Acts 12 James Killed, Peter Freed

Tod Kennedy, January 9, 2000

Main points of application or “So what?” from Acts 12

  1. Peter applied faith in God and his Word and so was able to rest the night before his scheduled execution. God really does control our lives; when we are confident of this we can rest in the midst of great turmoil and uncertainty. This is spiritual rest, “a calm soul” because we believe God.
  2. God answers prayer, even at times when we do not believe that he will, because he is very gracious to us. Let’s not be so surprised when he answers our prayers.
  3. Let’s not get mad at God when he does not always answer the way we want. Remember that James was killed before Peter was freed.
  4. Pride does not pay good dividends. James wrote in James 4.6 that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble.
  5. God controls human rulers; he may not always do what we think that he should do with bad rulers, but they are always under his sovereignty.
  6. The word of God is able to spread and believers are able to grow in Christ and the church is able to prosper even in the midst of turmoil and persecution.

Summary Outline

  1. In the spring of AD 44 Herod Agrippa I had James the apostle executed. Herod was of Hasmonean descent and therefore more acceptable to the Jews than the other Herods. One way of strengthening his favor with the Jews was to attack the church (Acts 12.1-2). The events of Acts 12 occurred between Acts 11.28 and Acts 11.30.
  2. Of course the Jewish population was overjoyed at the death of James. Herod Agrippa then decided to get Peter. He did so right before the Passover and the feast of unleavened bread. The feast of unleavened bread was celebrated for seven days immediately after the Passover; they were observed about the first week of April (Acts 12.3-4).
  3. Peter was in a humanly hopeless situation, yet this was just the right opportunity for God to demonstrate his glory and his grace. Herod Agrippa tightened security by placing a quaternion guard around Peter. Four soldiers made up a three hour shift; two soldiers guarded Peter in the cell and two soldiers stood guard outside the cell. Herod did not want another escape by Peter like the one of Acts 5.18-25. Little did Herod know that he was in for a rerun.  During what Herod had planned to be Peter’s last night, Peter slept between his two guards, and believers prayed for Peter (Acts 12.5-6).
  4. God sent an angel to release Peter. The angel appeared inside Peter’s cell, and without the soldiers knowing what was happening, the angel awoke Peter, removed the chains, told Peter to dress, and led Peter to freedom outside of the prison. The prison was probably in the fortress Antonia which was north-west of the temple (Acts 12.7-10).
  5. When Peter found himself in the street he realized that God had delivered him from Herod Agrippa and from the Jewish people. He immediately went to a house where he knew that friends were praying for him (Acts 12.11-13).
  6. Rhoda answered the door. She was so happy to see Peter that she left him standing there while she told the others. They had been busy praying for Peter; when Rhoda told them that their prayers had been answered, they did not believe her. This, of course, is our very common response when we pray; we often pray but do not really expect God to answer. God is very gracious to us; he answers even though we do not believe that he will answer (Acts 12.14-15).
  7. Peter quickly reported to the gathered believers what had happened. He gave instructions to report his rescue to James, who was the Lord’s brother, and to other believers. After this Peter left and apparently went into hiding.  Peter does not appear in the record again until the Jerusalem conference of Acts 15, which was about AD 49 or 50 (Acts 12.16-17).
  8. Herod Agrippa’s search could not find Peter; the soldiers had no plausible answers about Peter’s disappearance. Therefore, Herod executed them. Herod then went to Caesarea. Tyre and Sidon were coast cities; they depended upon Galilee for their food. The people, after some kind of break in relations with Herod Agrippa, attempted to repair the damage by taking advantage of a festival that Herod Agrippa gave in honor of  Caesar. Josephus reported that Herod Agrippa wore a silver robe which reflected the sun. When the crowd saw the brilliance, they flattered him by saying that he was more than mortal. Luke wrote that the people cried, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” This appealed to the pride of Herod Agrippa. God judged Herod Agrippa, and  he became ill and died five days later (Acts 12.18-23).
  9. Even with death of James, the persecution of Peter and others, and in the middle of  political turmoil, the Word of God spread; people believed the gospel and believers began to grow to spiritual maturity. Also during this time Barnabas and Saul and John Mark returned to Antioch, from where the first missionary trip would soon begin (Acts 12.24-25).

Doctrine Summaries, Definitions, and Descriptions

  1. Chronology of Acts 1-12 helps our perspective of the events covered by Luke’s history. Pentecost, Sunday, May 24, AD 33 (Acts 2); Saul’s conversion, summer AD 35 (Acts 9); Peter’s trip to Cornelius’ house, AD 40-41 (Acts 10.-11.18); Barnabas sent to Antioch, AD 41 (Acts 11.19-24); Paul went to Antioch, spring AD 43 (Acts 11.25-26); Agabus predicted the famine, spring AD 44 (Acts 11.27-28); Agrippa killed James, spring AD 44 (Acts 12.1-2); Barnabas and Saul take the relief offering to Jerusalem, fall AD 47 (Acts 11.30); Barnabas and Saul are back in Antioch, fall AD 47 to spring 48 (Acts 12.25-13.1). (Harold W. Hoehner, Dallas Theological Seminary)
  2. The Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread was the first of the three great annual feasts (Exodus 12.1-28; 23.5;  Leviticus 23.4-8; Numbers 28.16-25; Deuteronomy 1.1-8). The Passover commemorated God’s deliverance from the tenth plague which brought the death of the firstborn and the exodus from Egypt.  It was a spring festival, the first festival of the religious calendar, and occurred on Nisan 14. Nisan was the first month of the religious calendar and equivalent to March-April. The Passover taught redemption. The Feast of Unleavened Bread was a seven day festival that began the day after the Passover and lasted from Nisan 15-21. Passover and Unleavened Bread were one unit; the Passover marked the sacrifice and Unleavened Bread marked the feast following the sacrifice. Unleavened Bread commemorated the separation from Egypt under God’s direction and protection. Unleavened Bread taught separation from the past to a new life with the Lord.
  3. Prayer is the way we talk with our heavenly Father: 1. Believers pray to the Father, in the name of the Son, while living by the Holy Spirit and in fellowship with God, and directed by the Word of God (Ephesians 5.20; 6.18; John 15.7). 2. Prayer shows dependence upon the Father, for He knows everything in advance. 3. Prayer is a way of life (Romans 12.12). 4. The general order of prayer is confession of sin if needed, thanksgiving, pray for others, and pray for self. 5. Prayer should be, first of all, for people’s spiritual lives, then for the physical details. Sometimes God leaves the physical problems because he wants to bless us in our spiritual life (Ephesians 6.18-20; 2 Corinthians 12.8-10). We ought to pray: Father, strengthen us in our spiritual lives, give us boldness to live for you, take care of the opposition, and do your work in people’s lives in order to get their attention and to verify the message we deliver. You can look up the doctrine of prayer from previous studies.
  4. Faith in God and his Word will produce a rest and soul calm in the life of the believer. When we believe God, we rely on him to do his work while we rest in the assurance that he really does care for us. In order to have a calm soul and spiritual rest, we must know specific principles from God’s word and then believe those principles. Jeremiah is a good illustration (Lamentations 3.19-26). Wonderful faith-rest promises are Psalm 16.8, Psalm 37.4-5, Psalm 56.3-4, Proverbs 3.5-6, Romans 8.28, Philippians 4.6-7, and 1 Peter 5.7.