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ch. 12:1-19    ch. 12:19-25

Peterís Miraculous Escape From Prison (ch. 12:1 - 19)

Acts 12 is a transitional chapter in the book of Acts.  Peter begins to fade from the picture and Paul begins to be prominent.  This does not mean that Peter's ministry was fading because it wasn't.  It simply means that the story line shifts from Peter to Paul.  This is due to the fact that Luke accompanied Paul on many of his trips.  Luke knew more about Paul's ministry than Peter's ministry.     

Luke begins chapter 12 by saying, "it was about this timeÖ", meaning, the time when Agabus gave his prophecy about the famine as seen in the last part of the last chapter.  During this time, King Herod arrested many in the church.  Herod was in fact King over the province of Judea.   Donít get confused with Herod being king of Judea and the emperor of the whole Roman Empire.  Herod was under the authority of the Roman Emperor.  Herod was king over the Roman province of Judea.

There were a number of Herod's in the last century B C and the first century A D.  This particular Herod died in the middle of 44 A D.  He was named Herod Agrippa the first.  There was Herod Agrippa the second that we will see later on in the book os Acts.  

Verse 2 tells us that Herod had James, the brother of John, not James the brother of Jesus, killed.  You might remember in the gospel accounts that two of Jesus' disciples, James and John, argued who should be the greatest among them.  James and John were brothers.  It's this James who Herod executed.

Herod most likely wanted to persecute the church and kill Christians in order to eliminate the growing problems between Jews and Christians.  Any problem in his province would not be looked on with much favour in the eyes of the emperor.  Some of these provincial kings back then lost jobs over mismanagement of their province, and Herod would not want that.   

In verse 3 Luke notes that when Herod saw that the execution of James pleased the Jews, he had Peter arrested as well.  Arresting Peter, one of the main leaders in the church would really impress the Sanhedrin.  The Jews had always been a potential source of problems for Herod and if Herod could keep the Jews happy by imprisoning Christians, he would like that.  Christians were a new group on the scene, so they had not been a traditional problem like the Jews. Herod didn't need another group in is province to bother him.  One group was enough.

This all happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which was the second of the seven Jewish feast mandated in the Law of Moses.  The plan was that Peter was to be put in prison, then after the Passover, put on trial for all to see.

In verse 4 Peter was guarded by four teams of four soldiers in each team.  These teams would take turns in guarding Peter. 

Verse 5 says that while Peter was in prison "the church earnestly prayed for him".  You will note that the early church was a group of people who did a lot of praying.  Of course, they needed all the help they could get from the Lord.  They were always under pressure.  That was one reason why they were strong in the Lord.  It is a bit humorous though that when we see that Peter was miraculously released from prison and appeared at the doorstep of those praying, they were very surprised.  As a matter of fact, they were in unbelief.  

In verse 6 Luke says that the night before Peterís trial, he was in prison, chained between two guards, with guards standing at the prison door.  He was well guarded, and well secured in prison.  I'm sure Luke mentions this to make it clear that Peter's escape was indeed a miracle. 

Sometimes we view problems as being out of the will of God.  That's not always true.  It certainly wasn't true in this case.  Problems and trials can easily be God's will for us.   

Verse 7 tells us that suddenly, in the middle of the night an angel appeared to Peter and "struck him on his side and woke him up".  The angel told Peter to "get up".  At this point the chains fell off Peterís wrists.  This was clearly a miracle.   

In verses 8 through 12 this angel told Peter to get dressed.  Once Peter was ready, the angel led him out of the jail cell.  They walked by two sets of guards on their way to a large iron gate that led to a street.  This iron gate opened for them and they left the premise and began walking down the city street.  This is yet another miracle in the process of Peter's escape.  Shortly after this, the angel disappeared.

This event tells us something about angels.  Angels aren't just spirit beings floating around in heaven.  When you see angels in Scripture, they're always doing something in relation to the earth.   As the first chapter of Hebrews says, angels are ministering spirits, sent from heaven to earth to perform some kind of task.  

In verse 9 we see that Peter was somewhat beside himself at the appearance of this angel.  Luke records that he was not sure if he was seeing another vision, or this was the real thing.  Once finding himself free and on the city streets, he realized that another miracle from God had taken place in his life.  This was a real angel.

When this realization came to Peter, as we see in verse 11, he said, "Now I know that without a doubt that the Lord has sent His angel and rescued me from Herodís clutches and everything the Jewish people were anticipating". What were the Jews anticipating?  They were waiting for the trial and the execution of Peter.

Verse 12 tells us that once Peter understood what was happening to him, he went to the house of one called Mary, the mother of John. The John spoken of here is John Mark, the writer of the Gospel of Mark.  We see him later in verse 25 as well as in other parts of Acts.  He spent time with Paul on part of Paul's first missionary trip.  It was this John Mark that Paul and Barnabas argued over.  Peter calls John Mark his son, as in spiritual son in 1 Peter 5:13.   Mark was also a cousin of Barnabas. (see Colossians 4:10)  Because Peter calls Mark his son, Peter might well have led him to Jesus.  Most Bible teachers understand the gospel of Mark to be the gospel of Peter's recollections to Mark.  In one sense of the word, the gospel of Mark is the gospel of Peter. 

In verse 13 we note that inside Maryís home were "many people" who had gathered to pray.  Peter knocks on the door and a servant girl named Rhoda came to the door.  This tells us that most likely Mary was financially secure because she had a servant.  She was most likely a widow, since the house was herís, and not her husbandís.  Some people suggest that the upper room in Acts 2 is the room in which these people were praying in, but that's a bit speculative. 

We note hear that there are two doors to Mary's house.  As was the case back then, there was an outside door on the street and then an inside door.  The outside door could well be a gate.  Rhoda left Peter out on the street where he could easily be seen by the Roman guards.

In verse 14 Rhoda was so excited when hearing Peterís voice that she immediately ran back to tell the others inside the house and failed to open the door for Peter.

In verse 15 the people who had been praying for Peter's release told Rhoda that she was out of her mind.  She kept on persisting that she had heard Peter's voice.  They said that what she heard must have been Peter's angel.  These people apparently thought that Peter was already dead and "his angel" was standing outside.  Jewish, and some Christian, tradition holds to people having angels watching over them.  They're often called "guardian angels".  Some see Jesus' comments in Matthew 18:10 as proof of guardian angels.  Jesus speaks of "their angels" in this passage.  "Their angels" in this passage seems to be in reference to the angels of children but many Bible teachers suggest that it is really the angels of new believers Jesus is speaking about.  All that being said, the term "Peter's angel" might well be in reference to Peter's spirit sense these people probably felt that Peter had already been executed.     

In verse 16 we see Peter keep knocking on the door. You might wonder what was going through his mind as he was knocking.  Was he wondering if the guards would soon catch up to him and capture him again?  Was he wondering why no one would let him in? 

Some people finally came to the door, and as Luke put it, "were astonished" to see Peter standing there.  This is typical humanity.  We pray for something and when our prayers get answered we're blown away.

In verse 17 we see that it must have been quite a noisy affair because Peter had to "motion with his hands" to tell them to be quiet.  Even Peter could not raise his voice sufficiently to speak over the excitement of these people.  He then proceeded to "tell them how the Lord had brought him out of prison".

Peter specifically tells these people to relate this event to "James and the brothers".  Who is "James and the other brothers"?  This James is understood to be the brother of Jesus.  The "other brothers" were probably the elders of the church in Jerusalem.  James is centered out here because he seems to be the leader of the church in Jerusalem.   

After Stephen was executed, you remember that most of the Christians fled Jerusalem , accept for the twelve apostles.  The next wave of persecution came after Saulís conversion, when he came back to  Jerusalem causing a great commotion.  At this time the rest of the apostles left Jerusalem, apparently leaving James and other brothers in charge.

It therefore appears that apostolic authority in the Jerusalem church changed into authority of elders.  That is to say, the Twelve were the leaders of the Jerusalem church until they fled.  Then at some point, we donít know when, elders were appointed.  It does appear that James could have been a lead elder, because he is singled out in this verse.  We also see him in chapter 15 taking the lead in the gathering of leaders over the question of Gentiles and the Law of Moses. 

One thing to note hear is that the idea of a lead elder among elders is not what Paul taught to the Gentile churches, but appears to be what was happening in the Jewish church in Jerusalem .  It is said that because James did not forsake his Jewishness to the same degree as Paul, he constructed the Jewish churches more along the line of the Jewish priesthood, that is, a body of priests, with one priest in charge of the others.  Once again, this is not what Paul taught to the Gentile churches.  He taught that church leadership consisted of a group of elders, with no one man in charge.

At this point we can sum up the evolution of the church to date.  In Acts 2 we see the one hundred and twenty, with the twelve men in charge.  Some might suggest that Peter is a leader among these twelve men since he was the one who organized the replacement for Judas.  The church grows to three thousand on the day of Pentecost, and continues to grow.  In Acts 6 we have the addition of the seven administrators, who some call deacons.  Then at some point, at least in the Jerusalem church the leadership changes from the twelve men to James and the brothers, or elders. Was this a natural progression, or a planned progression?  I believe it was a natural progression, based on need and circumstances.  The leaders didn't sit down and plan out their theology on leadership.

If this was truly a natural progression, we can then ask ourselves, is the church still naturally evolving, or was there a certain time in New Testament history when the church became what it was meant to be?  In other words, should we expect a natural progression of what church looks like over the years and into the future?  Should church always be changing to reflect the day in which it exists? 

I believe that church should change to meet the needs of the generation in which it lives.  On the other hand, I also believe that there are New Testament concepts about church structure that should not change.  One example of this is plurality of leadership. 

When thinking of the Jerusalem leaders as being a body of elders in which one man rose as lead elder, this might well have been a transitional situation.  The church was in the process of moving from a Jewish church to a mixed church.  So we still have some Jewishness seen in the Jerusalem church.    

In verse 17 we see Peter "leaving for another place.  Where Peter went we donít know.  I believe Peter jus went somewhere to hide, and it might well have been out of town.

In verse 18 we see what had happened to the guards that were watching Peter in prison.  Roman law made guards responsible and liable for their prisoners.  Thus, the NIV tells us that Herod killed these men.  There is some discrepancy in manuscripts here.  Some say that the guards were executed while other say they were led away.  The NIV might have understood that the guards were executed even though the text may have said "led away" because by Roman law and culture, these guards were most likely killed.   

If these guards were killed, the death of these guards is interesting.  Because the Lord caused Peterís escape, men were killed.  You might conclude that innocent lives were lost because of a miracle Jesus had performed.  Why would Jesus allow people to be killed because of something good He had done?   

The answer to this question might merely be speculation.  People often say, "If there is a good God, why are people dying for no good reason"?  You could ask a similar question here.  If Jesus is so good, why would He do anything that would cause the death of innocent men?  There might be something else to think about here.  I can't see Peter being in prison and not preaching the gospel to these guards.  They might well have become Christian.  If that was the case, then their death is not a tragedy, at least in the eyes of God.  If they did not become Christian, but did in fact hear the gospel, then they had a chance to get saved, but refused.   That would take away the question of a good God doing not so good things.  God would have given them the chance to be saved.

       

Herodís Death  (ch. 12:19 - 25)

Luke records how King Herod passed away, most likely because of the nature of his death, and also because he had just been talking about him.  When the text uses the word "King", we need to think king in terms of a governor. He was governor of the Roman province of Judea.   

Verse 20 tells us that those in the cities of Tyre and Sidon, which
 are on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, had been in a dispute with 
Hared.  The dispute was over food.  Those in Tyre and Sidon got most of
 their food from  Galilee and for some reason Hared had stopped the flow of food.  Verse 20 goes on to say that the leaders in Tyre and Sidon met with Hared and worked out their problems.    

In verse 22 Luke records that the people who listened to Herod cried out, "This man is the voice of a god, not a man".  Luke then goes on to say in verses 22 and 23 that an angel of the Lord struck Herod dead, because he did not give glory to God in response to the peopleís voices of praise for him. 

The non-Christian Jewish first century historian Josephus records this very event in his writings.  He pointed out that Hared was wearing a silver laced robe on the day when he settled the dispute.  The robe sparkled from the sun and as a result, the people viewed him as a god, especially in light of the fact he had just negotiated peace.  Josephus says that upon looking upward Hared saw an owl, who he understood to come to judge him because of the adoration of the people that he didn't reject.  Hared felt his stomach become very sick and in five days he died.   

This event tells us that God does intervene in the affairs of men and nations.  We have seen the Lord involved miraculously in his people, but here He was miraculously involved in the life of a sinner, and that a political leader.  People who are Deists believe that God created all things, then stepped back and let all things carry on in their own power.  They donít believe that God interferes in the affairs of men and nations.  He only got the ball rolling, so to speak, yet this event tells a different story.  If you believe this story to be true, then you cannot be a Deist, because God definitely stepped into the affairs of men and nations.  Christians aren't Deists.  

God does intervene in the affairs of men, leaders, and nations today.  That can be seen in Israel's return to nationhood in 1948 as a fulfillment of prophecy.  I believe that God works behind the scenes in all sorts of ways in every nation on earth.  I believe He is more active in the affairs of men and nations than we can really know.  Something that many Evangelical's don't think much about these days is that God is just as interested in nations as He is in individuals.  Since we've stressed personal salvation, we have tended to ignore the fact that God does deal with nations, and He will especially do so at the end of this age.  

In verses 21 through 23 we see that Luke and Josephus are on the same page when it comes to history.  The only fact that Luke adds that Josephus doesn't mention is that an angel of the Lord struck Hared down.       

In verse 24 Luke says, "But the Word of God continued to increase and spread".  To me, Luke is saying that even though there is still great pressure against the church, the message had not been constrained.  The gospel was still being spread more rapidly than ever.  And such is the case.  The gospel has always been most active and successful in times of persecution.  The persecution itself brings more attention to the good news, resulting in people seeing that it must be worth something if people believe it is worth dying for.

I think the western church as gotten slack in these days because we haven't experienced the pressure as Peter did here in this chapter.  This is changing and will continue to change.  Yet, because of the freedom we've had, and I'd say it is because of the influence of the gospel on society, we have turned this freedom into a license to be worldly.  We are now beginning to pay for this.

This chapter closes with Luke telling us that Saul and Barnabas "completed their mission", that is the delivery of funds to the impoverished Jewish Christians.  They returned to Tarsus from   Jerusalem with John Mark.  This is the John Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark.

 

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