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Acts 12

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

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Verses 1-25

Shall we turn now in our Bibles to Acts 12 .

Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church ( Acts 12:1 ).

There are just a lot of Herods in the Bible and it is a little difficult to keep them all straight. In fact, I don't expect you to keep them all straight. This particular Herod was Herod Agrippa I. He was the grandson of Herod the Great who was the Herod at the time of the birth of Jesus. Herod the Great had ten wives. One of his wives, Miriam, had a son, Aristopollis that was murdered by Herod the Great, as was Miriam. He felt that they were conspiring against them and so he murdered them both.

There was a saying during the time of Herod the Great that it was safer to be his pig than his son. And he actually murdered several of his sons. Aristopollis was one of them. But before Aristopollis was murdered, he had this son Herod Agrippa. Herod Agrippa I, the son of Miriam, who was a descendant of the Maccabeans. She was a direct descendant of the Maccabeans, which made her a Jewess, but she was married to Herod the Great and so Herod Agrippa I was sort of half Jewish in a sense. He was very interested in the Jewish customs and daily offered a sacrifice according to the Jewish law. He kept the Jewish customs. He spent some thirty years of his early life in Rome, but then came back and loved living in Jerusalem and was seeking to curry the favor of the Jews, living as the Jews lived. And he was highly respected by the Jews. And so this Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great, began to persecute the church just to curry favor with the Jews.

His son, Herod Agrippa II was the one that Paul faced in Caesarea as Paul was actually being interrogated by him in order that they might develop charges against him when he was sent to Nero. For he appealed to Caesar when he realized that he was getting the royal run-around by Festus, a political pawn, and he appealed to Caesar. Festus did not have any charges to send with Paul, and so he had asked Herod Agrippa II, the son of this Herod Agrippa I, to hear Paul's case in order that they might develop charges against him to send to Nero when he was sent there. So about this time, Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.

And he killed James the brother of John with the sword ( Acts 12:2 ).

James and John were called by Jesus the sons of thunder. They requested one day that they be granted to sit one at the right hand and the other at the left hand of Jesus when He was in His kingdom. And Jesus said, "Are you able to be baptized with the baptism whereof I will be baptized?" And they said, "Yes, Lord, we are able." Jesus was talking about His death and Jesus said, "Ye shall indeed be baptized with the baptism wherein I was baptized: but to grant to you to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is something really that isn't really in my jurisdiction, that is given to the Father" ( Matthew 20:23 ). So James is now following his Lord in martyrdom, the brother of John.

And when Herod Agrippa saw this pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) ( Acts 12:3 )

On the fourteenth of Nissan they began the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and so it was during this Feast of Passover that Peter was arrested. Now according to their law, during the times of the Feast of Passover, they could not have any trial, and so he determined to bring him forth at the end of the Feast of Passover. And you say, "Well, Jesus was tried during the Feast of Passover." Correct, good students! But it was a thoroughly illegal trial. There were several illegal aspects of the trial of Jesus Christ. But he was intending to bring him forth for judgment and, of course, for execution at the end of the Passover period.

And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him ( Acts 12:4 );

Now a quaternion was actually four soldiers. As a rule, a prisoner was chained, his right hand to the left hand of the guard. In Peter's case, because they wanted to keep him sure, he was chained on both sides to guards, and then there were two guards who would stand watch at the door and four quaternions would mean that there were four groups of four soldiers. They served in three-hour shifts around the clock in guarding the prisoner. So there were sixteen soldiers altogether watching Peter in three-hour shifts, at all times chained to two of them while two were watching the door.

and they intended ( Acts 12:4 )

It says Easter there, and that's a King James translation. They did not know anything about Easter in the early church. The word in the Greek is Passover after the time of unleavened bread. But because Easter takes place during Passover season, because Jesus was crucified at the time of the Passover, He also rose again three days later. And so the Jewish Passover usually coincides closely with our Easter season. And because this was translated by the King James translators in 1600 and by this time this pagan celebration of Ashtar had invaded the church and was changed slightly to Easter instead of Ashtar. The King James translators just translated this word Easter because it does signify that same time of the year.

intending after Easter [or really after Passover] to bring him forth to the people. Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. 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. 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 of his hands. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did ( Acts 12:4-8 ).

Gird yourself means to tie your skirt on up. When they would gird themselves, and the purpose of it is they would wear these long robes kind of things. Well, it's hard to run in a robe. I've never really tried it, but I can imagine it would be difficult to run in a robe. And so they would gird themselves up, that is, they would take the sash and they would pull the robe up to the knees and then they would tie the sash so that the robe would then be short and they could run faster. So he said, "Gird yourself up."

Always when you get ready to run, get ready to fight, or get ready to work, you would gird yourself up or get ready to serve. It was a action that you would take in order that you might have greater freedom of movement.

Gird yourself up and tie on your sandals. And so he did. And he said unto him, Put your garment on, and follow me. And so he went out, and followed him; and he knew not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision ( Acts 12:8-9 ).

"It can't be real. These chains have fallen off; I'm walking past these guards. This can't be real; it's just a dream. This is just a vision, it's not really happening." That, to me, is very interesting how close the spiritual world was to these men. Where they really didn't know if it was reality or just some spiritual revelation. But they lived very close to the spiritual world, to the spirit world.

When they were past the first and the second ward, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city; which opened to them of its own accord: and they went out, and they passed through one street; and then the angel departed from him. Now when Peter was come to himself, he said, I know of a surety, that the Lord has sent his angel, and has delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews ( Acts 12:10-11 ).

Finally, when the angel left and Peter was standing on the street, he said, "Hey, it wasn't a dream. I am out! Unreal!" And he realized that God had delivered him from the hand of Herod.

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 ( Acts 12:12 ).

Now go back to verse Acts 12:5 where it says, "But prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for Peter." So Peter came to the house where the prayer meeting was being held. The house of Mary the mother of Mark. John Mark who is the author of the Gospel according to Mark. It is thought that her house was pretty much the headquarters of the church in Jerusalem. In fact, it is thought by some that the upper room was actually in the house of Mary the mother of Mark.

And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, whose name was Rhoda. And when she knew Peter's voice, she did not open the gate for gladness, but ran in [scatter-brained girl], and told how that Peter was standing at the gate. But they said unto her, [You're crazy.] But she constantly affirmed that it was true. Then said they, It must be his angel ( Acts 12:13-15 ).

This, to me, is quite fascinating. Going back to verse Acts 12:5 . Peter therefore was kept in prison, but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. So he comes to the place where the prayer meeting is being held. They're all inside praying, "Oh God, help Peter! Oh Lord, deliver Peter" and all. Now Rhoda comes running in and says, "Peter's out at the gate." And they said, "You're crazy!" Isn't it interesting how much emphasis we often put on faith. "You gotta have faith brother! If you don't have faith, God's not going to answer your prayers."

Let me tell you something. God's going to do what God wants to do whether you have faith or not. The purposes of God are going to stand. Surely you cannot accuse these people of praying the prayer of faith. Because when they are told that God has answered the prayer, Peter's at the door and they don't believe it, they accuse the poor little girl of being crazy. Then they said, "Well, it must be his angel. It must be his spirit. Surely it can't be Peter!"

But Peter just kept knocking: and so when they opened the door, they saw him, and they were astonished. But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace [Don't make too bit of a stir, fellows. They'll find out I'm here], he declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go show these things unto James ( Acts 12:16-17 ),

Now at this point we are introduced to James, who became one of the leaders in the early church, who was a half brother to Jesus. And he began to take a very strong role of leadership in the early church. James the brother of John has been put to death by Herod. But this other James, who will write an epistle after his name and will take a role of leadership in the council in Jerusalem, is not the James of the gospel, except that Mark does name him as one of the half brothers of Jesus. So introducing you now to James, half brother to Jesus, who will now begin to take a more dominant role in the early church. So Peter says to go show these things unto James.

and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place ( Acts 12:17 ).

James the half brother of Jesus did not believe the claims of Jesus during His lifetime. In fact, James thought that his brother Jesus was mad, and at one time sought to rescue Him from the crowd. He said, "He's beside Himself" and they came down to rescue Him. It is said according to the Gospel of the Hebrews, in one of the Apocrypha books, they have James saying after the death of Jesus and before His resurrection that he said, "I will not believe unless I can see Him myself." And interestingly enough, Jesus, after His resurrection, did appear unto James as Paul tells us in I Corinthians Acts 15:7 . He made an appearance to his half brother and after that point his half brother James and His half brother Jude became pillars in the early church.

And so, "Go show these things to James and to the brethren and he departed and went to another place." He figured that they would be coming to Mary's house looking for him and so he, no doubt, went to hide out from Herod. So he went to another place.

Now, here we have an interesting enigma. Herod stretched forth his hand against the church and he killed James the brother of John with the sword. And he put Peter in prison intending to bring him forth for trial and execution, but God intervened and miraculously delivered Peter. Question. Why didn't God intervene and miraculously deliver James? Now don't try to figure out an answer, because we don't know.

The ways of God are beyond our finding out. We know that God could have delivered James by a miracle even as He delivered Peter. But for some reason, God did not see fit to deliver James, but allowed James to fall prey to Herod's sword. Though He did see fit and purpose that Peter should be delivered from Herod's sword. And I don't think the prayers of the church were the deciding factor, because as we noted, the prayers obviously were not prayers of faith.

I believe the deciding factor was just the purpose of God, the sovereignty of God. As far as God was concerned, it was James' time to come home; it wasn't Peter's time yet. I believe that all of our lives are bound within the purposes of God and that God knows the day in which He's going to take me home. It's all set. God knows exactly the day and the circumstances by which He's going to take me home. And God has, in the meantime, a work for me to do, and until I have accomplished that work that God has in mind for me to do, God's going to preserve me and keep me until that day. But the moment I have accomplished that purpose of God and plan for my life, then God's going to take me home.

In the book of Revelation, chapter 11, we read concerning the two witnesses that come to bare witness during the tribulation period upon the earth. And it says that they have power to call down fire from heaven. They have power to shut up heaven, that it does not rain during this period of their prophecy. And if anybody should try to take them, they can call down fire from heaven and consume them. And yet the scripture said, "And when they shall have finished their testimony," then the antichrist has power to put them to death, but not until they have finished their testimony.

So obviously God was not yet through with Peter. There was more work for him to do. Thus, God preserved him. However, outside of the council in Jerusalem, this is the last mention of Peter that we have in the book of Acts. Chapter 15 he'll speak up and again tell how God had led him to the Gentiles, but Peter passes on from the picture. Paul tells us in Galatians how he came to the church in Antioch, caused some trouble that Paul had to rebuke him for. Some of our other records tells us that he went to Rome and was there crucified upside down. And, of course, he wrote his epistles. But as far as the record in the book of Acts, it shifts now from the church in Jerusalem and beginning in with chapter 13, Antioch becomes the center of church activity. Jerusalem passes as the center of the church's activity and now moves to Antioch, and all of the missionary activity in taking the Gospel into all of the world centers out of the church in Antioch. So meanwhile, back at the prison...

Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter ( Acts 12:18 ).

I mean, they woke up and here Peter was gone, and you can imagine the stir that this must have created among these guards to find Peter gone.

And when Herod had sought for Peter, and found him not, he cross-examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death ( Acts 12:19 ).

For according to the Roman law, if you were guarding a prisoner and he escaped from you, then you received the sentence that would have been given to the prisoner. Which shows that he was planning to put Peter to death. The soldiers who were the guards over Peter were put to death, taking the sentence that was to be placed upon Peter.

And he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and he stayed there. Now Herod was highly displeased with those that were from Tyre and Sidon ( Acts 12:19-20 ):

Cities that exist to the present day that have been in the news quite a bit of late as Israel has gone into southern Lebanon. And we hear almost daily of the tensions that exists with the Israeli occupation forces and the people of Sidon and Tyre today. And these people depended upon Palestine for their food supplies, and so they were pretty much a vassal to Palestine at this time. But Herod was angry with them.

but they came with one accord to him, because they had made a friend of Blastus the king's chamberlain, and they desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king's country [or by Palestine]. And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them. And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man ( Acts 12:20-22 ).

Of course, they were seeking to flatter him in order that they might gain his favor and his help.

And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and he died ( Acts 12:23 ).

According to Josephus, Herod came into the theater there in Caesarea. Now all of you that have visited the Holy Land are familiar with the theater that is in Caesarea. For through the years the theater was covered with sand, and as the result, was well preserved. And in the area around Caesarea they had observed all of these sand dunes, and one day someone started digging down into one of these sand dunes and they found this beautifully preserved Roman theater there right next to the Mediterranean Sea in Caesarea. And so it has been completely excavated around there and partially restored, and it is a very interesting sight and an interesting study in Roman architecture and it gives us a little bit of the culture.

Now according to Josephus, it was into this theater, which is an outdoor theater that Herod came, according to Josephus, with this fabulous robe made of silver cloth. And as he came into the theater, the sun reflected off of this silver cloth. So he came in like a shining god, making this speech to the people and, of course, the people began to cry, "It's the voice of a god, not of a man!" And because he did not give God glory, he was smitten by an angel and there died.

So the end of Herod Agrippa I. We will deal with Herod Agrippa II, his son, in a few weeks as we move on in the book of Acts.

But the word of God grew and multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry ( Acts 12:24-25 ),

Remember they had taken up an offering. Agabus had come to Antioch and predicted a great drought was going to come, and so they took up a collection to take back to the saints in Jerusalem. So Paul and Barnabas had come back to Jerusalem with this collection that was taken from the church in Antioch. And now Paul and Barnabas are returning back to Antioch, and John Mark, who is a nephew to Barnabas, is returning with them.


Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on Acts 12". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/acts-12.html. 2014.
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