Acts 12 is the last chapter where the Apostle Peter is the primary character. After this, from chapter 13 on, the Apostle Paul becomes the central figure. In Acts 12, Peter was continuing to witness and to spread the good news to his brethren the Jews that the long awaited Messiah had indeed come. [You can hear an edited version of our Acts 12 class here.] And because it’s a short chapter, we included the last 8 verses from Acts 11 which sort of set the stage for chapter 12.
The chapter nearly starts out with the martyrdom of Peter. It does start with the martyrdom of “James, the brother of John”. (Mark 5:37) This man was definitely one of the main disciples as often in the gospels it talks about “Peter, James and John” (Mark 9:2). This James was the brother of John the Beloved who later wrote the gospel of John and the book of Revelation. There’s not a whole lot in the Word about James, the brother of John, except that he evidently was one of the most trusted disciples.
But after the death of James, Peter himself was kept in prison under heavy guard. It was great in our class to go over how this miraculous release of Peter must have actually been. We’re all so used to “instant replays” and 20 different video angles on everything that it could be a little rough to not have all the visuals that must have just been amazing in all this.
I’ll let you read it or listen to the class but it’s a remarkable, almost funny story of what happened and what the Lord did to get Peter out of prison then. It just wasn’t God’s time or place for Peter to go to be with Him. So the angel of the Lord, probably quite a few angels, worked out Peter’s release the night before what was most likely going to be his death.
All the while, “prayer was made without ceasing” (Acts 12:5) by the Christians in Jerusalem for Peter. But it seems the situation was so bad that, when Peter actually got to the gate of the house where he knew the brethren were, they wouldn’t even open the gate at first. They just could hardly believe it was true that he had escaped or been released.
To me, one of the main things at this place in the book of Acts is the introduction of three new characters. They’re not really major players in the scheme of things here. But, on the other hand, they are important and will become increasingly so as the book of Acts continues.
One of those mentioned is an early prophet of the church at that time, “Agabus” (Acts 11:28). We don’t hear a lot about him here but we certainly will hear more about him later. Another person mentioned is “John, whose surname was Mark: (Acts 12:25). We first hear of him here in Acts 12; it sounds like the main body of the disciples were staying at the house of his mother in Jerusalem.
Church history tells us that this is the man who eventually wrote the book of Mark. And basically it could be considered that the book of Mark is like the gospel of Peter. It seems that Peter was not a man well versed in Greek. But John Mark wrote down what Peter told him of the life of Jesus and that’s what developed into the book of Mark, which is considered by some to have been the first of the four gospels written. We’ll hear more about John Mark in subsequent chapters.
The third person that we first begin to hear more of in this chapter was “James” (Acts 12:17). This is not James, the brother of John, who was martyred at the beginning of the chapter but “James the Lord’s brother” (Galatians 1:19). For our Catholic friends here this gets difficult. Because, according to Catholic teaching and tradition, Mary and Joseph had no children together after Jesus was born.
But in Mark 6:3 it says, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, the brother of James, and Joses, and of Juda, and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us? And they were offended at him.” We also hear of Jesus’ brothers at the beginning of John 7 and it says of them at this time, “neither did his brethren believe in him”. But according to the Bible, after Jesus’ resurrection “He appeared unto James” (I Corinthians 15:7), one of His brothers. And from what we can read, this James eventually became the leader of the Christians at Jerusalem for the rest of his life. According to church history he was martyred there just one year before the armies of Titus destroyed the city in 70 AD.
In some ways Acts 12 is more action than theology. But it is also a transitional chapter and several new characters we see there will come more to the fore as we go forward in Acts. I hope these classes are a blessing to you and that the live version of this class can help those of you in far off places and without so much Christian fellowship to, at least a little, feel a part of our activities and fellowship here, GBY.