12 It was about this time that King Herod attacked certain members of the church. He beheaded James, the brother of John , and then, when he saw that the Jews approved, proceeded to arrest Peter also. This happened during the festival of Unleavened Bread. Having secured him, he put him in prison under a military guard, four squads of four men each, meaning to produce him in public after Passover. So Peter was kept in prison under constant watch, while the church kept praying fervently for him to God.
On the very night before Herod had planned to bring him forward, Peter was asleep between two soldiers, secured by two chains, while outside the doors sentries kept guard over the prison. All at once an angel of the Lord stood there, and the cell was ablaze with light. He tapped Peter on the shoulder and woke him. ‘Quick! Get up!’, he said, and the chains fell away from his wrists. The angel then said to him, ‘Do up your belt and put your sandals on.’ He did so. ‘Now wrap your cloak round you and follow me.’ He followed him out, with no idea that the angel’s intervention was real: he thought it was just a vision. But they passed the first guard-post, then the second, and reached the iron gate leading out into the city, which opened for them of its own accord. And so they came out and walked the length of one street; and the angel left him.
Then Peter came to himself. ‘Now I know it is true,’ he said, ‘the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.’ When he realized how things stood, he made for the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where a large company was at prayer. He knocked at the outer door and a maid called Rhoda came to answer it. She recognized Peter’s voice and was so overjoyed that instead of opening the door she ran in and announced that Peter was standing outside. ‘You are crazy,’ they told her; but she insisted that it was so. Then they said, ‘ It must be his guardian angel.’
Meanwhile Peter went on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astounded. With a movement of the hand he signed them to keep quiet, and told them how the Lord had brought him out of prison. ‘Report this to James and the members of the church,’ he said. Then he left the house and went off elsewhere.
When morning came, there was consternation among the soldiers: what could have become of Peter? Herod made close search, but failed to find him, so he interrogated the guards and ordered their execution.
Afterwards he left Judaea to reside for a time at Caesarea. He had for some time been furiously angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, who now by common agreement presented themselves at his court. There they won over Blastus the royal chamberlain, and sued for peace, because their country drew supplies from the king’s territory. So, on an appointed day, attired in his royal robes and seated on the rostrum, Herod harangued them; and the populace shouted back, ‘It is god speaking, not a man!’ Instantly an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he had usurped the honour due to God; he was eaten up with worms and died.
Meanwhile the word of God continued to grow and spread.
Barnabas and Saul, their task fulfilled, returned from Jerusalem, taking John Mark with them.
The church breaks barriers
13 There were at Antioch, in the congregation there, certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen, who had been at the court of Prince Herod, and Saul. While they were keeping a fast and offering worship to the Lord, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set Barnabas and Saul apart for me, to do the work to which I have called them.’ Then, after further fasting and prayer, they laid their hands on them and let them go.
So these two, sent out on their mission by the Holy Spirit, came down to Seleucia, and from there sailed to Cyprus. Arriving at Salamis, they declared the word of God in the Jewish synagogues. They had John with them as their assistant. They went through the whole island as far as Paphos, and there they came upon a sorcerer, a Jew who posed as a prophet, Bar-Jesus by name. He was in the retinue of the Governor Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man, who had sent for Barnabas and Saul and wanted to hear the word of God. This Elymas the sorcerer (so his name may be translated) opposed them, trying to turn the governor away from the Faith. But Saul, also known as Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, fixed his eyes on him and said, ‘You swindler, you rascal, son of the devil and enemy of all goodness, will you never stop falsifying the straight ways of the Lord? Look now, the hand of the Lord strikes: you shall be blind, and for a time you shall not see the sunlight.’ Instantly mist and darkness came over him and he groped about for someone to lead him by the hand. When the Governor saw what had happened he became a believer, deeply impressed by what he learned about the Lord.
Leaving Paphos, Paul and his companions went by Perga in Pamphylia; John, however, left them and returned to Jerusalem. From Perga they continued their journey as far as Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath they went to synagogue and took their seats; and after the readings from the Law and the prophets, the officials of the synagogue sent this message to them: ‘Friends, if you have anything to say to the people by way of exhortation, let us hear it.’ Paul rose, made a gesture with his hand, and began:
‘Men of Israel and you who worship our God, listen to me! The God of this people of Israel chose our fathers. When they were still living as aliens in Egypt he made them into a nation and brought them out of that country with arm outstretched. For some forty years he bore with their conduct in the desert. Then in the Canaanite country he overthrew seven nations, whose lands he gave them to be their heritage for some four hundred and fifty years, and afterwards appointed judges for them until the time of the prophet Samuel.
‘Then they asked for a king and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, who reigned for forty years. Then he removed him and set up David as their king, giving him his approval in these words: “I have found David son of Jesse to be a man after my own heart, who will carry out all my purposes.” This is the man from whose prosperity God, as he promised, has brought Israel a saviour, Jesus. John made ready for his coming by proclaiming baptism as a token of repentance to the whole people of Israel. And when John was nearing the end of his course, he said, “I am not who you think I am. No, after me comes one whose shoes I am not fit to unfasten.”
‘My brothers, you who come out of the stock of Abraham, and others among you who revere our God, we are the people to whom the message of this salvation has been sent. The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize him, or understand the words of the prophets which are read Sabbath by Sabbath; indeed they fulfilled them by condemning him. Though they failed to find grounds for the sentence of death, they asked Pilate to have him executed. And when they had carried out all that the scriptures said about him, they took him down from the gibbet and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and there was a period of many days during which he appeared to those who had come up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem.
‘They are now his witnesses before our nation; and we are here to give you the good news that God, who made the promise to the fathers, has fulfilled it for the children by raising Jesus from the dead, as indeed it stands written, in the second Psalm: “You are my son; this day I have begotten you.” Again, that he raised him from the dead, never again to revert to corruption.” As for David, when he had served the purpose of God in his own generation, he died, and was gathered to his fathers, and suffered corruption; but the one whom God raised up did not suffer corruption; and you must overstand, my brothers, that it is through him that everyone who has faith is acquitted of everything for which there was no acquittal under the Law of Moses. Beware then, lest you bring down upon yourselves the doom proclaimed by the prophets: “See this, you scoffers, wonder, and begone; for I am doing a deed in your days, a deed which you will never believe when you are told of it.”‘
As they were leaving the synagogue they were asked to come again and speak on these subjects next Sabbath; and after the congregation had dispersed, many Jews and gentile worshipers went along with Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to hold fast to the grace of God.
On the following Sabbath almost the whole city gathered to hear the word of God. When the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealous resentment, and contradicted what Paul said, with violent abuse. But Paul and Barnabas were outspoken in their reply. ‘It was necessary,’ they said, ‘that the word of God should be declared to you first. But since you reject it and thus condemn yourselves as unworthy of eternal life, we now turn to the Gentiles. For these are our instructions from the Lord: “I have appointed you to be a light for the Gentiles, and a means to salvation to the earth’s farthest bounds.” ‘ When the Gentiles heard this, they were overjoyed and thankfully acclaimed the word of the Lord, and those who were marked out for eternal life became believers. So the word of the Lord spread far and wide through the region. But the Jews stirred up feeling among women of standing who were worshipers, and among the leading men of the city; a persecution was started against Paul and Barnabas, and they were expelled from the district. So they shook the dust off their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium. And the converts were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.
14 At Iconium similarly they went into the Jewish synagogue and spoke to such purpose that a large body of Jews and Gentiles became believers. But the unconverted Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the Christians. For some time Paul and Barnabas stayed on and spoke boldly and openly in reliance on the Lord; and he confirmed the message of his grace by causing signs and miracles to be worked at their hands. The mass of the townspeople were divided, some siding with the Jews, others with the apostles. But when a move was made by Gentiles and Jews together, with the connivance of the city authorities, to maltreat them and stone them, they got wind of it and made their escape to the Lycaonian cities of Lystra and Derbe and the surrounding country, where they continued to spread the good news.
At Lystra sat a crippled man, lame from birth, who had never walked in his life. This man listened while Paul was speaking. Paul fixed his eyes on him and saw that he had the faith to be cured, so he said to him in a loud voice, ‘Stand up straight on your feet’; and he sprang up and started to walk. When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in their native Lycaonian, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form.’ And they called Barnabas Jupiter, and Paul they called Mercury, because he was the spokesman. And the priest of Jupiter, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and he and all the people were about to offer sacrifice.
But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed into the crowd shouting, ‘Men, what is this that you are doing? We are only human beings, no less mortal than you. The good news we bring tells you to turn from these follies to the living God, who made heaven and earth and sea and everything in them. In past ages he allowed all nations to go their own way; and yet he has not left you without some clue to his nature, in the kindness he shows: he sends you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons, and gives you food and good cheer in plenty.’
With these words they barely managed to prevent the crowd from offering sacrifice to them.
Then Jews from Antioch and Iconium came on the scene and won over the crowds. They stoned Paul, and dragged him out of the city, thinking him dead. The converts formed a ring around him, and he got to his feet and went into the city. Next day he left Barnabas for Derbe.
After bringing the good news to that town, where they gained many converts, they returned to Lystra, then to Iconium, and then to Antioch, heartening the converts and encouraging them to be true to their religion. They warned them that to enter the kingdom of God we must pass through many hardships. They also appointed elders for them in each congregation, and with prayer and fasting committed them to the Lord in whom they put their faith.
Then they passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. When they had given the message at Perga, they went down to Attalia, and from there set sail to Antioch, where they had originally been commended to the grace of God for the task which they had now completed. When they arrived and had called the congregation together, they reported all that God had done through them, and how he had thrown open the gates of faith to the Gentiles. And they stayed for some time with the disciples there.