Summary Acts 12:1-5:
King Herod, on a persecution spree, arrested James, the brother of John, and executed him. He seized Peter as well with the same fate in mind. But the Feast of Passover was occurring so Herod had to postpone his plans for Peter. Meanwhile, people were praying for him.
BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 8, Day 2: Acts 12:1-5
3) King Herod began persecuting Christians. He put James, the brother of John, to death by sword. He seized Peter to kill him, but he had to wait until the Feast of Unleavened Bread was over.
4) Part Personal Question. My Answer: You should not seek worldly approval as King Herod did when he persecuted Christians. Christians should seek the approval of God.
5) Personal Question. My answer: Negatively. Injustice affects us all, whether we see it or not. Pray for those suffering for God to be with them and protect them and for doors to be opened for us to help.
Conclusions BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 8, Day 2: Acts 12:1-5
With recognition and success comes the will to tear you down, as we see with King Herod, who is now threatened by the rise of Christianity.
End Notes BSF Study Questions Acts Lesson 8, Day 2: Acts 12:1-5
This was Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, who ruled in the days of Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:1-16). Herod Agrippa I was also the nephew of Herod Antipas, who had a role in the trial of Jesus (Luke 23:7-12).
No doubt, this was done because it was politically popular for Herod. It pleased many of his citizens who didn’t like Christians. Many political figures are ready to persecute Christians if it will make them politically popular.
Fun Fact: Of the twelve who followed Jesus, James was the first to be martyred.
Up to Acts 12, the church had been on a streak of success, experiencing one exciting conversion after another. First there was Saul of Tarsus, then the Gentile centurion, Cornelius, then the highly successful work among Gentiles (and Jews) in Antioch. But in Acts 12, the ugly opposition inspired by Satan again raised its head.
James was certainly not the first Christian to die in faithfulness to Jesus. Stephen (Acts 7:58-60) was martyred before this, and certainly others were also. But the death of James shattered the illusion that somehow, the twelve enjoyed a unique Divine protection.
James, in particular, might have thought to have been protected. He was one of the special intimates of Jesus, often mentioned with his brother John and with Peter (Matthew 17:1, 26:37, Mark 5:37, 9:2, 14:33; Luke 5:37, 9:2, and 14:33).
But Jesus promised no special protection for even His closest followers; He warned them to be ready for persecution (Matthew 10:16-26).
In Mark 10:35-40, John and his brother James came to Jesus and asked to be considered His two chief lieutenants. Jesus replied to them, You do not know what you ask. Can you drink the cup that I drink, and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with? James and John, not really knowing what they were saying, replied by saying they could. Jesus promised them, You will indeed drink the cup that I drink, and with the baptism I am baptized with you will be baptized. This martyrdom was the fulfillment of that promise for James. John fulfilled it by a lifetime of devoted service to God despite repeated attempts to martyr him.
Significantly, there was no attempt to replace James, as there was to replace Judas (Acts 1). This was because James died as a faithful martyr, but Judas revealed his apostasy in betraying Jesus. There was no need for another man to take the office of James.
There was a significant difference between the persecution from Saul of Tarsus (Acts 8:1-3) and from Herod. Saul, wrong as he was, persecuted out of sincere (though misguided) religious conviction; Herod persecuted out of purely political motives.
Herod decided to deal with Peter at a politically opportune time, fearing an unpredictable mob reaction when Passover pilgrims filled Jerusalem.
Why Delay to Execute Peter
Horton suggests three reasons for the delay in executing Peter:
- Herod wanted to show how scrupulously he observed the Passover
- Herod wanted to wait until the pilgrim crowds went home, fearing a riot
- Herod wanted to wait until he had the full attention of the Jewish population.
Knowing Peter (with the other apostles) had mysteriously escaped from prison before (Acts 5:17-21), Herod assigned a high-security detail to guard Peter.
“Normally it was considered enough for a prisoner to be handcuffed to one soldier, but as a special precaution Peter had a soldier each side of him and both his wrists were manacled” (Stott)
“So there were always four soldiers guarding Peter. Extraordinary precautions were also taken by chaining him to two soldiers instead of one as usual (compare Seneca, Epistulae, 5:7). The other two soldiers kept watch outside the cell.” (Hughes)
The Power of Prayer
The church had the power of prayer.
The word constant also has the idea of earnest; literally, the word pictures someone stretching out all they can for something. “The verb ektenos is related to ektenes, a medical term describing the stretching of a muscle to its limits.” (MacArthur)
Luke uses this same word ektenos for the agonizing prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44).
Much of our prayer is powerless because it lacks earnestness. Too often we almost pray with the attitude of wanting God to care about things we really don’t care too much about.
Earnest prayer has power not because it in itself persuades a reluctant God. Instead, it demonstrates that our heart cares passionately about the things God cares about, fulfilling Jesus’ promise If you abide in Me and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire and it shall be done for you (John 15:7).
It is also important to see that the church prayed to God. It may seem obvious, but often our prayers are weak because we are not consciously coming into the presence of our great and holy God, offering our requests to Him.