We now return briefly to Peter. And in this brief account of Peter we see Herod arresting James, John’s brother, and executing him, and then also arresting Peter and holding him for trial after Passover. We are then going to see an angel come and rescue Peter from the clutches of Herod and his minions.
t was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.—12:1-5
The “Herod” here is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great (who was ruling when Christ was born). His persecution was swift. James’ death with the sword suggests decapitation, a shameful form of death for a Jew. James was the first of the 12 disciples to suffer martyrdom, but not the last. Peter was seized near Passover because it pleased the Jews (likely the Jewish leadership). Peter was held by 16 men, probably due to the outcome of the previous attempt to jail him. The church was in continual prayer for him.
The New Testament believers responded to opposition and persecution with earnest prayer. The situation looked impossible: James had already died, and Herod had Peter in the custody of sixteen soldiers. Yet the early church lived with the absolute assurance that “the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16), and they prayed earnestly and continuously over Peter’s situation. Their prayer was soon answered.
The New Testament churches often engaged in prolonged times of corporate prayer. God wants his people to gather frequently for unified, purposeful prayer. Notice Jesus’ words, “My house will be called a house or prayer” (Matthew 21:13). Churches claiming to base their beliefs, practices and mission on the pattern established in the book of Acts and other New Testament writings must devote themselves to passionate prayer as a central focus of their worship. This means more than just a few minutes per service. In the early church, God’s powerful presence and prayer meetings went together. Apart from prayer, no amount of preaching, teaching, singing, music or activity will bring the genuine power and presence of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ followers in the New Testament church “joined together constantly in prayer” (Acts 1:14).
The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him. Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision. They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”—12:6-11
Peter was held in the innermost part of the jail, which required him to pass through two gates to get to the iron gate (the most fortified). The visitation by the angel is humorous. To wake Peter, he had to strike Peter’s side after the light filled the cell. But Peter thought he was seeing a vision until he was outside the gate and a block down the street! He gained his senses and stated that he had been rescued from Herod and from the Jews who had hoped to put him to death.
When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
“You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.
In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.—12:12-19a
Peter then went to the prayer meeting at Mary’s house. This Mary was the mother of John, also called Mark, who we learn from Paul’s writings was the cousin of Barnabas (Colossians 4:10). Her large home suggests wealth. Since the home is called Mary’s, she was probably a widow. The discussion (while Peter was still knocking at the door) was about whether or not Rhoda, the servant, had seen Peter’s angel. In the ancient world, some people believed that guardian angels resembled the one whom they guarded. The suggestion that Rhoda had seen Peter’s angel is likely due to such a belief. And that is where we will pick up tomorrow, as we see Herod’s fate and the beginning of Paul’s first missionary journey.
Tomorrow’s Bible Readings:
2 Chronicles 26-28, Romans 13, Psalm 23:1-6 and Proverbs 20:11
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