Erich Lessing/Art Resource, NY

Divine intervention. On the eve of his scheduled execution, Peter is rescued from prison by an angel in this 1639 painting by the Spanish artist Jusepe de Ribera in the Prado. According to Acts 12, around 40 A.D., King Herod Agrippa I launched an attack on some members of the church—starting with the apostle James son of Alphaeus (called James the Greater to distinguish him from James the Lesser, Jesus’ brother), who is beheaded. Peter is next in line for execution and is thrown in jail under heavy guard. But according to Acts, the Lord has other plans and sends an angel to spirit him out. An angry Herod executes the guards instead.

Just after his divinely aided escape, and before fleeing Jerusalem, Peter—whom Jesus had called the “rock” of the church (Matthew 16:18)—begs an assembled crowd to go and tell “James and the believers” (Acts 12:17) of the miracle. The fact that the first thing on Peter’s mind after his miraculous escape is to let Jesus’ brother James know what happened hints at James’s stature in the early church. Within a decade after Jesus’ crucifixion, James was already being sought out as a leader of some prominence among Jesus’ growing community of followers.