Acts Chapter Twelve
Read Acts 12:1-2
v1. “NOW ABOUT THAT TIME HEROD THE KING STRETCHED FORTH his HAND TO VEX CERTAIN OF THE CHURCH.”
gives us another opportunity to provide a date to go along with the history he
is recording. Herod Agrippa I ruled
v2. “AND HE KILLED JAMES THE BROTHER OF JOHN WITH THE SWORD.”
This is the James of the Peter, James and John who were perhaps the three apostles closest to Jesus.
Matthew 4:21 “AND GOING ON FROM THENCE, HE SAW OTHER TWO BROTHERN, JAMES the son OF ZEBEDEE, AND JOHN HIS BROTHER, IN A SHIP WITH ZEBEDEE THEIR FATHER, MENDING THEIR NETS; AND HE CALLED THEM.”
If you will remember, it was James and John who wanted to reign on the left and right hand of Jesus. When they and their mother approached Jesus about this we also remember that Jesus told them that they would share his end but He did not have the right to promise them a special place in the kingdom.
Matthew 20:23 “AND HE SAITH UNTO THEM, YE SHALL DRINK INDEED OF MY CUP, AND BE BAPTIZED WITH THE BAPTISM THAT I AM BAPTIZED WITH: BUT TO SIT ON MY RIGHT HAND, AND ON MY LEFT, IS NOT MINE TO GIVE, BUT it shall be given to them FOR WHOM IT IS PREPARED OF MY FATHER.”
Read Acts 12:3-19
v3. “AND BECAUSE HE SAW IT PLEASED THE JEWS, HE PROCEEDED FURTHER TO TAKE PETER ALSO. (THEN WERE THE DAYS OF UNLEAVENED BREAD.)
Herod is a
politician. He’s ready to do about
anything to gain the favor of the people in
was to remind them of the period of time that they journeyed out of
“AND THIS DAY SHALL BE UNTO YOU FOR A MEMORIAL: AND YE
SHALL KEEP IT A FEAST TO THE LORD
THROUGHOUT YOUR GENERATIONS; YE SHALL KEEP IT A FEAST BY AN ORDINANCE FOR
EVER. SEVEN DAYS SHALL YE EAT UNLEAVENED
BREAD; EVEN THE FIRST DAY YE SHALL PUT AWAY LEAVEN OUT OF YOUR HOUSES: FOR
WHOSOEVER EATETH LEAVENED BREAD FROM THE FIRST DAY UNTIL THE SEVENTH DAY, THAT
SOUL SHALL BE CUT OFF FROM
v4. “AND WHEN HE HAD APPREHENDED HIM, HE PUT him IN PRISON, AND DELIVERED him TO FOUR QUATERNIONS OF SOLDIERS TO KEEP HIM; INTENDING AFTER EASTER TO BRING HIM FORTH TO THE PEOPLE.”
First of all Herod had Peter arrested or apprehended and the assigned four quaternions of soldiers to keep him. How many is that? What is Luke talking about? As some would be able to discern, the quarter relates to the number four. A quarternion of soldiers was four soldiers and 4 times four are sixteen. So Peter was put into prison with sixteen soldiers responsible for keeping him there. The custom was for these solders to stand watch, four at a time, rotating every three hours at the change of the watch. So in addition to being in prison, Peter has four pairs of eyes on him at all times making escape humanly impossible.
We’re further told that Herod intended to bring Peter before the people after the Passover. Oh, yes, I know the KJV says Easter but that term has been inserted by the translators and is not a translation of the original language. The correct translation of the original is “Passover”. Man uses this verse to try to discredit this translation and make it seem unreliable because the translators put this word in the text. Others use it to try to justify their celebration of a special religious holiday.
v5. “PETER THEREFORE WAS KEPT IN PRISON: BUT PRAYER WAS MADE WITHOUT CEASING OF THE CHURCH UNTO GOD FOR HIM.”
Peter is in prison and Herod’s plan to get rid of him was probably either known or not hard to figure out. The church is praying for him, continually or without ceasing.
v6. “AND WHEN HEROD WOULD HAVE BROUGHT HIM
Peter is sleeping between two soldiers with two more on watch outside, keeping guard at the door. In addition he’s bound with chains, in fact, he may have been bound to the soldiers with those same chains, we’re not told. It was the night before Herod planned to bring him to trial, probably just after the feast of unleavened bread but before Pentecost.
v7. “AND, BEHOLD, THE ANGEL OF THE LORD CAME UPON him, AND A LIGHT SHINED IN THE PRISON: AND HE SMOTE PETER ON THE SIDE, AND RAISED HIM UP, SAYING, ARISE UP QUICKLY, AND HIS CHAINS FELL OFF FROM his HANDS.”
Peter has a visit from an angel of the Lord. We’re not told what the soldiers are doing while all this was going on. In fact we could even surmise that they didn’t see or hear anything, that they were struck dumb and blind, we’re just not told. The angel hits Peter on the side in order to wake him up, raises him up and tells him to move quickly. The chains just fall off his hands and he’s free from them.
v8. “AND THE ANGEL SAID UNTO HIM, GIRD THYSELF, AND BIND ON THY SANDALS. AND SO HE DID. AND HE SAITH UNTO HIM, CAST THY GARMENT ABOUT THEE, AND FOLLOW ME.”
The angel tells him to get himself ready they’re leaving there. Gird up your garments, put your belt and shoes on, wrap your coat around you and come with me.
v9. “AND HE WENT OUT AND FOLLOWED HIM; AND WIST NOT THAT IT WAS TRUE WHICH WAS DONE BY THE ANGEL; BUT THOUGHT HE SAW A VISION.”
Peter doesn’t quite know what to make of all this. He follows the angel but thinks he seeing a vision, dreaming. Perhaps something like Cornelius experienced:
Acts 10:3 ‘HE SAW IN A VISION EVIDENTLY ABOUT THE NINTH HOUR OF THE DAY AN ANGEL OF GOD COMING IN TO HIM, AND SAYING UNTO HIM CORNELIUS.”
Just having been awakened from a sound sleep, as most of us would be, perhaps, he’s probably just a little foggy anyway and not sure just what is happening or if it’s for real.
v10. “WHEN THEY WERE PAST THE FIRST AND THE SECOND WARD, THEY CAME UNTO THE IRON GATE THAT LEADETH INTO THE CITY; WHICH OPENED TO THEM OF HIS OWN ACCORD: AND THEY WENT OUT, AND PASSED ON THROUGH ONE STREET; AND FORTHWITH THE ANGEL DEPARTED FROM HIM.”
The scripture says that they had gone past the first and second ward. It would seem that the prison is organized into sections called wards like we would organize a hospital today. We could even surmise that these were rooms that held other prisoners. It wouldn’t have made any difference if they walked past others, Peter is being removed from someplace where two soldiers on the inside and two soldiers on the outside stood watch over him at all times, changing soldiers every three hours. They could have walked through a meeting of the Sanhedrin or the court of Herod if God had wished to do so.
They came to the gate that led to the city, it opens to them of its own accord, they didn’t need to open it, and they go out. The angel sees Peter through the first street and then disappears.
v11. “AND WHEN PETER WAS COME TO HIMSELF, HE SAID, NOW I KNOW OF A SURETY, THAT THE LORD HATH SENT HIS ANGEL, AND HATH DELIVERED ME OUT OF THE HAND OF HEROD, AND from ALL THE EXPECTATION OF THE PEOPLE OF THE JEWS.”
Peter had to come to himself, it was as though he was in a trance again or at least thought he was dreaming. When he completely wakes up, comes to himself, he realizes what has happened; he knows then without doubt that God has delivered him, much the same as others in the past. When His purpose is served, this is not something entirely unusual for God to do, two examples:
Daniel 3:28 “then NEBACHADNEZZAR SPAKE, AND SAID, BLESSED be THE GOD OF SHADRACH, MESHACH, AND ABEDNEGO, WHO HATH SENT HIS ANGEL, AND DELIVERED HIS SERVANTS THAT TRUSTED IN HIM, AND HAVE CHANGED THE KING’S WORD, AND YIELDED THEIR BODIES, THAT THEY MIGHT NOT SERVE NOR WORSHIP ANY GOD, EXCEPT THEIR OWN GOD.”
Daniel 6:22 “MY GOD HATH SENT HIS ANGEL, AND HATH SHUT THE LION’S MOUTHS, THAT THEY HAVE NOT HURT ME: FORASMUCH AS BEFORE HIM INNOCENCY WAS FOUND IN ME; AND ALSO BEFORE THEE, O KING, HAVE I DONE NO HURT.”
These angels are God’s ministering spirits, sent to do his bidding, to help certain of his chosen people as noted by the Hebrew writer:
Hebrews 1:14 “ARE THEY NOT ALL MINISTERING SPIRITS, SENT FORTH TO MINISTER FOR THEM WHO SHALL BE HEIRS OF SALVATION?”
Do I believe that God’s angels are active today as his messengers, no, but God’s still provides for his people through his providence:
II Peter 2:9 “THE LORD KNOWETH HOW TO DELIVER THE GODLY OUT OF TEMPTATIONS, AND TO RESERVE THE UNJUST UNTO THE DAY OF JUDGMENT TO BE PUNISHED:”
So Peter was delivered out of the hand of Herod and the danger of become the spectacle, or example that Jews were expecting Herod to make of him.
v12. “AND WHEN HE HAD CONSIDERED the thing, HE CAME TO THE HOUSE OF MARY THE MOTHER OF JOHN, WHOSE SURNAME WAS MARK; WHERE MANY WERE GATHERED TOGETHER PRAYING.”
Peter thinks on all these happenings as he travels through the city. He eventually comes to the house of the mother of John Mark, the same Mark from which we get the second gospel and who traveled with Paul and Barnabas in their mission work. A group of Jerusalem Christians are gathered there praying, apparently praying for Peter.
v13. “AND AS PETER KNOCKED AT THE DOOR OF THE GATE, A DAMSEL CAME TO HEARKEN, NAMED RHODA.”
Peter knocks at the door of the gate. Apparently these houses had walls around them, this would probably be for protection in the city from robbers and hoodlums and not only did they have a gate through which could probably pass a team of oxen with a cart but also within the gate, or next to the gate, a door that could be opened just for one man to come through. Rhoda, a young girl, heard him knocking and came to investigate.
v14. “AND WHEN SHE KNEW PETER’S VOICE, SHE OPENED NOT THE GATE FOR GLADNESS, BUT RAN IN, AND TOLD HOW PETER STOOD BEFORE THE GATE.”
This young lady knew Peter well enough that she knew his voice. But she gets all excited and doesn’t let him in but runs to tell the others that Peter is here. But they don’t believe her do they? Do we have faith like that? Praying for something to happen and not believing it when it does? Think about it.
v15. “AND THEY SAID UNTO HER, THOU ART MAD. BUT SHE CONSTANTLY AFFIRMED THAT IT WAS EVEN SO. THEN SAID THEY, IT IS HIS ANGEL.
They just don’t believe Rhoda. They can’t accept that their prayers have been answered. The commentators even suggest that perhaps they weren’t actually praying specifically for him to be released but praying instead for his general welfare. They finally acknowledge that she’s seen something and decide that it must be his spirit or an angel.
v16. “BUT PETER CONTINUED KNOCKING: AND WHEN THEY HAD OPENED the door, AND SAW HIM, THEY WERE ASTONISHED.”
You remember that Rhoda had run into the house and in her excitement had not let poor Peter in but left him outside the gate. They or someone heard him continuing to knock and finally open the door for him, astonished that he’s there.
v17. “BUT HE, BECKONING UNTO THEM WITH THE HAND TO HOLD THEIR PEACE, DECLARED UNTO THEM HOW THE LORD HAD BROUGHT HIM OUT OF THE PRISON. AND HE SAID, GO SHOW THESE THINGS UNTO JAMES, AND TO THE BRETHREN. AND HE DEPARTED, AND WENT INTO ANOTHER PLACE.”
The group was astonished and probably all tried to start talking at once. Peter didn’t want to stay very long since he apparently knew that he needed to make himself scarce for a while. He silences them and explains what happened. He wants them to make sure that James knows about his release, now which James is this? Most think the brother of Jesus because James the son of Zebedee is dead, having been beheaded by Herod. So Peter goes away from Jerusalem.
v18. “NOW AS SOON AS IT WAS DAY, THERE WAS NO SMALL STIR AMONG THE SOLDIERS, WHAT WAS BECOME OF PETER.”
We would expect a stir among the soldiers wouldn’t we. What was the usual penalty for letting a prisoner escape? You took his place, or you were punished for failure to do your duty. Either way; it was deadly serious, they knew that they would have to pay, whether it was their fault or not.
v19. “AND WHEN HEROD HAD SOUGHT FOR HIM, AND FOUND HIM NOT, HE EXAMINED THE KEEPERS, AND COMMANDED THAT they SHOULD BE PUT TO DEATH. AND HE WENT DOWN FROM JUDAEA TO CAESAREA, AND there ABODE.”
When Herod sends for Peter he’s not there and Herod’s not happy. The text says he examined the keepers, what does that mean? The same wording is used to describe Pilate’s treatment of Jesus:
Luke 23:14 “….YE HAVE BROUGHT THIS MAN UNTO ME, AS ONE THAT PERVERTETH THE PEOPLE: AND, BEHOLD, I, HAVING EXAMINED HIM BEFORE YOU, HAVE FOUND NO FAULT IN THIS MAN TOUCHING THOSE THINGS WHEREOF YE ACCUSE HIM.”
The word translated “examine” means that Pilate questioned
Jesus closely and the same word is used to describe both incidents. The soldiers are put to death, they failed
and in that day in the Roman army that was the penalty. Herod, since he no longer had a reason to
Read Acts 12:20-23
v20. “AND HEROD WAS HIGHLY DISPLEASED WITH THEM OF TYRE AND SIDON: BUT THEY CAME WITH ONE ACCORD TO HIM, AND, HAVING MADE BLASTUS THE KING’S CHAMBERLAIN THEIR FRIEND, DESIRED PEACE; BECAUSE THEIR COUNTRY WAS NOURISHED BY THE KING’S country.”
like more recent times;
v21. “AND UPON A SET DAY HEROD, ARRAYED IN ROYAL APPAREL, SAT UPON HIS THRONE, AND MADE AN ORATION UNTO THEM.”
We’re told that this day was probably a feast or festival day, set aside for the purpose of pledging allegiance to Caesar. Herod, the king, attends in all his royal splendor, in fact Josephus describes him as being arrayed in a robe “made wholly of silver” and that it was “illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a terror over those that looked intently upon him.” (Josephus, Antiquities, 19:8) Needless to say they’re impressed, and I’m sure that was his purpose. Herod spoke and made an oration to them.
v22. “AND THE PEOPLE GAVE A SHOUT, saying, it is THE VOICE OF A GOD, AND NOT OF A MAN.”
The crowd who heard his speech worshipped Herod. They flattered him, they praised him. Remember there is a large number of people gathered and probably a large number of government officials as well, perhaps even representatives of neighboring countries or rulers. He takes it all in, apparently just soaking all this stuff up like a sponges absorbs water. After all he’s king, he’s just made a masterful speech, his pride and vanity are working overtime.
v23. “AND IMMEDIATELY THE ANGEL OF THE LORD SMOTE HIM, BECAUSE HE GAVE NOT GOD THE GLORY: AND HE WAS EATEN OF WORMS AND GAVE UP THE GHOST.”
We’re not told just how God worked his wrath upon Herod, it simply tells us that an angel of the Lord smote Herod and struck him down. Herod accepted worship which belonged to God, he failed to give God the praise for his wonderful ability to bring these people to this level of adoration. We’re simply told here that Herod died of being eaten by worms and the Greek translated “worm” indicates “intestinal worms” which was not necessarily an uncommon way of death in those days. Josephus tells us that Herod lingered five days and that his rotting flesh produced worms. He further places the date as August, A.D. 44.
Read Acts 12:24-25
v24. “BUT THE WORD OF GOD GREW AND MULTIPLIED.”
Luke now returns to his history of the church, we’re told by Greek scholars that the terms used in the original language means that it enjoyed a “very rapid increase.” It’s almost as if the more the church is persecuted and trod down the stronger it grows and the more it multiplies doesn’t it? Think that may be part of the problem in reaching people today, that we all have too much of God’s blessings?
v25. “AND BARNABAS AND SAUL RETURNED FROM
ministry is Luke talking about here?
You’ll remember that Agabus had come to Antioch of Syria and prophesied
about a great famine that was to occur.
The brethren had determined to provide relief for the saints at