Event(s): Herod’s violence towards the Church; Peter is freed from prison; Herod’s violent death
Today’s Text: Acts 12:1-24
Tomorrow’s Text: Acts 12:25-13:12
Our passage for today opens up with the phrase, “about that time.” So it would probably serve us well to pause and get an idea of where we are in the timeline since the resurrection of Jesus, and the day of Pentecost. Herod, who is mentioned here in verse 1 of chapter 12, died in A.D. 44. So we are only about 14 years away from A.D. 30., which is the year Jesus died and rose from the grave. To this point, most of the persecution the believers faced in Acts stemmed from religious motivation. Now, we begin see the persecution fueled by political motivation.
Acts 12:1 “Herod the king stretched out his hand…” There are a total of six different Herods mentioned in the New Testament. The one mentioned here is Herod Agrippa I, grandson of Herod the Great (who we find in the Christmas story) and nephew of Herod Antipas (who had John the Baptist beheaded).
Acts 12:2 “he killed James, the brother of John…” This was James, one of the initial 12 disciples. He and his brother John were the sons of Zebedee, also referred to as “The Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17), who’s mother had asked Jesus if they could be awarded the highest place of honor in the kingdom (Matthew 20:20-23). James was the first of the initial 12 disciples to be martyred. To be put to death with the sword most likely meant he was beheaded.
Acts 12:4 “four squads of soldiers to keep him” This was Peter’s third arrest. The last time he had been imprisoned, an angel had simply opened the gates and let him free, as we read in Acts 5:19-20. So needless to say, the guards knew they needed to increase the level of security. They did so by assigning 16 soldiers to guard him – four squads of four men each assigned to rotations. The two who were in the cell with Peter would have actually been chained to him. As it’s been said, “prisons are no match for prayers”.
Acts 12:6 “that night Peter was sleeping” The night before his execution, Peter is sleeping. So soundly, in fact, that later when the angel comes to free him and walks him outside the city gates, he thinks he’s dreaming! The disciple who had learned the lesson from his Master, who slept in the boat in the midst of the storm (Matthew 8:24), had discovered the peace of abiding in God’s presence. This is why it’s called a peace that transcends all understanding (Philippians 4:7). In the natural, Peter was bound in chains, under the guard of 16 soldiers. But in the spirit, it was the peace of God, which guarded his mind and heart.
Acts 12:17 “go tell these things to James” This James was the half-brother of Jesus, who later became the leader of the Jerusalem church. It is this James who was the author of the book of James.
Acts 12:23 “immediately an angel of the LORD struck him” In their flattery, the people began assigning more esteem to Herod than what was due. By saying his words were like “the voice of a god” meant that they were proclaiming he was more than a mortal. Verse 21 tells us the people were dependent upon Herod for their food supply, and with him being upset (though we cannot exactly know why) they were at risk of losing their most basic need.
Behind flattery, there is always a manipulative intent. But what made this matter worse, was the Herod loved the adulation. Cornelius had bowed before Peter and he corrected him immediately (Acts 10:25). But Herod loved the attention and praise and didn’t bother to correct the people. The AMP Bible says it best, “he did not give God the glory [the preeminence and kingly majesty that belongs to Him as supreme Ruler].” And so he was struck with an illness, dying in a most humiliating way.
Just think about the life of Peter. It was in the middle of the night he walked on the water (Matthew 14:29). It was in the middle of the night when out of a deep sleep he awoke to see Jesus being transfigured (Luke 9:32). It was in the middle of the night – twice – that he was freed from prison. God, in His perfect Omniscience knows when and how to communicate with us; He knows when to work on our behalf. His timing is perfect. We never need fear, only trust.
We’ve talked about how God sometimes answers our prayers in the most unusual ways, but what about those times when God answers our prayers at unexpected times?
What if, in order to give us the wisdom we have been asking for, or the answer we so desperately need, God chooses to wake us up in the middle of the night to talk to us – the time when we are least likely to have other things competing for our attention? How would we respond? Would we, like the disciples here in verse 15 think “we are beside ourselves?”
He may whisper to our hearts at unexpected times, He may stir us out of sleep in the middle of the night. Whatever the case may be, may the response of our heart be:
“My heart has heard You say, “Come and talk with Me.” And my heart responds, “Lord, I am coming.” Psalm 27:8 NLT