Acts 12 Commentary

Events in Jerusalem (12:1-25)

Back in Jerusalem the church was experiencing much difficulty. The Jews in general were becoming restless concerning the free mixing between Jewish and Gentile Christians, and were angry at the apostles for encouraging it. The governor at that time, Herod Agrippa I (a grandson of Herod the Great), knew it was not wise to let the Jews become too excited. Therefore, in an effort to please them he took action against the apostles by having one of them, James, executed (12:1-2).

The execution of James pleased the Jews more than Herod expected, so next time he planned to kill the leading apostle, Peter (3-5). However, in answer to the prayers of the Jerusalem church, Peter miraculously escaped (6-11). After a brief visit to assure the Christians he was free again, Peter fled to a safer place (12-19).

Herod, by contrast, suffered a horrible death. The people of Tyre and Sidon, anxious to ensure a constant food supply from Herod’s territory, had tried to win his favour with a show of extravagant flattery. Herod accepted the praise as if he was God, and was punished for it (20-23). The persecutor died but the church continued to grow (24-25).

James the Lord’s brother

With the apostles’ becoming more involved with matters outside Jerusalem, James the brother of Jesus was now the most prominent leader in the Jerusalem church (Acts 12:17; 15:13; Gal 1:18-19;


2:9,12). He apparently became a believer only after Jesus’ resurrection (1 Cor 15:7; cf. Mark 6:3; John 7:5), and was a foundation member of the Jerusalem church (Acts 1:14).

Although most of the Jews in the Jerusalem church still held to former beliefs and customs, James was not a slave to the law. Continually he tried to encourage his fellow Jews to be more tolerant of others (Acts 15:13,19). The common people respected him for his sincere faith and called him James the Just.

The character of James’ life and teaching can be seen in the letter in the New Testament that bears his name (James 1:1). It gives teaching on how to face trials and temptations, on the character of true faith, and on many practical matters such as the control of the tongue, the use of wealth and the exercise of patience (James 1:3,12; 2:14-17; 3:2,13; 4:1-2; 5:8).

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