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THE PERSHE EXTENSION OF THE CHECUTION OF THE CHURCH IN JERUSALEM BY HEROD, AND THE EXECUTION OF JAMES; PETER IS MIRACULOUSLY DELIVERED FROM PRISON, AND WITHDRAWS FROM JERUSALEM; THE PERSECUTION IS TERMINATED BY A JUDGMENT OF GOD, WHICH OVERTAKES THE PERSECUTOR
1Now [But] about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands1 to vex [maltreat] certain [some] of the church. 2And he killed [caused] James the brother of John [to be executed] with the sword. 3And because he saw [seeing that] it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take [seize] Peter also. (Then were the2 days of unleavened bread). 4And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of [to four times four] soldiers to keep [guard] him; intending after Easter [the Passover] to bring him forth to the people. 5Peter therefore was [Now Peter was indeed] kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing3 of the church unto God [but continued prayer was made to God by the church] for4 him. 6And [But] when Herod would have brought [was about to bring] him forth, the same [in that] night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept [guarded] the prison. 7And, behold, the [an] angel of the Lord came upon [to] him, and a [om. the article] light shined in the prison [chamber]: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up [awakened him], saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. 8And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself5 and bind on thy sandals: and so [thus] he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment [cloak] about thee, and follow me. 9And he went out, and followed him6 ; and wist [knew] not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. 10When they were past [But after they had passed through] the first and second ward [guard], they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto [into] the city; which opened to them of his [its] own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one [along a] street; and forth-with [suddenly] the angel departed from him. 11And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety [truly], 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. 12And when he had considered the thing [had become aware of this], he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying. 13And as Peter [But when he]7 knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel [maid-servant] came to hearken [listen]8 , named Rhoda [Rhode]. 14And when she knew [recognized] Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness [joy], but ran in, and told how [announced that] Peter stood before the gate. 15And they said unto her, Thou art mad [Thou ravest]. But she constantly [confidently] affirmed that it was even so [was so]. Then said they, It is his angel. 16But Peter continued knocking [remained standing, and knocked continually]: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they [they saw him, and] were astonished. 17But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace [to be silent], declared [related] unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew [Announce] these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into [And going out of the city, he departed unto] another place. 18Now [But] as soon as it was day, there was no small stir [commotion] among the soldiers, what was [had] become of Peter. 19And [But] when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers [subjected the keepers to a trial], and commanded that they should be put to death [executed]. And he went down from Judea to Cesarea, and there abode [tarried]. 20And Herod [He]9 was highly displeased with [exceedingly hostile towards]10 them of Tyre and Sidon [the Tyrians and Sidonians]: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain11 their friend [having gained over B. etc.], desired [sued for] peace; because their country was nourished [supplied with provisions] by the king’s country. 21And [But] upon a set [on an appointed] day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel [having put on a royal garment], sat upon his throne [seated himself on the tribunal], and made an oration [address] unto them. 22And [But] the people gave a shout [cried out to him], saying [om. saying], It is the voice of a god [of God], and not of a man.12 23And [But] immediately the [an] angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the13 glory: and he was eaten of [by] worms, and gave up the ghost [worms, and in consequence thereof died]. 23 But the word of God grew and multiplied. 24And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry14 , and15 took with them [also taking with them] John, whose surname was Mark.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
Acts 12:1. a. About that time, that is, when Barnabas and Saul were sent from Antioch to Jerusalem; it is, at least, evident from Acts 12:25, that Luke assigns their return to Antioch to a later period than that of the execution of James, and the arrest and miraculous deliverance of Peter.
b. Herod the king; he is Herod Agrippa I., the son of Aristobulus and Berenice, the grandson of Herod the Great, and the nephew of Herod Antipas. He was born about ten years before the Christian era, and was educated at Rome. After many adventures, some of which were by no means of an honorable character, he received as a gift from Caius Caligula, soon after the accession of the latter to the throne, the tetrarchy of Philip (Batanea, Trachonitis and Auranitis), which had been vacant for several years, and also the tetrarchy of Lysanias, together with the title of king. Soon afterwards he obtained also the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas (Galilee and Peræa), when the latter was banished by Caligula to Gaul. And, lastly, the emperor Claudius, soon after the commencement of his reign (A. D. 41), gave him, in addition, Samaria and Judea, so that, like his grandfather at an earlier period, he ruled over all Palestine; his annual revenues amounted, according to Josephus (Antiq. xix. 8. 2) to twelve millions of drachmæ. Comp. Ewald’s Gesch. d. Apost. Zeitalt., 1858, p. 288 ff; p. 313 ff. [History of the Apostolical Age].
c. After Judea had been granted to this prince, he usually resided in Jerusalem. The Christian congregation of that city was now exposed to his persecutions. He laid on hands with violence, or, in a hostile manner (ἐπέβαλε τὰς χεῖρας, not ἐπεχείρησε, (Kuinoel) [who so understands the original phrase, i.e., in the sense of cœpit, conatus est]), so that he maltreated some of the members. Thus several of them were at first compelled to endure severe punishments, probably corporeal chastisements. He afterwards caused one of the apostles, James the elder, the brother of John, to be executed with the sword. [This James, the son of Zebedee, was probably older than the other apostle who bore the same name, James, the son of Alpheus, who is called “the less,” that is, the younger, in Mark 15:40; μικροῦ; the comparative, in very nearly the same manner, is employed in Romans 9:12.—Tr.] It appears that when he perceived how well this course pleased the Jews, he continued to pursue it, and now arrested Peter. This circumstance occurred during the Passover week, when, according to the Mosaic law, unleavened bread was eaten Hence the execution of James the elder probably occurred a short time before the passover week of the year 44, since Agrippa soon afterwards died (Acts 12:19 ff.). Without doubt, however, the procedure adopted in the case of Peter, as well as the punishment of certain members of the church, and the execution of James, originated in the consideration which was paid to the sentiments of the people and their most influential leaders. The increased imperial favor which Agrippa enjoyed, and the additions which were made to his power and his honors, had imparted new strength to the national feelings of the Jews, and new confidence to their hierarchical chiefs. And although Agrippa was a patron of heathen games, musical festivals, and gladiatorial contests, he, nevertheless, observed externally at least, the Mosaic institutions, and personally represented, as well as vigorously protected the Israelitic religion in its external relations. It may, hence, readily be conceived that a new impulse was given to the fanatical sensitiveness and the intolerant arrogance with which Israel treated the Christians, who were gradually recovering from the earlier persecutions. (Comp. Ewald, loc cit. p. 316 ff.). Agrippa yielded the more readily to this spirit of the times, in proportion as he perceived that he could secure the popular favor by adopting violent measures against the Christians, and promote his personal interests at their expense. He had, indeed, at a much earlier period, acquired the art, principally in Rome, of directing his course successfully amid the conflicts of hostile parties of every description, and of availing himself of events in such a manner, as to advance his own selfish interests.
Acts 12:2. And he killed James, etc.—It is, under all circumstances, somewhat surprising that Luke mentions the execution of James so very briefly, employing only two words: ἀνεῖλε—μαχαίρα. He had furnished all the details of the martyrdom of Stephen, who was, nevertheless, only one of Seven. But when one of the Twelve, for the first time, meets with a bloody death, (and he, too, is the only apostle whose death is mentioned in the Acts,) the account is, nevertheless, given with such laconic brevity! Tradition supplies the circumstance which is here apparently wanting: viz., the accuser of James was converted while listening to the defence of the latter, and was then beheaded with him (Clemens Alex., quoted by Eusebius, Eccl. Hist. II. 9.). But how is this singular brevity to be explained? Was it intentionally chosen, or unconsciously adopted? Attempts have been made to assign a particular motive to Luke; he had, for instance, in order to adhere to his plan of giving a history of the development of the church, omitted all notices of the death of an apostle (Lekebusch). But it would have been quite consistent with such a plan to have added a few words to those which he does employ. Baumgarten supposes that Luke’s account corresponds precisely to the reality, since James suffered that bloody death in total silence (I. 282 ff.). But he himself (p. 284) describes the whole event with considerable fulness, and, if his description is correct, Luke would have approached still nearer to the reality, if he had also related the details. Meyer conjectures that certain considerations, not known to us, may have influenced Luke; he may, for instance, have intended to compose a third historical work, in addition to the Gospel and the Acts. But nothing that is positive can be ascertained on this point, and it is our most candid course to say at once that the reason does not appear.
Acts 12:3-4. And because he saw, etc.—After James had been slain, and Agrippa had observed how acceptable his course was in the eyes of the people, he at once caused Peter also to be apprehended. (Προςέθετο συλλαβεῖν is obviously a Hebraizing mode of expression [fully illustrated in Winer’s Gram. N. T. § 54. 5; and see Schleusner’s Thes. etc. Vet. Test. ad v. προςτίθημι, and Robinson’s Hebr. Lex. ad v. יָםַף, No. 3.—Tr.]; it suggests the existence of an original Hebrew account of these transactions.). Agrippa apprehended or held Peter fast (πιέζω, stricta manu tenere), and put him in prison, delivering him to four quaternions of soldiers, that is, to four companies, (each company consisting of four men), which regularly relieved one another, according to the Roman usage [the night being divided into four watches, each continuing three hours.—Tr.]. The Jewish rule: Non judicant die festo, did not allow Peter’s trial to take place, until after the expiration of the passover-week, which had already commenced, Acts 12:3. Agrippa, who was exceedingly fond of theatrical shows, intended to convert that trial into an exhibition for the amusement of the people. (ʼΑναγεῖν is applied to the act of conducting any one before the public on an elevated stage.)
Acts 12:5. Peter therefore was [Now Peter was indeed], etc. This verse very graphically describes the contrast presented, on the one hand, by the unremitted watchfulness of Peter’s guards, and, on the other, by the unceasing intercessions offered to God by the church in his behalf; it is introduced with eminent propriety between the account of his apprehension and that of his deliverance. Luke evidently intends to convey the thought that the rescue of the apostle from imprisonment and the danger of death, was the result of the prayers which were heard and accepted.
Acts 12:6-11. a. And when Herod.—The time was the night which preceded the day on which Peter was to be exhibited to the people. He slept between two soldiers, to each of whom he was attached with a chain, although the Romans usually chained a prisoner only to one sentinel (Jos. Antiq. xviii. 6. 7.). [Meyer supposes that the additional precaution was adopted, as it had already been decided that Peter should be executed.—Tr.]. Two sentinels, accordingly, occupied the interior of the cell, and the prisoner was tied to them; the others stood before the door, and thus the four men composing the company were all on guard at the same time. Then an (not the) angel of the Lord suddenly stood at the side of the sleeper, and celestial light shone in the place (οἴκημα means the chamber or cell of the prison occupied by Peter, and not, as Meyer supposes, the entire prison.). [“Οἵκημα in the special sense of the place in which prisoners are kept, i. e. prison, a delicate designation of the δεσμωτήριον, frequently employed, especially in Attic Greek; Dem. 789, 2; 890, 13; 1284, 2; Thuc. 4. 47. etc.” (Meyer).—Tr.]. The angel awakens the sleeper by smiting him on the side, and the chains at once fall from the hands of the latter. The angel now commands him to resume, first of all, the articles of clothing which he had laid aside in order to sleep more comfortably—the girdle, sandals, and upper garment, and then directs him to follow. Thus Peter, walking behind the angel, first passes beyond the door of his prison-cell, without as yet being conscious that all that occurred was real, since it appeared to be a vision seen in a dream, Acts 12:9. Both passed through the first and second guard; and here the term διελθεῖν suggests that each station was occupied not merely by one man, but by several, so that it was possible to pass through or between them. [Hackett is also disposed to adopt this view, and Robinson, too, (Lex. N. T.) understands φυλκή to mean here, collectively, the persons, the guards, not a watch-post, or station. But this explanation would imply that at least one or two other quaternions were also on duty during the same watch. Meyer says: “Two soldiers of the τετράδιον which kept guard, were in the interior of the prison, chained to Peter, and two were stationed on the outside as guards (φύλακεζ), at a certain distance from each other, forming the πρώτην φυλακὴν κὰι δευτέραν of Acts 12:10.” Alexander takes φυλακή in the sense of “ward, or subdivision of the prison, which,” he adds, “is much more natural than to understand it of a first or second guard or watch.”—Tr.]. They reached, at length, the iron gate, which conducted them from the precincts of the building into the city; after it had opened spontaneously to them (consequently, without being either unlocked or broken), they entered an open place, and continued to walk together along one street; but then the angel suddenly disappeared from the side of the apostle. Επέστη in Acts 12:7, and άπέστη in Acts 12:10, are parallel terms; the verbs express the suddenness of the appearance and disappearance of the angel.
b. And forthwith [suddenly] the angel departed from him.—Hitherto it had seemed to Peter as if he were dreaming, Acts 12:9. But now, when he stood alone in the midst of the city, his consciousness first returned fully and distinctly (γενόμενος ἐν ἑαυτῷ, Acts 12:11), and he said: ‘Now I perceive in truth—and I am sure that I do not deceive myself—that the Lord has sent his angel, and delivered me from the power of Herod and the eager expectation of the Jews, which shall now not be fulfilled.’ Hence Peter, as soon as he had fully recovered his consciousness, gladly and gratefully recognized alike the author and the design of his recent experience. It is the Lord, my God—said he—who has sent his angel to me, and He has delivered me from the power of Herod who sought my death, and from the expectation of the Jews.—The manner in which Peter views the whole occurrence, and which Luke, throughout the entire narrative, represents as alone correct, is precisely the opposite of that adopted by those interpreters, who explain the whole as a natural process. It has been, for instance, alleged that Peter had been freed from his chains by a flash of lightning (Hezel), or that the jailer himself, or others, at whose proceedings he connived, had liberated Peter, who did not himself understand the manner in which his escape was effected (Heinrichs). The event is indeed most graphically described, and exhibits no features that can embarrass any one who believes in the interposition of the living God in the real world, and who admits the actual existence and the operations of the angels. Hence, no sufficient reason is apparent which could induce those who admit the miraculous character of the historical facts, nevertheless to assert that legendary matter has been commingled with the pure historical elements. (Meyer). For Acts 12:9, οὐκ ᾕδει - - ὁ̓ραμα βλέπειν, is psychologically so true, that it furnishes no opportunity for transferring the whole appearance of the angel exclusively to the inner world of Peter, and converting it into a mere process of his soul.
Acts 12:12-16. And when he had considered [had become aware of this.]. (Συνιδών, from συνοοͅᾷν is not equivalent to συνειδώς, as Kuinoel appears to take it; the usus loquendi would rather authorize the interpretation: considerare, thus: re apud se considerata, scil. quid agendum esset.). Peter reached the house of a member of the church, a certain Mary, the mother of John, who was surnamed Mark; the latter went with Barnabas and Saul from Jerusalem to Antioch, Acts 12:25, and, according to tradition wrote the second Gospel. [“His mother Mary was perhaps the sister of Barnabas: see. Colossians 4:10.” (Alf.).—Tr.]. Many Christians were at the time assembled in that house, offering prayer to God, and the congregation had, indeed, according to Acts 12:5, been continually engaged in prayer in behalf of Peter, since his arrest. When Peter knocked at the door of the gate [“or rather of the porch, the front or street-door.” (Alex.); see Exeg. note on Acts 10:19-21.—Tr.], a maid-servant, Rhode, came forward from the interior, in order to listen (ὑπακοῦσαι, i.e., to ask for the name of the person who knocked). When Peter mentioned his name, and she also recognized him by his voice, she forgot, in her extreme joy, to do the most obvious act, namely, to open the door, and hastily ran to the inner apartment in which the Christians were assembled, in order to bring the intelligence that Peter was standing before the door. It is a touching instance of the genuine fraternal equality existing between masters and servants in the primitive church, that this servant, who was doubtless also a Christian, was filled with such delight when Peter, whom she had believed to be a prisoner, appeared, that she omitted the simple act of opening the door, in her eagerness to make all the others partakers of her joy. It is easy to conceive that the assembled Christians began to fear that she had lost her senses, when she affirmed that Peter was standing before the house. But the meaning of their language is less clear, when they said: ὁ ἅγγελος αὐτοῦ ἑστίν, on receiving the repeated assurances of the girl that the fact was as she had stated. It is not credible that they should have supposed the person to be a messenger [ἄγγελος, e. g., Matthew 11:10] sent by Peter; for how could they assume that he had sent a messenger from the prison, whose voice, moreover, had a deceptive resemblance to that of the apostle? And another conjecture has been offered, which is also entirely unsupported, viz.: the Christians surmised that an angel had intended to announce by the voice and by knocking, that Peter’s death was now at hand, or, in other words, that it was a so-called presentiment, On the contrary, the most probable supposition is the following: the Christians believed that Peter’s guardian angel had assumed his voice, and was standing before the door. But when Peter continued to stand there, and to knock, all the brethren approached, and opened the door, in order to ascertain the nature of the fact; and when they really saw him, they were filled with astonishment. [Alexander remarks: “Their wonder has been sometimes represented as a proof of weak faith, since they could not believe the very thing for which they had been praying. But their prayers may not have been exclusively for Peter’s liberation; or they may, to use a natural and common phrase, have thought the tidings too good to be true.”—Tr.]
Acts 12:17. But he, beckoning unto them with the hand, to hold their peace [to be silent].—(Κατασείσας τῇ χειρὶ, i.e., moving the hand downward.) He was apprehensive that the brethren might express their astonishment so loudly, as to expose him to danger. [The expression, κατασ τ χ., here means that the speaker designs to utter remarks to which he desires those who are present to listen in silence and with attention; comp. Acts 13:16; Acts 19:33; Acts 21:40. (Meyer).—Tr.]. He at once stated the direct mode in which God had effected his deliverance, requested his hearers to communicate the fact to James and the other brethren, then left the city on the same night without delay, and withdrew to another place. Whither did he proceed? Every attempt to ascertain, has been made in vain. The Romish theologians naturally suppose that Rome is meant; but Luke himself does not appear to have known the details. Meyer even thinks that it is an error to suppose that this ἕτερος τόπος lay beyond the limits of Jerusalem, since, according to the context, ἐξελθών cannot mean relicta urbe, but relicta domo. However, we do not learn from the context that Peter had actually entered the house; the terms of the narrative allow the interpretation that, when the door was opened, Peter at once, and in brief terms, related the facts, and gave the directions respecting James, without entering the interior of the house. But even if he did actually enter it, the whole narrative conveys the impression that he immediately retired from the city. For he could easily understand that God had not led him forth from the prison solely for the purpose that he should remain in the city, in which his life was threatened; comp. Acts 12:19; and it was, unquestionably, more dignified that he should repair to another place, if he was at liberty, than to hide himself in any secret spot in the city. The James mentioned in Acts 12:17, is, as we are convinced, not the apostle, the son of Alpheus [the other James, the son of Zebedee, (Matthew 10:2-3), having already been slain, Acts 12:2, above.—Tr.], but [a third James], the Lord’s brother [Galatians 1:19; Galatians 2:9, who presided over the church in Jerusalem, Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18. (de Wette).—Tr.]
Acts 12:18-19. Now as soon as it was day.—It may easily be imagined that the soldiers who had been commanded to guard the prisoner, and who were responsible for his safe-keeping, were greatly embarrassed when it was day, as they knew not what had become of Peter. And when the diligent search which was instituted, led to no results (ἀπιζητεῖν, when used in reference to the chase, designates the act of tracking), Herod subjected the guards to a trial before a military court (ἀνακρίνας), and directed that they should be executed (ἀπάγειν is the judicial term applied to the act of conducting a criminal to the place of execution). After these transactions he did not feel disposed to remain in the city; he was ashamed that he could not fulfil the eager expectations of the Jews in reference to Peter, and immediately withdrew from Judea, taking up his residence in Cesarea (Palestinæ) [the city mentioned in Acts 8:40; Acts 9:30, above.—Tr.].
Acts 12:20-23. a. And Herod was highly displeased [exceedingly hostile].—Luke describes in these verses the circumstances attending the death of Herod Agrippa, which soon afterward occurred; he evidently regards it as a judgment of God occasioned by sins which the king had committed against Christ and His apostles. He describes the first attack of illness of Herod as having occurred at a public and solemn audience which the latter had granted to the ambassadors of the Phenicians. It appears that Herod was θυμομαχῶν with the people of Tyre and Sidon. This word is found only in the later Greek writers (Polybius, Plutarch, Diodorus Siculus), and seems to have always been employed in the sense of actual, and, indeed, imbittered warfare, or literal fighting (Steph. Thes.). But as it is improbable in itself that Agrippa should have actually commenced hostilities with these Phenician cities, which, like himself, were in alliance with Rome, and as no trace of such a war is found in history, the word is probably here used in a modified sense. Herod was imbittered against the Tyrians and Sidonians (θυμο—), and warred against them (—μαςῶν) as far as the circumstances allowed, possibly, by not allowing them to enter his territory, as the facts that are subsequently stated, seem to indicate. The people of the two cities now appear, by their representatives, in the presence of Herod with one accord [ὁμοθυμαδὸν may possibly imply that they had previously been at variance among themselves, (Alex.).—Tr.], and sue for peace [“i.e., sought to avert a rupture of it.” (Hackett).—Tr.]. They were influenced by the circumstance that their territory derived its supplies of food (τρέφεσθαι) from that of Agrippa, that is, the Phenicians imported grain from Palestine, and, besides, the exportation of their products to that country was a source of profit to them. [These commercial relations existed at a very early period; comp. 1 Kings 5:9; 1 Kings 5:11; Ezra 3:7; Ezekiel 26:17.—Tr.]. In order to attain their object the more certainly, they endeavored to gain over an officer of high rank at the court of Agrippa, named Blastus. (The term ὁ ἐπὶ τοῦ κοιτῶνος is, probably, not to be taken in the original sense of præfectus cubiculi, but rather in that of treasurer, or, minister of the royal finances, since the treasure belonging to the court and the state was usually deposited for the sake of security in the king’s private cabinet.). Herod granted the ambassadors an audience on a day which had previously been appointed, and appeared in state, arrayed in a royal garment, and sitting on the tribunal. (The βῆμα was not a throne, but the suggestus or tribune, which the judge or orator occupied at public meetings). Here he delivered an address to the people (ἐδημηγόρει). The latter applauded him aloud, and exclaimed with heathenish flattery that they heard the voice of God, and not a human voice. And immediately an angel smote him, as a punishment for receiving this idolatrous honor in silence, and not giving to God, to whom alone it belonged, the honor which the people were willing to pay to him. The stroke which the king so unexpectedly received, is described not only as a divine punishment, but also as one inflicted by an invisible messenger of God, an angel of the Lord. In consequence of this sudden attack of sickness, Agrippa was consumed by worms, and thus he died. Does Luke intend to say that his death occurred on the spot? The terms employed in Acts 12:23, could not possibly be understood in any other sense, if the three words: καὶ γενόμενος σκωληκόβρωτος, had not been introduced. But these words certainly imply that there was an interval between ἐπάταξεν and ἐξέψυξεν, during which the worms in the entrails performed their horrible work.
b. Let us compare with this report of Luke (Acts 12:20-23), the narrative which Josephus furnishes of the death of Herod Agrippa (Antiq. xix. 8. 2). According to the latter authority, this king came to Cesarea, and there instituted shows in honor of Cæsar (Claudius), which were witnessed by large numbers of his officers and other men of high rank. On the second day of these shows, he arrayed himself in a magnificent robe, wrought entirely of silver, and of a wonderful texture, and at the break of day proceeded to the theatre. When the first rays of the sun fell on the silver, the latter reflected a dazzling light; his flatterers in every direction exclaimed in language which deified him [ἀνεβόων θεόν προςαγορεύοντες]: “Be thou propitious to us! If we have hitherto feared thee as a man, we shall henceforth own thee as superior to the nature of mortals.” The king did not by a single word decline to receive this impious flattery. Soon afterwards, on looking up, he saw an owl sitting on a rope that was extended over his head, and recognized in it a messenger of evil, in accordance with a prediction which he had received at an earlier period. He was at once seized with unutterable anguish, and was racked by violent pains in his bowels. He forthwith said to his friends that his death was now inevitable, although they had, a moment before, declared that he was immortal [ὁ θεὸς ὑμῖν ἐγω, φησὶν, ἤδη καταστρέφειν ἐπιτάττομαι τὸν βίον κ. τ. λ.]; and he added that he yielded to this inevitable dispensation of God, since his life had been happy and brilliant. In the mean time his pains increased in severity, and he suffered torture, so that it was necessary to carry him to the palace with the utmost speed. After five days of agonizing pains in his bowels [τῷ τῆς γαστρὸς ], he died, in the fifty-fourth year of his age.
The narrative of Josephus agrees with that of Luke, which is much shorter, in the following points:—(a) The sudden sickness and the death of Agrippa occurred in Cesarea, where he had arrived not long before; (b) the first attack of illness coincided with the king’s public appearance at a solemn assembly, on which occasion he wore a magnificent royal robe; (c) immediately before the first attack of the fatal malady, certain acclamations in honor of the king were heard, which not only flattered but deified him, and these he did not decline, but received in silence; (d) on this he was suddenly attacked by a disease of the bowels, in consequence of which he soon died.
The two reports differ, on the other hand, in the following particulars:—(a) Josephus makes no mention either of the embassy of the Phenician cities, suing for peace and a friendly intercourse, or of the address of the king, to which the idolatrous shouts of the hearers referred. This circumstance can create doubts only in the mind of a reader who ascribes to Josephus a most perfect knowledge of all the events of that period, and of the connection between them; while the statement of Luke, considered in itself, contains nothing whatever that is improbable. The flattering terms, moreover, in which the king was addressed, may be far more easily explained, if we assume that, according to Luke, they were preceded by a public discourse of Agrippa, than if, according to Josephus, these acclamations were due solely to the splendor of the royal robe; Luke, indeed, also refers to that robe.—(b) Luke, on the other hand, does not mention that an owl appeared as the precursor of death, and that at the sight of it, the king was filled with terror. The statement of such an incident is due to a purely heathenish and superstitious source. Josephus, namely, relates (Antiq. 18:6. 7) that at an earlier period, when Agrippa was in Rome, a certain German informed him that the presence of an owl, to which he pointed, was then a sign of good fortune, but that if this bird appeared to him a second time, it would be a sign that he must die. It was this prediction which Agrippa is said to have remembered on the present occasion. Instead of such circumstances, Luke mentions simply the stroke which the king received from an (invisible) angel, and with which his malady commenced. Eusebius, who in other points adopts the narrative of Josephus (Hist. Eccl. ii. 10), has here, however, attempted to reconcile it with that of Luke, by substituting an angel for the owl, and implying that the king saw only the former. This is an unfortunate attempt to reconcile the two accounts, while the miraculous punishment inflicted by the angel precisely corresponds to the miraculous deliverance by an angel of Peter, whose life Agrippa had sought.—(c) While both accounts essentially agree in regarding the bowels as the seat of the disease, the two descriptions differ in so far, that Josephus speaks only of violent and torturing pains. Luke’s account, which specially mentions worms (not lice, φθειρίσις [as Kühn, Elsner, Morus, etc erroneously interpret (Meyer)—Tr.]), may, however, be easily combined with that of Josephus. While the former more fully describes the nature of the disease, the latter states with greater precision the time of its continuance, namely, five days; this statement is not in conflict with the terms employed by Luke.—Accordingly both accounts agree in very important features, and in others are complementary to one another, while in the main points in which they differ, Luke merits the preference.
Acts 12:24-25. But the word of God grew.—At this point Luke resumes the history of the church of Christ, with which the events recorded in Acts 12:19-23, were only indirectly connected. And yet the remark that the word of God multiplied (namely, by accessions to the number of those who received it), seems to imply that this increase was related to the death of the persecutor Agrippa as the effect is related to the cause: after this prince was removed by a divine judgment, the Gospel made the greater progress. Barnabas and Saul now returned from Jerusalem (which city was not expressly stated in Acts 11:29-30, to be their ultimate destination), and established themselves permanently in Antioch, after having fully discharged the duty assigned to them; they also brought an assistant with them, John, surnamed Mark, who is mentioned in Acts 12:12 in connection with his mother. The place at which this notice respecting Barnabas and Saul is introduced, when compared with Acts 11:30, implies that all the events mentioned in Acts 12:0, (the execution of James, the imprisonment and deliverance of Peter, and the death of Herod Agrippa) occurred during the interval between the departure of these two men from Antioch, and their return, so that perhaps they did not reach Jerusalem until after the departure of Agrippa from that city, and his death. We thus obtain a fixed chronological date, since it distinctly appears from Josephus, Antiq. xix. 8. 2, compared with Acts 12:21 ff., that Herod died in the year 44 A. D., and indeed, soon after the Passover of that year.
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. Whatever the circumstances or reasons may have been, which induced the historian to mention the death of the apostle James in such brief terms, it is still certain that the wisdom of the Holy Ghost, by whose inspiration this history was written, is specially revealed precisely in the adoption of these concise terms. We are furnished with a very full account of the martyrdom of Stephen, while that of James is mentioned with extraordinary brevity; and yet the latter was one of the Twelve, and, indeed, one of the three favored disciples—the first, too, who was permitted to glorify the Redeemer by his death. If we desired, even with anxiety, to ascertain all the details respecting that scene, when one of the sons of Zebedee drank of the cup of which his Master drank before him, and received the baptism of blood which Christ had promised (Matthew 20:22-23), we would still be completely disappointed. This holy silence is a sign given to us, that that which is most exalted and acceptable in the eyes of God, is not necessarily the subject of which men, even devout believers, are always competent to speak and judge, but that our ‘life is hid with Christ in God.’ (Colossians 3:3). That which constitutes the true life and the most holy death, is hidden with Christ in God—hidden, not only from the world, but often, too, from the children of God, and yet it is very precious before God; it is a work which follows the soul into eternity (Revelation 14:13).
2. This deliverance of Peter from prison is one of the most remarkable facts on record, as an illustration of the hearing of prayer. Two powers are, as it were, struggling with each other, Acts 12:5—the one, secular power, attempting to hold the apostle fast, and slay him; the other, the Church of Christ, desirous of rescuing him, and preserving his life and liberty. The former has all material instruments at its disposal—a prison, chains and fetters, soldiers and weapons; the latter has none of these, but in place of them, prayer—united and fervent prayer. Faith in God, who was in Christ, love to one another for Christ’s sake, Christian hope—indeed the whole inner life that proceeds from redemption, infuses itself into such intercessions, and thus prayer lays hold on the omnipotence of God in faith. This united prayer in the name of Jesus Christ is heard; it accomplishes more than all the power of the world can attempt to do.
3. This twelfth chapter offers fuller testimony concerning the angels, than any other in the Acts. An angel of God appears in the prison, awakens the apostle, and, by leading him forth and restoring him to liberty, effects his deliverance from impending death. When Peter presents himself before a house occupied by his friends, and the believers receive the tidings, they suppose that it is his angel who appears. It is, lastly, an angel of God who smites Herod, when the latter has reached the summit of prosperity and honor, and he, consequently, soon afterwards dies. The first and the third incident may be regarded as connected with each other; the angels are, on both occasions, the servants and agents of the holy and righteous Providence of the almighty God who governs the world. God interposes both times in the course of events by sending an angel who executes his commands. In the first case, the angel is a ministering spirit, sent for the sake of a human being who was an heir of salvation (Hebrews 1:14); in the second, an angel inflicts a just punishment on an impious man, who assumed divine honor, and tormented and slew the children of God. The word of God affords us a glimpse of the hidden springs on which the movements of Providence in the government of the world depend, but which the eye cannot perceive. Thus the angel mentioned in Acts 12:23, was invisible, and, according to Acts 12:10-11, it was only after the angel had departed, that Peter fully came to himself and perceived that the Lord had sent His angel in order to deliver him. But the intermediate case, in which an angel is mentioned, Acts 12:15, is of a different character. The Christians, who cannot yet believe that Peter himself is actually standing before the house, only say here that it must be his angel. They were in fact, in error, as it was Peter himself who appeared. This circumstance alone is sufficient to cause us to refrain from attempting to establish a doctrinal point on the language employed by these believers. And, specially, the opinion that there are guardian angels, who are assigned to individuals, finds a very frail support in this passage.
4. These occurrences furnish the evidence in a visible form that Christ extends and protects his Church, as its Lord and King, even though hell should rage. Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great, whom he resembled in disposition, and whose entire kingdom he inherited, takes pleasure in harassing the Christians, Acts 12:1, and even puts the apostle James to death. He proposes to adopt the same course in the case of Peter, for the sake of gaining popular favor, imprisons him, and places a guard over him in strict accordance with the Roman system. This procedure pleases the Israelites who eagerly await a scene that will afford full gratification to their fanatical desires. It is the first occasion on which the civil government and the people of Israel with their hierarchical rulers, combine against the Church of Christ. At an earlier period the hierarchy alone assumed a hostile attitude in reference to the servants of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:5; Acts 4:17 ff.); subsequently, they acted in concert with the mass of the people, whom they had artfully inflamed (Acts 6:12 ff.). But now Herod, in whom the whole political power was concentrated under the Roman sovereignty, unites with the people, whose passions were already aroused, in assailing the Church of Christ. Sufficient grounds were thus afforded for entertaining the most serious apprehensions. But Christ always abides with his people, and all power is given unto him in heaven and in earth (Matthew 28:18; Matthew 28:20). He protects his church, and, when the believers intercede for Peter, miraculously delivers the latter through the instrumentality of the angel; not only are the hopes of the people frustrated, but the military power also is confounded, and Herod himself suffers a most painful humiliation; his vengeance falls on the guiltless guards, and he forsakes the city in which he had been so openly put to shame. He arrives in Cesarea, where the highest conceivable honor is paid to him, and where his flatterers even deify him; but at the very moment in which he reaches the summit of glory, he receives the stroke of the angel, and his death is the result. The power of the world, which attempts to resist God and Christ, suffers a most ignominious defeat, while the Gospel and the Church of Christ advance with power. Christ is king; and yesterday, to-day, and evermore, he enlarges his kingdom, and the gates of hell shall never prevail against his Church.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
We might appropriately prefix the words occurring in Proverbs 10:25, as the title of this entire chapter:—“As the whirlwind passeth, so is the wicked no more: but the righteous is an everlasting foundation.” Or: “The righteous man is a pillar which sustains the world, and he is designed by the counsel of God for such lofty ends, that his unobtrusive and humble labors are of far more importance than the noisy efforts of the wicked, which assume large proportions, but, like the whirlwind, are destructive in their results, and soon pass away.” Herod is a whirlwind that attempts to destroy, before it passes away; Peter and James are pillars which stand forever, in union with the divine word, for which their sufferings open an avenue. (Rieger).—This entire chapter places before our eyes a glorious sketch of the wonderful and blessed government of God in his Church. We here behold a Church that is persecuted, and that, nevertheless, increases amid its trials—two upright servants of Jesus, of whom the one is abandoned to the sword of the enemy, while the other is miraculously rescued—a furious enemy, who is as malignant and cruel when he persecutes, as he is despicable and wretched when the judgment of God overtakes him. He who beholds these ways of divine Providence with an eye of faith, will not only be cheered, but also be encouraged to follow the leadings of eternal love with confidence and joy; he may look forward, with an assured hope, to a happy issue of the trials which the Lord sends, however obscure their purpose may now seem to be. (Ap. Past.).
Acts 12:1. Now about that time.—An affliction seldom comes alone; at first, the famine; now, the persecution. (Starke).—The vicissitudes which the church experiences, resemble the changes of the weather in April, when, at one moment the sun shines, and then rain and snow succeed. The sun shone brightly, when the disciples in Antioch were called Christians [Acts 11:26]; but a dark cloud soon arose, when Herod began to persecute the church, (id.).—The king stretched forth his hands, etc.—The conversion of emperors and kings could not be effected, until the prayers and the blood of martyrs had been poured forth during three centuries [Constantine died A. D. 337]. (Quesn.).—The family of Herod, like that of Saul, might be termed a “bloody house” [2 Samuel 21:1], and the Herods, bloody men. The grandfather ordered the massacre of the children of Bethlehem, when Christ was born; an uncle caused John the Baptist to be beheaded; the grandson now sullies his hands with the blood of James, and would willingly have committed other atrocious acts. (Rieger).
Acts 12:2. And he killed James, etc.—The petition of James is now granted, Matthew 20:20 ff. Although the Scriptures mention his death in very brief terms, it is precisely such a simple account which gives him the noble testimony that he suffered in silence, with calmness and holy joy, and thus demonstrated his entire self-renunciation, and his devotion to Christ. (Leonh. and Sp.).—Although the death of the Lord’s saints is precious in His sight (Psalms 116:15), the Scriptures employ but few words in describing it, and thus distinguish in this mode also the meritorious sufferings and the atoning death of Jesus from any other case in which an individual dies. (Rieger).—The noble end of James, or, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints”: I. In the sight of men it was a sad and melancholy death; (a) bloody and cruel—the noble head of the apostle falls under the sword of the executioner; (b) premature and sudden—before he could accomplish a great work in his apostolic vocation, he is called away from this earthly scene; (c) unhonored and obscure—he dies without receiving honor from the world, or praise even from the word of God. Nevertheless, II. His death was precious in the sight of God, and his end was glorious; (a) he had obeyed his call on earth—the great point is, not how long, but in what manner we have lived; (b) he died in the service of his Master—his blood preaches as successfully as the word of his fellow-apostles (see the tradition to which reference is made above, Exeg. note on Acts 12:2); (c) he hastens forward to his heavenly home—he is the first of the brethren who receives the crown of martyrdom, and to whom a seat at the right hand of Christ is assigned, in accordance with the petition which his youthful enthusiasm had offered at an earlier period [Mark 10:37].—The witness which the disciples of the Lord bear unto him even by their silence: I. If not by splendid deeds, at least by a gentle and humble spirit, which is precious in the sight of the Lord; II. If not by mighty works, at least by patient suffering and a holy death; III. If not by occupying a place in the annals of the world, at least by their position in the fraternal circles of the children of God.—The happy lot of those who die at an early period: I. They ripen early for a higher life; II. They are soon delivered from the sorrows of this world; III. They are affectionately embalmed in the memory of their friends.—The wishes of youth, and the experience of life: I. The former are often painfully disappointed by the latter; but, II. They receive through it a salutary purification; they are thus, III. Most gloriously fulfilled (illustrated in the case of James, in accordance with Matthew 20:20 ff., and Acts 12:2.).
Acts 12:3. And because he saw it pleased the Jews.—Herod, who often acted in opposition to the wishes of the people, was fickle enough to gratify them at least on this occasion, since it was at the expense of Christianity. How often such scenes are still repeated in the world! How much is done to please others, in order to gain their assistance in return! (Rieger).—Then were the days of unleavened bread.—It was precisely at this season [Luke 22:1 ff] that Peter’s remembrance of his denial of the Lord, and also of the sufferings and resurrection of Jesus, might be expected to strengthen him in the patient endurance of evil, in fidelity, and in confessing his Master. He who thus bears the cross after the Lord, will, like the Lord, find his sufferings converted into victories; for if we are planted in the likeness of his death [Romans 6:5], we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection and glory. (Leonh. and Sp.).—That “Hereafter” of which the Lord spake to Peter [John 13:0], has now drawn nigh both to Peter and to the church. (Rieger).
Acts 12:4. Delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers, to keep him.—The extreme rigor with which Peter is guarded, is an evidence both of the evil conscience and excessive rage of the enemies of Christ, and also of the force of character which the servants of Jesus manifest even in their deepest afflictions; they inspire the devil and his adherents with terror, even when they seem to be altogether in the power of the latter. (Ap. Past.).—Intending, etc.—God permits the enemies of his kingdom, indeed, to adopt certain counsels and to form their plans, but the execution of such plans is controlled by His blessed government. Herod intended to slay Peter; but it was the Lord’s will to preserve Peter and slay Herod, (ib.).
Acts 12:5. Peter therefore [Now Peter was indeed] kept in prison: but prayer was made.—A most happy expression! “Indeed … but.” [μὲν οὖν … δὲ, indeed therefore, then … but. Robinson’s Lex.—Tr.]. Herod, make thy preparations, if thou wilt, but they cannot be of avail; they are opposed by a powerful But, which thou canst not overcome.—What is this But? Apparently less than nothing—mere prayers! And yet, a single word of believing prayer can overthrow all the power of hell. Why may it not then prevail against Herod and his sixteen soldiers? (Williger).—God can refuse nothing to a praying congregation. (Chrysostom).—By the blood and the prayers of Christians, Herod’s arm was paralyzed, and his sceptre broken, yea, the Roman Empire destroyed.—Brotherly love remembers the prisoner; never let us cease to offer devout prayer for those who are in bonds and suffer from oppression, as well as for those who are soldiers fighting in the holy war! (Leonh. and Sp.).
Acts 12:6. That same night was Peter sleeping between two soldiers.—Peter in the prison, sleeping between two soldiers—a beautiful image, I. Of Christian faith, which even in the gloom of the prison, and amid the terrors of death, can peacefully repose on the bosom of God; II. Of divine love, which watches day and night even over its sleeping and imprisoned children.
Acts 12:7. And, behold, the [an] angel of the Lord, etc.—The angels are faithful ministers of Christ and companions of his servants. In the case of James, they were employed to convey his soul to glory; in that of Peter, they were the agents by whom he was freed from his bonds; in that of Herod, they effected his destruction. (Ap. Past.).—The servants of God are in duty bound to acknowledge that a sovereign Lord rules over them, who has power to send them life or death, sufferings or repose. The Lord allows James to be killed. But in the case of Peter, he performs a miracle, and sends an angel to deliver him. It is one of the greatest mysteries of Providence, that God removes many of his faithful servants at an early period, and allows others to experience the most severe afflictions; some, again, are preserved, in place of being overwhelmed by their trials. It here becomes our duty to refrain from judging our fellow-servants, and, in our own case, to submit with humility to all the dispensations of the Lord. We all have one Lord, and one treasure, but neither our lot, nor our guidance in life, is the same. “For whether we live, etc.” Romans 14:8. (ib.).—And a light shined in the prison [chamber].—“Unto the upright there ariseth a light in the darkness, etc.” Psalms 112:4. (Starke).—O how many gloomy chambers of affliction have been made bright and cheerful, at one time by consolations which opened heaven to the heart, and, at another time, by external aid! And how often a messenger of heaven, like him who came to Peter, is sent to us! Surely, if our internal eyes were opened, we would often see bright forms near us, and would then dismiss all care and fear. But even when we see nothing, while we walk by faith, not by sight [2 Corinthians 5:7], we nevertheless know that angels are still the ministering spirits of eternal love, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation [Hebrews 1:14], so that we may confidently say with David: “The Lord is my light, etc.” Psalms 27:1. (Kapff).—Saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.—Thus the word of the Lord is stronger than iron, stones, and bolts. But then the preacher who desires to apply the divine word to the hard heart of a sinner, must proceed like an angel or messenger of God, not employing the chaff of man’s wisdom, but speaking and acting in the name of Jesus, in demonstration of the Spirit and of power [1 Corinthians 2:4]. (Ap. Past.).
Acts 12:8. And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, etc.—The angel is not satisfied with the rescue of Peter’s person, but, with great fidelity and condescension, provides for every want of the sleeping man. He first awakens the latter, and then, as it were, hands him the girdle, sandals and mantle—offices which might almost seem too mean to be performed by an angel. (Kapff.).—None of his effects are to be left behind in the hands of his enemies, so that his departure may not resemble the flight of a criminal. “There shall not a hoof be left behind.” Exodus 10:26. Such events afford very great comfort to a faithful servant of Jesus; he may be assured that neither the world nor Satan can touch a thread of his garment, or a hair of his head, or a latchet of his shoes, without the will of his Father. What a faithful Saviour, and a watchful guardian of his people, Jesus Christ is! How were Herod and the soldiers terrified, when they found that with all their rigor, they could not retain in their hands even a thread belonging to Peter! (Ap. Past.).
Acts 12:9. But thought he saw a vision.—Peter seemed to be dreaming when the Lord delivered him from great danger. And such is still the experience of the people of God, when he hastens to afford them relief, and grants them a wonderful deliverance from great distress. The sacred poet says: “When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream.” Psalms 126:1.—May the Lord grant us such grace, and deliver us from the prison of this tabernacle, especially in our last struggle, so that we may enter as joyfully into eternity as Peter here throws off his bonds. (Ap. Past.).
Acts 12:10. When they were past the first and the second ward.—Then the words were fulfilled that are recorded in Isaiah 45:2 : “I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron.”—They came unto the iron gate that lead-eth into the city.—Peter is delivered from the prison, but is, nevertheless, again led into the city, in order, I. That his faith might be exercised; “even when the contest has been successful, the end is not yet gained”; II. That his deliverance might be made known to the Church, and thus strengthen the faith of many others. (Ap. Past.).—And forthwith the angel departed from him.—Extraordinary dealings of Providence continue no longer than they are necessary. (Starke).
Acts 12:11. Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel.—He who looks back on the way in which God had led him, will, with wonder and adoring gratitude, see many divine purposes, which he did not understand before he reached the end. (Quesn.).—Thus God desires to be acknowledged as our help in time of need, so that the honor may not be given to men, but to Him alone. (Starke).
Acts 12:12. And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house … where many were gathered together, praying.—The issue is always favorable in the kingdom of Jesus; Peter is conducted, for his own consolation, from the gloom of the prison and the company of rude soldiers, to a band of praying brethren; these distressed believers, on the other hand, suddenly see Peter in their presence, whom they had already supposed to be lost to them. Thus their faith is strengthened, and they receive new and cheering evidence that ‘the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.’ [James 5:16].—“But were not these meetings held in secret? Were they not secret conventicles? So the world then called them, and so it still calls them. And yet those are blessed meetings, when the worshippers of God assemble in spirit and in truth.” (Gossner).—However, when believers are under no such necessity, and are free from persecution, religious assemblies should be held, as far as possible, in the day-time.(Starke).
Acts 12:13. A damsel … named Rhoda.—How many lofty titles and dignities will hereafter be hidden in the dust! How many names which once glittered in the eyes of the world, will be consigned to eternal oblivion, or even to dishonor! But the names of those, on the other hand, who truly love Jesus—of those who give to His people only a cup of cold water, although they may scarcely have been known to the world, or may have seemed to be insignificant, will be crowned with eternal honor. (Ap. Past.).
Acts 12:15. And they said unto her, Thou art mad.—They prayed for the deliverance of Peter, but that it should be effected in such a manner, was not expected by them, and seemed to be incredible. (Rieger).—“When the proper time arrives, thy help will come with power; and, that thy fears may be put to shame, it will come unexpectedly.” Such is always the experience of praying believers; a certain leaven of unbelief is constantly mingled with their faith, so that they have reason to pray: “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” [Mark 9:24]. (Williger).
Acts 12:17. But he, beckoning to them, etc.—It was Peter’s first thought, after he had been delivered, to give praise to God. Hence he does not merely describe his escape, but also declares how the Lord had delivered him. If the divine grace which we have experienced, is to be profitable to the souls of others also, it becomes necessary to explain to them the way in which the Lord had led us. Unconverted teachers dwell only on the ὅτι, and pass over the πῶς in silence, because they have never themselves trodden the ways of conversion. (Ap. Past.).—And went into another place.—The Lord himself permitted and directed his apostles to flee, as Peter does on this occasion, Matthew 10:23. It is our duty to walk with humility in the way prescribed by Providence. (Rieger).—The Lord took away Peter from the Church, precisely at a time when it was most severely tried, in order that it might learn to sustain itself without his aid. At this very time, when the church had recovered him in a miraculous manner, it may have been most of all exposed to the danger of regarding his presence as indispensable. (Williger).—But persons like ourselves, should be able to furnish as many proofs as Peter could produce, of fidelity and firmness, before we appeal to his flight as an example for ourselves. (Ap. Past.).—The mission of the twelve apostles to the twelve tribes of Israel, was now accomplished. “For the earth which drinketh in the rain, etc.” Hebrews 6:7-8. Peter knew by the Holy Ghost that the other ten apostles had, like himself, been directed to depart from Jerusalem, and he consequently sends the assembled believers, not to any other apostle, but to James, the Lord’s brother [see Exeg. note above]; the latter occupied the first position among the elders who had previously, with great wisdom, been invested with office. (Besser.).
Ver 18. Now as soon as it was day, etc.—When the world rejoices, the servants of Jesus are in sorrow; but when the disciples of Christ rejoice, his enemies are troubled. (Ap. Past.).—These unhappy soldiers had not really been guilty of any offence in this case, but they well knew the wrath of Herod. Happy would it have been for them if they could have found the true way, like the keeper of the prison in Philippi on a similar occasion, Acts 26:29 ff. (Williger)
Acts 12:19. And when Herod had sought, etc.—He acted like his grandfather, who, when he could not find the child Jesus, shed the blood of the innocent children of Bethlehem. (Williger).—And he went down from Judea to Cesarea.—He had not gained many laurels in Jerusalem; Peter had escaped, and the death which he inflicted on James, was, plainly, not only an act of injustice, but also shed an additional lustre on the holy character of the apostle, (id.).—Great lords resort to means of every kind for freeing themselves from annoyances and vexation, 1 Samuel 16:14; 1 Samuel 16:16. (Starke).—Herod occupied himself elsewhere, and thus some relief was afforded to the people of God. So the invasion of the Philistines withdrew Saul from the pursuit of David, 1 Samuel 23:27. So, too, the Turkish war, and the help which thus became necessary, and also the rupture between France and Austria, materially aided the cause of Protestantism. (Rieger).
On the section, Acts 12:1-19.—Seasons of trial, viewed as blessed seasons: I. They exhibit the power of faith in suffering and dying, Acts 12:1-3; II. They exercise brotherly love in watching and praying, Acts 12:5; III. They manifest the believer’s peace of soul in his external calmness, Acts 12:6; IV. They reveal the power of God in granting help and deliverance, Acts 12:7-11. (Florey).—The weapons employed by the Church in its contests with enemies: I. Undaunted courage in bearing witness; II. Unresisting patience in suffering; III. Unwearied perseverance in prayer. (Leonh. and Sp.).—The communion of saints: I. A communion of love among brethren, Acts 12:5; II. A communion of aid with the angels, Acts 12:8-9; III. A communion of grace with God, Acts 12:11. (id.).—The kings of the earth arrayed against the Lord and His Anointed [Psalms 2:2]: I. The manner in which their hostility is expressed; II. The manner in which the King of all kings protects his people. (Lisco).—The miraculous deliverance of Peter: I. The peculiar circumstances; II. The impressions which these produced. (id.).—The Lord, the helper of his people: I. In their greatest dangers; II. By wonderful means, (id).—(On the festival of the Reformation [Oct. 31]): The deliverance of the Church from bondage by means of the Reformation; I. The bondage of the Church, Acts 12:1-6 : (a) Many faithful members and teachers were tortured and slain; (b) all Christians lay in bonds (what were the “two chains” (Acts 12:6) in which Christendom was sleeping?). II. The deliverance of the Church, Acts 12:7-11 : (a) The manner in which it was effected: Luther smote her on the side, and led her through the iron gate; (b) The manner in which the evangelical Church gradually became conscious of her deliverance, and of her duty to retain that consciousness. (From Lisco).—The manifestations of the wisdom and love of the Lord in the guidance of his people: I. His wisdom: (a) The church, invigorated by a long-continued period of repose, needs persecution; (b) James is slain, since, in the counsel of God, the church as well as the world, now needs a martyr, taken from the number of the apostles; (c) Peter is imprisoned, his self-confidence is humbled, and his future lot (John 21:18-19) is placed before his eyes. II. His love: (a) James receives the crown of eternal life; (b) to Peter the unexpected grace of deliverance from death is granted; (c) the praying congregation again obtains by a miracle that teacher whom their prayers had delivered from the danger of death. (From Lisco).—Human sorrow, and divine aid. (id.).—The help of the Lord produces, I. Holy joy among his people; II. Impotent wrath among His enemies.—The connection between the deliverance of Peter and the prayers of the Church, viewed as an illustration of the connection between prayer and the hearing of prayer, (id.).—God, giving above all that we ask or think [Ephesians 3:20]. (id.)—James dying, Peter saved, or, God conducts his people by different paths to the same end: I. By different paths: (a) The short period of labor assigned to James, and the long-continued labors of Peter; (b) the mournful end of James, and the glorious rescue of Peter; II. To the same end: (a) Both promote the interests of the kingdom of God—James by his death, Peter by his life; (b) both ultimately receive the crown of eternal life—the one after a brief struggle, the other after a long period of service.—The rescue of the imprisoned Peter: I. A triumph of divine omnipotence; II. A reward of apostolic faith and zeal; III. A result of the intercessions of brotherly love; IV. A defeat of proud and tyrannical power.—God’s angels of deliverance: I. They come in the night, Acts 12:6; II. They raise us up from the ground, Acts 12:7; III. They conduct us as in a dream, Acts 12:9; IV. They lead us through iron gates, Acts 12:10; V. At length they leave us, Acts 12:10-11.—The angel who delivered Peter, an image of saving grace: grace conducts us, I. From the bondage of sin to the liberty of the children of God; II. From nights of affliction to days of gratitude and joy; III. From the pains of death to the light of eternal life.—Peter’s escape from prison, an image of our gracious rescue from the bondage of sin: I. The rigid confinement: (a) The chains; (b) the guards; (c) the sleep; II. The gracious rescue: (a) The heavenly messenger, with his cheerful light and awakening voice; (b) Peter’s terror and rapture on being awakened; (c) the first walk, with its difficulties and its encouragements (walking as in a dream through the first and the second ward, and the iron gate); III. The glorious liberty: (a) Peter, standing firmly, with entire consciousness; (b) his joyful reception by the brethren; (c) the impotent rage of the world.
(On Acts 12:20. They came—and desired peace; because, etc.).—People are willing to pray for peace and fair weather, for the sake of food; they are willing, in such a case, to accept conditions to which they would never consent for the sake of God and their salvation. The world pays many compliments to Satan, but is not willing to address God in proper terms. (Gossner).
(On Acts 12:21. And upon a set day).—It was not only the day appointed by Herod for this ceremony, but also the day appointed by the Most High for judgment. (Ap. Past.).—Sat upon his throne.—Many an individual has already supposed that he was ascending a throne, when in truth he was mounting the scaffold on which he was to die. 1 Samuel 4:18. (Quesn.).
(On Acts 12:22. It is the voice of a god [of God]).—O accursed flattery! How shameless and presumptuous thou art! It is an art usually practised by courtiers, but it acts like a deadly plague on princes and lords, converting them really into objects that claim our pity. (Starke).—Carnal men, like the Jews, will not have the humble Jesus to reign over them as their king, but a vain boaster like Herod suits them, and they are even willing to make a god of him. (id.).
(On Acts 12:23. And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him).—This word “immediately” is an awful appendage to the acclamations of the people, illustrating the saying: “He that, sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision,” [Psalms 2:4]. (Williger).—It is true that this immediate retribution does not always follow crime; it may be delayed, but it will come.—The [An] angel of the Lord.—The world says: “It is a singular disease”; physicians furnish various explanations of its origin; the Scriptures say; “An angel of the Lord smote him.” (Gossner).—An angel rescues Peter; an angel smites Herod; the angels are friends or foes, according as they have the friends or foes of God before them. (Starke).—Peter, who is chained, guarded, and condemned to death, is rescued. Herod, sitting on his throne, surrounded by courtiers, and worshipped by the people, is punished. Who would not, in both cases, adore the ways of God? (Quesn.).—And he was eaten of worms.—The afflictions of the godly and the ungodly sometimes seem to be the same, but they are, nevertheless, not the same; they are, in the case of the former, trials sent by a loving Father, in that of the latter, punishments inflicted by a righteous Judge. Job, too, could say: ‘My flesh is clothed with worms.’ [Job 7:5]. (Starke).—When God designs to cast down mighty tyrants, he does not necessarily employ many horsemen; worms often perform the work. (id.).—Now, indeed, after the Lord had spoken in this manner, it might be said with truth: ‘It is the voice of God [θεοῦ φωνὴ], and not of a man.’
(On Acts 12:24. But the word of God grew and multiplied).—Herod eaten by worms—the word of God growing or extending—what a striking contrast! Thus, too, one enemy—one Herod—after the other, will pass away, but the name of Jesus will continue to be exalted. (Ap. Past.).—Our God thus made room for his word and kingdom, by removing Herod out of the way. An angel said on an earlier occasion; ‘They are dead which sought the young child’s life.’ (Matthew 2:20); it might now be said: ‘They are dead which sought the young child’s life in his members (the youthful Church).’ (Bogatzky).
(On Acts 12:25. And Barnabas and Saul returned, etc.).—This visit afforded great encouragement of heart after fiery trials had been experienced. (Williger).—How insignificant the work of Barnabas and Saul seemed to be, and yet what lasting fruits it produced! How distinguished Herod’s position was, and yet, how worm-eaten and loathsome he has now become! (Rieger).
(On Acts 12:20-25). The narrative of Herod’s death: I. Why has it found a place in the Acts of the Apostles? Not as if Herod’s death had been a punishment for slaying James, but because even political events may exercise a certain influence on the interests of the Christian religion. II. What lessons does it teach us? That the public welfare is promoted, not by flattery and by submission to the lusts and passions of men, but by a firm and well-sustained determination to avoid these evils, and by devout attention to the eternal and immutable will of God. (Schleiermacher, 1832).—The Lord is King! I. His enemies learn this truth, when he casts them down in the midst of their pride; II. His friends learn it, when He blesses, comforts and exalts them in the midst of their afflictions. (From Lisco).—The ways of divine Providence in the case of the primitive church of Jerusalem, a source of consolation to us: I. Its security, effected by the destruction of Herod; II. Its extension and establishment, effected by the growth of the word, and by the relief which other believers sent [Acts 11:29]. (Lisco).—To God alone be all the glory! I. He who robs Him of it, destroys himself and others (Herod); II. He who honors God, honors himself and others (Barnabas and Paul), (id.).—All things work together for good to them that love God [Romans 8:28], as well death as life: illustrated, I. By the death of James; II. By the deliverance of Peter. (Langbein).—Herod’s end, or, Pride comes before a fall: I. Pride; II. The fall.—God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble [James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5; Proverbs 3:34.]: I. The proud (Herod): (a) how they scorn the majesty of God; (b) how the Almighty resists them; II. The humble (the Church): (a) how they humble themselves under the mighty hand of God—famine, persecution, imprisonment; (b) how God gives them grace—miraculous deliverance, destruction of enemies, fraternal relief [Acts 11:29], growth of the word.—All things minister to the growth of the word: I. Martyrs (James) moisten the field of the church with their blood; II. Enemies (Herod) manure it with their mouldering bones; III. The almighty God interposes by affording miraculous aid (Peter); IV. His servants do not fail to perform works of love (Barnabas and Saul).—God, the absolute monarch in his kingdom: demonstrated, I. By the early departure of James; II. By the miraculous deliverance of Peter; III. By the awful death of Herod.—The angels of the Lord, ministering in his kingdom: I. They execute his judgment in the case of the impious Herod; II. They lead Peter, the captive, out of the prison; III. They conduct James, who had finished his course, to eternal joy.—[Peter and Herod contrasted, or, the believer and the sinner: I. Their respective views of religious truth in general; II. Their sentiments with respect to Christ; III. Their principles of action (Herod—self; Peter—divine grace); IV. Their condition, as determined by Providence; V. The earthly results of their course of action; VI. Their condition in eternity.—Tr.]
Acts 12:1; Acts 12:1. [For the words: stretched forth his hands (Cranmer), the English Bible offers in the margin the less exact word: began. “It should be: laid hands on, etc.” (Alf.).—Tr.]
Acts 12:3; Acts 12:3. The article αἱ [before ἡμέραι] is omitted in the text. rec. [with B (e sil). G. II, etc.], but is sufficiently attested [by A. D. E. It had been omitted by Tisch., but was subsequently adopted by him, as well as by Lach. and Alf.; but it is not found in Cod. Sin.—Tr.]
Acts 12:5; Acts 12:5. a. Lach. and Tisch. read ἑκτενής [but the former appears to have afterwards preferred ἐκτενῶς]; the earlier editions gave the preference to the adverb, but Tisch. has, in his most recent edition, restored the adjective, which is far better supported [by E. G. H.] than the adverb. [The adverb in A. originally, and in B.; it was substituted as better suited to γινομένη, according to Meyer and Alf.; the latter accordingly adopts the adj., but the adverb occurs in Cod. Sin.—Tr.] … [For the words: prayer … ceasing (Wiclif; Tynd.; Cranmer; Geneva), the margin of the Engl. Bible offers: instant and earnest prayer was made. In the latter, the words instant and earnest represent the single Greek word ἐκτενὴς, which, in the text, is rendered without ceasing. Wahl’s definition of the adj. is: “extensus, metaph. assiduus, ardens,” and of the adverb: “intense, impense.” Robinson; “ἐκτεής ‘stretched out, strained’ trop. intent, earnest, fervent.—ἐκτενῶς, intently, earnestly.”—Tr.]
Acts 12:5; Acts 12:5. b. περί [adopted by Lach. and Tisch.] is preferable, both for external and internal reasons, to ὑπέρ; the latter, which is both more definite and more usual [with προςεύχεσθαι(Mey.)], seems to have been substituted by several copyists for περἰ. [ὑπέρ, in A. B. D., and Cod. Sin.; περἰ (of text. rec., and adopted by Alf., who regards περἰ as a correction from Acts 8:15), in E. G. H.—Tr.]
Acts 12:8; Acts 12:8. The simple verb ζῶσαι [of A. B. D. and Cod. Sin.], is, at least, as well supported as the compound περίζωσαι [of text. rec. and E. G. H.], and is, for that reason, preferred by Lach. and Tisch. [and Alf.], since the compound verb could more easily have been substituted for the simple, than vice versa.
Acts 12:9; Acts 12:9. αὐτῷ after ἠκολούθει [of text. rec. and E. G. H.], is wanting in important MSS. [A. B. D. Cod. Sin.], and is, in accordance with the opinion of Lach. and Tisch., to be regarded as a later addition. [A later hand inserted αὐτῳ in Cod. Sin.—Tr.]
Acts 12:13; Acts 12:13. a. αὐτοῦ [before τὴν θ. instead of τ. ΙΙετ of text. rec.] is sufficiently attested [by A. B. D. Cod. Sin.; Syr. Vulg etc., and is adopted by recent editors]; τοῦ ΙΙέτρου [of text. rec. from E. G. H.] was substituted for the pronoun, as a pericope [an ecclesiastical reading lesson] began at Acts 12:12.
Acts 12:13; Acts 12:13. b. [For to hearken, (Tynd.; Cranm.; Geneva) the margin offers the less appropriate paraphrastic version: to ask who was there; see Wahl, Robinson, etc., ad υ. ὑπακούω.—Tr.]
Acts 12:20; Acts 12:20. a. [The text. rec. inserts before θυμομ. the words, ὁ Ηρώδης, with E.; the article and name are omitted in A. B. D. Cod. Sin.; Syr. Vulg. etc., and by recent editors. The addition was made here, says Meyer, as a special section, (describing the death of Herod,) began at Acts 12:20.—Tr.]
Acts 12:20; Acts 12:20. b. [For the words: was highly displeased, the margin offers: bare an hostile mind, intending war; see the Exeg. note below.—Tr.]
Acts 12:20; Acts 12:20. c. [For the king’s chamberlain (Wiclif; Tynd.; Cranmer; Geneva), the margin offers the more literal version: that was over the king’s bed-chamber. (Rheims: chief of the king’s chamber.)—Tr.]
Acts 12:22; Acts 12:22. [Cod. Sin. has here the peculiar reading: ανθρώπων, for which a later hand substituted ἀνθρώπου.—Tr.]
Acts 12:23; Acts 12:23. The article τήν before δόξαν, is wanting, it is true, in several ancient MSS. [D. E. G. H., but inserted in A. B. and Cod. Sin.]; but as the phrase δόξαν δοῦναι θεῷ is the established reading, without any variations of the MSS. in Luke 17:18; John 9:24; Romans 4:20, it may be conjectured that the article, which is found in A. B., and some other manuscripts, is the genuine reading; it has, therefore, been adopted by Tisch. [and Alf. but is omitted by Lach.].
Acts 12:25; Acts 12:25. a. [The margin substitutes charge for ministry. Lechler translates the word, διακονίαν, somewhat freely: Liebesdienst, i. e., office of love; comp. Romans 15:31. It here designates the administration of the gifts which B. and S. had carried to Jerusalem.—Wiclif; Rheims; ministry; Tynd., Cranmer, Geneva: office.—Tr.]
Acts 12:25; Acts 12:25. b. καὶ after συμπαραλαβ. is wanting, indeed, in several manuscripts [A. B. D. (a prima manu); Cod. Sin.; Syr. Vulg. etc.], but is, probably, genuine, rather than spurious, as it could have more easily been dropped as superfluous, than have been added to the original text. [Such is also the opinion of Meyer. The word occurs in D. (as a later addition), E. G. H., and is adopted by text. rec., but is omitted by Lach., Born. and Alf., and recently by Tisch.—Tr.]
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Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Acts 12". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28