Through the believers who came to Antioch, the Lord had planted His church in this city. The work of the Lord thrived there, and many were added to the church. At about this time, another wave of persecutions came over the church in Jerusalem. This time, instead of the religious leaders, it was Herod the king who laid hands on the apostles. He executed James and arrested Peter, intending to put him to death. The passage of this lesson tells of the Lord’s miraculous deliverance of Peter, the punishment on Herod, and the outcome for the church.
Did You Know...?
1. Herod the king (12:1) was the grandson of Agrippa I, who tried to kill the infant Jesus and nephew of the Herod who killed John the baptist. He was ruler of Judea from A.D. 41-44. “Knowing how profoundly the masses hated his family, Herod Agrippa I took every opportunity during his administration in Palestine to win their affection. When in Rome, he was a cosmopolitan Roman. But when in Jerusalem, he acted the part of an observant Jew.”
2. James the brother of John (12:2): “This was James, the son of Zebedee, whom our Lord told, that he should be baptized with the baptism he was baptized with, (Matthew 20:22) meaning the baptism of martyrdom; and he was the first martyr among the apostles: the death he was put to was one of the four capital punishments among the Jews, and was reckoned by them the most disgraceful of them all, and was inflicted upon deceivers of the people; and such an one James was thought to be (Misn. Sanhedrin, c. 7. sect. 1, 3. & 11. 4).” [ref]
3. Four squads (12:4): “Sixteen soldiers divided into four watches, so that four would be on watch all the time, two in the prison and two at the door.” [ref]
4. James (12:17): “The son of Alphaeus, or Cleopas, ‘the brother’ or near kinsman or cousin of our Lord (Galatians 1:18,19), called James ‘the Less,’ or ‘the Little,’ probably because he was of low stature. He is mentioned along with the other apostles (Matthew 10:3; Mark 3:18; Luke 6:15). He had a separate interview with our Lord after his resurrection (1Corinthians 15:7), and is mentioned as one of the apostles of the circumcision (Acts 1:13). He appears to have occupied the position of head of the Church at Jerusalem, where he presided at the council held to consider the case of the Gentiles (Acts 12:17 ;15:13-29 :21:18-24). This James was the author of the epistle which bears his name.” [ref]
5. Eaten by worms (12:23): According to Josephus, the Jewish historian, Herod welcomed the crowd’s flattery that he was immortal, and “At once, he felt a stab of pain in his heart. He was also gripped in his stomach by an ache that he felt everywhere at once and that was intense from the start… Exhausted after five straight days by the pain in abdomen, he departed this life in the fifty-fourth year of his life and the seventh of his reign.” (Antiq. XIX 343-50 [viii.2]). Herod probably died from a serious infection by intestinal roundworms. [ref]
- Herod’s Violence against the Church (12:1-4)
- Peter Delivered from Prison (12:5-19)
- Herod’s Death (12:20-23)
- The Word of God Prevailed (12:24)
1. What can we learn from this chapter about Herod’s character?Hide Answer
Herod was a cruel man who killed innocent people for his own political gain. He was also pompous and arrogant.
How did Herod persecute the church?Hide Answer
He harassed some from the church and executed the apostle James, who became the first among the apostles to be martyred. Then he arrested Peter and put him in jail, intending to kill him after the Passover.
Why do you think the Jews were pleased that Herod persecuted the church?Hide Answer
As we can see in the previous chapters of Acts, the religious authorities in Jerusalem had, from the very beginning, been opposing the works of the church and even persecuting the apostles. Later on, Stephen’s preaching and speech incensed his accusers as well as all who were present at his trial. Upon Stephen’s martyrdom, great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem. From this series of events, we know that the Jews, particularly the religious leaders, did not welcome the Christians in Jerusalem. This is why the Jews approved Herod’s oppression of the church.
Why do you think Herod wanted to please the Jews?Hide Answer
He wanted to gain public support among the Jews. See “Did You Know…?, Entry 1”.
What good example can we learn from the believers in the Jerusalem church?Hide Answer
They were united and joined together in prayer. They did not disperse when they saw their leaders arrested and killed. Instead, they turned to God for help and trusted Him through earnest prayers (12:5,12). Today, we also need to remove all the obstacles that the church faces through prayer. Through faith in God and constant earnest prayer, what is impossible can become possible.
How did Peter face his imminent execution? What can we learn from Peter?Hide Answer
Peter was in a very uncomfortable environment, being chained in prison between two soldiers. Worse still, he was going to be executed the next day. But he was able to sleep soundly, untroubled by his surroundings or his imminent death.
Peter had completely entrusted himself to the Lord. It was as if he was sleeping in the arms of the Lord. He knew that the Lord would watch over him, and even if he were to suffer death, he would soon be with the Lord forever. If we are close to the Lord at all times and serve Him faithfully, we will not fear in times of danger or even in the face of death. For we know that to be apart from the body is to be with the Lord, and we can stand before God with confidence because we have pleased Him in our lives. With such an assurance, we can be at peace and not be afraid (cf. Mt 10:28-33; 16:25-27; Rev 2:10,11).
6. Record all the miraculous happenings through which God delivered Peter from prison.Hide Answer
1. The angel of the Lord stood by Peter, woke him up, raised him up, and led him out of the prison (7-10).
2. The chains fell off Peter’s hands (7).
3. The iron gate opened of its own accord (10).
4. None of the guards woke up.
He first went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, to inform the members there of his escape and to leave a message for the rest of the brethren and James before going into hiding.
Where did Peter go after he was rescued from prison?
What can we learn from Mary, the mother of John?Hide Answer
Mary had turned her home into a house of prayer, allowing many believers to gather there to pray. Her house must have been a regular place of gathering because Peter knew to go there to look for the believers after his escape from prison. Today, we can also open up our homes to be a place of gathering for believers and a place of prayer. In so doing, we as well as others can be encouraged in the faith through mutual help. We can also build up regular group prayers, which are essential for the growth of the church.
Why did Herod die suddenly?Hide Answer
Luke tells us that Herod died because he did not give glory to God (23). By accepting the praise that was meant for God alone, Herod had made himself equal with God—a sin equivalent to that of blasphemy. The context of this event (e.g. verse 23) also suggests that Herod’s persecution of the church also contributed to the divine judgment upon him.
What does it mean to give glory to God? In what ways should we do so in our lives?Hide Answer
Giving glory to God means acknowledging Him and thanking Him for what He has given to us (cf. Ps 96:8; Lk 17:18). Giving glory to God starts from a heart of humility and gratitude. We need to know that we are nothing, and that everything we have comes from the Lord (1Cor 4:7). Then we will not keep for ourselves honor and praise but surrender them all to Him.
How did Herod die?Hide Answer
He was struck by an angel of the Lord and was eaten by worms.
Do you think the way Herod died serves to illustrate a point?Hide Answer
Even such a powerful and haughty man as Herod was killed by worms. This is a perfect illustration of how lowly and useless all human beings are. We have nothing to boast about.
What was the effect of Herod’s death on the church?Hide Answer
The word of God grew and multiplied after Herod the persecutor was removed.
What lesson can we learn from this?Hide Answer
No persecution or opposition can stop the spreading of the gospel of God.
Contrast the death of James and the death of Herod.Hide Answer
James died a glorious death as a righteous and faithful servant of the Lord. His reward in heaven was great. Herod, on the other hand, died as a result of God’s punishment on his wickedness. He died a humiliating death, and the judgment of hell awaited him.
With the events of this chapter in mind, how should we as well as the church today deal with oppositions and persecutions?Hide Answer
Regardless of how great the opposition or persecution we face, God is always in control, and His will shall prevail. Therefore, we do not have to fear the forces of evil. We just need to continue to trust in the Lord with a peaceful heart and not lose hope. In times of trial, we ought to offer constant and earnest prayers so that we can remain strong and that God may manifest His power.