Acts 12 Peter Released from Prison
Summary

The first twelve chapters of Acts are primarily focused upon the church in Jerusalem and surrounding areas. It is important to understand the nature of the church and the faith of its members. It is also important to see that they were intense about following the teaching of Christ as taught by the apostles. The remainder of the book will tell of the spread of the gospel via Paul’s evangelistic travels. This chapter provides information about three important events in Jerusalem: the martyrdom of James (1-5); the arrest and miraculous release of the apostle Peter (6-19); and the prideful arrogance of Herod Agrippa I and his subsequent death (20-23). The chapter ends with the return of Barnabas and Saul to Antioch.

James Killed and Peter Imprisoned

12About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4And 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. 5So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.

Question 1

Why was Herod so hostile to the Christians?

Question 2

Why would Herod place Peter under “four squads of soldiers to keep him?”

Peter Is Rescued

6Now 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. 7And 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. 8And 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.” 9And 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. 10When 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. 11When 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.”

Question 3

How was Peter released from prison and what did he do immediately following release?

12When 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. 13And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14Recognizing Peter's voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15They 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!” 16But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17But 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.”[1] Then he departed and went to another place.

Question 4

How did the church react to Peter’s release?

18Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19And 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.

The Death of Herod

20Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king's country for food. 21On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

Question 5

Why did the Lord strike Herod with “worms” so that he died?

24But the word of God increased and multiplied.

25And Barnabas and Saul returned from[2] Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.

People
  • Apostle James
  • Put to death; first apostle to be martyred

  • Herod Agrippa I
  • Ruler who executed James

  • Apostle Peter
  • Imprisoned again and released

  • Rhoda
  • A girl who met Peter at the door

  • Barnabas, Saul, John Mark
  • Returned to Antioch

Places
  • Jerusalem
  • Events of the chapter

  • Caesarea
  • Where Peter went

  • Antioch
  • Where Barnabas, Saul and John Mark went

James Killed and Peter Imprisoned

12About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church. 2He killed James the brother of John with the sword, 3and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4And 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. 5So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.

Acts 12:1

This Herod is Agrippa I (a grandson of Herod the Great). He was given the territory formerly ruled by Philip in AD 37. His territory was broadened by Caligula in AD 41. He ruled until AD 44.

Again, this provides a time frame. The events of chapters 1-12 take place in approximately the first decade of the church’s history.


Acts 12:2

According to Josephus, Agrippa I courted the favor of the Jewish establishment by making liberal donations to their charities and projects. This may be to further appease them.


Acts 12:2

Probably James was beheaded. He might have been speared with a sword.


Acts 12:3

The Days of Unleavened Bread is the Passover.


Acts 12:4

A squad contained four soldiers. They probably rotated watches around the clock.

Peter Is Rescued

6Now 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. 7And 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. 8And 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.” 9And 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. 10When 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. 11When 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.”

Acts 12:6

The squad on duty apparently had two men chained to Peter and two watching the door.

12When 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. 13And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14Recognizing Peter's voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15They 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!” 16But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17But 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.”[1] Then he departed and went to another place.

Acts 12:12

This John Mark would go with them to Antioch. He records the Gospel of Mark.


Acts 12:12

The church must not have expected Peter’s release even though they were praying.


Acts 12:13

Rhoda is otherwise unmentioned in Scripture. She seems to act somewhat excited and irrational.


Acts 12:17

This James is probably the Lord’s brother. This is the first mention of him (see chapter 15).

18Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19And 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.

Acts 12:19

The guards are executed for allowing the escape; we know they were powerless to stop it.

The Death of Herod

20Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king's country for food. 21On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

Acts 12:20

The exact cause of the dispute between Agrippa I and these two Phoenician cities is unknown.

Tyre and Sidon were “nourished” (literally) by Herod’s country and he resented their responses.


Acts 12:20

Blastus was Herod’s chief of staff; NKJB margin says, “was in charge of the king’s bed-chamber”


Acts 12:22

Agrippa I was prideful and apparently accepted their adoration as a “god” (see vs. 23).


Acts 12:23

Agrippa was “consumed by worms” (Gr: skolekobrotos). The exact disease is unknown.

24But the word of God increased and multiplied.

25And Barnabas and Saul returned from[2] Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark.

Acts 12:25

John Mark is the one to whom the Gospel of Mark is revealed later.

Perspectives

God provided for his apostles in different ways. He took James to heaven and released Peter from prison.

The church should pray for God’s involvement and truly believe in His ability to help.

“Pride goes before a fall.” A haughty “powerful” man can become weakened quickly.