A Wicked Leader Brings Death

“A Wicked Leader Brings Death”

Acts 12:1-3


  • Before we get into chapter 12 let us remember the scenes before.
  • Peter had seen a vision from God and experienced a true revelation of God about the separation of Jews and Gentiles.
  • God had made it clear to Peter as he preached to the house of Cornelius that since Jesus died on the cross God opened the door to the Gentiles to enjoy the benefits of being God’s children also. It was no longer the Jews who were God’s peculiar people, God’s anointed, or God’s elect.
  • We closed out chapter 11 with Barnabas and Saul at Antioch. Barnabas was soothing to the people and always a blessing to be around. He was the lion tamer of the group. Any time a ruckus erupted, Barnabas was sent to resolve the issue.
  • Paul had learned to control his zeal to some extent but failed at winning over the Jews who remembered his past concerning the church.
  • FINISHING OUT CHAPTER 11 – I believe that we never finished chapter 11 so I will do that briefly now. Let us look at Acts 11:27-30…
  • Acts 11:27…And in these days came prophets (preachers of the New Testament)from Jerusalem unto Antioch.
  • Here we can see that the apostles were not the only ones spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. This created problems for the early church with the world because so many Jews were being converted from Judaism to Christianity that the church at Rome (Catholic) was losing members.
  • Verse 28) And there stood up one of them named Agabus, and signified by the Spirit that there should be great dearth(hard famine) throughout all the world: which came to pass in the days of Claudius Caesar.
  • Agabus” was a Jerusalem prophet who years later was an important part in Paul’s ministry (Acts 21:10, 11).
  • The “great dearth” in Israel was recorded by several ancient writers and historians of that time.
  • all the world meaning that it took place beyond Palestine.
  • Claudius Caesarwas the Emperor of Rome.
  • Now look at verse 29) Then the disciples, every man according to his ability, determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea: 30) Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
  • I want us to notice the early church’s example to us… every disciple (follower of Christ) according to their ability sent relief to those brethren that needed it.
  • This is the heart of God.
  • The famine was hitting people hard especially those not prepared for it or did not have the financial resources to overcome the situation.
  • The church got together and sent relief (possible money, goods, and etc.) to the elders (new pastors) by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.
  • These were churches helping churches for the cause of Christ.
  • So here we are with the church getting off to a good start at Antioch and souls are being won for Christ and the inevitable happens.
  • The minute people start getting on fire for God, the minute a church makes a decision to follow God and His Son and start to grow…Satan rears up his ugly head.

I. A Wicked Leader’s Violence Towards the Church

  A) Our own leadership

  • I know we have mentioned this before but, since the early 50’s America has marched to a steady decline in their worship of God, Godly principles and standards.
  • The sins of abortion, selfishness, rebellion, homosexuality, immorality, divorce and etc. has run rampant in the government, our homes, and our churches.
  • It is like a snowball headed down hill and getting bigger as it reaches the bottom.
  • Leadership begins in the church (God’s House.) If the church fails, the country fails. It used to be that Christians were a large majority group. It is no longer. Christians are a minority.
  • Why are Christians a minority? Because we have pushed government and people to the brink of rebellion. We have caused our children to be angry. We have been like the Pharisees to a point of turning people away from God and Christ Jesus rather than draw people towards God and Jesus Christ.
  • I hate to say it folks but our government is little by little creating violence towards the church in America.

B) The leadership of Herod

  • Now let us look at our text of Acts 12:1…Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
  • Let us understand the issue here at hand with this wicked leader…
  1. His full name was Herod Agrippa I.
  2. He reigned from 37 A.D. to 44 A.D.
  3. He was the grandson of Herod the great.
  4. This Herod ran up numerous debts in Rome and fled to Palestine.
  5. He was imprisoned by Emperor Tiberius after some careless comments to the emperor. He was later released after the death of Tiberius.
  6. He was then made ruler of Northern Palestine to which later Judea, and Samaria were added in 41 A.D.
  7. To try and restore his greatness and receive favor with the Jews he began to persecute the Christians.
  • When you see the word “vex” in the Bible it means… 1) intent to do harm, 2) intent to do evil, 3) intentionally hurt someone.
  • “…Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex” meaning that he used everything in his power, using every extremity of his kingdom to hurt the church of Jesus Christ.
  • As you know our title of this study is “A wicked leader brings death.” What I mean by that title or statement is this… A wicked leader brings physical death and spiritual death.
  • Satan is the exact opposite of God. God promotes life, while Satan promotes death.
  • Satan also loves to get people’s minds distorted to think that they are doing right, and that they are doing a “God thing” (as did Saul) when in reality they are responding to our demonic sin nature created by our first father Satan.

C) The murder of James

  • Acts 12:2) And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3) And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
  • This killing of James is the first of the apostles to be martyred.
  • The early writers and historians tell us that James was killed by a sword because he was accused of being a false prophetand leading people to a false god.
  • What the sad part is that it pleased the Jews so much that it created the sin of pride in Herod’s heart seeking more death to the apostles, namely here Peter.
  • Curiosity struck me when I saw this note added to the verse… “(Then were the days of unleavened bread.)” Why is it mentioned?
  • Examining the“days of unleavened bread”…
  1. This is also known as the “Passover Feasts” among Jews.
  2. All men were required to be present for 3 specified feasts.
  3. This coming together of the men in a central location had a social and religious uniting effect on the nation of Israel.
  4. The men must trust the Lord to protect their landholdings while on the pilgrimage to the Tabernacle.
  5. All feasts were a joyful occasion because of God’s deliverance from bondage in Egypt.
  • I believe that the reason for Herod’s display of rage towards the church of Jesus Christ here was to make him look holy by getting rid of this riff-raff and killing false believers who may wish to contaminate (by participating in) these feasts.
  • Herod’s reputation was already tainted (ruined) and now he is trying to improve his status among the Jews by doing them a “God favor” by getting rid of these so called “false prophets.”
  • They were not false prophets but rather “falsely accused.”

 D) Peter is Apprehended

  • Now let us look at Acts 12:4) And when he had apprehended him (Peter), he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.
  • Now this is interesting… They put Peter in prison and stationed 4 “quaternions” of soldiers to guard his cell.
  • This means that there were 4 soldiers every 6 hours.
  • 2 guards were chained to Peter inside the cell, while 2 guards were standing outside the cell door. (This is noted in verse 6)
  • You would think Peter was James bond with all these fancy gadgets to help him escape the cell.

E) The church uses the “Power of prayer”

  • Read now in Acts 12:5…Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
  • Peter had been kept in prison for several weeks due to the Passover because it had begun. There were to be no death sentences to be carried out during the Passover (weeks of feasts).
  • During this period of waiting for Passover to be finished the church prayed daily for Peter.


II. Peter Freed from Prison

  A) Herod’s plan was like that of Pilate’s plan

  • Herod, like Pilate with Jesus Christ, as to do all their dirty work at night to escape any possible recoil from the Jews that had been converted.
  • Acts 12:6) And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
  • I don’t know about you but it would be hard for me to sleep knowing that my head was on the chopping block.
  • Note also the position of the guards. One on each side of Peter. He was considered a high flight risk.
  • We must also remember that if a prisoner escaped, the guards that were responsible to secure them were in danger of losing their life as well.

B) The Great Escape

  • Acts 12:7a…And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his
  • Get this picture here…An angel was sent by God to Peter for the sole purpose of recuing him from a wicked ruler and therefore prolonging his life to minister to more saints.
  • Some believe that this was Jesus Christ Himself because of the light that shined in the prison.
  • Some commentators believe that according to Jewish superstition it was Peter’s guardian angel that assumed Peter’s form.
  • Some believe that it was lightening. REALLY?
  • Now note the rest of verse 7b…and he (the angel of the Lord) smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his
  • The angel smote (hit) Peter on his side causing Peter to wake up.
  • Then the angel of the Lord commands Peter to get up quickly and I’m thinking maybe Peter had got up and then looked at his hands still in chains to each soldier guarding him, when all of a sudden Peter looks at the angel and the chains fell off.
  • Peter says… “Cool man!”
  • Now look at verse 8) And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.
  • Look at the term… “gird thyself.” It means to put on your outer garment. The men wore a garment (dress like) as underwear while sleeping. The outer garment was to be worn in public.
  • The funny thing to me is that Peter was in such a hurry to escape that apparently his outer garment was flopping in the wind thus exposing some of Peter’s underwear and the Angel of the Lord tells him… “…Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.”
  • The angel was worried that some one may be prowling around at night seeing Peter half dressed.
  • Look carefully at verse 9) And he went out, and followed him; and wist(knew or perceived) not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.
  • Peter is like me here in that sometimes we get confused as to what is reality and what is fiction/dream.
  • After Peter’s vision about the sheet carrying animals and the reality of that especially 3 times over, and now this…It probably is another vision.
  • Now let us read Acts 12:10…When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.
  • When you see the word “ward” here it is pronounced phylakēin the Greek meaning a guard or two at a particular station or cell.
  • One commentator said that Jerusalem had 3 walls surrounding the city and guards at each entrance of the walls.
  • It is also thought that possibly a deep sleep was placed on guards as Peter and this Angel of the Lord passed by.
  • The angel escorted Peter past all potential dangers (first and second wards) to ensure Peter’s safety.
  • Isn’t this like our Lord who protects us from all possible harm?
  • Also, in verse 10b note … “they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord:”
  • This “iron gate” is the main gate to the city’s main entrance.It is also noted that to this day, it is still locked at night to help prevent other countries or armies from sneaking in unaware.
  • “…which opened to them of his own accord” meaning that the gate itself opened all by itself with no one to unlock it, or force it open.
  • I believe personally that it was the angel of the Lord which has the power of God granted him to do whatever is necessary to help His servants, who opened this gate with just a thought.
  • “…and forthwith the angel departed from him.” After Peter was safe and all immediate danger was no longer a threat to his life, the angel left. The angel’s mission was accomplished.

C) Giving credit to where credit is due

  • Look at Acts 12:11) And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.
  • And when Peter was come to himself…”What does this mean?
  • Well, you remember back in verse 9 where Peter couldn’t determine whether or not all this was all a dream or a reality. I mean, you stop and think… a bright angel taps you on the side to wake you up, light is all around the dark dungeon, your shackles and chains just fall off, all the guards are asleep inside the cell and outside the cell, and no one seems to be roaming the streets at night, and they get past the two wards of guards at each wall, and now they just pass the main gate that just flings open with no assistance.
  • Reality or not? When it says that “Peter was come to himself” it means that he just now realized that all this was a reality. He is no longer in “panic mode” with the adrenaline rush.
  • “…Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod,” Meaning, that “I know for sure That the Lord (Jesus Christ) had sent this angel to me.
  • You see, before in Peter’s mind there was doubt. Now there was no doubt.
  • Peter’s avengers were all silenced and Peter realized it. Herod, and all the Jews that sought Peter for his life, were put to sleep allowing him to escape.
  • I don’t know, Great escape? You bet it was. It was all of God’s plan to preserve His servant awhile longer to accomplish the will of God.

D) A place of refuge for a convict

  • Now let us look into Acts 12:12…And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.
  • “…when he had considered the thing” in other words, when Peter thought about what had happened, he was now out of “panic mode” and now into “planning mode.”
  • What do I do now? Where do I go? This is God’s doing I want to make my Lord happy by making the right decision.
  • Peter’s decision was to go to Mary’s house, who happens to be his aunt. Mark was Peter’s cousin, so Mary was his aunt.
  • The key to this whole thing lies in this third part of verse 12 “…where many were gathered together praying.” These family members of Peter were huddled together at Mary’s house praying into the night.
  • Think what you want, But I believe that they were earnestly and fervently praying for there relative…Peter.
  • All this time they were praying, Peter was making His escape. The power of prayer was granted to the angel of Lord to do what was necessary to aide in Peter’s escape.
  • Peter’s family was praying with much faith not knowing the will of God but having faith in God’s providence.
  • Say what you want, think what you want, but I believe that a convict is a convict. No matter good or bad, they are a convict. They have been convicted of a crime and are jailed.Peter was wrongly accused and escaped.
  • All convicts need a place of refuge(safety). Our refuge (Safety), our shelter in the time of a storm is in the Lord.
  • I love that old song that says… “The Lord’s my rock in Him I hide, a shelter in the time of storm.”
  • Here comes the convict to his aunt’s house knowing that she loves him and cares for him and will be there for him no matter his condition.
  • Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is exactly like that. You can be convicted of any crime or sin by anyone and they will do nothing but ridicule you and treat you badly.
  • But if you are truly repentant, want to change your behavior…Jesus is the answer. He is your rock. He is one that will treat you justas ifyou had never sinned before…I believe that is called “justification.”
  • Back to our story in Acts 12:13) And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel (young girl) came to hearken, named Rhoda.
  • Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament described “the door of the gate” being the door of the vestibule, or principal entrance into the house. The house was entered through such a porch or vestibule, and it was the door opening into this which is here intended.
  • Looking at the name Rhoda,” we understand that it is a Greek name signifying a rose. It was not unusual for the Hebrews to give the names of flowers, etc., to their daughters. Thus Susanna, a lily; Hadessa, a myrtle; Tamar, a palm-tree; etc.
  • Isn’t it like a child to get up and answer the door or phone while all the adults are busy?
  • Now look at what the child does in verse 14) And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.
  • This child more than likely a relative of Peter’s knew his voice as he apparently asked to enter or for her to unlock the door.
  • Their doors were locked I believe due to the death of James and the imprisonment of Peter and the rumor of Herod’s vexation (trouble) of the church of Jesus Christ.
  • Now look at the adult response in verse 15) And they said unto her, Thou art mad(Crazy). But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.
  • Isn’t it natural for us as an adult to disregard a child’s words when we think they have misconceived something?
  • But this girl kept badgering them and telling them…”Hey it really is Peter out there at the door, can I let him in?”
  • Note what the adults said in the last part of verse 15… “It is his angel.”
  • Why would they say that. And if they thought it might be his angel, wouldn’t that make them really hurry to the door in anticipating a word from God?
  • Like we said before… it was Jewish superstition that believed that everyone had their own guardian angel who would assume that person’s form.
  • Folks, this is much like us today. We get so hung up with our everyday activity that we fail to see the truth when it comes knocking on our door.
  • This family was so focused on their praying to rescue Peter that they disregarded this girl’s voice out of disbelief that Peter could ever escape.
  • They prayed but lacked the true faith that God would answer it. They had prayed for several weeks, hearing the testimonies and rumors of Peter’s imprisonment and Herod’s anger towards the church, and James’s death and were so caught up in the hoopla of life as a Christian that they failed in their faith that God would deliver Peter.
  • Peter continues to knock as we see in verse 16) But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.
  • Why were they astonished (shocked)?Lack of faith.
  • Now look at verse 17…But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.
  • Peter just came to his aunt’s house to tell her the good news of his escape and gave all the glory to God.
  • Peter asks His family to go and tell James (Jesus brother) who was now head of the church of Jesus Christ at Jerusalem.
  • From now on Peter is not the focus in Acts. He is in hiding. We see a brief appearance of Peter in chapter 15, but that is it. Now the focus is on Paul. 

III. Herod’s Violent Death

  A) Peter Hides from Herod

  • Acts 12:18…Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.
  • The soldiers were very upset now that Peter was nowhere to be found. The soldiers who were guarding Peter were in grave danger.
  • According to the Justinian’s Code, a guard who allowed a prisoner to escape would suffer the same fate as the prisoner waited.

B) Herod checks out the incident

  • 19) And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there
  • Herod checked out their stories and what had happened and judged these guards accordingly.
  • Herod now leaves Judaea and journeys to Caesarea and lives there.

C) Herod’s anger against Tyre and Sidon

  • Acts 12:20…And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king’s country.
  • When it mentions in the Bible that a King is “highly displeased,” it means that he is contemplating war.
  • Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament states that Tyre and Sidon were under the Roman power, and had some shadow of liberty, (Grotius😉 and it is probable that they might have embarrassed Herod in some of his regulations respecting commerce(buying and selling goods).
  • Do you remember this verse that wise king Solomon penned in Proverbs 16:18…Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.”?
  • I believe that Herod had never taken it to heart. Because now he stands before the representatives of Tyre and Sidon in a big meeting in verse 21) And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.He sits down at a feast in honor of Herod’s patron (the Roman Emperor Claudius) all decked out in his king’s clothes (according to Josephus, silver garments.) and gives a flowery speech to these representatives.
  • Now look at verse 22) And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man. 23) And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.
  • I want to read to you the account of the historian Josephus…”Herod, having reigned three years over All Judea, (he had reigned over the tetrarchy of his brother Philip four years before this), went down to Caesarea, and there exhibited shows and games in honor of Claudius, and made vows for his health.
  • On the second day of these shows, he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture most truly wonderful, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment, being illuminated by the first reflection of the sun’s rays, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those who looked intently upon him; and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, “He is a god:” and they added, ‘Be thou merciful to us, for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.’ Nor did the king rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. But, looking up, he (Herod)saw an owl on a certain rope over his head, and immediately conceived that this bird was to him a messenger of ill tidings; and he fell into the deepest sorrow; a severe pain also arose in his bowels, and he died after five days’ severe illness.” This is the sum of the account given by Josephus, (Ant.lib.xix.cap.8, sec. 2…See Whiston’s edition.)
  • We see that Herod dies just as all do who do not give God the glory for things done in their life.
  • If you permit me I would like to refer to the words of Paul in Romans 1:18…For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; 19) Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them.
  • These verses refer to God’s judgment against sinto those who know better. People act stupid. They may say…“Well I didn’t know that.” Acting like they didn’t understand when God sent the Holy Spirit to teach us and convict us of these things.
  • We cannot play dumb to God.Herod had done this over and over and became enraged at things that were not right. Finally God had His fill of Herod and sent the death angel sown to smite him with death.
  • Still in Romans 1:20) For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21) Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22) Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,
  • Herod in Acts 12 did not glorify God but rather glorified himself so much that the people called him a god.
  • Do you know God’s judgment upon Herod for his actions?
  • Acts 12:23c…and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. Worms had infested his body and ate up all his insides causing him to die.

 D) Barnabas and Saul Appointed

  • Now look at Acts 12:24) But the word of God grew and multiplied. 25) And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.