Acts 12 Continued

12. So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.

Peter calmly thinks things over. He seems to approach the situation with the same calm casualness that the angel displayed in releasing him. He apparently decides that the thing to do is to let his fellow believers know what the Lord Jesus has done in releasing him. Thus, he goes to a place where he knows many of them will be gathered together: the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark.

We read in verse 5 that the ekklesia were making constant prayer for him. Yet this was no formal prayer meeting taking place in a building called a church. The ekklesia were individuals, and they no doubt were praying for Peter in many places: some in groups, and some separately. Now Peter knows that one large group is meeting in this particular house, and so that is where he goes.

This is the first time we read of John Mark, the very one whom we believe wrote the gospel called Mark. Notice that in the very first mention of him, he is connected with Peter, not Paul, whom he later was to journey with. There is an extra-Biblical idea going far back into antiquity that the gospel of Mark was actually Peter’s, and was transcribed through him to Mark. While there is nothing Biblically to support this, there is nothing really to deny it either, and the brief and to-the-point style of Mark would certainly seem to fit with Peter’s personality. At any rate, the book is God’s inspired Word either way, and worthy of our consideration and faith.

It is interesting that the house is identified as that of Mark’s mother Mary (or Maria,) not his father. This would lead us to believe that Mark’s father was dead, leaving him half an orphan. Perhaps this partially explains Barnabas’ solicitude for his nephew.

13. And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer.

Peter comes to the gate and knocks. Those within would have seen nothing unusual in this, for no doubt many who were concerned for Peter were coming and going from this meeting to pray for him. Thus, the rest do not cease their praying, but a servant girl named Rhoda comes to the gate to answer. Rhoda means “Rose,” a very pretty name for a girl that is still used sometimes today. Rhoda, being a servant girl and unmarried, would probably have been about twelve years of age. No doubt she was assigned to this task of watching the gate and letting anyone in who wished to join the gathering. Perhaps she was also on the lookout if any came from Herod to arrest any more of the leading members of the ekklesia!

14. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate.

Rhoda, coming to the gate, hears Peter’s voice outside it, and recognizes him. This gate must have been large, and if there was any kind of window or opening, she apparently is too excited when she heard Peter even to check it. This amazing event is apparently too much for this young lady! She becomes so flustered that she can hardly think what to do. Leaving Peter to stand alone outside, she runs back in to tell everyone there that Peter is standing outside before the gate. Of course, this was a rather foolish thing to do, but we can spare her criticism because of her youth and obvious excitement. How like a typical young girl this Rhoda was!

15. But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”

Rhoda was obviously so excited and flustered by this whole event that those within were inclined to doubt her story at first, at least, once they finally understood what she was trying to tell them. They accused her of being beside herself, which was probably not too far from the truth at this point. Yet what they meant, of course, was that her report was crazy, and could not be true. Their words literally were that she was suffering from a mania. Yet she kept insisting that this was the truth. At no point here does it appear to occur to her in her flustered and excited state that she looked rather foolish standing here telling them about it, rather than having opened the gate and brought Peter inside. Poor Peter must have had to stand outside for quite a long time while all this was going on!

Finally, one in the company comes up with what he thinks is a plausible explanation for all this. He suggests that it is not Peter outside the gate, but his angel. This simple but erroneous explanation has led to many foolish speculations and wild ideas. From this, men have developed the rather absurd idea that each believer has a guardian angel that looks exactly like him, and that this is who these men thought was standing outside the gate. Yet this indicates no such thing. Remember that the word angelos in Greek simply means a messenger, and that men like John the Baptist are called “angels” in the Greek. Thus what this man was suggesting was that Peter had sent a messenger to them. He thought that when Rhoda asked who was at the gate, and the messenger said he was from Peter, the silly girl thought that the messenger WAS Peter, and so ran inside with this wild story. This suggestion must have seemed plausible to the one who made it, and perhaps it convinced others in the gathering also. At any rate, at this point some among them seem to start thinking of actually going and opening the gate to see who really is outside.

16. Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.

Poor Peter continues knocking outside the gate, and the crowd inside finally goes to open the door and to see who is really there. When they see that it actually is Peter, they are astonished! They had been praying for Peter, of course, and for the dire situation he was in. They probably requested that somehow Herod might change his mind, and that the trial might end up without Peter being put to death. Yet James had been in the same situation not long before, and no deliverance came. No doubt they also all knew the Lord’s prophecy about Peter’s martyrdom, and had decided that perhaps the time had come for this to take place. Thus, I do not think they were praying with much hope that any deliverance would come for Peter here. Yet God’s government worked here in a way that even the believers did not expect.

I do not think it is right for us to be too hard on these people for being so amazed at Peter’s deliverance, as some are. They say that they were praying for this, and they should have believed that God would give it to them. Well, as we considered above, they did not have any particular reason to think God would do this, and they did have reasons to think that God would not. Even Peter upon being rescued by the angel was more ready to believe that he was seeing a vision than that he was actually being rescued. I doubt that any of us would have thought much differently had we been there and been part of this situation. Thus, I do not think it is right to charge these people with a lack of faith. They were praying for Peter even when they thought that they had reasons to believe that God would not save him. We should give them credit for this, not condemn them for a lack of faith.

17. But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.

No doubt there was much excited talking going on among this crowd of believers as they all joyfully welcomed Peter into their company! Yet he had important things to tell them, and besides that he needed to get away and not waste the freedom the Lord had bought for him. It would not be right for him to presume that the Lord would rescue him again if he tarried and was again caught. It was time for him to leave Jerusalem for a time, and leave Herod in the hands of God. Thus, Peter motioned to them with his hand, that oriental sign that he wanted everyone to be silent and to pay close attention to what he was about to say.

Then, Peter told them the story of how the Lord delivered him from prison. Notice that though it was an angel, not the Lord Himself, that had come to deliver Peter, still Peter knows that there is little difference between being freed by the Lord’s messenger and being freed by the Lord in person. Then, having told the story, he gives them instructions. They are to relate this story to James and to the brethren.

Of course, this James could not be the James whom Herod had put to death in verse 2. That James was James the brother of John, one of the twelve. This James was no doubt the Lord’s half-brother James, whom we see acting prominently among the believers in Jerusalem in Acts 15 and Acts 21, and who wrote the letter called James in the Bible. This James, though he was not one of the twelve, apparently had the gift of administrations or governments as listed in I Corinthians 12:28. Thus, he was a primary leader among the believers. For this reason, Peter wants him most of all to know of what has happened with him.

Having told his story and given his instructions, Peter now leaves to go to another place. Whether or not this was to go into hiding it is hard to say. Certainly it would at least have taken Herod some time to locate his whereabouts. And Herod does not have much time left, as we will see. Thus Peter leaves Herod and his judgment in the hands of God.

18. Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter.

When day breaks, the guards who had been chained to Peter awoke. They must have been horrified to find that their prisoner was no longer there! The story quickly must have spread from there throughout the prison. They would have thought, he might have gotten out of his chains, but he couldn’t have gotten out of the inner prison. Yet they searched it, and he was not there. Well, then, he couldn’t have gotten out of the second ward. Again they would have searched and not found him. Well, then, he couldn’t have gotten out of the outer prison. Yet once again, they would have searched and found he was not there either. Their amazement must have continued to increase at this unbelievable escape. Only God could have done something like this!

The Bible is written in a serious, solemn style, yet I think that there are times when we are missing much if we fail to see the humor in its words. The Lord’s statement here that there was no small stir among the soldiers is one example. We can well imagine that there was no small stir among them…indeed, there must have been quite a big one! Certainly there must have been disbelief, consternation, desperation, and bafflement among these men when they found him gone. They had been tasked with keeping him, and they knew that this was a task they could ill afford to fail. Allowing Peter any chance to escape could and probably would cost them their lives. Thus, they had taken every precaution humanly possible, and yet their adversary in this was not human, but was God Himself. Now, the impossible has happened, and Peter is gone. They certainly must have been utterly mystified how this possibly could have taken place. There was the prison and the guards undisturbed, and yet Peter was no longer there!

19. But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death.
And he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there.

Now Herod calls for his prisoner, no doubt ready to put him on trial, and already thinking of the favor he will gain from the Jews because of his death. Yet his prisoner is no longer there! Herod must have been nearly as amazed as his guards.

Herod tries to account for this miracle. He questions the guards. Every part of this examination must have led to the conclusion that these men were not derelict in their duty, but rather that a great miracle had taken place. Yet Herod was not ready to admit this. How easy it was for him to put their story down as a wild excuse! But certainly they must have stood up under cross-examination, and no evidence of any fault on their part could be found. Still, the only other explanation is a miracle, and that Herod was unwilling to admit. Thus, he has these men put to death for failing to do their duty. This was truly a miscarriage of justice, for these men had no doubt done their job to the best of their ability. Yet their deaths helped Herod save face, and also kept them from spreading their story, which also may have been part of Herod’s motivation.

Now, having been humiliated in Judea, Herod goes back down to Caesarea and stays there. Perhaps he hoped to escape the situation by leaving town. Yet the Lord’s eyes are upon him now, and he will not escape justice merely by changing his locale.

20. Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king’s personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country.

The Lord has His eyes on Herod’s affairs, and now we read of this quarrel he had with the people of Tyre and Sidon. These were cities in what we call Phoenicia on the north-western border of Israel along the Mediterranean Sea. Their border was with Galilee in the north of Israel, where Herod had his jurisdiction. Somehow, Herod had been angered by them. We do not read how, and this little matters when we are considering a man as petty and quarrelsome as Herod. Yet this had come about, and it was causing problems for these two cities. We read that their country was supplied with food by Herod’s country. No doubt Herod’s anger had caused something of an embargo, and this was resulting in a famine in their cities. This was something they could ill afford, so we cannot blame them for deciding the time had come to make peace with Herod.

With perhaps their very lives on the line, these men go about pleasing Herod as best they can. First, they gain some help on the inside by making Blastus the king’s personal aide their friend. They no doubt hoped he would speak to the king for them, which no doubt he did. Then, they came to Herod and sued for peace.

21. So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them.

It seems that Herod was amenable to their plea for peace. Thus, he sets a day to meet with them. When the day comes, Herod comes out in royal apparel. What this was we are not told here, but Josephus says his clothes were of silver tissue, so that they sparkled and flashed in the sun as Herod moved and did indeed make him appear like an otherworldly being. Then, Herod sits down on a throne. The Greek here is bema, usually translated judgment seat. We know that a throne is a seat of government, but we also know that this is symbolized by an ornate chair, and it is a chair that is meant here. No doubt this was a grand chair to go with his grand clothing.

Now, thus arrayed and seated, Herod starts to give an oration to the people of Tyre and Sidon. Though he was angry with them, he is apparently pleased that they have bowed to his will, and is ready to condescend to trade with them once again. Yet in exchange for this they must listen to what he has to say, and he is more than happy to pontificate before them. No doubt Herod enjoyed giving them an opportunity to admit their faults and to acquiesce and grovel before him in order to receive his favor once again. A man like Herod would have gotten great pleasure in causing them to do this.

22. And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!”

The people of Tyre and Sidon in the crowd take up this chant ascribing to Herod deity. This was probably suggested to them by his glorious appearance in the fine clothes he was wearing, and fit right in with their desire to please Herod and win his favor. Ascribing deity to kings was not an unusual thing in that day, for many of the rulers of nations at that time took upon themselves divine privileges and even the place of gods. Yet this was never the way in Israel, where there is only one God, and all rulers only His representatives.

It is doubtful that Herod was trying to make himself out to be a god by his fine dress, though without question he did mean to impress the people. Yet it is clear that he was not averse to this claim once it was made. It lifted up his heart with pride and self-importance to be given a place that should belong to God alone.

23. Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.

Needless to say, Herod’s attitude did not please the Lord. This evil line of usurper kings the Herods had done many things that were wicked in the eyes of God. Whether or not they had actually done anything as blasphemous as this before could be debated. Yet Herod had drawn the attention of the Lord by murdering His apostle and friend, the man James, and it is a fearful thing for a wicked man like Herod to have the eyes of the righteous Judge trained upon him and considering his ways. The Lord had proven Himself to Herod by rescuing Peter, but Herod had not heeded the message. Now, Herod accepted this inappropriate praise, and by his actions blasphemed the only One Who truly was God, not just a Man. Herod’s actions sealed his guilt, and brought about his righteous punishment. Having been proven far inferior to God, he now places himself next to Him. And God acts, striking him down for his sacrilege.

We read that an angel of the Lord struck him immediately. The Lord did not wait to see what other wicked things Herod might do. Herod had received a warning and an opportunity to turn, and he had not done so. Now, God moves in judgment against him. It seems that in the midst of this foolish outcry of the men seeking his favor Herod was suddenly struck down. By what means this angel struck him we do not know, but our faith in God should be such that we know that whatever the angel did, he was well able to accomplish God’s purpose and stop Herod in his tracks.

The result of this was that Herod was eaten by worms and died. The words that Herod died are in the Greek exepsuxen, that is, that he gave up the soul. This was their way of saying that he died. His soul was lost to him, since he died. I do not know how quickly this took place. The striking down, as we know from this passage, was immediate. Yet whether worms rose out of the earth and quickly devoured his body on the spot in front of all the people, or whether he was carried to a sick bed and laid there slowly dying over many days while the worms ate away at his flesh, we cannot say. Yet we do know that worms are connected with shame, and the Lord was shaming Herod by having him die this way. Whether or not the crowd saw it happen, all would have heard of the horrible and shameful way that Herod died, and all would have known that Herod was a man and not a god.

Herod had ended the testimony of the prison guards that could and should have spread among the people, giving witness to the power of God in the deliverance of Peter. Now, God acts, and Herod himself becomes the witness he denied these men. He may have stopped them from telling of the wonders of God by putting them to death, but now his own death will speak and tell of a God Who can bear witness to His Own strength, and Who needs no help from men nor fears any opposition from men. Thus Herod’s opposition to the truth ends by him himself becoming a great witness to it!

Once again, we see the kingdom character of the Acts period. We know that Herod never believed in the Lord or came under the kingdom’s sway. Yet he acted as a rival power toward the kingdom, and dared to destroy one of its highest rulers. By doing this, he became an enemy and a rival to God’s government, and like any good government the government of God worked to remove its enemy and rival. Thus, Herod met his sad but well-deserved fate.

24. But the word of God grew and multiplied.

Once again, as it did with Saul of Tarsus, the government of God has acted to remove the opposer and persecutor from its midst. With Saul, he was removed by a heavenly vision which turned him around and made Saul himself a believer in and follower of the Lord Jesus Christ. With Herod, he was removed by punishment resulting in his death. But the results of both are the same. In Acts 9:31, we read the results of Saul being removed as a persecutor.

31. Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.

In other words, when Saul the persecutor was removed, the believers prospered and multiplied. Now, the same thing happens when Herod is removed as a persecutor. The word of God grows and multiplies as more and more and more people throughout the land of Israel come to hear the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ and to believe it. Thus, God’s word triumphs in spite of all the enemies that rally against it. That is the way things are when God’s government is in the world. It controls, it takes over, it breaks through all opposition, it dominates, until at last God gets the victory.

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

This verse really puts a period on the end of the work we saw begun by Barnabas and Saul in Acts 11:30. What we have read up to this was really a parenthesis of sorts in the story we were reading in chapter 11, and continuing on here and into chapter 13. This parenthesis of chapter 12 related for us events as they were taking place in Israel about that time. Now, we are returning to the story of Barnabas and Saul. Thus this verse is really leading into what we read in the following chapter, and has little to do with what has been the subject of this present one. Why those who divided the chapters attached this verse to chapter 12 instead of to chapter 13 is hard to say.

Barnabas and Saul had been sent to Jerusalem to bring relief to the poor saints there in light of the famine that the prophet Agabus told them was going to cover the world. This is their ministry mentioned in this verse. Now, they have accomplished this task, and the gift from Antioch has been received by the elders in Jerusalem. Therefore, these two return to Antioch with their mission fulfilled. However, they do not return alone, but take with them John whose surname was Mark, whom we met earlier in this chapter when a large group of those who were praying about Peter were meeting in his mother’s house. No doubt Mark was eager to join them in their work, and so they allowed him to come along. However, from Colossians 4:10 we read that Mark was Barnabas’ relative, either his cousin or perhaps his nephew. This also could have affected his desire to come with them, and be part of the reason they brought him along.

Thus we come to the close of the second great portion of the book of Acts. The first portion, the great unity in Jerusalem, ended with a persecution, that following the death of Stephen. This second section, the great scattering of believers throughout the land and beyond, likewise ends with the death of James and the persecution of others including Peter. Now, we will begin the third section of Acts, which is the ministry of the great apostle Paul. We will begin this portion in the following chapter.