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Bible Commentaries

Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures
Acts 12

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-25

The Witness of the Persecution of the Early Church and Herod's Judgment - Acts 12:1-24 records the persecution of the early Church and Herod's judgment.

Outline - Here is a proposed outline:

1. The Death of James and the Imprisonment of Peter — Acts 12:1-19

2. Judgment upon King Herod — Acts 12:20-25

Acts 12:1-19 — The Death of James and the Imprisonment of Peter - In Acts 12:1-19 we have the account of the third wave of persecution upon the early Church. Peter and John have been thrown in jail on two previous occasions, and Stephen had been stoned. It is interesting to note how Satan attacked the three leading apostles, those who were the closest to Jesus during His earthly ministry. Satan often attacks the heads of the churches in order to make the sheep scatter. In the order of events, James , the brother of John is killed; then, Peter is imprisoned and threatened with death, who, with John , was earlier imprisoned by the Jewish Sanhedrin.

The Silence of the Sanhedrin- John Chrysostom and Matthew Henry note that since Saul's conversion, the Jewish Sanhedrin has stood silent in the Scriptures. 169] Perhaps after this embarrassing turn of events against them, the Sanhedrin took Gamaliel's advice more serious ( Acts 5:33-42), seeing that they were losing their battle by fighting in their own strength. Now a greater and mightier force than the Sanhedrin assaults the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ, as the religious powers give way to civil powers. King Herod, who stands not just as a king over the Jews, but as Rome's representative to bring order and judgment to his region of dominion, now attempts to destroy the Church by attacking its leadership.

169] John Chrysostom, The Homilies of John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, On the Acts of the Apostles, Translated, With Notes and Indices, Part I Homilies I-XXVIII, in The Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Anterior to the Division of the East and the West (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1851), 373; Matthew Henry, Acts, in Matthew Henry"s Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Modern Edition, Electronic Database (Seattle, WA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, 1991), in P.C. Study Bible, v 31 [CD-ROM] (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft Inc, 1993-2000), notes on Acts 12:1-4.

As we read Acts 12:5 where the church began earnest prayer for Peter's deliverance, there is deposited in our hearts a sense of expectation for divine intervention. Having read the Scriptures from Genesis to the Gospel of John , we have come to know God as a Deliverer of His people. As we read the preceding eleven chapters of the book of Acts , we see God beginning to move mightily within the church with signs and wonders. Thus, this passage of Scriptures places emphasis upon the power of the early Church, which covers fourteen verses, rather than the death of James the apostle, which is mentioned in a single verse.

Peter's Miraculous Deliverance from Prison - The story of Peter's miraculous deliverance from prison in Acts 12:1-19 reflects the message of Psalm 2:1-5, where the heathen rage against the Lord"s anointed. In Acts 12:1-4 the heathen were raging against the Church by putting Peter in prison ( Psalm 2:1-3). In Acts 12:18 Peter"s miraculous escape from prison put the city in derision and stirred it up ( Psalm 2:4). In Acts 12:20-23 God vexes the heathen by killing King Herod ( Psalm 2:5).

Psalm 2:1-3, "Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us."

Psalm 2:4, "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision."

Psalm 2:5, "Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure."

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

Acts 12:1 — "Now about that time" - Comments- Views differ as to what event is meant by the phrase "about this time." Eusebius believes it refers to the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius. 170] Heinrich Meyer translates the phrase "but at that juncture," saying it refers to the events mentioned in the passage immediately preceding the phrase, which was the visit of Barnabas and Saul to Jerusalem to deliver an offering for the saints. Meyer supports this view by saying this same Greek phrase is used in Acts 19:23 in this way. He believes the events of Acts 12:1-24 coincide with Barnabas and Saul's visit to Jerusalem. 171] This view is strongly supported by the closing verse in this passage of Scripture, which says, "And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John , whose surname was Mark." ( Acts 12:25) Thus, the story in Acts 12:1-25 opens with a famine upon the land, which affected the saints of Jerusalem so that Barnabas and Saul brought relief from the church in Antioch during the time of the Passover festival. If this trial of famine was not enough for the early Church, Herod was now raising his hands to persecute these saints in Jerusalem.

170] Eusebius writes, "‘Now about that time' (it is clear that he means the time of Claudius)…" (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 291-4).

171] Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, trans. Paton J. Gloag, ed. William P. Dickson (New York: Funk and Wagnalis, 1884), 228.

"Herod the king" - Comments- Scholars tell us that Herod the king in Acts 12:1 was Herod Agrippa I, the nephew of Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist ( Mark 6:14-29), and grandson of Herod the Great, who massacred the children of Bethlehem ( Matthew 2:16-18). Herod the Great also killed his son Aristobulus, who was the father of this Herod (see the family lineage described by Josephus in Antiquities 1854). Josephus calls this Herod by the surname Agrippa, which surname John Gill says has been added to the Syriac text. 172] Because of Herod Agrippa's loyalty to Rome, his kingdom was extended to nearly the former size once held by his grandfather Herod the Great during the time of Jesus' birth (Antiquities 18610; 1872; 1951; 1961). Thus, he ruled over all of Palestine. 173] Although some scholars say Herod Agrippa was not a Jew, being born from an Edomite family, 174] Josephus says, "he was by nation a Jew." (Antiquities 1867). Thus, scholars like Meyer believe he was of Jewish birth. 175]

172] John Gill, Acts , in John Gill's Expositor, in e-Sword, v 777 [CD-ROM] (Franklin, Tennessee: e-Sword, 2000-2005), comments on Acts 12:1.

173] Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, trans. Paton J. Gloag, ed. William P. Dickson (New York: Funk and Wagnalis, 1884), 228.

174] Matthew Henry, Acts, in Matthew Henry"s Commentary on the Whole Bible, New Modern Edition, Electronic Database (Seattle, WA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc, 1991), in P.C. Study Bible, v 31 [CD-ROM] (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft Inc, 1993-2000), notes on Acts 12:1-4.

175] Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, trans. Paton J. Gloag, ed. William P. Dickson (New York: Funk and Wagnalis, 1884), 230.

"stretched forth his hands" - Comments- The phrase "stretched forth his hands" is used frequently throughout the Old Testament Scriptures, so it can be considered a Hebrew idiom. This phrase is used figuratively to express the fact that Herod was exercising his powers as king over the Jews. Meyer says it is a Hebrew idiom, and translates this phrase, "laid hands on, he caught at, i.e. he caused to be forcibly seized…" 176]

176] Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, trans. Paton J. Gloag, ed. William P. Dickson (New York: Funk and Wagnalis, 1884), 229.

"to vex certain of the church" - Comments- Herod will target the leaders of the church. In the verses that follow he will kill James ( Acts 12:2) the apostle and imprison Peter ( Acts 12:3-19). This will be his last acts as a king over the Jews, for God will judge him and kill him soon afterwards ( Acts 12:20-24).

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

Acts 12:2 — "And he killed James" - Comments- As early as John Chrysostom, commentators have referred to the story of Jesus telling James and John that they would suffer with His cup and with His baptism ( Matthew 20:20-23). 177] The mother of James and John once came to Jesus and asked if Jesus would set them at his side on the throne of Israel. When Jesus asked them if they were willing to drink His cup and share in His baptism, they heartily accepted. Jesus thus predicted their sufferings and death. James was the first of the apostle to die, and John would be the last.

177] John Chrysostom, The Homilies of John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, On the Acts of the Apostles, Translated, With Notes and Indices, Part I Homilies I-XXVIII, in The Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Anterior to the Division of the East and the West (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1851), 372.

Matthew 20:20-23, "Then came to him the mother of Zebedee"s children with her sons, worshipping him, and desiring a certain thing of him. And he said unto her, What wilt thou? She saith unto him, Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom. But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of, and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? They say unto him, We are able. And he saith unto them, Ye shall drink indeed of my cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with: but to sit on my right hand, and on my left, is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared of my Father."

"the brother of John" - Comments- John Chrysostom notes this phrase was intended on distinguishing James the apostle from James the brother of the Lord, who was the first bishop of Jerusalem ( Acts 15:13). 178] John Calvin rather believes this distinction was made for James the son of Alphaeus, another one of the twelve apostles ( Acts 1:13). 179]

178] John Chrysostom, The Homilies of John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, On the Acts of the Apostles, Translated, With Notes and Indices, Part I Homilies I-XXVIII, in The Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Anterior to the Division of the East and the West (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1851), 372.

179] John Calvin, Commentary Upon the Acts of the Apostles, vol. first (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 479.

Acts 15:13, "And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:"

Acts 1:13, "And when they were come in, they went up into an upper room, where abode both Peter, and James , and John , and Andrew, Philippians , and Thomas, Bartholomew, and Matthew , James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon Zelotes, and Judas the brother of James."

"with the sword" - Comments- Adam Clarke says that the Jews had four types of punishment by death: stoning, burning, killing with the sword (beheading), and strangling. He says the Talmud required those who drew Jews away from their faith to be killed by the sword. 180] Eusebius quotes Clement of Alexandria, who tells us of the ancient tradition that James was beheaded. 181]

180] Adam Clarke, The Acts of the Apostles, in Adam Clarke"s Commentary, Electronic Database (Seattle, WA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc, 1996), in P.C. Study Bible, v 31 [CD-ROM] (Seattle, WA: Biblesoft Inc, 1993-2000), notes on Acts 12:2.

181] Eusebius writes, "‘Now about that time' (it is clear that he means the time of Claudius) ‘Herod the King stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the Church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.' And concerning this James , Clement, in the seventh book of his Hypotyposes, relates a story which is worthy of mention; telling it as he received it from those who had lived before him. He says that the one who led James to the judgment-seat, when he saw him bearing his testimony, was moved, and confessed that he was himself also a Christian. They were both therefore, he says, led away together; and on the way he begged James to forgive him. And Hebrews , after considering a little, said, ‘Peace be with thee,' and kissed him. And thus they were both beheaded at the same time. And then, as the divine Scripture says,C:Documents and SettingsGAERIEDesktopChurch Fathers v 2NPNF 2-01footnotefn 11.htm- P 1107_524696 Herod, upon the death of James , seeing that the deed pleased the Jews, attacked Peter also and committed him to prison, and would have slain him if he had not, by the divine appearance of an angel who came to him by night, been wonderfully released from his bonds, and thus liberated for the service of the Gospel. Such was the providence of God in respect to Peter." (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 291-4)

It is very possible that if the Church had prayed for James , the brother of John , the way they prayed for Peter, he would not have been killed, but these disciples were still learning the power of prayer.

Acts 12:2Comments - Eusebius mentions Luke's account of the death of James as recorded by Clement of Alexandria. Early Church tradition adds to this narrative material of Luke by saying that the one who led James to his judgment was so moved by the apostle's testimony that he offered himself to be beheaded alongside him (Ecclesiastical History 291-4).

Comments- Scholars propose the date of A.D 44when Herod Agrippa killed James the apostle. This date is taken from Josephus, who says there was a drought in the eighth year of Claudius Caesar, which was approximately A.D 44 (Antiquities 2052). The drought mentioned in Acts 11:27-30, which provides the context for the time of Herod Agrippa's persecutions, is generally believed to be this same drought mentioned by Josephus.

Comments- Perhaps the reason Luke did not spend any more time discussing the tragic death of James , one of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, is because the emphasis of the book of Acts is on the expansion of the Church through miracles and demonstrations of the power of the Holy Spirit. Peter's imprisonment and miraculous deliverance that follows consists of fourteen verses, compared to one sentence about James' death. This is because Peter's deliverance reveals the power of the Holy Spirit at work in the early Church, rather than the death of James. The story of the death of James will be mentioned in early Church history (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 291-4), and in books like John Fox's Book of Martyrs, 182] where it is properly placed.

182] William B. Forbush, ed, Fox's Book of Martyrs (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston: c 1926, 1965), 2-3.

Comments - Imagine the shock that these early disciples experiences when James the apostle was killed. Jesus had commissioned them to take the Gospel to the uttermost parts of the world. James was never Deuteronomy -commissioned from this task. His death must have made these disciples doubt God's ability to fulfill the Great Commission. For this reason, I do not believe it was God's perfect will for James to die. In the following verses, an angel will miraculously deliver Peter from prison and certain death. Peter, realizing this miracle, decides to hide himself for the first time, realizing that God was not willing that he die, as James had died.

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

Acts 12:3 — "And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also" - Comments- Calvin notes that Herod was not attacking the church because of his zeal for the Mosaic Law, neither for his disdain for the Church; rather he sought to serve his own political ambitions by doing something the Jews perceived was for their benefit. 183] Political leaders can be men-pleasers. Thus, Herod Agrippa sought an opportunity to find favor with the Jews by arresting Peter during a time when the Jewish leaders had gathered in Jerusalem, an ideal time when they could easily take note of Herod's deed. In postponing Peter's execution, Herod appeared before these leaders to honor the Jewish Passover, and to avoid causing any disturbance during this most holy week. In other words, he was trying to improve his "approval ratings at the polls." 184] Herod was obviously trying to keep the Jews quiet, who had a history of being rebellious and difficult for Rome to manage.

183] John Calvin, Commentary Upon the Acts of the Apostles, vol. first (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 479.

184] Robert Higgins, Untapped Power [on-line]; accessed 16 July 2009; available at http://www.sermoncentral.com/sermon.aspSermonID=132931&Page=2; Internet.

Josephus gives us a description of Herod Agrippa's personality as being benevolent towards the Jews (Antiquities 1973). His efforts to please the Jews by persecuting the church would have been typical of this king.

"Now, this king was by nature very beneficent, and liberal in his gifts, and very ambitious to oblige people with such large donations; and he made himself very illustrious by the many chargeable presents he made them. He took delight in giving, and rejoiced in living with good reputation." (Antiquities 1973)

Acts 12:3 — "Then were the days of unleavened bread" - Comments- The Mosaic Law designated the Feast of Unleavened Bread, or the Passover, from the fourteenth to the twenty-first of the month Nisan ( Exodus 12:15-18, Leviticus 23:5-6, Deuteronomy 16:1-4).

Acts 12:4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.

Acts 12:4 — "And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison" - Comments- Herod did not kill Peter immediately because he did not want to cause a disturbance during the Passover festival.

Acts 12:4 — "and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him" - Word Study on "quaternions" - Strong says the Greek word "quaternions" "tĕtradiŏn" ( τετράδιον) (G 5069) means, "a squad of four Roman soldiers."

Comments- John Calvin notes that these four bands consisting of four soldiers in each band would have shared the four night watches of three hours each. 185] Thus, we read in Acts 12:6 that Peter slept between two soldiers, while several stood at the prison door.

185] John Calvin, Commentary Upon the Acts of the Apostles, vol. first (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 480.

Acts 12:4 — "intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people" - Word Study on "Easter" - Strong says the Greek word "Easter" "pascha" ( πάσχα) (G 3957) means, "the Passover." The Enhanced Strong says this Greek word is used 29 times in the New Testament, being translated "passover 28, Easter 1."

Perhaps Herod did not want to defile the festive occasion with blood, so he waited for this seven-day event to transpire before bringing Peter forth for judgment. Meyer suggests that Herod would have brought Peter forth and stood him in the same place of judgment that Pilate judged the Lord Jesus Christ ( John 19:13). 186] There before the Jewish leaders Herod would pronounce the death sentence in an effort to please the Jews.

186] Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, trans. Paton J. Gloag, ed. William P. Dickson (New York: Funk and Wagnalis, 1884), 230.

John 19:13, "When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgment seat in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha."

Acts 12:5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.

Acts 12:5Comments- Herod's calculated plan failed to account for one fact, which was the prayers of the saints. He had earthly powers to wield the sword and take man's life, but he lacked the power of divine judgment. Had Herod reflected back upon God's mighty acts in the Church, he would have considered the possibility of what the Lord was about to do in delivering Peter, but pride blinds the heart and mind.

This season of prayer was not the church's normal prayer session. Rather, the Scriptures describe it as prayer made "without ceasing." Such a crisis as they were now facing, moved them beyond their typical response to persecution of quietness and scatting to nearby cities. It moved them into the position of offense, so that they stood as a roaring lion, an overcoming Church, called to take dominion upon earth and break the powers of darkness. Until now, we have no record in the Scriptures of such earnest prayer by the saints. They had spent ten days in the upper room in prayer and supplication ( Acts 1:13-14); after the day of Pentecost they had "continued stedfastly in the apostles" doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers," ( Acts 2:41); they had enjoyed access into the Temple for prayers ( Acts 3:1); the place where they prayed was shaken in the assembly following Peter and John's first release from the Sanhedrin ( Acts 4:23-31); the early apostles were men of prayer; ( Acts 10:9) but never had the Church prayed with such intensity. The Church was about to experience a new level of power, not one displayed through the gifts of the Spirit under the anointing of the apostles, but of a display from Heaven as God moves mightily in response to the prayers of the saints.

God is not a respecter of persons. I believe He would have delivered James the apostle from death had the church earnestly prayed for him. God responds to our faith, rather than predestine some of the saints for death and some for a fruitful ministry. Although uses tragedies and makes something good come from it, such martyrdoms is not in God's divine plan for the believer, who is destined for a victorious life. This is the message proclaimed in Acts 12:1-19, which focuses most of its attention upon Peter's miraculous deliverance rather than on the martyrdom of James the apostle.

Acts 12:6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.

Acts 12:6 — "And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping" - Comments- John Calvin notes that Peter was "within one night of death." 187] God sometimes waits until the last minute before bringing us deliverance. Peter was delivered just before his execution was scheduled. Peter had placed himself into God's hands. John Trapp notes that David also slept while God delivered him from his adversaries ( Psalm 3:5). 188]

187] John Calvin, Commentary Upon the Acts of the Apostles, vol. first (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 482.

188] John Trapp, A Commentary or Exposition Upon All the Books of the New Testament (London: R. W, 1656), 559.

Psalm 3:5, "I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me."

Acts 12:6 — "between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison" - Comments- It appears that these four bands of soldiers were divided so that two kept the doors and two slept with Peter in chains during each of the four night watches. The two guards at the door of the prison distanced themselves apart and to form the first and second guards through which the angel led Peter ( Acts 12:10).

Heinrich Meyer notes that practice of chaining prisoners to a soldier was a Roman custom, and he gives several references. 189] Josephus tells us about Agrippa being chained to a soldier while in bonds (Antiquities 1867). Pliny the Younger refers to sending a prisoner in chains (Letters 1065). 190] Lucius Seneca writes, "…the same chain fastens the prisoner and the soldier who guards him..." (Epistles on Morals 5) 191]

189] Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, trans. Paton J. Gloag, ed. William P. Dickson (New York: Funk and Wagnalis, 1884), 230.

190] William Melmoth, The Letters of Pliny the Consul (Boston, Mass: R. Larkin, 1809), 231.

191] Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Seneca Ad Lucilium Epistulae Morales, vol 1, trans. Richard M. Gummere, in The Loeb Classical Library, eds. E. Capps, T. E. Page, and W. H. D. Rouse (London: William Heinemann, 1935), 23.

Acts 12:7 And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.

Acts 12:7Comments- John Calvin notes the power of God's command to cause chains to fall from their victims. 192]

192] John Calvin, Commentary Upon the Acts of the Apostles, vol. first (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 483-484.

Acts 12:8 And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.

Acts 12:8Comments- Smith says that men in the ancient orient wore traditional garments that were common among these cultures. Their clothing consisted on an inner garment ( χιτών) (G 5509), or under garment, which looked like a long shirt, normally being sleeveless that reached down to the knees. This tunic was held tightly to the waist using a girdle, a type of belt. A second, outer tunic was similar, but longer in length, and worn over the first. The third, outer garment ( ἱμάτιον) (G 2440) was worn on top and seen in public. Peter girded himself by wrapping his inner garment with his belt. He then put on his outer garment and followed the angel.

Acts 12:9 And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.

Acts 12:9Comments- Peter had seen a vision before ( Acts 10:9-19), and understood how real they seemed to be. He initially thought this was another vision.

Acts 12:10 When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.

Acts 12:10 — "When they were past the first and the second ward" - Comments- Webster defines the English word "ward" to mean, "The act of guarding; watch; guard; guardianship; specifically, a guarding during the day." The phrase "first and second ward" can refer either to the guard post, or to the guards themselves. 193] This phrase tells us that two of the four guards that make up the four Roman quaternions of soldiers mentioned in Acts 12:4 were guarding the doors of the prison, while two guards from one of the quarternions were sleeping in chains with Peter, their prisoner.

193] A. C. Hervey, Acts , in The Pulpit Commentary, eds. H. D. M. Spence and Joseph Exell (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co, 1950), in Ages Digital Library, v 10 [CD-ROM] (Rio, WI: Ages Software, Inc, 2001), comments on Acts 12:10.

Acts 12:11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, 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.

Acts 12:12 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 praying.

Acts 12:12 — "And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John , whose surname was Mark" - Comments- This Mary was not the mother of James the apostle, who had just been slain by Herod Agrippa; rather, this was the mother of John Mark , who was the author of the Gospel of Mark. According to Eusebius, Papias (A.D. c 60-130), bishop of Hierapolis, said that John Mark was a follower of Peter, and wrote his Gospel based upon the memoirs of Peter. He says that those who followed Peter"s teachings were so overwhelmed at the apostle"s death in Rome that they asked John Mark , who was also a close follower of Peter, to record the Gospel that Peter had taught them. They so prevailed upon John Mark that he consented and wrote his Gospel. 194] Jerome calls John Mark "the disciple and interpreter of Peter" (Lives of Illustrious Men 8). 195] John Mark was the nephew to Barnabas ( Colossians 4:10); and there is Scriptural evidence that Peter may have been paternally related to John Mark as well ( 1 Peter 5:13). However, it is generally agreed that John Mark's relationship to Peter was a close spiritual bond, so that the use of the phrase "Marcus my son" meant that John Mark was a convert or disciple or assistant to Peter. Paul calls Timothy and Titus his sons in a spiritual sense ( 1 Timothy 1:2; 1 Timothy 1:18, 2 Timothy 1:2; 2 Timothy 2:1, Titus 1:4).

194] Eusebius writes, "And thus when the divine word had made its home among them, the power of Simon was quenched and immediately destroyed, together with the man himself. And so greatly did the splendor of piety illumine the minds of Peter"s hearers that they were not satisfied with hearing once only, and were not content with the unwritten teaching of the divine Gospel, but with all sorts of entreaties they besought Mark , a follower of Peter, and the one whose Gospel is extant, that he would leave them a written monument of the doctrine which had been orally communicated to them. Nor did they cease until they had prevailed with the Prayer of Manasseh , and had thus become the occasion of the written Gospel which bears the name of Mark." (Ecclesiastical History 2151) and "‘This also the presbyter said: Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord"s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely.' These things are related by Papias concerning Mark." (Ecclesiastical History 33915) See Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, trans. Arthur C. McGiffert under the title The Church History of Eusebius, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, A New Series, vol 1, eds. Henry Wace and Philip Schaff (Oxford: Parker and Company, c 1890, 1905), 115-116, 172-173.

195] Jerome writes, "Mark the disciple and interpreter of Peter wrote a short gospel at the request of the brethren at Rome embodying what he had heard Peter tell. When Peter had heard this, he approved it and published it to the churches to be read by his authority as Clemens in the sixth book of his Hypotyposes and Papias, bishop of Hierapolis, record. Peter also mentions this Mark in his first epistle, figuratively indicating Rome under the name of Babylon ‘She who is in Babylon elect together with you saluteth you and so doth Mark my son."' See Jerome, Lives of Illustrious Men, trans. Ernest C. Richardson, in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, vol 3, eds. Henry Wace and Philip Schaff (New York: The Christian Literature Company, 1906), 364.

Colossians 4:10, "Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister"s son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)"

1 Peter 5:13, "The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus my son."

John Mark is most likely mentioned in Acts 12:12 because he is about to accompany Barnabas and Paul back to Antioch ( Acts 12:25), and then join them on their first missionary journey ( Acts 13:5).

Acts 12:25, "And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John , whose surname was Mark."

Acts 13:5, "And when they were at Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews: and they had also John to their minister."

Acts 12:13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.

Acts 12:13Comments- The damsel Rhoda appears only once in the New Testament ( Acts 12:13).

Acts 12:14 And when she knew Peter"s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.

Acts 12:15 And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.

Acts 12:16 But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.

Acts 12:16Comments- The early disciples were understandably astonished because their prayers had never been seen so effective. They had been praying in the Temple and in the upper room. They had prayed after Peter and John's first imprisonment, and felt the place shaken. Yet, they had never seen such an immediate and miraculous answer to fervent prayer.

Acts 12:17 But Hebrews , beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James , and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.

Acts 12:17 — "And he said, Go shew these things unto James , and to the brethren" - Comments- Meyer and others believe that this James that Peter mentions in Acts 12:17 is the Lord's brother, who becomes bishop of the church in Jerusalem ( Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18, 1 Corinthians 15:7, Galatians 1:19; Galatians 2:12, James 1:1). 196] However, John Calvin believes it is James the son of Alphaeus, one of the twelve. 197]

196] Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, trans. Paton J. Gloag, ed. William P. Dickson (New York: Funk and Wagnalis, 1884), 234.

197] John Calvin, Commentary Upon the Acts of the Apostles, vol. first (Edinburgh: The Calvin Translation Society, 1844), 488.

Acts 15:13, "And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men and brethren, hearken unto me:"

Acts 21:18, "And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present."

1 Corinthians 15:7, "After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles."

Galatians 1:19, "But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord"s brother."

Galatians 2:12, "For before that certain came from James , he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision."

James 1:1, " James , a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes which are scattered abroad, greeting."

Acts 12:17 — "And he departed, and went into another place" - Comments- The Scriptures do not tell us where Peter departed after his miraculous deliverance from prison. After speaking to the saints, he probably hid himself for a time, knowing that Herod would seek him and imprison him again. The book of Acts will refer to Peter only one more time, during the first Jerusalem council ( Acts 15:7), while Paul the apostle will move to the center stage for the rest of Luke's account of early church history. There was a time when Jesus withdrew Himself from threats of death by the Jewish leaders ( Matthew 12:14-15). Peter was emulating his Master.

Matthew 12:14-15, "Then the Pharisees went out, and held a council against him, how they might destroy him. But when Jesus knew it, he withdrew himself from thence: and great multitudes followed him, and he healed them all;"

Peter now fades out of the history of early Church, appearing only in the first Jerusalem Council ( Acts 15:7). If Jesus was crucified and resurrected around A.D 30, and Peter's deliverance from prison took place around A.D 44, then Peter had held the position as leader of this early Church for about fourteen years. We read in Acts 15:1-35 that James , the brother of the Lord, emerges as the first bishop of the Church of Jerusalem. This means that the focus shifts off of Peter and on to James and Paul the apostle. Perhaps the reason for this is the fact that people sometimes get their eyes upon man and off of the Lord, who is the one working miracles through a man. Peter was walking in an anointing so strong that he shadow healed the sick ( Acts 5:15), something that did not happen in the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. It would have been easy for believers to begin to over praise him, therefore, the need would have arisen to shift the focus upon other leaders.

Acts 15:7, "And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe."

Acts 5:15, "Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them."

It is interesting to note that when Peter becomes quiet in Jerusalem after his imprisonment and miraculous deliverance, the church in Jerusalem becomes quiet as well. The rest of the book of Acts will focus upon Paul the apostle's ministry, which takes place out of the church in Antioch.

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

Acts 12:18 Comments- God had these people in derision. See Psalm 2:4 :

Psalm 2:4, "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision."

Acts 12:19 And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode.

Acts 12:19"and commanded that they should be put to death" - Comments- Note that these sentries were put to death because of Peter"s escape, as was the custom of the Romans. John Chrysostom notes that the act of putting them to death testified to Herod Agrippa's wickedness, and to God's marvelous miracle of delivering Peter. 198] The only way to stop corruption and bribery in a corrupt society was the penalty of death. Therefore, the guards were threatened with the sentence of death with the escape of prisoners.

198] John Chrysostom, The Homilies of John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, On the Acts of the Apostles, Translated, With Notes and Indices, Part I Homilies I-XXVIII, in The Library of Fathers of the Holy Catholic Church, Anterior to the Division of the East and the West (Oxford: John Henry Parker, 1851), 382

Acts 12:19 — "And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode" - Comments- Meyer notes that Herod Agrippa normally lived in Jerusalem (see Josephus, Antiquities 1973). 199] Perhaps his departure from Judaea to Caesarea was the result of his embarrassment because of the miraculous deliverance of Peter, which shamed this king. The Roman governors over Judea were seated in Caesarea Philippi, and it served as the headquarters for the Roman soldiers posted in this region (Easton).

199] Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, trans. Paton J. Gloag, ed. William P. Dickson (New York: Funk and Wagnalis, 1884), 229.

Acts 12:20-23Herod's Divine Judgment - In Acts 12:20-23 we have the account of how God judged Herod because of his pride and the wicked acts that he had done. Because of Herod Agrippa's loyalty to Rome, his kingdom was extended to nearly the former size once held by his grandfather Herod the Great during the time of the early Church (Antiquities 18610; 1872; 1951; 1961). Thus, he ruled over all of Palestine. 200] This sense of great power would have caused him to have such great pride. This story of God's fury is an illustration of Psalm 2:5, "Then shall he speak unto them in his wrath, and vex them in his sore displeasure." The judgment upon Herod Agrippa is similar to God's judgment upon King Nebuchadnezzar, when God turned his mind that that of a beast for seven years until he acknowledges the God of Heaven ( Daniel 4:1-37).

200] Heinrich August Wilhelm Meyer, Critical and Exegetical Handbook to the Acts of the Apostles, trans. Paton J. Gloag, ed. William P. Dickson (New York: Funk and Wagnalis, 1884), 228.

Extra-biblical Sources of Herod's Death- Josephus gives us a lengthy account of this event, and adds that the king died after five days in bed (Antiquities 1982). 201]

201] Josephus writes, "Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea, he came to the city Cesarea, which was formerly called Strato"s Tower; and there he exhibited shows in honor of Caesar, upon his being informed that there was a certain festival celebrated to make vows for his safety. At which festival a great multitude was gotten together of the principal persons, and such as were of dignity through his province. On the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theater early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated 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 horror over those that looked intently upon him; and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good,) that he was a god; and they added, "Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a Prayer of Manasseh , yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature." Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. But as he presently afterward looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, "I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept of what Providence allots, as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner." When he said this, his pain was become violent. Accordingly he was carried into the palace, and the rumor went abroad every where, that he would certainly die in a little time. But the multitude presently sat in sackcloth, with their wives and children, after the law of their country, and besought God for the king"s recovery. All places were also full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground, he could not himself forbear weeping. And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign; for he reigned four years under Caius Caesar, three of them were over Philip"s tetrarchy only, and on the fourth he had that of Herod added to it; and he reigned, besides those, three years under the reign of Claudius Caesar; in which time he reigned over the forementioned countries, and also had Judea added to them, as well as Samaria and Cesarea. The revenues that he received out of them were very great, no less than twelve millions of drachme. Yet did he borrow great sums from others; for he was so very liberal that his expenses exceeded his incomes, and his generosity was boundless." (Antiquities 1982)

Divine Judgment- While meditating upon Acts 12:20-23 regarding Herod's death, the Lord quickened to me Hebrews 10:26-27. Herod Agrippa was a Jew and knew about the God of Israel, whether he served him or not. For Herod to take praise from men who called him "God" was without excuse, and punishment was certain.

Hebrews 10:26-27, "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries."

Acts 12:20 And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king"s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king"s country.

Acts 12:21 And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.

Acts 12:22 And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.

Acts 12:22Comments- The Roman Emperors were given a status of deity by the people, with such emperor worship providing a common bond in the midst of a divers culture of pagan religions. 202] In giving this same statue to Herod Agrippa I, the people of Tyre and Sidon, knowing his rise to fame and power, were offering him their highest praise. They were equating him with Caesar in an effort to gain his favor. However, Herod was a Jew, of the nation of Israel, a chosen people who knew the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Herod was not ignorant concerning his Jewish faith in YHWH, compared to Caesar, who was a Gentile that was ignorant of God ( Acts 17:22-23). Therefore, God held Herod accountable, and judged him for accepting such praise.

202] Erich S. Gruen, "Rome: Ancient Rome," in The World Book Encyclopedia, vol 16 (Chicago: World Book, Inc, 1994), 447.

Acts 17:22-23, "Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars" hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious. For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you."

Acts 12:23 And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.

Acts 12:24-25 — The Keys to Church Growth - In Acts 12:24-25 Luke makes two brief comments that undergirded Church growth beyond Jerusalem and into Judea, Samaria, and into Antioch. The disciples were faithful to preach the Word of God ( Acts 12:24), and they were faithful to fulfill their ministries ( Acts 12:25).

Acts 12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

Acts 12:24Comments- This general statement describing the expansion of the early Church expresses the theme of the book of Acts , which is stated in Acts 1:8, "But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth." Similar statements are woven within the narratives of the book of Acts ( Acts 6:7; Acts 11:21; Acts 19:20).

Acts 6:7, "And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith."

Acts 11:21, "And the hand of the Lord was with them: and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord."

Acts 19:20, "So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed."

Acts 12:25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John , whose surname was Mark.

Acts 12:25 — "And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem" - Comments- Acts 12:25 is tied to Acts 11:30. The setting of Acts 12:1-24 is the visit of Barnabas and Saul to Jerusalem during the Passover festival to give a love offering to the saints because of the famine. Barnabas and Saul then depart Jerusalem, having either witnessed Peter's miraculous deliverance from prison. They may have been praying with the saints in the very house of Mary, the mother of John Mark , when Peter knocked on their door.

Acts 11:30, "Which also they did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul."

"when they had fulfilled their ministry" - Comments- The faithfulness of Barnabas and Saul to fulfill their ministry becomes a prerequisite for what is about to take place in Acts 13:1-3, when God will send them forth as apostles to the Gentiles. Their faithfulness positions them for their divine calling as apostles.

 


Copyright Statement
These files are copyrighted by the author, Gary Everett. Used by Permission.
No distribution beyond personal use without permission.

Bibliography Information
Everett, Gary H. "Commentary on Acts 12:4". Gary H. Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ghe/acts-12.html. 2013.

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