Ac 12:1-19. PERSECUTION OF THE CHURCH BY HEROD AGRIPPA I--MARTYRDOM OF JAMES AND MIRACULOUS DELIVERANCE OF PETER.
1-3. Herod the king--grandson of Herod the Great, and son of
Aristobulus. He at this time ruled over all his father's dominions.
PALEY has remarked the accuracy of the historian here. For thirty years
before this there was no king at Jerusalem exercising supreme authority
over Judea, nor was there ever afterwards, save during the three last
years of Herod's life, within which the transactions occurred.
2. killed James . . . with the sword--beheaded him; a
most ignominious mode of punishment, according to the Jews. Blessed
martyr! Thou hast indeed "drunk of thy Lord's cup, and hast been
baptized with his baptism." (See on
A grievous loss this would be to the Church; for though nothing is
known of him beyond what we read in the Gospels, the place which he had
as one of the three whom the Lord admitted to His closest intimacy
would lead the Church to look up to him with a reverence and affection
which even their enemies would come to hear of. They could spring only
upon one more prized victim; and flushed with their first success, they
prevail upon Herod to seize him also.
3. because he saw it pleased the Jews--Popularity was the ruling
passion of this Herod, not naturally so cruel as some of the family
[JOSEPHUS, Antiquities, 19.7.3].
to take Peter also--whose loss, at this stage of the Church, would
have been, so far as we can see, irreparable.
Then were the days of unleavened bread--seven in number, during which,
after killing and eating the Passover, no leaven was allowed in Jewish
(Ex 12:15, 19).
4. delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers--that is, to four
parties of four each, corresponding to the four Roman watches; two
watching in prison and two at the gates, and each party being on duty
for the space of one watch.
intending after Easter--rather, "after the Passover"; that is, after
the whole festival was over. (The word in our King James Version is an
ecclesiastical term of later date, and ought not to have been employed
to bring him forth to the people--for execution; for during "the days
of unleavened bread," or the currency of any religious festival, the
Jews had a prejudice against trying or putting anyone to death.
5, 6. prayer was made without ceasing--rather, "instant," "earnest,"
"urgent" (Margin); as in
and 1Pe 4:8
of the church unto God for him--not in public assembly, for it was
evidently not safe to meet thus; but in little groups in private houses,
one of which was Mary's
And this was kept up during all the days of unleavened bread.
6. And when Herod would have brought him forth--"was going to bring
the same night--but a few hours before the intended execution. Thus
long were the disciples kept waiting; their prayers apparently
unavailing, and their faith, as would seem from the sequel, waxing
feeble. Such, however, is the "law" of God's procedure
(De 32:36 and see on
Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two
chains--Roman prisoners had a chain fastened at one end to the
wrist of their fight hand, and at the other to the wrist of a soldier's
left hand, leaving the right arm of the keeper free in case of any
attempt to escape. For greater security the prisoner was sometimes, as
here, chained to two soldiers, one on each side. (See
Ye think your prey secure, bloodthirsty priests and thou obsequious
tyrant who, to "please the Jews," hast shut in this most eminent of the
servants of Christ within double gates, guarded by double sentinels,
while double keepers and double chains seem to defy all rescue! So
thought the chief priests, who "made the sepulchre of the Lord sure,
sealing the stone and setting a watch." But "He that sitteth in heaven
shall laugh at you." Meanwhile, "Peter is sleeping!" In a few hours he
expects a stingless death; "neither counts he his life dear unto him,
so that he may finish his course with joy and the ministry which he has
received of the Lord Jesus." In this frame of spirit he has dropped
asleep, and lies the picture of peace.
7-11. the angel of the Lord--rather, "an angel."
came upon him--so in
expressive of the unexpected nature of the visit.
smote Peter on the side . . . Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off
. . . Gird thyself . . . And so he did . . . Cast thy garment--tunic,
which he had thrown off for the night.
8. about thee . . . follow me--In such graphic minuteness of detail
we have a charming mark of reality: while the rapidity and curtness of
the orders, and the promptitude with which they were obeyed, betoken the
despatch which, in the circumstances, was necessary.
9. wist not that it was true; but thought he saw a vision--So little
did the apostle look for deliverance!
10. first and the second ward . . . the iron gate that leadeth unto the
city--We can only conjecture the precise meaning of all this, not
knowing the position of the prison.
passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from
him--when he had placed him beyond pursuit. Thus "He disappointeth the
devices of the crafty, so that their heads cannot perform their
11. when Peter was come to himself--recovered from his bewilderment,
and had time to look back upon all the steps that had followed each
other in such rapid succession.
Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath
delivered me, &c.--another evidence that Peter expected nothing but
to seal his testimony with his blood on this occasion.
12-17. he came to the house of Mary, &c.--who "must have had a house
of some pretensions to receive a large number; and, accordingly, we read
that her brother Barnabas
(Col 4:10) was a person of substance
She must also have been distinguished for faith and courage to allow
such a meeting in the face of persecution" [WEBSTER and WILKINSON]. To such a
house it was natural that Peter should come.
mother of John . . . Mark--so called to distinguish him from the
apostle of that name, and to distinguish her from the other Marys.
where many were gathered together praying--doubtless for Peter's
deliverance, and continuing, no doubt, on this the last of the days of
unleavened bread, which was their last hope, all night in prayer to God.
13. came to hearken--not to open; for neither was it a time nor an
hour of night for that, but to listen who was there.
14. opened not for gladness, but ran in and told, &c.--How exquisite
is this touch of nature!
15. Thou art mad--one of those exclamations which one can hardly
resist on hearing what seems far "too good to be true."
she constantly affirmed--"kept steadfastly affirming."
that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel--his
disembodied spirit, his ghost; anything, in fact, rather than himself.
Though this had been the burden of their fervent prayers during all the
days of unleavened bread, they dispute themselves out of it as a thing
incredible. Still, it is but the unbelief of the disciples who
"believed not for joy and wondered" at the tidings of their
Lord's resurrection. How often do we pray for what we can hardly
credit the bestowment of, when it comes in answer to our prayers! This,
however, argues not so much hard unbelief as that kind of it incident
to the best in this land of shadows, which perceives not so clearly as
it might how very near heaven and earth, the Lord and His praying
people, are to each other.
16. Peter continued knocking--delay being dangerous.
17. But he, beckoning . . . with his hand to hold their peace--a lively
touch this. In the hubbub of joyful and wondering interrogatories there
might mingle reflections, thrown out by one against another, for holding
out so long against the testimony of Rhoda; while the emotion of the
apostle's own spirit would be too deep and solemn to take part in such
demonstrations or utter a word till, with his hand, he had signified his
wish for perfect silence.
Go show these things unto James and to the brethren--Whether James the
son of Alpheus, one of the Twelve, usually known as "James the Less,"
and "James the Lord's brother"
were the same person; and if not, whether the James here referred to
was the former or the latter, critics are singularly divided, and the
whole question is one of the most difficult. To us, it appears that
there are strong reasons for thinking that they were not the
same person, and that the one here meant, and throughout the Acts, is
the apostle James. (But on this more hereafter). James is
singled out, because he had probably begun to take the oversight of the
Church in Jerusalem, which we afterwards find him exercising
And he departed, and went into another place--according to his Lord's
When told, on a former miraculous liberation from prison, to go and
speak unto the people
(Ac 5:20), he did it; but in this case to present himself in public would have been
to tempt God by rushing upon certain destruction.
18, 19. as soon as it was day, &c.--His deliverance must have been
during the fourth watch (three to six A.M.); else he must have been
missed by the keepers at the change of the watch [WIES].
19. examined the keepers--who, either like the keepers of our Lord's
sepulchre, had "shaken and become as dead men"
or had slept on their watch and been divinely kept from awaking.
commanded that they should be put to death--Impotent vengeance!
Ac 12:20-25. HEROD'S
SUCCESS OF THE
20. Herod was . . . displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon--for some
reason unknown; but the effect on their commercial relations made the
latter glad to sue for peace.
their country was nourished by the king's country--See 1Ki 5:11;
Perhaps the famine
made them the more urgent for reconciliation.
21. And upon a set day Herod . . . made an oration unto them--to the
Tyrians and Sidonians especially.
22, 23. the people gave a shout, &c.--JOSEPHUS' account of his death
is remarkably similar to this [Antiquities, 19.8.2]. Several cases
of such deaths occur in history. Thus was this wretched man nearer his
end than he of whom he had thought to make a public spectacle.
24. But the word grew, &c.--that is, Not only was the royal
representative ignominiously swept from the stage, while his intended
victim was spared to the Church, but the cause which he and his Jewish
instigators sought to crush was only furthered and glorified. How full
of encouragement and consolation is all this to the Christian Church in
25. Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem--where, it thus appears,
they had remained during all this persecution.
when they had fulfilled their ministry--or service; that mentioned on
Ac 11:29, 30.
took with them John . . . Mark--(See on
not to be confounded with the second Evangelist, as is often done. As
his uncle was Barnabas, so his spiritual father was Peter