Death and Rescue in Acts

Jesus is tried by three courts – the Jewish Sanhedrin, the Herodian, and the Roman. In imitation of Jesus, Paul too is tried by the same three courts.

So too is the church as a whole. The early chapters of Acts describe the Sanhedrin’s opposition to the early church’s witness and preaching, culminating with the stoning of Stephen (Acts 7). Christians scatter from Jerusalem to Samaria and eventually to Antioch. Saul the persecutor is changed to Paul the apostle. The pattern is: Persecution, martyrdom, rescue and the death of the persecutor.

During the dispersion, the pattern repeats itself in a Herodian context. Herod persecutes the church, James becomes a martyr, Peter is rescued from prison, and Herod dies (all in the busy chapter 12).

Persecution again opens up a new mission field, now on the wider stage of the empire. In this case the cycle is unfinished. Paul is tried by all three courts, but at the end of Acts Paul is still well alive, preaching freely in Rome. If the pattern holds, though, we are led to anticipate Roman persecution, martyrdom, and eventually the death or conversion of the Roman persecutor. Which is pretty much what happens following the end of Acts.

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