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Bible Commentaries
Acts 12

Grant's Commentary on the BibleGrant's Commentary

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Verses 1-25

For a brief time again our eyes are turned toward Jerusalem and Peter, though Peter's work is no longer taking the prominent place it did at the beginning. Being the apostle to the Jews, he manifestly stands for the work of God among the Jewish people, and we are here reminded that though the Gospel is seen now to be going out to the Gentiles, God has not forgotten His people Israel.

Another Herod had taken the place of the previous one, and deciding to take the initiative in persecuting the church of God, he put James the brother of John to death. Though this James had been identified with Peter and John as prominent in various cases during the Lord's life on earth, yet nothing is said of him in Acts except in noting his presence in Chapter 1:13, and here his martyrdom. Why there was no exertion of supernatural power to deliver James (as there was in Peter's case) we do not know. However, it seems clear that this history is a foreshadowing of the fact of some Jews being martyred in the tribulation period, while some will be miraculously preserved to enter into millennial blessing. In fact, those martyred will have the more wonderful blessing, for they will live and reign with Christ a thousand years (Revelation 20:4) in heavenly glory, while others who are preserved from death in the tribulation will continue on earth.

Since Herod saw that the Jews were pleased by his execution of James, he decided to further please them by putting Peter to death. Being apprehended, Peter was considered so important a prisoner that four groups of four soldiers were designated to guard him, the same as were set to guard the grave of the Lord Jesus. Peter was given this respite in prison because Herod considered the Jews' respect for the feast of the Passover, and waited until this feast was past to put him on public trial. But the church unceasingly prayed for him.

The night previous to his proposed trial two of his guards chained themselves to him on either side. Yet we are told he was sleeping, evidently not worrying about his predicament. The other two guards watched at the door.

However, the guards were totally ignorant of the light shining in the prison or of the angel's words to Peter to rise up quickly. His chains miraculously tell off from his hands. Told to gird and dress himself, he did so, and followed the angel. The experience was so amazing that he thought it was only a vivid dream. Passing through two wards of the prison, they faced the outer iron gate, which was no barrier whatever, but opened as an automatic door. Then being well clear of the prison Peter was left by the angel on his own.

Marveling at the wonder of God's so miraculously delivering him, he directed his steps to the home of Mary the mother of John Mark. This history is surely designed of God as an object lesson of the fact that there is absolutely no circumstance in which we may be placed that is too difficult for God to overcome. Naturally it was impossible for Peter to escape, but it was a simple matter for an angel to accomplish this by God's direction. If we should not be delivered from adverse circumstances therefore, it is because God has a wise reason for this, and His superior power and grace can enable us to endure what we must face. God could have as easily delivered James, but allowed him to be martyred instead.

At Mary's home many were gathered, praying for Peter. In answer to his knock a girl named Rhoda (meaning "a rose") came to the door to find who was knocking. When he answered and she knew his voice, she left him outside because she was so excited she wanted to carry the news immediately to all in the house. They would not believe her, though they had been praying constantly for him When she insisted, they thought it must have been his "angel," that is, his spirit; for rather than thinking he could have been delivered, they deduced that he had been killed!

There was a simple enough way to prove the matter, and they finally opened the door. Why should they have been so astonished, rather than simply deeply thankful for God's answer to their prayers? When Peter was able to silence their excited voices, he told them how the Lord had intervened to bring him out of prison, instructing them also to take the information to James (the Lord's brother). Rather than staying there, however, where he was likely to be looked for, he went to an unnamed place.

Back at the prison, when the day broke, we may imagine the amazement of the soldiers at finding the chains still intact and no doors or gates open, but Peter gone. Herod, frustrated by all this, examined the keepers and gave orders for their execution. While it was true that Rome strongly enforced their policy of making guards totally responsible for prisoners put under their charge, with death as the penalty for failure; yet the evidence of God's divine intervention was so clear that one would expect that if Herod were fairminded, he would not enforce this on this occasion. Evidently there was no renewed effort made to find and arrest Peter.

Herod then returned to Caesarea, which was the principal seat of Roman government in Israel. He appears to present to us some solemn foreshadowing of the coming Antichrist, who will in the tribulation period persecute his own people, the Jews, putting some to death, though others will be preserved by God from this. His end too, abrupt and dreadful, was consistent with his character of self-exaltation.

While Peter has been set free by the power of God, the man who had determined to have him killed is himself the victim of an untimely death because of his own pride. Residents of Tyre and Sidon, north of Caesarea, desiring to placate the displeasure of Herod toward them, use the influence of Herod's chamberlain. It is told us that they desired a reconciliation simply because of selfish motives. They came on an appointed day to hear an oration from Herod. They knew well his proud vanity. His royal apparel (according to the historian Josephus) had a silver texture and shone brilliantly in the sun. The unseemly flattery of the people in shouting that his voice was that of a god and not of a man, succeeded in its appeal to his pride. He was willing to insult the God who created him by his own accepting divine honors.

Immediately the angel of the Lord answered this with a terrible infliction: he was eaten of worms and died very soon afterward. It is recorded also by Josephus that Herod said at this time, "I whom you call a god am ordered to depart this life immediately. Providence thus instantly reproves the lying words you just now addressed to me, and I who was by you called immortal am immediately to be hurried away by death." Such was the tragic end of him whom men called "Agrippa the Great!"

But the word of God (which this poor dupe of Satan sought to silence) grew and multiplied. While men of every age batter their heads against its eternal truth to their own destruction, God's word prevails in magnificent power and beauty.

We have noted now the return of Barnabas and Saul from Jerusalem to Antioch after delivering the temporal ministry from the Antioch assembly. Nothing is said at all of Saul's even preaching the word at Jerusalem. They bring with them John Mark, who was the nephew of Barnabas (Colossians 1:10).

Bibliographical Information
Grant, L. M. "Commentary on Acts 12". Grant's Commentary on the Bible. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lmg/acts-12.html. 1897-1910.
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