By Ken R. Speakman
Member, Tulip Grove Baptist Church, Old Hickory
Focal Passage: Acts 12:7-12, 16-19
In the first century, the most evil family in the civilized world was known as the Herods. They held the highest political offices in the land, influenced kingdoms, and conquered empires. Herod the Great reigned for 40 years and was on the throne when Jesus Christ was born. When he learned the Wise Men had kept the discovery of Christ a secret, he slaughtered every Jewish boy who was 2 years old and under. His son and their sons were known as evil, immoral men.
Acts 12 opens with Herod Agrippa persecuting believers in the church, which pleased the Jews. He killed the apostle James, and Peter is in prison awaiting execution. An angel appeared and Peter’s chains fell off and the doors opened before him. When Peter realized he was not dreaming, he went to Mary’s house (v. 12).
Once more we see the Lord use angels (Acts 5:19; 10:3, 7), and are reminded that the angels care for God’s children (Psalm 34: 3, 7). Even though Peter was chained between two guards, they were not aware when he left. How could a chained prisoner escape when there were four guards present and the doors locked? It is amazing to me that Peter was sound asleep knowing the next day Herod had planned his execution. How could he sleep? The fact that Peter had been a prisoner twice before is not what gave him peace. Jesus had promised Peter that he would live to be an old man. He did not know how or when God would deliver him, but he knew He would (John 21: 18-19).
In verse 15 we are told the believers could not believe it was Peter at the door. Verse 17 tells us that Peter had to silence them because of their excitement. He quickly gave an account of the miracle of his deliverance. James, the half-brother of Jesus, is the leader of the Jerusalem church and Peter instructed the crowd to get word to him. We are told that Peter walks away to another place. This is the last we read of Peter in the book of Acts, except for a brief word in chapter 15. Peter’s leaving makes room for Paul (Saul) and the story of his ministry among the Gentiles.
The closing verses of chapter 12 tell of the death of Herod Agrippa. “The face of the Lord is against them that do evil” (I Peter 3:12). What happened to the prison guards and Agrippa? If a guard permitted a prisoner to escape, Roman law required he receive the same punishment that the prisoner would have received, even if it was death. Instead of killing one man, to please the Jews, Herod killed four.
The people of Tyre and Sidon bribed an official to convince Agrippa to meet with a delegation to discuss their food needs. On the special day of the meeting, Agrippa is dressed in royal fashion and delivers a speech from his throne. The people give him a great ovation saying his voice is that of a god. Herod accepts their praise and is instantly stricken with a terminal disease and soon dies. Meanwhile, the Word of God continued to spread and be multiplied (v. 24).