We do not know much about Ananias. However, we do know that he was married to Sapphira. At this time in history, it was a common practice for church members to sell what they had and lay the proceeds at the feet of the Apostles. These offerings were then used to care for the needy. Many sold their properties and gave the earnings to the poor. Barnabas was included among those who sold all and gave it to the poor.
Ananias and Sapphira did the same, but unlike the others they held back some of the profit while claiming they gave it all.
Peter accused Ananias of lying to the Holy Spirit and to God. Hearing the Apostle’s judgment, Ananias fell down and died. Sapphira agreed with her husband when questioned by the Apostles and fell dead three hours after her husband died.
A native of Cyprus and member of the tribe of Levi, Barnabas perhaps served in the temple. Barnabas was a crucial early link between Jewish and Gentile Christians. Luke introduces Barnabas as a generous man who sold land to support the growing church.
Barnabas soon vouched for a new convert named Saul of Tarsus (Paul) who was distrusted by those who had recently been targets of Saul’s persecution. Shortly thereafter, Jerusalem church leaders sent Barnabas to Antioch where the congregation contained both Jews and Gentiles. Under Barnabas, the church grew so quickly that Barnabas went to Tarsus and asked Saul (Paul) to join him. Together Barnabas and Saul worked successfully for a year. At this time in Antioch, “the disciples were for the first time called Christians” (Acts 11:26).
Barnabas was sent to Antioch by the leaders in Jerusalem. The church grew so rapidly that Barnabas asked Paul to join him. For a year they worked together there in Antioch.
Barnabas organized a relief drive during a famine. He and Saul took the gifts to Jerusalem. Then, the church sent Barnabas, Paul, and John Mark on a tour to preach to the Gentiles. Their first stop was Cyprus, where the Proconsul, Sergius Paulus was converted. They continued to travel together for a time.
Barnabas and Paul planned one more trip to the sites of their first successes. However, Paul did not want Mark to accompany them because he had abandoned the first mission trip after Cyrus. Unable to agree they went their separate ways.
Cornelius was a Roman Centurion, who was sympathetic towards the Jews. He apparently was the first Gentile to become a Christian.
An angel appeared to the Centurion and told him to summon Peter. The next day Peter had a vision, which occurred three times. Peter concluded that, just as no food was unclean, no person could be considered unclean either. Gentiles were as free as Jews to receive Jesus.
Peter visited Cornelius at his home in Caesarea. While Peter was preaching, Cornelius and other Gentiles began speaking in tongues. Thus, with the vision and the people in Cornelius house receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, Peter agreed with God that the Gentiles there should be baptized, just as a Jew.
Dorcas was also known as Tabitha. Everyone was familiar with her acts of charity, including making garments for the poor.
When Dorcas became ill and died, many mourned her. Peter was ten miles away and was sent for. He came to Dorcas’ side and prayed over her. He said “Tabitha, rise,” and she opened her eyes and extended her hand to him. Peter presented her alive. This was the first such miracle by an apostle and gained many Believers.
Felix, formerly a royal slave, was Procurator of Judea approximately A.D. 52. He was married to Drusilla, daughter of Herod Agrippa.
Felix’s procuratorship was characterized by turmoil. Felix held Paul prisoner for two years without charges, hoping to extort a bribe. However, Felix allowed him to receive visitors.
Felix himself barely escaped severe punishment in Rome, where his powerful brother Pallas had to intervene with Nero to spare his life.
Festus succeeded Felix as Procurator of Judea in approximately 60 A.D. During his reign, Festus destroyed a group of bandits who had been terrorizing the land. During his visit to Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders reminded him that Paul was still in prison in Caesarea by Felix’s order. Paul was brought before Festus, Herod Agrippa, and Bernice in Caesarea for trial. They all agreed on Paul’s innocence. Festus concluded, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32), then unwillingly dispatched Paul to Rome.
G. Herod Agrippa II
Like his father Herod Agrippa I, Marcus Julius Agrippa (his Roman name) was raised in the imperial court at Rome. When his father died suddenly in AD 44, Agrippa was only 17 and, according to the emperor Claudius, too young to inherit the kingdom. It was instead placed under direct Roman administration. Six years later Claudius named the young man ruler of Chalcis, a small kingdom in present-day Lebanon. The previous king, Herod of Chalcis, was Agrippa’s uncle and also the husband of his sister Bernice. Then, in AD 53, Agrippa surrendered Chalcis in order to receive the tetrarchies formerly held by Herod Phillip and Lysanias. In AD 61 the emperor Nero, Claudius’s successor, granted him portions of Galilee and Perea as well.
Herod Agrippa II appears in the Book of Acts as one of the rulers before whom the apostle Paul defended himself. About AD 56, Paul was arrested in Jerusalem for inciting a riot. He presented his defense first before the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, next before the Roman procurator Antonius Felix in Caesarea, then two years later before Felix’s successor Porcius Festus. Since Agrippa and his sister Bernice, who had come to live with him following the death of her husband, were visiting Caesarea, Festus informed them of the case. “I should like to hear the man myself” (Acts 25:22), Agrippa told the procurator. The next day Paul was brought before them so that they could help Festus decide what charges were to be pressed against the Apostle.
Paul’s defense included a review of his life with an emphasis on his conversion and his call to preach to the Gentiles. But he opened with an appeal to Agrippa’s knowledge of Jewish customs and closed with a rhetorical question: “King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe.” (Acts 26:27-28) Agrippa recommended that Paul be released, agreeing with the governor that Paul deserved neither death nor imprisonment. But since the apostle had already appealed to Caesar, he had to go to Rome for final judgment.
In Rome under Claudius, Agrippa had defended Jewish causes, and later, as king in Jerusalem, he undertook costly improvement of the temple. However, his true loyalty was to Rome. When the Jews rebelled against Rome in AD 66, Agrippa, like many other Jewish leaders, judiciously sided with the Romans. After the rebellion had been suppressed, Agrippa was rewarded with additional territories to expand his kingdom. Although he continued to rule until his death in AD 93, Agrippa lived in Rome for much of his last two decades. Since Agrippa never married and was childless, he was the last of the Herodian Dynasty.
James, the brother of John and the son of Zebedee, is the vaguest figure among the twelve Apostles. There is no doubt, however, that he held a leading place among the Apostles. He was the first apostle to gain a martyr’s crown (Acts 12:2).
James appears with his brother John at all times. The only time James appears alone is when he is martyred (Acts 12:1-2). Therefore to obtain a clear picture of James, we need to study John and James, together.
James was a man of both courage and forgiveness. He was without jealousy, as he lived in the shadow of John. He possessed an extraordinary faith, and is a good example of victorious faith.
Both James and John were members of the inner circle, along with Peter. They participated in most of the sacred occasions with Jesus. They were fishermen, and of a wealthy family. Their father had servants working for him. Both James and John were called by Jesus to be ‘fishers of men,’ and they accepted the challenge.
James and John are mentioned together throughout the New Testament. James is usually named first, which is believed because he was the elder of the two. Quite often they are referred to as the “Sons of “Thunder” (Mark 3:17). This was thought to have been given them because of their fiery personalities. In fact, on one occasion, the brothers exhibited their impulsive and rash demeanor.
James death is recorded in Acts 12:2. Herod Agrippa I was the ruler who put James to death. His martyrdom is the only one of the twelve Apostles recorded in the New Testament.
John was the brother of James and the son of Zebedee, one of the twelve Apostles. John was a prominent leader in the early Christian church. In fact, Paul lists John as one of the pillars (Galatians 2:9) of the Jerusalem church. James and Peter were also mentioned as pillars of the early church. Acts records John traveling with Peter on important missions trips. On one occasion, they helped a lame man and they encountered the opposition of the Jewish authorities.
John wrote the Gospel of John, and the three letters (Epistles) of John and the last book of the New Testament, Revelation.
According to Luke, Peter and John were sent to prepare the Passover meal on the eve of Jesus’ crucifixion.