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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Acts 12

Verse 1

‘Now about that time Herod the king put forth his hands to afflict certain of the church.’

Note Luke’s description of him as ‘the king’. It was, of course strictly correct, but here it draws out that Israel now have a king.

Herod Agrippa was a lover of Jerusalem, and ‘about that time’, around the time that the Gentiles began to collect in order to meet the needs of the churches of Judaea, he determined that he would purify Jerusalem. It was at the time of the Passover, and he took the opportunity it afforded as the festal crowds gathered to ‘mistreat’ the Christians in Jerusalem in order to gain popularity. He set himself against ‘certain of the church’. It may well be that in the end James was his first and only victim, although that was certainly not originally his intention. It would not be difficult to find James. The leaders of the church were prominent enough to be well known, they were not in hiding and they were caught unprepared. But whatever was the case James was arrested, and the church reeled.

‘About that time.’ This happened just when things appeared to be becoming brighter because of the love and generosity of the church in Syrian Antioch which they knew would soon be coming their way. It must thus have come as a great blow to the church in Jerusalem who had probably thought that persecution was behind them.

However it may be that it is just a rough time indicator, for the events in chapter 12 take place in 44 AD whereas the visit of Barnabas and Saul may well have been in 46 AD, although preparation for the latter would have commenced earlier.

Verses 1-24

The Activity of Peter Results in Gentiles Being Welcomed And Welcoming The Lord, But The Rejection Of The Messiah Is Confirmed By Jerusalem Who Commence a Process of Elimination of His Chief Representatives (9:32-12:24).

The first part of this section is all positive as God’s work moves forwards with signs and wonders and the raising of the dead through Peter, God revealing that it is His desire that the Good News goes to the Gentiles through Peter, that desire being vindicated when carried out by Peter, and the forming of a new church in Syrian Antioch minister to by Barnabas and Saul.

But the second part of the section is negative and deals with the final rejection of the Messiah by the king and people of Jerusalem. This comes about as the result of the rise of a new ‘king of Israel’ who is totally sympathetic to the people and enjoys their confidence. This results in an open attack on the Apostles, the martyrdom of James the Apostle, the imprisonment and enchaining of Peter with the same end in view, his release by an Angel of the Lord and forsaking of Jerusalem, and the judgment on the king of Israel for blasphemy.

It can be analysed as follows:

a Peter comes to Lydda and Joppa, in the area of Caesarea, and heals the paralysed man but Tabitha sickens and dies. God raises her from the dead (Acts 9:32-44.9.43).

b The angel of the Lord comes to Cornelius resulting in the salvation of his house (Acts 10:1-44.10.48).

c Peter is challenged concerning his activity and is vindicated (Acts 11:1-44.11.18).

d The Good news is welcome by the Gentiles in Antioch which is to become the new centre for evangelisation (Acts 11:19-44.11.30).

d The Good news is rejected by the king and people in Jerusalem which will cease to be the centre of evanglisation (Acts 12:1-44.12.2)

c Peter is seized and put in prison and left in chains (Acts 12:3-44.12.6).

b The angel of the Lord comes to Peter resulting in the death of his guards, the rejection of Jerusalem and the humiliation of Herod (Acts 12:7-44.12.19).

a Herod comes to Caesarea and he sickens and dies. The angel of the Lord causes him to be eaten by worms (Acts 12:20-44.12.23).

Verses 1-24

The Activity of Peter Results in Gentiles Being Welcomed And Welcoming The Lord, But The Rejection Of The Messiah Is Confirmed By Jerusalem Who Commence a Process of Elimination of His Chief Representatives (9:32-12:24).

The first part of this section is all positive as God’s work moves forwards with signs and wonders and the raising of the dead through Peter, God revealing that it is His desire that the Good News goes to the Gentiles through Peter, that desire being vindicated when carried out by Peter, and the forming of a new church in Syrian Antioch minister to by Barnabas and Saul.

But the second part of the section is negative and deals with the final rejection of the Messiah by the king and people of Jerusalem. This comes about as the result of the rise of a new ‘king of Israel’ who is totally sympathetic to the people and enjoys their confidence. This results in an open attack on the Apostles, the martyrdom of James the Apostle, the imprisonment and enchaining of Peter with the same end in view, his release by an Angel of the Lord and forsaking of Jerusalem, and the judgment on the king of Israel for blasphemy.

It can be analysed as follows:

a Peter comes to Lydda and Joppa, in the area of Caesarea, and heals the paralysed man but Tabitha sickens and dies. God raises her from the dead (Acts 9:32-44.9.43).

b The angel of the Lord comes to Cornelius resulting in the salvation of his house (Acts 10:1-44.10.48).

c Peter is challenged concerning his activity and is vindicated (Acts 11:1-44.11.18).

d The Good news is welcome by the Gentiles in Antioch which is to become the new centre for evangelisation (Acts 11:19-44.11.30).

d The Good news is rejected by the king and people in Jerusalem which will cease to be the centre of evanglisation (Acts 12:1-44.12.2)

c Peter is seized and put in prison and left in chains (Acts 12:3-44.12.6).

b The angel of the Lord comes to Peter resulting in the death of his guards, the rejection of Jerusalem and the humiliation of Herod (Acts 12:7-44.12.19).

a Herod comes to Caesarea and he sickens and dies. The angel of the Lord causes him to be eaten by worms (Acts 12:20-44.12.23).

Verses 1-25

The Expansion of The Church As A Result of Persecution (8:1-12:25).

How thrilled the Apostles must have been at this stage at the progress of the church. Through the first few years of the infant church they had suffered a few minor discomforts, but they had come through those triumphantly, and the church had continued to grow and grow. Jerusalem was ‘filled with their teaching’ and the work of caring for all the true people of God was now being successfully administered.

And then came the shock waves. It was like a spiritual earthquake. It seemed that Satan was not asleep or held fully in check after all. Suddenly there was devastation among the people of God. Many were being dragged off to prison, others recognised that they had no alternative but to flee for their lives and the lives of their families, and the carefully erected administration had collapsed. The Apostles now bravely remained in Jerusalem so as to care for the few who were left, and to visit in prison those who were being held in captivity. And as they looked around at the people that they now had to cater for, and the numbers crowded in the prisons, it must have appeared as though all their dreams were in tatters. It must have seemed as though they had to begin all over again.

But in truth the situation was the very opposite, for it was now that the expansion of the church began apace. As a result of the martyrdom of Stephen the Christians, who were now established and taught in the faith, were driven out of Jerusalem in all directions in accordance with Isaiah 2:3. When Jesus had originally sent out His disciples He had told them that if they were not received in one town, they had to go on to the next. For there was so much work to be done that it would never be finished before the Son of Man returned (Matthew 10:23). And now, in this situation, that was precisely what God was making them do. Within a few short months the Good News, which up to this point had been almost limited to a Jerusalem which must surely have been becoming Gospel saturated, would spread to all the neighbouring countries round about, and would establish a platform for reaching out to the rest of the world. And all as a result of this heart numbing catastrophe combined with the power of the Holy Spirit and the sovereign activity of God. It was the signal that Jerusalem had had its opportunity. Now it was time for the ends of the earth to know.

The sections that follow deal with the initial spread of the word, which divides neatly up into the following pattern:

a Scattered Christians preach in all directions, including Judaea and Galilee (Acts 8:4).

b Philip goes to the Samaritans, followed up by Peter and John - a distinctive outreach (Acts 8:5-44.8.25).

b Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:26-44.8.39).

b Philip is found at Azotus (formerly Ashdod), where passing along the coastline he preaches the Good News to all the cities, until he comes to Caesarea (Acts 8:40). These cities would include Jamnia, Joppa, and Apollonia. And when he comes to Caesarea he settles down (Acts 21:8). It was of mixed Jewish and Gentile population and the seat of Roman government, and presented great opportunities for evangelism.

c Saul is converted in Damascus and proclaims the Good News there (Acts 9:1-44.9.26).

c Saul returns to Jerusalem and proclaims the Good News in the Hellenist synagogues at Jerusalem (Acts 9:27-44.9.30).

b Peter’s ministry is successful in Lydda where he heals the lame (Acts 9:32-44.9.35).

b Peter’s ministry is successful in Joppa where he raises the dead (Acts 9:36-44.9.43).

b Peter goes to the Gentiles and converts Cornelius and his household, and those in Jerusalem rejoice because God is reaching out to the Gentiles - a distinctive outreach (Acts 10:1 to Acts 11:18).

a Scattered Christians preach successfully in Phoenicia and Cyprus to Jews only, but then in Syrian Antioch, first to Jews and then to Gentiles. The work in Antioch is confirmed by Barnabas who calls in Saul (Acts 11:19-44.11.26).

Note the carefully worked out pattern, which could be even more particularised. It consists of a general description followed by three ministries of Philip, commencing with the ministry to the Samaritans (a new distinctive outreach), then central is Paul’s conversion and new ministry, then come three ministries of Peter, possibly following up on Philip’s ministry in Acts 8:40, finalising in Peter’s ministry to Gentiles (a new distinctive outreach), and then another general description.

This is all then followed by a description of events in and around Jerusalem, while the word of God grew and multiplied (Acts 11:27 to Acts 12:25).

The complexity of the construction of Acts, and the warning lest we too glibly divide it up into our patterns comes out in that the above analysis overlaps into what might be seen as two sections ending in their summaries (see introduction to chapter 1). Luke has a number of strands going at the same time. We do him an injustice not to recognise the fact.

A further interesting part of the pattern is found in the descriptions of the conversion of three vital figures, the Ethiopian eunuch, Saul of Tarsus, and Cornelius the Centurion. Note the huge contrast, the powerful minister of state, the devoted Pharisee and student of Gamaliel, and the officer in the army of occupation, and yet all in their own way men who were earnestly seeking righteousness and truth. In each case Christian men are directed to go to them. In each case those to be converted are chosen men. In each case a vision or equivalent is involved. In each case they are led to Christ by God’s chosen instrument. In each case they are baptised. And yet the differences are many too. They are not just reproductions. But they do bring out that God is at work not only on multitudes, but on individuals, as he expands the Kingly Rule of God.

The Consequences of the Death of Stephen.

The result of the death of Stephen was that Christians had to flee from Jerusalem, and this certainly included Philip, one of the Hellenists appointed along with Stephen. Indeed the six who remained of the original seven were probably targeted as known associates of Stephen. It must be seen as quite probable that the Hellenistic Christian Jews were the most prominent target of the persecution, a persecution probably largely pursued by their antagonists in the Hellenistic synagogues (compare Acts 9:29), as well as especially by Saul, who was himself one of the Hellenists, although a very Hebrew one. They wanted to demonstrate to their Hebrew brethren that they too were true Jews (the Hellenists who had come to live in Jerusalem, and who had not already been converted, would tend to be those most fanatically gripped by Jewishness).

But behind the flight of the people of God was God Himself. Without that flight the impetus to spread the Good News widely would have been absent. They had felt it necessary to concentrate mainly on Jerusalem, but it was now His purpose that the word might spread far beyond the walls of Jerusalem. He was fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 2:3, ‘Out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem’.

This was taking place some years after the crucifixion during which time the church had become well established in Jerusalem. This is evident from the fact that the events of the previous chapters of Acts require such a length of time for their fulfilment. How far the Apostles were involved in the persecution we do not know, although we do know that they remained in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1). Perhaps they were seen as still under the protection of the Sanhedrin’s edict that they be left alone. And perhaps their known loyalty to the Temple, (for they met there regularly), marked them off as giving full respect to the Temple and as not following the heresy of Stephen. It might have been argued that, while they were known Messianists, they had never been heard to speak against the Temple and the Law. They may have been seen as dutiful in following their religious responsibilities so that the Pharisees had nothing against them, for there were many priests and Christian Pharisees among their number who would maintain their Jewishness. Thus they may have been left alone. With their reputations it is certainly difficult to see how the Apostles could have remained hidden. They were still no doubt performing signs and wonders, and people would still be seeking them out. But there was still a strong sense of Jewishness among the early Judaistic church and that probably helped them. (Consider how the Apostles are later called to task by Hebrew Christians when they are thought to have erred from a Judaistic emphasis - Acts 11:2).

But having said all that danger had to lurk for them. While the persecution may have majored on the Hellenistic Christians, the Hebrew Christians would be drawn in by association. They certainly had no certainty that they would be spared. And the impression given is that Saul was determined to hunt down any Christians that he could find. Thus it took a great deal of courage to remain in Jerusalem. But now full of the Holy Spirit that was not something that any of the twelve Apostles lacked.

However, while devastating at the time the persecution accomplished what the passage of time had failed to accomplish, not only the spreading of the Good News, but also the gentle separating of the Jewish church from its extreme Jewishness. Christian Jews were being faced up with a choice of adherence, whether to the Jewish authorities, or to the wider church. And the persecution would help them to make up their minds. The grip of Judaism was being slowly relaxed.

Verse 2

‘And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.’

To the horror of all Christians James, the brother of John, one of the select three of Peter, James and John, was put to death by being beheaded with a sword. In Jewish law death by the sword was the penalty for murder or apostasy (m. Sanhedrin Acts 9:1; compare Deuteronomy 13:2-5.13.15). The Apostles were therefore being treated as apostates from Judaism. It was the first death of an Apostle that we know of and must have baffled the church. Why had God allowed this to happen to an Apostle? Previously the Apostles had been sacrosanct.

But as with Stephen, James was allowed to be martyred, as Jesus had strongly hinted might be the case (see Mark 10:39; compare John 16:2, literally fulfilled here). God did not intervene. He was ‘making up that which was behind of the sufferings of Christ’, for the principle of Scripture and the purpose of God is that righteousness advances through suffering (Colossians 1:24). The Servant is the suffering Servant. It is through much tribulation that we will enter under the Kingly Rule of God (Acts 14:22). And the Apostles could not be excluded, now that the church was no longer so dependent on them. Note that James died at the same feast as his Lord. He followed in His steps.

It is not for us to ask why James was taken and Peter was spared. Some perish by the sword, others are saved from the sword (Hebrews 11:34; Hebrews 11:37). That is God’s pattern and it is He Who holds the reins. But it is interesting in the light of the great commission of Acts 1:8 that both James and Peter were still in Jerusalem. Perhaps this was to be a strong hint to the Apostles that it was now time that they were moving on, in the same way as the martyrdom of Stephen had been a means of despatching the witnessing church out among the nations.

Verse 3

‘And when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. And those were the days of unleavened bread.’

In some way the king took on board the fact that he had pleased the Jews, possibly through the expressed approval of the Sanhedrin who informed him how delighted the people were, for he then proceeded to arrest Peter in order to please them even more. It was at the time of the feast of unleavened bread, the seven days following the day of the Passover. It may be that James, like Jesus, had been slain on the day of the Passover as ‘a false prophet’ so that the people might hear and fear (Deuteronomy 17:12-5.17.13). But now the following celebrations were in progress and so the decision was made to keep Peter in prison until the feast was over so as to avoid an uproar at festival time (compare Mark 14:2).

Verse 4

‘And when he had taken him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him forth to the people.

So Peter was taken and imprisoned, probably in the Castle Antonia, and he was placed under a secure guard of four squads of four soldiers each, rotating in three-hour shifts day and night, with two of them chained to Peter at any one time. Escape or rescue was therefore an impossibility - to man. His intention was to bring him out once the seven days were over.

The excessive precautions taken indicate Agrippa’s determination to destroy Peter, and reveal his view of how dangerous the Jerusalem church was. He had no doubt been warned how Peter, together with his companions, had previously managed to escape and he wanted to ensure that it did not happen this time. (Incidentally this strict treatment helps to confirm that there must have been a previous escape, otherwise why the precautions?) He wanted to ensure that he kept the people of the Messiah in chains.

Verse 5

‘Peter therefore was kept in the prison. But prayer was made earnestly by the church to God for him.’

He was right to be worried, but wrong to think that he could do anything against it. Here we have one of those sublime contrasts that so often appear in the Scriptures. On the one hand Peter was kept safely in prison, constantly chained to his two guards. All the power of the earthly kingdom was being called on to keep him chained up. The God of the Apostles was being challenged. But on the other the church met together and made earnest prayer to God for him. They had a power the king knew nothing of. All the power of the Kingly Rule of Heaven was being brought to bear (compare 2 Corinthians 10:4; Hebrews 11:34). Thus two great kingdoms were face to face, the earthly, temporary ‘kingdom of God’ (as they saw it), and the heavenly, permanent and powerful Kingly Rule of God.

Verses 6-7

‘And when Herod was about to bring him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards before the door kept the prison. And behold, an angel (or ‘messenger’) of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the cell, and he smote Peter on the side, and awoke him, saying, “Rise up quickly.” And his chains fell off from his hands.’

The night arrived prior to the day when Peter was to be brought out, the night following the Sabbath of the seventh day of unleavened bread. It was the time when ‘Herod was about to bring him forth.’ Peter was asleep between two soldiers, bound with two chains, while a further two soldiers watched the door. They were determined to keep him safe. And as for Peter, there was no tremor on his brow. He was sleeping like a babe (compare Psalms 3:5; Luke 8:23). He was ready to go to meet his Lord. (Or he may simply have always been a very heavy sleeper. But Luke does go to great pains to stress how heavily he had been sleeping so that it took him a good while to wake up properly).

But then all heaven broke loose. He found himself rudely awakened by a blow to his side, and saw a light shining in the cell, and found there ‘the angel (messenger) of the Lord’ who urged him to rise up quickly. And when he sought to do so the chains fell off his hands.

‘The chains fell off his hands.’ Whether as a result of being unlocked or simply by a move of the visitant’s hand is unimportant. What was important was the ease with which God disposed of them. All the king’s efforts were in vain. They were as chaff before the Almighty’s wind.

‘The angel of the Lord.’ This could mean ‘the messenger of the Lord’ and be referring to a human agency. On the other hand in Acts 12:23 the angel of the Lord is undoubtedly an angelic agency, and the same applies in Acts 8:26 (as is also the case in the Old Testament). Thus the most natural meaning here would be of specific divine intervention.

Verse 8

‘And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself, and bind on your sandals.” And he did so. And he says to him, “Throw your robe about you, and follow me.”

We must presume that Peter was heavy with sleep, such was the clarity of his conscience, so that the angel had to urgently prod him into action. He bade him to gird himself, that is put his belt on in order to keep his clothing off the ground for fast walking, and bind on his sandals. He wanted Peter to know that he would be coming with him. And Peter did as he was told. Then he urged him to throw his robe around him and follow him.

The detail given suggests that Luke wants us to see Peter as in a daze, and this is brought out in what follows. That the visitant was God-sent is certain, but there is nothing here that necessarily requires that it be a heavenly visitant, apart from the description ‘angel of the Lord’ itself. Had it not been for that it could equally have been a messenger of God on earth.

Verse 9

‘And he went out, and followed, and he did not know that what was done by the angel was true, but thought he saw a vision.’

Peter did as he was bid as though in a dream. He went out and followed the angel, totally unconvinced that it was really happening. He knew that it could not be true. Soon he would wake up and it would be all a dream. Luke is bringing out that his escape was totally due to God. Peter, as it were, just stood by, half asleep, and watched the salvation of God.

Verse 10

‘And when they were past the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city; which opened to them of its own accord, and they went out, and passed on through one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.’

If it was a dream it was a good dream. Out they went past the first and second guard, both not interfering and seemingly unconscious of their passing, until they came to the iron gates that led out of the castle into the city. And the gate ‘opened of its own accord’. That was how it appeared to Peter. Again we are being impressed with the ease with which God had it all arranged. All man’s attempts to thwart God were as nothing. So they passed out and into one street and then moved into the next. And there the angel left him. He was free. None could bind the representative of the Kingly Rule of God.

Here we may stop and pause for a moment and possibly ask ourselves, was this angel (messenger) of the Lord a heavenly visitant or an earthly one? It actually does not really matter. Whoever it was, it was undoubtedly of God. But while nothing has been said that could not be true of an earthly and carefully planned rescue by a group of sympathisers (but with heavenly assistance), who possessed the necessary keys and had drugged the guards, as described by someone who was half asleep at the time, the mention of the ‘angel of the Lord’ is against it. The ‘angel of the Lord’ is usually a very specific divine figure. But the description of the whole incident is itself evidence of the genuineness of the story, with its picture of a dazed Peter doing just as he was told, and then suddenly finding himself alone. It rings true.

Whether the deliverer was earthly or heavenly is a question we must decide for ourselves. We may make our own choice. What we do know is that God was behind it, and that when God does such work we can only look on in awe, and leave to Him the method that He uses. I am reminded here of another saint of God, the Sadhu Sundar Singh. He too was imprisoned because of his Christian witness, knowing no one, and with no hope of escape or rescue, until awoken at the dead of night by a stealthy figure whom he thought to be an angel, who led him out to safety. But this visitant then whispered ere he left him, ‘the Sanyasi mission’, and he later learned that the whispered words of this ‘messenger of God’ was a member of a secret group of Indian Christians who, he discovered, claimed to trace their origins back to Thomas the Apostle. But who could doubt that he too was a messenger sent from God, and an ‘angel of God?

Verse 11

‘And when Peter was come to himself, he said, “Now I know of a truth, that the Lord has sent forth his angel and delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.” ’

Once Peter had gathered his wits, he could only marvel and say, “God has sent His messenger, his angel, and has delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all that the Jews anticipated that they could do to me.” The words express what Luke is seeking to put over. It was the whole of Jerusalem that was rejoicing at what it could do to this man of God, but God had totally thwarted them. They were waiting in expectancy for his demise.

Peter had been in no doubt about what his fate was going to be in the morning. But now all his enemies had been put to shame. The king of Israel and the people of Israel had planned together his demise, but both had now been thwarted. The rulers and the people had taken counsel against the Lord and against His anointed (Psalms 1:0), and they had been defeated. He would march on in triumph with God ‘in another place’. But in contrast the king would die a horrible death and Israel, ‘the people of the Jews’, would be left in darkness, and in the not too distant future many of them would perish in the flames of the destruction of Jerusalem. Peter, however, would ‘go to another place’. And as so often in Acts, Peter speaks for all the Apostles.

We note here a similar phrase to that which he had used with Cornelius. There he had spoken of ‘the land of the Jews’. Here he spoke of ‘the people of the Jews’. It was distancing what was spoken of from speaker and hearer. It was now Peter, the Apostles and the church who represented the true Israel (Ephesians 2:11-49.2.22; 1 Peter 2:9). This people were no longer so. ‘They are not all Israel who are of Israel’, Paul would later declare (Romans 9:6). These were simply now ‘the people of the Jews’.

Verse 12

‘And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.’

And once he had thought everything through (as far as he could) he sought out the house of the mother of John (Yohen - Hebrew) Mark (Markos - Greek), where he knew that Christians would be gathered and waiting anxiously to hear news of him, and where indeed many were gathered and were praying.

John Mark was the man who would shortly accompany Paul and Barnabas on their first missionary journey (Acts 13:5). He was Barnabas' cousin (Colossians 4:10) who would later travel with Barnabas to Cyprus when Paul chose Silas as his companion for his second missionary journey (Acts 15:37-44.15.39) after a disagreement over Mark. Mark later accompanied Paul again (Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24) as well as Peter (1 Peter 5:13). According to early church tradition he wrote the Gospel that bears his name, served as Peter's ‘interpreter’ in Rome, thus obtaining much of his information from Peter, and later established the church in Alexandria, in Egypt

Verses 13-14

‘And when he knocked at the door of the gate, a maid came to answer, named Rhoda, and when she knew Peter’s voice, she did not open the gate for joy, but ran in, and told that Peter stood before the gate.’

The prison gate had swung open of its own accord. It would be a little more difficult getting into this house. That was barred to him. For when the maid, Rhoda, recognised Peter’s voice she was so overjoyed that she raced off to tell all the gathered people that Peter was at the gate, and simply forgot to let him in. The story is so natural that it has to be the record of someone who was there.

Verse 15

‘And they said to her, “You are mad.” But she confidently affirmed that it was even so. And they said, “It is his angel.” ’

Then, while Peter continued knocking, they first told her that she was mad, and then, when she continued to affirm that it was true, began a discussion as to what it could be that was at the door. ‘It is his angel’, they said. Perhaps they were saying ‘He is dead and his angel has come to visit us to tell us.’ They had been praying for his safety all night and now they could not believe it. Or perhaps they thought that he was still alive although awaiting the worst and that his angel had come to reassure them. Jesus had spoken of ‘little ones’ having their own angels watching over them (Matthew 18:10; Hebrews 1:14). This may have been what was in their minds. But one thing is clear. They did not believe that God could have answered their prayers.

Verse 16

‘But Peter continued knocking, and when they had opened, they saw him, and were amazed.’

Peter, however, continued knocking, and when eventually they opened the gate they were amazed. This part of the story may only have been recounted in such detail because it was amusing, but the idea of the Lord knocking at the door at His second coming was so well known that perhaps this was intended to be a reminder that as His people pray so the Lord is knocking at the door and they should be ready to open immediately in readiness for anything that is coming (Luke 12:36; Revelation 3:20). The hint is that they should have been on the ready. For time is passing, and then it will be too late. This is all of a piece with the fact that this chapter deals with the battle between two kingdoms.

Verse 17

‘And he departed, and went to another place.’

There is a finality about these words which suggests that they are intended to be seen as significant. Jerusalem had lost its opportunity, and now Peter (and his fellow Apostles if any remained there) were departing from Jerusalem for other horizons. Jerusalem was being left to its unbelief. He was going ‘to another place’. This is backed up by a comparison with Acts 5:25. There the response to release was to return to the Temple to proclaim the name of Jesus at the command of God. Here it is the opposite. It is to depart, to simply to disappear. Jerusalem had refused its second chance.

Of course it was important that Peter vanish immediately, for once his escape was discovered he would be sought for, and must not be found with the people of God, or they would suffer too. But the lack of mention of any destination (it need only have been vague) is surely indicative of a symbolic significance. It is no coincidence that the coming spread of the Good News to the Gentiles also takes place from another place, from Antioch. We do not know where Peter went. It was not considered important. What mattered was that he had left Jerusalem.

And it will be noted how much from this point on, wherever Paul went, although many Jews welcomed him, it was the intransigent Jews who soon incited trouble against him, beginning almost immediately with the Jewish Bar-jesus (Acts 13:6). See Acts 13:45; Acts 13:50; Acts 14:2; Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 15:1; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13; Acts 18:12; Acts 20:3.

Verse 17

‘And he departed, and went to another place.’

There is a finality about these words which suggests that they are intended to be seen as significant. Jerusalem had lost its opportunity, and now Peter (and his fellow Apostles if any remained there) were departing from Jerusalem for other horizons. Jerusalem was being left to its unbelief. He was going ‘to another place’. This is backed up by a comparison with Acts 5:25. There the response to release was to return to the Temple to proclaim the name of Jesus at the command of God. Here it is the opposite. It is to depart, to simply to disappear. Jerusalem had refused its second chance.

Of course it was important that Peter vanish immediately, for once his escape was discovered he would be sought for, and must not be found with the people of God, or they would suffer too. But the lack of mention of any destination (it need only have been vague) is surely indicative of a symbolic significance. It is no coincidence that the coming spread of the Good News to the Gentiles also takes place from another place, from Antioch. We do not know where Peter went. It was not considered important. What mattered was that he had left Jerusalem.

And it will be noted how much from this point on, wherever Paul went, although many Jews welcomed him, it was the intransigent Jews who soon incited trouble against him, beginning almost immediately with the Jewish Bar-jesus (Acts 13:6). See Acts 13:45; Acts 13:50; Acts 14:2; Acts 14:5; Acts 14:19; Acts 15:1; Acts 17:5; Acts 17:13; Acts 18:12; Acts 20:3.

Verse 18

‘Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.’

We could put it another way. A bombshell had been dropped among his guards. They must have been appalled. They just could not comprehend what had happened. Here they all were, safely in place, but Peter had gone. It was inexplicable. And they had no doubt as to what the consequences would be.

Verse 19

‘And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the guards, and commanded that they should be put to death (literally ‘led away’). And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and stayed there.’

Herod was of course displeased. He was being made to look a complete fool. ‘He sought for him, but found him not.’ But what did he expect when he touched the Lord’s anointed? Here he was making a great show for the people of eradicating these followers of a Messiah, and now this one who was the most important of all had escaped him. He was so embarrassed that he went down from Judaea to Caesarea and stayed there, not realising that he was going to the place where Peter had had his earlier great triumph with the representative of the legions of Rome. This was no small thing for Agrippa. He loved living in Jerusalem.

Sadly the soldiers suffered the fate of all who appear to have neglected their duty. The rule was regularly that if a prisoner was allowed to escape, the negligent guards would suffer the fate that had been intended for the prisoner. And in this case they were probably put to death (they were ‘led away’ to be punished).

Verse 20

‘Now he was highly displeased with those of Tyre and Sidon, and they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was fed from the king’s country.’

The king had played fast and loose with God, and now God would play fast and loose with him. He became highly displeased with the people of Tyre and Sidon (we do not know why). He was playing God and trying to boost his ego. This was unpleasant for them, for not only could he interfere with their trade, but they were also dependent on his territory for their food supplies.

So they ‘made Blastus the king’s chamberlain their friend’, presumably by slipping him a nice present, and sued for peace between them and the king.

It may be that there is a hint here that this is what Jerusalem should have been doing with God, making a friend of His anointed Representative, and seeking peace (Acts 10:36). These people at least knew what was good for them. But he had not.

Verse 21

‘And on a set day Herod arrayed himself in royal apparel, and sat on the throne, and made an oration to them.’

The day came for the royal triumph. On the set day Herod clothed himself regally and sat on his throne and made a great speech to them. The purpose was to make an impression and bring glory on himself. The Messiah rejecter was now exalting himself.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, describes how, on the second day of the festival, Agrippa entered the theatre clad in a robe of silver cloth, with the sun glinting on the silver, producing such an effect that the people (who of course wanted to please him) cried out that this was a god come to them. Josephus then goes on to tell us that at once a sudden and terrible illness fell on him from which he never recovered, and he died of severe abdominal pains five days later.

Verse 22

‘And the people shouted, saying, “The voice of a god, and not of a man.” ’

In response to his great show of self-aggrandisement the people responded in a way that could only please him. They cried out flatteringly, “The voice of a god, and not of a man.” He was not the first king to be ready to accept divine honours, but he had professed to be the king of Israel. And furthermore Luke might intend us to be reminded here of the fact that he had sought to destroy those who did serve the God-Man. Thus by his folly in imitating the Messiah his fate was sealed. There is a direct contrast here with Acts 10:26. Peter would not even accept homage, this king wanted full worship. Compare also Acts 14:11-44.14.18 where Paul and Barnabas rejected such worship.

Verse 23

‘And immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten of worms, and gave up his breath.’

Immediately the angel of the Lord smote him so that he died, because he did not give God the glory, and the result was that he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. ‘Immediately’ need not be taken literally, merely signifying within a short period. This is, of course, a summary of what happened and much of it would only come out on medical examination. But the point is clear, his death was sudden and ignominious, as Josephus had also testified. He who had set himself up against God and His Anointed had suffered his deserved end. And when his body was examined worms were discovered in it. This is the fate of all such blasphemers (compare Isaiah 14:11; Isaiah 66:24).

Verse 24

‘But the word of God grew and multiplied.’

And in contrast to the end of the pretender, and in spite of what man could do, ‘the word of God grew and multiplied.’ The word of God marched on in triumph, sweeping all before it. Nothing could hold it back as what follows will now reveal.

We may perhaps close this section of the Book of Acts by pointing out the pattern in the chapter above. It began with the king setting himself up against God and His anointed, followed by the people expressing their approval of his attitude, and their strike against the representative of the Messiah, it continued with the deliverance of His representative, and ended with the people being deserted by God’s anointed who departed for another place, and with the king himself being toppled from his throne. Jerusalem which had for so long resisted Him had received its deserts. From now on attention will turn to Antioch. To us this may seem commonplace. In Luke’s day for the early Christians it was revolutionary. It produced a whole new way of thinking.

Verse 25

The Call To Evangelise Asia Minor (12:25-13:3).

‘And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministration, taking with them John whose surname was Mark.’

Accepting the text as here (with A and p74) Barnabas and Saul had come to Jerusalem and had ministered to the true people of God the love of the church at Antioch. Having accomplished their task and demonstrated the love and unity between the two churches, they now returned to Antioch, and took with them John Mark, Barnabas’ cousin.

However, certain good manuscripts (Aleph & B (a powerful combination) together with P) support the reading ‘returned to Jerusalem’. This can make good sense as indicating that they had been distributing the Antiochene gifts among the elders of Judaea and then returned to Jerusalem, having fulfilled their ministry to them.

It actually makes little difference which we take for they then clearly had to return to Antioch in order that what happened next might follow. If we accept the latter texts then their return is just assumed. However, as they took Mark with them, it suggests that in this rare case the more difficult text is wrong so that it should read ‘from Jerusalem’, unless we take it to mean, ‘returned to Jerusalem (and then left there) taking Mark with them’, with the words in brackets simply assumed.

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Bibliographical Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Acts 12". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/pet/acts-12.html. 2013.