AN EXPOSITION OF ACTS 12
1 Now about that time Herod [Agrippa I] the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
Agrippa I was a son of Aristobulus and grandson of King Herod the Great who was the ruler of Palestine when Christ was born. Following the execution of his infamous father in 7 BC, Agrippa was brought up in Rome as a member of the royal family, which means that he was spoiled. In AD 23 he was so far in debt that he had to leave the city. For a while his Uncle Antipas sustained him at Tiberias at the request of his sister Herodias, whom Antipas had recently married. But as might be expected, he argued with Antipas and in AD 36 returned to Rome.
There, Agrippa managed to offend the emperor Tiberius and was imprisoned. However, a year after the death of Tiberius he was released by the new emperor of Rome, Gaius (Caligula). Though he would eventually go insane, Caligula gave Agrippa the title of king, with territories NE of Palestine as his kingdom. With the passing of time, and despite the civil turmoil of Rome’s national government, Agrippa increased his local base of political power. When Claudius became emperor in AD 41, he gave Agrippa the rule over Judea and Samaria. Wanting to find favor with his Jewish subjects, Agrippa discovered that persecuting the Christians was a popular thing to do.
2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
Unleavened bread (Heb. massa, “sweet”; Gk. ‘azumos) refers to bread baked from unfermented dough, or without yeast (Gen 19:3; Judges 6:19; 1 Sam 28:24). Unleavened bread was formally presented for the Paschal or Passover cakes (Ex 12:8, 15, 20; 13:3, 6-7) to commemorate the haste in which the Exodus Generation departed from Egypt. Work by Jews and a stranger in the land was strictly forbidden during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which began on the 15th of the month.
4 And when he [Herod Agrippa I] had apprehended him [Peter], he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions [four squads of four] of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter [Passover] to bring him forth to the people.
Easter was originally a pagan festival honoring Eostre, a Teutonic (Germanic) goddess of light and spring. At the time of the vernal equinox—the day in the spring when the sun crosses the equator and day and night are of equal length—sacrifices were offered in honor of Eostre. By the eighth century, the influence of Christ had transformed this pagan ritual into the Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ.
The only appearance of the word Easter is found in this verse as a mistranslation of pascha, the ordinary Greek word for “Passover” (Acts 12:4).
5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him. Study 1 Thessalonians 5:17 “Pray without ceasing.”
There are Great Powers in a Christian’s Life
There is the power of what a person is. It was a dark and gloomy day in Boston. The next day a reporter wrote these words in the paper “It was a dark and gloomy day yesterday. Then Philip Brooks walked through our office and the sun began to shine.” Oh, the power of a Christian life! Has anyone’s day been made brighter by your life? Does anyone want to live for Christ because they have seen Him living in you?
There is the power of what a person says. Just think of the power that men have spoken for good or evil. During the days of the great depression Franklin Roosevelt gave American’s hope by reminding them that “the only thing we have to fear is, fear itself.” Later, when the winds of war blew in Europe, Winston Churchill held the nation of England together during the dark days of WWII.
There is the power of what a person does.
6 And when Herod [Agrippa I] would have brought him forth [for execution], the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.
7 And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.
The word angel means messenger. Angels are God’s messengers who have a special ministry to the elect. “But to which of the angels said he at any time, Sit on my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool? 14 Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” (Heb. 1:13-14).
In a larger sense everyone who tells the good news about Christ is an angel. That explains the following story.
A minister went to visit a newly- married couple. He knocked on the front door. A feminine voice from within called, “Is that you, angel?” The minister replied, “No, but I’m from the same department.”
8 And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me
Some people who believe in speaking in tongues will argue they are speaking a heavenly language, the language of angels. It is instructive that when angels communicate with individuals they do so in a known way.
9 And he [Peter] went out and followed him; and wist [knew] not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.
10 When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.
11 And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod [Agrippa I], and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.
Man proposes, but God disposes, all plans for He is the one who works all things after the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11). The Psalmist said, “The LORD preserveth the strangers; he relieveth the fatherless and widow: but the way of the wicked he turn eth upside down” (Psa. 146:10).
12 And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.
Why Do Christians Pray?
To get things from God. This may seem selfish, but it is the Lord’s own method. Study the prayers of the Bible and you will see how much asking there is. Jesus gave us the “model prayer.” In five verses there are six requests. Matt 6:9-13 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. 10 Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen. Dr. John R. Rice wrote a wonderful book called Prayer: Asking and Receiving. The songwriter encourages us to sing,
What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and grief’s to bear!
What a privilege to carry,
Everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer!”
To prevent worry. Philippians 4:6 Be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.
Prayers are not answered because they are not offered. James 4:2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Henry Ford had a friend in the insurance business, but one day Mr. Ford bought a million-dollar policy from another insurance agent. His friend called and asked why. Mr. Ford replied, “You didn’t ask me!”
Prayers are not answered because there is a wrong motive. James 4:3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts. The Lord is interested in what we ask for and why we ask for things. Our hearts are to be guided by holy motives with God’s glory in view.
Prayers are not answered because there is a wrong spirit in our hearts. Psalms 66:18 If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me. Bitterness, jealousy, and hatred will poison the fragrance of prayer.
Prayers are not answered because the Christian is not abiding in Christ and keeping His commandments. John 15:7 If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.
Prayers are not answered because the Lord sees the prayer is not sincere and is not earnest enough.
13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.
14 And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.
15 And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.
This is a scene that borders on being very humorous. The church is praying for Peter’s release. The prayer is answered. Peter stands knocking at the door. Answered prayer is told and the people do not believe! Moses cried out, “Answer my plea for Israel or blot me out of Thy book!” Jacob said, “I will not let thee go unless you bless me.”John Knox said, “Give me Scotland or I die!” The Bible says, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
Prayers are not answered because it is not believed that the prayers will be answered. Sometimes, because God has a sense of humor He might just go ahead and answer our prayer despite unbelief as He did in the case of the saints who were praying for the release of Peter from prison. But they did not really believe it was going to happen despite the fact that the apostle was banging on the front door of the house!
Prayers are not answered because there is a lack of submission to the known will of God. We must always pray in the right spirit with the confidence that God wants to answer our prayers for the sake of His own dear Son.
In the Civil War a well-to-do couple lost their only son. Their sorrow was overwhelming. They shut themselves up with their grief and refused to see anyone. One day a young man rang their doorbell and asked to see them. The butler told him that they would see no one, that they had suffered a great loss. The young man pulled a letter out of his pocket and said, “Take this to them.” The butler carried the letter in to the couple. The man trembled as he saw the handwriting on the letter. “Look mother,” he said, “this is our son’s handwriting.” He read the letter with trembling hands and quivering lips and this is what it said: “Dear father and mother. The man who brings you this letter was my best friend in the army. He helped me on many occasions. Now in what I believe will be my last hours he is with me. If he ever comes your way, give him the best you have, for your son’s sake.”
You know what that couple did, don’t you? They took that young man in and gave him the best they had, for their son’s sake.
Our Father in heaven is rich, He holds the wealth of the world in His hands. He has all we need and is ready and willing to supply those needs. So come now and call upon Him and He’ll give you the best He has for His Son’s sake.
16 But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.
17 But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James [the Less], and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.
18 Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.
19 And when Herod [Agrippa I] had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode.
At last, two soldiers were put to death as a result of this miracle. Perhaps others lost their lives. While the Lord knows how to deliver the righteous His judgment is just upon the unrighteous including those who are instruments in evil. Perhaps the soldiers were good men in and of themselves. The innocent suffers when evil rulers are in control.
20 And Herod [Agrippa I] was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the king’s chamberlain [chief valet] their friend, desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king’s country.
21 And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.
22 And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.
By all appearances this was nothing more than false flattery for the sake of political expediency. The Christian must beware of those who flatter. “Lead me, O LORD, in thy righteousness because of mine enemies; make thy way straight before my face. 9 For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is very wickedness; their throat is an open sepulcher; they flatter with their tongue” (Psalms 5:8, 9).
23 And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms and gave up the ghost.
On other occasions in Scripture angels are declared to be the instrument of death by executing the will of God in the affairs of men.
Once, an angel delivered a pestilence upon Israel.
“So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beer-sheba seventy thousand men. 16 And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing place of Araunah the Jebusite. 17 And David spake unto the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? Let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father’s house” (2 Sam. 24:15-17).
24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.
A person is indispensable until God is through with him. Therefore, let the heart never worry nor be afraid. The righteous can be bold as a lion (Prov. 28:1).
John (Mark), a cousin of Barnabas, would prove to be a person of contention before he became a champion for the cause of Christ.