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Bible: What Does Acts 12 Teach Us About Martyrdom, Angels, and Divine Judgment?
Acts 12: James' Martyrdom; Peter's Imprisonment and Angelic Rescue; Judgment Upon Herod Agrippa
The Martyrdom of the Apostle James
Purposing to attain favor from the Jewish leadership, Herod Agrippa seeks to curb the mounting threat to his authority (namely, the Church) by persecuting Christians.
He elicits special delight from the Jews when he kills the Apostle James and then arrests Peter during the days of Unleavened Bread (vv. 1-3).
The latter apostle Herod intended to keep imprisoned, guarded by sixteen soldiers, until his trial after the Passover (v. 4).
Existence of Angels
Do you believe both good and evil angelic beings exist?
Peter's Imprisonment and Angelic Release
While Peter is spending time in jail, the Church organizes and operates a prayer vigil for him (v. 5).
Assured by Jesus’ promise that he would live a life full of years, the apostle sleeps soundly under heavy guard the night before Herod planned to try him (v. 6).
[In His sovereign plan, God undoubtedly used the Church’s prayer to ensure Peter’s survival and to calm any of the apostle’s lingering anxieties.]
Without the soldiers’ awareness—knowing the penalty for sleeping on duty, these men were undoubtedly awake; however, they were kept from seeing what was happening—, a glorious angel appears in the apostle’s dark cell.
He wakes Peter with a jolt to the ribs—what did he use?—, tells him to get up (whereupon Peter’s chains fall off), dress himself, and follow him (vv. 7-8).
Thinking he is seeing a vision and not actually experiencing his rescue, Peter obeys the angel's word, following him past two guard posts until they reach the prison gate which opens for them “by itself.”
From there they walk down a street, and the angel suddenly disappears (vv. 9-10).
Coming to himself, Peter acknowledges the reality of the “jailbreak” (v. 11).
[Was his prior condition akin to sleepwalking, a fog, a dream?
What does “come to himself” signify?]
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Peter Visit John-Mark's Prayer Meeting
The apostle proceeds to John Mark’s home—actually the house belonged to Mary, his mother, for Mark may have been too young to own a home—where the Church is holding a prayer service, presumably for Peter (v. 12).
Rhoda, a servant girl, comes in answer to Peter’s knocking on the door.
When she hears his voice, she excitedly leaves the apostle standing outside the gate and runs into the house to report the good news (vv. 13-14).
Despite her protestations, the “believers” gathered inside remain skeptical, calling her either “beside herself” or delusional (v. 15).
[“Beside herself” carries the connotation of hysteria.
Perhaps the one who said, “It is his angel” was being facetious, for seeing Peter’s guardian angel should have aroused some interest.]
Only Peter’s constant pounding serves to move them enough to let him enter (v. 16).
After reporting to his astonished (and overjoyed) brethren what had happened at the prison, Peter tells them to pass this news on to James, Jesus’ half-brother as well as the leader of the Jerusalem Church.
Considering it too dangerous to stay at this well-known house, the escapee relocates to an unspecified place, intending to remain there until the “heat” died down (v. 17).
When Herod learns about Peter’s absence, he initiates a search for him; after achieving no success in this endeavor, he orders the execution of the guards after interrogating them (vv. 18-19a).
Meanwhile, the apostle travels from Judea to a refuge in Caesarea (v. 19b).
More Angelic Activity
God Punishes Herod Agrippa
Luke next reports the demise of Herod Agrippa I—an event of divine judgment that took place in A.D. 44.
A sycophantic crowd of Tyrian and Sidonian officials—eager for peace with Agrippa, having received from him their sustenance—laud the egotistical “king” for his oratorical skills, calling his voice that of a god and not of a man (vv. 20-22).
When Herod neglects to glorify God for this gift, he dies horribly after suffering a particularly painful disease, an angel having struck him with a fatal case of worms (v. 23).
[See Ryrie’s note about Josephus’ accounting of this judgment (New Testament Study Bible, 230).]
The Church, on the other hand, progresses steadily (v. 24).
Luke now returns to his chronicle about Saul and Barnabas—leaders who return to Antioch from Jerusalem with the latter’s cousin, John Mark (v. 25).
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