Acts 12-18 clearly outlines the work of the Holy Spirit in the early church as the gospel spreads. From the martyrdom of James the first apostle, to the addition of new believers to the body of Christ, the work of God’s hand is evident throughout these chapters.
Acts 12 begins with the death of James, the brother of John, and the imprisonment of Peter. Both were acts done by the hand of King Herod. But even after Herod’s extreme attempts to hinder the gospel’s spread, it still prevailed. An angel of the Lord later released Peter from his prison cell and smote King Herod, killing him and leaving his body to be eaten by worms. The chapter concludes by saying, “But the word of God grew and multiplied.”
A chapter later in Acts 13, we see the Lord separating Barnabas and Saul for His work. Together they continued spreading the gospel to the nations. On their way they came to a certain man named Sergius Paulus, the deputy of the country of Cyprus. But it wasn’t long before they too faced opposition. Barjesus, a Jewish sorcerer, sought to turn away the deputy from the faith and hinder the message of God. Saul then stood up against Barjesus in the power of the Holy Spirit and rebuked him. The Lord’s work in the deputy’s heart still prevailed, and we’re told in verse twelve that he came to believe. “And the word of the Lord was published throughout all the region” (Acts 13:49).
We’re told of yet more persecution that falls upon the saints in Acts 14. Not too far into the chapter, the multitude of the city of Iconium was divided. Some sided with the apostles, others didn’t. But once the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Greeks to find common ground in falsely accusing the apostles, they sought to stone them. The apostles fled, and in so doing, Paul came across a crippled man at Lystra and healed him. Eventually Paul was stoned, but he rose up to continue preaching the gospel the next day. The end of Acts 14 concludes with the apostles exhorting one another, ordaining elders, praying, and fasting. Truly the apostles knew that it’d be through many trials that they’d enter into the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).
A good theme to summarize the events that transpire in Acts 12-18 could be 2 Timothy 2:9 which says, “Wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound.” The resistance of the gospel doesn’t just exist in one chapter of Acts. It continues throughout the entire Book and beyond. But where resistance lies, the spreading of God’s Word continues, and its inability to be bound is more clearly seen.
Divisions eventually arose among those within the body of Christ, too. In Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas dispute about who to bring with them on their missionary journey. Eventually they went their separate ways, Paul went with Silas, and Barnabas with John. Though there was apparent division among these brothers in Christ, God worked through it to accomplish His perfect plan.
In Acts 16 when Paul arrived at Derbe and Lystra, he found Timothy. Later, the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision, asking him to go to Macedonia where he later found Lydia and baptized her with her entire household. But since the spread of the gospel was a threat to those in that city, Paul and Silas were seized and thrown into prison. Though one might think this was an unfortunate circumstance, it was there that God worked mightily and the prison guard came to believe the gospel. He too was later baptized.
Acts chapter 17 continues to describe the difficulties that the apostles faced for preaching the gospel. The assaulting of Jason the believer’s house, and Paul being brought before the council being two of them.
Priscilla and Aquila came into the scene in Acts 18, and together they helped to spread the Word of the Lord among the people. They both worked alongside and stood in ministry with Paul. As he continued to speak in the synagogues and declare the gospel to the nations as Christ commanded, more people came to a saving faith, and God received the glory. Whether it was Jewish men, sorcerers, prison guards, leaders in high authority, or even kings that sought to cease the gospel’s spread, it still multiplied, just as God promised.
Observing the apostle’s faith under fire is inspiring. After undergoing various trials and seeing the Lord’s sovereign hand still at work, it’s no wonder that Paul can say with confidence the words written in 2 Timothy 4:17: “Notwithstanding the LORD stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.”
Written by NBB Alumna: Hannah Kohner