ACTS - CHAPTER 12
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
2001 James Melough
“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.
“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.
“And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter
also. (Then were the days of unleavened
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.”
“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!
“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.
“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.
“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
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.
“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
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.”
“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.
“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
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.
“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
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.
“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.
“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
Rhoda means a rose,
but I regret being unable to discern its spiritual significance.
“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
“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.
“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!
“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
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.
“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.
“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.
“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
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
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.
“And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne,
and made an oration unto them.”
“And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a
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.
“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.
“But the word of God grew and multiplied.”
So will it be in the
Millennium. God’s word will abide for ever.
“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.