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Bible Commentaries
Acts 12

Barclay's Daily Study BibleDaily Study Bible

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Verses 1-25

Chapter 12


12:1-11 About this time Herod the king began to take hostile action to inflict injury on certain men of the Church. He killed James, John's brother, with the sword. When he saw that this gave pleasure to the Jews he went to arrest Peter too. (These were the days of unleavened bread). When he had seized Peter, he put him under arrest. He handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard, for he wished to bring him before the people after the Passover Feast. So Peter was continuously guarded in prison. Prayer to God for him was earnestly offered by the Church. On the night before Herod was going to bring him before the people, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound by two chains; and guards kept continuous watch before the door. Now, look you, the Angel of the Lord stood by and a light shone in the house. He struck Peter's side and wakened him and said, "Rise quickly." The chains fell from his hands. The angel said to him, "Gird yourself and put on your sandals." He did so. He said to him, "Wrap your cloak round about you and follow me." So he went out and followed him. And he did not know that what was happening through the angel was real but thought that he was seeing a vision, They went through the first and the second guard and they came to the iron door that led into the city and it opened to them of its own accord. They went out and proceeded along one street; and thereupon the angel left him. When Peter had recovered his faculties he said, "Now I know for sure that the Lord sent his angel and delivered me from the hand of Herod and rescued me from the fate that the people of the Jews looked forward to for me."

There now broke out upon the Church, and especially upon its leaders, a new wave of persecution instigated by King Herod. Let us see briefly the various ramifications of the family of the Herods in their New Testament connections.

The first of the New Testament Herods (see Herodes G2264) is Herod the Great who reigned from about 41 B.C. to 1 B.C. He is the Herod of Matthew 2:1-23, who was in power when Jesus was born, who received the Wise Men from the East and who massacred the children. Herod the Great was married ten times. Those of his family who cross the pages of the New Testament are as follows.

(i) Herod Philip the First. He was the first husband of the Herodias ( G2266) who was responsible for the death of John the Baptist. He is mentioned, under the name of Philip ( G5376) , in Matthew 14:3; Mark 6:17; Luke 3:19. He had no official office. He was the father of Salome (see G4539) .

(ii) Herod Antipas (see G493) . He was the ruler of Galilee and Peraea. He was the second husband of Herodias (see G2266) and consented to the death of John the Baptist. He was also the Herod to whom Pilate sent Jesus for trial ( Luke 23:7 ff.).

(iii) Archelaus ( G745) . He was ruler of Judaea, Samaria and Idumaea. He was a thoroughly bad ruler and was deposed and banished. He is mentioned in Matthew 2:22.

(iv) Herod Philip the Second. He was ruler of Ituraea and Trachonitis. He was the founder of Caesarea Philippi which was called after him. In the New Testament he is called Philip and is mentioned in Luke 3:1.

(v) Herod the Great had another son called Aristobulus (see Aristoboulos G711) ; his mother was Mariamne, a princess who was descended from the great Maccabaean heroes. He was murdered by his own father but he had a son called Herod Agrippa. This is the Herod of our present passage in Acts 12:1-25.

(vi) To complete the list we may note that Herod Agrippa ( G67) , was the father of (a) Agrippa the Second, before whom Paul was examined and before whom he made his famous speech ( Acts 25:1-27; Acts 26:1-32). (b) Bernice (see Bernike G959) , who appeared with him when Paul was under examination. (c) Drusilla (see Drousilla G1409) , who was the wife of Felix, the governor before whom Paul was tried ( Acts 24:24).

From this family history it may be seen that Herod Agrippa of this chapter was a direct descendant of the Maccabees through his mother Mariamne. He had been educated at Rome, but he sedulously cultivated the good graces of the Jewish people by meticulously keeping the Law and all Jewish observances. For these reasons he was popular with the people; and it was no doubt in order to achieve further popularity with the orthodox Jews that he decided to attack the Christian Church and its leaders. Even his conduct in the arrest of Peter shows his desire to conciliate the Jews. The Passover Feast was on 14th Nisan; for that day and the seven following no leaven must be used and the week was called the days of unleavened bread. During that time no trial or execution could be carried out and that is why Herod purposed to defer Peter's execution until the week was finished. The great tragedy of this particular wave of persecution was that it was not due to any man's principles, however misguided; it was due simply to Herod's bid to gain popular favour with the people.

THE JOY OF RESTORATION ( Acts 12:12-19 )

12:12-19 When Peter had grasped what had happened, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, who was surnamed Mark. There a large number had assembled together and were praying. When Peter had knocked at the door of the entrance a maidservant called Rhoda came to answer the door. She recognized Peter's voice and, in her joy, she did not open the door but ran and told them that Peter stood before the entrance. They said to her, "You are mad." She strenuously insisted that it was so; but they kept saying, "It is his angel." But Peter waited there knocking. When they opened the door and saw him they were amazed. With a gesture of his hand he bade them be silent and he told them the whole story of how the Lord had brought him out of prison. He said, "Tell these tidings to James and to the brethren." So he went away to another place. When day came there was no small disturbance among the soldiers about what had happened to Peter. When Herod had sought for him and did not find him, he examined the guards and ordered them to be led away to execution. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea and stayed there.

The greatest precautions had been taken to see that Peter did not escape. He was guarded by four quaternions of soldiers. A quaternion was a squad of four. There were four such squads because the day and the night were divided into four watches each of three hours duration; and each squad was on duty for three hours at a time. Normally a prisoner was chained by his right hand to his guard's left hand; but Peter was chained by both hands to a guard on each side of him, while the two remaining soldiers of the quaternion kept watch at the door. Precautions could go no further. When Peter escaped the soldiers were led away to execution because it was the law that, if a criminal escaped, his guard should suffer the penalty the prisoner would have suffered.

In this story we do not necessarily see a miracle. It may well be the story of a thrilling rescue; but, however it happened, the hand of God was most definitely in it.

When Peter escaped he took his way straight to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. From that we learn that this was the headquarters of the Christian Church. It has indeed been suggested that it was in this very house that the Last Supper was eaten and that it continued to be the meeting place of the disciples in Jerusalem. Note what the Christians were doing. They were praying. When they were up against it, they turned to God.

In this passage we come on the first mention of the man who was the real leader of the Christian Church in Jerusalem. Peter instructs them to go and tell the news to James. This is the brother of our Lord. There is a certain mystery about him. In the East it would have been the natural thing for the next brother to take on the work of an elder brother who had been killed; but from the gospels we learn that Jesus' brothers did not believe in him ( John 7:5) and that they actually thought him mad ( Mark 3:21). During his lifetime James was not a supporter of Jesus. But the Risen Christ made a special appearance to James ( 1 Corinthians 15:7). The apocryphal Gospel according to the Hebrews tells that after the death of Jesus, James made a vow that he would neither eat nor drink until he saw Jesus again; and that Jesus did appear to him. It may well be that what the life of Jesus could not do his death did, and that when James saw his brother die he discovered who he really was and dedicated all his life to serve him. The change in James may well be another great example of the power of the Cross to change the lives of men.

A TERRIBLE END ( Acts 12:20-25 )

12:20-25 Herod was furious with the people of Tyre and Sidon. But they came to him with a common purpose. They gained the ear of Blastus the king's chamberlain and sued for peace because their country was dependent for its sustenance on the king's territory. Upon an agreed day Herod put on his royal robes and seated himself on a throne and made a speech to them. The people cried out, "It is the voice of a God and not of a man." Immediately the angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give the glory to God. And he was eaten with worms and died.

The word of God increased and was multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had completed their errand of mercy. and they took with them John who was surnamed Mark.

There was at this time some quarrel between Herod and the people of Tyre and Sidon, for whom the quarrel was a serious matter. Their lands lay to the north of Palestine and in two ways Herod could make things very difficult for them. If he deflected the trade of Palestine from their ports their revenues would be seriously impaired. Worse, Tyre and Sidon were dependent for their food supplies on Palestine and if these supplies were cut off their case would be serious indeed. So then these people succeeded in gaining the ear of Blastus, the king's chamberlain, and in due course a public session was arranged. Josephus, the Jewish historian, describes how, on the second day of the festival, he entered the theatre clad in a robe of silver cloth. The sun glinted on the silver and the people cried out that this was a god come to them. At once a sudden and terrible illness fell upon him from which he never recovered.

Acts 12:24-25 take us back to Acts 11:27-30. Paul and Barnabas had fulfilled their errand of mercy to the Church at Jerusalem and so returned to Antioch, taking with them John Mark.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)

Bibliographical Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Acts 12". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dsb/acts-12.html. 1956-1959.
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