Reading Acts 12 in preparation for my SG’s Bible Study last week was like reading the script of a drama series – how much attention did we pay to what happened to the apostles?
First is the martyring of James, followed by Peter’s jailbreak, and who was almost turned away by his friends who were actually praying for him! And a few verses later you have the horrific end of an arrogant king – chewed up by worms!
The chapter is a watershed for the book of Acts, and perhaps for the early church. From here, Peter fades away, (presumably to minister to the Jews), and Paul takes the stage, along with other prominent characters who impacted the development of the early church – James, Peter, Herod, John Mark, Barnabas and Paul. Let’s try to look at each one of them and their roles.
In Matthew 20, James’ mother came to Jesus to request that he and his brother John be seated by His side in His kingdom. James wanted a crown of glory; yet Jesus gave him a cup of suffering. He wanted power; Jesus gave him servanthood. He wanted a place of prominence; was given a martyr’s grave. Some years after this, James would become the first of the Twelve to be killed for his faith.
Peter probably went into hiding as he “went to another place” (Acts 12.17) after being delivered by an angel, and that was essentially the last we saw of him. Except for a brief appearance in Acts 15, Peter leaves the scene as the rest of Acts evolves around Paul and his ministry amongst Gentiles.
There were a number of Herods, and the first of them known as Herod the Great. He sought to kill Jesus in Matthew 2 by slaughtering all the infant boys. He also tried to enlist the wise men to reveal the whereabouts of the baby Jesus. His son Herod Antipas had John the Baptist beheaded (Matthew 14). Herod Agrippa I, mentioned here in chapter 12, was the grandson of Herod the Great, responsible for the death of James. Just when he, a man, thinks he has exalted himself to the place of glory, God crushes him to a place of humility – eaten alive by worms. However, his son, Herod Agrippa II, went down a different path, and was instrumental in saving Paul from being tried and imprisoned in Jerusalem by the Jews. He allowed Paul the opportunity to preach the gospel to all who were assembled (Acts 25—26).
John Mark, often just called Mark, whose house was being used as a place for believers to gather and pray, was also Barnabas’ cousin (Colossians 4:10). On the first missionary journey with Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13:5), he deserted the pair in Pamphylia and left the work (Acts 15:38). It’s likely that the young Mark was discouraged by the trying conditions during the trip and decided to return to the comforts of home. On the second trip Paul was weary of Mark would not follow through again, but Barnabas, ever the encourager, wanted to give him a second chance. They had a “sharp disagreement” (Acts 15.39) and wound up separating from each other and going on separate journeys. Thus something good came out of the “sharp disagreement”- 2 teams, 2 trips instead of 1. Mark would go on to be an accepted companion and co-worker of Paul. He also wrote the gospel that bears his name.
The apostles’ lives were certainly not uneventful, nor without hazard, and despite these, we can see the hand of God in guiding them to lay foundations of His Kingdom on earth. And the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied (Acts 12.24). Regardless!