THE ACTS OF APOSTLES
Lesson 5: Chapters 9-12
The Church's Mission in Judea and Samaria
and the Introduction of the Gospel to the Gentiles
We thank You Lord for calling each of us in the Sacrament of Confirmation to be apostles who are sent forth to serve the Kingdom of Christ. We are reminded that You give certain gifts to each of us to use in serving the Kingdom, and we must not neglect those gifts nor to be hesitant in using them. No service is too small or unimportant and all that we do will be noted when the Books of Deeds are opened at Judgment Day. Please send Your Spirit, Lord, to guide us as we study the call of Your servant St. Paul who used Your gifts of preaching and the understanding of the theology of Jesus Christ (Christology) to advance the cause of the Kingdom among the Gentile nations. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
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The eunuch was on
the road and Paul was on the road, but the latter was drawn by no other then
Christ himself, for this was too great a work for the Apostles ... Like a
consummate physican, Christ brought help to him, once the fever reached its
height. It was necessary that he should be quelled in the midst of his frenzy,
for then especially he would fall and condemn himself as one guilty of dreadful
Bishop St. John Chrysostom, Homilies on Acts of the Apostles, 9.6
Chapter 9: The Conversion of Saul
The LORD shall be
your light forever; your God shall be your glory.
In last week's lesson the Church carried the Gospel into Judea and Samaria (8:4-40). This week's lesson begins with the conversion of St. Paul (Saul), introduces the spread of the Gospel to the Gentiles, and ends with the persecution of the Church and the death of Herod Agrippa I.
Acts 9:1-9 ~ Saul's Conversion
1 Now Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem in chains. 3 On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" 5 He said, "Who are you, sir [Kyrios =Lord]?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do." 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, for they heard the voice but could see no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him to Damascus. 9 For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank. [..]= literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 347.
Most Christians know him as the great Gentile evangelist St. Paul, but he was born with the Hebrew name Saul, likely named after another member of the tribe of Benjamin "Saul, the first King of Israel. He did not begin as a hero of Christians but as their greatest antagonist.
Acts 9:1-2 Now
Saul, still breathing murderous threats against the disciples of the Lord, went
to the high priest, 2 and
asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, that, if he should find
any men or women who belonged to the Way, he might bring them back to Jerusalem
Having learned that some disciples of Jesus had escaped to the Jewish community living in Damascus, Paul requested letters from the high priest giving him the authority to arrest and bring back for trial the "heretical" Jews who believe Jesus of Nazareth is a divine Messiah and who are infecting the synagogues in Damascus with their heresy (Acts 22:5).(1) Saul may have been acting as an officer of the Sanhedrin in charge of St. Stephen's execution when he stood by and watched the martyrdom of St. Stephen, and he is enthusiastic in his persecution of the followers of Jesus as an officer of the Sanhedrin.
"The Way" was the earliest title for Jesus' followers. References to "the Way" as the name of the early community of believes in Christ is made seven times in Acts (see 9:2; 18:26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22). It was the designation for the followers of Christ before the term "Christian" was adopted. The title refers to Jesus' teaching that He is the only pathway to eternal life (see Mt 7:13-14; Lk 13:24 and Jn 10:7-9; 14:6). The concept of obedience to true faith in God being defined as one road, path or way in the sense of a manner of life was very familiar to the Jews (see for example Ps 1:1, 6; 2:12; 118:29). The most frequent reference in the Old Testament, however, was the choice one has between two roads/paths/ways.
The "Two Ways" is a theme first introduced by Moses in the Book of Deuteronomy. In his last homily to the Israelites prior to the conquest of Canaan, Moses tells the people: Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom. If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grown numerous, and the LORD, your God will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy, If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve their gods, I tell you now that you will certainly perish ... (Dt 30:15-18). For the Israelites of the Old Covenant, living the Law of God was the path to life (CCC 2057). The doctrine of the "Two Ways" or "Two Paths" is a reoccurring theme in the Old Testament ( Dt 30:15-20; Ps 1; Pr 4:18-19; 12:28; 15:24; Sir 15:17; 33:14), in Jesus' teaching (Mt 7:13-14; Jn 14:6-6), and in St. Paul's letters (Rom 12:16-21 and 13:8-12). The teaching on the doctrine of the "Two Ways" was also a popular Jewish treatise in the first century and was probably a work that was familiar to many Jewish-Christians.
Question: How did Moses define the two paths or ways
in his homily to the Israelites in Deuteronomy 30:15-20? How is this concept
similar to Jesus' definition of the "way" in John 14:6 and how is it different?
Answer: Moses told the Israelites they had the choice between obedience to the Law which was the path of life or disobedience to the Law which was the path of death. Jesus also taught about the two paths "one leading to destruction and the other to eternal life. However, the path to life is no longer obedience to the Old Covenant Law. The path to life is now Jesus Christ, the Redeemer and Savior. He is "the Way."
The doctrine of the "Two Ways" is found in the opening chapter of the Church's first catechism, "The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles (commonly called the Didache) and its Latin translation the Doctrina Apostolorum (Didache 1:1-6:3), and also in the Letter of Barnabas, 18-21.
Acts 9:3-5 On his journey, as he was nearing Damascus, a light from the sky suddenly flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?" 5 He said, "Who are you, sir [Kyrios = Lord]?" The reply came, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.
In retelling this experience in Acts 26:14, Luke records
that the voice Saul heard spoke in Hebrew. Luke may mean Aramaic, which at
this time was the Semitic dialect in common use, although as a student of the
Law Saul surely spoke Hebrew, the language of the ancestors and the first
language of Sacred Scripture. Notice that the light "flashed" like
lightening. In retelling his experience in Acts 22:6, he calls the light a
"great light," and in 26:13 he calls it "brighter than the sun."
Question: What theophany of God from the Old Testament is reminiscent of Saul's experience in hearing the voice coming out of the flashing light (as in lightening)?
Answer: It is similar to Moses' experience hearing the divine voice coming from the burning bush in Exodus 3:3 when God twice called "Moses, Moses," but also recalls the theophany from Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19:16-20 when there were "peals of thunder and lightening".
The appearance of light is often associated with the presence of God (see Ps 36:9; 56:14; 78:14; 89:16; 97:11; 104:2; Wis 7:26; Is 2:5; 60:19-20; 1 Jn 1:5-7; 1 Pt 2:9; Jam 1:17). The flash of lightening is also a reoccurring feature of theophanies in Scripture (see Ex 19:16; 2 Sam 22:15; Ps 17:14; 76:18; 96:4; 143:6; Ez 1:4, 7, 13; Dan 10:6; Lk 9:29; 10:18; 17:24; 24:4). The repetition of a name in a theophany is not only found in Moses' and Saul's experiences but also in the call of Jacob (Gen 46:2) and Samuel ( 1 Sam 3:4, 10).
Question: Why did Jesus accuse Paul of persecuting
Him and not just His followers? How is this similar to Peter's accusation
against Ananias and Sapphira in 5:3 and 9?
Answer: Persecuting the disciples of Jesus is the same as personally persecuting Jesus. In the same way to lie to the faith community and its leaders is to lie to and to test the Holy Spirit.
Question: Learning from Jesus in this experience led to what teaching Saul/Paul gave the community of believers at Corinth (see 1 Cor 8:12).
Answer: St. Paul will advise the Corinthians that to sin against individual members of the Body of Christ is to sin against Christ Himself.
That Saul calls the voice Kyrios, "Lord," in verse 5 is a sign he realizes he is involved in a theophany even though he does not yet understand it is the risen Jesus who is addressing him until after he asks "Who are you, Lord?"
Jesus tells Saul "Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:6). Saul's experience of Jesus demonstrates that Jesus is living and active in salvation history. The command Jesus gives Saul in sending him forth is Saul's commissioning, and it is why Saul/Paul feels justified in calling himself an "apostle," meaning "one who is sent"; it is a title he vigorously defends in his letters (Rom 1:1; 11:13; 1 Cor 1:1; 9:1, 2; 15:19; 2 Cor 1:1; Gal 1:1; Eph 1:1; Col 1:1; 1 Tim 1:1; 2:7; 2 Tim 1:1, 11; Tit 1:1).
Acts 9:9 For three days he was unable to see, and he neither ate nor drank. Fasting is associated with a period of preparation in Scripture (Ex 34:28; Dt 9:9; Dan 9:3; 10:2-3; Mt 4:2; Lk 4:2) and also with repentance (Jer 14:12; Neh 1:4; Joel 1:14; Jon 3:8). Jesus declared a fast for Himself prior to His death and resurrection (Lk 22:16 and 30). Saul is both fasting and praying (Acts 9:11). Praying and fasting are often practiced by the devout in Scripture (Jer 14:12; Neh 1:4; Esth 4:16; Mk 9:29; Lk 2:37; Acts 13:2-3; 14:23).
Question: What is the symbolism of the three days of
darkness and fasting?
Answer: It can be seen as Saul's period of purification, repentance and preparation for what he knows Jesus will tell him to do next (Acts 9:6). One might also say that Paul was in darkness just as the disciples of Jesus and the world was in spiritual darkness for the three days between Jesus' death and His resurrection. When Christ arose from the dead on the third day, His disciples and the world discovered the Light of the world had returned in glory. In the same way, the old Saul died during those three days and at the end of the three days of darkness he was baptized and resurrected as the Light of Christ filled his soul.
Saul had persecuted Christians because he believed he was protecting the true faith of the Sinai Covenant against a dangerous heresy. Now he has discovered that he and his brother Jews had murdered their Messiah and persecuted His "faithful remnant" of Israel: For out of Jerusalem shall come a remnant, and from Mount Zion, survivors. The zeal of the LORD of hosts shall do this (Is 37:32). Saul must have been filled with the darkness of remorse that went deeper than his physical darkness during those three days, however his praying and fasting during this period shows that he is open to God's revelation and will be obedient to God's commands.
As St. Gregory the Great pointed out in our introductory
quote, both the Ethiopian eunuch and St. Paul received a conversion experience
while they were "on the road." Luke presents an interesting contrast between
the two men.
Question: How were Paul and the Ethiopian alike and how were they different?
Answer: The eunuch's faith in God prepared him to recognize the truth of the Gospel when preached to him by St. Philip, and he immediately asked to be baptized. Paul also believed in God but his hate for "The Way" blinded him to the truth preached by St. Stephen. He needed the intervention of Christ Himself to come to belief.
Acts 9:10-19a ~ Saul's Baptism
10 There was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias, and the Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." He answered, "Here I am, Lord." 11 The Lord said to him, "Get up and go to the street called Straight and ask at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is there praying, 12 and in a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, that he may regain his sight." 13 But Ananias replied, "Lord, I have heard from many sources about this man, what evil things he has done to your holy ones [hagios = saints] in Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call upon your name." 15 But the Lord said to him, "Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine [a vessel of election for me] to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and Israelites, 16 and I will show him what he will have to suffer for my name." 17 So Ananias went and entered the house; laying his hands on him, he said, "Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me, Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized, 19a and when he had eaten, he recovered his strength. [..]= literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 348.
Saul's reputation as a persecutor of Christians has spread
to Damascus. Saul has persecuted Christ's disciples and is responsible for
them being condemned to death. It is interesting that the Damascus disciples
had advanced notice that Saul had letters of extradition from the religious
authorities in Jerusalem to arrest Christians. Ananias has every reason to
fear Saul and he expresses his fears to God.
Question: What can we learn from this exchange between Ananias and God concerning Ananias' fears? Notice that God does not rebuke Ananias. Does this exchange remind you of another other such discussion between God and his reluctant agent who is assigned a difficult mission? See Ex 4:1-17.
Answer: Ananias is not being disobedient; he is being honest in expressing his fears. God wants us to be open and forthcoming with Him. Nevertheless, when God commands Ananias to go to Saul, Ananias is obedient. The exchanged between Ananias and God is not unlike Moses' exchange with God when he was fearful concerning the mission God assigned him to be the liberator of his people. We must have confidence that if God asks us to accept a mission to advance the Kingdom that He will give us what we need to be successful in that mission.
Acts 9:15-16 But
the Lord said to him, "Go, for this man is a chosen instrument of mine [a
vessel of election for me] to carry my name before Gentiles, kings, and
Israelites, 16 and I will
show him what he will have to suffer for my name."
The Lord reveals that Saul is being called to a special mission. He will carry the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, to kings and to Israelites. The Jews are not to be discounted in Saul's mission and he will continue to preach the Gospel to the Jews until the very end of Luke's story (Acts 28:23-28). However, in fulfilling that mission Saul will have to suffer.
Question: Why will it be necessary for Saul to suffer?
Answer: Like all Christians, Saul will be called to take up the cross of Christ which can lead to personal suffering. But his suffering may also be the penance that is required for his past sins against the innocent. God is merciful and forgiving but God is also just and the blood of the martyrs calls out to God for justice. Then too, his suffering puts him in the same class as God's holy prophets who suffered in obedience to their divinely appointed missions "men like Moses, Jeremiah, Zechariah, and the supreme prophet Jesus Christ.
Acts 9:17-19a So Ananias went and entered the house;
laying his hands on him, he said, "Saul, my brother, the Lord has sent me,
Jesus who appeared to you on the way by which you came, that you may regain
your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." 18 Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and
he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized, 19a and when he had eaten, he recovered
When Ananias laid his hands upon Saul, the Holy Spirit restored his sight; immediately afterward Saul was baptized.
Question: What is ironic about the divine Light that blinded Saul in his conversion experience?
Answer: Ironically the divine Light that blinded Saul resulted in spiritual sight. When Ananias laid hands upon Saul, he was cured of both his physical and spiritual blindness.
The turning of a fire-breathing Pharisaic persecutor of Christians into an apostle to the Gentiles is one of the great paradoxes in the New Testament. Calling Saul "brother" is a sign that Ananias accepts Saul as a member of the community. St. Luke considered Paul's conversion experience on the Damascus road so pivotal that he tells the story three times in Acts (9:1-19; 22:5-21 and 26:9-18). The emphasis in all the accounts is that St. Paul is Christ's divinely chosen instrument.
Acts 9:19b-22 ~ Saul Preaches in Damascus
19b He stayed some days with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and he began at once to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God. 21 All who heard him were astounded and said, "Is not this the man who in Jerusalem ravages those who call upon this name, and came here expressly to take them back in chains to the chief priests?" 22 But Saul grew all the stronger and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus, proving that this is the Messiah.
In choosing Saul as His instrument to proclaim the Gospel, God chose a man like Moses who was well educated. Saul had both the formal education and the intellectual skills to teach difficult theological concepts and to debate in the tradition of the Hellenist intellectuals. In Acts 22:3 we will learn that Saul studied with one of the most gifted rabbis of his time, Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, a teacher of the Law who was also a member of the Sanhedrin (also see Acts 5:34). Saul immediately put those skills to work proving to the Jews of Damascus that Jesus is the promised Messiah who is also the Son of God. This is the only place in Acts where Luke uses the title "Son of God" and Saul's use of this title in proclaiming the Jesus Christ the divine Messiah probably refers to Psalms 2:7 LXX. Saul/Paul will quote from this citation in his first homily at Antioch in Pisidia in Acts 13:33.
Acts 9:23-31 ~ Saul goes to Jerusalem to meet the
23 After a long time had passed, the Jews conspired to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. Now they were keeping watch on the gates day and night as to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him one night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. 26 When he arrived in Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he as a disciple. 27 Then Barnabas took charge of him and brought him to the Apostles, and he reported to them how on the way he had seen the Lord and that he had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 He moved about freely with them in Jerusalem and spoke out boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He also spoke and debated with the Hellenists, but they tried to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him on his way to Tarsus. 31 The Church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers.
Question: According to Galatians 1:15-17 how long was
Saul in Damascus before going to Jerusalem?
Answer: According to the letter Saul/Paul wrote the Galatians, he stayed in Damascus only a short time before going to live in Arabia. He then returned to Damascus where he proclaimed the Gospel and after three years went to Jerusalem to meet the Apostles.
It is assumed that he used his time in Arabia to study
Scripture and to link the Old Testament prophecies to Jesus, perfecting the
arguments he would use to profess Jesus the promised Messiah. After the
Christian community in Damascus helped Saul to escape from his enemies "those
Jews who now viewed him as a traitor and a heretic "Saul went to Jerusalem to
meet with the Apostles. Understandably, the Christian community in Jerusalem
was skeptical of his conversion story.
Question: What member of the Christian community had the courage to believe Saul? Where have we heard of this man earlier in Luke's narrative?
Answer: The man is Joseph Barnabas, "the son of consolation/encouragement," who was highly regarded in the community (Acts 4:36-37). He sponsored Saul and brought him to the Apostles.
Saul's preaching in Jerusalem got him into trouble again, especially with the Hellenists. This was the same group of Greek culture Jews who condemned St. Stephen. The Christians smuggled him out of Jerusalem and got him to the port at Caesarea where they sent him to Tarsus.
Acts 9:31 The Church throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria was at peace. It was being built up and walked in the fear of the Lord, and with the consolation of the Holy Spirit it grew in numbers. This verse is a transition between Saul's conversion story and the continuing mission of St. Peter.
Acts 9:32-42 ~ Peter Heals and Preaches in Lydda, Sharon
and Joppa (Jaffa)
32 As Peter was passing every region, he went down to the holy ones [saints] living in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been confined to bed for eight years, for he was paralyzed. 34 Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and make your bed." He got up at once. 35 And all the inhabitants of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord.
36 Now in Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (which translated means Dorcas). She was completely occupied with good deeds and almsgiving. 37 Now during those days she fell sick and died, so after washing her, they laid her out in a room upstairs. 38 Since Lyyda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there sent two men to him with the request, "Please come to us without delay." 39 So Peter got up and went with them. When he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs where all the widows came to him weeping and showing him the tunics and cloaks that Dorcas had made while she was with them. 40 Peter sent them all out and knelt down and prayed. Then he turned to her body and said, "Tabitha, rise up." She opened her eyes, saw Peter, and sat up. 41 He gave her his hand and raised her up, and when he had called the holy ones [hagios = saints] and the widows, he presented her alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many came to believe in the Lord. And he stayed a long time in Joppa with Simon, a tanner.
[..]= literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 350.
St. Peter, fulfilling his role as the Vicar of Christ,
regularly visited the different faith communities that were founded in Judea
and Samaria. Lydda is located in the plain below Jerusalem, about 2-3 miles
from the road connecting Joppa and Jerusalem and about 11 miles east of Joppa
and modern Tel Aviv. Sharon is the coastal plain of northwest Israel and
extends about 50 miles along the Mediterranean coast from Mt. Carmel in the
north to Joppa in the south. Joppa, about 38 miles from Jerusalem, was Judea's
main seaport. Today it is known as Jaffa and is a suburb of Tel Aviv. Peter
healed a paralyzed man in Lydda and brought a dead woman back to life in Joppa.
Question: What two miracles that Jesus' performed did Peter repeat in Lydda and Joppa?
Answer: He has repeated the miracle of Jesus in Luke 5:18-25 when Jesus cured the paralyzed man and in Luke 8:52-56 when Jesus raised Jairus' daughter from the dead.
The next two stories introduce the sub-theme that genuine faith is demonstrated by good deeds. Tabitha is the woman's Aramaic name and Dorcas her Greek name. The women had washed Tabitha's body in preparation for burial. This was the practice for those who died of natural causes. In Jerusalem the body had to be buried the same day the person died, but outside of Jerusalem up to three days between death and burial were allowed.
Notice that Luke makes a point of telling us that Tabitha
was devoted to doing good deeds and in almsgiving (9:36) and her friends wanted
Peter to see samples of the items she made for the poor in her faith community
Question: Why did they want Peter to see samples of her good works in the tunics and cloaks she made? What did St. James say about works and faith in James 2:24, 26 and what does Sirach 3:30 day about the value of almsgiving?
Answer: Her good deeds were evidence of her faith. St. James wrote that a person is justified/saved by works and not by faith alone. He also wrote: "for just as a body without a spirit is dead, so also faith without works in dead." Sirach wrote: Water quenches a flaming fire, and alms atone for sins.
Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote: One does not attain
faith by virtues, but rather one attains virtues by faith. Tabatha's life
demonstrated evidence of the good works that are born from her faith. The
Catholic Church has never taught that there is a separation between faith and
works. Scripture teaches that in the Last Judgment our lives will be judged
according to the good works produced by our faith.
Question: In Jesus' teaching on the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46, what is the determining factor for assigning someone to eternal life or eternal punishment? What will be the basis for judgment in St. John's vision of the Last Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15?
Answer: In the Last Judgment that Jesus described in Matthew 25:31-46, those who have demonstrated their faith in works of compassion will inherit eternal life (Mt 25:34-40), but those who were selfishly dismissive of those in need will be destined for eternal fire (Mt 25:41, 45). In St. John's vision of the Last Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15, judgment will be determined by what names are written in the Book of Life and the rewards that will be due those whose righteous works are recorded in the Books of Deeds.
Peter continued to stay in Joppa at the house of a man who was a tanner by profession. Tanning involved treating the skins of dead animals and was considered an "unclean" occupation; to come in contact with any form of death, including dead animals, made one ritually unclean (Lev 11:26-28, 39-40; 45-47). The processing of the hides was probably in close proximity with the living quarters and so the premises would have had a bad smell. That Peter stayed with a tanner shows his humility and lack of pretentiousness. In addition, Peter is already acknowledging that the old ritual purity laws of the Sinai Covenant are no longer binding in the New Covenant where Christ has cleansed and purified His people. The theme of faith demonstrated by works that began in the story of Tabitha continues into the next story of the first Roman Gentile convert.
Chapter 10: The Inauguration of the Church's Mission to the Gentiles in Caesarea
Since I, the LORD,
brought you up from the land of Egypt that I might be your God, you shall be
holy, because I am holy. This is the law for animals and birds and for all creatures
that move about in the water or swarm on the ground, that you may distinguish
between the clean and the unclean, between creatures that may be eaten and
those that may not be eaten.
Acts 10:1-8 ~ The Vision of the Centurion Cornelius
1 Now in Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of the Cohort called the Italica, 2 devout and God-fearing along with this whole household, who used to give alms generously to the Jewish people and pray to God constantly. 3 One afternoon about three o'clock [the ninth hour], he saw plainly in a vision an angel of God come in to him and say to him, "Cornelius." 4 He looked intently at him and, seized with fear, said, "What is it, sir [Kyrios = Lord]?" He said to him, "Your prayers and almsgiving have ascended as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send some men to Joppa and summon one Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with another Simon, a tanner, who has a house by the sea." 7 When the angel who spoke to him had left, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from his staff, 8 explained everything to them, and sent them to Joppa. [..]= literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 351.
Caesarea Maritima on the Mediterranean coast (not to be
confused with Caesarea Philippi that is located north of the Sea of Galilee),
also called Caesarea Augusta, was the administrative center of the Roman
governor of Judea and Samaria. Caesarea's
artificially constructed harbor was one of the wonders of the ancient world.(2) Cornelius is stationed with the Italica
Cohort, one of the ten divisions in a Roman legion and numbering from 300 to
600 soldiers. He is centurion, a Roman military officer who, in New Testament
times, commanded 80 men. However, senior centurions commanded
cohorts or took senior staff roles in their legion. It is possible that
Cornelius was a senior staff officer of the Italica Cohort.(3) Evidence suggests that
centurions had important social status and held powerful positions in society. They
seemed to receive their status according to their rank. Centurions had to be
literate, have connections (letters of recommendation), be at least 30 years of
age, and have already served a few years in the military.
Centurions provided the necessary stability to the entire Roman military system.
Cornelius is a Roman God-fearer (a believer in the God of Israel who had not fully converted through circumcision or ritual immersion) whose faith in God, St. Luke tells us, is demonstrated by his devotion to prayer and his good deeds. We were introduced to another Roman centurion who was a God-fearer in Luke 7:1-10. In that encounter Jesus praised the man, saying "I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith" (Lk 7:9). These two men will be the precursors to a large scale conversion of Roman officers and men to the new faith of Jesus the Messiah.(4)
St. Bede, quoting from Pope St. Gregory the Great wrote: Cornelius, he says, "whose alms-deeds before his baptism were praised by an angelic witness, did not come to faith by works but came to works by faith. For if he had not believed in the true God even before his baptism, to whom was he praying? Or how had almighty God heard this man, if it was not that he had been asking to be perfected in the good by this very God? Therefore he knew God as the creator of all things, but he did not know that the all-powerful Son had become flesh. He had faith, this man whose prayers and alms were able to please [God], and by his good deeds he earned the right to know God perfectly and to believe in the mystery of the incarnation of his only begotten, so that he might approach the sacrament of baptism. Therefore, through faith he came to works, yet through works he was strengthened in faith" (St. Bede quoting Pope St. Gregory the Great in The Acts of the Apostles 10.1).
Acts 10:3-4 One
afternoon about three o'clock [ninth hour], he saw plainly in a vision an angel
of God come in to him and say to him, "Cornelius." 4 He looked intently at him and, seized
with fear, said, "What is it, sir [Kyrios = Lord]?" He said to him, "Your
prayers and almsgiving have ascended as a memorial offering before God.
The ninth hour, or three in the afternoon, is the same hour Jesus gave up His life on the Cross (Mk 15:34, 37); it is also the hour of afternoon prayer and the afternoon liturgical worship service at the Jerusalem Temple. The Roman recognizes that he is having a vision of the divine and addresses the "angel of the Lord" as his superior by calling him "Kyrios", "Lord."
Question: What is it about Cornelius that has commended him to God?
Answer: His faith that is demonstrated by his prayers and his almsgiving.
The angel commands Cornelius to send for St. Peter who is still in Joppa. Cornelius sends three men; significantly one is a "devout soldier" under his command. It is not only Cornelius who is a God-fearer but he is the leader of what is probably a small community of Roman God-fearers.
Acts 10:9-16 ~ Peter's Vision Concerning the end of the
Ritual Purity Laws
9 The next day, while they were on their way and nearing the city, Peter went up to the roof terrace to pray at about noontime [the sixth hour]. 10 He was hungry and wished to eat, and while they were making preparations he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered to the ground by its four corners. 12 In it were all the earth's four-legged animals and reptiles and the birds of the sky. 13 A voice said to him, "Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat." 14 But Peter said, "certainly not, sir [Kyrios = Lord]. For never have I eaten anything profane and unclean." 15 The voice spoke to him again, a second time, "What God has made clean, you are not to call profane." 6 This happened three times, and then the object was taken up into the sky.
[..] = literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, pages 351-52.
The first hour of prayer could be observed any time from dawn to noon and the second hour of prayer from noon to five in the afternoon. The "hours" of prayer coincided with the two daily liturgical worship services of the communal sacrifice of the Tamid lambs. That Peter had not yet eaten suggests that he had been fasting and not yet made his morning prayers. Notice the repetition of threes "three men sent by Cornelius and the three time repetition of the command to Peter. Three in Scripture is a number that symbolizes something of importance, especially important in God's divine plan for man's salvation.
Acts 10:13-14 A
voice said to him, "Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat." 14 But Peter said, "certainly not, sir
[Kyrios = Lord]. For never have I eaten anything profane and unclean."
Peter addresses the voice as "Lord" because he understands he is having an encounter with the divine.
Question: Why is Peter shocked by the Lord's command to eat from the selection of all kinds of animals? See Lev 11:1-47; 20:25-26; Ez 4:14.
Answer: God's covenant people were to be set apart from the other peoples of the earth. God commanded the Israelites that they were to "keep yourselves holy, because I am holy." This condition of ritual purity and separation from the profane was to also be observed in the foods they ate. Some animals were "clean" and therefore permitted for food while others were designated "unclean" and were forbidden. The animals presented to Peter in the vision were both "clean" and "unclean."
Not only were the Israelites forbidden to expose themselves to the profane by eating "unclean" foods, but they could become ritually defiled by entering the domicile of a profane Gentile (all Gentiles are considered to be sinners) or by eating at a Gentile's table (Lk 7:6-7; Jn 18:28-29; Acts 10:28; Mishnah: Ohalot, 18:7B; 18:10). Ritual defilement from contact with sinners is one of the reasons the Pharisees criticized Jesus (Mt 9:10-11; Lk 5:29-30). Knowledge of the Jewish ritual purity laws associated with entering a Gentile's house is the reason the Roman centurion said to Jesus: Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof ... (Mt 8:8).
Acts 10:5-6 The
voice spoke to him again, a second time, "What God has made clean, you are not
to call profane." 6 This
happened three times, and then the object was taken up into the sky.
Question: What is the significance of the vision and the command?
Answer: God declares that the ritual purity laws that set Israelites apart from Gentiles are no longer valid in the age of the New Covenant. Without the suspension of these laws, the Apostles and disciples would not be able to come to Gentile homes or to eat in communion with Gentiles. This vision prepares Peter for accepting the hospitality of Cornelius.
Acts 10:17-23 ~ Peter's Visitors
17 While Peter was in doubt about the meaning of the vision he had seen, the men sent by Cornelius asked for Simon's house and arrived at the entrance. 18 They called out inquiring whether Simon, who is called Peter, was staying there. 19 As Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, "There are three men here looking for you. 20 So get up, go downstairs, and accompany them without hesitation, because I have sent them." 21 Then Peter went down to the men and said, "I am the one you are looking for. What is the reason for your being here?" 22 They answered, "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God-fearing man, respected by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to summon you to his house and to hear what you have to say." 23 So he invited them in and showed them hospitality. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went with him.
Question: How does the arrival of the three men help
Peter understand his vision and the thrice given command?
Answer: The arrival of the delegation of the three men from Cornelius completes Peter's understanding of the vision. Not only has he been given a vision but the Gentile who has sent for him was also given a divine vision. Peter understands that it is God's will that he meets with the God-fearers without worrying about any violation of the ritual purity laws of the Old Covenant.
Acts 10:23 So he invited them in and showed them hospitality. The next day he got up and went with them, and some of the brothers from Joppa went with him. The vision also prepared Peter to offer the three Gentiles hospitality (Acts 11:11). We are told in Acts 11:12 that six Jewish-Christian brothers went with Peter to Caesarea.
Acts 10:24-33 ~ Peter's Meeting with Cornelius
24 On the following day he entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and falling at his feet, paid him homage. 26 Peter, however, raised him up, saying, "Get up. I myself am also a human being." 27 While he conversed with him, he went in and found many people gathered together 28 and said to them, "You know that it is unlawful for a Jewish man to associate with, or visit a Gentile, but God has shown me that I should not call any person profane or unclean. 29 And that is why I came without objection when sent for. May I ask, then, why you summoned me?" 30 Cornelius replied, "Four days ago at this hour, [from the fourth day up to this hour] three o'clock in the afternoon [the ninth hour], I was at prayer in my house when suddenly a man in dazzling robes stood before me and said, 31 Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your almsgiving remembered before God. 32 Send therefore to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter. He is a guest in the house of Simon a tanner, by the sea.' 33 So I sent for you immediately, and you were kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here in the presence of God to listen to all that you have been commanded by the Lord."
[..] = literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 353.
Cornelius is filled with gratitude that Peter has consented
to come and speak to those who are assembled. That a Roman conqueror should
fall to his knees in front of a Jewish vassal is shocking. Once again we see
Peter's humility in telling the Roman to rise up. He is obedient to Jesus'
teaching on the night of the Last Supper in John 13:12-17. Peter is Christ's
servant sent to serve others.
Question: What is the impact of the two visions (to Cornelius and to Peter) on Peter? What does he understand concerning ritual cleansing and the Gentiles? See verses 28-29.
Answer: Christ died that all sinners might be cleansed and made whole spiritually. Christ can purify the hearts of the Gentiles even if their bodies remain uncircumcised. The immediate conclusion is that Peter must not fear contact with the uncircumcised.
Question: We know from Acts 8:40 that Deacon Philip
was living in Caesarea at this time (Acts 8:40). Why so you think the Holy
Spirit did not direct Philip to baptize the Gentile God-fearers?
Answer: The action of baptizing Gentiles without having them convert to Judaism first is a momentous step forward in the growth of the Church. The decision required Peter who was Christ's Vicar and who held the "keys of the kingdom" to "bind and to loose" and had the authority to implement Gentile baptism. Philip would not have had that authority.
Acts 10:34-43 ~ Peter's Homily in the House of Cornelius
(kerygmatic proclamation # 5)
34 Then Peter proceeded to speak and said, "In truth, I see that God shows no partiality. 35 Rather, in every nation whoever fears him and acts uprightly is acceptable to him. 36 You know the word that he sent to the Israelites as he proclaimed peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all, 37 what has happened all over Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached, 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power. He went about doing good and healing all those oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. 39 We are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by handing him on a tree. 40 This man God raised on the third day and granted that he be visible, 41 not to all the people, but to us, the witnesses chosen by God in advance, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commissioned us to preach to the people and testify that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believed in him will receive forgiveness of sins through his name.
This is Peter's fifth kerygmatic address.
Question: Does this speech have the same basic outline as his other proclamations of Jesus as Lord and Savior? If so, what is the basic kerygmatic message? See Acts 2:14-39; 3:12-26; 4:8-12; 5:29-32 and 10:34-43
Acts 10:44-48 ~ The Baptism of Cornelius' Household and
44 While Peter was still speaking these things, the Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the word. 45 The circumcised believers who had accompanied Peter were astounded that the gift of the Holy Spirit should have been poured out on the Gentiles also, 46 for they could hear them speaking in tongues and glorifying God. Then Peter responded, 47 "Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people. Who have received the Holy Spirit even as we have?" 48 He ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they invited him to stay for a few days.
God the Holy Spirit baptized the group of Gentile believers
in the same way He baptized the Jewish believers in the Upper Room on Pentecost
Sunday. The sign of their spiritual baptism was that they began to speak "in
tongues" "a manifestation of the Spirit in which a believer speaks to God in a
language other than his own. It is a manifestation that first occurred at
Pentecost when the Apostles began preaching the Gospel in a number of different
languages (Acts 2:4-11; also see 19:6 and 1 Cor 14).
Question: What does this phenomenon signify to St. Peter? See Mt 28:19-20; Mk 16:15-17.
Answer: It is a sign that the Gospel message of salvation is a universal message to be preached to all nations as Jesus told the Apostles before His Ascension.
Peter ordered that the entire assembly of Gentiles be baptized immediately. Since Cornelius' family and friends were present, we assume that children and infants were baptized. Infant baptism has been part of the ritual of Christian baptism since the beginning of the Church (CCC 403, 1231, 1233, 1250-52, 1282, 1290).
Chapter 11: The Church Supports the Mission to the Gentiles
Acts 11:1-18 ~ Peter Defends the Baptism of Gentiles into
1 Now the Apostles and the brothers who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles too had accepted the word of God. 2 So when Peter went up to Jerusalem the circumcised believers confronted him, 3 saying, "You entered the house of uncircumcised people and ate with them." 4 Peter began and explained to them step by step, saying, 5 "I was at prayer in the city of Joppa when in a trance I had a vision, something resembling a large sheet coming down, lowered from the sky by its four corners, and it came to me. 6 Looking intently into it, I observed and saw the four-legged animals of the earth, the wild beasts, the reptiles, and the birds of the sky. 7 I also heard a voice say to me, Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.' 8 But I said, Certainly not, sir [Kyrios = Lord], because nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' 9 But a second time a voice from heaven answered, What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.' 10 This happened three times, and then everything was drawn up again into the sky. 11 Just then three men appeared at the house where we were, who had been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 The Spirit told me to accompany them without discriminating. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man's house. 13 He related to us how he had seen the angel standing in his house, saying Send someone to Joppa and summon Simon, who is called Peter, 14 who will speak words to you by which you and all your household will be saved.' 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them as it had upon us at the beginning, 16 and I remembered the word of the Lord, how he has said, John baptized with water but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' 17 If then God gave them the same gift he gave to us when we came to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to be able to hinder God?" 18 When they heard this, they stopped objecting and glorified God, saying, "God has then granted life-giving repentance to the Gentiles too."
Peter repeats the story of his vision, repeated three times,
the three men who arrive to see him and the two times three brothers who
accompany him to meet the Gentiles in Caesarea.
Question: What potential crisis does Peter face after his return to the Jerusalem community?
Answer: The six Jewish-Christian brothers who had accompanied Peter to Caesarea told the other members of the Jerusalem community about the baptism of the Gentile Romans. The community, still feeling bound by the Old Covenant ritual purity laws, is scandalized to hear that Peter would allow himself and the others with him to become ritually defiled by entering a Gentile house and eating with Gentiles.
This is the first of many challenges Peter will have in bringing Jews and Gentiles together as one community in Christ.(5) Addressing the concern of the Jerusalem community, Peter carefully retells the events that led to the baptism of the Gentiles and quotes Jesus' promise of baptism by the Holy Spirit verbatim that is found in Mark 1:8.(6) Fortunately, the Jerusalem community accepts Peter's leadership and welcomes the entrance of Gentiles into the Church. The introduction of this controversy prepares us for a similar issue that will arise later that will require a formal council of Peter and the Apostles to resolve the controversy in chapter 15.
Acts 11:19-26 ~ The Christian Community at Antioch
19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution that arose because of Stephen went as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but Jews. 20 There were some Cypriots and Cyrenians among them, however, who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks as well, proclaiming the Lord Jesus. 21 The hand of the Lord was with them and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 The news about them reached the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to go to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain faithful to the Lord in firmness of heart, 24 for he was a good man, filled with the Holy Spirit and faith. And a large number of people was added to the Lord. 25 Then he went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a large number of people, and it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians.
Jewish disciples from the island of Cyprus and the North
African city of Cyrene founded the community of believers in Antioch. Antioch
was the chief city of the Roman province of Syria and one of the most prominent
cities in the Roman Empire "the third most important after Rome and Alexandria,
Egypt. The city was located in a fertile plain by the Orontes River some
seventeen miles from the sea. It had access to the trade routes from the East
and the West, and according to the Roman historian Pliny the elder (d. 79 AD)
in the 1st century AD had as many as 600,000 residents (Natural History 6.112).
Question: What was unique about the community at Antioch as opposed to the other early faith communities in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria? Why did they call themselves "Christians'?
Answer: The faith community in Antioch was the first mixed community of Jews and Gentiles. They called themselves "Christians" because their Gentile members enable them to stand apart from other Jewish communities who believed in Jesus and called themselves "The Way."
The title Christianoi is obviously based on the Greek word christos, a word used to translate the Hebrew word for Messiah ""anointed;" therefore, Christianoi could be translated "Messianist." Also see Acts 26:28 where the title Christianoi is used by Herod Agrippa II and 1 Peter 4:16 by St. Peter.
Question: What was the reaction of the Apostles in
Jerusalem when they heard about the community in Antioch?
Answer: They immediately sent Barnabas as a representative of the Church to make sure the Antioch believers were receiving proper instruction in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Barnabas realized the fertile ground of the growing Antioch community needed more laborers, and so he went to Tarsus to recruit Saul. The relationship between Saul and the Antioch community will yield the spread of the Gospel to Gentiles in Asia Minor and Greece.
Acts 11:27-30 ~ The Antioch Community's Response to Aid
Faith Communities in Judea
27 At that time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch, 28 and one of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine all over the world, and it happened under Claudius. 29 So the disciples determined that, according to ability, each should send relief to the brothers who lived in Judea. 30 This they did, sending it to the presbyters in care of Barnabas and Saul.
Like the Old Testament prophets, the New Testament prophets are charismatics who are inspired by the Spirit to speak for God. Christian prophets seem to occupy the second place after the Apostles in the order of charisms (1 Cor 12:28-29; Eph 4:11). They are anointed witnesses of the Spirit (1 Thes 5:19-20; Rev 2:7) whose revelations they communicate (1 Cor 14:6, 26, 30; Eph 3:5; Rev 1:1). It appears that the prophet Agabus was sent by the Jerusalem community to ask for help in advance of the predicted famine. Evidence of the spiritual vitality of the Antioch community is their immediate decision to aid the churches in Judea. Roman writers Tacitus and Suetonius mention famines in the empire during the reign of the Emperor Claudius (41-54 AD). The famine began in Greece and later spread to Rome and other parts of the Empire. Jewish priest/historian Flavius Josephus also mentions a famine in Judea during the reign of Claudius (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.2.5; 20.5.2).
Acts 11:30 This
they did, sending it to the presbyters in care of Barnabas and Saul.
Up to this point Luke has used the word presbyteroi for Jewish "elders" who are religious leaders (Lk 7:3; 9:22; 20:1; 22:52; Acts 4:5, 8, 23; 6:12). For the first time Luke now uses presbyteroi for the leaders in the messianic community (also see Acts 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18). In the New Covenant hierarchy it is the word that will come to designate the New Covenant priests of Christian communities.
Chapter 12: The Church Faces Persecution
Acts 12:1-5 ~ The Martyrdom of St. James and St. Peter's
1 About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the Church to harm them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed by the sword, and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also. It was the feast of Unleavened Bread. 3 He had him taken into custody and put in prison under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. 5 He intended to bring him before the people after Passover. Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf.
The events in chapter 12 are taking place after Barnabas and Saul have come to Jerusalem with the aid from the Antioch community for the Jerusalem church. This is probably Saul's second visit to Jerusalem after first meeting the Apostles three years after his conversion. King Herod Agrippa I (grandson of Herod the Great) was given direct rule of Judea by the Roman Senate in 41 AD. He ruled Judea until his death in 44 AD. To please his Jewish subjects, who deeply resent the growing Christian influence, Herod Agrippa declared his solidarity with them and the Pharisees by persecuting the church in Jerusalem (Josephus records that his loyalty was with the party of the Pharisees in Antiquities of the Jews, 19.6.1-4). He arrested and executed the Apostle James Zebedee, and when he saw the execution was popular with many of his Jewish citizens, he also arrested St. Peter. According to Church tradition, James was executed c. 42 AD. In his Church History Eusebius records an account by St. Clement of Alexandria that the Apostle James spent his time prior to his execution witnessing of Christ to his jailor who was converted and then executed with him (Church History 2.9.1-3).
Luke uses the names of the feats of Unleavened Bread and Passover
interchangeably as he did in his Gospel (Lk 22:7). Originally these were two
separate festivals "the Passover sacrifice on the 14th of Nisan and
the Feast of Unleavened Bread from the 15th to the 21st
of Nisan. In the 1st century AD it was celebrated as an 8-day feast
and was often only referred to as "Passover" (as in St. John's Gospel).
Question: Why does Luke mention the Feast of Unleavened Bread? What connection does he want us to make?
Answer: Luke wants us to make the connection that Peter was arrested at the same time of year that Jesus was arrested "during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
The unusually large number of soldiers assigned to guard Peter was either because Herod feared the Christians would try to rescue him by force, or Peter's escape from prison years earlier was remembered (Acts 5:17-23).
Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf. The prayers of the community on Peter's behalf will be answered.
Acts 12:6-19 ~ Peter's Miraculous Release
6 On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter, secured by double chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison. 7 Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, "Get up quickly." The chains fell from his wrists [hands]. 8 The angel told him, "Put on your belt and your sandals." He did so. Then he said to him, "Put on your cloak and follow me." 9 So he followed him out, not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first guard, then the second, and came to the iron gate leading out to the city, which opened for them by itself. They emerged and made their way down an alley, and suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter, recovered his senses and said, "Now I know for certain that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.' 12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is called Mark, where there were many people gathered in prayer. 13 When he knocked on the gateway door, a maid named Rhoda came to answer it. 14 She was so overjoyed when she recognized Peter's voice that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They told her, "You are out of your mind," but she insisted that it was so. But they kept saying, "It is his angel." 16 But Peter continued to knock, and when they opened it, they saw him and were astounded. 17 He motioned to them with his hand to be quiet and explained to them how the Lord had let him out of the prison, and said, "Report this to James and the brothers." Then he left and went to another place. 18 At daybreak there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 Herod, after instituting a search but not finding him, ordered the guards tried and executed. Then he left Judea to spend some time in Caesarea.
[..] = literal translation IBGE, vol. IV, page 358.
St. Peter's deliverance by an angel of the Lord can be compared to Israel's deliverance from Egyptian bondage. Like Israel, St. Peter is rescued at Passover/Unleavened from the clutches of a wicked king (Ex 12:1-20, 50 and Acts 12:1-2), and like the Israelites on the night of their liberation, Peter is told to gird himself with his belt and to put on his sandals on his feet (Ex 12:11 compared to Acts 12:8).
This is an amusing account of Peter's deliverance. At first Peter does not understand that he is being rescued from prison. It takes the urging of a very patient angel to get Peter dressed and moving. Once he arrives at the home-church of Mary of Jerusalem, the servant girl is so excited that she fails to admit Peter and when she reports that he is at the gate the other members of the community do not believe her, telling her it is Peter's guardian angel (see Gen 48:16; Tobit 5:22; Mt 18:10). Finally they hear Peter's determined knocking and let him in.
Her home was the regular meeting place of the Jerusalem community and may have been where the Last Supper took place and where the Holy Spirit descended upon the community of believers at Pentecost.
Acts 12:17 He
motioned to them with his hand to be quiet and explained to them how the Lord
had let him out of the prison, and said, "Report this to James and the
brothers." Then he left and went to another place.
Peter ordered the disciples to report what had happened to James, the Christian bishop of the church in Jerusalem. James, the "brother of the Lord" (Mt 13:55; Mk 6:3; Acts 1:14; 1 Cor 15:7) will be become the leader of the Jerusalem church and will be called by St. Paul one of the three pillars of the Church (Gal 1:19, 2:9). Peter then left Jerusalem and according to St. Jerome he went to the community at Antioch where he made his home for seven years (Gal 2:14) and continued to visit churches as far away as Corinth (1 Cor 1:10; 9:5) before leaving for Rome (Jerome, de vir. Ill. c.I; Pt 5:13; 1 Clement 5:4; Acts of Peter 7; Church History, II.14.1-6). Herod left for his royal residence Caesarea.
Acts 12:20-24 ~ Herod's
20 He had long been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, who now came to him in a body. After winning over Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they sued for peace because their country was supplied with food from the king's territory. 21 On an appointed day, Herod, attired in royal robes, and seated on the rostrum, addressed them publicly. 22 The assembled crowd cried out, "This is the voice of a god, not of a man." 23 At once the angel of the Lord struck him down because he did not ascribe the honor to God, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. 24 But the word of God continued to spread and grow.
The delegation from Tyre and Sidon may have been petitioning Herod to supply them with food during the famine. Perhaps supplies sent by the Empire were to be shared with these cities "the reason for the dispute is unclear. However, now that the petition had been granted, they had come to Caesarea to show their appreciation and to make amends. Herod's dreadful death is seen as God's divine judgment on his life of sin, his persecution of the Church, and his acceptance of the delegation's praise for him as a "god." His end is also recorded by Flavius Josephus who reports that Herod received the delegation during a festival celebrated at the theater in Caesarea and was wearing a marvelous silver garment that reflected the sunlight: ... and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place , and another from another (though not for his good), that he was a god; and they added, "Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced three only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own three as superior to mortal nature." Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery ... A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner ... and when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life (Antiquities of the Jews, 19.8.2). After Herod Agrippa's death his son was too young to rule; therefore Judea returned to being governed by a Roman procurator. Procurator Cuspius Fadus ruled Judea from 44-46 AD.
Acts 12:25 ~ Barnabas and Saul return to Antioch
After Barnabas and Saul completed their relief mission, they returned to Jerusalem, taking with them John, who is called Mark.
Mary of Jerusalem's son Mark returned with his kinsman Barnabas and Saul to their Christian community in Antioch. This is the transition passage that signals the beginning of Saul/Paul's mission to the Gentiles.
2. The ancient city was located between modern Tel Aviv and Haifa on the Mediterranean coast. The city was constructed on the site of an ancient town called Strato's Tower by Herod the Great from 22 to 10 BC to be one of the great cities of the Roman Empire. The city was known for its temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar, a large hippodrome for chariot races, a theater, a complex of large waterfront warehouses, a sewer system and the world's first artificial harbor. The harbor, Sebastos, was an engineering wonder that included artificial breakwaters constructed by Roman engineers using the first successful known use of hydraulic concrete and innovative features that mitigated silt accumulation and wave damage. Ships that entered the harbor passed through an entryway flanked by giant statues of the imperial family. Flavius Josephus wrote: The city Herod dedicated to the province, the harbor to navigators in these waters, to Caesar the glory of this new foundation, to which he accordingly gave the name Caesarea (Antiquities of the Jews, 15.9.6). Viewing the city from his ship, the new Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, wrote to a friend: Congratulate me, my friend, for I have reached my province. Wish me a quiet and uneventful term, without rebellion, droughts or tumults, so that I may earn promotion and in some higher post then this help to make history. I have left Procula on deck. She is wildly excited. She expected, I believe, to find tents and savages, and here is a city which looks, she says, almost as good as Naples. Certainly there is nothing Jewish about its appearance. The first thing we saw, from many miles out, was a temple of white, gleaming marble high up on a hill (from The Letters of Pontius Pilate, transcribed by R.O. Hatfield, edited by W#.P. Crozier). Procula is Pilate's wife Claudia Procula (Mt 27:19). Pilate did get his wish. He left his mark on history as the man who reluctantly condemned Jesus Christ to crucifixion. For more information on the port of Caesarea, visit this site: http://australis.www2.50megs.com/caesarea/Caesarea.html.
3. A Roman legion was composed of about 6,000 men and generally included about 60 centuries per legion, 10 cohorts per legion and 6 centuries per cohort as well as cavalry and auxiliary units.
4. Archaeologists have discovered the foundations of an ancient Christian church near Tel Megiddo, Israel, dating to the 3rd century AD. It is the oldest permanent site for Christians worship (other than church-homes) discovered in the Holy Land. It was found in the ruins of a Roman military complex at Megiddo. An inscription in the Megiddo church mentions a Roman officer named "Gaianus" who donated "his own money" for a mosaic that adorned the floor of the church. The members of the congregation appear to have been Roman soldiers and their families.
5. A set of Jewish who professed Jesus the Messiah known as the Ebionites will refuse to accept Gentiles into the covenant. The Jewish Ebionites believed Jesus was the promised Messiah, but insisted on continuing to adhere to the rites of the Sinai Covenant. Their name is believed to derive from the Hebrew word for "poor." The only Gospel they accepted was the Gospel of Matthew (written for the Jews). They revered St. James the Just, Bishop of Jerusalem, and despised St. Paul as an apostate from the Law. Most of what is known about the Ebionites comes from the writings of the Church Fathers who wrote polemics against the Ebionites, calling them heretical Judaizers. The Church pronounced them a heretical sect and the movement seems to have mostly died out by the end of the 4th century; however some scholar believe vestiges of the set remained until about 1000 AD.
6. According to Tertullian (155-240 AD) and Eusebius' history of the Church, St. Mark was St. Peter's secretary in Rome and wrote down St. Peter's account of the life of Jesus in his Gospel (Tertillian, Against Marcion 4.5.1; Eusebius, Church History 6.14.1-5). In his first epistle, St. Peter names Mark as his assistant (1 Pt 5:13). This would explain why Peter's repeat of what he heard Jesus promise concerning the Holy Spirit and baptism is only found in Mark's Gospel.
Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2013 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.
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