Acts Lesson Twenty-nine

Acts Lesson Twenty-nine: Acts 14:1-28 – The First Missionary Journey Completed

The same thing happened in Iconium; they entered the Jewish synagogue and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. But the Jews who refused to believe stirred up and poisoned the minds of the Gentiles against the brothers. So they stayed there for some time and spoke boldly in reliance on the Lord, who testified to the message of His grace by granting that signs and wonders be performed through them.  But the people of the city were divided, some siding with the Jews and some with the apostles. When an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to assault and stone them, they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian towns called Lystra and Derbe, and to the surrounding countryside. And there they kept evangelizing. 

In Lystra a man without strength in his feet, lame from birth, and who had never walked, sat and heard Paul speaking. After observing him closely and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 Paul said in a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet!” And he jumped up and started to walk around. 

11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voices, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in the form of men!” 12 And they started to call Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the main speaker. 13 Then the priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the town, brought oxen and garlands to the gates. He, with the crowds, intended to offer sacrifice. 

14 The apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their robes when they heard this and rushed into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Men! Why are you doing these things? We are men also, with the same nature as you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. 16 In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own way, 17 although He did not leave Himself without a witness, since He did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and satisfying your hearts with food and happiness.” 18 Even though they said these things, they barely stopped the crowds from sacrificing to them. 

19 Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they had won over the crowds and stoned Paul, they dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead. 20 After the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe. 

21 After they had evangelized that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to pass through many troubles on our way into the kingdom of God.” 

23 When they had appointed elders in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed. 24 Then they passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 After they spoke the message in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed back to Antioch where they had been entrusted to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 After they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported everything God had done with them and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they spent a considerable time with the disciples. (HCSB)

This lesson will be divided into three sections.

  • The work in Iconium – verses 1-7.
  • The work in Lystra – verses 8-20.
  • The return trip to Antioch – verses 21-28.

The Work in Iconium

Before we dig into this section, let’s look at some background information on the city of Iconium.

  • It was located about 90 miles southeast of Antioch.
  • It was located on the main route that connected Ephesus with Syria and Mesopotamia.
  • It was located on a plateau about 3,300 feet in elevation.
    • There were forests and plains to the south.
    • There were mountains to the north.
  • It contained a strong Greek emphasis.
  • It also contained a heavy Roman influence. 
    • In A.D. 41, its name was changed to Claudiconium by the emperor Claudius.
    • It was considered an honor for a city to be named after the emperor.
  • Paul and Barnabas encountered a cultural mixture; native Phrygians, Greeks, and Jews dating back to the Seleucid period and Roman colonists.
  • From a geographical standpoint, it was an ideal place in an otherwise unattractive location.  

Paul and Barnabas followed their standard pattern.

  • They first went to the city synagogue.
  • They evangelized to the collection of Jews and Gentiles who were gathered there.
  • A significant number of both groups believed in Jesus.

However, just as in Antioch, they met opposition to the message of the Gospel.

  • The Jews who chose not to believe incited the Gentiles against Paul and Barnabas.
  • In contrast to Antioch, Paul and Barnabas “stayed for some time.”
    • Luke is often ambiguous in assigning a specific period of time to various events.
    • Here, the amount of time they spent was likely weeks to months.
    • Regardless of the amount of time they stayed, they relied on the power of the Holy Spirit to enable them to speak boldly to the people.
  • They performed “signs and wonders” while they were there.
  • However, the populace was still divided; some believed, and some were in opposition.

Those who opposed Paul and Barnabas decided to take action.

  • The opposition grew stronger, and they decided to take deliberate and strong action.
  • The group contained three elements.
    • The Jews who opposed the Gospel.
    • The Gentiles who were incited by the Jews.
    • The rulers, which likely refers to the civil authorities in the city.
  • From the context of verse five, it would appear that the action taken was not through deliberate legal action. Instead, it would appear that a riotous mob mentality had consumed those in opposition to the message, driving them to take drastic action.
  • Once Paul and Barnabas learned of the threat to their lives, they left to the Lycaonian region and the towns of Lystra and Derbe.
    • Lystra was approximately twenty miles south of Iconium.
    • Derbe was approximately sixty miles southeast of Lystra.
    • Since there were no other significant towns in the area, the phrase “surrounding countryside” may refer to smaller pockets of people they met on their journey. 
  • As they traveled from Iconium to the Lycaonian region, they evangelized along the way.

The work in Lystra

Before we start digging into this section, let’s look at some information regarding the town of Lystra.

  • The remains of the city were found only recently, in 1885, near the modern village of Khatyn Serai.
  • It was located about eighteen miles southwest of Iconium.
  • It was in the hill country and surrounded by mountains.
  • In Paul’s time, it was a small country town.
  • Its primary significance was as a Roman military outpost, and because of that, it was given the status of a colony in 6 B.C. 
  • A Roman military road connected it to Pisidian Antioch, about 100 miles to the northwest.
  • The population consisted primarily of Roman military veterans.
  • There was no synagogue in the town.
  • The residents followed pagan idolatry and knew neither Jewish religion nor Greek philosophy.
  • The setting required Paul and Barnabas to “contextualize” the Gospel to the people of Lystra.

We’ll now look at this passage, divided into four sections.

  • The lame man’s response to the Gospel – verses 8-10.
  • The crowd’s response to the lame man – verses 11-13.
  • The Apostle’s response to the crowd – verses 14-19.
  • The disciples’ response to Paul – verse 20.

Verses 8-10.

Just as in Acts 3, Paul here cures a man who had been lame from birth. This is a key discriminator. If he had become lame because of an injury or sickness, the healing, still significant, would not have carried the same weight as someone who was born lame and is now able to walk. 

The word “speaking” means ordinary conversation in the original Greek. We can infer that the lame man heard Paul evangelizing the crowd and something in his demeanor convinced Paul that the man had at least some measure of faith in the message being preached. Hearing the message produced faith, just as is written in Romans 10:17 So faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the message about Christ. One difference from the earlier miraculous healings is that the name of Jesus wasn’t proclaimed, although we know that is the power through which the lame man was healed. However, the people at Lystra, being pagan and without any exposure to the living God, react in a way that was not expected.

Verses 11-13.

This is the first time in Acts that a crowd reacted in this way to a miraculous sign. However, we shouldn’t be surprised by this at would be normal for those who are accustomed to worshipping false gods. A key point that Luke mentions is that the residents of Lystra spoke in their own language, Lycaonian, which was not understood by Paul and Barnabas. If they had understood what was being said, there is no doubt they would have stopped their wrong understanding of the healing immediately. Let’s look at a few points about this section.

  • The residents believe the “gods” have visited them.
  • They even identified which gods they were.
    • Barnabas was identified as Zeus, possibly because of his physical stature.
    • Paul was identified as Hermes, the Greed god of oratory and the inventor of speech. Since Paul was doing the majority of the speaking, this connection makes sense.
  • Zeus was the patron deity of the city, which afforded the priest of the temple a great opportunity to become important and lead the people in honoring their “god.”
  • There was also a localized ancient legend that said that Zeus and Hermes once descended to earth in human form.
  • Paul and Barnabas may have been initially unaware of the details of the reaction of the residents. However, once the priest of the temple arrived with oxen and garlands, along with a crowd, to sacrifice, the situation became clear. The residents thought that Paul and Barnabas were “gods” and intended to honor them.

Verses 14-19

At this point in the narrative, both Paul and Barnabas are fully aware that the crowd believes they are worthy of worship and the priest, along with the crowd, plans on honoring them with a sacrifice. However, the reaction of Paul and Barnabas likely surprised the crowd as much as two missionaries were surprised.

  • Paul and Barnabas rush into the crowd and tear their robes. The tearing of their robes is found in numerous places in the Bible.
    • It could indicate a state of mourning – Genesis 37:29.
    • It could express great distress – Joshua 7:6.
    • It could be a protest against a perceived blasphemy – Mark 14:63.
    • The tearing of their clothes represented a strong protest and was designed to stop the intended sacrifice.
    • They were not going to accept adulation, equating them to god-like status.
  • We remember earlier in Acts where Herod Antipas was exalted as a god, accepted the adulation, and subsequently died.
  • It seems that our human nature wants to be able to reach out and touch our gods, gods in the likeness of men.
  • The same temptation occurs today. Religious leaders fall to the temptation of being revered instead of allowing God to be glorified through their ministry. All ministry leaders would do well to remember the example of Paul and Barnabas.

Once Paul and Barnabas got the attention of the crowd, they explained their protest in the form of a mini-sermon. This is the first sermon in Acts to an entirely pagan group, who believed in many gods and had no prior knowledge of the God of the Jews and Christians. Here are the points in their message.

  • They needed to start with the very basics.
    • The theological assumption of monotheism.
    • God is one – Deuteronomy 6:4.
  • This message has parallels with the message Paul gave to the Areopagus in Acts 17:22-31.
  • The introduction points to the vanity of their worship.
    • Any religion which focuses on the idea that men are gods is an empty religion.
    • The pagan polytheism was vain, empty, worthless, and idolatrous worship of a god who wasn’t a god.
      • Jeremiah 2:5 – This is what the LORD says: What fault did your fathers find in Me that they went so far from Me, followed worthless idols, and became worthless themselves?
      • Romans 1:21-23 – For though they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God or show gratitude. Instead, their thinking became nonsense, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22 Claiming to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man, birds, four-footed animals, and reptiles.
    • Paul exhorts them to turn from idol worship and turn to the living God. Paul makes three points in his message.
      • God is the creator of all life.
        • On the earth.
        • In the seas.
        • In the heavens.
        • Exodus 20:11 – For the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything in them in six days; then He rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and declared it holy. 
      • God has patience and mercy.
        • In the past, God allowed the Gentiles to go their own way.
          • They acted in ignorance.
          • They experienced no revelation.
          • They didn’t know the true God.
        • Now, God was using Paul to reveal Himself to them.
          • They now had a revelation.
          • They now had knowledge.
          • They now were accountable.
      • God always had the means to declare His power and majesty.
        • In the past, it was His works of providence; rain, harvest, and bounty.
        • In the present, it was the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
        • The pagans often spoke of the benevolence of the “gods.” 
        • Paul’s message declared that there was one God, who was the source of all creation.
  • Even after presenting the Gospel, they were barely able to stop the pagans from going ahead with their sacrifices.
  • We also see Satan at work trying to prevent the spread of the Gospel.
    • Enemies came from Antioch and Iconium to dispute with Paul and Barnabas and turn the pagan crowd against them. 
      • They were able to convince the crowd that Paul and Barnabas were two ordinary men with no special qualities about them.
      • Since Paul was the main speaker, the brunt of their wrath was directed at him.
    • There is some debate in theological circles as to whether Paul was actually dead or the crowd thought he was dead. From the context, the latter view seems to be the correct one.
    • However, it is safe to say that a miracle occurred. Paul was saved from the actions of an out-of-control mob who wanted to kill him.
  • The disciples who were there were able to protect Paul and bring him into the city, likely to be treated and get some rest.
  • Realizing it was no longer safe to stay in Lystra, they begin their journey to Derbe, about sixty miles southeast of Lystra. 
    • The journey would take several days on foot.
    • Derbe was the easternmost church established by Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey.

The return trip to Antioch

Paul and Barnabas definitely didn’t choose the easiest path to get back to Syrian Antioch. This could have been easily accomplished by traveling about 150 miles to Paul’s hometown of Tarsus and, from there, back to their sending church. Instead, they decided to retrace their steps and visit each of the congregations they established on this mission trip. The return visit would allow them to follow up and assist each of the locations with any issues that might have arisen. Looking ahead, Paul will visit each of these congregations on his next mission trip in Acts 16. Here are the key points about their return leg as they visited the previously established congregations.

  • Even though they had been threatened in the previous locations, they felt the need to return and solidify their work.
  • They were engaged in evangelism on their journey.
  • They strengthened and encouraged the faith of the young congregations. 
    • This was likely done through further teaching and preaching.
    • They were told to expect troubles as a follower of Christ but to stand firm in their faith.
    • Paul and Barnabas may even have used their experiences on this missionary journey to illustrate what the new believers could face.
    • The idea of suffering is one that Paul often used in his epistles; we must be willing to suffer with Christ if we expect to share in His glory. 
  • They organized the churches by ordaining spiritual leaders and placing responsibility for the care of the congregation on them. An elder had the same role as the modern-day pastor; they are shepherds over a flock.
    • Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for each congregation.
    • It is possible that each congregation then affirmed these elders, although the wording in the original Greek doesn’t make that point clear.
  • They prayed and fasted with each congregation before moving on.
  • Although Perga wasn’t mentioned at the beginning of the trip, they spent some time evangelizing that town.

Finally, Paul and Barnabas completed their journey back to their sending church in Antioch. The church at Antioch had commissioned them, committed them to the Lord through prayer, laid hands on them, and sent them on their journey. Now, the missionaries have returned, and they will present a report on their journey.

  • The entire church was gathered to hear the report.
  • Paul and Barnabas related how the Lord had opened the doors to Gentiles, a subject that would  be the main topic of the Jerusalem Conference in the next chapter of Acts.
  • The entire missionary trip took just over a year to complete. The phrase “a considerable time” indicates about the same amount of time.
  • Therefore, Paul and Barnabas spent about a year in Antioch before the events of the next chapter unfolded. During this year, they were hardly idle.
    • Undoubtedly they did take a period of rest after their return.
    • They were likely involved in teaching the congregation at Antioch.
    • Paul likely wrote Galatians during this period.
    • Paul also refined and clearly communicated his theology on salvation during this time.

As we look back on Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey, here are several key points they followed.

  • They worked primarily in the key cities and instructed the believers to carry the message to the more remote areas.
  • They used one approach in the synagogues and another with the Gentiles.
    • In the synagogues, they referred to the Old Testament Scripture.
    • When preaching to the Gentiles, they emphasized the God of creation and His goodness to the nations.
    • Their starting point was different, but they always finished with the need for saving faith in Jesus.
  • The establishment of local churches was critical. This aligned with the Great Commission.
    • Making disciples – evangelism.
    • Baptizing – the responsibility of a local church.
    • Teaching the Word of God.
  • Paul and Barnabas were involved in extensive teaching to the congregations. This never included the idea of an easy or prosperous Gospel.
  • They did all this without modern communication and transportation.


  • Before beginning any ministry work, make sure that it’s God’s plan and not your plan. Everything we do in ministry should be for His glory, not our ego. If you align with God, your work will prosper and last.
  • Make sure you have a clear plan for your ministry work. During our five years in the mission field in Thailand, we ran across some who just “winged” it. It wasn’t a surprise they didn’t experience much success in their work. The God of the Bible is an organized God. When we do God’s work, there should be some level of organization to what we do.
  • Expect resistance as you are involved in ministry. Some of the opposition may be mild, but some may be strong. Hopefully, none of us will experience a stoning, but Scripture makes it clear that as we evangelize the Gospel message, the world will hate us.
  • Always truthfully report your ministry work to those who sent you and support you. While in Thailand, I ran across some missionaries who “embellished” the work they were doing. Be truthful about your results. On the flip side, if you support any missionaries, realize there will be dry times. Evangelism can be a lengthy process. God works in His time, not ours.

Acts Lesson Twenty-eight

Acts Lesson Twenty-eight: 13:13-52 – Paul’s Message in Antioch Pisidia

Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. John, however, left them and went back to Jerusalem. 14 They continued their journey from Perga and reached Antioch in Pisidia. On the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. 15 After the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the leaders of the synagogue sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have any message of encouragement for the people, you can speak.” 

16 Then Paul stood up and motioned with his hand and said: “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen! 17 The God of this people Israel chose our ancestors, exalted the people during their stay in the land of Egypt, and led them out of it with a mighty arm.  18 And for about 40 years He put up with them  in the wilderness; 19 then after destroying seven nations in the land of Canaan, He gave their land to them as an inheritance. 20 This all took about 450 years. After this, He gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. 21 Then they asked for a king, so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for 40 years. 22 After removing him, He raised up David as their king and testified about him: ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man loyal to Me, who will carry out all My will.’ 

23 “From this man’s descendants, according to the promise, God brought the Savior, Jesus, to Israel. 24 Before He came to public attention, John had previously proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 Then as John was completing his life’s work, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not the One. But look! Someone is coming after me, and I am not worthy to untie the sandals on His feet.’ 

26 “Brothers, sons of Abraham’s race, and those among you who fear God, the message of this salvation has been sent to us. 27 For the residents of Jerusalem and their rulers, since they did not recognize Him or the voices of the prophets that are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled their words by condemning Him. 28 Though they found no grounds for the death penalty, they asked Pilate to have Him killed. 29 When they had fulfilled all that had been written about Him, they took Him down from the tree and put Him in a tomb. 30 But God raised Him from the dead, 31 and He appeared for many days to those who came with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now His witnesses to the people. 32 And we ourselves proclaim to you the good news of the promise that was made to our ancestors. 33 God has fulfilled this for us, their children, by raising up Jesus, as it is written in the second Psalm: 

You are My Son; 

today I have become Your Father.  

34 Since He raised Him from the dead, never to return to decay, He has spoken in this way, I will grant you the faithful covenant blessings made to David. 35 Therefore He also says in another passage, You will not allow Your Holy One to see decay. 36 For David, after serving his own generation in God’s plan, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and decayed.  37 But the One God raised up did not decay. 38 Therefore, let it be known to you, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is being proclaimed to you, 39 and everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything that you could not be justified from through the law of Moses. 40 So beware that what is said in the prophets does not happen to you: 

41 Look, you scoffers, 

marvel and vanish away, 

because I am doing a work in your days, 

a work that you will never believe, 

even if someone were to explain it to you.”

42 As they were leaving, the people begged that these matters be presented to them the following Sabbath. 43 After the synagogue had been dismissed, many of the Jews and devout proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who were speaking with them and persuading them to continue in the grace of God. 

44 The following Sabbath almost the whole town assembled to hear the message of the Lord. 45 But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began to oppose what Paul was saying by insulting him. 

46 Then Paul and Barnabas boldly said: “It was necessary that God’s message be spoken to you first. But since you reject it and consider yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles! 47 For this is what the Lord has commanded us: 

I have made you 

a light for the Gentiles 

to bring salvation 

to the ends  of the earth.”

48 When the Gentiles heard this, they rejoiced and glorified the message of the Lord, and all who had been appointed to eternal life believed. 49 So the message of the Lord spread through the whole region. 50 But the Jews incited the prominent women, who worshiped God, and the leading men of the city. They stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas and expelled them from their district. 51 But they shook the dust off their feet  against them and went to Iconium. 52 And the disciples were filled with joy and the Holy Spirit. (HCSB)

In this passage, we see Paul’s first detailed sermon in Acts. In it, we see many similarities with Peter’s sermons to the Jews. It also contains a feature that Stephen included in his defense before the Sanhedrin, a lengthy introduction of Jewish history. Later, when Paul focuses on the Gentiles, his sermon outline will change.

There are four main sections to this passage.

  • A Historical Foundation – verses 13-25.
  • A Universal Gospel – verses 26-37.
  • An Explanation of Biblical Forgiveness – verses 38-43.
  • Paul’s Evangelism Shift from Jews to Gentiles –  verses 44-52.

Before we get into the passage, let’s look at some information regarding the two main locations where the events take place, the cities of Perga and Antioch of Pisidia.

  • Perga
    • It was located about twelve miles inland from the coast.
    • It was between the Taurus mountains and the Mediterranean Sea.
    • Lycia was to the west and Cilicia to the east.
    • The province of Pamphylia became a separate Roman province in 25 b.c.
    • It could be reached by traveling seven miles up the Cestrus River from the Mediterranean port of Attalia and then fives miles west on foot.
  • Antioch of Pisidia
    • It was located 100 miles north of Perga.
    • It required the crossing of the Taurus mountain range.
    • The route was barren and often was flooded by mountain streams.
    • Bandits often attacked the route, and even the Romans had difficulty keeping security along the route.
    • It was located about 3,600 feet above sea level.
    • It was one of sixteen cities established around 300 b.c. by Seleucus Nikator in honor of his father, Antiochus.
    • It was located in the Roman province of Galatia.
    • It was the leading city in the southern part of the province.
    • It had the status of a colony city, which enjoyed the privileges of local autonomy and exemption from paying imperial taxes.
    • There was a large Jewish population located there.

One other issue brought up in the first verse needs addressing, John Mark leaving them and returning to Jerusalem. There are many possible reasons for his return. Here are some that scholars think are possible.

  • He may have become homesick.
  • He may have become unhappy because Paul had assumed the mantle of leadership that his cousin, Barnabas, had previously occupied.
  • John Mark was a devoted Jew, and he may have become uncomfortable with the idea of Gentiles receiving salvation. Coupled with this thought, his return to Jerusalem helped fuel the opposition of the legalistic Judaizers who later opposed Paul.
  • The fear of danger as the group moved into new and challenging areas.
  • He may have contracted malaria in the Pamphylian lowlands.
  • In the end, we don’t know the reason or reasons.

A Historical Foundation – verses 13-25

It was customary for Paul and Barnabas first to visit the local synagogue when visiting a city. For the Jews scattered during the Diaspora, the synagogue was more than a place of worship. It was the focal point for the local Jewish community; a house of worship, a center of education, a judicial center, a social gathering place, and a general “civic center.” If contact with the Jewish community was intended, this was the place to start. It was also the place to begin evangelism. Since Jesus was the expected Jewish Messiah, it was natural to share Him first with the Jews. It is also possible that the synagogue leaders extended an invitation for Paul to speak.

Let’s compare Paul’s sermon with others found in Acts.

  • It has much in common with Peter’s sermons.
    • The emphasis on the Jerusalem Jew’s responsibility for Jesus’ death.
    • The contrast between the death on the cross and the triumph of the resurrection.
    • The apostolic witness.
    • The Scripture text proofs.
    • The call to repentance.
  • It also has a feature in common with Stephen’s speech before the Sanhedrin.
    • The long introductory picture of Jewish history.
    • However, the two have very different functions for the history lesson.
      • Stephen used Old Testament history to illustrate the rebellious nature of the Jews to their divinely appointed leaders.
      • Paul used Old Testament history to demonstrate God’s faithfulness to His promises for Israel that were ultimately fulfilled in Jesus.
        • God chose Israel – verse 17.
        • God exalted Israel during their time in Egypt – verse 17.
        • God led them out of Egypt – verse 17.
        • God displayed patience – verse 18.
        • God gave them Canaan as an inheritance – verse 19.
        • God gave them Judges – verse 20.
        • God gave them a king – verse 21.
        • God raised up David – verse 22.
          • “Raised up” is an expression for bringing forth a prophet or ruler to serve the people.
          • It is also an expression for Jesus’ resurrection.
          • The promised descendant of David was Jesus.

Here are some facts to note about the sermon.

  • Paul understood there were two main groups in attendance.
    • Men of Israel – the Jews.
      • The primary group being addressed.
      • The group who ultimately rejected the message and became hostile.
    • You who fear God – Gentiles who worshipped Yahweh.
      • The secondary group who is being addressed.
      • The group that would respond favorably to the Gospel message.

A Universal Gospel – verses 26-37

For the second time in Paul’s sermon, he addressed those in attendance as “brothers.” Since both Jews and Gentiles were gathered, it is clear that anyone is a brother if they are united in faith in Jesus regardless of ethnicity. 

A supporting idea to this section of the passage is that just as David was Jesse’s son, Jesus is God’s son. Because of this connection, Paul’s message stresses the crucifixion, resurrection, and eyewitness testimony of Jesus being alive to confirm the truth and meaning of the Gospel. Paul presents a fourfold Christian confession that is strikingly similar to 1 Corinthians 15:3-5.

  • Jesus was crucified.
  • He was buried in a tomb.
  • God raised Him from the dead.
  • Many witness saw Him.

Paul quotes three passages of Scripture in this section.

  • Psalm 2:7 – referring to the resurrection of Jesus.
  • Isaiah 55:3 – referring to the covenant God made with David.
  • Psalm 16:10 – the same passage Peter quoted in Acts 2 and considered a messianic psalm, indicating it applied to Jesus and not to David.

An Explanation of Biblical Forgiveness – verses 38-43

For the third time, Paul addresses those in attendance as “brothers.” He now turns to the most essential part of his message, a call to repentance. Paul had illustrated God’s continuous acts of grace and mercy throughout his sermon. Now, Paul directs the listeners to the greatest act of mercy, the forgiveness of sins through the sacrificial atonement of Jesus. In verse thirty-nine, Paul reaches the pinnacle of his message, “everyone who believes in Him is justified from everything that you could not be justified from through the Law of Moses.” 

Several points to note about this section.

  • Paul emphasizes that faith in Jesus is the sole requirement for salvation.
  • We are justified when we place our faith in Jesus. Justification is understood as being acceptable to God.
  • We could never be justified by following the Law.
  • Paul concludes his call to repentance with a warning taken from Habakkuk 1:5.
    • The original intent in Habakkuk was a warning of King Nebuchadnezzar’s rise to power and threat of invasion if Israel failed to repent.
    • In the context of Paul’s message, God would again bring judgment on His people if they failed to accept the mercy and forgiveness found in Jesus.
    • If the people continued to reject the offered mercy, they would also be rejected.
    • This warning quickly proved true as the Jews in Antioch Pisidia rejected the message, and Paul turned to the Gentiles.

This section concludes with the people leaving after Paul completed his sermon. Those in attendance were impressed with what Paul had said and “begged” for the message to continue on the next Sabbath meeting. As they were walking, both Paul and Barnabas encouraged them to continue down the path they had started. At this point, it would appear that both the Jews and Gentiles were looking forward to the following week’s meeting. However, things will change significantly once the meeting begins on the next Sabbath.

Paul’s Evangelism Shift from Jews to Gentiles –  verses 44-52

As we begin the discussion on this final section, it is important to remember that Antioch Pisidia was a predominately Gentile city with a Jewish component. When verse forty-four says that “almost the whole town assembled,” that would indicate the crowd was predominately Gentile. Because of this, the Jews in attendance became jealous. We see here how the unity in Christ is challenged and that a rift will cause a group, the Jews, to reject the message because of a jealous heart. We also see how the enemy works. The previous week, Paul and Barnabas enjoyed great success in their message. Now, as they gathered again, hopeful of more souls being saved, the enemy crashes the party and sows dissension among those in attendance. 

Let’s look at some details in this section.

  • The “devout proselytes,” Gentiles, understood that the message of salvation through Jesus was also available to them.
  • This message would have spread quickly among the Gentile population, resulting in their large turnout on this Sabbath.
  • The Jews were filled with jealousy. 
  • The Jews began to oppose the message Paul was delivering. It is possible they were even speaking against the Gospel message.
  • In the minds of the Jewish population, it was blasphemy that in Jesus, God would accept the Gentiles as equals with the Jews.
  • This effectively ended the Jew’s acceptance of Paul as an evangelist.

Verses 46-48 outline a pattern that Paul would follow on his missionary journeys. We often hear or read that Paul only evangelized the Gentiles, but this would be incorrect.

  • At the very beginning of chapter fourteen, Paul begins in the local synagogue.
  • He repeatedly was rejected by the Jews in any given city. Once that occurred, he turned to the Gentiles.
  • Paul could never believe that God had completely turned from the Jews.
  • Paul’s greatest success in evangelism was with the Gentiles, but he never turned his back on the Jews.
  • Paul includes a section from Isaiah to support salvation to the Gentiles.
  • When the Gentiles heard this, they rightly rejoiced.
  • From this, we see an example of how the modern church should approach evangelism. We should never adopt a mission policy that only targets those who are most receptive to the Gospel message. All people groups should be evangelized, regardless of the previous success or failure in reaching them.

The chapter ends with a summary of what had transpired in Antioch Pisidia.

  • The success.
    • The message spread throughout the whole region.
    • The Gentiles understood that they were included in salvation by faith.
    • The Gentiles were equal with the Jews before God.
    • Those who placed their faith in Jesus were filled with the Holy Spirit and with joy.
  • The opposition.
    • The Jews, in their jealousy, stirred up opposition and persecution against Paul and Barnabas.
    • Paul and Barnabas were expelled from the  area, likely with threats.
    • Paul and Barnabas pronounce judgment by shaking “the dust off their feet against them” as they leave the region and travel to Iconium.


  • Are you willing to share the Gospel where God leads you? This past week I gave a message at a Word of Life high school camp here in South Korea. The message was on the topic of “Grow” as it applied to the life of each disciple. I shared that all of us are either missionaries in some sense, or we are false followers of Jesus. The crux is that we can be missionaries to our neighbors next door; we don’t have to go to another country. Of course, if God leads you to another location, obedience is required.
  • The Gospel message is for everyone. There are no longer any special groups of people when it comes to sharing the message of Jesus. Jesus died for each of us, regardless of race, color, gender, socio-economic status, education, or age.
  • If a group rejects your message, concentrate on those who do respond. However, never give up on a group just because some choose to reject or even become hostile to the message.

Acts Lesson Twenty-seven

Acts Lesson Twenty-seven: Acts 13:1-12 – Missionary Work Begins

In the church that was at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch,  and Saul. 

As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to.”  Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.

Being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they came down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. Arriving in Salamis, they proclaimed God’s message in the Jewish synagogues. They also had John as their assistant. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came across a sorcerer, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man summoned Barnabas and Saul and desired to hear God’s message. But Elymas the sorcerer (this is the meaning of his name) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 

Then Saul—also called Paul—filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at the sorcerer 10 and said, “You son of the Devil, full of all deceit and all fraud, enemy of all righteousness! Won’t you ever stop perverting the straight paths of the Lord? 11 Now, look! The Lord’s hand is against you. You are going to be blind, and will not see the sun for a time.” Suddenly a mist and darkness fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. 

12 Then the proconsul, seeing what happened, believed and was astonished at the teaching about the Lord. (HCSB)

This lesson will be split into two sections.

  • Missionary preparation – verses 1-3.
  • Missionary journey – verses 4-12.

Missionary Preparation

As the narrative in Acts has progressed, there has been a shift from Jerusalem and the Jews to Antioch and the Gentiles. As a reminder, the Antioch referred to here is along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea and not in Syria. A few things to note from these first few verses.

  • Prophet – this is a reference to a New Testament prophet. These prophets spoke for God and were led by the Holy Spirit. They spoke an inspiring word from God for the edification and direction of the community.
  • Teachers – these individuals taught what was contained in Scripture (still Old Testament) and what Jesus taught.
  • The New Testament program for the sending of missionaries.
    • God calls those whom He chooses.
    • The church certifies the call.
    • The church and the Holy Spirit sent the missionaries out, backing them with support and prayer.

Let’s look at the men listed in verse one.

  • Barnabas – We already know about Barnabas from earlier sections of Acts. It appears that he was the leader of the Antioch church.
  • Simeon the Niger – His first name is Jewish, and his other name is Latin. In Latin, “Niger” means dark-complexioned or black, and some believe he was of African descent. Some also believe he was the Simon of Cyrene, mentioned in Luke 23:26, who carried Jesus’ cross, and he had two sons, Alexandria and Rufus, who were Christians in the church at Rome (Mark 15:21 and Romans 16:13).
  • Lucius of Cyrene – He is often associated with Luke amongst scholars, but no solid evidence supports this.
  • Manaen – The Greek term for “close friend” indicates someone who grew up with another individual. This indicates that Manaen was of a relatively high social standing and had at least a childhood relationship with Herod Antipas.
  • Paul – We already know about Paul, and from this point forward, he becomes the main human focal point in Acts.

A couple of things to note about Barnabas and Paul.

  • Throughout Acts, they fell under the authority of the congregation at Antioch. 
  • They were commissioned, not ordained, for specific missionary projects.

Missionary Journey

Before we begin breaking down this next section, it would be wise to review what Jesus said in Matthew 13:24-30 and 36-43. In those passages, Jesus warns that wherever His believers are, the enemy would plant false believers. We see that occur in this section of the passage.

A few facts about John Mark before proceeding.

  • He was the cousin of Barnabas – Colossians 4:10.
  • His mother’s home in Jerusalem was a place where believers gathered – Acts 12:12.
  • It is likely that Peter is the one who evangelized and led him to faith in Christ – 1 Peter 5:13.
  • It is safe to infer that he helped both Barnabas and Paul in numerous ways, allowing them to concentrate on their call to evangelism.

The first stop on their journey was Cyprus, the home of Barnabas. Not much detail is given about their initial work in Salamis, the main commercial center on the eastern part of the island. As they continued their missionary journey, they traveled about ninety miles to Paphos, located on the western end of the island and the capital of Cyprus. It was there that they met their first opposition.

Now, let’s look at the people, outside of Barnabas and Paul, involved in the narrative.

  • Sergius Paulus.
    • The chief Roman official on Cyprus.
    • He was an intelligent man.
    • He was part of a family, Pauli, that was an influential Roman patrician family who produced many officials throughout the Roman empire over an extended period of time.
    • He desired to learn more about God from Barnabas and Paul.
  • Bar-Jesus.
    • His name means “son of Jesus.”
    • He was also called Elymas, which means either sorcerer or wise man. 
      • The same word is used in a positive light for the magi in Matthew 2.
      • However, it was often used to describe someone who was a charlatan, trickster, or falsely claimed to have special powers. 
    • Finding a Jew who was both a false prophet and sorcerer was unusual, as the Jews traditionally were not involved in sorcery.

Roman belief system on mystical powers and Bar-Jesus’ influence on Sergius Paulus.

  • They placed great stock in powers of divination.
  • They often had their personal oracles.
  • Charlatans were highly skilled and smooth in their trickery.
    • They were knowledgeable about the beliefs of their targets.
    • They practiced a form of pseudoscience.
  • Bar-Jesus’ credentials aided him.
    • The Jews had a high reputation among Romans for their depth of religious knowledge.
    • Josephus, in his writings, mentioned a number of Jewish sorcerers who experienced great success among the Gentiles.
  • Bar-Jesus likely offered his services to Sergius. It is likely that the agreement was lucrative for Bar-Jesus. In a way, this is similar to the events of Acts 8 and Simon, with the major difference being that Simon duped a large number of people while earning his false wages.
  • Bar-Jesus sees Barnabas and Paul as a serious threat to the arrangement he has with Sergius.

Paul, empowered by the Holy Spirit, then goes on the offensive against the false teacher.

  • He calls him the “enemy of all righteousness.”
    • Righteousness is a primary attribute of God throughout the Bible.
    • Elymas had positioned himself as an enemy of God.
    • He was filled with deceit and fraud.
    • He had deceived Sergius with his false claims.
    • Now, he was attempting to undermine the message of the Gospel.
  • In Acts, punishment could come immediately or after a period of time. Here, the punishment was swift.
    • Paul declares that the “Lord’s hand is against you.”
    • Paul declares that Elymas will be blind for an unspecified period of time.
      • Paul experienced blindness as a sign of the Lord’s presence in his conversion experience.
      • Elymas was struck blind as punishment.
      • Some scholars believe that Paul used blindness as a way to lead Elymas to conversion.
      • Others believe that the blindness was symbolic of Elymas’s spiritual state.
    • The blindness immediately strikes Elymas. From this point on, he needed assistance to move about.
    • We don’t know how long it lasted or whether it had any effect on Elymas, as he is never mentioned again.
    • The effect of the incident also had an immediate impact on Sergius.
      • The fact that Paul made a declaration and it immediately happened made a profound impact on Sergius.
      • He was also impacted by the teaching of Barnabas and Paul about Jesus.
      • Looking back on Acts, we see similar events occurring.
        • The healing of the lame beggar in Acts brings the crowds to the Apostles.
        • The teaching of Peter resulted in conversions in Acts 4.
    • This single event is the main point of the Cyprus narrative.
      • No other conversions are mentioned, although it is safe to believe there were other conversions.
      • Luke details one major conversion, a prominent Roman official.

Two last points to note about this narrative. This is the official point where Saul becomes Paul. Saul was preferred when dealing with the Jews. But now that the emphasis has switched to the Gentiles, his Roman name will be more helpful. Second, up until now, it has been “Barnabas and Paul.” Now, it switches to “Paul and Barnabas.” Later, it will be “Paul and his companions.” The shift in leadership for missions to the Gentiles was complete.


  • In your personal ministry endeavors, are you following the lead of the Holy Spirit, or are you “doing your own thing?” Over and over in the gospels and Acts, we see ministry success that aligns with God’s plan and the power of the Spirit. Outside of that, results do not last or don’t even occur.
  • Do you counter false teaching? This can occur either inside or outside of your church. We see Paul quickly going on the offensive against the false teaching of Elymas. We may not experience the exact same situation. It is more likely we may encounter subtle deviations from Scriptural truth. Regardless, deviations from the truth must be countered with the truth.
  • Are you ready to share the Gospel at any given moment or under any circumstances? Conversions can occur with either signs or teaching. We have no control over miracles other than praying for them. Still, we can make sure that our theological understanding of Scripture and the Gospel is firm, allowing us to teach in any given situation. 

Acts Lesson Twenty-six

Acts Lesson Twenty-six: Acts 12:20-25 – God’s Wrath and Power

20 He had been very angry with the Tyrians and Sidonians. Together they presented themselves before him. They won over Blastus, who was in charge of the king’s bedroom, and through him they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food from the king’s country. 21 So on an appointed day, dressed in royal robes and seated on the throne, Herod delivered a public address to them. 22 The assembled people began to shout, “It’s the voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 At once an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give the glory to God, and he became infected with worms and died.  24 Then God’s message flourished and multiplied. 25 After they had completed their relief mission, Barnabas and Saul returned to Jerusalem, taking along John who is called Mark. (HCSB)

The narrative in this lesson can be divided into two parts.

  • The Power of God’s Wrath – verses 20-23.
  • The Power of God’s Hand – verse 24-25.

The Power of God’s Wrath

As we take a look at this section of the passage, let’s look at the background of Tyre and Sidon to understand their significance to this passage.

  • The relationship between Tyre, Sidon, and Israel goes back to the days of King Solomon as found in 1 Kings 5:9ff.
  • They depended on Israel for food – Ezra 3:7.

Now let’s look at the events in the passage since we understand the background between the parties in question.

  • In some manner, both Tyre and Sidon had angered King Herod. 
  • They were in danger of losing the support and assistance they had been accustomed to from the Jews.
  • In typical political maneuvering, they enlisted one of King Herod’s trusted servants, Blastus, to obtain a chance to plead their case before the king.
  • This meeting would serve a dual purpose.
    • It would enable the king to display his authority and glory.
    • It would enable the delegates from Tyre and Sidon to stroke his ego with flattery.

The Jewish historian, Josephus, provides much greater detail about the meeting.

  • The meeting took place during a festival honoring Claudius Caesar.
  • Herod wore a magnificent silver robe that glistened in the morning sun in honor of the occasion.
  • Because of the sun shining off the robe, the people began to shout, “the voice of a god and not of a man.” Josephus also recorded that the people responded that Herod was more than a mortal.
  • Herod neither affirmed nor denied the accolades from the crowd.
  • Then, looking up, Herod saw an owl.
    • Earlier in his life, when imprisoned in Rome, Herod had seen a vision of an owl and was told by a fellow prisoner that it was a sign of good news.
    • This proved true as he was subsequently released and installed as king in Israel.
    • However, the prisoner also told him that if he saw a vision of an owl a second time, he would only have five days to live.
  • Because Herod accepted the accolades and didn’t give God the glory, an angel of the Lord struck him with an affliction.
  • Herod was then taken to his residence and died five days later.

There is no discrepancy between Luke’s account of being struck at once with an affliction and Herod dying five days later. The angel of the Lord did strike Herod immediately, but the resulting death occurred five days later. One can imagine that Herod suffered for those five days before finally dying.

From this narrative, we can see several points that directly connect to the world we live in today.

  • The Tyrians and Sidonians were only concerned about obtaining food.
  • However, in the quest to obtain the food, they were willing to flatter the ego of a megalomaniac.
  • In this narrative, King Herod is a form of the future “man of sin” who will some day rule the world and persecute God’s people. The antichrist will make himself a god and demand all worship him.
  • Today’s world lives for praise and pleasure. Today’s world lives for the physical and ignores the spiritual. It lives by force and flattery instead of faith and truth.

The Power of God’s Hand

Although this section is only two verses long, but it presents a simple and strong message.

  • The spread of the Gospel message flourished and multiplied. In various places, Luke gives progress reports on the advancement of the Gospel and the state of the church.
    • Acts 6:7
    • Acts 9:31
    • Acts 12:24
    • Acts 16:5
    • Acts 19:20
    • Acts 28:31
    • From its humble beginnings in Jerusalem, the church will spread throughout the known world.
  • At the beginning of Acts 12, it appeared as if Herod was in control. James was executed, and Peter was in prison awaiting execution. By the end of Acts 12, Herod is dead, and the church is very much alive and growing.
  • The secret to the early church was prayer.

Acts 12 concludes with the return of Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark. Some things to note about this verse.

  • It likely occurred a couple of years after the death of Herod.
  • This would agree with the dating of the famine requiring the relief mission by Barnabas and Paul.
  • Evangelism to Judea and Samaria was now well established.
  • The message to the Gentiles had been spearheaded by Philip, Peter, and the church at Antioch.
  • Now, the focus will shift to Paul as he takes the Gospel to the Gentiles and the “ends of the earth.”


  • Do you focus on the temporal or the eternal? In the case of the Tyrians and Sidonians, the focus was on temporal to the point that they elevated a man to the status of an idol in place of God. This was an indication of faith, or lack of, in not trusting their needs would be provided. 
  • Do you elevate a person to an unhealthy status in your mind? We all have our favorite athletes, singers, actors, etc., but when we put them on a pedestal, we display an unhealthy attitude towards them. Our equality with the most famous or powerful person will be proven when we stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
  • How do spiritual storms affect you? Regardless of the trials or tribulations that we face, we need to stand firm in the calling God has placed on each of our lives. It isn’t easy, but as a follower of Jesus, that is the path we need to follow.

Acts Lesson Twenty-five

Acts Lesson Twenty-five: Acts 12:1-19 – Persecution Intensifies

About that time King Herod cruelly attacked some who belonged to the church, and he killed James, John’s brother, with the sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter too, during the days of Unleavened Bread. After the arrest, he put him in prison and assigned four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church. 

On the night before Herod was to bring him out for execution, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while the sentries in front of the door guarded the prison. Suddenly an angel of the Lord  appeared, and a light shone in the cell. Striking Peter on the side, he woke him up and said, “Quick, get up!” Then the chains fell off his wrists. “Get dressed,” the angel told him, “and put on your sandals.” And he did so. “Wrap your cloak around you,” he told him, “and follow me.” So he went out and followed, and he did not know that what took place through the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they passed the first and second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened to them by itself. They went outside and passed one street, and immediately the angel left him. 

11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herod’s grasp and from all that the Jewish people expected.” 12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many had assembled and were praying. 13 He knocked at the door in the gateway, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer. 14 She recognized Peter’s voice, and because of her joy, she did not open the gate but ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gateway. 

15 “You’re crazy!” they told her. But she kept insisting that it was true. Then they said, “It’s his angel!” 16 Peter, however, kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded. 

17 Motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he explained to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. “Report these things to James and the brothers,” he said. Then he departed and went to a different place. 

18 At daylight, there was a great commotion among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. 19 After Herod had searched and did not find him, he interrogated the guards and ordered their execution. Then Herod went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. (HCSB)

In this passage, two significant things occur. 

  • First, the persecution against the church reaches a new level of intensity. 
  • Second, the transition from Peter and the Apostles being the main participants to Paul in the remainder of Acts occurs. 

The passage itself contains two storylines. 

  • The first is the martyrdom of James.
  • The second is the arrest and subsequent miraculous escape of Peter.

James is Martyred – verses 1-5.

Before we get into the passage itself, let’s have a detailed look at the main protagonist in this narrative, King Herod. Here are details about King Herod, which should shed additional light on the events in this passage.

  • This is Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great.
    • The Herods were Edomites, descendants of Esau.
      • In a sense, we see Esau persecuting Jacob once again.
      • James is another form of the name Jacob.
    • The picture here is a time of tribulation the Jews will endure in the last days.
      • In Matthew 20:20-23, James and John were promised a baptism of suffering.
      • James was the first of the Apostles to be martyred.
      • John was the last to die and lived a life of suffering.
  • He was the nephew of Herod Antipas, who had John the Baptist beheaded.
  • The family was despised by the Jews, who resented having Edomites rule over them.
  • Herod the Great had Agrippa’s father, Aristobulus, executed because Herod the Great feared an assassination attempt.
  • Herod the Great then had Agrippa, and his mother sent to Rome, where he could grow up and be educated along with the children of Roman aristocracy.
    • The friendships he developed during this time eventually led to his ruling over a swath of the Jewish kingdom nearly as large as the one Herod the Great ruled.
    • In 37 A.D., the emperor Caligula gave him the title of king.
      • He initially ruled over the lands of the Transjordan and the Ten Cities (Decapolis) north of Galilee.
      • In 39 A.D., his area of rule was expanded to include Galilee and Perea, areas formerly under the control of his uncle, Antipas, who had been sent into exile.
      • In 41 A.D., his former classmate, Claudius, now installed as the emperor, gave his control of Judea and Samaria.
      • He was now “king of the Jews” as he ruled over all of Judea, Samaria, Galilee, the Transjordan, and the Decapolis.
  • Much, if not all, of his good fortune, was due to his friendships with Caligula and Claudius.
  • Because of the fact that the Herod family descended from the Edomites, the general population hated them, which drove Agrippa to try and gain favor with the Jews by doing them “favors.”
  • The events in this passage likely took place in the spring of 42 or 43 A.D., at the height of his power and influence.

In verse two, we read that Agrippa had James killed with the sword. Although it is not necessary for understanding the passage, we don’t know which method, Roman or Jewish, was used to kill James.

  • Roman method – beheading.
  • Jewish method – because Jewish customs forbade beheading as a desecration to the body, they would thrust the sword through the body.
  • Because Agrippa would be concerned with gaining favor with the Jews, it would seem more likely that the Jewish method would be preferred.

Since Agrippa saw that he, indeed, did gain favor with the Jews for the execution of James, he decided to arrest the ringleader, Peter, as the next person to be tried, convicted, and executed. However, because he didn’t want to offend anyone, he decided to postpone the trial until after the Passover festival was complete, as a guilty verdict and subsequent execution during Passover would be considered a desecration.

Assigning four squads of four soldiers to each squad was standard Roman practice. This would involve changing the guard every three hours throughout the twelve hours of the night to ensure that alertness was maintained. Looking ahead to verse six, we also read that Peter was bound with two chains. It’s possible, given historical records, that Peter was chained to the guards. Why would Agrippa use such a large contingent for a peaceful prisoner? It was probably likely that the Sanhedrin had informed Agrippa of Peter’s previous Houdini-like escape, and he didn’t want a repeat performance.

We also see the spiritual characteristics of the church on display during Peter’s imprisonment. They were earnestly praying for him during this time. This is a lesson for all of us, regardless of the trials or difficulties we may be going through. Bring it before the Lord in humble supplication. Often, that is the only thing we are able to do, but at the same time, the most effective.

We could ask one question before moving on to discuss the deliverance of Peter. Why was James allowed to be martyred, and Peter was rescued? Both were faithful servants of God and needed by the church. The only answer is the sovereign will of God. This was the very thing that the church prayed about after their experience with persecution in Acts 4:24-30. Herod had attempted to “stretch forth” his hand to destroy the church in Acts 4, but God stretched forth His hand to perform signs and wonders and to glorify Jesus, Acts 4:28-30. God allowed James to be killed but kept Peter from harm. Almighty God was in control, not any person.

The Rescue of Peter – verses 6-19.

Possibly the most striking statement in this passage is found in verse six, “Peter…was sleeping.” 

How could Peter possibly be sleeping when he knew the next day he was to be executed?

  • The prayers of the church surely provided comfort to him. They were praying day and night for about a week.
  • Faith in the Word of God and Jesus’ promises were the key.
    • Let’s review what Jesus told Peter in John 21:18-19.
      • Peter would not die until he was older.
      • Peter would die by crucifixion, not by the sword.
    • Peter’s faith in what Jesus told him allowed him to be at peace and understand that against all odds, he would not die at this time.
  • We should all ask ourselves if we have the same sense of peace as we face the trials, almost certainly not a threat of execution, in our lives. How we act reflects the level of faith we have in God.

In verses seven to eleven, we see Peter obeying what the angel told him to do. At first, Peter thought he was having a dream, and the events were not real. It wasn’t until after they passed through two sets of guard posts and the gate leading to the city, passed the first street, and the angel left him, that Peter finally realized that this wasn’t a dream, he was free! He proclaims that the Lord sent the angel to rescue him from the clutches of the enemy. He then makes his way to the house where the believers had gathered in prayer for him during the Passover festival. 

This was a sensible choice for two reasons. First, surely Peter understood that the prayers of the saints were heard in heaven and directly contributed to his release. Second, he wanted to let them know their prayers were heard and answered. There are four points connected to the prayers of the believers.

  • Many people were involved in praying.
  • They were praying earnestly.
  • They prayed day and night for about a week.
  • They prayed specifically for Peter’s release.

The scene at Mary’s house is almost comical. Peter knocks on the door; a servant named Rhoda recognizes his voice but is so overwhelmed with joy that instead of opening the door, she runs and tells the others that Peter is at their door. Their response indicates a couple of things.

  • A lack of faith in the power of their prayers.
    • They had prayed for about a week for Peter’s release.
    • Peter was now knocking on the door, but they didn’t believe it was him.
  • Their belief in angels.
    • The Jews believed in guardian angels.
      • Matthew 18:10.
      • Hebrews 1:14.
    • Each person had a guardian angel as their spiritual counterpart.
      • They believed that the angel appeared immediately after the person’s death.
      • This is why they responded to Rhoda with the phrase, “It’s his angel.”

Verse seventeen has three components.

  • Peter gives them the details of his miraculous deliverance.
  • He tells them to report what had happened to James and the brothers.
  • He departs from them and goes to “a different place.”
    • He could have done this for two reasons.
      • To avoid the likely wrath of Agrippa.
      • To prevent the gathered believers from being connected to his escape.
    • We don’t know where the “different place” was located.
      • It could have been a safer place in Jerusalem.
      • It could have been a location outside the city.

The narrative now switches from the events surrounding Peter to the consequences of his escape.

  • When the guards woke up, Peter was gone, but there was no indication of how his escape occurred.
  • A search was made to find Peter, but it was not successful.
  • Herod then had the guards interrogated to find out how Peter escaped. 
    • One has to wonder whether Peter’s previous escapes had entered Agrippa’s thoughts.
    • Agrippa’s plan to curry additional favor with the Jews had now come undone.
  • We also see evidence of Roman law coming into play.
    • A guard that allowed a prisoner to escape was subject to the same penalty the escapee would have suffered.
    • The fate that befalls the guards leaves little doubt that Agrippa had intended to execute Peter.
  • With his plan unraveled, Agrippa now makes his way back to his residence in Caesarea, likely embarrassed and in a foul mood.


  • Believers are to pray. Although Peter’s situation appeared grim, there was a large group of believers who gathered to pray for about a week for his release. The same is expected of us. No matter how dark the situation may appear, we are to bring our prayers before God. We see once again in this passage that the early church was a church of prayer, a model that should be part of every New Testament church.
  • Believers are to have peace regardless of the circumstances, trusting that God is in control and He will work according to His sovereign plan for the good of all. If we are absorbed with feelings of anxiety or worry, it indicates that we don’t trust God. Rest in the assurance of His Word. Jesus said He would never leave us nor forsake us. Do you believe that?
  • No matter how others hurt us, actual or intended, remember that it isn’t our place to retaliate. God will bring judgment in His time according to His plan. We’ll read in the next section that Agrippa met a swift end after his failed attempt to execute Peter. We are to follow Jesus and leave judgment to the Lord.