About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword, and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him. When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.
Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.
Understanding And Applying the Text
The King Herod Luke talks about here was Herod Agrippa I. He was the grandson of Herod I (Herod the Great). He was the nephew of Herod Antipas who beheaded John the Baptist. According to Josephus Herod Agrippa’s career was mediocre. This is not the Agrippa Luke speaks of in chapter 25. That Agrippa was the son of Herod Antipas.
The church had a short rest from the persecution from the Jews. Herod arrested and killed James the brother of John. We are not told what the charges were. There may not have been any. So we can assume, if they existed, they were bogus. By what Luke says, it appears James was not given a trial. He was killed “with the sword.”
Herod’s charge from Rome was to keep the peace. Killing James made the Jewish leadership happy. That made keeping the peace easier. The reasons men persecuted the church were and are multifaceted. Sometimes a perverse zeal drives wicked men to fight for their superstitions. But there are men like Nero. After Rome burned he blamed the Christians. He sought to win people’s favor. He did so by putting thousands of Christians to death.
Here Herod arrested and killed James. That made the people happy so Herod tried the same thing again. This time he arrested Peter. He arrested Peter during the festival of Unleavened Bread or Passover. With so many Jews visiting the city this was an opportune time.
Luke tells us Herod was going to bring Peter “out to the people” This suggests a public trial. This is something James did not appear to have. But Herod could increase the Jew’s gratitude by drawing out a trial.
After Herod had Peter arrested, he had 4 squads of soldiers assigned to guard him. A squad was generally a detachment of 4 soldiers. The four detachments allowed them to rotate the watch. They would change every 4 hours around the clock. Herod’s delay was not because he was uncertain. He wanted for the most impact.
The faithful did not neglect their duty. Their duty was to pray and that is what they did.
The Church fought with the battle implements God gave them, prayer. They were concerned for Peter as well as the church. They would have suffered a great loss if Peter had died. Luke says the prayers were earnest and continual. As long as Peter was in the battle, the faithful did what they could to help.
We do not know the petitions they sent to God. They may have prayed that Herod would change his mind. They may have prayed the trial go in Peter’s favor. But it is probable they prayed for what they believed was doable. Their prayer may have been God give Peter strength. They may have prayed God would strengthen them after Peter’s death. But jailbreak, that was out of the question.
The night before Peter’s trial the angel appeared. Herod was not the only one waiting for the most impact of His action. God waited to release Peter to have the greatest impact on Herod and the Jewish leaders. God’s impact was so great Herod had to leave town to save face.
The angel came to Peter while he was sleeping. Peter had accepted his fate. He was going to die. But the angel was an assurance of God’s presence. The light would remind Peter of the Old Testament glory of the Lord.,
The chains fell off of Peter’s hands. The angel told Peter to get up and get dressed. Peter complied. Sometimes “dress yourself” refers to the fastening of the belt or sash. It was the final act of getting dressed. In this context, it meant “put on your belt.” Peter did not have a change of clothes for sleeping.
Peter followed the angel but did not believe what was happening was real. Peter’s faith had nothing to do with his rescue. The faith of those praying had nothing to do with Peter’s escape. They did not believe it was Peter at the gate. It was all God. God did it. God alone.
The story of Peter’s escape is a death knell to the word of faith doctrine, or the name it and claim gospel. It was not the faith of the believers that caused Peter’s release. It appears they did not believe God would release Peter. God used their prayer as a means to increase their faith. But the release of Peter did not depend on them or their prayers. God is sovereign and will do as He wills. We do not control God or even influence His decisions. He God. We are not. We are His creation. Anything less is and submission to the secularist who claims we create God in our image.
When Peter realized what happened was real. He gave thanks to God. He knew it was God and God alone. Peter went to Mary’s house. This was not Mary the mother of Jesus but another Mary. He went there because Mary’s home was a common gathering place. He could let her know what happened and she could tell the others.
Before Peter left town he knew he needed to let the church know what happened. He needed to share what God had done.
The servant girl recognized Peter’s voice at the gate. She did not open the gate but went to the others. They did not believe her and tried to come up with reasonable explanations for what she was saying. It was Peter’s spirit. She was crazy. She was hearing things. It was not Peter, it was an angel. It was impossible for it to be Peter.
Their prayers were answered in a manner they could not imagine. And they refused to believe it. They neither named it nor claimed it.
Peter continues to knock. They opened the gate and you can imagine their surprise and joy. Peter had to motion for them to be quiet. He explained what happened. He told them to tell James the brother of Jesus and the rest of the brothers. Then he leaves.
The next morning the soldiers realize Peter is gone. This is probably at the changing to the guard. The soldiers chained to Peter awake to see their chains attached to nothing. The guards outside the door look in to see only the two guards on the inside of the cell.
You can imagine the panic they felt. They looked around the cell Peter had to be in the cell. There was nowhere else he could be. Once they saw he was not in the cell they looked throughout the rest of the jail. He had to be there. When the guards came to relieve them. They too felt the panic. The search broadened. But Peter was gone.
When Herod heard Peter was gone he to must have panicked. The Jews were expecting a public trial. They may think Herod let him go. There may be a riot. He had to do something. The law allowed him to sentience the guards to suffer the fate of the prisoner if that prisoner escaped. So he sentenced the soldiers to death and got out of town.