Acts Chapter 12: Death of James, Peter Imprisoned, Death of King Herod Agrippa

Jan 28th, 2010 | By | Category: Acts, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Acts Chapter 12: Death of James, Peter Imprisoned, Death of King Herod Agrippa

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

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

This “Herod,” who was Herod Agrippa I, killed James Zebedee, the brother of the Apostle John. To kill “with the sword” means that James Zebedee was beheaded like John the Baptist and the Apostle Paul.

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 12:4 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.

About AD 39, Herod also seized Peter. Both James Zebedee and Peter were apprehended at the season of Passover, the same time of year that Jesus was crucified. Thus there are examples in Scripture that Passover is a critical time. The death of Peter was supposed to take place after the seven-day Feast of Passover, for if it had occurred during the feast, the services would have been disrupted and the Jews would have protested that their feast was sullied. Herod was trying to cater to the wishes of the Jews, and since the death of James pleased the people, Herod thought Peter’s execution would also please them. In summary, then, during the Passover season, Peter was found, apprehended, and imprisoned. His imprisonment was under “four quarternions,” that is, four shifts of four soldiers each. According to the Greek, the word “Easter” in verse 4 should be “Passover.”

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

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.

Peter’s loss as a leader would have been sorely felt, for James Zebedee, Peter, and John were the most popular of the apostles and James Zebedee had already been slain. Therefore, much prayer was said on Peter’s behalf for several days. The brethren might have prayed earlier for James too, but now the concern was being impressed upon the disciples and they prayed “without ceasing.” It was now the night prior to the intended execution, so the answer to the prayers came at the “midnight” hour, the last moment, as it were, before Herod intended to orchestrate Peter’s death. For the petitioner to get the lasting benefit, prayers are frequently delayed as, for example, with the importunate widow (Luke 18:1-5). On the other hand, sometimes an immediate answer to prayer is propitious.

Now we get a better picture of how four soldiers guarded Peter. Each of Peter’s arms was chained to a soldier inside the prison cell. Two other soldiers (“keepers”) were outside the prison cell, guarding the door. At the time, Peter was in a deep sleep. Incidentally, shackles were usually put on tightly, to the point where they hurt.

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.

With the appearance of the “angel of the Lord” in the prison cell, a light shone. Of course the soldiers would not have seen the light. The angel “smote” (or kicked) Peter on the side to awaken him, raised him up, and told him to arise quickly. The chains miraculously fell off Peter’s arms, freeing him.

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.

The angel told Peter to gird himself, put on his sandals and his garment, and follow him. What Peter could not do for himself (remove the shackles), the angel did. What Peter was capable of doing, he was expected to do himself. The angel showed tender concern that Peter would be warm enough when he went outside in the cool of the night.

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.

Peter followed the angel, thinking that what was happening was a vision, not a reality.

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.

Peter and the angel passed through two prison wards, probably going through two locked doors. The prison was outside the city near the Jaffa Gate, so the next problem was to get into the city. When they reached the large iron gate, it opened miraculously so that they could enter the city. (The gate probably closed miraculously too.) As they passed through one street, the angel left Peter. All this time the brethren were praying for Peter.

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.

During the rather long walk, Peter realized that God was delivering him. He went to John Mark’s house, where brethren were gathered together, praying. (John Mark, who was Peter’s amanuensis for the Gospel of Mark, subsequently deserted Paul on a missionary journey but was eventually reinstated.)

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

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.

Rhoda answered Peter’s knock and recognized his voice. In her surprise and joy, she did not open the door but, instead, ran to tell the others.

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 12:17 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 show these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.

When Peter continued to knock, the brethren opened the door and were astonished to see him. Peter beckoned to them not to make a lot of noise, for he was an escaped prisoner and it was the middle of the night. Too much commotion by the “many [who] were gathered together” would attract attention (Acts 12:12). After meeting with them, he departed for another place for safety reasons. The brethren returned to their respective homes, the reason for prayer no longer being valid. This “James” was probably the Lord’s brother (and apostle), that is, James Alphaeus, as opposed to James Zebedee.

Peter’s caution for quiet was necessary because brethren are sometimes completely oblivious to the propriety of a situation. For example, when the Pastor was scheduled to preach a sermon in the Hippodrome to a large Jewish audience, he gave strict orders in advance to the brethren for absolutely no tracting. In fact, that was a stipulation if Jews were to attend the meeting. They would be glad to come and hear what he had to say, but they did not want any proselytizing. And what happened? In their enthusiasm, some of the brethren gave out tracts anyway and caused a disturbance. Not only had the Pastor’s instructions not sunk in, but he had to apologize to the Jews to whom he had given assurance. That was a very humiliating experience for the Pastor. After all, if God had arranged the opportunity for the brethren as a group, that would have been a different situation, but on this occasion, the Jews had come to hear the Pastor.

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

Acts 12:19 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.

There arose a commotion among the soldiers: Where was Peter? Imagine waking up and finding the prison empty! Herod ordered an extensive prison search, examined the four soldiers on that shift, and then ordered their death and probably also the death of their superiors. In addition, a search was conducted in the city and suburbs and even in houses, but Peter was not found because he had left Jerusalem. Taking a circuitous route to avoid apprehension, he went south in Judah first and then to Caesarea farther north on the seacoast and dwelled there for a while.

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.

Verse 20 starts a new subject and tells about a problem that existed. Tyre and Sidon, which were in Lebanon, were receiving a subsidy from the government in Israel. Many years before, King Solomon had made arrangements with these two places whereby favors were done for one another. Evidently, these arrangements continued after the death of Solomon and Hiram. At the present time, Herod was highly displeased with the inhabitants of these cities, and they desired peace.

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 12:23 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.

Herod Agrippa I, who was a powerful and eloquent speaker, sat on his throne to address the problem with Tyre and Sidon. After his oration, the people of those cities shouted, “It is the voice of a god!” Herod had intentionally worn royal apparel to encourage this type of adulation. Immediately he was smitten because he did not give God the glory. The “worms” were an intestinal disease that rapidly killed him. In this case, God reacted quickly in righteous indignation, whereas He usually delays action. These events were very dramatic, and they will be seen in this light some day.

Notice that Herod was called “a god,” yet there is no article in the Greek. Therefore, John 1:1 should also be “a god” (theos) in contrast to “the God” (ho theos).

The incident with Herod reminds us of King Nebuchadnezzar’s punishment. He was struck with madness for seven years when he proudly admired the palace, the Hanging Gardens, the city of Babylon, etc., and attributed the accomplishments to himself rather than to God. Thus there are occasions, even in the present age, when the Lord takes actions against the unconsecrated.

In the case of Antichrist, God has delayed retribution because to act too soon would defeat His purpose. The Antichrist system has been permitted by God as a test on the true Church during the Gospel Age. In other words, the Lord is judicious in His anger. On some occasions, He might strike an unconsecrated person dead right away, but where a long-term purpose is involved, He might allow the blasphemy. The Antichrist system has been a means of refining the consecrated and proving their mettle both for their own good and for the good of the observers.

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

The Word of God prospered after Herod’s death. In the interval before a successor was established, there was a period of confusion, contesting, and political pull, which diverted the attention of the authorities. During that hiatus, witnessing opportunities opened up and persecution ceased. Also, now that Herod was dead, the incident with Peter was forgotten, and he was no longer sought by the soldiers.

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.

Barnabas and Saul had come to Jerusalem to bring donations to the brethren for the famine that would be occurring shortly in Judea (Acts 11:29,30). They stayed in Jerusalem for a while and superintended how the money would be distributed, making sure that it was dispensed properly and justly. Now that the charge regarding the donations had been fulfilled (see King James margin), Barnabas and Saul, plus John Mark, left Jerusalem together and headed for Antioch. Antioch became a center from which Paul started his missionary tours.

(1991–1992 Study)

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