Acts chapter 12

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6On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. 7And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly stood near Peter, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him, saying, 'Get up quickly.' And his chains fell off his hands. 8And the angel said to him, 'Put on your belt and strap on your sandals.' And he did so. And he *said to him, 'Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.' 9And he went out and continued to follow, and yet he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10Now when they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 11When Peter came to himself, he said, 'Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.' 12And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13When he knocked at the door of the gate, a slave woman named Rhoda came to answer. 14When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. 15They said to her, 'You are out of your mind!' But she kept insisting that it was so. They said, 'It is his angel.' 16But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. 17But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, 'Report these things to James and the brothers.' Then he left and went to another place.
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What does Acts chapter 12 mean?

Acts 12 is the last chapter of the book of Acts that places the apostles, specifically Peter, in the center of the narrative. The church is well-established in Jerusalem and deepening its base in Judea and Samaria. Already, Gentiles are coming to Christ on the coastal city of Caesarea Maritima and far north in Syrian Antioch. It is almost time for the gospel to spread farther.

Acts 12:1–5 gives us the only time an apostle's death is explicitly recorded in Scripture. Church tradition claims to know when and how the others died. For example, Peter was reportedly crucified upside-down and John survived being burned in boiling oil and died of natural causes. Biblically, however, we only know for certain about James, the brother of John and son of Zebedee (Mark 1:19–20). According to Josephus' writing, Herod Agrippa I was one of the few of Herod the Great's progeny who understood and catered to Jewish religious leadership. Here we see Herod Agrippa I arrest and behead James, and then imprison Peter.

Acts 12:6–11 records Peter's dramatic rescue. Peter is in prison in Jerusalem—probably in the Fortress Antonia—chained between two soldiers, when an angel appears and tells him to get up. The chains fall off, and the angel reminds Peter to dress. He does so and follows the angel past several guards and into the city. The angel disappears and Peter finally realizes he's not dreaming.

In Acts 12:12–19, Peter rushes to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark and possible owner of the upper room. Several Jesus-followers, apparently not apostles, are there praying for Peter's release when they hear a knock. A servant girl named Rhoda answers but is so flummoxed she leaves him outside as she runs to tell the other Jesus-followers. After arguing as to whether it is really Peter, they let him in, and he explains what has happened. Peter tells them to relay the story to James, the half-brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church, and the other church leaders, before going into hiding. Peter will appear only once more in the book of Acts, in chapter 15 where a council of leaders determine if Gentile Jesus-followers should be required to follow the Jewish law.

Acts 12:20–25 describes the death of Herod Agrippa I. Grandson of Herod the Great, he was appreciated by the Jewish leadership in part because he convinced his friend, Emperor Caligula, not to install a statue of himself in the temple. He also read the Law to the Jews, endearing himself to the Pharisees. Ancient historians such as Josephus indicate that it was during a disagreement with Tyre and Sidon, on the second day of games Agrippa is hosting for Caesar in Caesarea Maritima, when he enters the arena and gives a speech wearing a robe made with silver thread. The sun catches the silver making him glow, and the people cry out, "The voice of a god, and not of a man!" (Acts 12:22). While it seems at another time Herod Agrippa I might have had the humility to deny their praises, this day he accepts them. An angel strikes him down. According to ancient historian Josephus, Agrippa's death involved five days of excruciating pain from an undiagnosed ailment that involves internal worms. In contrast, the church is growing. Barnabas and Saul deliver the support the church in Syrian Antioch collected for the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 11:27–30), update the church leaders, and return to Syrian Antioch.

In Acts 12, the focus of the book transitions from the apostles to Paul. The chapter begins with the first death of an apostle and ends with the death of a Roman territorial king. We also see God's miraculous rescue of Peter. In chapters 13 and 14, Paul and Barnabas embark on their first missionary trip—specifically to the island of Cyprus and the central region of modern-day Asia Minor. In Acts 15, they will return to Jerusalem for guidance from the church leaders about the requirements for Gentile Jesus-followers. Acts 16—20 cover the second and third trips, and chapters 21—28 Paul's arrest, imprisonment in Caesarea Maritima, and sea voyage to Rome. Despite James' death and Peter's arrest, the church is spreading.
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