Listening to our church sermon on Acts 12 (our talk recordings are here) it was impossible to miss the parallels between the attack on Jesus and the attack on the church. Within five short verses, Luke artfully associates Jesus’ Easter experience with the life of the Jerusalem church. Here are the details that establish the link.
When Jesus was arrested, Pilate drew a Herod – Herod Antipas – into the trial (Luke 23:7-8). In Acts 12, it’s another Herod – Herod Agrippa – who arrests Jesus’ apostles (Acts 12:1). The Herodian family can’t keep away from mischief!
- Unleavened Bread
Jesus’ last days before crucifixion were in the days of Unleavened Bread (see Luke 22:1, 7). The arrests in Acts were at the same time of year (Acts 12:3)
- After the Passover
Herod’s initial plan was to bring Peter out from prison “after Passover” (Acts 12:4). Compare this with the plans for Jesus’ arrest (“not during the feast” Mat 26:5, Mark 14:2). In both cases the planned delay did not occur
Prayer is common in the whole Bible. Praying earnestly is very rare. It’s how Jesus prayed in the Garden (Luke 22:44), and how the church prayed for Peter (Acts 12:5)
- Death & deliverance
Jesus was crucified, yet was delivered from the tomb. In Acts 12 James is killed while Peter is delivered from death. The experience of the church was not simply one or the other – there’s both death and deliverance.
These similarities build up a picture. Luke, I believe, wants us to see that the attack on the church in Jerusalem was like the attack on Jesus in Jerusalem. It’s not an exact parallel in each detail, yet there is a definite likeness. Jesus uniquely lived out Easter. Jesus’ death and life is the hub of God’s work. The church is built on Jesus’ Easter ministry. And also the church embodies Easter. The shape of church life is Easter.
Why point this out? So we have right expectations.
In church, and in this world, believers are not immune to unpredictable hate. James was killed, but this was not a sign that Jesus somehow failed the church. Peter was freed, but this does not constitute a promise from Jesus to ‘get out of gaol free.’
Church life, in other words, is the same turbulent and confusing and troubling life that Jesus experienced as part of the first Easter. And church life is certainly the place where God himself is at work for good.