New International Version
Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison
12 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 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. 4 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.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
6 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. 7 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.
8 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. 9 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. 10 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.
11 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 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. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 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.
18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 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.
Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.
21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
24 But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.
Barnabas and Saul Sent Off
25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.
Herod was the name that people called all the Jewish rulers. It was the name of the rulers’ family. This Herod was Herod Agrippa the First (the first Herod that had the name Agrippa). He was Herod the Great’s grandson. Herod the Great was ruling when Jesus was born (Matthew 2:1). Herod Agrippa the First was a friend of the Roman rulers, Caligula and Claudius. When Claudius became the Emperor in AD 41, he gave Judea to Herod Agrippa. Before, a Roman had ruled over it.
Herod Agrippa the First wanted to stay popular with the Jews. Many Jewish leaders now opposed the church. So, Herod opposed the church too. He used his authority to persecute believers. He arrested the leaders of the church. He wanted to destroy the church.
James was an important disciple. He was John’s brother. In the Gospels, the writers mention James and John many times
Soldiers killed James ‘with a sword’. This means that they cut off his head. This was the punishment for political crimes.
‘The Jews were pleased.’ ‘The Jews’ here probably meant the Jewish rulers, who were the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Herod wanted to be even more popular. He wanted to show that he was loyal to the Jewish religion. So, he arrested Peter.
Herod wanted to arrange a public trial for Peter. But Herod could not do this immediately. He had to wait until the Passover had finished. The Passover lasted 7 days. So, he had to keep Peter in prison in the meanwhile.
However, the apostles had many friends. Also, many people were secret believers. So, Herod made sure that Peter could not escape. Guards were with Peter all day and all night. They guarded him in turn, so that there were always four soldiers there. It seemed impossible for Peter to get away.
But nothing is impossible for God. While Peter was in prison, the believers prayed for him. They did not pray only once. They continued to pray. Then a miracle happened!
Peter escapes! 12:6-10
Peter was sleeping. He felt calm, because he always trusted God. He was calm.
Suddenly, an angel appeared in Peter’s room. The Greek word for ‘angel’ (aggelos) can just mean a person who brings a message. So, some students say that this angel was human. They say that it was not an angel from heaven. But Luke mentioned angels from heaven many times in his Gospel. He also mentioned them at the beginning of Acts. In total, he mentioned them about 15 times. And here, Luke writes that ‘a light shone everywhere in Peter’s room’ (verse 7). Luke meant that the angel was not human. Peter’s escape was a miracle. Even Peter thought that he was dreaming!
Peter and the angel had to pass through three gates to get out. Perhaps the soldiers who were guarding the first two gates were asleep. Or maybe they thought that Peter was a servant. It was dark. They did not expect to see him. But the third gate (the iron one) was the main gate. Servants would not go out of the main gate at night. So, God made a wonderful thing happen. The iron gate just opened by itself. When they were outside, the angel disappeared.
A surprise! 12:11-19
Peter knew now that he was not dreaming. What had happened was real. He was free. But he knew that he must hide quickly. So, he went to a house where Christians met.
The church in Jerusalem was too big to meet in one building. So, groups of its members met in big houses. Some members met in the house of John Mark’s mother. This is the first time that Luke mentions John Mark. John Mark wrote the second Gospel. He travelled with Paul. We shall read more about him later in ‘Acts’. Luke does not mention his father. Perhaps John Mark’s mother was a widow. She was rich. We know that because she owned a big house. It had a gate (verse 13). This gate was the entrance to a yard. Also, she had a servant. Possibly, she had more than one servant.
The servant, Rhoda, was so happy that she forgot to open the door! The believers inside were praying for Peter. But they did not believe that he was there, outside! Perhaps they did not think that God would answer their prayers so quickly. They thought that Rhoda was crazy. Or they thought that Peter’s angel was outside.
People believed that each person had an angel, who looked after him or her. But they refused to believe that it was really Peter himself.
Peter probably felt very impatient. He needed to get off the street, so that nobody could see him there. So, he continued to knock until they answered.
Peter wanted them to be quiet, because he was still in danger. When Herod’s guards searched for him, they would come to this house first. This was because his Christian friends met there. He told his friends what had happened. He told them to tell James (Jesus’ brother) and the other believers. This James became a leader of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13; 21:18).
‘He went to another place’ (verse 17). Peter had to go far away from Jerusalem. We do not know where he went. Probably, he went to a country where Herod was not the ruler. Later, he returned to Jerusalem (Acts 15:7).
Verses 18-19 Herod probably thought that the guards had helped Peter to escape. Now there would not be a public trial. Herod was very angry. So, he punished the guards by death. Then Herod left Jerusalem.
Herod Agrippa the First dies, 12:20-25
When Herod left Jerusalem, he went to Caesarea. Caesarea was on the coast. Tyre and Sidon were ports by the Mediterranean Sea. They were close to Caesarea, which was also a port. Perhaps the traders in Tyre and Sidon took trade away from Caesarea. Perhaps that is why Herod was angry with Tyre’s people and Sidon’s people.
However, we do not know exactly why Herod argued with them. But the people from Tyre and Sidon wanted to make peace with Herod. Wheat grew in Galilee and those people needed this wheat for food. Herod was ruling over Galilee. So, they persuaded Blastus, Herod’s official, to help them.
Herod and the people from Tyre and Sidon wanted to be friends again. They wanted to do this in public. Perhaps Herod was trying to be popular again. So, they chose a day when they would meet. It was probably a special day, like the Emperor’s birthday.
The Jewish writer Josephus also wrote an account of this occasion. He described the clothes that Herod wore. Someone had made them from silver cloth. They shone in the sun. For that reason, the people shouted that Herod was a god. Josephus wrote that Herod did not stop them. Josephus also described Herod’s death.
Suddenly, Herod had a bad pain in his bowels. (The bowels are part of the body. Food passes through the bowels and then it goes out of the body.)
Herod was very ill for 5 days before he died. In Acts, Luke tells us what was making Herod so ill. ‘Worms ate Herod and he died.’ Worms can damage the bowels and in this way they can cause death. Luke shows that Herod’s death was God’s punishment of Herod.
Barnabas and Saul had gone to Jerusalem with money. (Look at Acts 11:30.) This money would be a help to the Jewish Christians during the famine. John Mark was Barnabas’s cousin (Colossians 4:10). John Mark returned to Antioch with Barnabas and Saul.