Peter to Paul (Acts 11:19-12:25)
Antioch Established (11:19-30)
The description of the beginning of the church at Antioch is further fulfillment of Christ’s affirmation that He will build His church, and it is an example of a thriving body of believers.
First, the church was diligent in evangelism (vv. 19-21). As persecution grew, so did the church because everywhere the scattered Christians went, they spoke the word of Christ. They didn’t just target one group of people (i.e. the Jews), but also preached the gospel to Gentiles (v. 20), spreading their faith in Christ among those who were not altogether like them. The reason their evangelism was successful was not because of a great evangelism strategy, but because “the hand of the Lord was with them” (v. 21).
Second, the church in Antioch was a growing church (vv. 22-24). When Barnabas came, a man of spiritual discernment and wisdom, he himself witnessed the grace of God at work in the church. The report that he had heard was true, and he saw that “considerable numbers were brought to the Lord” (v. 24).
Third, the Antioch church was committed to teaching (vv. 25-26). Barnabas recognized the need and opportunity for teaching, so he seeks out Saul to come and assist. He had the humility to admit that his own gifting was inadequate for the need, and was willing to share the harvest with someone else. Together with Saul he taught and discipled the new Christians brought in through evangelism.
Fourth, the church was Christ-centered (v. 26). It was in Antioch that believers were first called “Christians.” We live in a day when most professing Christians are known by some peculiar distinctive doctrine or bizarre social position. But that was not the case in Antioch. The believers were so like Christ that they were distinguished and derided as “Christ-ians.”
Fifth, they were marked by giving and caring (vv. 27-30). With the news of the impending famine, the church at Antioch collected money to assist the church in Jerusalem. They sent the money through their trusted leadership to the church consisting of Jewish believers that had recently been reluctant to even share the gospel with them.
Arrest and Expectation (12:1-17)
Since Herod was a politician, when he saw that the Jews were happy about him putting James to death, he proceeded to arrest Peter with the same intention. He didn’t kill Peter immediately because of the Passover, but had him held in prison in the meantime, chained to two soldiers and guarded by two more. It was during that waiting period that the church devoted itself to fervent prayer for Peter. This little band of believers was up against the might of Rome; the authority of Herod and the power of the sword against a church prayer meeting! When Peter is set free by the angel, he rightly assumes that the church is gathered at Mary’s home. Though they had been fervently in prayer for him, they couldn’t believe that he had really been set free; they were amazed!
Angelic Execution (12:18-23)
When Herod is offered divine status by the people, he willingly accepts it. He was guilty of what Jesus warned in John 5:44: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” But his attempt at deification resulted in his own death. God visited him immediately with judgment and “he was eaten by worms and died” (v. 23). The chapter that began with James dead, Peter in prison, and Herod triumphing concludes with Herod dead, Peter free, and the Word of God triumphing.
- The church in Antioch was marked by evangelism, vibrant growth, teaching, Christ-centeredness, and generous giving. As you prayerfully seek to become more like Christ, how might you grow in each of these areas?
- What confidence for prayer do you draw from the account of Peter’s miraculous escape from death and release from prison? What does this account teach us about praying expectantly?