BOOK BY BOOK BIBLE STUDY
BIBLE STUDY LESSON
THE DEATH OF THE APOSTLE JAMES
(Peter’s imprisonment and miraculous escape)
In Acts chapter 12, Luke chronicles the story of King Herod Agrippa I, and his persecution of the Christian Church and its leaders at Jerusalem. Herod Agrippa I, was the grandson of Herod the Great, a direct descendant of Esau, who was ruler over Palestine around the time when JESUS was born. He was the son of Aristobulus, Herod the Great’s son by his wife Mariamne. Herod the Great murdered Mariamne, and then subsequently, murdered their two sons, Alexander and Aristobulus shortly after they found out that he had killed their mother.
Mariamne was a princess who descended from the Great Jewish dynasty, known as the Maccabees, who were direct descendants of Jacob. Therefore, Herod Agrippa I was pure-bred Jewish, raised that way by his parents. He was educated in Rome, and throughout his life, he adhered strongly to Jewish laws and customs. This made him very popular with the orthodox Jews, and through his persecution of the newly formed Christian Church, he no doubt sought to further improve upon his popularity.
In Acts chapter 12, taking up at verse 1, we are introduced to Herod Agrippa I, as he orders the death of James, one the original Disciples of JESUS. James, the brother of the Apostle John, became the first of the original Disciples to be martyred, as he was killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish leaders, he arrested Peter, with the intent to kill him also, as soon as the Passover celebration had ended.
While Peter was in jail, the Church prayed earnestly for him, and on the eve of his trial while asleep in his cell, he was awakened by an angel of the LORD. The angel instructed him to “get up quickly”, and the chains that bound him between two guards, fell from his wrists. Then the angel told him to “Get dressed and put on his sandals and coat and “follow me”. So Peter did as the angel instructed, but all the while, he thought it was just a dream and had not yet realized it was really happening.
They passed the first and second guard posts, and then finally, they came to an iron gate that would open into the street. The gate opened by itself, and Peter was able to walk with the angel to freedom. As they were walking down the street the angel left him and he realized then, that it was not a dream. He now knew that the LORD had sent HIS angel to rescue him from his impending doom.
Peter then goes directly to the home of the mother of John Mark. John Mark is the man who became the eventual author of the Book of Mark, and is also the cousin of Barnabas (who was known as the enabling encourager) (Colossians 4:10). He would also, later, travel with Barnabas and the Apostle Paul, on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5). The home of his mother was apparently one of the meeting places (House Churches) of the followers of CHRIST in those days, and no doubt, was where they had gathered to pray for Peter during his incarceration.
When Peter arrives there and knocks on the door, a girl named Rhoda came to answer it. But after hearing the voice of Peter, whom they thought was still incarcerated, she, in her excitement, ran back to tell the others instead of opening the door for Peter.
The people inside, first, thought she was out of her mind, but finally concluded that she had, no doubt, heard an angel. But, when she insisted, they finally went to the door where they themselves heard Peter’s continued knocking. When they opened the door, they were amazed to see Peter standing there. Peter motions for them to quiet down, and then, tells them the story of how the LORD had led him to freedom. Before he left Mary’s house, he instructed them to go and tell James, the brother of JESUS, and apparent leader of the Church at that time, and all the others, what had just happened.
At dawn there was a great commotion among the palace guards about what had happened with Peter the night before. Herod Agrippa ordered a thorough search for Peter, but he couldn’t be found, and so he interrogated his guards and then sentenced them to death, before leaving for Caesarea to sojourn there for a while.
THE DEATH OF HEROD AGRIPPA
At that time Herod Agrippa was also angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. The people of Tyre and Sidon were afraid of the king because they depended on him for their food supply. And so they befriended Herod’s personal assistant, Blastus, and he set up an appointment with the king for them.
When they arrived, the king put on his royal robe, sat on his throne, and proceeded to make a speech that so impressed them, that they began shouting, “This is the voice of a god, not a man”. Instantly an angel of the LORD came and struck Herod down because he accepted the peoples’ praises, instead of giving the glory to GOD, WHOM he had been raised by his mother to serve and fear all of his life.
However, the Good News about JESUS continued to spread rapidly and the newly founded Christian Church grew by leaps and bounds. And when Barnabas and Saul (Paul) had finished their work in Jerusalem, they returned to Antioch, and they took young John Mark with them.
Looking back to the Gospel of John, in chapter 8, verses 31-32, JESUS tells those who believe in HIM that;
“If ye continue in MY word, then are ye MY disciples indeed; And ye shall know the TRUTH, and the TRUTH shall make you free” (KJV).
JESUS goes on to tell us in verses 34-36 that;
“Verily, verily, I say unto you, whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. And the servant abideth not in the house forever: but the SON abideth forever. If the SON therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (KJV).
There are very few passages in Scripture that show us such a vivid picture of what discipleship really is. True discipleship always results in “freedom”. It results in freedom from four things;
· “Fear” – “Fear” leaves us when we choose to walk with GOD, instead of walking alone.
· “Self” - “Self” is a person’s greatest handicap, because it is impossible for us to change ourselves. However, GOD gives us freedom from self, because GOD has the power to recreate us from the inside out, through our getting to know, and becoming accustomed to practicing HIS Holy Word.
· “Other people” - GOD gives us freedom from “Other People”. It was H.G. Wells who said “The voice of our neighbors sounds louder in our ears than the voice of GOD”. Some peoples’ lives are dominated by what other people think or say about them. The true disciple only cares about what GOD thinks and says about them”.
· “Sin” - And finally, GOD gives us freedom from sin. JESUS’ vicarious sacrifice, on the Cross, broke the chains of our slavery to sin. From that moment on, we are no longer under the dominion of sin, and, we are also freed from the curse of the Law.
JESUS’ conquering of sin and death on the Cross puts us into a position where we can re-enter into a personal relationship of friendship with GOD, in spite of our many sins against HIM. When we come to know CHRIST, it becomes possible for us to fall in love with goodness, and then, wrong things, will no longer fascinate, and have power over us. It becomes more difficult for us to lose our hearts to the things of this world, as our relationship with GOD, through JESUS CHRIST, becomes our greatest asset. And so, therefore, in CHRIST, we have “true freedom”.
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander
LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website