Lesson 90: Acts 12

“Lesson 90: Acts 12,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual (2016)

“Lesson 90,” New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual

Lesson 90

Acts 12


Herod killed the Apostle James and then arrested and imprisoned Peter. The night before Peter was to be executed, an angel helped him escape from prison. Herod was smitten by an angel from God, and the gospel continued to move forward.

Suggestions for Teaching

Acts 12:1–17

Herod kills James and arrests Peter, who miraculously escapes from prison

Display a compass or draw one on the board. Invite a student to explain how a compass works and what it is used for.

New Testament Seminary Teacher Manual
  • Because a compass always points north, how can using a compass help us make correct decisions about where we should go?

Draw an X on the board somewhere near the compass (but not near the north compass point), and ask the class to imagine that the X represents a handheld magnet.

  • How would this magnet influence the behavior of the compass needle? (The needle will point to the nearby magnet because it interferes with magnetic north.)

  • How would this magnet affect your ability to make the right choice about what direction you should go?

Encourage students to look as they study Acts 12 for an influence that can interfere with our ability to make correct decisions.

To help students understand the context of Acts 12, explain that since the martyrdom of Stephen, the Christians in and around Jerusalem had experienced increasing persecution.

Invite a student to read Acts 12:1–4 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for how King Herod Agrippa I contributed to this persecution. (Explain that a quaternion is equal to four soldiers).

  • Who did Herod have killed with a sword?

  • According to verse 3, who was pleased with James’s death?

Explain that the phrase “the Jews” in verse 3 refers to influential Jewish leaders in Jerusalem who encouraged the persecution of the Church of Jesus Christ. Herod sought to please these Jewish leaders (see Bible Dictionary, “Herod”). Near the X on the board write the following incomplete statement: If we seek to please others rather than God, then …

  • What did Herod do after he saw that the murder of James pleased the Jewish leaders? (He planned to publicly put Peter to death.)

Point to the picture of the compass on the board, and ask:

  • How did Herod’s desire to please others rather than God affect Herod’s direction in life?

  • Based on what we can learn from Herod’s example, how would you complete the statement on the board? (After students respond, complete the statement on the board so that it conveys the following truth: If we seek to please others rather than God, then we can be led further into sin.)

  • What are some other examples that demonstrate how seeking to please others rather than God can lead someone to sin?

Invite students to ponder ways they may be allowing their desire to please others to direct them away from their Father in Heaven.

Explain that students will be invited to act out the events of Acts 12:5–17. Invite several students to play the parts of Peter, two guards, the angel, Rhoda, and one or two disciples at the home of Mary, the mother of Mark. You or another student can act as the narrator.

  • Ask the narrator to read Acts 12:5–6 aloud, and invite the students whose roles are mentioned to act out what is read. To help students understand the content, pause after each group of verses is read and acted out, and then ask the associated questions.

  • What were the Church members doing at this time?

Ask the narrator to read Acts 12:7–10 aloud while the designated students act out what is read.

  • What restraints or barriers did Peter make it through during this escape?

Ask the narrator to read Acts 12:11–15 aloud while the designated students act out what is read.

  • When did Peter realize what had happened?

  • What happened when Peter knocked at the gate of Mary’s house?

Ask the narrator to read Acts 12:16–17 aloud, and invite the designated students to act out what is read. After these verses are read and acted out, invite the students to take their seats.

  • According to verse 17, to whom did Peter give credit for his escape from prison? (Point out that the James referred to in verse 17 is one of Jesus’s brothers [see Matthew 13:55].)

Invite students to review Acts 12:5 and look for how this verse is related to what happened to Peter.

  • What do you think the phrase “prayer was made without ceasing” (verse 5) suggests about the sincerity and fervency of the Church members’ prayers?

  • What principle can we learn from this account about the effect our prayers can have on ourselves and others? (Students should identify a principle similar to the following: Our sincere and fervent prayers invite God’s miracles and blessings into our lives and the lives of others. Write this principle on the board.)

  • What does it mean to pray sincerely and fervently?

Explain that this principle does not mean that if our prayers are sincere and fervent, we will automatically receive what we are praying for. Other contributing factors to receiving God’s miracles and blessings include God’s will and timing as well as individual agency.

Invite a student to read the following statement aloud. Ask students to listen for how our sincere and fervent prayers affect God’s will.

“Prayer is the act by which the will of the Father and the will of the child are brought into correspondence with each other. The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them. Prayer is a form of work and is an appointed means for obtaining the highest of all blessings” (Bible Dictionary, “Prayer”).

  • According to this statement, what is an important purpose of prayer?

  • Why is it important to remember that the purpose of prayer is not to change the will of God?

Invite students to respond to the following question in their class notebooks or scripture study journals:

  • When has prayer invited God’s miracles and blessings into your life or into the lives of others for whom you have prayed?

After sufficient time, consider inviting a few students to share what they wrote. Following their comments, invite students to consider how they may be able to pray more sincerely and fervently in order to invite the blessings and miracles that God is willing to bestow upon them and those they pray for.

Acts 12:18–25

Herod is smitten by God, and the gospel continues to move forward

Summarize Acts 12:18–22 by explaining that the following day, Herod learned of Peter’s escape and executed the guards he felt were responsible for allowing Peter to escape. Later, Herod gave a speech to the people, who praised him for his speech.

Invite a student to read Acts 12:23–24 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for what happened to Herod.

  • What happened to Herod? Why?

  • What happened to the missionary work of the Church despite the persecution that Church members faced?

Conclude by inviting students to review the truths they learned and ponder how they will apply those truths in their lives.

Commentary and Background Information

Acts 12:1–17. Peter and James put God first

Acts 12 shows that Peter and James put God first in their lives, regardless of the punishment they might receive. Why is it so important to love God and place Him first in our lives? Elder Lynn G. Robbins of the Presidency of the Seventy related the following experience that helped him understand the importance of what direction we face in our lives:

“‘Which way do you face?’ President Boyd K. Packer surprised me with this puzzling question while we were traveling together on my very first assignment as a new Seventy. Without an explanation to put the question in context, I was baffled. ‘A Seventy,’ he continued, ‘does not represent the people to the prophet but the prophet to the people. Never forget which way you face!’ It was a powerful lesson.

“Trying to please others before pleasing God is inverting the first and second great commandments (see Matthew 22:37–39). It is forgetting which way we face. And yet, we have all made that mistake because of the fear of men. In Isaiah the Lord warns us, ‘Fear ye not the reproach of men’ (Isaiah 51:7; see also 2 Nephi 8:7). In Lehi’s dream, this fear was triggered by the finger of scorn pointed from the great and spacious building, causing many to forget which way they faced and to leave the tree ‘ashamed’ (see 1 Nephi 8:25–28)” (“Which Way Do You Face?” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2014, 9).

Acts 12:5. “Prayer was made without ceasing”

President Thomas S. Monson expressed his gratitude for those who pray for him and the leaders of the Church:

“I express my thanks to you for your kindnesses to me wherever I go. I thank you for your prayers in my behalf. I have felt those prayers and am most grateful for them” (“As We Gather Once Again,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 5).

“I love you; I pray for you. I would ask once again that you would remember me and all the General Authorities in your prayers. We are one with you in moving forward this marvelous work. I testify to you that we are all in this together and that every man, woman, and child has a part to play. May God give us the strength and the ability and the determination to play our part well” (“Until We Meet Again,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2011, 109).

President Harold B. Lee gave the following insight regarding offering mighty prayer:

“You’ve got to desire it with all your soul! You’ve got to have all the intensity of which you are capable and a desire that this is the most prized thing in all the world for which you seek!” (Teachings of Harold B. Lee, ed. Clyde J. Williams [1996], 125).

Acts 12:21–23. The death of Herod Agrippa I

Herod Agrippa I was the nephew of Herod Antipus, who killed John the Baptist, and also “the grandson of Herod the Great. He was generally popular with the Pharisees because he was careful to observe Jewish customs. It may be for this reason—to be popular among the Jews—that he ordered the death of James (see Acts 12:1–2). Agrippa died at the age of 54, in A.D. 44, the same year James was martyred. Luke saw Agrippa’s sudden death as divine retribution, administered by an angel of the Lord” (New Testament Student Manual [Church Educational System manual, 2014], 302; see also Bible Dictionary, “Herod”).