Acts 12 - Outline of Acts (MENU page)
1. Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth [his] hands to vex certain of the church.
2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also.
(Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
4 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.
5. Peter therefore was kept in prison:
but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
...Herod the king...-
'Herod' meaning 'hero' was the assumed name of a line of kings that governed portions of the land of Israel and the surrounding regions, under the Roman Empire. The Herod, mentioned here, is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great (who was ruling when Jesus was born, Matthew ch. 2), and the nephew of Herod Antipas (who beheaded John the Baptist, Matthew ch. 14; and who Pilate involved in the trial of Jesus, Luke 23:6-12). The Herods were familiar with Jewish customs and religion (Acts 26:2,3), but they ruled ruthlessly, for self-advantage, and without regard for God.
     Herod 'vexed' or 'troubled' the leaders of the church, for political advantage ('it pleased the Jews'), not for religious reasons.
...he killed James the brother of John...-
Jesus had told these two sons of Zebedee that they would indeed drink the cup that He drank (Mark 10:35-40). James followed his Lord in a violent death.
...he proceeded to take Peter also... apprehended him {ie., by force}...-
Herod intended to put Peter to death also, as soon as the feast of Passover was past. The word 'Easter' in v.4 {GK=pascha} refers to the Passover (at which the paschal lamb was slain). While we cannot be certain of the date, this was about 8 to 10 years after the Passover in which Jesus was arrested and crucified.
...and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers...-
Four soldiers guarded Peter around the clock, in four shifts. Typically, two soldiers were inside the cell with the prisoner, while two stood guard outside the door. Apparently, Herod considered Peter to be a high escape risk (he had 'escaped' before, Acts 5:17-23), since the king assigned a level of security which was much higher than for common prisoners. In addition to the guards, Peter was shackled and chained (v.6).
...Peter was kept {ie., under close watch} in prison... but prayer was made without ceasing for him to God.-
'Without ceasing' is {GK=ektenes, extended, stretched out, ie., fervently, intensely}. The believers earnestly reached out to God in Peter's behalf. He was not only in prison, but he was appointed to die. Heb 13:3; Jer 33:3
6 And when Herod would have brought him forth,
the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains:
and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
7 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.
8 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.
9 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.
10 When they were past the first and the second ward,
they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto 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.
11 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 was sleeping...-
Under such circumstances, could you have slept? Peter was resting, by faith, in his Lord. Php 4:6,7; Psa 4:8
Apparently, he was sleeping very soundly. The light did not wake him. The angel had to punch him to get a response. Even then, Peter was groggy. The angel had to help him to his feet, and then remind him to dress himself and put his shoes on.
...he went out... and wist not {ie., knew not, did not perceive} that it was true...-
Peter thought he was dreaming, or that God was again communicating something to him in a vision (as in Acts 10:10-13). The chains falling off, the walk past sleeping guards (not only those to whom he had been chained and those outside his cell door, but also two additional sets of guards at 'the first and second ward'), the gate opening by itself... it seemed so unreal. His release had taken him by surprise. But eventually the reality hit him, that the Lord had delivered him from certain death at the hand of Herod, to the great disappointment of enemies who were looking forward to his execution.
12 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.
13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.
14 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.
15 And they said unto her, Thou art mad.
But she constantly affirmed that it was even so.
Then said they, It is his angel.
16 But Peter continued knocking:
and when they had opened [the door], and saw him, they were astonished.
17 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 shew these things unto James, and to the brethren.
And he departed, and went into another place.
Mary the mother of John... Mark...- was apparently a woman of means.
Her house was large enough to serve as a meeting place for the church.
...where many were gathered together praying...-
The urgency of the matter (Peter's execution on the morrow) is seen in their unceasing prayer which continued through the night.
...Peter knocked on the door...-
The servant girl, Rhoda, was so excited to hear Peter's voice, that she forgot to open the door for him. The reaction of the believers reveals that the answer to their prayers was far beyond their expectation (Eph 3:20,21).
...it is his angel {GK=pneuma, spirit}...-
They thought Peter was a disembodied spirit, having already been put to death. They were 'astonished' to see him in the flesh.
...he beckoning... to hold their peace... declared unto them...-
Peter is wide awake now... and aware that the noise of excitement could arouse attention. After telling them about his miraculous deliverance, and as he departed to seek a hiding place, he asked them to inform James of these events. This James (the author of the epistle by that name) was the brother of Judas (the author of the epistle of Jude). These men were half-brothers to Jesus. Following His resurrection, these brothers, who were unbelieving during Jesus' earthly ministry (Joh 7:5), had come to faith (Acts 1:13). By this time, James had risen to a position of authority in the church at Jerusalem (as we will see a little later in Acts).
18 Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.
19 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.
...there was no small stir among the soldiers...-
This is an understatement, to say the least. The 'stir' {ie., trouble} among the soldiers was intense, for they knew the penalty for allowing a prisoner to escape. Their search would have been thorough, in the prison and throughout the city. Surely, if Peter had stayed where the believers had been praying, he would have been arrested.
Herod... examined the keepers... put to death.-
What explanation could the poor soldiers give? They had been sleeping when the angel came. Death was the penalty for sleeping on guard duty. In any case, Herod would have shown no mercy, for he would not have believed that God had delivered Peter. It is possible that we will see some of those soldiers in heaven, for their close contact with Peter, over an extended period of time, had given him opportunity to present the Gospel to them, as he had to Cornelius.
Herod... went... to Caesarea...-
Having lost face before the Jews, he left Jerusalem for the city he preferred.
20. 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].
21 And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne,
and made an oration unto them.
22 And the people gave a shout, [saying, It is] the voice of a god, and not of a man.
23 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.
Herod was highly displeased {lit., fighting mad, or full of passion and ready for battle}...-
The objects of his anger sought to appease him with their flattery.
The Lord smote him...-
Herod was proud, boastful, self-centered, and an enemy of God and His people. In Herod's attitude, we see a foreshadowing of the anti-christ, who also will blaspheme God by accepting acclaim as god (1Joh 2:18; 2The 2:4). Just as the Lord judged Herod, so, He will set the record straight in the future (Isa 42:8). (Contrast Peter's attitude, in Acts 10:25,26.)
24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.
Here is a report on the state of the church, during a time of persecution and ungodly leadership.
The enemy comes to nothing. God's Word, and all who place their trust in it, prevail. Isa 41:10-13; 55:10,11
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled [their] ministry,
and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.
Having delivered the gift of aid to the church in Jerusalem (11:27-30), the two messengers returned to the church in Antioch, from which they had been sent. John Mark was the nephew of Barnabas (Col 4:10). No doubt, Barnabas brought him along in order to encourage his spiritual growth and preparation for the Lord's service.

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