In Acts 12, we learn of renewed persecution against the early church. Herod Agrippa 1 had James, John’s brother, slain with a sword, and he went after Peter as well. His efforts to seize Peter took place around the time of the Passover, so Herod arrested the fisherman-turned-church-leader. He planned to bring the apostle to trial after the Passover, and in the meantime, he put him, not just behind bars, but also under heavy guard. Peter was guarded by “four squads of four soldiers each” (Acts 12:1-4, NLT).
The church offered “constant prayer” for Peter (v. 5). The word translated constant in this verse appears just one other place in the New Testament. It is translated as fervent in 1 Peter 4:8, where it refers to the word love. This Greek word carries the idea of intensity, although the events surrounding Peter’s escape are consistent with the church’s offering up frequent prayers as well. Prayer warriors know from experience that intense prayers are offered frequently, and that prayers offered frequently are intense.
God heard and responded to the church’s petitions. On the night before the day he was scheduled to go to trial, Peter was sleeping. Two chains held him fast to two guards, and other guards were present, guarding the door (see v. 6). “An angel of the Lord” appeared and a light flooded the prison (v. 7). The angel hit Peter in the side, presumably waking him, if he weren’t awake already. The Greek word translated struck in verse 7 conveys the idea of hitting with a blow, but the impact of the blow doesn’t necessarily have to be forceful, even though it can be. The angel “raised him up”—meaning he aroused Peter—and then gave him clear and specific instructions.
- “Arise quickly!” said the angel (v. 7). The word translated arise can mean “rise up, stand up, from having been lying down.” The events indicate this is the meaning here. This word is different from the one translated raised (aroused) earlier in the verse. The chains fell from Peter’s hands, obviously making it easier for him to do all the angel was about to tell him to do.
- Next, the angel told Peter, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals” (v. 8). Essentially this meant, “Get dressed and to put on your shoes.” Peter did so.
- Then the angel told Peter to put on his coat—his “garment”—and follow him (v. 8).
- Verse 9 tells us that Peter “went out and followed him,” but he wasn’t sure whether the events he was experiencing were real or part of a vision.
- The angel led Peter past the guards and out of the prison, and when they “came to the iron gate that leads to the city” (v. 10) it opened for them seemingly all by itself. They went through the open gate and down a street, and at that point the angel left Peter by himself.
Let’s make some observations from this event that can perhaps help us put a handle on how God operates.
- First, God’s people at times will face persecution. Jesus said so in John 16:33.
- Persecution has many different forms. James lost his life, but Peter was thrown into prison. Peter could have died then as well, but God had other plans. God is sovereign over all the affairs of his people. Even when a believer dies, God cares deeply (see Ps. 116:15).
- Angels sometimes are involved in helping God’s people (see Ps. 91:11). Peter wasn’t sure if the angel was real, but he didn’t have to know. God was taking care of Him. We’re reminded here of Hebrews 13:2.
- God responds to the prayers of His people, for His people.
- Always and forever, God’s people need to cooperate with Him as He uses them to fulfill His plan. We see no evidence Peter argued with the angel or hesitated, even though he surely had questions.
- Miracles can and do occur in the lives of believers. Sometimes they are subtle, and at other times they are dramatic. Always they have God as their source.
What happened next? Plenty—and there are valuable lessons for us in that part of the story as well. Stay tuned.
Copyright © 2016 by B. Nathaniel Sullivan. All rights reserved
Scripture quotations marked (NLT) are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked NKJV have been taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.