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Acts Chapter Twelve


Acts 12

Herod to please the Jews begins to persecute the assembly in that city. We may remark here that the company of believers at Antioch are also called the assembly (church) which is the case nowhere else as yet. All were accounted as forming a part integrally of the work at Jerusalem (18-) even as all Jews were in connection with that centre of their religious system however numerous their synagogues or great the influence of their rabbis. Every Jew as such sprang from Jerusalem. Barnabas and Saul assemble with the church or assembly at Antioch. A local assembly conscious of its existence-distinct from while connected with Jerusalem-has been formed; and assemblies without a metropolis begin to appear.

To return to Jerusalem. Herod an impious king and in certain respects a type of the adversary-king at the end begins to persecute the faithful remnant at Jerusalem. It is not only the Jews who are opposed to them. The king-whom as Jews they detested-unites himself to them by his hatred to the heavenly testimony thinking to win their favour by this means. He kills James and proceeds to take Peter and put him in prison. But God preserves His servant and delivers him by His angel in answer to the prayers of the saints. He allows some to be slain (happy witnesses to their heavenly portion in Christ) and preserves others to carry on the testimony on earth in spite of all the power apparently irresistible of the enemy-a power which the Lord baffles by the manifestation of that which belongs to Him and to Him alone and which He employs when He will and how He will. The poor saints although praying fervently (they had prayer-meetings in those days) can hardly believe when Peter comes to the door that God had really granted their prayer. The desire presents itself sincerely to God; faith can scarcely reckon upon Him.

Herod confounded by the power of Him whom he resisted condemns the instruments of his hatred to death and goes away to the Gentile seat of his authority. There displaying his glory and accepting the adulatory homage of the people as thoughhe were a god God Himself smites him and shews that He is the governor of this world however great the pride of man. But the word of God extends through His grace; and Barnabas and Saul having fulfilled their ministry return to Antioch taking with them John whose surname was Mark.

── John DarbySynopsis of Acts


Acts 12

Chapter Contents

The martyrdom of James and the imprisonment of Peter. (1-5) He is delivered from prison by an angel. (6-11) Peter departs Herod's rage. (12-19) The death of Herod. (20-25)

Commentary on Acts 12:1-5

(Read Acts 12:1-5)

James was one of the sons of Zebedee whom Christ told that they should drink of the cup that he was to drink of and be baptized with the baptism that he was to be baptized with Matthew 20:23. Now the words of Christ were made good in him; and if we suffer with Christ we shall reign with him. Herod imprisoned Peter: the way of persecution as of other sins is downhill; when men are in it they cannot easily stop. Those make themselves an easy prey to Satan who make it their business to please men. Thus James finished his course. But Peter being designed for further services was safe; though he seemed now marked out for a speedy sacrifice. We that live in a cold prayerless generation can hardly form an idea of the earnestness of these holy men of old. But if the Lord should bring on the church an awful persecution like this of Herod the faithful in Christ would learn what soul-felt prayer is.

Commentary on Acts 12:6-11

(Read Acts 12:6-11)

A peaceful conscience a lively hope and the consolations of the Holy Spirit can keep men calm in the full prospect of death; even those very persons who have been most distracted with terrors on that account. God's time to help is when things are brought to the last extremity. Peter was assured that the Lord would cause this trial to end in the way that should be most for his glory. Those who are delivered out of spiritual imprisonment must follow their Deliverer like the Israelites when they went out of the house of bondage. They knew not whither they went but knew whom they followed. When God will work salvation for his people all difficulties in their way will be overcome even gates of iron are made to open of their own accord. This deliverance of Peter represents our redemption by Christ which not only proclaims liberty to the captives but brings them out of the prison-house. Peter when he recollected himself perceived what great things God had done for him. Thus souls delivered out of spiritual bondage are not at first aware what God has wrought in them; many have the truth of grace that want evidence of it. But when the Comforter comes whom the Father will send sooner or later he will let them know what a blessed change is wrought.

Commentary on Acts 12:12-19

(Read Acts 12:12-19)

God's providence leaves room for the use of our prudence though he has undertaken to perform and perfect what he has begun. These Christians continued in prayer for Peter for they were truly in earnest. Thus men ought always to pray and not to faint. As long as we are kept waiting for a mercy we must continue praying for it. But sometimes that which we most earnestly wish for we are most backward to believe. The Christian law of self-denial and of suffering for Christ has not done away the natural law of caring for our own safety by lawful means. In times of public danger all believers have God for their hiding-place; which is so secret that the world cannot find them. Also the instruments of persecution are themselves exposed to danger; the wrath of God hangs over all that engage in this hateful work. And the range of persecutors often vents itself on all in its way.

Commentary on Acts 12:20-25

(Read Acts 12:20-25)

Many heathen princes claimed and received Divine honours but it was far more horrible impiety in Herod who knew the word and worship of the living God to accept such idolatrous honours without rebuking the blasphemy. And such men as Herod when puffed with pride and vanity are ripening fast for signal vengeance. God is very jealous for his own honour and will be glorified upon those whom he is not glorified by. See what vile bodies we carry about with us; they have in them the seeds of their own dissolution by which they will soon be destroyed whenever God does but speak the word. We may learn wisdom from the people of Tyre and Sidon for we have offended the Lord with our sins. We depend on him for life and breath and all things; it surely then behoves us to humble ourselves before him that through the appointed Mediator who is ever ready to befriend us we may be reconciled to him lest wrath come upon us to the utmost.

── Matthew HenryConcise Commentary on Acts


Acts 12

Verse 2

[2] And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.

James the brother of John — So one of the brothers went to God the first the other the last of the apostles.

Verse 3

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

Then were the days of unleavened bread — At which the Jews came together from all parts.

Verse 4

[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.

Four quaternions — Sixteen men who watched by turns day and night.

Verse 5

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

Continual prayer was made for him — Yet when their prayer was answered they could scarce believe it Acts 12:15. But why had they not prayed for St. James also? Because he was put to death as soon as apprehended.

Verse 6

[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.

Peter was sleeping — Easy and void of fear; between two soldiers - Sufficiently secured to human appearance.

Verse 7

[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.

His chains — With which his right arm was bound to one of the soldiers and his left arm to the other.

Verse 8

[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.

Gird thyself — Probably he had put off his girdle sandals and upper garment before he lay down to sleep.

Verse 10

[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.

The first and second ward — At each of which doubtless was a guard of soldiers.

The gate opened of its own accord — Without either Peter or the angel touching it.

And they went on through one street — That Peter might know which way to go.

And the angel departed from him — Being himself sufficient for what remained to be done.

Verse 11

[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.

Now I know of a truth — That this is not a vision Acts 12:9.

Verse 12

[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 having considered — What was best to be done.

Many were gathered together — At midnight.

Verse 13

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

The gate — At some distance from the house; to hearken - If any knocked.

Verse 14

[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 knowing Peter's voice — Bidding her open the door.

Verse 15

[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.

They said Thou art mad — As we say Sure you are not in your senses to talk so.

It is his angel — It was a common opinion among the Jews that every man had his particular guardian angel who frequently assumed both his shape and voice. But this is a point on which the Scriptures are silent.

Verse 17

[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.

Beckoning to them — Many of whom being amazed were talking together.

And he said Show these things to James — The brother or kinsman of our Lord and author of the epistle which bears his name. He appears to have been a person of considerable weight and importance probably the chief overseer of that province and of the Church in Jerusalem in particular.

He went into another place — Where he might be better concealed till the storm was over.

Verse 19

[19] And when Herod had sought for him and found him not he examined the keepers and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea and there abode.

Herod commanded them to be put to death — And thus the wicked suffered in the room of the righteous.

And going down from Judea — With shame for not having brought forth Peter according to his promise.

Verse 20

[20] And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but they came with one accord to him and having made Blastus the king's chamberlain their friend desired peace; because their country was nourished by the king's country.

Having gained Blastus — To their side they sued for and obtained peace - Reconciliation with Herod. And so the Christians of those parts were by the providence of God delivered from scarcity.

Their country was nourished — Was provided with corn by the king's country - Thus Hiram also king of Tyre desired of Solomon food or corn for his household 1 Kings 5:9.

Verse 21

[21] And upon a set day Herod arrayed in royal apparel sat upon his throne and made an oration unto them.

And on a set day — Which was solemnized yearly in honour of Claudius Cesar; Herod arrayed in royal apparel - In a garment so wrought with silver that the rays of the rising sun striking upon and being reflected from it dazzled the eyes of the beholders.

The people shouted It is the voice of a god — Such profane flattery they frequently paid to princes. But the commonness of a wicked custom rather increases than lessens the guilt of it.

Verse 23

[23] And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms and gave up the ghost.

And immediately — God does not delay to vindicate his injured honour; an angel of the Lord smote him - Of this other historians say nothing: so wide a difference there is between Divine and human history! An angel of the Lord brought out Peter; an angel smote Herod. Men did not see the instruments in either case. These were only known to the people of God.

Because he gave not glory to God — He willingly received it to himself and by this sacrilege filled up the measure of his iniquities. So then vengeance tarried not.

And he was eaten by worms or vermin — How changed! And on the fifth day expired in exquisite torture. Such was the event! The persecutor perished and the Gospel grew and multiplied.

Verse 25

[25] And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry and took with them John whose surname was Mark.

Saul returned — To Antioch; taking John surnamed Mark - The son of Mary (at whose house the disciples met to pray for Peter ) who was sister to Barnabas.

── John WesleyExplanatory Notes on Acts


Chapter 12. Herod's Persecution

Rhoda Overjoyed
People Astonished

I. The Martyrdom of James the Apostle

  1. Herod's Persecution
  2. The First Martyr
  3. Resemble the Lord's Death

II. Peter Prisoned and Rescued

  1. Pray Earnestly
  2. Released by the Angel
  3. The House of Mary

III. Herod's Death

  1. Accept Divine Acclaim
  2. Eaten by Worms
  3. The Word of God Increases and Spreads
── Chih-Hsin ChangAn Outline of The New Testament