prison and reported the matter to the emperor. This was 5 BC, about the time that Jesus was born and the Magi showed up. We know this because in the spring of 4 BC Herod died. At this time Herod comes down with a disease that eventually would kill him. We are not sure what it was but it was an extremely miserable and painful death. He died in 4 BC and in the process of time he ended up with about six different wills going to different ones of his sons. His kingdom was split between Archelaus who became the ethnarch (a term for a lower level ruler) of Judea (4 BC to AD 6); Antipas who was a good ruler at the time of Christ, the Herod who sends Jesus back to Pilate on the night He was arrested. He was the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea; then Philip who was the tetrarch in the north eastern part in Galilee.

Herod the Great was the one who was king at the time of the birth of Jesus. When the Magi (Medians) showed up Herod is paranoid that the Parthians are going to invade again and take the kingdom from him. They are looking for the king of the Jews and it is not him. His paranoia went into overdrive and this is why he sent troops to kill all of the infants because it threatened the succession. By this time he is seriously in dementia less than a year from his death.

Herod Archelaus was given Judea by the Romans. He is the older son through Herod's Samaritan wife, and he is arguably the worst of Herod's sons. Before he became the ruler he was involved in a massacre of more than 3000 Jews who had revolted against his father because Herod had killed a number of Jews. He is constantly vicious. He kills, executes and imprisons. He had to leave for a while. Rome sent him back in 4 BC and he only rules for about 10 years before he is kicked out. He was so brutal that he was not really replaced, but Judea was then given to his brother Herod Antipas, his younger brother (same mother). He was given the name "tetrarch" which literally means a ruler of one fourth, so he got a quarter of Herod's empire. He is the Herod who imprisoned and executed John the Baptist, the Herod Jesus called the fox in Luke 13:31. He was, like his father Herod the Great, a gifted administrator and architect. He built the city of Tiberius on the Sea of Galilee, named it for the emperor. His family life and marriage is so confusing because of all the marriages and intrigue that we won't even go into it. He was the uncle of Herod Agrippa; Aristobulus was his father.

Then we come to Herod Agrippa I who became king in 39 AD. He is very popular. He knew just how to work the people to get everybody behind him. When he was four years of age his father had been executed so the family shipped him off to Rome for protection and he grew up in the household of Caesar. He was very close to Gaius who later became known as Caligula. He loved to gamble and incurred a number of debts. When Antipas died he was exiled because of his failures and he convinced Caligula to appoint him as the king of Judea. And he continued to curry favor with everybody. He was just well loved but he had an ego that was getting larger and larger because he didn't seem to have any failures. Every couple of years Rome gave him more of what had originally been a part of Herod's kingdom. Nobody since Herod had died had ruled all of that territory but it was all going to come back to Herod Agrippa I.

In 37 Caligula made him king and gave him the territories in the north-eastern section and then in 39 gave him Galilee and Perea. Then when Claudius became emperor he was still currying such favor that Claudius didn't limit in any way, but gave him Judea and Samaria in 41. In 44 Herod is at the top of his popularity. He has increased his power base and he can do no wrong. Now he really wants to curry favor with the Jewish population. He decides that the best way to do that is to start arresting the leaders in the Jewish church. By now the Jewish leaders were in opposition to those who were followers of Jesus, especially as they were letting Gentiles come into their homes and they were breaking down barriers between the Jews and Gentiles. This completely offended the sensibilities of the leaders of the Jewish Pharisees and in the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. So this was a time when Herod can really curry favor. He has James arrested, the brother of John. They were the sons of Zebedee. We are told in Matthew 27:56 that Zebedee's wife was Salome. It is indicated in John 19:25 that Salome was a sister to Mary the mother of our Lord. That is interesting, because if that connection is right then John and James are first cousins to the humanity of the Lord Jesus Christ. It shows that this is a real family affair and that they are close to one another and this is one reason, too, that they would be in the inner circle. John the Baptist is also a cousin. It is interesting that they are cousins but are not too knowledgable about their cousin Jesus. They don't live in the same area so they don't see Him that much until He is ready to reveal Himself as the Messiah.

James' background was like his brother John, they were fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. They were among the first to be called as disciples of Jesus and were part of His inner circle—James and John as well as Peter. James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem. Peter is going out and taking the gospel around. James was executed. There were three different ways in which a person could be executed and decapitation was, according to the Mishna, the one with the least amount of pain. It is clearly pointed out in the Mishna that this death would be due to apostasy. So like the Lord Jesus Christ he was being executed for blasphemy or apostasy, and this pleases the Jews. Her proceeded further to arrest Peter and he was going to execute him. Acts 12:4 "When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people." There would be two guards shackled to Peter and there would be another two outside the door. They want to be sure he is not going to disappear again like back in Acts chapter four when they were miraculously released from prison.

Acts 12:5 "So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God." They are focused on the fact that God can deliver him, but they don't really believe that God can deliver Peter. Their faith is weak and there is almost a comic element in the description in the next few verses. They ran an ongoing prayer meeting, it was a continual thing, and this prayer meeting was located in the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark.

Acts 12:6 "On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. [7] And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter's side and woke him up, saying, 'Get up quickly.' And his chains fell off his hands." Peter is sleeping so deeply that he has to be struck by the angel to wake him up. [8] "And the angel said to him, 'Gird yourself and put on your sandals.' And he did so. And he said to him, 'Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.' [9] And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision." He thinks he is in a dream. When he gets out into the night air he finally realises what is going on. [10] "When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him."

When this happens Peter realises what has happened and that the Lord has sent His angel and delivered him. Acts 12:11 "When Peter came to himself, he said, 'Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.' [12] And when he realized {this,} he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying."

Peter comes up to the house. The home that he comes to seems to be rather large, there are so many people there. This was a home where they had an upper room and this would be the room where they were meeting for prayer. There was a courtyard and Peter would be knocking on the outer door. Acts 12:13 "When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. [14] When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate." They don't believe her.

Acts 12:15 They said to her, 'You are out of your mind!' But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, 'It is his angel.'" They don't believe that God answers their prayers. [16] "But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened {the door,} they saw him and were amazed. [17] But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, 'Report these things to James and the brethren.' Then he left and went to another place."

Acts 12:18 "Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers {as to} what could have become of Peter. [19] When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away {to execution.} Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there." He had moved his palace down there.

Acts 12:20 "Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king's chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king's country. [21] On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and {began} delivering an address to them." We are told by Josephus that he dressed in silver, a silver robe and silver head gear, so that as the sun came up—if he was speaking down in front he would be facing east—behind the seats it would hit him and reflect off the silver so that people could just see this bright reflection down in front. Very theatrical. [22] "The people kept crying out, 'The voice of a god and not of a man!'" He is playing the role. His ego had become so large he thinks he is a god, he has these messianic pretensions. He comes under the sin unto death. [23] "And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died."

Then we get another report. This is miraculous: Peter is released from prison, Herod is struck down by God because of his arrogance ad his pretensions to be God. And we are told Acts 12:24 "But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied."

When we look at how the church is growing it is obvious they are not using any modern techniques. No salesmanship techniques, no purpose driven church; people are just excited about serving the Lord, doing what the Scripture says to do and telling people about it. They are obedient and are excited about learning the Word.

This brings to a conclusion the second division in Acts.

The last verse brings in Barnabas and Saul. Acts 12:25 "And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with {them} John, who was also called Mark."