Notes and References


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Acts of the Apostles

A Bible Study

Acts Chapter 12


Acts 12
1Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
2And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
3And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)

An ungodly arrogant ruler, whom the Jews detested, was now aligned with the Jews to fulfill their sacred religious desires. This is almost a type of anti-christ government. The coalition of Sacred and Secular, iron and clay, formed a brutal regime in order to persecute the faithful servants of Jesus Christ. For Herod, it was for political gain. For the Jews, it fulfilled the lust for religious self righteous gain.

How easily we could be deceived to vote for a secular man, whose praise and promise is for his targeted voter, but who is self willed and self promoting, saying all the "right" things, and the people of God follow after him, looking for earthly judgment and justice, which in truth is wholly unrighteous.

James was the son of Zebedee, the brother of John. They were the ones whose mother asked for her sons to sit on the right and left of the Lord on his throne.

Matthew 20
22But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They (James and John) say unto him, We are able.
23And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father.

So here we are in the Acts timeline approximately AD 44, 14 years after the resurrection of Jesus and the first apostle is martyred. Practically a whole chapter is dedicated to the first martyr Stephen and the circumstances of his death. One sentence is given to James' death. I am going read a commentary from A. Maclaren, D.D.

The martyrdom of James: - One might have expected more than a clause to be spared to tell the death of a chief man, and the first martyr amongst the apostles. I think the lessons of the fact, and of the slight way in which the writer of this book refers to it, may perhaps be most pointedly brought out if we take four contrasts - James and Stephen, James and Peter, James and John, James and James. Now, if we take these four I think we shall learn something.

I. First, then, JAMES AND STEPHEN. Look at the different scale on which the incidents of the deaths of these two are told; the martyrdom of the one is beaten out over chapters, the martyrdom of the other is crammed into a corner of a sentence. And yet, of the two men, the one who is the less noticed filled the larger place officially, and the other was only a simple deacon and preacher of the Word. The fact that Stephen was the first Christian to follow his Lord in martyrdom is not sufficient to account for the extraordinary difference. The Bible cares so little about the people whom it names because its true theme is the works of God, and not of man; and the reason why the “Acts of the Apostles” kills off one of the first three apostles in this fashion is simply that, as the writer tells us, his theme is “all that Jesus” continued “to do and to teach” after He was taken up. Since it is Christ who is the true actor, it matters uncommonly little what becomes of James or of the other ten. What is the reason why so disproportionate a space of the gospel is concerned with the last two days of our Lord’s life on earth? What is the reason why years are leaped over in silence and moments are spread out in detail, but that the death of a man is only a death, but the death of the Christ is the life of the world? James sleeps none the less sweetly in his grave, or, rather, wakes none the less triumphantly in heaven because his life and death are both so scantily narrated. If we “self-infold the large results” of faithful service, we need not trouble ourselves about its record on earth. But another lesson which may be learned from this cursory notice of the apostle’s martyrdom is - how small a thing death really is! Looked at from beside the Lord of life and death, which is the point of view of the author of this narrative, “great death” dwindles to a very little thing. We need to revise our notions if we would understand how trivial it really is. From a mountain top the country below seems level plain, and what looked like an impassable precipice has dwindled to be indistinguishable. The triviality of death, to those who look upon it from the heights of eternity, is well represented by these brief words which tell of the first breach thereby in the circle of the apostles.

II. There is another contrast, JAMES AND PETER. Now this chapter tells of two things: one, the death of one of that pair of friends; the other, the miracle that was wrought for the deliverance of the other from death. Why should James be slain, and Peter miraculously delivered? A question easily asked; a question not to be answered by us. We may say that the one was more useful for the development of the Church than the other. But we have all seen lives that, to our poor vision, seemed to be all but indispensable, ruthlessly swept away, and lives that seemed to be, and were, perfectly profitless, prolonged to extreme old age. We may say that maturity of character, development of Christian graces, made the man ready for glory. But we have all seen men struck down when anything but ready. Only we may be sure of this, that James was as dear to Christ as Peter was, and that there was no greater love shown in sending the angel that delivered the one from the “expectation of Herod” and the people of the Jews, than was shown in sending the angel that stood behind the headsman and directed the stroke of the fatal sword on the neck of the other. James escaped from Herod when Herod slew him, and could not make him unfaithful to his Master, and his deliverance was not less complete than the deliverance of his friend. But let us remember, too, that if thus, to two equally beloved, there be dealt out these two different fates, it must be because that evil, which, as I said, is not so big as it looks, is not so bitter as it tastes either; and there is no real evil, for the loving heart, in the stroke that breaks its bands and knits it to Jesus Christ. The contrast of James and Peter may teach us the equal love that presides over the life of the living and the death of the dying.

III. Another contrast is that of JAMES AND JOHN. The close union and subsequent separation by this martyrdom of that pair of brothers is striking and pathetic. By death they were separated so far: the one the first of all the apostles to “become a prey to Satan’s rage,” the other “lingering out his fellows all,” and “dying in bloodless age,” living to be a hundred years old and more, and looking back through all the long parting to the brother who had joined with him in the wish that even Messiah’s kingdom should not part them, and yet had been parted so soon and parted so long. Ah! may we not learn the lesson that we should recognise the mercy and wisdom of the ministry of death the separator, and should tread with patience the lonely road, do calmly the day’s work, and tarry till He comes, though those that stood beside us be gone.

IV. Lastly, JAMES AND JAMES. In his hot youth, when he deserved the name of a son of thunder - so energetic, boisterous I suppose, destructive perhaps, he was - he and his brother, and their foolish mother, whose name is kindly not told us, go to Christ and say, “Grant that we may sit, the one on Thy right hand and the other on Thy left, in Thy kingdom.” That was what he wished and hoped for, and what he got was years of service, and a taste of persecution, and finally the swish of the headsman’s sword. Yes! And so our dreams get disappointed, and their disappointment is often the road to their fulfilment, for Jesus Christ was answering the prayer, “Grant that we may sit on Thy right hand in Thy kingdom,” when He called him to Himself, by the brief and bloody passage of martyrdom. So let us leave for ourselves, and for all dear ones, that question of living or dying to Him. Only let us be sure that whether our lives be long like John’s, or short like James’s, “living or dying we are the Lord’s.”
(A. Maclaren, D. D.)


Acts 12
4And when he (Herod) had apprehended him (Peter), he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.

A quaternion is a squad of four soldiers, therefore there were 16 men guarding Peter.

This verse should not say "Easter", it is Passover! Easter did not exist during this time period. See how we have to be careful about translations and words. It was Easter time for the believers who translated the Bible into English, but it is G3957 in the Greek pascha = Passover. The same time our Lord was killed 14 years earlier.

Acts 12
5Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
6And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
7And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.
8And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
9And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.
10When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.
11And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

Miraculous deliverance! Miracles of prison deliverance by angels only happened to Peter and James and in this instance only for Peter. Later we will read the Apostle Paul is miraculously delivered from prison."Delivered me out of the hand of....the Jews", this passage gives a whole new meaning to the scripture in Matthew where Jesus was speaking to the twelve apostles.

Matt 10
21 And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death.
22 And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.
23 But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.

Jews were FAMILY! Jesus was specifically referring to the Jewish persecution that was to come upon the apostles for saying Jesus was Christ, the Mashiac. These miracles of prison deliverance were signs to the Jews, but they were not heeded and therefore the Jews of that day were judged in the form of the complete destruction of the temple and of Jerusalem and them being scattered into every nation.

How many times is this scripture used for the worldy analogy of prophecy in our day or present time and in our country. It does not fit! It is not to us! It was to the apostles specifically! But we still listen to the so called prophetic voices trying to persuade us to buy another book calling for the destructive judgment of God upon America, because of sin. God hates sin! We know that, but sin has always been present in America. Remember the Civil War? Slave traders or "men stealers"? The genocide of the Indian? The interment camps of the Japanese? Salem witch trials? The Chinese slave laborers? etc. etc. Evil is not going to end until the return of Christ. As a matter of fact, it will get worse and worse and worse! Our job is to rescue the lost! Do we do that by decrying the evil people with condemnation and woe? Or do we give hope of an everlasting future to those who are so reprobate, that even the world has rejected them? God most certainly has not rejected these sinners, and will not until "the fullness of the Gentiles are come in" but will then at the judgment seat of Christ. So folks quit crying about the 'evil days' and rejoice! God is still moving and changing hearts!

Acts 12
12And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.
13And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.
14And when she knew Peter's voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.
15And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.
16But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.
17But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James (the son of Alphaeus), and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.
18Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.
19And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he (Herod) went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode.
20And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king's chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king's country.
21And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.
22And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.
23And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.

Most Historians agree that Herod died in the year 44 A.D.

Adam Clarke's Commentary on Acts 12:23
That is, he died of the disorder by which he was then seized, after having lingered, in excruciating torments, for five days, as Josephus has stated.

Barnes' Notes on Acts 12:23
[And immediately the angel of the Lord] Diseases and death axe in the Scriptures often attributed to an angel. See 2 Samuel 24:16; 1 Chronicles 21:12,15,20,27; 2 Chronicles 32:21. It is not intended that there was a miracle in this case, but it certainly is intended by the sacred writer that his death was a divine judgment on him for his receiving homage as a god. Josephus says of him that he "did neither rebuke them [the people] nor reject their impious flattery. A severe pain arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. And when he was quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, in the 54th year of his age, and the 7th year of his reign." Josephus does not mention that it was done by an angel, but says that when he looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a rope over his head, and judging it to be an evil omen, he immediately became melancholy, and was seized with the pain.
(from, Electronic Database. Copyright (c) 1997 by Biblesoft)

Acts 12
24But the word of God grew and multiplied.
25And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.

Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch - 310 miles - remember a 3 week journey. They took John Mark with them, whose mother's house is where Peter presented himself after being released from prison.

After the death of a dear friend and fellow disciple, God stepped in once again. Peter was delivered from prison, but the executioner of James was subsequently executed by an angel. Judgment was swift in those days of the kingdom with the apostles. The kingdom was ruled with the rod of iron, remember in my study in Acts chapter 5. So now we see it again. I thank God we are partakers of the dispensation of grace. Although God seems to now be silent, He certainly is not blind and deaf to the persecution of the saints. He is patiently waiting for the last sinner to believe in Jesus Christ, by the faith his death burial, and resurrection, sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, obtaining the hope of everlasting life.