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Bible Commentaries

Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged
Acts 12

 

 

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Verse 1

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

Herod Persecutes the Church, and Puts James, the Brother of John, to Death ()

Now about that time - about the time referred to at the close of the preceding chapter. Whether Barnabas and Saul returned to their post at Antioch immediately after executing their commission, or remained throughout the trying period to which this chapter refers, cannot with certainty be determined. But see the note at Acts 12:25. The exact date can only be approximated (see Introduction).

Herod the king. This was Herod Agrippa I, before whose son-Herod Agrippa II-Paul made his celebrated defense, (Acts 26:1-32) This one was grandson to Herod the Great, being the son of Aristobulus and Berenice (of the Maccabean or Hasmonean line). He was brought up at Rome with Caligula and Claudius. On the accession of Caligula to the empire he obtained from him the dominions of his uncles, Philip and Herod Antipas-Batanaea, Trachonitis, and Auranitis (after the death of Philip); Galilee and Peraea (on the banishment of Antipas to Gaul); and Abilene (of which Lysanias had been tetrarch) - with the title of king. On the accession of Claudius he was further invested with the sovereignty of Samaria and Judea; thus having at length all the dominions over which his grandfather had reigned, and from which he derived an immense revenue. The accuracy of the sacred writer (says Paley), in the expressions which he uses here, is remarkable.

There was no portion of time for thirty years before, nor ever afterwards, in which there was a king at Jerusalem, or one exercising that authority in Judea and to whom that title could be applied, except this Herod during the last three years life, within which period the transaction here recorded took place (for his son, though a king, did not reign over Judea). From Josephus we learn that his characteristics were, not the cruelty of Herod the Great, nor the licentiousness uncle Herod Antipas, but rigidity in his observance of Jewish rites, gentleness, beneficence, and love of popularity. Plainly it was this last characteristic, combined with the first, which prompted the persecuting acts recorded in the first part of the chapter, while the vain-glorious exhibition related in the latter part of it is easily explained by the last characteristic. Since we learn from the same Jewish historian that he resided for the most part at Jerusalem, we can easily see how ready he would be to listen to the complaints of the irritated Jewish rulers regarding the progress which the Gospel was making even in the capital, and to their urgent solicitations for his royal interposition to put a stop to it.

Stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church [ epebalen (Greek #1911) ... tas (Greek #3588) cheiras (Greek #5495) kakoosai (Greek #2559) tinas (Greek #5100) toon (Greek #3588) apo (Greek #575) toon (Greek #3588) ekkleesias (Greek #1577).] - laid hands, on certain of those who were of the Church, to 'vex or injure them.' The special expression, 'certain of those who were of the Church,' cannot justly be taken to mean those who held office in it (as Webster and Wilkinson, referring to some ancient versions which so render it). It seems, as in Acts 6:9, to mean merely 'certain persons belonging to the Church.' Herod did not think of setting on foot, in the first instance, any general persecution against the Christian body; but if an example were made of its most distinguished leaders, he probably supposed that this would suffice to disperse, if not extinguish it.


Verse 2

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

And he killed James the brother of John with the sword - in all likelihood by beheading, which (as Lightfoot shows) was regarded by the Jews as the extreme of ignominy. Of this older James we know nothing, except what we read in the Gospels and here-that he was one of the three who, of all the Twelve, were alone privileged to witness the transfiguration, the resurrection of Jairus' daughter, and the agony in the garden; that he and his younger Brother John were called by their Master 'sons of thunder;' that through their mother they applied for the right and left-hand posts of honour in the expected kingdom; and that, when asked if they were able to drink of their Master's cup and he baptized with His baptism, and replying that they were, Jesus told them they should indeed have that to do, but that what they sought was under other arrangement: finally, we have James here, as a martyr of Jesus, indeed drinking of his Masters cup and with his bloody baptism at length baptized.

One wonders that we have no account of his apostolic labours, and that while Stephen's death is so circumstantially recorded, that of James is disposed of in one brief verse. Of this latter circumstance several explanations have been given. But as the Baptist was privately and summarily despatched, and his death recorded in a few brief words (Mark 6:27), the probability is, that the slaughter of James was equally summary, and embraced no particulars of interest. As to his apostolic labours-since of "the first three" of the apostles, Peter, engrossed with the public work of his Master, could take no oversight of the Church at Jerusalem, and John, the other member of this triumvirate, always accompanied Peter-the principal charge of the church in Jerusalem would devolve on this older James; and though his labour in this capacity would be too quiet to yield historical materials worthy of preservation in this book, his fervid character, now mellowed, with his position among the Twelve, would gain him the esteem and love of the Church, and make his value to the Christian cause in Jerusalem so well known to those who sought its destruction, that they would give Herod no rest until he consented to rid them of this obnoxious head of the Christian interest at the capital.

Herod Apprehends Peter, to Kill Him also-His Miraculous Deliverance and Departure from Jerusalem ()

He could spring only upon one more prized victim; and, flushed with their first success, they prevail upon Herod to seize him too.


Verse 3

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

And because he saw it pleased the Jews - popularity being his ruling passion,

He proceeded further to take Peter also - whose loss, at this stage of the Church, though not so irreparable as it would have been at an earlier stage, would, besides other great evils, have deprived us of his inestimable First Epistle, not to speak of the Second.

Then were the days of unleavened bread , [ hai (Greek #3588) before heemerai (Greek #2250), though not required, is well attested]. See the note at Mark 14:1. This is here mentioned to prepare the reader for the delay of his execution, and what grew out of this, about to be related.


Verse 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.

And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him - that is, to four parties of four each, corresponding to the four Roman watches; two watching in prison and two at the gates, and each party being on duty for the space of one watch.

Intending after Easter , [ meta (Greek #3326) ta (Greek #3588) pascha (Greek #3957)] - it should be, 'after the Passover:' that is, after the conclusion of the festival. (The word employed in our King James Version being an ecclesiastical term of later date, is improperly used here.)

To bring him forth, [ anagagein (G321) - or, 'bring him up,'] to the people - but scarcely for trial: it probably means 'to bring him up' aloft to the view of the people in bit execution; because the people were getting as virulent in their opposition to Christians as the rulers. And as the more private and summary execution of James may have been complained of as not having effect enough, Herod determines to gratify both rulers and people with the public spectacle of the slaughter of Peter. But because there was a prejudice against trying or putting anyone to death during the currency of a religious festival,


Verse 5

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

Peter therefore was kept in prison - until the festival should close; little thinking that his own end was nearer than Peter's (as Hackett well remarks).

But prayer, was made without ceasing , [ een (Greek #1510) ektenees (Greek #1618) ginomenee (Greek #1096)] - 'instant,' 'earnest,' 'urgent prayer continued to be made'

Of the church - not in public assembly, because it was evidently not safe to meet thus, but in little groups in private houses, one of which was Mary's (Acts 12:12). And this was kept up during all the seven days of unleavened bread.

Unto God for him - [ peri (Greek #4012) is fully better attested, and more probable than huper (Greek #5228) of the Received Text.] No doubt it was for his deliverance that they prayed.


Verse 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.

And when Herod would have brought him forth , [ emellen (Greek #3195) ... proagein (Greek #4254)] - 'was going to bring him forth,'

The same night - but a few hours, therefore, before his intended execution. Thus long were the disciples kept waiting-their prayers apparently unavailing, and their faith, as would seem from the sequel, waxing feeble, Such, however, is the law of God's procedure (Deuteronomy 32:36; and see the notes at Luke 5:1-11, Remark 1; at John 11:1-57, Remark 4; and at John 21:3).

Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. Roman prisoners had a chain fastened at one end to the wrist of their right hand, and at the other to the wrist of a soldier's left hand, leaving the right arm of the keeper free, in case of any attempt to escape. For greater security, the prisoner was sometimes, as here, chained to two soldiers, one on each side. (See Acts 21:33.) Ye think your prey secure, bloodthirsty priests, and thou obsequious tyrant, who to "please the Jews," hast shut in this most eminent of the servants of Christ within double gates, guarded by double sentinels, while double keepers and double chains seem to defy all rescue! So thought the chief priests, who "made the sepulchre of the Lord sure, sealing the stone and setting a watch." But "He that sitteth in the heaven shall laugh at you." Meanwhile, Peter is "sleeping!" In a few hours he expects a stingless death; "neither counts he his life dear unto him, so that he may finish his course with joy, and the ministry which he has received of the Lord Jesus." In this frame of spirit he has dropped asleep, and lies the picture of peace.


Verse 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.

And, behold, the angel (rather, 'an angel') of the Lord came upon him - expressive of the suddenness and unexpectedness of the visit (compare Luke 2:9, and Acts 23:11).

And a light shined in the prison , [ en (Greek #1722) too (Greek #3588) oikeemati (Greek #3612)] - 'in the chamber;' not the prison-house at large, but the cell in which Peter lay.

And he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.


Verse 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.

And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself , [ zoosai (Greek #2198) is better than perizoosai (Greek #4024).-of the Received Text; and so Lachmann and Tischendorf],

And bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, ([ to (G3588) himation (G2440)] - his tunic, which he had thrown off for the night), and follow me. In such graphic minuteness of detail we have a charming mark of reality; while the rapidity and curtness of the orders, and the promptitude with which they were obeyed, betoken the despatch which, in the circumstances, was necessary.


Verse 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. And he went out, and followed [him] , [ autoo (Greek #846) is probably not genuine, though, of course, understood];

And wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision - so little did the apostle look for deliverance!


Verse 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.

When they were past the first and the second ward , [ Dielthontes (Greek #1330) de (Greek #1161) prooteen (Greek #4413) fulakeen (Greek #5438) etc.] - 'When they had passed through the first and second guard.' The English reader is apt to think that it is places of confinement that are here meant, whereas it is guards of soldiers through whom they had to pass.

They came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city. We can only conjecture the details here alluded to, not knowing the plan and position of the prison.

And they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him - that is, as soon as he had placed him beyond pursuit. Thus, "He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise" (Job 5:12).


Verse 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.

And when Peter was come to himself - when he had recovered from his bewilderment, and had time to look back upon all the steeps that had followed each other in such rapid succession.

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 - another evidence that Peter expected nothing on this occasion but to seal his testimony with his blood.


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 praying.

And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark - who was so called distinguish him from the apostle of that name, as Mary is so described here to distinguish her from the other Maries. That this Mark was the writer of the second Gospel, though generally supposed, we have given our grounds for questioning. (Introduction to that Gospel, p. 33.) This Mary 'must (as Webster and Wilkinson remark) have had a house of some pretensions to receive a large number; and, accordingly, we read that her brother Barnabas (Colossians 4:10) was a person of substance (Acts 4:37). She must also have been distinguished for faith and courage, to allow such a meeting in the face of persecution.' To such a house it was natural that Peter should come.

Where many were gathered together praying - doubtless for Peter's deliverance, and continuing, no doubt, on this the last of the days of unleavened bread, which was their last hope, all night in prayer to God.


Verse 13

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

And as Peter - rather, 'as he' (according to the better reading)

Knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken - not to open (for neither was this a time, nor an hour of the night, for that) but to listen who was there. The word [ hupakouoo (Greek #5219)] signifies to answer a knock at the door.

Named Rhoda. With a charming simplicity the name of this girl is recorded-familiar, probably, at the time among the disciples at Jerusalem as the person who played so important a part in this scene, and here preserved for all time to her honour.


Verse 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.

And when she knew Peter's voice. He had before (says Humphry) been so recognized (Matthew 26:73).

She opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate. How exquisitely natural is this part of the narrative!


Verse 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.

And they said unto her, Thou art mad - one of those exclamations which one can hardly resist on hearing what seems far 'too good to be true.'

But she constantly affirmed , [ diischurizeto (Greek #1340)] - 'persisted in affirming'

That it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel - his disembodied spirit, his ghost; anything, in fact, rather than himself. Strange, that though this had been the burden of their fervent prayers, during all the days of unleavened bread, they dispute themselves out of it as a thing incredible. Still, it is but like the unbelief of the disciples who "believed not for joy and wondered" at the tidings of their Lord's resurrection.


Verse 16

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

But Peter continued knocking (delay being dangerous): and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.


Verse 17

But he, 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.

But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace. A lively touch this. In the hubbub of joyful and wondering interrogatories there might mingle reflections, thrown out by one against another, for holding out so long against the testimony of Rhoda; while the emotion of the apostle's own spirit would be too deep and solemn to take part in such demonstrations, or to utter a word until, with his hand, he had signified his wish for perfect silence.

Declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go show these things unto James, and to the brethren. Whether this was James the Less, the son of Alphaeus, or "James the Lord's brother," or whether these were the same or two different perseus-the latter an extremely difficult question-see the note at Acts 15:13. However these questions be answered, the James here meant must have been singled out as being then at the head of the Church in Jerusalem, which we find him to be both in Acts 15:13 and in Acts 21:18.

And he departed, and went into another place - according to his Lord's express command (Matthew 10:23). When told, on a former miraculous liberation from prison, to go and speak unto the people (Acts 5:20), he did it; but in this case, to present himself in public would have been to tempt God by rushing upon certain destruction. To what place the apostle retired is quite uncertain. Romish critics conjecture (as might be supposed) that he went to Rome-an exceedingly improbable conjecture. Bengel's is much more likely, that it was some place that lay at no great distance. But, be this as it may, it is to be observed that here all history of the apostle Peter terminates in the Acts. He re-appears at Acts 15:1-41 as a principal speaker in the council at Jerusalem; but of his apostolic proceedings no further account is given. Another has come upon, the stage, whose proceedings it is our historian's chief object to relate.


Verse 18

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

Now as soon as it was day. His deliverance must have been during the fourth and last watch of the night-from to 6:00 a.m., or else he would have been missed by the keepers at the change of the watch (an Wieseler remarks).

There was small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.


Verse 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.

And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined [ anakrinas (Greek #350)] - sat in judgment upon "the keepers" - who, either like the keepers of our Lord's tomb, had "shaken, and become as dead men" (Matthew 28:4), or had slept on their watch and been divinely kept from awaking, "and commanded that they should be put to death." Impotent vengeance!

And he (Herod) went down from Judea to Cesarea - to preside (as we shall see from Josephus presently) at the games there celebrated in honour of his friend and patron Claudius, "and there abode."

Herod's Miserable End-Progress of the Gospel ()


Verse 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.

And Herod was highly displeased with , [ thumoomachoon (Greek #2371)] - 'bore a hostile grudge' at (as in the margin),

Them of Tyre and Sidon - for some reason unknown; but the effect of this on their commercial relations made the latter glad to sue for peace.

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 - as of old. Thus (Ezekiel 27:17) "Judah and the land of Israel, they were thy merchants [O Tyre!], they traded in thy market wheat," etc. Solomon and Zerubbabel got the Tyrians to send them cedars from Lebanon for the building of the first and second temples, for which they paid in grain (1 Kings 5:9; Ezra 3:7). Perhaps the famine (Acts 11:28) had some effect in bringing about the reconciliation.


Verse 21

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

And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne , [ beematos (Greek #968)] - 'his tribunal,' erected (if we suppose Josephus to be correct in this detail) in the theater,

And made an oration unto them - to the Tyrian and Sidonian deputies, but in presence of the people.


Verse 22

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

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


Verse 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.

And immediately the (or 'an') angel of the Lord smote him, because, [ anth' (G473) hoon (G3739)] he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost. The medical precision of the phrase here employed to describe Herod's disease [ genomenos (Greek #1096) skooleekobrootos (Greek #4662)] - in which it has the advantage of Josephus'-has been often remarked on, as coming naturally from "the beloved physician." It is remarkable that this Herod's grandfather, Herod the Great, died of the same horrible disease. Josephus' account of Herod's death (Ant. 19: 8. 2) strikingly confirms that of our historian. According to him, Herod was at Caesarea (as Luke represents him to be), presiding over the games in honour of Caesar. On the second day of the games, the theater being filled to the ceiling, Agrippa entered at daybreak, clothed in a robe all worked throughout with silver, on which the rays of the morning sun alighting, he appeared as if all irradiated with glory: voices here and there saluted him as a god; and on his making an oration to them, they shouted, We have taken thee for a man, but henceforth we recognize in thee a god! The king rebuked them not, nor showed any displeasure at this impiety; but after awhile, looking up, he saw an owl perched on a rope over his head, and immediately, taking this for an ill omen, he was filled with remorse, and seized with violent pain in his bowels, exclaiming to his friends, Your god is already come to his life's end, and he whom you saluted immortal is going away to die. To such a height did the pain rise, that he had to be carried hastily into the palace, where, after five days' torture, he expired in his fifty-fourth year. The slight difference between this account and Luke's tends only to confirm the accuracy of it.


Verse 24

But the word of God grew and multiplied.

But the word of God grew and multiplied - q.d., 'Not only was the royal persecutor ignominiously swept from the stage, while his intended victim was spared to the Church, but the cause which he and his Jewish instigators sought to crush was only furthered and glorified.'

Return of Barnabas and Saul, with John Mark, to Antioch


Verse 25

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

And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem. It is impossible to determine with certainty whether they came to Jerusalem before, during, or after Herod's proceedings against James and Peter. Critics are divided between the first and last suppositions. But the natural inference from the language of the historian is that they arrived before it, in which case it must have been just before it; and as their mission would be soon fulfilled, they probably kept themselves quiet, and left as soon as Herod departed for Caesarea.

When they had fulfilled their ministry , [ teen (Greek #3588) diakonian (Greek #1248)] or 'service;' referring to the contribution from Antioch for the distressed brethren at Jerusalem, which they went there to deliver (Acts 11:29-30).

And took with them John, whose surname was Mark. Being nephew to Barnabas (Colossians 1:10), the proposal to take him was probably in consequence both of his own application and of the opinion which his uncle had formed of him (see the notes at Acts 15:37-39).

Remarks:

(1) The artless simplicity with which the minute details of this remarkable chapter are related attests their historical accuracy. At the same time (to use the words of Humphry) 'it is highly dramatic, resembling the plot of an ancient tragedy; the principal incidents being-the death of one apostle, the deliverance of another, the recognition of Peter by Rhoda, his restoration to the anxious disciples, the chagrin of the baffled persecutor, his exaltation, speedily followed by the catastrophe of his death, with the triumphant close, "but the word of God grew and multiplied."' But the subsidiary incidents are no less stirring-the delay of the divine interposition in behalf of Peter, up to the last watch of the last night of the last of the days of unleavened bread; the keeping up of the prayers of the Church for him to the very last; the arrival of Peter at the door of the house where many, at the last hour of the night, were in the act of prayer for him, and yet the difficulty of convincing them that it was he; the angelic ministration by which this deliverance was performed in every step of it, and the celestial ease with which, at a touch, chains fell off, guards were passed, and iron gates flew open of themselves; the shifting of the scene to Caesarea, and of the reader's interest, from the persecuted Christians to the persecuting king; his successful negotiation with the deputies from Tyre and Sidon, his elation, his pompous appearance, his royal apparel, and his oration to them from his tribunal before the people; their acclamation to him as a god, the immediateness of the divine vengeance taken upon him for his impiety, the loathsomeness of the disease with which he was smitten, and the rapidity with which he came to his miserable end. While these diversified incidents have all the stirring interest of a deep-laid tragedy, they carry with them such an air of quiet naturalness and entire simplicity, that the unsophisticated reader is unable to doubt that he has before him a piece of authentic history.

(2) As this book records the extension of the Gospel by distinct steps from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria, and from thence to the uttermost part of the earth, so it exhibits the hostility to the Gospel-first, of the Jewish ecclesiastics (Acts 3:1-26; Acts 4:1-37; Acts 5:1-42); next, of them and the people combined (Acts 6:1-15; Acts 7:1-60; Acts 8:1-3); and finally, of both these and the king at their head. The chief priests and elders and scribes stirred up the people, and the king pandered to the malignant passions of both, for his own ends. But He who "stayeth His rough wind in the day of the east wind" (Isaiah 27:8) vouchsafed, in pity to His infant cause, a breathing time between each of these hostile assaults. After the first dismissal of the apostles from the Jewish council, and the fresh descent of the Spirit upon the assembled believers, in answer to prayer, their numbers greatly multiplied, their love and liberality flowed forth, the presence of the Lord in the midst of them was manifested with terrible vividness, an awe of them seemed to rest upon the whole community, and the astounding miracles of the apostles upon the sick of the surrounding towns could not fail to spread the name and fame of their cause far and wide, (Acts 4:1-37; Acts 5:1-42.) The subsequent miraculous liberation of the apostles from prison and their growing boldness in proclaiming the Gospel, the election of deacons (by which the different interests of the believers were adjusted and their love preserved), and finally, the power and success of a new witness for the truth in the person of Stephen, so strengthened the Church that, when the people joined with their rulers in putting Stephen to death, and Saul proceeded by terrible measures to extirpate them, root and branch, even this, so far from succeeding, only scattered the seed; nor did their numbers even in Jerusalem seem to diminish.

Believers were soon found in plenty, not only in Samaria and throughout Judea, but in Africa and along the Mediterranean coast, in Phenicia and Antioch; and at Antioch the first church of the Gentiles was planted, whence went forth the Gospel, by successive missionary deputations, to Gentiles far and wide. And the dread inquisitor, Saul of Tarsus, was himself converted; and by his preaching, even at the hazard of his life, gave glorious earnest of what he was yet to achieve for the Gospel of Christ. Cornelius also, and his party, being solemnly and formally admitted into the Church without circumcision, preparation was then made for Jesus becoming, on the widest scale, a light to lighten the Gentiles as well as the glory of His people Israel. Thus was the Church prepared to abide the third and, apparently, most formidable onslaught upon it-by priests, people, and king combined. And how unscathed did it come forth from this furnace! James, the brother of John, was indeed 'chased up to heaven' by it; but as for his murderer, "the angel of the Lord chased him, and destruction came upon him at unawares." "This is the portion of a wicked man with God, and the heritage of oppressors, which they shall receive of the Almighty" (Psalms 35:5; Psalms 35:8; Job 27:13).

(3) One cannot but be struck with the close resemblance which the martyrdom of James by one Herod bears to that of the Baptist by another. Both fell a sacrifice to their fidelity to the cause to which they had consecrated their lives; both were distinguished by special marks of their Master's regard; and yet no interposition was made by Him in behalf of either, and both were slaughtered ruthlessly-the one certainly, and the other probably, in private-and no details of the death of either have been left on record. It is indeed recorded by Eusebius (E.H. 2: 9), on the testimony of Clement of Alexandria, who gives it as a credible tradition, that the officer who led him forth to be tried, struck with his testimony, confessed himself a Christian, and was led away with Him to execution, asked his forgiveness, got from him the kiss of peace, and along with him sealed his testimony with his blood. It may be so, and certainly such things did happen more than once at a later period; but it cannot be implicitly relied on. At all events, such dark passages in the divine administration are not few in number. "Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known" (Psalms 77:19); but "as for God, His way is perfect: the word of the Lord is tried: He is a buckler to all those that trust in him" (Psalms 18:30). See the notes at Mark 6:14-29, Remark 4, p. 158.

(4) If the permitted slaughter of James, after that of Stephen, had any effect in shaking the faith of the disciples at Jerusalem, the marvelous interposition in behalf of Peter would at least convince them that his death was owing neither to want of power to deliver him, nor to want of interest on high in their struggling cause. And as they reflected on the position occupied by the two apostles, they would probably persuade themselves that the work of James on earth was perhaps done, that his place could be more easily supplied than that of Peter, and that this great instrument had been spared a little longer because "the Lord had need of him." And so they might sing-alike of the death permitted in the one case and in the other averted - "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints" (Psalms 116:15).

(5) The efficacy of prayer receives singularly vivid illustration from this deliverance of Peter. The prayers of a few parties of persecuted Christians meeting in private houses-of which this of Mary's, though probably the principal, was but one-entering into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth, sent down the angel, whose touch snapped the chains of Peter, eluded the vigilance of four quaternions of soldiers, enabled him to thread the guards, threw open the iron gate, and set the apostle in safety. But the delay of this answer to their prayers to the very last moment is quite as instructive as the glorious response given to it at the last. Of course, this was to try their faith and patience in prayer; and it did so try them, that though they kept on praying, and the night before the expected execution continued all night in prayer to God, their reception of the report that Peter was at the door showed how low their hopes of his deliverance had come. Indeed, we often pray for what we can hardly credit the bestowment of, when it comes in answer to our prayers. Yet this argues not so much downright unbelief as that kind of it incident to the best, in this land of shadows, which perceives not so clearly as it might how very near heaven and earth-the Lord and His praying people-are to each other. Truly, the lesson of that parable of Jesus, to the end "that men ought always to pray, and not to faint," is hard to learn; insomuch that "when the Son of man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth" (any belief that He is coming at all)? See the notes at Luke 18:1-8, and Remarks on that section.

(6) How beautiful is the picture of Peter-the night before his expected execution, and up to the moment when deliverance came to him from heaven-sleeping between two soldiers bound with two chains, while the keepers before the door kept the prison! The slaves of a scepticism that is blind to the glory of everything supernatural obtrude upon us their pitiful theories of a flash of lightning loosing Peter's chains, or of the jailor, false to his charge, setting him free; while a later school of them, tired of such trifling with common sense, do violence to all ancient historical testimony, and all true internal evidence, by endeavouring to disprove the genuineness and credibility of the record itself. And these are the writers who lay claim to the exclusive possession of 'critical feeling!' But the time is coming when such criticism will be consigned to oblivion; nor would it be noticed here but for the wave of rationalistic scepticism which, sweeping across from Germany to England, has, by a variety of circumstances, had the effect of unsettling the faith of some able and earnest men.

(7) How strikingly and variedly is the ministry of angels brought out in this chapter. 'It suffices not the angel (says Lechler, quoting from another author) to rescue the person of the apostle: he faithfully and carefully condescends to every want of the sleeping Peter. First, he awakens him, then he speaks to him as a mother who dresses her sleepy child; girdle, shoes, cloak-things which to an angel might be trifling-he hands to him (as it were) and helps him to put on. Nothing of his effects should be left behind, that his departure may not be like the flight of a criminal.' Turning from Peter to Herod, and from Jerusalem to Caesarea, we find angels engaged in another kind of ministration-smiting the vain-glorious tyrant with a loathsome disease at the moment of his greatest elevation, and hurrying him to his grave. "The angel of the Lord encampeth round about them that fear him, and delivereth them. O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him" (Psalms 34:7-8); whereas "He taketh the wise in their own craftiness; and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong" (Job 5:13).

 


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Bibliography Information
Jamieson, Robert, D.D.; Fausset, A. R.; Brown, David. "Commentary on Acts 12:4". "Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible - Unabridged". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/jfu/acts-12.html. 1871-8.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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