June 17, 2014

 

Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles

By: Tom Lowe        

                                                                            

Lesson: III.F.2: Peter Delivered (12:3-17)                                       

 

                  

Scripture (Acts 12:3-17; KJV)

 

3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)

4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.

5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.

6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, 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.

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.

9 And he went out, and followed him; and wist 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, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

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.

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.

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, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.

 

 

 

Commentary

 

3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)

 

And because he saw it pleased the Jews 

The Jews were pleased to see that the government in Palestine, Herod Agrippa being the current ruler, was taking action against the followers of this new religion, for they saw Christianity as a threat to their way of life and to the Jewish religion. Most of the converts, to this point, were Jews, therefore the Jewish leaders pressed Agrippa to do something to check the growth of Christianity. King Agrippa saw in this situation an opportunity to gain popularity with the Jewish community. This was the principle on which he acted. It was not from a sense of doing what is right; it was not in order to do justice, and to protect the innocent; it was not to discharge the appropriate duties of a magistrate and a king, but it was to promote his own popularity. Agrippa would probably have acted in this way regardless of the circumstances, for he was ambitious, vain, and fawning. He wanted to be popular, and to obtain that end, like many others, he was willing to sacrifice truth and justice. But in his case there was another reason which may have had even greater influence over his actions. He held his appointment under the Roman emperor. This foreign rule was always unpopular among the Jews. In order, therefore, to secure a peaceful reign, and to prevent insurrection and tumult, it was necessary for him to court their favor; to indulge their wishes, and to go along with their prejudices. Regrettably, there have been many monarchs and rulers who have been governed by no better principle, and whose sole aim has been to secure popularity, even at the expense of law, truth, and justice. Josephus points out that this was the character of Herod: “This king (Herod Agrippa) was by nature very beneficent, and liberal in his gifts, and very ambitious to please the people with such large donations; and he made himself very illustrious by the many expensive presents he made them. He took delight in giving, and rejoiced in living with good reputation.”

 

He proceeded further to take Peter also

Peter was one of the most conspicuous and prominent men in the church. The Jews saw him as particularly obnoxious, due to his severe and forceful sermons, and by his success in winning people to Christ. It was natural, therefore, that he would be the next object of attack. The Jews, no doubt, had a particular dislike for Peter, and would have been glad to have been rid of him; Herod was aware of this, and therefore to please them, he ordered for Peter to be taken (arrested and jailed).

 

(Then were the days of unleavened bread.)

“The days of unleavened bread” is another designation for the Passover, or the seven days immediately succeeding the Passover, during which the Jews were required to eat bread without leaven: “Seven days shall ye eat unleavened bread; even the first day ye shall put away leaven out of your houses: for whosoever eateth leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that soul shall be cut off from Israel. And in the first day there shall be an holy convocation, and in the seventh day there shall be an holy convocation to you; no manner of work shall be done in them, save that which every man must eat, that only may be done of you. And ye shall observe the feast of unleavened bread; for in this selfsame day have I brought your armies out of the land of Egypt: therefore shall ye observe this day in your generations by an ordinance for ever. In the first month, on the fourteenth day of the month at even, ye shall eat unleavened bread, until the one and twentieth day of the month at even” (Exodus 12:15-18). It was some time during this period that Herod chose to apprehend Peter. Why this time was selected is not known. It was, however, a period of religious observance, and since Herod was eager to show his affection for the religious rites of the nation, it is probable that he chose this period to impress upon them his desire to maintain the existing traditions and customs of the nation. The crowds of Hellenistic and other Jews who were gathered to keep the feast at Jerusalem naturally made this a favorable opportunity for courting the goodwill of the people. A tradition recorded by St. Jerome states that St. James was beheaded on the 15th of Nisan, i.e., on the same day as that of the Crucifixion. Peter was arrested probably at the same time; but his trial and execution were deferred till the seven days of the feast were over.

 

 

4 And when he had apprehended him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him; intending after Easter to bring him forth to the people.

 

And when he had apprehended him 

When the soldiers he sent to arrest Peter had taken him into custody. There is no indication within the passage that Peter was aware that he might be arrested or that he attempted to conceal himself or escape from the city.

 

He put him in prison

They put Peter in the common prison, where they kept the murderers, and thieves. This may have been the very same prison where he and the other apostles had been confined once before: “And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison” (Acts 5:18). The next verse tells what happened next: “But “during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out” (Acts 5:19). It would have been deemed improper to have engaged in the trial of a supposed criminal during this religious festival. The minds of the people were expected to be devoted solely to the observance of religious ceremonies; and therefore, Herod decided to keep him in the prison until the Passover had ended.

 

And delivered him to four quaternions of soldiers to keep him

Agrippa apparently followed the regulations used by the Roman military which he had learned during his years in Rome. Each quaternion consisted of four soldiers, so there were sixteen in all; and thus the Syriac version renders it, “and delivered him to sixteen soldiers.” The Romans divided the night into four watches; the four quaternions relieved each other at set times (usually at three hour intervals) through the four watches of the night, and the prisoner was chained to two of the soldiers (see v. 6), while the two others were stationed as guards at the door of the dungeon. The apostle Paul often spoke of the times he was in prison and in chains, as he did in the following verses:

  • (Acts 28:20) “For this reason I've asked to see you and speak to you. In fact, it is for the hope of Israel that I'm wearing this chain.”
  • (Ephesians 6:20) “I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God's ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should.”

 

The reason for all this caution, and for such a strong guard, might be, because someone with authority remembered a time some years ago when Peter and the rest of the apostles were delivered from the same prison after being committed there. The utmost precautions were taken so that he would not escape; it was Herod’s way of providing the Jews ample assurance of his intention to keep Peter locked up, and to bring him to trial.

 

Intending after Easter

This is an unfortunate translation, because the original is simply “after the Passover.” The word “Easter” now signifies the holiday observed by many Christian churches in honor of the resurrection of the Saviour. But the original has no reference to that, nor is there the slightest evidence that any such observance was held at the time when the Book of Acts was written. The word “Easter” is of Saxon origin, and is thought to be derived from “Eostre,” the goddess of Love, or the Venus of the North, in honor of whom a festival was celebrated by our pagan ancestors in the month of April. Since this festival coincided with the Passover of the Jews, and with the feast observed by Christians in honor of the resurrection of Christ, the name came to be used to denote the latter. In the old Anglo-Saxon service-books the term “Easter” is used frequently to translate the word “Passover.”

 

Perhaps “Feast of the Passover” would have been a better translation, since it would indicate that the whole seven days are intended. This is the meaning in John 18:28:

  • Jesus' trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor. His accusers didn't go inside because it would defile them, and they wouldn't be allowed to celebrate the Passover. (John 18:28)

And it is certainly the meaning here. The term “Easter” should only be used for the Christian festival which took the place of the Passover, at a later date.

 

This is another characteristic trait of the religion of Agrippa, and of his sympathy with the feelings of the Jews about the Law, that he would not allow a trial on a capital charge, or an execution, to take place during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.

 

To bring him forth to the people

Agrippa, evidently, had in mind to put him to death publicly, in order to gratify the Jews. Agrippa wanted “To bring him forth to the people,” which shows that the same desire was still uppermost in his mind; to appease the people by gifts or demonstrations, or by blood. He may have intended to bring him on to a stage or on some high ground, where all the people could insult and abuse him, and see him condemned, and perhaps even put to death, which would be as enjoyable to them as a gladiatorial slaughter to a Roman audience (see verse 11). The providence of God in regard to Peter, in consequence of how it turned out, is remarkable. Instead of his being put to death, as was James, he was reserved for a future trial; and that provided an opportunity for the prayers of the church, and for his subsequent release.

 

 

5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.

 

Peter therefore was kept in prison

The eight-day festival of Passover is celebrated in the early spring, from the 15th through the 22nd of the Hebrew month of Nissan. It cannot be determined when Peter was arrested, only that it was while the celebration was going on. Herod had already resolved to put Peter on trial on the day immediately following the end of Passover.

 

But prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him

The key to understanding this verse is found in the meaning given to the expression “without ceasing,” whether it refers to the “duration” of their prayers or the “intensity” of them. If we suppose it refers to “duration,” then there are several possibilities. They could have prayed together as a body, or in several groups at different places, or those who prayed could have been the principle members of the church at one certain place. They could have begun to pray at the beginning of the celebration and continued until the end, in which case they probably prayed in shifts, which would provide time for eating and sleeping.

 

Now, if the expression “without ceasing” doesn’t refer to the duration of their prayers, then it must mean that they prayed “earnestly” or “fervently.” Compare these verses:

  • (on fervently) “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently.” (1 Peter 1:22
  • (on more earnestly) “And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44)

 

As the last of the days of unleavened bread approached, the prayers of the Church would be more and more intense in their earnestness to see Peter released. We only need to read the preceding chapters to see how precious the life of Peter must have been to the Church. It is probable that their prayers were both “without ceasing,” and intense, for the persecution which put Peter in prison, would now render public Christian services dangerous, as we know was often the case in the early days of Christianity.

 

“The fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much”

 

 

6 And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison.

 

And when Herod would have brought him forth

The scene is being set for what follows: the time is established here as the evening before Herod intended to bring Peter out of the prison, present him to the people, and to put him to death, should they choose to do so. And by this he hoped to gain popularity with the Jews.

 

The same night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers

This is an example of remarkable composure, and an illustration of the effects of a conscience completely at peace, and of confidence in God. Peter, no doubt, knew what Herod’s intentions were. James had just been put to death, and Peter had no reason to expect a better fate. And yet, in this situation, he slept as serenely as if there had been no danger at all. There is nothing that will give a person a calm and undisturbed sleep, as a conscience which is void of wrong doing and the fear of evil men; and Peter, in the midst of imminent danger, places his confides in God and rests securely and calmly. Compare these verses:

  • Psalm 3:5—“I laid me down and slept; I awaked; for the LORD sustained me.” The sense is, that regardless of these troubles and dangers I had such confidence that God hears prayer, and such calm trust in his protection, that I laid down and slept securely.
  • Psalm 4:8—“I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for you, LORD, only make me dwell in safety.” His confidence in God enables David to sleep calmly and tranquilly, regardless of whatever dangers threaten him.

 

God had given His apostle the sleep of His beloved mentioned in Psalm 127:2: “It is vain for you to rise up early, to sit up late, to eat the bread of sorrows: for so he gives his beloved sleep.” So, he sleeps undisturbed by the fear of looming suffering and death.

 

Bound with two chains

Roman prisoners had a chain fastened at one end to the wrist of their right hand, and at the other to the wrist of a soldier's left hand, leaving the right arm of the soldier 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; his right arm secured as described and his left hand chained to the right hand of the soldier, on the other side him. This reminds me of the chief priests, who “made the sepulcher of the Lord sure, sealing the stone and setting a watch.” But, "He that sitteth in heaven shall laugh at you." Jesus came out of that tomb, and those soldiers who were guarding it to prevent His disciples from getting in and stealing His body, could not prevent the angel from rolling the stone away and Jesus from coming out. Praise His wonderful name!

 

And the keepers before the door kept the prison

By “the keepers before the door” is meant “the guards before the door,” that is, the two soldiers of the quaternion who were not chained to the prisoner (see v. 4). They were stationed at the entrance to the prison, and watched, so that nobody went in, or came out, without their knowledge.

 

We may understand by now that every possible precaution was used to ensure that Peter would still be in prison when Herod determined to put him on trial, and then execute him. Consider the following precautions:

  1. He was in prison.
  2. He was being guarded by sixteen men, who could relieve each other when weary, and thus every security measure was taken to insure that he could not escape through any lack of attention on their part.
  3. He was chained between two men.
  4. He was, in addition, guarded by two others, whose orders were to watch the door of the prison.

It should be pointed out, also, that it was death for a Roman soldier to be found sleeping at his post. But God can deliver in spite of all the precautions of people; and it is easy for Him to overcome the most cunning plans of his enemies.

 

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.

 

And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him,

“Came upon him” means either that “the angel” was present with him or stood near him or stood over him, and is expressive of the suddenness and unexpected nature of the visit. The phrase is identical with that of Luke 2:9, when the angel appeared to the shepherds: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.” The expression “glory of the Lord” corresponds to “a light shinned” in the next clause.

 

This angel was one of the ministering spirits sent by Christ, to minister to a servant of His. “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). The persons they minister to, and for, are those, who shall be the heirs of salvation; that is, of eternal glory, which will be possessed by the saints, as an inheritance: hence it belongs to His children, and comes to them through the death of Christ, of which the Holy Spirit is the earnest or down payment.

 

And a light shined in the prison 

Some have supposed that this was lightning. But light, and splendor, and shining apparel commonly bring to mind the trappings of the heavenly beings when they visit the earth:

  • Luke 2:9—“And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.”
  • Luke 24:4—“While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them.” Their garments were bright and glittering like lightning, to indicate the glory and majesty of these celestial spirits, and so that they might be known to be what they were; angels.
  • Mark 9:3—“His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” And his raiment became shining—with the rays of glory and brightness which darted from his body through his clothes, and made them as bright as the light of the sun at noon day: and exceeding white as snow, of which nothing is whiter.

 

A light shined in the prison; but whether this light was from the bright body the angel assumed, or from some other source, we are not told, and therefore it is not necessary for us to know; but it is highly probable that the light was seen only by Peter, and to him this would be undisputable proof that what was taking place was divine intervention, on his behalf. Whether the light emanated from the angel—“was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow” (Matthew 28:3)—or as a separate phenomenon, cannot be determined; but it is supposed that the light was due to the presence of the angel who came with the glory of the Lord. It was, therefore, an uncommon light and a symbol of the presence, majesty, and power of God.

 

The word translated “prison” is not the same as in the last verse; here it means “cell” or “chamber.” “Cell” was used by the Athenians as a synonym for a prison. It only occurs here in the New Testament, though it is a common Greek word. “A light shinned in Peter’s cell.”

 

And he smote Peter on the side

This was, without a doubt, a gentle touch, blow or stroke applied to that side of the apostle which lay uppermost, in order to arouse him from sleep.

 

And raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly

“Raised him up” doesn’t mean that he helped him to get up off his bed and rise to his feet;but rather, that he woke him up from his sleep. And he immediately said to Peter, “Arise up quickly;” today, we would say something like “Wake up! Get up quickly!—We gotta go!”

 

And his chains fell off from his hands

This could have only have happened through divine power. No natural means were used, nor could have been used without arousing the guards. It is a beautiful expression of the ease with which God can deliver his friends from danger. Compare the following verse:

  • Acts 16:26. “And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed.” 

 

There are many who say that Peter’s “chains fell off” as the result of a similar earthquake, and they present a reasonable argument, except for one thing, which I will explain. In Acts 16:26, the chains of the prisoners were fastened to rings or staples in the wall, and the effect of a great shock would be to loosen the stones and so make it easy to escape. The fact that the “foundations of the prison were shaken” indicates that it was a very strong earthquake. But in the case of Peter, we know that his chains were not anchored in the wall of his cell, but instead, he was chained by each hand to one of his guards, “and his chains fell off from his hands.” It was a miracle of God wrought by one of His angels. The soldiers, in the meantime, are kept fast asleep by the same miraculous power, so that they were not at all alarmed by the noise of the chains hitting the cell floor. Peter could now rise without necessarily awakening the soldiers to whom he was previously fastened, and who would feel no difference in the chain which was attached to them.

 

Chains cannot hold any whom God will have free; every thing loses its force when God suspends or withdraws His favor.

 

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.

 

And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals.

When lying down to sleep the Apostle had naturally laid aside his “cloak (outer garment),” loosened the girdle that bound his tunic (inner garment), and taken off his sandals.

 

But now that the angel has woke him up, he “said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals.” “Gird” means to bind with a flexible band (as a belt). The command given is for Peter to ‘get dressed;’ which required him to tighten his girdle (belt) around his tunic—a long flowing undergarment which was fastened up by day, so as not to impede the person’s movements, since they were not fit to go about any business until they had gird their garments to them. Jeremiah was commanded to get a girdle (belt) about him—“This is what the LORD said to me: "Go and buy a linen belt and put it around your waist. . .” (Jer. 13.1)—when he was to be sent on God’s errand.

 

The rest of the instruction was, “and bind on thy sandals.”The sandals he wore were a sort of shoes that covered only the soles of the feet, and were bound or fastened to the leg, with strings or thongs. Peter still observed his master’s rule to be shod with sandals: “But be shod with sandals; and not put on two coats” (Mark 6:9). “Sandals” with wooden soleswerethe shoes of the poor as distinguished from those of the richer classes, which were more decorative and comfortable.

 

And so he did.

He did not ask any questions, or the reason for these orders; he did not argue the matter, but obeyed at once.

 

And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee,

“Cast thy garment about thee” refers to the outer garment that was thrown loosely around the shoulders. It was almost square, and was laid aside when they slept, or worked, or ran. The instruction was for Peter to dress himself in his usual apparel. His taking the time to put back on all that he had taken off is an indication that everything had been done in a leisurely manner. There was no evidence of any urgency; nor of any intention to elude justice, or even to avoid meeting his accusers in any legal way. It appears that the two soldiers were overwhelmed by a deep sleep, which God caused to fall upon them.

 

And follow me.

“Follow me,” said the angel, which may have reminded Peter of that day on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, when Jesus said to him, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” He had followed the Lord then, and though he had occasionally failed Him, Jesus had used him mightily in the building of His church. He was Jesus’ man now, and would never deny Him again, and he followed the angel out of the prison, as the following verses tell us.

 

 

9 And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision.

 

And he went out, and followed him;

 He left the prison, guided by the angel, and they met with no opposition along the way.

 

And wist not that it was true which was done by the angel;

“And wist not”—Knew not—that what appeared to him to have happened was real.

“That it was true”—That it was real.

The greatness and suddenness of his deliverance amazed him, and it seemed incredible to him. It was not that he questioned God’s power or godliness; but knowing that he was to suffer for Christ’s name’s sake, he might not have been looking for deliverance at all, and when it came, it may have seemed like a dream, as in Psalm 126:1: “When the LORD brought back his exiles to Jerusalem, it was like a dream!” God may bring his people to such formidable circumstances, in order that His salvation might be even more astonishing. It may be noted that his experience of the trance and vision narrated in Acts 10 would tend to suggest the impression that he was passing through phenomena of a similar kind.

 

But thought he saw a vision.

It was so astonishing, so unexpected, and so wonderful, that he could not believe that it was true; but thought he saw a vision; envisioned he was in a dream or a trance, and that these things were not really happening. The whole episode was so amazing and astonishing.Compare the following passage:

  • “And he became very hungry, and would have eaten: but while they made ready, he fell into a trance, And saw heaven opened, and a certain vessel descending unto him, as it had been a great sheet knit at the four corners, and let down to the earth: Wherein were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air.” (Acts 10:11-12).

 

 

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.

 

When they were past the first and the second ward,

The word which has been translated here as “ward” may mean either “a prison, or place of confinement,” “the place where the guard was posted,” “the guard himself,” or “the act of guarding.” Here it probably refers to the guards who are posted at the inner and outer gates of the prison. They might have been some of the quaternions (v. 4) who took custody of Peter when he first arrived there and since then have stood guard over him, around the clock. Two of them were always with him, and one or more were posted at these two wards for further security. The soldiers took great care to insure that Peter would not escape; but that makes his deliverance even more remarkable. How could it happen or how can it be explained without attributing his deliverance to the miraculous? I doubt that the guards posted at the two gates could have fallen asleep at the same time. Besides that, the penalty for falling asleep while on duty was death, and that is a great incentive to stay awake. These guards were probably put into a deep sleep by the angel in order to facilitate the escape of Peter.   “The iron gate that leadeth unto the city,” mentioned in the next clause, was probably located at one of the wards. We can only speculate about these things, since we don’t know the layout of the prison; but it would seem from what we do know that Peter had been placed in the innermost dungeon.

 

They came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city;

They (Peter and the angel) came to the iron gate that opened into the city. This was not one of the gates built into the wall that surrounded the city, which would indicate that the prison was outside the city. Rather, it was the strong gate of the prison, which for security reasons was made of iron, as the doors of prisons are now, and this gate led directly into the city of Jerusalem. The precise location of the prison is unknown. It is supposed by some that the prison was built between two walls of the city, and that the entrance to the prison was located in the inner wall, so that the gate opened directly into the city. But a little further along in the verse we read that they “passed on through” the gate and into “one street” of the city. This additional detail would make it probable that the prison in which Peter was kept was in the midst of the city.

 

which opened to them of his own accord:

“Of his own accord” means that it opened spontaneously, without the application of any force or using a key, which was conclusively evidence that Peter was delivered by a miracle of Divine origin. Peter knew that he had not applied any pressure to the gate, neither did he see the angel touch it; it was opened by Divine power, no human had a hand in it, so it is said to have opened on its own accord.

 

and they went out,

Peter was out of prison, though he was not yet “out of the woods.” There was still the matter of Herod’s desire to execute him in order to pacify the Jews. Peter would not stop preaching the Gospel even if it meant prison or death. In fact, he was more determined than ever to do it, because God had rescued him from prison, and out of Herod’s clutches.

 

And passed on through one street;

Once out of the prison, the angel conducted Peter to a particular street, probably the one described in verse 12, “where the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark, [and] where many were gathered together praying.” There is no way to determine the name of this street for there were many streets in Jerusalem. But the clause seems to suggest that it was not one of those wide thoroughfares which ran from one end of the city to the other, but rather, one of those narrow lanes or streets where most people lived.

 

And forthwith the angel departed from him

It wasn’t until Peter was entirely safe from any danger of pursuit that the angel left him, for by this time Peter was able to take care of himself. God had brought about his complete rescue, and now left him to his own good sense, as usual. “He disappoints the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise” (Job 5:12). Herod was one of those crafty men. He had made plans to execute Peter, but those plans were frustrated by a single angel, while at any time he could have sent ten thousand angels to break through the walls, kill his guards and bring him out of the prison. But he did it quietly and peacefully while the guards slept.

 

 

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, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

 

Where did Luke get his information about Peter’s thoughts? This verse sounds like first-hand knowledge. Possibly, John Mark may have been his confidant, for we know that both were in Rome together at a later period. In any case, it is clear that, through whatever channels this piece of minute knowledge reached Luke, it must have come originally from Peter himself. And what a touch of naturalness and evident truth it adds to the narration! It’s no wonder that the Apostle was half dazed as he came from his dungeon, and walked through the prison corridors and out into the street. To be wakened by an angel, and to have the experience of following him to freedom, would amaze most men.

 

And when Peter was come to himself,

“When [did] Peter was come to himself?” It was after being awaken out of sleep, after seeing an uncommon light which shone around him, and after the appearance of the angel, and the chains dropping from his hands, and after his surprising escape through the wards, and after the iron gate opened on its own: He was so filled with amazement, that he was not himself; he could scarcely tell whether he was in the body or not, and whether he was in a dream or a trance, or whether he saw a vision or not; but upon the angel's leaving him he came to himself, the amazement wore off, and he found himself thoroughly awake, and perfectly in his senses, and that the deliverance was real. It was only then, after he had recovered from his amazement and bewilderment at his unexpected deliverance, and had time to look back upon all the events that had followed each other in such rapid succession, that he was able to turn things over in his mind and reflect upon them. He finds himself alone, at night, free, in the open street. He had been amazed by the whole transaction. He thought it was a vision: and in the suddenness and rapidity with which it was done, he had no time for cool reflection. The events of divine providence often overwhelm and confound us, due to their suddenness, and rapidity, and their unexpected nature which prevent calm and collected reflection.

 

This clause and other subjective features of the narrative showsthat the account must have been derived from St Peter himself. No one else could describe the astonishment he felt after the realization that it all actually happened, and was no vision.

 

He said, Now I know of a surety,

When Peter was come to himself, and was able to reflect upon all he had heard and seen, which he knew had been done for him by the angel sent by the Lord. He knew “of a surety” (for certain) that his deliverance was real and successful. As before, his Master had sent His angel to deliver him: “But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth” (Acts 5:19).

 

That the Lord hath sent his angel,

Peter said, now I know for certain that the Lord has sent his angel. He was thankful to God, and showed it by acknowledging that his deliverance, though it was by the ministration of an angel, yet it was due to the goodness and power of God, who sent his angel, and his salvation was of the Lord's doing, and it  marvelous in the eyes of Peter, and he was very grateful to Him.

 

And hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod,

A statement of confident knowledge that he was delivered from Herod, who had resolved to kill him, just as he had recently killed James (see verse 2), and thought he had taken all the measures necessary to insure that he would be locked up in prison until then. And in a sense he was delivered from the people’s expectation, who had heard the report of Herod’s resolution, and longed to see it fulfilled. This is evidence that Peter expected nothing but to seal his testimony with his blood on this occasion. But, God sent his angel, and delivered him, as He had done once before (Acts 5:19). It was not yet the time for Peter to die. Jesus, after His resurrection, spoke to him about how he would die: “Verily, verily, I say unto thee, When thou wast young, thou girdedst thyself, and walkedst whither thou wouldest: but when thou shalt be old, thou shalt stretch forth thy hands, and another shall gird thee, and carry thee whither thou wouldest not. This spake he, signifying by what death he should glorify God. And when he had spoken this, he saith unto him, Follow me” (John 21:18-19).

 

And from all the expectation of the people of the Jews.

The Jews had been gratified by the death of James, and now they earnestly desired to see another of the Apostles put to death; not only the inhabitants of Jerusalem, but the body of the Jewish nation, who were now at Jerusalem, on account of the Passover; and who before they departed to go to their own cities and towns, expected to have had Peter brought out of prison, and put to death before them. And this after the many beneficial miracles he had done among them; but now both Herod and they were disappointed.

 

 

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.

 

And when he had considered the thing,

As the apostle walked along the streets, there was plenty of time for mulling over his great deliverance and meditating upon the magnitude of the danger that he had been in, and the goodness of God in delivering him. And he must have wondered, “What should I do next,” and “Where should I go?” Perhaps he knew that there was a prayer meeting in progress at Mary’s house. And, he certainly would have desired to tell his friends about the wonderful miracle that was responsible for his release. He was happy, and he didn’t want to celebrate his release alone. 

 

He came to the house of Mary

The house of Mary was probably nearby; and he would naturally seek the company of a Christian friend. She must have had a large house and some property and other assets, for we find in the last clause that “many were gathered together {in her house] praying. We read that her brother Barnabas (Col 4:10) was a person of substance:

  • “And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas. . . a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus,Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles' feet.” (Ac 4:36-37).

She must also have been distinguished for faith and courage to allow a meeting of Christians in her home, in the face of persecution. It was natural that Peter would go to such a house. This good woman seems to be a widow, since no mention is made of her husband; and, like her brother she may have possessed the means which enabled her to put her house, or a part of it, at the service of the Church, as a meeting-place for prayer.

 

The mother of John,

Mary was “the mother of John,” whose family name was Mark. So far, we can say the following things about him:

  1. Peter calls him his “son,” meaning that he was probably converted by him: “The church that is at Babylon, elected together with you, saluteth you; and so doth Marcus [John Mark] my son” (1Peter 5:13).
  2. He was cousin to Barnabas, probably through his mother, and was therefore at least connected with the tribe of Levi and possibly belonging to it: “And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus” (Acts 4:36). This relationship accounts for the way in which the uncle clung to his nephew, even when St Paul declined to have Mark as a companion on their second proposed missionary journey. We do not read of the father of Mark anywhere.
  3. The fact that Mary’s house was the meeting-place of the Church indicates comparative wealth, as did Barnabas’s sale of his estate.
  4. The absence of any mention of Mark’s father makes it probable that she was a widow.
  5. The Latin name of Marcus indicates some point of contact with Romans or Roman Jews.
  6. She is called the mother of John” to distinguish her from the other Mary; he is called John Mark to distinguish him from the apostle John.
  7. It was probably this John Mark who wrote the Gospel of Mark; but this is not certain.


She is described (or “labeled”), “The mother of John,” because, after this he will become well-known and will be mentioned frequently in Christian circles. Here she gains a reputation, and will be remembered in this Scripture, for her son’s sake. Thus a wise son made a glad mother, as it says in Proverbs 10:1—“A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish son is the heaviness of his mother. 
Her house was large, and her heart as large as her house; the saints met there, and she made them feel welcome, and that is where they were at this time, though the hour was late. If Paul and Barnabas were not in her house at the time (which there is no evidence that they were), it is likely that all the particulars of Peter's escape may have been communicated to Paul by John Mark, and by him repeated to Luke. That they went to the house of Mary before their return seems certain from their taking Mark with them to Antioch (ver. 25), possibly to remove him from the danger Christians were in at Jerusalem at this time.

 

Whose surname was Mark;

“Whose surname” (last name, family name) was of Greek derivation, for he was called Mark. It does not mean that he had two names, as we do, both of which were used at the same time; but he was called by one or the other, the Greeks probably using the name Mark, and the Jews the name John. He is frequently mentioned afterwards as having been the companion, fellow-worker, and confidant of Paul and Barnabas in their travels. Compare the following verses:

  • Acts 12:25— And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.
  • Acts 15:39— And the contention was so sharp between them, that they departed asunder one from the other : and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus;
  • 2 Timothy 4:11— Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.


Where many were gathered together praying

This was on the night, before the day on which Peter was to be put to death. The facts of the case show that the meeting was held at night, possibly to avoid persecution. In times of persecution the Christians met secretly, and in small groups. It was the last of the days of unleavened bread; their last chance, so they planned to pray all night. They were assembled in Mary’s house for the sole purpose of praying for the release of Peter; and there were some in other places, for one place could not hold them all (see verse 17). This should be a lesson for us, that when dangers increase around us and our friends, we should become more fervent in prayer. While life remains we may pray; and even when there is no human hope, we may pray; and when we have no power to heal or deliver, we may pray; because God may still intervene on our behalf, as he did here, in answer to prayer. Peter’s miraculous release was proof that their prayers succeeded; so true is that observation in James 5:16: “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”

 

 

13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.

 

 

And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate

The door was kept shut and was probably locked, because they feared the Jews, that they might be the next to be hauled off to prison. Peter stood at the door and knocked.

 

“Door of the gate” is the small outside door, providing the entrance from the street, and opening into the courtyard, or into the house. It was probably a small door or gate formed inside a larger one. Hence the Jews distinguish between "the door", and "the gate.” Sometimes the outside door is called a “wicket.” Compare:

  • “(and the six hundred men girded with their weapons of war, who are of the sons of Dan, are standing at the opening of the gate)” (Judges 18:16).

 

A damsel came to hearken

“A damsel” or “maid” heard Peter’s knocking and came to the door to listen, and to try, if she could, to know who it was, a friend or a foe, before she opened the door. The Christians gathered in Mary’s house were in danger simply because they were Christians, so they would be very careful of who they allowed in. It was night and past the time for visiting friends and neighbors, therefore, the damsel would be cautious and not immediately admit Peter. The term damsel was used when referring to a young female slave, as well as of a young girl or maiden in general. The narrative implies that she was more than a mere menial servant, if a servant at all. The chore of opening the door to strangers was commonly assigned, as it was even in the high priest’s palace, to a female slave (see Matthew 26:69, 71). It is the duty a doorkeeper to go to the door and listen when any one knocks, and find out who they are and what their business is before opening the door. At a time when being a Christian put one in danger, a knock at the door in the dead of the night would create a sense of terror, and it would be natural to listen carefully to ascertain whether there was more than one person, and then to ask who was there and what was his business. 

 

Named Rhoda

“Rhoda” means a “rose” in the Greek language. It was not unusual for the Hebrews to give the names of flowers, etc., to their daughters. For example, Susanna means a lily; Hadessa, a myrtle; Tamar, a palm-tree, Deborah, a bee; Margarita, a pearl; Dorcas, an antelope. The mention of the name of a slave shows St. Luke’s care in ascertaining details, as far as his opportunities allowed.    

 

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.

 

And when she knew Peter's voice

Peter may have responded to her question, “Who is it?” with, “I am Peter.” Immediately, she knew (or “recognized”) Peter's voice. This is evidence of Peter's intimacy with the family of Mary, as does his assertion in 1 Peter 5:13, "Greet Marcus my son." She had probably heard his voice many times, preaching to the church and conversing with Mary’s family. We know that his speech was the cause of his being recognized on a previous occasion: “And after a while came unto him they that stood by, and said to Peter, Surely thou also art one of them; for thy speech betrayeth thee (Matthew 26:73).

 

She opened not the gate for gladness

Now, I find the rest of this passage comical; they have been praying for Peter and asking God to intervene and cause him to be released from prison. Peter has been released in a miraculous manner, he is overjoyed and wants to tell his friends the good news. He has located those friends and knocked on their door, but instead of letting him come in, the servant recognizes his voice and is so excited that she leaves him on the threshold and runs off to tell the others that Peter is outside.

 

We are told why she didn’t let Peter in—“She opened not the gate for gladness”—she was excited and overjoyed, perhaps to the point of being ecstatic. The slave, it would seem, had shared the anxiety and borne her part in the prayers of the Church; and the eager desire to tell the good news that their prayers had been answered overpowers her presence of mind. It’s the same reaction the disciples had when they recognized Jesus when he appeared to them after His resurrection: “And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, Have ye here any meat? (Luke 24:41).

 

But ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate

The servant girl ran inside the house and quickly told them that Peter stood before the gate. In the meantime, Peter is on the other side of the door wondering why they won’t let him in.

 

 

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.

 

And they said unto her, thou art mad.

They seem to have regarded his rescue as so difficult and so hopeless, that they supposed that only a deranged person would say such a thing—that Peter was at the gate. And yet this was the very thing for which they had been so earnestly praying. When it was announced to them that their prayers were answered, they reasoned that the messenger, that announced it, was insane. Christians are often surprised even when their prayers are answered. They are overwhelmed and amazed at the success of their own petitions, and are slow to believe that the very thing for which they have asked God could be granted. It shows, perhaps, with how little faith they pray, and how slow they are to believe that God can hear and answer prayer. I am afraid I’m talking about myself now. We should persevere in our prayers, and we should place ourselves in a waiting posture to catch the first indications that God has heard us.

 

They thought the girl must be out of her mind, since they no longer believed that Peter’s release was possible—he would be killed in the morning. Perhaps they had stopped praying for his release, and were now praying for themselves, that their faith might be increased and they would be strengthened and enabled to go through the trial that lay ahead. And for Peter, they may now be praying that he might be strengthened and made steadfast, and kept faithful to the end; and bear, by his sufferings and death, a glorious and honorable testimony for Christ.

 

“Thou art mad”, one of them said, for what you said is "too good to be true."

 

But she constantly affirmed that it was even so;

But she insisted on it and constantly repeated it, saying over and over—“Peter is at the gate.” How much better it would have been to have gone at once to the gate, rather than to have a full-fledged hullabaloo on the subject. Peter was forced to remain knocking while they debated the matter. Christians are often engaged in some useless controversy when they should move along in order to catch the first signs of divine favor, and open their arms to welcome the proofs that God has heard their prayers.

 

Then said they, It is his angel

There are several opinions concerning the assertion, “It is his angel:”

  1. “His angel” infers that they thought it was a particular angel in Peter's shape, who had something to communicate to them: and this agrees with the thinking of the Jews, who believe that angels do assume the shapes of men on certain occasions. For support of the idea they refer to the time when Moses was in danger in Pharaoh's court: God sent Michael, the prince of the host of heaven, “in the shape of an executioner”; who brought him at once out of Egypt, and set him at the border of it, the distance of three days journey.
  2. The language expresses the common belief of the Jews, that every true Israelite had a guardian angel specially assigned to him at birth, who, when he appeared in human form, assumed the likeness of the man whom he protected. Jesus words in Matthew 18:10, would seem to support this idea: “Take heed that ye despise not one of these little ones; for I say unto you, That in heaven their angels do always behold the face of my Father which is in heaven.”
  3. “It is his angel” may mean that they supposed that the “guardian angel," or angel appointed to attend Peter, had come to announce something respecting him, and that he had assumed the voice and form of Peter in order to make them certain that he came from him.

 

 

16 But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.

 

But Peter continued knocking

Peter didn’t become impatient and leave Mary’s house and go to another where he might be readily received. He was persistent, and “continued knocking,” believing that eventually they would come to him. He was very desirous of seeing his friends, but he was aware that he was currently in danger of being captured and put in prison again, should any of his enemies come by and recognized him. But what kept him knocking on that door, more than anything else was his eagerness to declare the mercy of God towards him; this fire was kindled in him, and he sought to vent it.

 

And when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished:

At long last, several of them went out together; they opened the door, and saw him—that it really was him, and they were astonished—were filled with wonder and joy, as much as they were, only moments before, filled with sorrow and fear concerning him. They could hardly believe their own eyes; it was amazing to them, that he was delivered out of prison, since they knew there was such a strong guard around him. They were, of course, ignorant of the manner in which it was done.

 

 

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, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.

 

But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace

This is what the Jews call “an hint,” a beckoning, or making signs, either with the head or hand: and this was how Peter signaled them to hold their peace; to be silent, and not boisterous in their expressions of joy and wonder, since that may disturb the neighboring Jews and call attention to their gathering and to Peter’s presence with them, for the consequence could be bad both to him and them. He wanted to relate the whole affair to them; which he did, after they had all entered into the house; which we assume they did, though it is not expressly stated here.

 

Compare the following for beckoning with the hand:

  1. Then Paul stood up, and beckoning with his hand said, Men of Israel, and ye that fear God, give audience. (Acts 13:16)
  2. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander beckoned with the hand, and would have made his defense unto the people. (Acts 19:33)
  3. And when he had given him license, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying , (Acts 21:40)

 

Declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison.

And when they were in the house, Peter related to them how the Lord had brought him out of prison: how He had sent His angel to him in prison, that a light shone about him, how his chains fell from his hands, and how the angel conducted him through the several wards, and when they came to the iron gate, it opened of itself; and how when he had brought him into the public streets, he left him. He ascribes this wonderful deliverance not to the angel, but to the Lord himself.

 

And he said, go show these things to James

Who is the James he refers to? He is either James the son of Alphæus or James the brother of the Lord (though some say this is the same person); for James the son of Zebedee, the brother of John, had recently been killed with the sword, by the command of Herod (see v. 2), and this other James very likely succeeded him as pastor of the church at Jerusalem, or at least had authority over the affairs of that church.

 

James, the Lord’s brother (See Gal. 1:19), was not an Apostle. If he was to receive the message, it would indicate that he already held some important position, perhaps some office, in the Church. It may also imply that there were no Apostles in Jerusalem at that time. We note also that the ‘many’ who were gathered in Mary’s house can have been only a small part of the whole. Here we get a little glimpse into the conditions of the life of a persecuted Church. Such gatherings as this one would attract attention and had to be avoided, and what meetings were held had to be in private houses and with the doors shut. But though assemblies were restricted, communications were kept up, and by underground ways information of events important to the community spread through its members. There was a consciousness of brotherhood which was very strong because of the common danger; the universal peril had not made the brethren selfish, but sympathetic. We may note, too, how great a change had come since the time when the Christians were in the good graces of all the people.

 

James, the son of Alpheus, was commonly called James the Less. (See Acts 12:2; Acts 1:13; Matthew 10:2-3; Mark 3:18). He was one of the twelve apostles. To us, it appears that there are strong reasons for thinking that in this place the one referred to and throughout the Acts, is the apostle James, the son of Alephus. James is singled out, because he had probably begun to take the oversight of the Church in Jerusalem, which we afterwards find him exercising (Ac 15:1-29).

 

And to the brethren

The rest of the apostles, and all the members of the church; He would have acquainted with all the details of his liberation, since he knew it would bring them joy and would be a means of strengthening them in the ways of the Lord.

 

And he departed, and went into another place

If he left the city, and went to some distant place for safety, very likely he went to Antioch; but the words do not necessarily oblige us to conclude, that he went out of the city at that time, only that he went from Mary's house to “another place,” which could mean “another house,” where another company of saints might be assembled, and where he might have more privacy and safety. What the “other place” was we can only guess. Some Catholic writers have hazarded the wild guess that he went to Rome, and having founded the Church there, returned to Jerusalem in time for the council in Acts 15. Others have assumed he went to Antioch, which is, perhaps, less improbable; but there are no traces of his presence there until after the council (Galatians 2:12). Some nearer city, such as Lydda or Joppa, might, however, have been a satisfactory place of refuge, and the absence of the name of the place suggests that it was comparatively unimportant where he went, and that Peter had carried on no conspicuous work there. The act was in accordance with the precept which had been given to the Twelve in Matthew 10:23: “But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come.”

 

It should be noticed that from here Peter steps off the stage of Biblical history, and is scarcely heard of any more. We have a glimpse of him in Acts 15:1 - Acts 15:41, at the Council in Jerusalem, but, with that exception, this is the last mention of him in Acts. How little this Book cares for its heroes! Or rather how it has only one Hero, and one Name which it celebrates, the name of that Lord to whom Peter ascribed his deliverance, and of whom he himself declared that “there is none other Name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.”

 

 

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