Persecution Against the Christians Increases (12:1-5)
1 The King Herod mentioned here is the grandson of the Herod who reigned over Judea at the time of Christ’s birth (Matthew 2:1; Luke 1:5). Herod was given the title “king” by the Roman emperor, and he ruled in the emperor’s name. He had been given jurisdiction over Israel and part of Syria.
When Peter and the other apostles began to accept the new Gentile converts as brothers and sisters in Christ, the Jews living in Jerusalem and Judea began to raise an outcry against them. Wanting to preserve the peace, Herod looked for a way to pacif y the Jews. He found the best way to keep the Jews happy was to arrest and execute the apostles, and so he set out to do this.
2 James, the son of Zebedee and the brother of John (Mark 1:19-20), was the first apostle to be killed. James experienced to the full what Jesus had said to him: “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with” (see Mark 10:35-40).
3-4 Seeing that the Jews were pleased by the killing of James, Herod next seized Peter with the intent to execute him also. But the Feast of Unleavened Bread55—that is, the Passover—fell just at that time, and Herod could not hold Peter’s trial until after the feast. Therefore, Herod kept Peter in prison. To be sure Peter did not escape, Herod ordered that he be guarded around the clock by four squads of four soldiers each (verse 4).
5 The church prayed earnestly for Peter. If the church had not prayed, it is likely that Peter’s life would have ended right then. God can work without our prayers, but usually He waits to hear our prayers before He acts.
Peter’s Miraculous Escape from Prison (12:6-19)
6 The night before he was to be condemned to death, Peter slept soundly. Although he knew it would be his last night on earth, he was not afraid or anxious; he slept in peace. His right hand was chained to one soldier, and his left hand to another. Sentries guarded the door. The final moment had come. There was no way of escape. God of ten waits for such a moment before He acts. When there is no other hope, then God does His greatest work.
7-10 At the appointed time, God, through His angel, miraculously delivered Peter from jail. It was entirely God’s work. The chains fell from Peter’s wrists (verse 7), and the gate opened for them by itself (verse 10).
11 Peter thought he was seeing a vision; it was all like a dream. But then, when they were outside the jail, the angel suddenly disappeared, and Peter came to himself. It was no dream. He was free!
Why was James killed and Peter saved? We humans cannot easily understand the purposes of God. Did the church not pray for James? Or did God, through James’ death, want to accomplish some great work—which we don’t even know about? We cannot know the answers to such questions.
12 The first thing Peter had to do was to inform the other Christians that he had escaped. Peter went to the house of Mary, the mother of Mark,56 where many of the believers had gathered to pray. Though it was the middle of the night, Peter’s friends were still awake praying.
13-16 When Rhoda heard Peter’s voice outside, she became so excited that she forgot to open the door and let him in. She ran in to tell the others that Peter was outside, but they said to her, “You’re out of your mind” (verse 15). When she persisted, they said it was only Peter’s angel.
But Peter kept on knocking, and finally those inside went and opened the door. When they saw Peter they were astonished. There standing at the door was the very answer to their prayers, but they hadn’t believed it!
17 Then they all began to rejoice and praise God, but Peter told them to be quiet. Perhaps at that moment the soldiers were searching for him, and they would surely be attracted to such a noisy gathering in the middle of the night.
Peter said to them, “Tell James and the brothers about this.” By that time James, the brother of Jesus, had become the chief leader of the Jerusalem church. Then Peter went to another place to hide from Herod.
18-19 Under Roman law, if any prisoner escaped, the soldiers guarding him were given the same punishment the prisoner was to have received. Since Peter was to have received the death sentence, Herod ordered that all of Peter’s guards be executed in his place. Perhaps Herod suspected that one or two of the guards had secretly helped Peter to escape.
Herod’s Death (12:20-25)
20 Tyre and Sidon were large cities of Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) located on the Mediterranean coast. The residents of these cities received most of their food supplies from the province of Galilee, which was under the jurisdiction of Herod. For some reason Herod had become displeased with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they were afraid that in anger he might cut of f their food supply. So in an effort to make peace, they asked Blastus, one of Herod’s servants, to arrange for them to meet with the king.
21-22 On the day of the audience, Herod delivered a speech to the people of Tyre and Sidon. In order to please and flatter Herod, the people began to call him a god. Because he did not give the praise to the true God, one of God’s angels struck him down and he was eaten by worms. Some people believe that a large worm-filled cyst in Herod’s liver ruptured.57 Herod had exalted himself. Now God had made him food for worms!
24 Herod the oppressor and persecutor died, but the word of God continued to increase and spread. God raises up rulers and casts them down, but His word remains forever (see 1 Peter 1:24-25).
25 It was only after Herod’s death that Barnabas and Saul actually left Antioch to take the collection to the believers in Jerusalem (Acts 11:29-30). When they returned to Antioch, they took with them John (also called Mark), Barnabas’ cousin (Acts 12:12; Colossians 4:10).