I have mentioned before that I use John MacArthur’s commentary on the book of Acts and his study Bible as guidance for the exposition of scripture in these Bible study installments. I have found his exposition of scripture most helpful in understanding God’s word fully. If/when I refer to another person’s thoughts or to my own, I am careful to make mention it. Thanks and let’s begin!
Has anyone else noticed the prevalence of people today who talk about angels? Sometimes you hear them talk about summoning angels to help or to give them what they want or need. Sometimes they try to sell you books about how to dispatch angels to serve your self-interested purpose and so on… This type of thing in never mentioned in the Bible however. The Bible talks about angels as being servants of Almighty God. In this lesson, we will see how God used an angel to deliver Peter from prison.
In chapter 12, we see Herod harassing the church. This is Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great. This Herod had gotten into trouble in Rome and fled to Palestine. After serving time himself for making careless comments about Roman Emporer Tiberius, he was made ruler of northern Palestine but remained on shaky ground with Rome. He was likely persecuting Christians in order to build rapport with the Jews to hedge against his less than stellar relationship with Rome.
Herod has James killed with the sword. This was James the brother of John and the son of Zebedee. James was the first martyr of the Apostles but he would not be the last. According to Jewish law, being killed with the sword indicates James could have been accused of leading people to follow false gods. Verse 3 says that Herod saw how it pleased the Jews and he decided to give them more of the same. This would tend to validate the idea that Herod was simply seeking approval of the Jews by following Jewish law concerning the preaching of Jesus. Killing the followers of Jesus would give Herod a stronger position in his office since he was not on very good terms with Rome.
Herod arrested Peter and placed him in prison guarded by four squads of four soldiers. History tells us that two guards were chained to Peter at all times and two stood guard by the cell door. Four squads indicates that the watch was around the clock. Herod’s plan was to keep Peter imprisoned until after Passover and then present him to be killed in order to obtain more favor from the Jews. It is doubtful that Herod had any religious zeal of his own.
Ok, let’s step back and look at the situation. James, a devout follower of Jesus, had been killed for his faith. God had allowed it. Now Peter is in prison awaiting the same fate. Remember that the early church people were real people. They suffered pains and fears. They felt anguish at the loss of their own brothers in Christ. Peter was doubtlessly afraid on some level. He was also not sure if God would deliver him or if this was the time that God would allow him to die and be in Heaven. Peter had no doubt about his salvation but he had to have wondered about what would happen to him after the Passover. He surely saw no avenue of escape except for Divine intervention.
Guarded by four soldiers and chained to two of them, Peter was not going to escape unless God directly intervened. The solders of the Roman era were professional and served at the threat of their lives. If they lost a prisoner, they were punished with the same punishment the prisoner was awaiting. Roman prisoners were usually awaiting death so the soldiers were awaiting death as well. Their jobs required precision. They delivered their prisoner to the executioner or suffered death themselves. Peter would not escape unless God intervened.
Faced with certain death, the church prayed for Peter. I am sure Peter prayed as well. Verse 5 says constant prayer was offered by the church. As a result, on the night before Peter was to be brought out before Herod and the Jews, an angel appeared in the cell beside Peter and a light shone in the cell. The angel woke Peter up and told him to get dressed. The chains fell from Peter and the two of them waltzed out of the prison past the guard posts and through the main gate which opened for them as if it were an automatic door. After Peter is back inside the town, the angel departs and Peter flees. Peter is unsure at first if this is a dream or if it is real. I can understand how he must have felt.
God delivered Peter despite not having delivered James. God is sovereign and works His will for His own purpose. Nowhere in scripture does it say that we must understand or agree with it. God is in control. We are to serve not direct. Next time, we will continue in chapter 12 and see how Herod responds and what God continues to do.