Acts 12

Jul 7, 2019 // By:Dave // No Comment

This chapter is about two self proclaimed Gods:

  • the God (whom we worship and call Father)
  • a mere man who sought to be recognized as a God


1 Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them.

The Herod of Acts 12 is Agrippa I (born in 10 B.C.), the grandson of Herod the Great and the son of Aristobulus. 

  • After his father’s execution in 7 B.C., he was sent with his mother Bernice to Rome, where he grew up on intimate terms with the imperial family. In his youth he was something of a playboy, 
  • and in A.D. 23 he went so heavily into debt that he had to flee to Idumea to escape his creditors. Later he received asylum at Tiberias. 
  • In AD 36 he returned to Rome but offended the emperor Tiberius and was imprisoned. 
  • At the death of Tiberius in AD 37, he was released by the new emperor Caligula and received from him the northernmost Palestinian tetrarchies of Philip and Lysanias (cf. Luke 3:1) and the title of king. 
  • in AD 39, Agrippa received his tetrarchy as well. 
  • And at the death of Caligula in AD 41, Claudius, who succeeded Caligula and was Agrippa’s friend from youth, added Judea and Samaria to his territory, thus reconstituting for him the entire kingdom of his grandfather Herod the Great, over which he ruled till his death in AD 44.

Herod was in power because of Rome (Judeans hated him and he was eager to improve his “approval rating”)

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.

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.

4 squads of of soldiers means 16 soldiers to guard one man. And each of these soldiers understands that if Peter gets away, they will stand in his place and receive whatever sentence Peter would have gotten (that was military policy)

5 So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.

in the words of John Piper, prayer is a “wartime walkie-talkie” (Let the Nations Be Glad, 45)

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.

Peter is facing public execution.  He is in a prison, between two roman guards … and he is sleeping ?!

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.

the angel had to strike him to get him out of his slumber  (reached down with a hand, or kicked him “dude, wake up”) LOL

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.”

get dressed Peter,… fix your clothes,… your belt,… put on your sandals,… get your cloak …

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.

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.

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.”

finally “gets it”  “I have been supernaturally freed.”

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.

church is still praying 

What are they praying for ? (look back in verse 5)

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.

the Message puts it like this: But when she recognized his voice—Peter’s voice!—she was so excited and eager to tell everyone Peter was there that she forgot to open the door and left him standing in the street.

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.”

Ok, haven’t they been praying for God to “do something”?

Yet, when Peter shows up, they insist:

  1. she’s nuts
  2. it’s Peter’s ghost (meaning he is already dead)

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.

where do you think he went ?
(there were many other gatherings of believers to tell the news to, and encourage them as well)

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.

Caesarea is the Roman city in the area (with a great sea side port). I’d wager that he goes back to a Roman city (after the embarrassment of losing his trophy prisoner) to “lick his wounds” and get some respect from the Roman people.

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.

We have no record elsewhere of why Herod was angry with these two cities but we DO know that they are beholden to him for the food for their cities (and this is a power that Herod is happy to hold over their heads and leverage it to get gifts and compliments from them to feed his ego)

21 On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel (see the comment below regarding Josephus’ journal of the event) , took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them.

22 The people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!”

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.

Josephus recorded:

After the completion of the third year of his reign over the whole of Judaea, Agrippa came to the city of Caesarea, … [where] he celebrated spectacles in honour of Caesar. On the second day of the spectacles, clad in a garment woven completely of silver so that its texture was indeed wondrous, he entered the theatre at daybreak. There the silver, illumined by the touch of the first rays of the sun, was wondrously radiant and by its glitter inspired fear and awe in those who gazed intently upon it. Straightway his flatterers raised their voices from various directions—though hardly for his good—addressing him as a god. “May you be propitious to us,” they added, “and if we have hitherto feared you as a man, yet henceforth we agree that you are more than mortal in your being.” The king did not rebuke them nor did he reject their flattery as impious. But shortly thereafter he looked up and saw an owl perched on a rope over his head. At once, recognizing this as a harbinger of woes just as it had once been of good tidings [cf. Antiq. XVIII, 195, 200 (vi.7)], 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. Leaping up he said to his friends: “I, a god in your eyes, am now bidden to lay down my life, for fate brings immediate refutation of the lying words lately addressed to me. I, who was called immortal by you, am now under sentence of death. But I must accept my lot as God wills it. In fact I have lived in no ordinary fashion but in the grand style that is hailed as true bliss.” Even as he was speaking these words, he was overcome by more intense pain. They hastened, therefore, to convey him to the palace; and the word flashed about to everyone that he was on the very verge of death…. 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]).

24 ¶ But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.

25 ¶ And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.


If You Oppose Jesus, You Lose (from John Piper)

The chapter begins with Herod killing James the apostle of the Lord Jesus (v. 2), and ends with the angel of the Lord killing Herod.

The main point of the chapter is plain: if you oppose Jesus, you lose.

you may feel small and insignificant in the Roman empire; you may think that you are overpowered when some of your best leaders are killed on a political whim. But the truth is: if you stay with Jesus, you win, and if you oppose him, you lose. So be encouraged. Be bold and courageous to spread the Word of truth and leave the outcome to God.

Herod’s Two Deep Desires

The first desire Herod had was self-exaltation

the second was Christian limitation.

Self-Exaltation and Seeking the Praise of Men 

  • We see this first in verses 2–3, “He killed James the brother of John with the sword; and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.” In other words, what drove him was his desire to be popular as a powerful ruler. “When he saw that it pleased the Jews . . . ” He loved the praise of men, especially praise for power.
  • Being Seen as Powerful 
  • This is crystal clear in verses 20–23. Tyre and Sidon, coastal cities in Syria, depended on Herod’s breadbasket in Galilee. But Herod was angry at these cities and their food supply was in jeopardy. So they come seeking somehow to please Herod. Which is exactly what he likes to be—pleased.
  • Arraying Himself with God-like Pomp
  • And he plays it out to the end so that the treason that it is against God can really be seen. Verse 22: “And the people shouted, ‘The voice of a god, and not of man!'” God lets Herod’s pride and self-centeredness and self-exaltation go all the way to the end so that we can see where all our pride is going and why we should crucify it as soon as we see it rear its ugly head.

So Herod’s two desires become very plain in the story Luke tells us. He wants to be exalted and popular for his power. And to that end he will oppose Christianity and kill its leaders and he will array himself with god-like pomp.

God’s Opposition to Herod 

  • Rescuing Peter, Herod’s Prize Prisoner
    • First, by taking Herod’s prize prisoner right from under his nose and frustrating his desire to get more political boost with Peter’s blood. According to verse 4 Herod intended to bring Peter out for a public execution after the Passover. But verse 5 says the church was praying.
    • So God sends his angel to show Herod that not even with four squads of soldiers (v. 4) can he keep the one God decides to free. The angel wakes Peter, takes the chains off his hands, leads him past the guards and through the iron gate leading to the city. Verse 11 sums up what is happening: Peter says, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
    • The Lord showed Herod and the church and us today that when James was martyred just days before, it was NOT because the Lord couldn’t save him. It was not because he was weak or incompetent. It was because, among other reasons, Jesus had said to James, “The cup that I drink you also will drink” (Mark 10:39). Some bear witness through death, others through life.
    • God can release and God can sustain and empower in martyrdom. That is the point of releasing Peter and not James. God is in control over this little Herod in both cases. In fact there is an extraordinary power in martyrdom. Paul said in Philippians 1:14, “Most of the brethren have been made confident in the Lord because of my imprisonment and are much more bold to speak the word of God without fear.” In other words the suffering of Christian martyrs has a powerful spiritual effect on those who live. It puts us face to face with eternity. It shows the reality of faith. It strips away the petty pursuits and the trivial anxieties in our lives. And it fires us with the same zeal.
    • Tertullian, the Christian defender of the faith who died in 225, said to his enemies, “We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is [the] seed [of the church].” (Apololgeticus 50). And Jerome said about 100 years later, “The church of Christ has been founded by shedding its own blood, not that of others; by enduring outrage, not by inflicting it. Persecutions have made it grow; martyrdoms have crowned it” (Letter 82).
    • So it isn’t as though God fumbled the ball with James and scored a touchdown with Peter. God never fumbles the ball. If he turns it over to the other side for a few downs, it’s because he knows a better way to win.
  • 2. Taking Herod’s Life
    • The second thing he does is take Herod’s life. This is recorded in verses 20–23.
    • The angel of the Lord turns up twice in this chapter. The first time to save Peter and the second time to kill Herod. Right in the middle of one of his lavish demonstrations of self-exaltation he crosses the line of God’s patience, and verse 23 describes what happens: “Immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and died.”
    • The point of this is to make clear to everyone who will listen that God and not Herod is to be honored and glorified. If a man lifts himself up against God, he becomes weaker than a worm. It is insane to commit treason against the Creator of the universe. You can’t win.
    • Daniel gave the same message about kings. In 2:21 he said, “God changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.” And when Nebuchadnezzar boasted, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty?” a voice came from God and said, “You will eat grass like an ox . . . until you have learned that the Most High rules the kingdom of men and gives it to whom he wills” (4:30, 32).
  • 3. Making the Word of God Grow and Multiply
    • Finally, God turned the tables entirely on all that Herod was trying to do by killing James and arresting Peter—he made the Word of God grow and multiply. Verse 24: “But the word of God grew and multiplied.” He exalted God not Herod. He made the reputation of Jesus spread, not Herod’s.
    • This is the goal of all God does—to magnify his wisdom and power and spread the fame of his Son who saves sinners and glorifies his Father.
    • The lesson for us is plain: if we oppose Jesus we lose. We may feel small and insignificant; we may think that we are overpowered when some of our best leaders are killed on a political whim. But the truth is: if we stay with Jesus, we win, and if we oppose him, we lose. So be encouraged. Don’t be impressed by temporary worldly triumphs over the gospel. Be bold and courageous to spread the Word of God and leave the outcome to God.

Do we see God as God and ourselves in the role of humbly approaching Him?

Do we have humility in our attitude about ourselves and our lives in context of God’s plans for us?


God is sovereign and with share the status of “God” with no one.
(not Herod, not power, not fame, not even our own egos)

this also brought us into talking about His sovereignty compared to human doubt when going through trials…

i.e. how can God allow (this or that)?

which brought us to the idea that God uses all things to bring us closer to Him (Rom 8:28)
(and that there is nothing that has happened to us in the past that we would want to undo since it is something we recognized God’s hand in bringing us closer to Him)

Is there anything worth holding onto compared to knowing God?

Is there anything worth surrendering if it means knowing God less?

Is there any experience worth avoiding (or undoing) if it will bring us away from knowing God?

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