What is the Meaning of Acts 11.19-12.25

“The Unstoppable Gospel Message”

Acts 11:19-12:25

This is one section and we know that because of the inclusion (compare Acts 11:30-12:1 with 12:25). This inclusion gives a sense of the elapsing of time. The inclusion, or the book ends, are the journey’s beginning and the journey’s completion.

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And the section ends with 12:25 that the gospel message is continuing to spread and grow. Racial divisions (11:20), famine (11:27–30), persecutors (12:1–19), nor rulers who accept god-worship (12:20–23) … Nothing can impede its progress when God is at work.

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This section is similar to Acts 8:5-25 and 10:1-11:18…

1. Non-Jews or Gentiles are evangelized (Acts 11:19-20; cf. 8:5; 10:34–43)

2. They believe (Acts 11:21; cf. 8:6–8; 10:44–48)

3. Jerusalem investigates (Acts 11:22; cf. 8:14; 11:1–17)

4. Jerusalem confirms (Acts 11:23–26; cf. 8:15–17, 25; 11:18).

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5. And to this story is added another episode of community activity. There is a famine back in Judea and the Christians in Antioch seek to help the believers. This act reinforces Jew-Gentile relationships in the church.

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1. Non-Jews and Gentiles are evangelized (Acts 11:19-20; cf. 8:5; 10:34–43)

Acts 11:19-20 resumes from 8:1-4. In both sections, we see that the divine design for persecution is to spread the gospel. “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”

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There’s one group who comes and they speak only to Jews, perhaps because of Ro. 1:16? And then some of those preachers, verse 20 says, began to speak about Jesus to the Greeks also in Antioch.

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So there are Jews and Greeks in this city of Antioch. Antioch was the third-largest Roman city at this time. It was a Gentile city, however, and contained a large Jewish population.

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2. They believe (Acts 11:21; cf. 8:6–8; 10:44–48)

Here, the conversion of these Gentile believers. The Gentile mission is progressing. Luke’s comment that “the hand of the Lord was with them” further argues for the divine approval (and success) of this Gentile mission.

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3. Jerusalem investigates (Acts 11:22; cf. 8:14; 11:1–17)

Jerusalem hears about the success of the word of God in this Gentile city and investigates by sending Barnabas there, to Antioch. Jerusalem is seen as keeping a close watch on evangelistic activities (8:14-17; 9:26-30; Acts 11:1-18; 15:1-35). Like a good church, there is a close watch to ensure that the truth is preserved.

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4. Jerusalem confirms (Acts 11:23–26; cf. 8:15–17, 25; 11:18).

Here, Barnabas approves of the work in Antioch and then departs to find Saul… He finds him, he brings him to Antioch. They are with the church for an entire year and they teach many disciples.

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Since the evangelization of Cornelius, and here with the praise of Barnabas, the Gentile mission begins moving to more of a large scale mission.

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And they go to great efforts to disciple new believers. This is the Great Commission, to make disciples and to teach them (Matthew 28:18-20).

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We have this interesting comment at the end of verse 26, that it was in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians. Saints, disciples, believers…. And now Christians. “Christian” means followers of Christ.

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5. Unity of Jew and Gentile Christians (Acts 11:27-30; 12:25)

Agabus, a prophet, prophesies of an extensive future famine. Luke tells us this happened in the days of Claudius. Evidence from ancient sources testify that during much of the reign of Claudius, there were serious food shortages.

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Agabus comes on the scene again in Acts 21:10-11 where he correctly foretells Paul’s future imprisonment.

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The Gentile Christians respond to this prophecy by determining that each should help send some relief to their Jewish brothers in Judea. Thus, they are acting in community just like the Jewish converts to in Jerusalem. This shows their full participation in the church and testifies to the unity of Jews and Gentiles (Eph. 2:11-22).

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They send this gift to the Jerusalem elders through Barnabas and Saul. Barnabas had likely taught them of his own experience, back in Acts 4:36-37.

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So, you can see this ever expanding push of the gospel. In chapter 8, the gospel goes to the Samaritans (“half Jews”) and to an Ethiopian. Chapter 10, now we have an individual Gentile converted. In chapter 11, many Greeks turn to the Lord.

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And now we see Jew and Gentile: operating and associating with one another in the church. God himself is breaking down racial barriers as predicted in the Old Testament (“every nation”; tribe, tongue, nation).

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The next section, Acts 12:1-24, is in between the apostles departure for Jerusalem (11:30) and their successful return (12:25).

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It is likely that the events predicted by Agabus occurred in AD 46-47 and so these events in chapter 12 likely take place prior to this.

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The passage breaks up nicely at obvious historical shifts. So, naturally, v. 1 “Now about that time”; v. 6 “On the very night when Herod”; v. v. 18 “Now when”; v. 20 “Now he [Herod].”

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Summary: Verse 1-5 describe Herod’s execution of James, the son of Zebedee, and his imprisoning of Peter with the intent to execute him as well. Verses 6-17 detail how an angel of the Lord releases Peter from prison and Peter visits the house of Mary where Christians are praying. Verses 18-19 recount the soldiers confusion and Herod’s executing them for not guarding Peter. Verses 20-25 describe Herod’s death and the prosperity of the church.

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What to look for when reading: As we read, look for literary devices, key topics, and any key verses. I’ll try to read it in such a way that it becomes more obvious.

2. Read the passage

First, the key verse.

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The key verse of the passage is verse 5. And I would like to translate it literally for you so that you can see the tension between the two major topics of the passage. Verse 5, “Therefore, on the one hand Peter was being kept in the prison, but on the other hand, prayer was constantly being made fervently by the church to God for him.”

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So you can see the contrast between, on the one hand “Peter was being kept in the prison” and, on the other hand, “prayer was constantly being made fervently.” That tension sets up the rest of the story. You’re provoked to keep reading….”I wonder what’s going to happen next…is God going to answer their prayers…who’s going to win out, Herod….or … God?” This verse also therefore introduces us to the two major topics of the passage: prayer and persecution.

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The passage also has some interesting literary features. There is a stark contrast between the first five verses and the last 5 verses of this chapter. The first 5 verses describe Herod putting James to death. Since that pleased the Jews, he arrested Peter. Not only is James put to death, but Peter is heavily guarded by (v.4) four squads of soldiers.

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So, Luke’s point here is this: Herod does not hesitate to kill Christians. He killed James and now he’s imprisoned Peter…so, Peter’s death seems imminent! If Peter is imprisoned, surely this will impede the gospel’s progression! But we must not forget that what we have been reading about our the acts of the ascended Christ.

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This is front end of the story. Let’s go to the back end of the story, verse 20. Verse 20-24 is a stark contrast from the first 5 verses. Here is irony. Irony requires at least two elements. The first sets up your expectation. Here it’s that Peter’s death appears imminent. Now, the story in between proves that Peter’s death was not imminent; he escapes from prison. The second element is minor, but it shows that instead of Peter, it was the guards who were executed (v. 19).

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Verse 20ff functions as the third element and describes that, completely contrary to expectation (irony), Herod’s death is also the one that is imminent! So when you relate the beginning, middle, and the end of chapter 12 together, you see the great contrast of who’s death is actually imminent. It’s ironic, it’s contrary to expectation.

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What made this irony possible? Prayer and God’s providential working on behalf of the church. Notice also the role of 2 angels of the Lord. They also play a role in this ironic twist. The first angel, v. 7, comes to deliver Peter from prison. Thus, the angel foils the expectation of Herod and the Jews. The last section of the story, an angel is also the foil.

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Not only is Peter not going to be executed, which in itself would have been ironic (Herod killed James, Peter was heavily guarded, it’s the night before the execution), but the tables totally turn when the angel strikes Herod and he’s the one who dies, not Peter. So the angels are major agents (foils?) in, shall we say, executing (ha!) the irony.

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Also notice the main section of the story, vv.6-17. Here we’ll see 2 similar responses to Peter’s release. Peter’s release and his response to his own release is described in vv. 6-11. Notice his response, first, in verse 9. He didn’t think it was really happening, a kind of unbelief that this event could possibly be true. Then, notice v. 11.

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He finally realizes that he is delivered “from all that the Jewish people were expecting”…so you see further preparation for the completion of the ironic twist at the end. His release from prison was contrary to “all that the Jewish people were expecting.” But the point here is that Peter goes from an amazed sort of unbelief to faith that the Lord released him. Now, notice also the Christians’ response to Peter’s release in verses 12-17.

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Peter knocks, then Rhoda comes to the door and does not disbelieve, she tells the other Christians and they are not going to believe the fact that Peter is released. They do believe Rhoda is seeing something (perhaps his angel), but they don’t believe that it’s actually Peter. Then they find out it’s actually Peter. So they go from unbelief to belief, just like Peter.

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And the final literary note is Luke’s use of irony in these same verses, 7-17. Notice Peter escapes prison and enters a prayer meeting. The irony of it is that he escapes from prison with ease and with difficulty he enters the prayer meeting! This is probably the only time in history where it was easier for one man to escape from prison than to go to a prayer meeting!

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In fact, the text never indicates that he even got into the prayer meeting. It seems like he is just talking to the Christians outside the door. Today many people can’t keep themselves out of prison and won’t have anything to do with a prayer meeting!

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OUTLINE

*Introduction based on Now about that time (very brief)

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I. Herod Kills James and Persecutes the Church (vv.1-4)

A. Summary Statement of Herod’s Persecution (v. 1)

B. First, Herod executes James (v. 2)

C. Second, Herod arrests Peter (vv. 3-4)

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II. Church’s Response to Herod’s Persecution (v. 5): Fervent Continuous Prayer

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III. An Angel of the Lord Releases Peter from Prison (vv.6-19)

A. Peter’s Situation is Urgent (night before trial/execution, heavily guarded) (v. 6)

B. Scene 1: The Prison. Peter’s Response to the Action (unbelief =>belief) An Angel of the Lord Easily Delivers Peter from Prison (vv. 7-11)

C. Scene 2: Mary’s House and the Christians’ Response (unbelief =>belief). Peter has Difficulty Entering a Prayer Meeting (vv.12-17)

D. Roman Responses to Peter’s Deliverance (vv.18-19a)

1. Soldier’s Response

2. Herod’s Response

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IV. God Kills Herod and Prospers the Church (vv.19b-25)

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I. Herod Kills James and Persecutes the Church (vv.1-4)

A. Summary Statement of Herod’s Persecution (v. 1)

After a brief glimpse into the Antioch church, once again we are focused on Jerusalem. Luke recounts the persecution of the church at the end of chapter 19 (v.19). Now he notes that it not only affects the church broadly, but it has come into Jesus’ inner circle to directly affect the apostles James and Peter.

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This persecution began “about that time,” which refers to when the Antioch church in chapter 11 was preparing an offering for the Jerusalem church, probably around 42-43AD. Herod Agrippa I, the “Herod” under discussion here purposefully lays his hands on some of those from the church to mistreat them. Some commentators and the ESV render this “laid violent hands.” I don’t know who started that unfortunate rendering but it should stop. KJV and NASB are correct here. “To mistreat” and “to vex” are indeed infinitives, not adjectives modifying the type of hands Herod has.

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Acts 12:1

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But why would Herod want to persecute Christians? To understand this, it’s important to know a little background about Herod Agrippa. His career is summarized in Josephus, Ant. 18–19 (http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/flavius-josephus/).

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Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod I (Herod the Great), the son of Aristobulus. Aristobulus was executed by his own father, Herod the Great out of fear he would usurp his throne. As a child, Agrippa was educated with the other children of the Roman aristocracy. His childhood schoolmate Claudius became emperor gave him rule over increasing territory over the Jews. He eventually became “king of the Jews” in the sense that he ruled over Judea, Samaria, Galilee, the Transjordan, and the Decapolis.

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Even though he was king, that didn’t mean his job or his life was secure. He wasn’t necessarily well-liked and some of his protection came from his relationship to the former Emperor Caligula, who himself wasn’t that popular. So it became important for Herod Agrippa, the king here in Acts 12, to win the favor of loyal subjects under him. He went to the extent of even putting on the face of a Jew and trying particularly to win the favor of the Pharisees. Naturally, Pharisees would favor the persecution of Christians, just as Paul did before his conversion. Plus now, at the end of chapter 19, this supposedly Jewish group is accepting Gentiles without circumcision, which would have only increased their desire to persecute Christians.

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EXP: Verse 1 then functions as a summary statement. He lays his hands on “some who belonged to the church.” The “some” here refers to James (v.2) and Peter (v.3).

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B. First, Herod executes James (v. 2)

EXP: James is “the brother of John.” They are both the sons of Zebedee. The James who wrote the epistle of James is the half-brother of Jesus.

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The mother of these sons of Zebedee came to Jesus along with her sons and asked him “Command that in Your kingdom these two sons of mine may sit one on Your right and one on Your left.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to Him, “We are able.”

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He said to them, “My cup you shall drink….” And indeed, here, James has drank that cup in full.

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But we’re not told exactly how he drank that cup, either Roman or Jewish style. If it was Jewish style, he was thrust through with the sword, but if it was Roman style, then he was beheaded.

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Thankfully, Peter doesn’t want us to dwell on the fact, because the verse functions in our story by setting up Herod’s precedent of executing Christians. James’ execution heightens our expectation that Peter, too, will be executed, which as we’ve noted, will be left unfulfilled, thankfully.

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C. Second, Herod arrests Peter (vv. 3-4)

Naturally, Herod was concerned about the Jews’ response to this. Seeing that it pleased them, he continued his persecution of Christians and arrested Peter. Luke notes that this arrest occurred during the days of unleavened bread. Arresting Peter during this feast was fine with the Jews, but executing him would have been disgraceful. So Herod waits. This feast occurred immediately after the Passover, the 14th-21st of Abib (which is our March-April). See Ex. 34:18-21 for its institution.

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APP: Adding sin upon sin causes man to crave more sin. Man cannot easily stop themselves. Those that take one bold step in the way of sin give Satan advantage to get them to take another, and provoke God to let them alone and to allow them to go from bad to worse. Wisdom demands that we take heed to the beginning of sinful responses. Agrippa obviously fears the Jews and later he will accept praise from men, which leads to his demise. The fear of man and attempting to always please man in every respect will only lead to greater and greater sin. When everyone is doing it, and others are encouraging you to sin, your conscience is less likely to be smitten.

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Peter was likely imprisoned at the Tower of Antonia, which was at the northeastern corner of the temple. The eastern entrance of the Tower lead into the streets of the city.

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Peter was heavily guarded by four squads of four soldiers each, 16 guards. The squads would rotate every 3 hours throughout the night so that they were always alert. If you’re wondering why so many guards for just one person, you’d have to go back to Acts 5:19 where the apostles were arrested, imprisoned, and released by an angel. Herod was probably aware that someone or something had helped them escape and wasn’t about to allow that again.

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II. Church’s Response to Herod’s Persecution (v. 5): Fervent Continuous Prayer

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Again, keep in the centrality of this verse. Remember that prayer is the only weapon the church has, and here they are wielding it valiantly. They are praying fervently, and the English doesn’t bring this out, the Greek grammar (imperfect periphrastic) indicates that it was continual. Now, sure, at other times the Lord answered their prayer and the text doesn’t indicate that they were praying fervently.

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Pray …fervently!

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Luke sets up the contrast between dire circumstances and earnest prayer. This story answers the question, “Is prayer, fervent prayer, continuous fervent prayer an effective weapon against persecution?” Luke’s response, resounding “yes.” The whole story is an answer to prayer.

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You could imagine what they were praying, “Lord, you rescued him before! Why not do it again?” Or you could imagine them praying, “Lord, help him to be strong in the faith and a bold witness…”

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But see that’s my point…you can only imagine what they are praying. It’s not stated what’s prayed for. The fact that it’s unstated can make us draw one or more of the follow conclusions:

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1. Perhaps we’re to assume that the answer to prayer (Peter’s release) relates directly to what was prayed in verse 5. They were praying specifically and perhaps primarily for Peter’s release. Almost all the commentary literature assumes this (Stott, Polhill -NAC, Bruce-NICNT). This is not illogical.

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2. Perhaps we’re to assume that what they prayed while persecuted in Acts 4:23-30 is what they prayed here, primarily v. 29, “”And now, Lord, take note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence”

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3. Perhaps we’re to conclude that Luke’s point in this passage is not to emphasize what was prayed, but that they did pray and prayed fervently and continually [for a whole week during Unleavened Bread]. His point being that when in difficult circumstances, the response was prayer, not anything else. Luke gives the attitude (fervent) and the duration (continual).

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This isn’t to say that they could have prayed for his release, but that it’s just not Luke’s point here in this passage.

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I tend to lean toward the third option b/c it is what is directly stated in the text itself. We can start wondering about what is between the lines, but let’s let the text speak for itself. What does the text emphasize? Here, though we have questions about what was prayed, let’s focus on the text. Here we’re told how they prayed: fervently and continually.

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III. An Angel of the Lord Delivers Peter from Prison (vv.6-19)

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A. Peter’s Situation is Urgent (night before trial/execution, heavily guarded) (v. 6)

So (1, James was executed, and (2, Peter is arrested, and (3 it was the night before his execution. It doesn’t appear that there is any hope for Peter with these 3 things piling up against him. Now, on top of that, v. 6 adds that Herod was about to bring him out and that…

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1) Peter was sleeping between 2 soldiers

2) And he was bound with 2 chains. One hand chained to one guard; the other chain to the other guard.

3) Guards were guarding the only exit.

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God “waits to the last minute” and works “against all odds” when delivering Peter. It’s very interesting that Peter is sleeping the night before his execution. Either Peter has no idea that tomorrow could be the day of his execution or he knows it and is completely aware that his life is perfectly secure in God’s hands, whether he leaves his body that day or not.

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B. Scene 1: The Prison. Peter’s Response to the Action (unbelief =>belief) An Angel of the Lord Easily Delivers Peter from Prison (vv. 7-11)

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    Verses 7-8 describe the angel’s arrival and directions. And “behold” (“check this out!”), an angel of the Lord appeared and accompanying him we’re told is a light that’s shining in the cell. Then, get this, he has to give him a swift boot to the ribs to wake him up! The way this is described, it’s obvious this is not human escape from prison. It’s obviously divine deliverance of him. Notice how passive Peter seems to be. Peter doesn’t seem to be like, “Hey, wow, I can get out of here now.” The angel had to direct the groggy Peter at every step.

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The angel said, “get up”; “gird yourself”; “put on your sandals” “put your coat on”; “follow me.” Peter doesn’t have a clue. Someone escaping from prison would already be doing these things, but Peter has to be told to do it! This is obviously God’s deliverance of Peter.

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Verses 9-10 record the actual prison break. Peter was following the angel (v.9) even though he didn’t think it was real. He was still perhaps half-asleep. So he must have been thinking “Wow, this is kind of cool, I’m envisioning that I’m following this angel out of the prison.”

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And now, Luke records what happened in a dramatic fashion. Each check point of the guards is noted. They safely passed the first guard, who guards the inner gate to the cell (v.10a). Suspense mounts…would they make it past the rest of the guard?

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And they pass the second guard safely and then they came to the outer gate that led into the city. The formidable iron gate posed no match to the angel and it opened by itself. And after going along one street, the angel departs from Peter. Peter is probably out of sight of the prison.

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Verse 11 informs us of Peter’s realization of what had just happened. It is at this point that Peter comes to himself and realizes that he is indeed delivered from the prison. And his comment fits well with structure of the chapter.

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He notes that he was rescued from the hand of Herod (his power or control) as well as “from all that the Jewish people were expecting” (11). Peters quote spells out plainly that the Jewish people were entirely expecting that Peter would be executed. The irony then is partially fulfilled in that Peter’s deliverance is completely contrary to expectation. It will be entirely fulfilled when it is actually Herod who dies at the end of the chapter, not Peter.

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It is also interesting to note that the opposition is not only Herod, but it is also the Jewish people, especially the leaders. So we have Jews fighting against Jews.

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If Peter were to recount this story to others later, it’s as if he would say, “I tell you, I was completely out of it. It was all God’s doing. I thought I was just dreaming.”

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So the big point in the narration here is that Peter went from a kind of unbelief to belief in God’s miraculous deliverance of him. Don’t forget the ease with which the angel delivers him.

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TRANS: The same point of unbelief=>belief is described in vv.12-17. As well, we’ll notice a contrast between the ease at which he leaves the prison and the difficulty he has entering the prayer meeting.

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C. Scene 2: Mary’s House. The Christians’ Response (unbelief =>belief). Peter has Difficulty Entering a Prayer Meeting (vv.12-17)

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The second scene is no less entertaining, as Peter hastened to the house of John Mark’s mother (vv. 12–19a). It’s not exactly known why he chose this house as opposed to any other. I suppose it could be any number of reasons. It may have been closer than the others, he knew the people that are here at this house, he knew that the people here had the ability to relate the message that he wanted to be related.

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Or perhaps he chose this house because he knew at this hour the people here are typically prayed. At any rate, he arrives at the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. Oddly, the mother is identified by her son; usually, the son is identified by his mother. The reason for this may be because John Mark may have been better known or that a woman named Mary was so common.

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So he arrived at his house and many people were gathered together and we’re praying. This verse fills out what verse five describe for us. In verse five it says that the church was praying fervently on behalf of Peter. Here is the specific reference to that description. Luke fills out for us who exactly it was that was praying. So the folks in this house were praying fervently for Peter.

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So we have more questions than answers after coming away from this verse; nevertheless, the verse sets up the rest of the story.

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Verse 13: Whereas the gate that Peter went through to escape from prison opened on its own, Peter has great difficulty attempting to get through this gate!

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So you see the comic touch here then. Peter easily went through the gate of the prison, but now he is having great difficulty entering into the gate of a prayer meeting. It seems that the angel’s assistance is still needed! From a literary standpoint, then, it’s the mention of “gate” that carries the irony, since it is the common object in both scenes of this story (through the gate of the prison with ease, through the gate of the prayer meeting with difficulty).

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So Peter is knocking at the gate and a servant girl named Rhoda comes to answer. Rhoda was a common Greek name and many servant girls have this name. Rhoda’s main responsibility, if not her only responsibility, was to keep the gate. This is often delegated to female servants (John 18:16f).

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Verse 14: As a dutiful servant, she immediately runs toward the gate and discovers that Peter is there. The text indicates that it was Peter’s voice that tipped Rhoda off that it was Peter standing at the gate. He must’ve said something like, “Hey Rhoda, please let me in.”

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Recognizing his voice, and then because of the intensity of her joy, instead of opening the door to allow Peter to come in, she runs back in the house and announces to the others that Peter is outside of the gate. So there is again a comic touch (with Rhoda leaving him knocking at the gate). There is also a decidedly dramatic effect.

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Would he get inside before Herod’s men discovered his escape and came after him? So, the fact that Peter remains outside the gate, heightens the intensity of Peter’s escape from prison. If he is not allowed to enter into the house, he is all the more exposed to possible recapture.

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Verse 15: to properly understand what Luke is doing in verse 15, remember Peter’s own response to his escape from prison. He did not believe that what was happening was real. He was in a sort of unbelief.

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Then, after he was completely delivered, he came to himself and knew what God did was real. A similar response is now found with the Christians at Mary’s house in verse 15.

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Rhoda comes sprinting into the group of believers, who may very well be praying at the moment, and, with shortness of breath, announces, “Peter is standing at the gate!!” And how do the Christians respond her? In unbelief. “You’re crazy!!” they say. Their response is a very strong expression, “You’re nuts!”

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But when the text says, “But she kept insisting that it was so,” Luke was referring to the fact that she was insisting that indeed it was Peter who outside the gate. Not wanting to tell her that she was imagining that a person was outside the gate, the Christians concluded that it was much more reasonable that it was Peter’s angel was standing outside the gate.

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Notice how it is worded, “she kept insisting”, “they kept saying, it is his angel!” So you can see what’s going on here. It seems to be sort of a shouting match. “It’s Peter” “No, it’s his angel” “No, I’m telling you, it is Peter” “You’re crazy, it has to be his angel.” (Back and forth)

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It seems clear from this passage that these Jewish Christians believed that each believer had an angel assigned to him (“his angel”). Not only that, it seems that they believe that the angel and the person to whom the angel is assigned, have similar characteristics, and also perhaps similarity in the way the voice sounds as well as an appearance. Their belief is not necessarily unwarranted. The popular idea of a guardian angel is found in extrabiblical literature such as Tobit 5:4–16 (story about Raphael ministering personally to Tobiah). The biblical evidence for such an idea isn’t abundant. Passages that are cited for the idea generally deal with a protecting group of angels, not one’s “personal” guardian (cf. Ps 91:11; Luke 16:22; Matt 18:10; Heb 1:14).

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The Bible teaches that God has commissioned angels to protect earth-bound believers. Scripture does not indicate that every believer has one particular believer assigned to him.

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This is an example that just because something may be regarded as a belief in the book of Acts, this does not necessarily make the belief a requirement of Christian doctrine. So just because something occurs or is believed in the book of Acts, this does not make the occurrence or the doctrine normative for today.

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What is also interesting about their statement that it was more likely Peter’s angel, not actually Peter, is that they have no qualms with believing that a miraculous event could happen. The fact that Peter’s angel would appear would’ve been a miraculous event, and to them, it would have been a much more likely occurrence than Peter actually being delivered from prison.

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There may be several reasons for this.

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1. This may indicate the miraculous nature of the times. Perhaps they thinking within their miraculous experience. For these Christians to conclude that it is more logical to believe that an angel appeared then that Peter was delivered from prison requires a conditioned experience. Their experience must have been testifying to them that since James and other Christians have been persecuted or executed, God is much more likely to allow this to happen to Peter then to allow someone to be delivered from such a fortified prison. They might be saying, “Our experience of the miraculous testifies that God would be more likely to send forth angels then to deliver Peter from prison.

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2. This may indicate that they may believe that Peter was already dead. Some of the commentary literature says that many Jews then believed that when someone died, their angel would appear. I haven’t seen a historical cross-reference to that to verify it, but that very well may be the case.

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At any rate, were left with the question of why wouldn’t they remember what happened in Acts chapter 5? Here, an angel of the Lord opened prison doors and brought forth the apostles. So naturally you would think that these Christians in Acts chapter 12 would have concluded that it is very logical for an angel of the Lord to deliver Peter from prison. Peter was, after all, in that group of apostles who were imprisoned in Acts chapter 5. But, we’re left to wonder about this.

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Well, how is the shouting match between Rhoda and the Christians going to be resolved? Peter keeps knocking. And then they all go and see for themselves. And of course, it was Peter outside the door and they all saw him and they were amazed, or “greatly astonished.” This is a common response in Luke-Acts to God’s work (Luke 8:56; Acts 2:7, 12; 8:13; 9:21; 10:45).

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Verse 17: After everyone was able to see that indeed it was Peter, in order to silence them, he had to motion to them with his hand. This is a common practice (Acts 13:16; 21:40; 26:1).

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Verse 17 tells us 3 pieces of information

1. Luke recounts that Peter told them of his miraculous delivery.

2. Luke quotes Peter instructing them to tell these things to James and the brethren.

3. Luke recounts that Peter departed to “another place” probably so that he could find refuge from the wrath of Agrippa.

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1. Luke recounts that Peter told them of his miraculous delivery.

In order for Peter to speak at a normal tone of voice to describe what exactly happened him, Peter first had to motion with his hand. This indicates that there was a lot of commotion and discussion concerning what was going on at that particular moment. Luke’s description of what Peter said to him concerning his miraculous delivery, was that “the Lord led him out of the prison.” This again indicates that Peter was completely passive and the Lord was the one actively delivering Peter from prison.

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2. Luke quotes Peter instructing them to tell these things to James and the brethren.

The James who was to be informed of Peter’s deliverance was James the oldest of Jesus’ brothers. This James was not one of the original disciples, as was James the son of Zebedee. The James that was executed in Acts 12:2 was James, the son of Zebedee, the brother of John.

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Peter knew quite well that this James was already executed. He would not have told the Christians there to report of his miraculous deliverance to someone who was already dead. This is an important note, that Peter told the Christians of Mary’s house to report this to this James.

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Because from this point forward in Acts, James assumes the leadership of the Church of Jerusalem. So it seems that Peter may have appointed James to be his successor in Jerusalem as Peter remains a fugitive.

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James, the half-brother of Jesus

A. He was called “James the Just” and later nicknamed “camel knees” because he constantly prayed on his knees (from Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius).

B. James did not become a believer until after the resurrection (cf. Mark 3:21; John 7:5). Jesus appeared to him personally after the resurrection (cf. I Cor. 15:7).

C. He was present in the upper room with the disciples (cf. Acts 1:14) and was possibly also there when the Spirit came on Pentecost.

D. He was married (cf. I Cor. 9:5).

E. Paul refers to him as a pillar (possibly an apostle, cf. Gal. 1:19) but was not one of the Twelve (cf. Gal. 2:9; Acts 12:17; 15:13ff).

F. In Antiquities of the Jews, 20:9:1, Josephus says that he was stoned in a.d. 62 by orders from the Sadducees of the Sanhedrin, while another tradition (the second century writers, Clement of Alexandria or Hegesippus) says he was pushed off the wall of the Temple.

G. For many generations after Jesus’ death a relative of Jesus was appointed leader of the church in Jerusalem.

H. He wrote the NT book of James.[1]

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“The brothers” mentioned here is probably the elders of the Jerusalem church.

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3. Luke recounts that Peter departed to “another place” probably so that he could find refuge from the wrath of Agrippa.

And thirdly, he went to another place. Where did he go? That no one to this day has discovered for certain where Peter went indicates that he successfully escaped his would-be captors. Much “scholarly” attention has been given to his whereabouts, but seems to be totally unnecessary because the text simply does not say.

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Now, except for the Jerusalem council, this is the last we see of Peter in Acts. This is also the last narrative in Acts that deals exclusively with the apostles and the Jerusalem church. From this point on, whenever Jerusalem was involved, it would be in connection with Paul’s ministry. Peter and his fellow apostles fade into the background, and now Paul will take center stage.

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But first…

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D. Scene 3: Roman Responses to Peter’s Deliverances (12:18-19a)

In 12:7-11, Luke records Peter’s response to his own deliverance. In 12:12-17, Luke records the Christians in Mary’s houses’ response to Peter’s deliverance. Now, we have Roman responses, both the soldiers and Herod Agrippa.

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1. Soldier’s Response (v. 18)

We return to the scene of the dramatic escape, the prison. At daybreak, the soldiers awake. Remember, Peter was chained to two soldiers. One on his left hand and one on his right hand. When those two soldiers awoke, the chains were likely still there but Peter was nowhere to be found.

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There was probably no other evidence that Peter had escaped other than the fact that he wasn’t there. Knowing that execution was likely the soldiers fate, Luke, in his typical phraseology, writes there was “no small disturbance among the soldiers.” Luke is king of this negative way of describing something. (Acts 12:18; 14:28; 15:2; 17:4, 12;19:23,24; 20:12; 21:39; 27:20).

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So the soldiers were probably accusing each other, screaming at each other, running around the building, down the streets, trying to find him. But to no avail.

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2. Herod’s Response (v.19a)

Herod also attempted to find Peter. He probably would have ordered several soldiers to make a diligent search. He would’ve sent the soldiers to the houses of believers in order to question them about the whereabouts of Peter.

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Herod finally concludes that Peter is missing, so he interviews the guards to determine exactly what happened, and he finds no reason for them to live. He then orders that they be led away to execution. The word execution is not in the text. “Led away” is a euphemism that can be interpreted in various ways depending on the context. Here, because of Roman law, it is clear that it is referring to execution.

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Roman law required that if a prison guard gave aid to or allowed a prisoner to escape, the prison guard would suffer the punishment that the escaped prisoner should have received. Herod with a keen eye (!) observes that Peter is missing and proceeded to have the prisoners executed, just as he would have done to Peter.

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Interestingly, this Roman law would not have been binding upon Herod because he had the right to administer his internal kingdom over the Jews as he saw fit.

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From a literary standpoint, the irony chapter takes a complex turn. At the beginning of the chapter, we fully expected Peter to be executed because Herod had already executed James. But Peter is subsequently rescued from prison. Then, instead of executing Peter, Herod executes the prisoners who were guarding Peter. This is not an expected turn of events.

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TRANS: A contrast is also observed between Herod and God. From a human standpoint, Herod’s verdict is unjust and cruel. The Roman guards were not at fault for Peter’s escape. This human act of injustice is a stark contrast to a divine act of justice in the next section of the story.

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IV. God Kills Herod and Prospers the Church (vv.19b-25)

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A. Background to Herod’s Death (vv.19b-20)

Even though Caesarea was the headquarters for the Roman governors who ruled Palestine, King Herod Agrippa lived in Jerusalem. So here, after Peter’s miraculous escape, Herod Agrippa leaves the Jewish capital Jerusalem and resides in Caesarea.

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In Jerusalem, Herod killed James and persecuted Peter. In Caesarea, God will kill Herod and prosper the church.

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Caesarea was a city on the coast of Palestine south of Mount Carmel (not Caesarea Philippi). It was known as “Caesarea by the sea.” Largely Gentile, it was the location of many of Herod the Great’s building projects (Josephus, Ant. 15.9.6 [15.331–341]).

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And Herod quarrels with the people of Tyre and Sidon may have been over an economic issue, though the text doesn’t say. Agrippa probably had the upper hand on these two coastal towns because, as the text says, they were totally dependent for food on the inland territories that Agrippa ruled.

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The people of Tyre and Sidon secured the support of Blastus, who was a trusted servant of Agrippa. Tyre and Sidon then sought peace with Agrippa, because they needed to eat food that came from Agrippa’s country.

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B. God kills Herod (vv. 21-23)

Verses 21-23 recount the day that they came together to establish peace between Herod and Tyre and Siddon. Now, chronologically, this could be anywhere from several months to a year after Peter’s escape. It is likely AD 44.[[[The chronological question turns on the particular occasion when Agrippa made his oration in Caesarea (v. 21). If it was at the games held in Caesarea every five years, it would have been in March A.D. 44 when Agrippa was struck dead. Since the Passover came later than that in A.D. 44, Peter’s escape would have been Passover of A.D. 43. The occasion could have been the celebration of the emperor’s birthday in August. In that event Peter would have been arrested in the spring (Passover) of A.D. 44 with Herod dying the summer of the same year.]]]

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Josephus also gives an account of Agrippa’s death (Ant. 19.343–52) http://www.biblestudytools.com/history/flavius-josephus/antiquities-jews/book-19/chapter-8.html

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He put on his royal robes. Josephus notes that “on the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him”

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Herod had just began delivering a speech on a throne, or judgment seat, when the people began to cry out “the voice of a god, not of a man.” Josephus has it, “and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good,) that he was a god; and they added, “Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.”

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Luke then recounts “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.”

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Josephus relates…”Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. But as he presently afterward looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, “I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept of what Providence allots, as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner.” When he said this, his pain was become violent. […] And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign; for he reigned four years under Caius Caesar, three of them were over Philip’s tetrarchy only, and on the fourth he had that of Herod added to it; and he reigned, besides those, three years under the reign of Claudius Caesar.”

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So, it’s not that Herod was eaten alive by worms right then and there. As if the people could see him disintegrate. He was struck immediately, he didn’t die immediately. He died, according to Josephus, 5 days later.

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So here we have yet another ironic twist. Herod himself notes it, “I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me.” Praised by men to be a god and killed by God to show he’s a man. At the exact moment when man expected him to live at least to a greater degree than that of normal man, he receives a visit from the death angel.

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He failed to give God the glory and failed to rebuke those who praised him to be a god, this defender of Jews and considered a Jew himself, perhaps held more liable, receives his just punishment (again, in contrast to his execution of the prison guards).

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C. God Prospers the Church (vv. 24-25)

In verses 24-25, the irony makes a complete circuit, having gone from Herod persecuting the church, now God is going to prosper the church.

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But, v. 24, the word of the Lord increased and spread.

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And the point is that nothing can stop the gospel spreading. Racial divisions (11:20), famine (11:27–30), persecutors (12:1–19), nor self-deifying rulers (12:20–23) … Nothing can impede its progress when God is at work.

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See Baxter for devotional thoughts: C:\Users\greg\Downloads\Baxter_An_Old_Time_Prayer_Meeting.doc

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  1. Gospel Authentication and Church Expansion in Jerusalem (1:1-6:7)
  2. Gospel Authentication and Church Expansion in Judea and Samaria (6:8-9:31)
  3. Gospel Authentication and Church Expansion to the Ends of the Earth (9:32-28:31)
    1. Antioch (9:32-12:25)
    2. Asia Minor (Acts 13:1-16:5)
    3. Aegean Area (16:6-19:20)
    4. Rome (Acts 19:21-28:31)

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Go to BibleTrove.com Home Page from What is the Meaning of Acts 11.19-12.25

Go to New Testament Books Page

Go to Acts Main Page

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  1. Utley, R. J. D. (2003). Vol. Volume 3B: Luke the Historian: The Book of Acts. Study Guide Commentary Series (156). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

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