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Bible Commentaries
Acts 12

Benson's Commentary of the Old and New TestamentsBenson's Commentary

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A.M. 4048. A.D. 44.


(1,) Herod, having slain James, seizes Peter and commits him to prison, Acts 12:1-4 .

(2,) Prayer is made without ceasing by the church for him, and in answer thereto he is delivered by an angel, to the no small perplexity of his persecutors, Acts 12:5-19 .

(3,) Herod, in the midst of his pride and pomp, is struck by an angel, and dies miserably, Acts 12:20-23 .

(4,) After his death the gospel has great success, and Paul and Barnabas return to Antioch, Acts 12:24 , Acts 12:25 .

Verses 1-2

Acts 12:1-2. Now about that time When Saul and Barnabas were preparing to set out to Jerusalem, to carry thither what had been collected by the Christians at Antioch; Herod stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church So wisely did God mix rest and persecution, in due time and measure succeeding each other. This was Herod Agrippa, as the Syriac version expressly names him, the former being his Syrian, and the latter his Roman name. He was the grandson of Herod the Great, nephew to Herod Antipas, who beheaded John the Baptist, brother to Herodias, and father to that Agrippa before whom St. Paul afterward made his defence. Caligula made him king of the tetrarchy of his uncle Philip, to which he afterward added the territories of Antipas. Claudius made him also king of Judea, and added thereto the dominions of Lysanias. And he killed James the brother of John Thus was the prediction of our Lord fulfilled, that James should drink of his cup, (Matthew 20:23,) and thus one of the brothers went to God the first, the other the last of the apostles. It is a just observation of a judicious writer, that “this early execution of one of the apostles, after our Lord’s death, would illustrate the courage of the rest in still going on with their ministry, as it would evidently show, that even all their miraculous powers did not secure them from dying by the sword of their enemies.”

Verses 3-4

Acts 12:3-4. And because he saw it pleased the Jews Whose favour he laboured by all possible means to conciliate; he proceeded to take Peter also Renowned as he was for such a variety of miracles wrought by him at Jerusalem. According to Josephus, ( Antiq., Acts 19:7,) this Herod “was a great zealot for the Mosaic law, dwelt much at Jerusalem, and gladly embraced all opportunities of obliging the Jews, as his grandfather Herod did of pleasing strangers;” a character well suiting what Luke here says of him. Then were the days of unleavened bread When the Jews came together to Jerusalem from all parts, to celebrate the passover. And he put him in prison And, for the greater security of so noted a person, he delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers That is, to sixteen, each party consisting of four, who were to watch him day and night by turns, four at a time; two of them being chained to him, and two of them watching before the door of the prison; intending after Easter Or, rather, after the passover, as μετα το πασχα signifies, and ought, doubtless, to have been translated; (the name Easter not being in use till many centuries after this book was written;) to bring him forth to the people To be made a spectacle to them, as his Master, Jesus, had been on the first day of unleavened bread; for confining him was not all that Herod designed. His intention was, after the paschal lamb was eaten, and the seven days’ festival quite finished, to gratify the people by putting him to death, and that publicly. For, notwithstanding their zeal about rituals, they would submit to be concerned in the vilest immoralities, and most horrid cruelties, exercised on the servants of God.

Verses 5-6

Acts 12:5-6. Peter therefore Till the day of his execution came; was kept in prison Under the continual guard of the fore-mentioned soldiers. But prayer without ceasing (The original expression, προσευχη εκτενης , signifies, earnest and importunate, as well as continual prayer;) was made of the church for him That is, for his deliverance, yet when their prayer was answered, they could scarce believe it, Acts 12:15. But why had they not prayed for James’s deliverance also? Doubtless because he was put to death as soon as apprehended. And when Herod would have brought him forth For execution; the same night That is, the night before he had designed to do it; Peter was sleeping Easy and void of fear; between two soldiers, bound with two chains It is well known that this way of securing prisoners of consequence was practised among the Romans, as Grotius has shown in his note on Acts 28:16. One end of one chain was fastened to Peter’s right hand, and the other end to the left arm of one of the soldiers; the other chain was, in like manner, fastened to Peter’s left arm, and to the soldier’s right arm; so that, humanly speaking, it was impossible he should have risen without immediately awaking them. And the keepers before the door The other two guards, then on duty, stood sentry before the prison doors, that there might be no attempt of any kind made to rescue him. So that he was sufficiently secured, to all human appearance. It is likely the Jews remembered how all the apostles had escaped, when they had formerly put them in prison; and, perhaps, they suspected the fidelity of the guards. It was, therefore, most probably at their request that such a number of soldiers were appointed to guard Peter. But though the persecutors thus showed themselves skilful in taking measures to destroy, they soon found, by experience, that no device can avail against any whom God is determined to preserve.

Verses 7-10

Acts 12:7-10. And behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him Greek, επεστη , stood over him; and a light shined in the prison Εν τω οικηματι , in the house, the whole house in which he was confined; and he smote Greek, παταξας , having smote, Peter on the side He awoke him; saying, Arise up quickly. And, in that moment, his chains With which his right arm was bound to one of the soldiers, and his left to the other, fell off The soldiers, in the mean time, being by a miraculous power kept so fast asleep, that they were not at all alarmed by the noise of their fall. And the angel said, Gird thyself, &c. Probably Peter had put off his girdle, sandals, and upper garment before he lay down to sleep. And he went out Of the prison, as he was guided by the angel, meeting with no opposition in his way; and wist not That what appeared to him to be done was real, but supposed that he was in a dream, or saw a vision. When they were past the first and second ward At each of which, doubtless, was a guard of soldiers, who, however, were all asleep; they came unto the iron gate leading into the city Which, though a heavy gate, and very strongly fastened, yet was no hinderance in their way; but opened of its own accord Without Peter or the angel touching it. And they passed on through one street That Peter might know which way to go. And forthwith the angel Having done all that was requisite for his deliverance, and set him at full liberty; departed from him Peter being himself sufficient for what remained to be done.

Verses 11-15

Acts 12:11-15. When Peter was come to himself And perceived that the extraordinary things which had been shown him were not visionary representations, but real facts; and when he saw where he was; he said, Now know I of a surety, that the Lord In whose cause I was upon the point of suffering; hath sent his angel, and delivered me As he formerly did, Acts 5:19. I know that my deliverance is real and effectual; out of the hand of Herod Who not only intended my destruction, but thought he had taken effectual measures assuredly to accomplish it; and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews Who, notwithstanding the many beneficial miracles I have wrought among them, were thirsting for my blood, and waiting impatiently to see me executed. And when he had considered the thing How imminent his danger was, and how great his deliverance, and now what was best to be done; he came to the house of Mary A friend’s house, which, it is likely, was near, and where many, even then, though it was midnight; were gathered together, praying Doubtless, for his deliverance; God thus answering them while they were yet speaking, and bringing him, for whom they were so much concerned, to the very house in which they were assembled, praying for his release. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate Of an outer gate at some distance from the house, designing, it seems, to awaken them out of sleep; a damsel came to hearken Whether any one knocked, and if so, not to open the door till she knew who was there, a friend or foe, and what his business was at that unseasonable time of the night. This damsel was probably a Christian, and even of some note in the church, as her name is mentioned, and more zealously affected toward the cause of Christ than the generality of her age. And when she knew Peter’s voice Having probably often heard him pray, preach, and discourse; she opened not the gate for gladness Through surprise and an ecstasy of joy. Thus, sometimes, in a transport of affection toward our friends, we do what is unkind to them; but ran in Instantly, to the company that were assembled in the house; and told that Peter stood before the gate As she certainly believed, though she had not had courage or presence of mind to open the gate. And they said, Thou art mad Surely thou art out of thy senses, to imagine so incredible and impossible a thing, for Peter is undoubtedly in prison, strongly guarded. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so Persisted in it, that she was sure she had heard his voice. Then said they, It is his angel His guardian angel, who has assumed his form, and imitates his voice, to bring us some tidings of him. It was a common opinion among the Jews, that every man had his particular guardian angel, who frequently assumed both his shape and voice: and Philo speaks of it as also a received notion among the Jews, that the souls of good men deceased officiate as ministering spirits. But these are points on which the Scriptures are silent. And whatever the notion of the Jews was concerning them, no argument can be drawn from it, as to the truth of either of those suppositions.

Verses 16-17

Acts 12:16-17 . But Peter continued knocking Though they delayed to open to him; and when At length, several of them, it seems, going out together; they had opened the door, and saw him That it really was he; they were astonished Were filled with wonder and joy, as much as they were just before with sorrow and fear concerning him. But beckoning unto them (many of whom, being amazed, were talking together) to hold their peace That they might hear him relate in what an extraordinary manner he had been delivered; he declared unto them how the Lord had By the ministry of an angel; brought him out of prison. And it is probable, that, having found them praying for his deliverance, he did not part with them till he and they had solemnly given God thanks together for so wonderfully answering their prayers. And he said, Go show these things unto James The brother, or kinsman, of our Lord, and author of the epistle that bears his name. He appears to have been a person of considerable weight and importance, probably the chief overseer of the Christian societies of that province, and of the church in Jerusalem in particular. And to the brethren Namely, The other disciples, that they might join in praising God for this great deliverance, and consider it as laying a further obligation upon them to serve him with still greater zeal and fidelity. And he departed thence to another place Where he might be better concealed till the rage of persecution was abated.

Verses 18-19

Acts 12:18-19. As soon as it was day And they found their prisoner escaped; there was no small stir [Greek, ταραχος ουκ ολιγος , not a little tumult, or confusion ] among the soldiers, what was become of Peter Who was gone, and nobody knew how or which way. For the guards, awaking out of their sound sleep, could none of them give any account of what had passed, and were ready to suspect or accuse each other of negligence or treachery, in giving the prisoner an opportunity to make his escape. And indeed it was very fatal to them that he had escaped; for, when Herod had sought for him Wherever there was any probability of his being concealed; and found him not, he examined the keepers As strictly as possible, or rather, questioned them in a judicial manner; and as he could make nothing out by his inquiry, save that the prisoner was gone while they slept; and as he thought it by no means prudent to give any intimation that a miraculous interposition had taken place, in favour of a man whom he had devoted to destruction; he commanded that they should be put to death Greek, απαχθηναι , led away to execution, for their negligence. He probably used this severity for another reason also, namely, lest if any apprehension of a miraculous deliverance should prevail, (an apprehension to which what had happened to all the apostles some time before could not but give countenance: see Acts 5:19,) Christianity should thereby gain additional strength. Be this as it may, undoubtedly this seasonable interposition of Providence in its favour, contributed greatly to its further progress; as, it seems, it also, together with the death of Herod, which took place soon after, put a speedy end to this persecution. And he went down from Judea to Cesarea With shame, for not having brought forth Peter, according to his promise; and abode there Till, in the midst of all his pride and glory, the judgment of God overtook him, and avenged the death of James, and the intended murder of Peter, in a most awful manner. Thus have the persecutors of the gospel of Christ been often filled with vexation, to see its cause conquering, notwithstanding all their opposition to it; and have been terribly reckoned with for the cruelties exercised on God’s servants.

Verse 20

Acts 12:20. Herod, &c. The historian now proceeds to mention some circumstances that were introductory to the miserable end of Herod; was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon On account of some supposed affront which he had received from them, and which provoked him so far that, having vowed a severe revenge, he was preparing with all speed to make war upon them. But they came with one accord to him Being a trading people, and apprehensive of the consequences of the king’s displeasure, they unanimously adopted the resolution of sending proper representatives to Cesarea, to appear before him; and having made Blastus their friend, desired peace They sued for, and obtained, reconciliation with Herod. And thus the Christians of those parts were, by the providence of God, delivered from scarcity: because their country was nourished Was provided with corn; by the king’s country Thus Hiram also, king of Tyre, desired of Solomon food, or corn, for his household, 1 Kings 5:9.

Verses 21-23

Acts 12:21-23. And upon a set day When shows and games were exhibited by him in honour of Claudius Cesar; Herod, arrayed in royal apparel In a garment so wrought with silver, that the rays of the rising sun, striking upon, and reflected from it, dazzled the eyes of the beholders; sat upon his throne In a public theatre; and made an oration unto them Not to the Tyrian and Sidonian deputies merely, but unto all the people assembled on this grand occasion. And the people gave a shout, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man Such profane flattery the heathen frequently paid to princes. But the commonness of a wicked custom rather increases than lessens the guilt of it. And the unhappy king, instead of expressing a just indignation at such base and impious adulation, hearkened to it with a secret pleasure. And immediately For frequently God does not delay to vindicate his injured honour; an angel of the Lord smote him Of this, other historians say nothing; so wide a difference there is between divine and human history! An angel of the Lord brought out Peter, an angel smote Herod. Men did not see the instruments in either case: these were only known to the people of God. Because he gave not God the glory Did not reject these blasphemous applauses, but willingly received them, and thus filled up the measure of his iniquities. So then vengeance tarried not. And he was eaten of worms Or vermin, which bred in his bowels, and rendered him a most loathsome and horrible spectacle to all about him; and he gave up the ghost Expired in agony and infamy, (as his grandfather, Herod the Great, had done, see on Matthew 2:19,) and sunk as much below the common state of human nature, as his flatterers endeavoured to raise him above it! The Jewish historian, Josephus, confirms St. Luke’s account of the end of this miserable man. He tells us, that “as he did not rebuke the impious flattery addressed to him, he was immediately seized with exquisite and racking tortures in his bowels, so that he was compelled, before he left the place, to own his folly in admitting such acclamations, and upbraided those about him with the wretched condition in which they then saw their god; and being carried out of the assembly to his palace, he expired in violent agonies, the fifth day after he was taken, in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and the seventh of his reign.” Antiq., Acts 19:7.

Verses 24-25

Acts 12:24-25. But the word of God grew and multiplied Became more successful; and in every place where it was preached, the number of disciples was considerably multiplied, and their faith greatly established. So that, after all the opposition of its enemies, who had endeavoured to extirpate it, the progress of Christianity was apparently promoted by the concurrence of the extraordinary events recorded in this chapter, namely, the deliverance of Peter, and the death of Herod, that cruel persecutor, under such heavy tokens of divine vengeance. And Barnabas and Saul returned Namely, to Antioch, after a short abode at Jerusalem; when they had fulfilled their ministry Had faithfully performed the charge committed to them: see Acts 11:30; and took with them John, surnamed Mark The son of Mary, (at whose house the disciples met to pray for Peter,) who was sister to Barnabas.

Bibliographical Information
Benson, Joseph. "Commentary on Acts 12". Benson's Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/rbc/acts-12.html. 1857.
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