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Acts 12:1-25 (web)

Death and Freedom in the Ministry

James Martyred, Peter Freed by Prayer

12:1 Now about that time, Herod the king stretched out his hands to oppress some of the assembly. 
12:2 He killed James, the brother of John, with the sword. 
12:3 When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. 
This was during the days of unleavened bread. 
12:4 When he had arrested him, he put him in prison,
and delivered him to four squads of four soldiers each to guard him,
intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 

12:5 Peter therefore was kept in the prison, 
but constant prayer was made by the assembly to God for him
12:6 The same night when Herod was about to bring him out, 
Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains. 
Guards in front of the door kept the prison. 

12:7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the cell. 
He struck Peter on the side, and woke him up, saying, "Stand up quickly!" 
His chains fell off from his hands. 
12:8 The angel said to him, "Get dressed and put on your sandals." He did so. 
He said to him, "Put on your cloak, and follow me." 
12:9 And he went out and followed him. 
He didn't know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he saw a vision. 
12:10 When they were past the first and the second guard, 
they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened to them by itself. 
They went out, and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 

12:11 When Peter had come to himself, he said, 
"Now I truly know that the Lord has sent out his angel and delivered me out of the hand of Herod, 
and from everything the Jewish people were expecting." 
12:12 Thinking about that, he came to the house of Mary,
the mother of John whose surname was Mark, 
where many were gathered together and were praying. 
12:13 When Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 
12:14 When she recognized Peter's voice, 
she didn't open the gate for joy, but ran in, and reported that Peter was standing in front of the gate. 
12:15 They said to her, "You are crazy!" But she insisted that it was so. 
They said, "It is his angel." 
12:16 But Peter continued knocking. 
When they had opened, they saw him, and were amazed. 
12:17 But he, beckoning to them with his hand to be silent,
declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison.
He said, "Tell these things to James, and to the brothers." 
Then he departed, and went to another place. 

12:18 Now as soon as it was day,
there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. 
12:19 When Herod had sought for him, and didn't find him, he examined the guards, 
and commanded that they should be put to death.
He went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there. 
12:20 Now Herod was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. 
They came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus, 
the king's chamberlain, their friend, they asked for peace,
because their country depended on the king's country for food. 
12:21 On an appointed day, Herod dressed himself in royal clothing, 
sat on the throne,b nand gave a speech to them. 
12:22 The people shouted, "The voice of a god, and not of a man!" 
12:23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he didn't give God the glory, 
and he was eaten by worms and died. 

12:24 But the word of God grew and multiplied. 
12:25 Barnabas and Saul returned to{TR reads "from" instead of "to"} Jerusalem,
when they had fulfilled their service, also taking with them John whose surname was Mark. 


It is apparent from the deaths of Stephen and James that the political situation had changed since Jesus was put to death. For previously the Jews were not allowed to kill anyone, but rather they had to go through the Romans in such cases. But now the Jewish leadership was given more autonomy in these matters. 


Don't confuse the Herods. There are alot of them. The Herod here is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great who was king when Jesus was born. Herod Antipas was the Herod we find in the gospel, being the son of Herod the Great. But this Herod Agrippa I was his nephew. He had been given rule over much of the provinces which previously were ruled separately. And to further confuse matters, his son is Herod Agrippa II, we find later in Acts in chapter 25. 


Don't confuse the James' either. This is the apostle James, brother of John. Together Jesus called them the sons of thunder probably because they wanted to call down fire from heaven to destroy unbelieving towns. (Luke 9:54) But there is another James. The Jerusalem church was headed by Peter, James and John. That James is the Lord's brother who wrote the book of James in the New Testament. We don't hear much about the brief ministry of the Apostle James who was put to death. But he must have been quite active to be consider such a threat, even being imprisoned before Peter.


I can imagine Peter identifying with Christ in his crucifixion here. For it was during the festival of unleavened bread that Jesus was take captive also. The KJV inappropriately speaks of "Easter", but the word is "Passover", which occurs on the last day of the festival. From a political perspective this was perhaps the best time to capture him as the Jews were most religiously zealous around their religious celebrations. Perhaps also Herod had planned to reinact what Pilate had done with Jesus in letting the crowd decide his fate and thus washing his political hands of the matter. 

Two Fates

God took James home, but Peter he left to continue his ministry. No one can say why. We don't know when God will take us and how long we have to complete our ministry. Let's make sure we get our work done before we're called home.


However, we cannot discount the effect of prayer on the outcome. Supplication is in vain if there is no expectation of an effect on the outcome. On the other hand it is somewhat amusing to consider the unbelief of those praying when the answer comes knocking at the door. This is somewhat encouraging though, showing that God may answer prayer even when our prayers are offered with a degree of doubt. Though such an outcome is not guaranteed, as James later writes concerning supplication, "when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord" James 1:6,7 (niv)

vs 15 "it is his angel" There were some at the time who believed the each had a guardian angel, although the scripture doesn't support the idea. But it is interesting that some considered it more likely that Peter's angel show up rather than Peter himself! (What! Did they think the angel needed directions to the prison or something?)

vs 17 Indicates that James, the brother of the Lord, and a number of the brethren were not at the prayer meeting. This was probably due either due to space constraints, organizational matters, or perhaps it was safer not to have everyone in the same place in case of arrest. Extra-Biblical sources indicate that James was in fact a great man of prayer whose knees were as tough as that of camels because of his constant kneeling.

vs 18,19 Although acting under a higher authority, Peter's escaped may be viewed to a degree as an act of civil disobedience. David's fleeing from King Saul can also be viewed in a similar light. As even Jesus also at times eluded his captors. It is unfortunate that later in post-Biblical times when some Christians fled the persecution by the Romans they were later reprimanded by institutional church authorities who held unBiblical views on such matters. But following Jesus means that there is a time to elude persecution, as Paul in his escape from Damascus, but also there is  a time to face it.

Peter's escape led to the death of his jailors. Unfortunately the church probably had neglected to pray for them. It was common for jailors to be put to death if their prisoners escaped. In Acts 16:26,27, upon just assuming that Paul and Silas escaped under his watch, their jailor was even going to commit suicide with a sword. But Paul quickly stopped him, being perhaps more concerned for his jailor than Peter had been. But the suicide attempt indicates that the death he would have faced otherwise must have been torturous. It is said that if a Roman guard falls asleep on watch, they are burned in their own clothes. (That'll keep them awake!)

Herod Eaten by Worms

vs 20-23 Here's a story for everyone who replaces the Bible with their own words, and for everyone who accepts praise while not deferring to God. As we saw in verse 3 this Herod was motivated  by popularity, pleasing the crowds. He loved the praise of men. Jesus said, "How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?" John 5:44  (niv) It is best if Christians not care what others think of them. Don't seek for popularity. For such concerns hinder saving faith from developing and end up creating snares which can lead to death. Herod being a Jew and holding a position of authority also contributed to a greater judgement against him. For the more we have, the more we will be held responsible for. 

The problem ministries can face is that a sincere and healthy desire to influence and edify can become a corrupt desire for popularity, which is the downfall of many institutions of Christianity, replacing the Bible with institutional dogma.

vs 24 In contrast to Herod's words leading to his death, the Word of God increased and prospered. It's always proven best to invest in the Word of God. For the outcome in inevitably good.

vs 25  Colossians 4:10 indicates that Mark was the cousin of Barnabas. This was the Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark. He had close ties to the Apostle Peter. He would be involved with the ministry of Paul and Barnabas to the end - as in his last letter in 2Timothy Paul calls for Mark to help him out once again. Thus two gospel writers - Luke and Mark - both were closely involved with Paul's ministry and affirmed his work. This would dissuade liberal theologians and dispensationalists who attempt to introduce the idea of their being contradiction between the gospels and Paul's letters.

The Berean Christian Bible Study Resources Jul 19,2023