Summary: Acts 12:1-17 has the story how Peter was condemned to death, but an angel saw to it that he was made free! Peter then found a group of believers, explained the situation, and then left the area.

An outline of Acts 12:1-17

1 Peter was a marked man

Text, Acts 12:1-5, KJV: 1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. 2 And he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3 And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) 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. 5 Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.


--This is the first mention of Herod taking action against the Church in Acts. He was mentioned in passing when the believers prayed as a group in Acts 4 but his dealings with the Church are not described until this point.

--James, the brother of John, had not been mentioned since Acts 1 as one of the apostles and one of the original group of disciples. Where he had gone and what he had done is never mentioned.

--It is also never stated why Herod chose this James to be the first apostle to be executed except that “it pleased the Jews.” It isn’t clear in the KJV if this means Herod choosing James pleased the Jews, or killing James pleased the Jews. At any rate, James perished and the Jews were pleased.

--Now, seeing the Jews were happy and pleased, Herod planned to execute Peter as well. He had Peter arrested during the “days of unleavened bread”—the days near Passover (“Easter”, KJV). Peter was under the supervision (!) of at least 16 soldiers, four groups (“quaternions”) guarding him (where could he go, as if he could even get loose?).

--Peter was at least kept alive for a few days; whether James had received any such time before being executed is not known. Definitely, when the saints heard about Peter being arrested and taken to prison, they began praying “without ceasing” for him. What could happen if a group of believers these days began to pray without ceasing for a certain object of prayer?

2 Peter was an imprisoned man

Text, Acts 12:6-11, KJV: 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. 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. 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. 9 And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. 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. 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.


--In what might have been his last night on this earth, Peter was asleep—and soundly! Compare this with some of the doings of those who were going to be put to death the next day. One such example is that of a missionary living in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II: one of his sons was captured and sentenced to death. This young man spent most of his last night writing letters to a number of his acquaintances and faced execution a few hours later. Peter knew that even when, not if, his earthly life would end, he would be with Jesus.

--Security was tight with a capital T: not only was Peter chained between two soldiers; there were also “keepers before the door”. This is not easy to understand but it’s safe to say that even in Peter became free of the chains, he likely wouldn’t get very far. Other commentaries may provide additional information.

--But Peter wasn’t going to die just yet. An angel (“the angel of the Lord” in the KJV refers to one specific angel, not the “Angel of the LORD” in the Old Testament) came to Peter’s cell or wherever he was being kept, then after a light shined in the prison, the angel told Peter “Get up!”

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