Read Acts 12
Peter’s Miraculous Escape From Prison
1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this met with approval among the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Festival of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him.9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening; he thought he was seeing a vision.10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were hoping would happen.”
12 When this had dawned on him, he went to the house of Mary the mother of John, also called Mark, where many people had gathered and were praying. 13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance, and a servant named Rhoda came to answer the door. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
15 “You’re out of your mind,” they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel.”
16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet and described how the Lord had brought him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers and sisters about this,” he said, and then he left for another place.
18 In the morning, there was no small commotion among the soldiers as to what had become of Peter. 19 After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed.
Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there. 20 He had been quarreling with the people of Tyre and Sidon; they now joined together and sought an audience with him. After securing the support of Blastus, a trusted personal servant of the king, they asked for peace, because they depended on the king’s country for their food supply.
21 On the appointed day Herod, wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. 22 They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23 Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
24 But the word of God continued to spread and flourish.
Barnabas and Saul Sent Off
25 When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.
In the first eleven chapters of Acts, we read Luke’s chronicles of one marvelous conversion after another: Pentecost, the Samaritans, the Ethiopian, Saul, Cornelius the Gentile. Then we read Acts 12, and we learn what we know to be true about the tension of life: there is expansion and there is decline. There are wins and there are losses. There is acceleration and there is decrease.
James, the brother of John, has been martyred by Herod. Seeing how this pleased the Jews and gained him approval, Herod seizes Peter and puts him in prison with the intention of executing Peter, too.
Think about that situation. One leader dead. Another awaiting execution. No wonder the church gathered and “was earnestly praying to God for him.” The circumstances looked grim, hopeless. There appeared to be no possibility of escape. Peter was chained to two soldiers with more soldiers at every gate and entrance.
Yet, Peter was asleep. He showed no sign of worry, anxiety, or angst in the face of very real peril. So sound asleep that when the angel arrives to rescue him, the angel strikes Peter. Even then, Peter stumbles through his entire escape half asleep, wondering if it’s all a vision or a dream.
Then, Peter wakes fully and goes to the one place that is familiar and well-known to him—Mary’s house, where believers had been begging God to deliver Peter from the destructive power of Herod. When God decides to wield His power, there is not a force or power on earth strong enough to hold Him back.
God still frees captives, answers our earnest prayers, and eliminates enemies. Keep asking. Keep waiting. He is faithful.
What do you learn about Herod in the first verses of chapter 12? What do you learn about him in the last verses of chapter 12? How does his story impact you?
What does this chapter teach you about the power of prayer?
Why do you think Peter was able to sleep while awaiting his execution? What do you learn from him?
Did You Know?
The Jewish historian, Josephus, also documented Herod’s death in Antiquities 19.8.2:
“A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, ‘I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death’…And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign.”