For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough

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

Herod means heroic, but there is nothing heroic recorded in Scripture relative to any of the Herods.  Herod the Great, who ruled at the time of the Lord’s birth was responsible for the slaughter of the male children under two years old, see Mt 2:16; another beheaded John the Baptist, see Mt 14:10, and obviously sought the Lord’s life also, see Lk 13:31.  It was he in fact who mocked the Lord at the time of His trial, as recorded in Lk 23:7-11.  The one mentioned here and who was known also as Agrippa I, was a grandson of Herod the Great.  All of them were notoriously cruel and dissolute.

This persecution of the Church reminds us that since Satan is the prince of this world, and the men who rule are simply his minions, it is not to be expected that the governments of this world would have any love for the Church as a corporate body, or for the individuals who comprise that body.

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

In Mk 10:39-40, the Lord, responding to their request that they be allowed to sit on either side of Him in His glory, had warned James and John, “Ye shall indeed drink of the cup that I drink of; and with the baptism that I am baptized withal shall ye be baptized: but to sit on my right hand and on my left hand is not mine to give, but it shall be given to them for whom it is prepared.”  In the case of James that prediction had its fulfillment here at the hand of Herod, reminding us that every believer is the object of Satan’s hatred, the Lord’s warning being, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (Jn 16:33). “ The servant is not greater than his Lord” Jn 13:16 and 15:20.

In the permitted death of James, but the preservation of John, we have an example of the sovereignty of God; but the exercise of that sovereignty is never capricious, and while we may seldom have any inkling as to the reason for God’s actions, here one at least suggests itself.  One of the Lord’s last acts was to commit his mother to John’s care, “... He saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son!  Then saith he to the disciple (John), Behold thy mother!” (Jn 19:26-27).  The preservation of John may well have been to ensure that Mary was not bereft of the one whom the Lord had made her benefactor.

12:3.  “And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also.  (Then were the days of unleavened bread).”

The Jews’ hatred of Christ didn’t end with His death.  It continued to be vented against those who were His, and continues unabated today.  But the Jew is the representative of all men, so that in him we see demonstrated the hatred of the unregenerate heart against everything pertaining to God, as Paul has declared, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other” (Ga 5:17). 

The Jews’ hatred of what is of God, however, is not just the general hatred of the flesh against the Spirit: it is more particularly the expression of the hatred of man’s religion against all that is of the Spirit.  Its activity can be traced back to the dawn of history, for Babylon was the birthplace of the Satanic travesty that has existed through the ages in so many disguises as to make recognition impossible by the natural man, and virtually so even by believers.  The religious system that began in Babylon quickly spread to every nation, the slight external differences serving to mask the fact that all bore the impress of their Babylonian mother.  Apostate Judaism was the Jewish form in Israel during the OT age, God’s indictment of her being that she murdered His messengers, and crowned that evil by her murder of His Son.  Roman Catholicism has been the “Christian” form of the evil system for almost two thousand years, the “Christian” facade being so flimsy as to barely hide the Babylonian character of the travesty, the spiritual blindness of an unbelieving world being declared in its condoning the merciless slaughter of countless believers at the hand of Rome during the thousand years of what have come to be known as the “Dark Ages,” the atrocities having been committed in the name of religion and service to God!

Only blind eyes will fail to see the significance of the fact that Herod’s murder of James was during a religious festival (the feast of unleavened bread), the Lord’s crucifixion having also been during an earlier feast of unleavened bread.  The connection between man’s religion and these murders is unmistakable.  But a further link is equally obvious: that existing between the religious and the political.  Satan is the unseen power behind both, hence the union of political Rome and apostate religious Israel in the death of Christ, and here again in Herod’s murder of James, which “pleased the Jews.”

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.”

Herod’s determination to prevent any chance of Peter’s escaping is disclosed in the number of soldiers assigned to guard the apostle.  A quaternion was a unit of four soldiers, and here sixteen were assigned to watch the prisoner, each four being relieved at the end of a six hour shift. 

Like every unconverted man - and sadly, also like many converted - Herod reckoned without God.  He didn’t know that four hundred quaternions would have been as powerless as four to keep Peter in prison against God’s will.  What anxious care we would save ourselves if we simply lived within the circle of His directive will!

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

Peter might be kept in prison, but nothing could hinder his fellow believers from praying for him, and it might help to spur us to avail ourselves more often of the power of prayer if we remembered that Peter’s persecution prompted prayer.  If every problem in our lives produced the same result the problems would be dramatically reduced both in number and size.

The character of their prayer is also instructive.  It wasn’t a halfhearted sporadic thing: it was “without ceasing.”  This doesn’t mean that they prayed non-stop night and day, but that at every possible opportunity they availed themselves of this privilege, a privilege little valued by many professing Christians today.  And while it is clear that they met in groups to pray, see v.12, there can be no doubt that they also continued to pray even when they were alone in their own homes.

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.”

Herod, oblivious of God, planned the death of God’s servant, unaware that God had other plans for Peter - and for him.  Herod, not Peter was the one soon to die.  He is a fool who plans without consulting God, James warning “Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow.  For what is your life?  It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.  For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that” (Jas 4:14-15).

It might have been expected that apprehension would have kept Peter awake that night, but having committed His life to God, he could sleep, knowing that his times were in God’s hand, and that nothing could happen to him apart from God’s permission or direction.  We have the same assurance, “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God” (Ro 8:28).  It is not to be forgotten, however, that obedience is the proof of love, as the Lord declared to the disciples, “If ye love me, keep my commandments.... He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me.... If a man love me, he will keep my words.... He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings” (Jn 14:15-24).

Herod might set guards, and bind Peter with chains, but nothing could hold God’s servant in that prison when God wished to set him free.  At night while men slept, God was watching over His own, the assurance to us being that while spiritual darkness envelops this world, and men “sleep”, ignorant of impending judgment, He also watches over us.

Peter might be bound with chains, but he was freer than the soldiers to whom he was shackled, or than Herod, for all who haven’t been born again are in bondage to sin, Satan, and death, as it is written, “If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed” (Jn 8:32-36).  The two chains that bound Peter, and that were soon to fall from his hands, were simply the witness to man’s weakness and God’s power.  Herod might set “keepers before the door,” but Peter, having entered into life by another “Door” (Jn.10:9) couldn’t be confined by any door on earth.  He could go “in and out” as the Lord willed.

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.”

The activity of the angel continues to declare that the Jewish age hadn’t yet ended, for angels were the agents whom God frequently employed in His dealings with His earthly people Israel, but not with the Church.

The shining of the light reminds us that God is light, that light illuminating not only heaven His dwelling place, but even an earthly prison where His angelic messenger had come on His business.  Darkness can’t abide even in the representative presence of God, nor can chains confine the man who walks in that light.

We may perhaps be meant to see in the raising up of the sleeping Peter a double symbolic picture, first of our conversion which saw us raised up out of the sleep of spiritual death, and secondly, of what will be on that soon coming day when those believers whose bodies “sleep” in the graves of earth, will hear the shout of the Lord Himself, the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Th 4:16).

Relative to our conversion, the command to “Arise up quickly” reminds us that God’s business requires haste.  There is no time for sloth.  “His chains fell off from his hands.”  The hand speaks of service.  We are not set free to sleep, but to serve, to work.  There is all eternity for rest.  When God caused the “chains” to fall off our hands, it was to enable us to  enjoy the privilege of serving Him, the eternal recompense of that service being assured by the Lord Himself, “For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward ever man according to his works” (Mt 16:27); “Every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor” (1 Cor 3:8); see also Lk 19:13-26, etc.

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 command to gird himself, reminds us that a similar command has been given us, “Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth” (Eph 6:14), and truth is defined in Jn 17:17 as being God’s Word, “Thy word is truth.”  Likewise the command to “bind on thy sandals” is also invested with spiritual significance relative to the need to walk in separation from an evil world, for the sandal or shoe separating the foot from the ground, is clearly a symbol of that separation.  For example, the return of the prodigal son in Luke 15 is generally recognized as being a picture of the conversion of a sinner, and one of the first things done to him was to have shoes put on his feet.  Similarly Moses and Joshua were commanded to remove their shoes when God appeared to them, the removal of the shoes signifying that the ground was sanctified by God’s presence, so there was no need of the separation of their feet from the ground.

“And so did he.”  There was prompt obedience on Peter’s part, and so should there should be on ours to every divine command.

“Cast thy garment about thee,”  The garment speaks of righteousness, either the righteousness of Christ which covers the believer, or the filthy rags of self-righteousness worn by the unbeliever.  Men are to see His righteousness in our lives. 

“...and follow me.”  We must follow Him, as Paul has exhorted, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ.” 

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.”

Sometimes we too can scarcely believe that we have been set free, and by a greater miracle than that which liberated Peter.  It cost the Lord his life to deliver us. 

“... but thought he saw a vision,”  It was still the age of visions and other miraculous means of communication.

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.”

It may have seemed that the gate opened of its own accord, but it was God’s power that caused it to swing open and release His servant.  To open an iron gate forged by the hand of puny man is a very minor task to the One Who has broken the gates of hell and of death, and Who, by a word, has created the universe.  The departure of the angel at this point reminds us that God won’t do for us what we can do for ourselves.

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.”

Its being said that Peter “was come to himself” indicates that up to this point he must have thought that it was merely a dream; but it was no dream: the Lord had delivered His servant from death at the hand of Herod and of the Jews, the mention of Herod and the Jews in the same context reminding us that the civil and the religious powers have always been united in their hatred of God.  The one as much as the other is His enemy, as they are also of those who are His.

The deliverance was complete: from prison, from Herod, and from the Jews.  God does nothing by halves.  Our deliverance from a worse bondage is equally complete.  We have been delivered from the power of sin, Satan, and death.

12:12.  “And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, where many were gathered together praying.”

Mary means their rebellion, but what transformation conversion had wrought!  The rebel had become a praying saint and a willing servant. 

“... where many were gathered together praying.”  As noted in verse 5 the prayer for Peter’s deliverance was not a sporadic activity of the saints; they “prayed without ceasing.”  And it wasn’t just a few who prayed: the whole church petitioned God on behalf of their brother, and that night “many were gathered together praying,” while those unable to be there were also undoubtedly praying as there was opportunity.  This is a sad indictment of the Church today.  How few bother to pray at all!  How few attend the weekly prayer meeting!  Small wonder that we see so little of the power of God in evidence today.

It is also instructive to consider that they might well have given up before this.  We don’t know how long they had been praying, but tomorrow was the day when Peter was to appear before Herod, and it might have seemed that further prayer was a waste of time.  Why did the Lord delay Peter’s release?  It may well have been to test the sincerity of their desire for his release, or to test their faith that their prayer would be answered.  It may be that the same reasons explain His delay in answering some of our prayers.

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

We aren’t told what response was evoked by the knock at the gate, but considering the persecution of the church at that time, it may perhaps have been apprehension.  If so, how soon their fears were to give place to rejoicing!  Most of our fears are unnecessary, and are induced by lack of faith.

Rhoda means a rose, but I regret being unable to discern its spiritual significance.

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.”

If there is any spiritual message related to her failure to open the gate I regret being unable to see what it might be.

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.”

Their incredulity is a reflection of ours.  We too lack the faith to believe that God will answer our prayers.

12:16.  “But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.”

This is another of those instances to which the words of Paul apply, “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end” (Eph 3:20).  Whatever expectation they may have had concerning Peter, it obviously didn’t include such a miraculous deliverance.  It may well be that God’s responses to our prayers reflect the smallness of our expectation!

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 shew these things unto James and to the brethren.  And he departed, and went into another place.”

His instructions to carry to James and the brethren the news of his miraculous delivery was undoubtedly to assure the brethren that in spite of His permitted persecution of the Church God was still in control.  Neither Satan nor Herod could do more than God allowed.  That same consolation is ours also.

“And he departed, and went into another place.”  The assurance of God’s care doesn’t deliver us from the need of prudence.  We are not to tempt God.  He will not do for us what He has enabled us to do for ourselves.  Peter, having been liberated, was not to expose himself to the risk of being rearrested.

This virtually concludes the record of Peter’s ministry, except for the brief reference in Ga 2:11, his two epistles not being the record of his own life.

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

The coming of day revealed the deliverance.  So will it be in that soon coming day when the Lord will come to rapture His Church home to heaven.  It will then be revealed that no believer can be lost: that those who seemed to have lost their lives had in reality found them.  The resurrection of the bodies of all the believers who will have died between Pentecost and the Rapture, together with the translation of the living saints, will reveal that God has delivered all His own.  The Rapture will, in fact, produce the same consternation among those left on earth, as the disappearance of Peter produced among the soldiers.   

Apart from the brief mention of him in chapter 15, this is the last scriptural reference to Peter the apostle to the Jews, his passing from the scene being another indication that the Jewish age was ending.  Hereafter Paul the apostle to the Gentiles is the one on whom the divine spotlight shines.

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.”

As Peter was beyond Herod’s reach so will the raptured saints be beyond the reach of Satan, and even as we await that moment of rapture we have the assurance that he can do no more than God permits.  Herod’s cruel sentence against the helpless soldiers portrays the attitude of Satan towards all who serve him: when they cease to be useful, he abandons them to face death at the hand of the God Who would have pardoned them had they repented in time.  Judas is a prime example of such a man.

His going down from Judaea, meaning land of praise, to Caesarea, meaning severed, foreshadows the fate of Satan.  He too will ultimately cease to rule the world, and will be cast into the eternal torment of the lake of fire, as will all who serve him.  God will avenge His own. 

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.”   

Herod is not only a type of Satan, but also of the beast who will rule during the Tribulation, and here we may see in him a type of the latter extending his rule over the nations during those seven years.  As Tyre and Sidon were subdued without actual war, so will the nations be brought under the dominion of the beast during the first half of the Tribulation era, the peace between Herod and Tyre and Sidon foreshadowing the false peace which will mark the first half of the Tribulation.  He will extend his sway by subtlety rather than force of arms, the idea of subtlety being indicated in the activity of Blastus in securing a peaceful settlement of the dispute.  Blastus, incidentally means a sprout, but I can see no significance in that meaning.

Tyre means to distress; and Sidon, hunting, meanings which point to the fact that the Tribulation will be a time of distress worse than any the world has ever known, as it will be also a time when those refusing to worship the beast will be mercilessly hunted.

12:21.  “And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.”

12:22.  “And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.”

So will it be with the beast at the zenith of his power.  A deluded world will acknowledge him as God, and offer him worship.

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.”

The outward splendor stands in sharp contrast with the inward corruption.  Underneath the royal apparel was a body full of worms, which, even as he spoke, began apparently to feed on a vital organ, causing him to die.  From an earthly throne, with the adulation of a deluded multitude ringing in his ears, Herod descended into hell, where for all eternity the only sound he will hear will be the hopeless shrieks of the damned, his own replacing the proud words with which he had sought to impress men and defy God.  So will it be with the beast, and with all who die without having trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

Very different from Herod was Moses, of whom we read, “By faith Moses, when he was come to years, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompense of the reward” Heb 11:24-26.  He is a wise man who seeks eternal glory rather than temporal.

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

So will it be in the Millennium.  God’s word will abide for ever.

12:25.  “And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.”

“... their ministry” was the delivery of the relief money sent from Antioch to the needy saints in Jerusalem.  John Mark was Barnabas’ nephew (Col 4:10), the one over whom he and Paul quarreled and eventually parted company.

[Acts 13]



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough