Beginning the Journey (for new Christians).
1, 2, and 3 John
1 & 2 Thessalonians
1 & 2 Timothy
2 Peter, Jude
7 Last Words of Christ
Acts 1-12: The Early Church
Christ Powered Life (Rom 5-8)
Conquering Lamb of Revelation
David, Life of
Glorious Kingdom, The
Early Church: Acts1-12
Holy Spirit, Disciple's Guide
Jesus and the Kingdom
Lamb of God
Listening for God's Voice
Names of God
Names of Jesus
Rebuild & Renew: Post-Exilic Books
Sermon on the Mount
Songs of Ascent (Ps 120-135)
Dr. Wilson's Books
9. Revival in Antioch, Persecution in Jerusalem (Acts 11:19-12:25)by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Guercino, 'The Liberation of St. Peter' (c. 1622), oil on canvas, 105 x 136 cm, Museo del Prado, Madrid.
Our final lesson concerns both the growth of the Church and the continued persecution that attends that blessing of God. First, we'll look at the ministry of Paul and Barnabas in Antioch. Then we'll examine the persecution of Herod Agrippa in Jerusalem and Peter's miraculous escape from prison. It isn't a highly doctrinal section, but tells us how the early church grows and consolidates according to God's plan.
9.1 Ministry in Antioch (Acts 11:19-30, 45-48 AD)
As you recall, Saul has been hustled off to Tarsus after a conspiracy to kill him makes life in Jerusalem too dangerous (Acts 9:29-30). When we pick up the narrative again in Acts 11, Paul is in Tarsus, where he has remained for perhaps a decade (35-45 AD). He is called as an apostle at his conversion in 33 AD (Acts 9:15; 22:15), but apparently hasn't exercised this gift, at least beyond his home area. That is soon to change.
The Gospel Reaches the Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 11:19-21)
Let's pause to consider again the structure of the book of Acts as outlined in the first chapter.
"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
There is forecast a progressive geographical and cultural extension of the gospel:
1. The Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples (Acts 2),
2. Jerusalem -- many believers find Christ (Acts 2-6),
3. Judea. Believers are scattered to Judea429 following the persecution led by Saul (Acts 8:1). Converts made in Judea are Jews who become disciples of Christ. They belong to the same general culture as the Jews in Galilee and Jerusalem.
4. Samaria. Many believers are scattered to Samaria (Acts 8:1). Philip preaches in Samaria and a great revival ensues (Acts 8:4-8). This is the first time the gospel has crossed the religious barrier between Jews and Samaritans, seen as a sort of bastard Jews. Peter and John are called from Jerusalem to confirm these new believers with the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:9-25). For the first time, ministry becomes cross-cultural, through missionaries from the Jewish culture to the Samaritan culture. A summary verse following Paul's conversion puts it this way:
"Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord." (Acts 9:31)
Yes, the gospel comes to Jews in Damascus, Syria (Acts 9:1-25), but this is from Jew to Jew; no Gentiles yet, at least in any great numbers.
5. Ends of the earth. Then God gives a vision to Peter to go to Caesarea and preach the gospel to a Gentile centurion and his friends. The Holy Spirit comes down, they're saved, and filled with the Holy Spirit and baptized. It's controversial, but the Jerusalem church eventually accepts it:
"They had no further objections and praised God, saying, 'So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.'" (Acts 11:18)
There aren't a lot of converts in Caesarea, but the principle is established.
The next step towards "the ends of the earth" is Antioch, where Gentiles start coming to Christ in large numbers (Acts 11:19-21). And we know that from the sending church at Antioch, Paul and others carry the gospel to the Mediterranean world as far as Rome and beyond. Cross-cultural evangelism comes into its own with Paul, the Apostle to the Gentiles.
The Gospel Explodes among the Gentiles in Antioch (Acts 11:19-21)
"19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord." (Acts 11:19-21)
Now the gospel catches fire among the Greek-speaking Gentiles in Antioch in a big way. Thousands are coming to Christ, creating a mass of believers that begins to rival the size of the church of Jerusalem.
Along the banks of the Orontes River, Antioch's ruins lie near the modern city of Antakya, Turkey. Established by the Seleucids about 350 BC, by now, Antioch was the third most important city in the Roman Empire, capital of the Roman province of Syria. In Paul's time, it had a population of perhaps half a million, many times larger than Jerusalem. A sizeable revival here would have had huge implications for the entire Roman Empire. Within a few years, Antioch would become the mother church for a series of missions to the Roman world.
Q1. (Acts 11:19-21) Why do you think it took so long for
the gospel to jump over from the Jewish "fishing pond" into the vast ocean of
Gentiles who need Christ? What kind of preparation did God have to do among the
Jewish Christians to get them ready for this?
Barnabas Is Sent to the Gentile Believers in Antioch (Acts 11:22-24)
Expansion of the Church to Antioch. Larger map.
But we're getting ahead of ourselves. The leaders of the Jerusalem church, the mother church, are struggling to decide how they should deal with this flood of Gentiles becoming Christians. So they send one of their trusted leaders -- Barnabas.
"22 News of this reached the ears of the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts." (Acts 11:22-23)
We met Barnabas when he contributes to the Jerusalem church money from the sale of some property to help care for the needy (Acts 4:36-37). There he is described as:
"Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement)...." (Acts 4:36)
He is from the Jewish community on the isle of Cyprus, but he thoroughly understands and is comfortable in Greek culture and fluent in Greek.
Because Barnabas is a Cypriot, he can relate to his countrymen, the evangelists who had started the Gentile churches in Antioch -- "men from Cyprus and Cyrene" (Acts 11:20). He is also doctrinally sound, well-founded in apostolic teaching from his time in Jerusalem. For a number of reasons, Barnabas is an excellent choice for the Jerusalem church to send as their missionary to Antioch.
Barnabas has a generous heart (Acts 4:36-37). He is also a "bridge person" who reaches out to Paul and introduces him to the Jerusalem apostles when they are afraid of Paul. Our passage speaks of his character.
"He was a good430 man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith." (Acts 11:24a)
As Pete Wagner puts it, the phrase "full of the Holy Spirit and faith" is "Luke's way of affirming that Barnabas was operating under a strong anointing for power ministries,"431 that is, signs and wonders. And Barnabas's ministry in Antioch is wonderfully effective.
"A great number of people were brought to the Lord." (Acts 11:24b)
Barnabas Seeks Out Saul in Tarsus (Acts 11:25-26)
Barnabas's ministry in Antioch is so effective and the potential for the church there so vast that he needs help.
"25 Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." (Acts 11:25-26)
This is probably about 45 AD. Paul seems to have been in Tarsus for 10 years since fleeing Jerusalem in 35 AD. Barnabas travels about 150 miles (236 km.) each way to Tarsus to find Paul and invite him to join the ministry team in Antioch.
I would guess that Paul has been working in the tentmaker trade in Tarsus, studying the Scriptures as part of the considerable Jewish community in this city, contending with other earnest seekers that Jesus is the Messiah, and building around him a group of Christian disciples. This is speculation, I know, but it would be consistent with what we see of Paul's work in Damascus (Acts 9:19-22) and in his 20 years of active ministry that follow. And we know that there were some early Christian congregations in Cilicia (Acts 15:41).
I think it is likely that by the time Barnabas comes looking for him, Paul is seasoned and experienced enough in Christian ministry to be a great help in Antioch. Much like Barnabas, Paul is a Jew, but understands and is comfortable in Greek culture, and is fluent in Greek. In addition, he has trained as a rabbi. He is an ideal helper.
"So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people." (Acts 11:26a)
This ministry seems primarily to consist of teaching new Gentile believers and probably includes some evangelism in Antioch as well as reaching out to towns and villages around Antioch.
Luke informs us,
"The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." (Acts 11:26b)
The Greek word is Christianos, "one who is associated with Christ, Christ-partisan, Christian."432
Q2. (Acts 11:22-26) What qualifications did Barnabas
have that made him an ideal missionary to the new Gentile believers in Antioch?
What qualifications did Saul of Tarsus have that caused Barnabas to seek him
out and enlist him to help in Antioch? Why do you think it took so long for
Saul to get into active ministry in Antioch?
9.2 Needs in the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:27-30)
"27 During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.)" (Acts 11:27-28)
We see regular communication between the churches in Jerusalem and Antioch, with people from the Jerusalem church visiting Antioch from time to time and vice versa (Acts 11:22, 25, 27; 15:1-2).
One of these visitors is Agabus, a prophet who is mentioned here and in Acts 21:10. We may not be very familiar with prophets, but they are important in the New Testament church. Prophets send missionaries out from Antioch: "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul...."(Acts 13:2). Prophets are highly valued by Paul in the leadership of the church.433 Judas and Silas minister as prophets to the Antioch church (Acts 15:32) and this Silas travels with Paul on his Second and Third Missionary Journeys. Philip the Evangelist has four daughters who prophesy (Acts 21:9), perhaps in the tradition of Old Testament prophetesses (Exodus 15:20; Judges 4:4; 2 Kings 22:14).
At the very time Agabus comes to Antioch we know that Judea was experiencing a severe famine.434 Agabus, who lives in Judea, predicts that the famine will spread throughout the Roman world. Indeed, classical writers reported famines at various times during the reign of Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD).435
Paul and Barnabas Carry a Gift to Jerusalem (Acts 11:29-30, 46 AD)
Paul joins Barnabas in Antioch about 45 AD. The very next year (46 AD), he and Barnabas travel to Jerusalem carrying a gift of money for the poor saints in Judea to help them during the famine.
"29 The disciples, each according to his ability,436 decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul." (Acts 11:29-30)
Q3. (Acts 11:29-30) In what way does the monetary gift
from the Antioch believers to the Judean believers exemplify the most basic
directive of Jesus (John 13:35)? Why do you think that ministry to the poor and
needy has become a hallmark of the Church down through the ages to our own day?
What happens when we deemphasize this? What happens when we over-emphasize this?
After this, Luke's narrative inserts Peter's escape from prison and the death of Herod (Acts 12:1-25) which we'll cover below in section 9.3. Then Luke describes the end of the Jerusalem trip.
"When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark." (Acts 12:25)
Meeting with Leaders of the Jerusalem church (Galatians 2:1-5)
But this trip isn't just about taking a gift in response to Agabus's prophecy. It also apparently includes a private meeting with the leaders of the Jerusalem church, during which Paul outlines his approach to preaching the gospel to the Gentiles in Antioch.
"1 Fourteen years later I went up again to Jerusalem, this time with Barnabas. I took Titus along also. 2 I went in response to a revelation and set before them the gospel that I preach among the Gentiles. But I did this privately to those who seemed to be leaders, for fear that I was running or had run my race in vain." (Galatians 2:1-2)
Apparently, some Judaizers had complained that the Gentile converts weren't being circumcised, and thus becoming law-keeping Jews. The Jerusalem leadership seemed to approve of Paul's and Barnabas's ministry to the Gentiles in Antioch, but the matter came up again, before being settled by the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15).437
"7 They saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles, just as Peter had been to the Jews.... 9b [They] gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the Jews." (Galatians 2:7, 9)
James (Jesus' brother), Peter, and John acknowledge Paul's and Barnabas's calling to evangelize the Gentiles and place no restrictions on them. They also appreciate Paul's help for the poor in Jerusalem. Years later, at the close of his Third Missionary Journey, Paul collects a monetary gift from his churches in Macedonia, Greece, and Asia, and brings it to Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:3-4; 32 Corinthians 8-9; Romans 15:26).
9.3 Herod's Persecution in Jerusalem (Acts 12:1-25)
Now Luke turns to a severe persecution of two of the Jerusalem church leaders -- James and Peter. The pressure for the persecution begins with the Jewish leaders, no doubt, but the main player is Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great.
Herod Agrippa (ruled 37 to 44 AD)
Where Herod Agrippa I fits in with the rest of the Herodian Dynasty. Larger chart.
Herod Agrippa I, considered the bad sheep of the Herodian family, became one of the dynasty's most powerful kings. Growing up in Rome, he becomes friends with several powerful men who become emperor and falls in and out of favor. Beginning in 37 AD, his lands grow rapidly to include Galilee, Samaria, Judea, and considerably more. At his death in 44 AD, Herod Agrippa is one of the most powerful kings of the east and rules over a similar amount of territory as had his grandfather Herod the Great.438
Herod Agrippa is better liked by the Jews than the other Herods, probably because he is zealous for Judaism. For example, he sought to prevent Emperor Caligula (ruled 37-41 AD) from setting up his statue in the temple in Jerusalem. But he appears to history as a self-serving scoundrel and opportunist. To gain favor with the Jews, he begins a persecution of the church in Jerusalem.
Herod Kills James (Acts 12:1-2)
"1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword." (Acts 12:1-2)
There are three prominent men named James in the New Testament --
- The Apostle James, one of the sons of Zebedee (referred to here);
- James the half-brother of Jesus, who assumes leadership in the Jerusalem church and wrote the Letter of James in our New Testament; and
- James the son of Alphaeus, another of the original 12 apostles.
James the Son of Zebedee is a fisherman, one of Jesus' earliest disciples, and along with his sibling John the Apostle, these brothers are known as the "Sons of Thunder." He is one of Jesus' inner circle -- Peter, James, and John -- who are witnesses to the raising of Jairus' daughter, the Transfiguration, and Jesus' agony in the Garden of Gethsemane.439 James and his brother John (and their mother, probably Salome) request Jesus to sit on his right and left hands in the Kingdom,440 and want to call down fire on an uncooperative Samaritan village.441
We're not sure of the exact date of James' execution. Herod Agrippa takes power east of Galilee in 38 AD and is named King of Judea by the Roman Emperor in 41 AD. This execution apparently takes place in Jerusalem. As king, Agrippa is not bound by the rules the Romans placed on the Jewish Sanhedrin limiting use of the death penalty. By killing James and Peter, Agrippa is seeking to decapitate the church's leadership -- literally -- and severely cripple the growing Christian movement. The Jewish leaders, who have probably put him up to it, are no doubt delighted by Herod Agrippa taking up their cause.
It's ironic that these two brothers, James and John, include both the first apostolic martyr and the only apostle to escape martyrdom. The Apostle John is reputed to have lived to nearly the close of the first century and died at a great age.
Herod Arrests Peter (Acts 12:3-5)
James is executed with applause from the Jewish leaders. So Herod continues his attack by targeting the Jerusalem church's most celebrated leader: Simon Peter.
"3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.442 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying443 to God for him."
How much time elapses between James' execution and Peter's arrest, we don't know. Peter is arrested during the Feast of Unleavened Bread which occurs during the week prior to Passover. He is heavily guarded. Four men guard him on each of four watches around the clock.444
Peter's Escape from Prison (Acts 12:6-17)
This story is wonderful and must have been told and retold in Christian circles recounting the amazing miracle that they had witnessed. The storyteller explains how secure the prison was and how soundly the guards slept.
"The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance." (Acts 12:6)
Now an angel intervenes, giving patient instructions to a sleep-dazed prisoner who can't quite make sense of what is going on. Chains fall off, doors open.
"7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. 'Quick, get up!' he said, and the chains fell off Peter's wrists.
8 Then the angel said to him, 'Put on your clothes and sandals.' And Peter did so. 'Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,' the angel told him. 9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him." (Acts 12:7-10)
Only in the chill of the early morning does Peter realize that this isn't a dream or vision after all. He is free!
"Then Peter came to himself and said, 'Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod's clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.'" (Acts 12:11)
Peter heads to the home where he knows people will be gathered praying for him.
"12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter's voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, 'Peter is at the door!'" (Acts 12:12-14)
At Peter's knocking, a girl tasked to watch the gate comes. Her name is Rhoda, "rose," though she is but a slave445 -- owned ironically by a wealthy Jewish believer, John Mark's mother Mary. Rhoda is so beside herself with joy that she forgets to unlock the door. Instead, she runs inside and blurts out that Peter is outside. They don't believe her.
"'You're out of your mind,' they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, 'It must be his angel.' (Acts 12:15)
The humor of this story isn't lost on Luke -- or us. They have been praying fervently for Peter's release, and when their prayers are miraculously answered, they can't believe it. Rather than believe God has answered prayer, they tell the slave girl that she's crazy446 and then they come up with the "angel theory," in this case, a guardian angel capable of assuming the bodily appearance of the one he was protecting.447 Inside they argue, but Peter persistently knocks (quietly, I am sure) until someone lets him in.
"16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. 'Tell James and the brothers448 about this,' he said, and then he left for another place.'" (Acts 12:16-17)
Peter relates the story with all its amazing details. "Tell James," he says, referring to Jesus' half-brother James who has become the recognized leader of the Jerusalem church.449 Later we see Peter in Antioch (Galatians 2:11) and at the Jerusalem Council (49 AD). He is reputedly martyred in Rome about 65 AD, the same year as Paul.
Herod's prison guards don't fare well.
"18 In the morning, there was no small commotion450 among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined451 the guards and ordered that they be executed." (Acts 12:18-19a)
Q4. (Acts 12:6-17) Why do you think the Christians don't
believe their own prayers for Peter's release? Don't they believe in miracles
any longer? Why don't we pray with greater faith to the God who can do
anything? How can we grow our faith in God so we can pray better?
Herod's Death in Caesarea (Acts 12:19b-23)
Luke concludes this section with details of the sudden death of the man who murdered the Apostle James.
"19b Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there a while. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. Having secured the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant452 of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king's country for their food supply.
21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, 'This is the voice of a god, not of a man.' 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died." (Acts 12:19-23)
Herod Agrippa, now one of the most powerful kings in the region stands to give a speech. In his arrogance, he accepts praise as a god, and is struck down. The phrase "eaten by worms" could be taken quite literally (2 Maccabees 9:9), though it appears to have been a stock phrase in describing the deaths of tyrants. The violent abdominal pain that Josephus describes preceding his death are consistent with appendicitis leading to peritonitis.453
When Herod Agrippa I dies, his territories are reduced to a Roman province, since his son is only 17 at the time. Later, Herod Agrippa II (reigns 50-100 AD) rises to power. He and his sister Bernice hear the case of the Apostle Paul in Caesarea about 59 AD.
The Word of God Continues to Increase and Spread (Acts 12:24)
Our study of the The Early Church: Acts 1-12 ends with these verses:
"24 But the word of God continued to increase and spread. 25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark." (Acts 12:24-25)
Man can persecute and kill Jesus and his servants, but ultimately the gospel will prevail. Indeed, often that very persecution helps speed the next growth spurt of the Kingdom. Early Christian apologist Tertullian (155-220 AD) once said, "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."454
What follows in Luke's account is the missionary adventures of Paul and his companions, beginning from Antioch. I have traced those in detail in what can be considered Part II of this work entitled Apostle Paul: Passionate Discipleship (JesusWalk Publications, 2018).
Despite the growing pains of including Gentiles in what had been an exclusively Jewish church. Despite the focused attempt by a powerful king to destroy the church's leadership, the gospel prevails. It doesn't merely survive, it flourishes, it "continued to increase and spread."455 In our own lives we face problems, challenges, and set-backs. Yes, even death. Yet we have the assurance that none of these things will defeat God's plan. Paul summed it up this way:
"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)
Lord, increase our faith. Come soon, Lord Jesus!
Lessons for Disciples
There aren't a lot of doctrinal insights in this section, more practical insights of how God was working.
- Barnabas goes to Tarsus and enlists Saul to help him with the mighty work in Antioch. This has been a "quiet" period; perhaps Saul wondered if God would ever use him. But now and for the rest of his life he is involved in non-stop ministry. Don't despair. God is preparing you to use you. Be patient, trust him, and obey (Acts 11:25).
- God uses prophets in the early church, here Agabus to prophesy a famine, later prophets to send out Paul and Barnabas (Acts 11:27-28; 13:1-3).
- When the Antioch church becomes aware of the famine-stricken saints in Jerusalem, they give an offering to help. Part of being a Christian is sensitivity to the hurting and needy, and generosity "each according to his ability" (Acts 11:29).
- Herod Agrippa begins to persecute the Church, teaching us that persecution often goes in cycles. We must be ready when our time comes (Acts 12:1).
- One of Jesus' inner circle disciples, the Apostle James, is martyred. We learn that none of us is indispensable, God can call any of us at any time. We often don't understand God's timing from our side of heaven (Acts 12:2).
- Peter's deliverance from jail is amazing, miraculous. But the believers -- who are praying for just this thing -- can't believe that Peter has actually been set free! God, deliver us from our unbelieving prayers! (Acts 12:5-17)
- Herod Agrippa, a cruel tyrant, meets his just due by being struck down by God in public. Justice may seem delayed, but God will judge in the end (Acts 12:19-23).
- In spite of persecution, "the word of God continued to increase and spread" (Acts 12:24). Man can persecute and kill Jesus and his servants, but ultimately the gospel will prevail. "The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church."
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Father, thank you for faithful men and women who prayed and suffered, preached and taught, ministered to the sick and the poor. Help me to be one of those who follow Jesus along the path he has set forth for me. Help me not to become weary in well-doing so that I grow faint. Thank you for all your blessings. In Jesus' name, I pray. Amen.
"... Men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord's hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord." (Acts 11:20--21, NIV)
"[Barnabas] was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord. Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch." (Acts 11:24-26, NIV)
"So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. (Acts 12:5, NIV)
"But the word of God continued to increase and spread." (Acts 12:24, NIV)
 From the word Judea (formerly known as Judah) comes our English words "Judaism" and "Jew."
 "Good" is agathos, "pertaining to meeting a high standard of worth and merit, good, kind, generous, benevolent" (BDAG 3, 2a). In classical Greek it is used frequently in reference to good citizenship or acceptance of communal responsibility. See Matthew 20:15; 25:21, 23. Joseph of Arimathea is referred to as "a good and upright man."
 Wagner, Acts, p. 234. The phrase, "full of the Holy Spirit and faith," recalls the description of the assistants selected to help the church's food distribution to Grecian widows -- "known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom." Stephen was described as "a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 6:5). He is "a man full of God's grace and power, [who] did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people" (Acts 6:8).
 Christianos, BDAG 1090. J. Dickie, "Christian," ISBE 1:657. Self-designations found in the New Testament include: "believers," "saints," "brethren," "the church," "the elect," and "servants of God/Christ." The word also occurs in Acts 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16, apparently in the mouths of opponents, but begins to be used as a self-designation, by at least the time the Didache is written at the end of the first century AD. "But if [a prophet] has no craft, according to your wisdom provide how he shall live as a Christian among you, but not in idleness" (Didache 12:6).
 Ephesians 2:20; 3:5; 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28-29; 14:29; 1 Timothy 1:18; 4:14.
 The famine in Judea was particularly severe from 44 to 48 AD. Josephus explains: "A famine oppressed them at that time, and many people died for want of money to procure food.... Under [Procurators Cuspius Fadus (44-46 AD) and Tiberius Julius Alexander (46-48 AD)] that great famine happened in Judea, in which queen Helena bought corn in Egypt at a great expense" (Antiquities 20.2.5).
 Suetonius, Life of Claudius 18, 2; Tacitus Annals, 12.43; Cassius Dio, Roman History 60.11; Orosius, A History Against the Pagans 7.6.
 "According to his ability" is two words in Greek: kathōs, "as," and euporeō, "to prosper financially, have plenty, be well off" (BDAG 410), used only here in the New Testament. A similar idea occurs in 1 Corinthians 16:2 regarding the collection for the poor to be collected and taken to Jerusalem: "in keeping with his income" (NIV), "as he may prosper" (ESV), euodoō, literally, "be led along a good road," here in the sense, "have things turn out well, prosper, succeed" (BDAG 410).
 F.F. Bruce (Paul: Apostle of the Heart Set Free (Eerdmans, 1977), p. 151) and N.T. Wright (Paul: A Biography, (HarperOne, 2018), pp. 95-100) both see the Galatians 2:1-5 visit as prior to the First Missionary Journey, and different from the visit at the Jerusalem Council, but we can't be sure.
 Born in 11 BC, Herod Agrippa I is the grandson of Herod the Great and son of Aristobulus. After his father is executed in 7 BC, the young Agrippa is sent to Rome where he grows up among friends of the imperial family. Later he develops a careless and extravagant lifestyle accumulating many debts. When he falls out of favor with the emperor in 23 AD, Agrippa is forced to leave Rome and retire quietly to Maltha, a Herodian fortress in Idumea, reneging on his many debts. His uncle Herod Antipas (who rules Galilee and Perea from 4 BC to 39 AD) provides him with a house and small civil service position in his uncle's capital city of Tiberias on the west bank of Galilee from about 27 to 30 AD. When Agrippa quarrels with his uncle Herod Antipas, he returns to Rome. After some ill-chosen words in Rome, he is imprisoned by Emperor Tiberius about 36 AD. When his friend Gaius Caligula becomes emperor in 37 AD, Agrippa is restored to favor, given expensive gifts, and rulership over the Tetrarchy of Philip northeast of the Sea of Galilee, as well as several honorary titles. When Herod Agrippa comes to his territory in Palestine in 38 AD with the title of "king," his uncle Herod Antipas is jealous. Agrippa accuses his uncle Herod Antipas of treason. Subsequently, Antipas falls from favor and Emperor Caligula gives Agrippa his uncle's territory and property in Galilee and Perea. For helping Claudius become emperor in 41 AD after Caligula's assassination, Agrippa is given Judea and Samaria in addition to his other domains. For more see H. W. Hoehner, "Herod," ISBE 2:696-697.
 Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33.
 Matthew 20:20-23; Mark 10:35-38.
 Luke 9:52-56.
 The KJV gives this as "Easter," but the Greek text specifies pascha, "Passover"(NIV, ESV, NRSV; (BDAG 784, 1).
 "Earnestly/earnest" (NIV, ESV), "fervent" (NRSV) is the adverb ektenōs, "pertaining to being persevering, eagerly, fervently, constantly" (BDAG 310). Also in 1 Peter 1:22 describing love for the brothers, and in Luke 22:44 describing Jesus' prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. "Without ceasing" (KJV) is the adjective ektenēs, "pertaining to being persevering, with implication that one does not waver in one's display of interest or devotion, eager, earnest" (BDAG 310). There is a textual variant here. The earliest and best texts read ektenōs (P74 ℵ Aid B vg, etc.), while the KJV reads ektenēs (following A2 E H L P). Metzger says "it is more likely that the adverb would be altered to the adjective than vice versa (Metzger, Textual Commentary, p. 346).
 "Squads of four soldiers each" (NIV), "squads" (ESV, NRSV), "quaternions" (KJV) is the plural noun tetradion, "a detachment/squad of four soldiers," one for each of four night watches (BDAG 1001).
 "Servant girl" (NIV, ESV), "maid" (NRSV), "damsel" (KJV) is the noun paidiskē, the diminutive of pais, "girl," in the New Testament always of the slave class, "female slave" (BDAG 749).
 "Out of your mind" (NIV, ESV, NRSV), "mad" (KJV) is present middle indicative of the verb mainomai, "be mad, be out of one's mind," here, "You're crazy," said to one who has brought incredible news (BDAG 610).
 Bruce, Acts, p. 253, fn. 14. See Matthew 18:10. Marshall (Acts, p. 222, f. 26) cites Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch (1928), vol. 2, p. 707.
 "Brothers" (NIV, ESV, cf. KJV), "believers" (NRSV) is the plural of adelphos, "brother." The plural can also mean "brothers and sisters" (BDAG 18, 1).
 Galatians 1:19; 2:9; Acts 15:13; 21:18; 1 Corinthians 15:17. James is said to have been martyred during the time of Roman procurator Lucceius Albinus (ruled 62 to 64 AD; Josephus, Antiquities, 20.9.1; Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 2.23).
 "Commotion" (NIV, NRSV), "disturbance" (ESV), "stir" (KJV) is the noun tarachos, "a state of mental agitation" or "a state of civic unrest, disturbance, commotion" (BDAG 991, 1).
 "Cross-examined" (NIV), "examined" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the aorist active participle of anakrinō, "question," here, "to conduct a judicial hearing, hear a case, question," an administrative term (BDAG 66, 2).
 "Trusted personal servant" (NIV), "chamberlain" (ESV, NRSV, KJV) is the noun koitōn, bedroom," used as part of a title, "the one in charge of the bed-chamber, the chamberlain" (BDAG 554).
 Marshall, Acts, p. 225; Josephus, Antiquities 19.8.2.
 Tertullian, Apologeticum, near the end of this short letter.
 "Continued to increase" (NIV, NRSV), "increased" (ESV), "grew" (KJV) is the imperfect active of the verb auxanō, "to become greater, grow, increase," used three times in Acts of the word of God (Acts 6:7; 12:24; and 19:20; BDAG 151, 2). "Spread" (NIV), "multiplied" (ESV, KJV), "gain adherents" (NRSV) is the imperfect active of the verb plēthunō, "to increase greatly in number, grow, increase," also in Acts 6:1 (BDAG 826, 2).
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