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Acts Twelve

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

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

Herod the king. King Herod, as described in this chapter, was Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great, the cruel king who slaughtered the babies at Bethlehem (Matthew 2:1, 16), and the father of Herod Agrippa II, who in turn was the King Agrippa who later tried Paul (Acts 25:13-26:32). Another Herod, Herod Antipas, was one of the sons of Herod the Great, and he was tetrarch of Galilee during the ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus. Another son of Herod the Great, Aristobulus, was the father of Herod Agrippa I, the Herod who had James executed.

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

James. It is interesting that James, son of Zebedee, was the first of the apostles to be martyred, whereas John, his brother, survived all the rest, writing the last book of the Bible while imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos.

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.)

pleased the Jews. For a time the Christians had been in favor with the Jews (Acts 9:31). This seems to have changed after Gentiles were admitted into their company. Herod wanted to curry favor with the Jews, so he intended to execute their leader after the festival week was finished.

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.

quaternions. That is, groups of four soldiers each. Usually a prisoner was guarded by only one quaternion.

Easter. This is actually the “Passover,” following the “days of unleavened bread.” Because Christ's resurrection occurred immediately after Passover, Easter has traditionally been near the time of Passover. The term “Easter” itself, however, is probably derived from Eastre, the Teutonic goddess of spring.

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 was sleeping. In spite of his miserable circumstances and the probability of being executed the next morning, Peter was sleeping so soundly that the angel had to strike him and lift him up. Even then, Peter still thought he was dreaming until the angel left him outside in the street (Acts 12:10). Peter surely experienced the reality of Psalm 121:3, assuring him that “He that keepeth thee will not slumber,” and of Psalm 127:2, which says, “He giveth His beloved sleep.”

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.

angel of the Lord. Peter had experienced a similar angelic release from prison at least once before (Acts 5:19), so he knew that God was still in control.

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 12:9 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.

wist. That is, “know.”

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 12:11 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.

many were gathered together. This was most likely the same upper room where they had been praying before the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:13), and where they had observed the Last Supper with the Lord (Luke 22:12). Mark had probably been in the house with them both times.

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.

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.

Thou art mad. In spite of the fact that they had been praying without ceasing for Peter's release (Acts 12:5), they at first could not believe that God had answered their prayers!

It is his angel. There are, indeed, “guardian angels” assigned to believers (e.g., Psalm 34:7; Matthew 18:10; Hebrews 1:14), and it was evidently believed that each such angel could, if appropriate, assume the appearance of his particular charge. There is no Scriptural basis anywhere for the pagan belief that those who die still linger as ghosts. Besides, the Christians knew that Peter was not scheduled for execution until after the Passover (Acts 12:4), so there is no reason to think that, by “his angel,” they meant “his spirit.”

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.

James. This James was obviously not the James who had just been slain by Herod, but rather James the half-brother of Jesus, who was becoming increasingly responsible for the leadership of the Jerusalem church (Acts 15:13).

another place. At this point, Peter disappears from the narrative for several years, although he was active again in the Jerusalem church at the time of the council dealing with Jewish legalism (Acts 15:7).

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.

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 12:23 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.

angel of the Lord. This could well have been the same “angel of the Lord” who delivered Peter from Herod's prison (Acts 12:7).

gave not God the glory. According to Josephus, Herod arrayed himself in shining silver apparel, making himself look like some heavenly being. When he accepted the ascription of divinity to himself by the self-serving Phoenicians, God slew him. Josephus describes his last days while he was dying as exceedingly painful.

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

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.

returned from Jerusalem. Barnabas and Saul had been sent to Jerusalem by the church at Antioch, bringing material aid to the Christians there during the hard times occasioned by the recent famine (Acts 11:27-30). Whether they were with the believers praying for Peter in Mark's home is not stated, but it is there they must have counseled with Mark and decided to take him back to Antioch with them.

John. John Mark was a nephew of Barnabas (although some say he was a cousin—Colossians 4:10) and evidently a close friend of Peter (the early church fathers said much of what Mark wrote in his gospel was obtained from Peter). He probably was a Levite, like his uncle (Acts 4:36) and thus well instructed in the Scriptures, as well as from a prosperous family.