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Acts 12

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Verses 1-2

Act 12:1-2

MARTYRDOM OF JAMES

Acts 12:1-2

1 Now about that time Herod—“About that time” was A.D. 44, as Herod’s death occurred in this year; Barnabas and Saul came from Antioch to Jerusalem after the persecution by Herod near the close of A.D. 44 or the beginning of A.D. 45. “Herod the king,” this was Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great; he was ruler over Palestine from A.D. 42 to A.D. 44; he was the son of Aristobulus, the nephew of Herod Antipas, the brother of Herodias, and the father of Herod Agrippa II. He went to Rome at an early age, was educated at the court of Tiberius, and had become a companion of Caligula. He determined “to afflict certain of the church.” It had been probably more than eight years since the persecution over the death of Stephen ceased with the conversion of Saul; but the disciples were not popular in Jerusalem with either Sadducees or Pharisees.

2 And he killed James—This James was the brother of John and was closely associated with Peter during the personal ministry of Jesus. Peter, James and John formed the inner circle of the apostles. He was the son of Zebedee, and was one of the first disciples of Jesus. At one time James and John were ambitious to be nearest Jesus in his kingdom, and James felt sure that he could drink of the same cup of suffering as Jesus (Matthew 20:20-25), and his death shows that he stood the test. James was the first of the apostles to die, and his brother John was the last. The martyrdom of James showed the early disciples that God did not always mean to interpose to deliver the apostles, and also taught them that they were to be partakers of the sufferings of Christ. It is thought that James was killed about the close of A.D. 43. He was killed “with the sword.” There were four modes of capital punishment in use among the Jews, namely; (1) stoning; (2) burning; (3) decapitation; (4) strangling. “Stoning” was authorized by the law of Moses; crucifixion was a Roman punishment, and was not practiced save under Roman governors.

Verses 3-19

Act 12:3-19

IMPRISONMENT AND DELIVERANCE OF PETER

Acts 12:3-19

3 And when he saw that it pleased the Jews,—It is likely that Herod had pleased both the rulers of the Jews and the people, because James, one of the leaders of the disciples, had been killed; this encouraged Herod to attempt to destroy other leaders among the Christians; hence, “he proceeded to seize Peter also.” The Pharisees had always hated the disciples because they taught the resurrection of the dead; the Pharisees, no doubt, had heard of Peter’s making common with the Gentiles; hence, they would be eager to have Peter destroyed. Luke, the historian, here indirectly locates the time of the year when Peter was arrested; those were the days of unleavened bread. The Feast of the Passover came on the fourteenth day of the first month, Abib, or Nisan; the feast of “unleavened bread” followed the Passover and continued seven days. (Exodus 12:12-13 Exodus 12:29-30; Leviticus 23:5-8; Deuteronomy 16:1-8.) Since the feast of unleavened bread followed the Passover so closely, the same name was applied to both feasts; the Passover was sometimes called the feast of unleavened bread, and the feast of unleavened bread was called the Passover; both came in the first month of the Jewish year, Abib, or Nisan, and correspond to our latter part of March and the first of April. (See Luke 22:1.)

4 And when he had taken him,—It seems that there was some delay in the arrest of Peter; we know not the cause of the delay, but when he was found he was put in prison and they “delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to guard him”; that is, he was given to a band of four soldiers on guard at one time, two within, one on each side of Peter, bound one to each of his arms with chains, a third posted outside the door, and a fourth in the passage leading to the outside gate. It was customary to relieve the soldiers from duty every three hours, at each of the watches night and day; hence, sixteen soldiers were responsible for him. In addition to this, the prison doors were fastened and a great iron gate helped to make secure the prisoner. Escape from the prison was humanly impossible. Perhaps Peter was so imprisoned and held secure because they remembered that he at one time escaped from prison (Acts 5:19), and they did not intend that he should get away this time. He was kept in prison until after “the Passover,” and then he was to be killed. Here we have this feast called “the Passover,” and in verse 3 it is called “the days of unleavened bread.” Herod would not execute Peter during the Passover festival, because that would offend the Jews whom he wished to please. “Bring him forth to the people” is similar to the description of the trial of Jesus. (Luke 22:66.) Herod intended to execute Peter within a week or ten days, but he did not know that his own death was nearer than that of Peter.

5 Peter therefore was kept in the prison:—Peter was in the inner prison or lower ward and would be led to the judgment seat where Herod Agrippa would sit so soon as the festal days were ended. (John 19:13.) There is an emphatic contrast here. Peter was kept in prison, but “prayer was made earnestly of the church unto God for him.” Here was a battle between the church and the world, the world attempting to destroy Peter and the church praying for him. We have King Herod, soldiers, prison, chains, iron gates on the one side, and a company of Christians praying on the other side; what will be the outcome ? The prayers were made “earnestly,” without ceasing. (Luke 22:44.) It was a trying time with the church at Jerusalem; the apostle James had been killed and Peter was to be the next victim) hence, the disciples prayed “earnestly.” This word comes from the Greek “ektenes,” which means “strained,” and from “ekteino,” which means “to stretch”; it is the same word as used with respect to the prayer of Jesus (Luke 22:44), and is the same Greek word translated “fervently” in 1 Peter 1:22.

6 And when Herod was about to bring him forth,—When the time arrived, or the festal days were ended, Herod had in mind to execute Peter the following day; but “the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers”; and was bound “with two chains.” It should be noted that although the time of execution was near, yet Peter “was sleeping”; he was not disturbed about his condition. The two soldiers were chained to Peter and Peter was between them. The guards were on duty and standing “before the door” of the prison; hence, the two guards outside were keeping the door and the two soldiers within were chained to Peter with two chains. Perhaps Peter may have remembered what Jesus had said to him about his death, that he should live to be an old man. (John 21:18.)

7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him,—“An angel of the Lord” is here introduced by Luke with the same phraseology as Luke used with respect to the visit of the angel to the shepherds. (Luke 2:9.) This angel stood by Peter while he was asleep; “a light shined in the cell” with splendor and attended the presence of the angel; this light did not awaken Peter, so the angel “smote Peter on the side, and awoke him.” When he was awake the angel said: “Rise up quickly.” The angel roused Peter, he did not help him to arise, but commanded him to get up. “His chains fell off from his hands.” The soldier who was appointed to guard a prisoner had the chain fastened to the wrist of his left hand, while the right hand remained at liberty to punish the prisoner if he attempted to escape; but Peter had chains around both hands as he was bound to two soldiers with two chains.

8 And the angel said unto him,—The angel gave further instruction to Peter and told him to gird himself and put on his sandals. For convenience Peter had unbound his girdle, unfastened his sandals, and was sleeping with his garment loosely over him; when he arose at the angel’s touch it would fall loosely at his feet, so he would need to gird himself. Peter would need to be clad as he was about to make a journey from the prison; he obeyed at once and the angel commanded him to cast his garment about him and follow him. The sandals worn at that time covered only the soles of the feet and were bound on the foot with a strap.

9 And he went out, and followed;—Perhaps the angel had caused a deep sleep to come upon the soldiers, so they were harmless as Peter escaped; Peter went out and followed the angel. The angel was in the form of a man and Peter “knew not that it was true which was done by the angel”; he thought that he “saw a vision.” Peter was puzzled and did not know that the reality of escape was being made; he had had a vision in Joppa (Acts 10:10) which Luke described as an ecstasy. Peter was so surprised that he scarcely knew whether he was asleep or awake.

10 And when they were past the first and the second guard,—The outer guards were stationed one nearer to the inner door of the prison and the other at some greater distance away; so when the angel had led Peter past these guards, “they came unto the iron gate that leadeth into the city.” This description, with the words which immediately follow about the street into which they came, indicate that the prison in which Peter was kept was in the midst of the city. When they came to the iron gate it opened “of its own accord” to them and “they went out” and “passed on through one street” and immediately the angel left Peter. The angel had delivered Peter and now Peter could make his way alone. We have no means of knowing just where in Jerusalem this prison was located.

11 And when Peter was come to himself,—“Come to himself” is from the Greek “heautoi genomenos,” which means “becoming at himself”; it is the same expression used in Luke 15:17 where the prodigal son “came to himself,” and means that he came to himself, as if he had been on a trip away from himself. Peter came out of his semidazed condition, and had all of his senses under control. He knew what had occurred—that the Lord had sent his angel and delivered him out of the hands of Herod and “from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.” The Jews were expecting Herod to put Peter to death; they were anxious for him to do that so that Christianity would be checked.

12 And when he had considered the thing,—When Peter came to himself and realized that God had preserved him from death, “he came to the house of Mary the mother of John whose surname was Mark.” It is probable that the disciples were accustomed to meeting at the house of Mary, so Peter’s mind worked rapidly and he decided to go and find protection and companionship there. There are six Marys mentioned in the New Testament; they are as follows: (1) Mary of Cleophas (John 19:25); (2) Mary Magdalene (Luke 8:2); (3) Mary the mother of Mark (Acts 12:12); (4) Mary, sister of Lazarus (Luke 10:42); (5) Mary, a Roman Christian (Romans 16:6) ; (6) Mary the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:30). When Peter arrived at the house of Mary he found “many were gathered together and were praying.” It seems that the praying had been going on all night, and a large number of the disciples were there. At another time the disciples gathered to pray (Acts 4:31) after Peter had told the disciples of the threats of the Sanhedrin. “The supplication of a righteous man availeth much in its working.” (James 5:16.)

13 And when he knocked at the door—It is not strange that the door at the house of Mary would be fastened, as it was night and great fear was upon the disciples. Peter came to the door and knocked; this was the outer door, as there was a passage leading from the street to the inner court; just inside was a small room, like a porter’s lodge, and a door admitting into the room from the court. A damsel by the name of Rhoda came to answer the knock. “Rhoda” means “rose.” It was customary to name the daughters of the house after the most beautiful objects, as “Esther” which means a star; “Hadassah” which means “myrtle”; “Dorcas” which means “antelope”; “Margarita” which means “pearl”; “Susannah” which means “lily”; “Deborah” which means “bee”; and “Tamar” which means “palm tree.” “Damsel” was used of a young female slave, as well as of a young girl; the narrative implies that she was more than a servant.

14 And when she knew Peter’s voice,—Peter must have been a frequent visitor to Mary’s house, and a frequent speaker to the disciples, as his voice was familiar even to the damsel. In her excitement and haste, when she recognized Peter’s voice, she ran back into the house without opening the gate for Peter; she reported to the company that Peter was without and that he stood “before the gate.”

15 And they said unto her,—The company within did not believe Rhoda; they saw she was excited and said to her: “Thou art mad.” However, the damsel “confidently affirmed that it was even so.” She seems to have been so earnest and so sincere that the company was convinced that something had occurred to her; hence, they were ready to say: “It is his angel.” The Jews believed in the guardian angel, and they thought that Peter’s “angel” had assumed the voice of Peter. (Matthew 18:10.) These disciples perhaps thought that Peter’s angel had come to make known to them something about Peter.

16 But Peter continued knocking:—The maiden had left the gate unopened and reported in excitement that Peter was at the gate; while she was gone Peter continued to knock for entrance, and when the gate was opened, “they saw him, and were amazed.” It seems that all heard the knocking and several must have gone to the gate, and when it was opened, they were amazed to find Peter standing there. Surely they were not praying for Peter’s delivery, or else they would not have been so amazed at an answer to their prayer; they were praying for him, but we do not know the petitions of their prayer.

17 But he, beckoning unto them—The company seems to have been as much excited as the maiden who first heard his voice; however, Peter motioned with his hand for them to keep silent. “Beckoning” with the hand is from the Greek “kataseisas tei cheiri,” and literally means “shake down with the hand”; the speaker indicated by a downward movement of the hand his desire for silence; Peter was anxious for every precaution to be taken that no noise be made to attract attention to him. While the Lord had protected him from Herod by releasing him from prison, yet Peter does all that he can in righteousness to remain out of the hands of Herod. He told the little company “how the Lord had brought him forth out of the prison.” It seems that James and others of the brethren were not present; there was no place in Jerusalem where all the disciples could meet. It is evident that this James was the Lord’s brother, and he is now one of the leading men of the church at Jerusalem. (Galatians 1:19.) James is here recognized by Peter as a man of great influence. James was present in Jerusalem when the question of circumcision was decided. (Acts 15:13.) After informing the group at the house of Mary as to how he was released from prison and giving orders to report his release to James and the other brethren, Peter departed “and went to another place.” We are not told where he went; he may have left Jerusalem. Mary’s house was too well known for him to remain there if he would escape from Herod. Peter must use all precaution and means of escape, so he may have left Jerusalem. (Matthew 10:23.)

18 Now as soon as it was day,—Early next morning the soldiers discovered that Peter had escaped, and “there was no small stir among the soldiers.” “Stir” is from the Greek “tarachos,” and means “to agitate;” it is used only twice in the New Testament, here and in Acts 19:23. Very likely the sixteen soldiers, or “four quaternions” of soldiers were greatly disturbed over the escape of Peter; they were responsible for the prisoner with their lives. (Acts 16:27 Acts 27:42.)

19 And when Herod had sought for him,—The next morning, which was the day of execution, Herod sought for Peter, but could not find him. We know not what report the soldiers gave to Herod; Herod, following a custom or law in Rome, “examined the guards, and commanded that they should be put to death.” “Examined” is from the Greek “anakrinas,” which means “to sift up and down, to question thoroughly.” (Luke 23:14; Acts 4:9 Acts 28:18.) The soldiers were ordered to be put to death; this was the ordinary Roman routine and not a proof of special cruelty on the part of Herod Agrippa. After this Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and remained there for a time; Herod, like the Roman governor, though his principal residence was at Jerusalem, yet had also a palace at Caesarea; he spent his time in either city as circumstances required.

Verses 20-23

Act 12:20-23

DEATH OF HEROD AGRIPPA I

Acts 12:20-23

20 Now he was highly displeased with them—Herod was greatly “displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon.” Tyre and Sidon were on the Mediterranean coast in Phoenicia; we are not informed here why he was so displeased with these cities. Tyre and Sidon were trading seaports, and much of the goods shipped at these ports passed through Galilee; Herod could divert a great deal of it to Caesarea or Joppa. Phoenicia was so populous that it depended on its neighbors for food, and much of that came from Galilee. Herod was in position to do much harm to these cities. However, agreement was reached with each other and they came to Herod. It seems that Tyre and Sidon had made “Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend”; hence, through him they asked for peace “because their country was fed from the king’s country.” The hostility between the Phoenicians and Herod was not an open war, but the representatives of Tyre and Sidon, together with Blastus, prevailed upon Herod to let the supplies be brought to these cities. Blastus had charge of his master’s sleeping apartment and, to some extent, of his person. He had the duty of introducng visitors to him and remained in an adjoining room so that he would be ready when the king wanted him.

21 And upon a set day Herod arrayed himself in royal apparel,—The day was one appointed for holding a festival on which to make vows for Caesar’s safety; Herod arrayed himself in his royal apparel and “sat on the throne, and made an oration unto them.” We are told a vast multitude assembled to see the festival and games, and before these, the king, in all the pride of high state, appeared on the second day in a robe “made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theatre early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment, being illumi-nated by the fresh reflection of the sun’s rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a terror over those that looked intently upon him.” (Josephus, Antiquities, 19:8.)

22 And the people shouted,—When Herod made his speech, the people shouted his praise and said: “The voice of a god, and not of a man.” They attributed to him the honor of a god, and their praise was tantamount to worship. The crowd repeated their flattering adulation to gain Herod’s favor; their worship of him was pleasing to his vanity. This flattery was highly acceptable to Herod as he sat on his throne in the presence of a vast assembly Of ambassadors who had come to him as a distinguished ruler with the special purpose of removing his displeasure toward the cities of Tyre and Sidon.

23 And immediately an angel of the Lord smote him,—Luke does not tell us that this angel was visible; his record does imply that Herod’s death was a judgment from God; he had failed to give God praise; he received the honor which belonged to God; hence, his punishment was considered as divine judgment. “He was eaten of worms” and died. “Worm” is from the Greek “sko lex,” and was used of “intestinal worms”; there are several cases recorded in ancient history of such deaths. Josephus says that Herod Agrippa lingered for five days, and says that the rotting of his flesh produced worms; this is in harmony with Luke’s description. It is recorded that Herod died in August, A.D. 44. Herod died a most revolting death, and much more shocking than a sudden stroke of death.

Verses 24-25

Act 12:24-25

RETURN OF SAUL AND BARNABAS

Acts 12:24-25

24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.—This statement is given to show the contrast between what man was attempting to do to stop the growth of the church and what God was doing for it. “Grew and multiplied” is from the Greek “euxanen kai eplethuneto,” and means “a very rapid increase;” persecutions did not stop the growth of the disciples, neither did it check the number of converts; in fact, the more bitter and severe the persecution the more rapidly did the church increase. The cause of Christ cannot be destroyed by persecution. The history of the church as revealed in Acts shows that the church multiplied more rapidly under persecution than at other times.

25 And Barnabas and Saul returned—Agabus had come from Jerusalem to Antioch and had prophesied of a “great famine over all the world” (Acts 11:27-28), and the disciples at Antioch determined to send relief to the Jewish brethren in Judea; they did this and sent their contribution by Barnabas and Saul; hence, Barnabas and Saul went to Jerusalem. We left them there as chapter 11 closed. When they had “fulfilled their ministration” they returned to Antioch and brought with them “John whose surname was Mark.” Mark was the son of Mary into whose house Peter had gone after his escape from prison. Mark was a cousin of Barnabas. (Colossians 4:10.)

So far the historian, Luke, has narrated the facts of the beginning of the church on Pentecost; then its extension among the Jews and Samaritans. He has touched upon the extension of the church among the devout Gentiles, and the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Some attention has been given to the persecution of the early church. Peter has been the central figure in the history of the spread of the church among the Jews; he was the apostle of the circumcision. Now the historian turns attention to the labors of Paul as the apostle to the uncircumcised or Gentiles; Antioch becomes the center from which the gospel is extended among the Gentiles “unto the uttermost part of the earth.” (Acts 1:8.)

Questions on Acts

By E.M. Zerr

Acts Chapter 12

  • · What wicked ruler is introduced?

  • · Was he the first ruler of that name?

  • · Identify this one.

  • · What was his general intention now?

  • · On whom did he first make an attack?

  • · Why did he intend to take Peter also?

  • · At what time of the year was this?

  • · Into what place was Peter placed?

  • · Describe the means taken to secure him.

  • · Why was he not executed immediately?

  • · How did the church conduct itself at this time?

  • · By whose services was Peter released?

  • · Relate the demonstration of the gates.

  • · Repeat Peter’s expression of confidence.

  • · To what house did he go?

  • · What was going on there?

  • · What custom did he observe for admittance?

  • · Who answered his call?

  • · Describe her emotions.

  • · What did she do about it?

  • · State impressions of the group.

  • · What being did they think it was?

  • · State what Peter was doing all the while.

  • · Describe the effect when the door was opened.

  • · With what means did Peter silence them?

  • · State the declaration he made them.

  • · What did he then bid them do?

  • · Why special mention of James?

  • · What did Peter then do?

  • · State the condition at break of day.

  • · Explain the cause of it.

  • · Whom did Herod examine?

  • · What would this be for?

  • · Were the soldiers to blame?

  • · What was commanded about them?

  • · Where aid Herod go?

  • · Why to this place?

  • · With whom did he have trouble?

  • · Locate these cities.

  • · State their nationality.

  • · Which side made advances for peace?

  • · Through whom did they work?

  • · What concession did they make to Herod?

  • · Did he give them a favorable hearing?

  • · In what setting did he appear to them?

  • · State the rash words of the crowd.

  • · Whom did the worms attack?

  • · Why him and not the crowd?

  • · How did the Word of God fare?

  • · What trio now returns from Jerusalem?

Acts Chapter Twelve

Ralph Starling

Now Herod stretched out his hand against the church

With the sword he killed James first.

Seeing it pleased the Jews he reckoned

That Peter should be the one to be second.

Apprehending Peter he put him in prison.

Guarded by soldiers, chains, with great precision.

He intended to keep him until after Easter,

And then deliver him to the people.

That same night while Peter was sleeping

An angel awoke him and said, “dress quickly.”

They passed the first and second gate.

Through one street and made their escape.

The angel had delivered him from Herod and the Jews.

He went to the house of Mary with the news.

When he recounted how thing had taken shape,

He departed and went to another place.

Meanwhile, Herod found who was to blame,

And he commanded the keepers to be slain.

When the people praised him as God he was smote.

He was eaten by worms and gave up the Ghost.

Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on Acts 12". "Old & New Testament Restoration Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/onr/acts-12.html.
 
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