Acts 11:19–12:25. The Focus Shifts.
Key Notes: Peter's miraculous escape. Unbelief. James executed. Antioch's "Christians." Activity of angels and the Holy Spirit in Acts so far.
Until now the focus of Acts has been on Jerusalem, with the apostles and deacons moving out from there to various missions. By this time, ten years have passed, the focus is shifting to Antioch, a large Greek city, and from Peter to Paul.
11:19–26 The dispersed believers coming out of Jerusalem went up the coast to Antioch. They preached to Greeks and many were converted. Barnabas was sent by the Jerusalem Church. He was a Levite, a native of Cyprus nearby and his ministry also added many to the Church. Then he sent for Saul at Tarsus and they team-taught a large group for a year. The believers were first called "Christians" at Antioch.
11;27–30 Agabus, a prophet from Jerusalem prophesied famine for the Roman world. The disciples at Antioch decided to send money for famine relief to Jerusalem. This may have been the first money sent to Jerusalem. We will find Paul soliciting a larger offering sometime later. (ICor.16:1; IICor.8,9). The Jerusalem church remained in poverty: persecution drove out the young and vigorous and the sources of income were depleted.
12:1–5 Herod Agrippa was a Jewish politician, grandson of Herod the Great, and with a similar reputation for violence. He killed James, brother of John, and enjoying Jewish approval, went after Peter. Peter was an elite prisoner, treated to a new guard of soldiers every change of the night watch. Herod was going to execute him as soon as Passover was over.
12:6–17 Peter was sleeping, chained to two guards on the night preceding his execution. An angel of the Lord woke him with a poke in the ribs and told him to get his clothes on. Chains fell off; the guards did not notice; city gates opened and suddenly Peter found himself alone in the dark streets of Jerusalem. Then he realized that the angel was real and he was saved.
He went to John Mark's mother's house where the believers were in an all-night prayer meeting for him. Rhoda answered his knock and disrupted the prayers: "Peter is at the door." The unbelieving believers assured her that their prayers had not been answered; she was insane and was seeing an angel or perhaps his disembodied spirit. She insisted and Peter kept knocking. Then Peter came in, told his story to an amazed audience, and went underground. He reappeared in the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15.
12:18–25 Herod killed the guards--another Slaughter of the Innocents. At Caesarea, he was hearing a complaint from people of Tyre / Sidon about food supplies. His oratory became so eloquent that he evidently accepted the crowd's adulation and worship. God promptly struck him down and he died an ignominious death.
Barnabas, Saul and John Mark were now together in ministry.
The Short View:
*Antioch, on the Orontes River, was the third largest city of the Empire, behind Rome and Alexandria. It is believed that Luke was born here. It was corrupted by the worship of Ashterte, Artemis and Apollo, with its sacred prostitution. A Roman writer later said that “the sewage of the Orontes had flowed into the Tiber”, meaning that the wickedness of Antioch had polluted Rome as well. Saul and Barnabas invested a year of teaching and training here. The Antioch Church would soon become a sending church--eventually to Rome.
"The springs of the Orontes will purify the Tiber."
•Peter was saved; James was killed. Why was James not saved? "The Christian is immortal until his work is done."
•Herod killed James. God killed Herod.
*Peter slept on the night of his execution. The peace of God that passes knowledge guarded his heart.
•Peter was prayed for in desperation, not in hope, although all the apostles had had a miraculous rescue sometime before. (Acts 5:19). No one believed he could escape. Not even Houdini could get out of this one. The story is a divine comedy--of God's power and human weakness. We should enjoy it as such.
The Long View:
The end of Chapter 12 is a turning point in the book. About ten years have passed since Pentecost, and the Gospel has spread north and west about 300 miles as far as Syrian Antioch.
Summary of events so far:
Pentecost launched the Church.
Persecution started after confrontation with Sadducees.
Peter and John were arrested.
All the apostles were arrested.
Stephen was stoned and intense persecution followed.
James was executed.
A lame man was healed at the Beautiful gate.
The shadow of Peter healed the sick.
The apostles were liberated from jail.
Philip had a healing ministry in Samaria.
Peter raised Aeneas (paralyzed) and Dorcas (dead).
Peter was rescued from jail.
Notable converts: Simon, the Ethiopian treasurer, Saul, Cornelius.
Directions of God
An angel of the Lord
Opened the prison and let the apostles escape.
Directed Philip to Gaza.
Appeared to Cornelius.
The Holy Spirit
Fell on the believers as Pentecost.
Filled the believers at prayer.
Filled the Samaritans.
Directed Philip, later caught him away.
Told Peter to go with messengers.
Fell upon Cornelius and his house.
The Lord Jesus addressed Saul directly, and sent Ananias to him.
Jesus commissioned the disciples to go out and make disciples of all nations (Matt.28:18), beginning in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth. (Acts 1:8). He sent the saved out in successive waves: from Jerusalem to the Jews, Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews at Pentecost), the Samaritans, an African proselyte, God-fearing Gentiles (Italians), and ordinary pagan Greeks. He is still His growing Church and millions are yet to come.