1. A MANIPULATED GOVERNMENT
a. Instigated by evil-minded men, what political actions did the king over Judea, Herod Agrippa I (nephew and brother-in-law of the Herod in Christ’s day), carry out against God’s work—and why? Acts 12:1–4.
“While the Jews were celebrating their deliverance from Egypt and pretending great zeal for the law of God, they were at the same time transgressing every principle of that law by persecuting and murdering the believers in Christ. . . .
“Herod’s act in putting James to death was applauded by the Jews, though some complained of the private manner in which it was accomplished, maintaining that a public execution would have more thoroughly intimidated the believers and those sympathizing with them. Herod therefore held Peter in custody, meaning still further to gratify the Jews by the public spectacle of his death. But it was suggested that it would not be safe to bring the veteran apostle out for execution before all the people then assembled in Jerusalem. It was feared that the sight of him being led out to die might excite the pity of the multitude.
“The priests and elders also feared lest Peter might make one of those powerful appeals which had frequently aroused the people to study the life and character of Jesus—appeals which they, with all their arguments, had been unable to controvert.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 144.
2. CRISIS IN THE EARLY CHURCH
a. Why need we not be surprised at the persecution faced by the early church? 1 Peter 4:12, 13.
“Our great Exemplar, who was in the brightness of His Father’s glory, was despised and rejected of men. Reproach and falsehood followed Him. His chosen disciples were living examples of the life and spirit of their Master. They were honored with stripes and imprisonment; and it was finally their portion to seal their ministry with their blood.”—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 2, p. 345.
b. How did the church respond to Peter’s imprisonment? Acts 12:5.
“The death of James caused great grief and consternation among the believers. When Peter also was imprisoned, the entire church engaged in fasting and prayer. . . .
“While, upon various pretexts, the execution of Peter was being delayed until after the Passover, the members of the church had time for deep searching of heart and earnest prayer. They prayed without ceasing for Peter, for they felt that he could not be spared from the cause. They realized that they had reached a place where, without the special help from God, the church of Christ would be destroyed. . . .
“The day of Peter’s execution was at last appointed, but still the prayers of the believers ascended to heaven; and while all their energies and sympathies were called out in fervent appeals for help, angels of God were watching over the imprisoned apostle.”—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 144, 145.
c. How tight was the security of Peter’s bondage? Acts 12:6.
“Remembering the former escape of the apostles from prison, Herod on this occasion had taken double precautions. To prevent all possibility of release, Peter had been put under the charge of sixteen soldiers, who in different watches, guarded him day and night. . . . With the prison doors securely fastened, and a strong guard before them, all chance of rescue or escape through human means was cut off.”—Ibid., pp.145, 146.
3. GOD IS IN CONTROL
a. Describe the miracle performed for Peter in prison. Acts 12:7–11.
“The bolts and bars and the Roman guard, which effectually cut off all possibility of human aid, were but to make more complete the triumph of God in the deliverance of Peter. . . .
“[The angel] moves toward the door, followed by the usually talkative Peter, now dumb from amazement. They step over the guard and reach the heavily bolted door, which of its own accord swings open and closes again immediately, while the guards within and without are motionless at their post.
“The second door, also guarded within and without, is reached. It opens as did the first, with no creaking of hinges or rattling of iron bolts. They pass through, and it closes again as noiselessly. In the same way they pass through the third gateway and find themselves in the open street. No word is spoken; there is no sound of footsteps. The angel glides on in front, encircled by a light of dazzling brightness, and Peter, bewildered, and still believing himself to be in a dream, follows his deliverer. Thus they pass on through one street, and then, the mission of the angel being accomplished, he suddenly disappears. . . .
“[Peter’s] wrists, swollen from wearing the cruel irons, were free from the manacles. He realized that his freedom was no delusion, no dream or vision, but a blessed reality.”—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 146-148.
b. Finding himself in a familiar place, what did Peter do? Acts 12:12–17. And what happened to the guilty king? Verses 21–23.
“Herod knew that he deserved none of the praise and homage offered him, yet he accepted the idolatry of the people as his due. . . .
“But suddenly a terrible change came over him. His face became pallid as death and distorted with agony. Great drops of sweat started from his pores. He stood for a moment as if transfixed with pain and terror; then turning his blanched and livid face to his horror-stricken friends, he cried in hollow, despairing tones, He whom you have exalted as a god is stricken with death. . . . He felt that God was now dealing with him, the relentless persecutor.”—Ibid., p.151.
4. GOSPEL ORDER
a. As the gospel message expands to new places, what is necessary—and why? Acts 12:24, 25; 13:1–3.
“The church should feel their responsibility and should look carefully and attentively at the lives, qualifications, and general course of those who profess to be teachers. If unmistakable evidence is not given that God has called them, and that the ‘woe’ is upon them if they heed not this call, it is the duty of the church to act and let it be known that these persons are not acknowledged as teachers by the church. This is the only course the church can take in order to be clear in this matter, for the burden lies upon them. . . .
“[Gospel order] is indispensably necessary in order to bring the church into the unity of the faith. I saw that in the apostles’ day the church was in danger of being deceived and imposed upon by false teachers. Therefore the brethren chose men who had given good evidence that they were capable of ruling well their own house and preserving order in their own families, and who could enlighten those who were in darkness. Inquiry was made of God concerning these, and then, according to the mind of the church and the Holy Ghost, they were set apart by the laying on of hands. Having received their commission from God and having the approbation of the church, they went forth baptizing in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, and administering the ordinances of the Lord’s house, often waiting upon the saints by presenting them the emblems of the broken body and spilt blood of the crucified Saviour, to keep fresh in the memory of God’s beloved children His sufferings and death.
“I saw that we are no more secure from false teachers now than they were in the apostles’ days; and, if we do no more, we should take as special measures as they did to secure the peace, harmony, and union of the flock. We have their example, and should follow it. Brethren of experience and of sound minds should assemble, and following the Word of God and the sanction of the Holy Spirit, should, with fervent prayer, lay hands upon those who have given full proof that they have received their commission of God, and set them apart to devote themselves entirely to His work. This act would show the sanction of the church to their going forth as messengers to carry the most solemn message ever given to men.”—Early Writings, pp. 100, 101.
5. A SOUL AT STAKE
a. Where did Barnabas and Saul go next in their missionary labors—and what obstacle did they face? Acts 13:4–8.
“Not without a struggle does Satan allow the kingdom of God to be built up in the earth. The forces of evil are engaged in unceasing warfare against the agencies appointed for the spread of the gospel, and these powers of darkness are especially active when the truth is proclaimed before men of repute and sterling integrity. Thus it was when Sergius Paulus, the deputy of Cyprus, was listening to the gospel message. The deputy had sent for the apostles, that he might be instructed in the message they had come to bear, and now the forces of evil, working through the sorcerer Elymas, sought with their baleful suggestions to turn him from the faith and so thwart the purpose of God.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 167.
b. How did Paul boldly rebuke the one through whom the enemy was working—and thus gain a victory for the gospel? Acts 13:9–12.
“The sorcerer had closed his eyes to the evidences of gospel truth, and the Lord, in righteous anger, caused his natural eyes to be closed, shutting out from him the light of day. This blindness was not permanent, but only for a season, that he might be warned to repent and seek pardon of the God whom he had so grievously offended. The confusion into which he was thus brought made of no effect his subtle arts against the doctrine of Christ. The fact that he was obliged to grope about in blindness proved to all that the miracles which the apostles had performed . . . were wrought by the power of God.”—Ibid., p.168.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. How are plots like the one between the Jews and Herod repeated today?
2. Facing impossible obstacles like Peter’s imprisonment, what can we do?
3. Why can the details of Peter’s deliverance bring me hope?
4. What is the key qualification necessary for teachers of the gospel?
5. Why should I not be discouraged when laboring for new souls?