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Summary: The angel must have come and released him during the fourth watch (three to six A.M.), otherwise Peter’s escape would have been discovered by his keepers at the time of the changing of the guard.

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June 27, 2014

By: Tom Lowe

Title: Herod Puts Peter’s Guards to Death (12:18-21)

Scripture (Acts 12:18-21; KJV)

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

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.

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.

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

Commentary

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

Now as soon as it was day

The angel must have come and released him during the fourth watch (three to six A.M.), otherwise Peter’s escape would have been discovered by his keepers at the time of the changing of the guard. Either the guards just coming on duty discovered he was gone, or the two guards chained to Peter awoke to find him missing and chains still attached to their wrists.

There was no small stir among the soldiers

There were sixteen soldiers, or four quaternions, who were assigned to keep Peter in the prison. He was continually chained between two of them while two others watched the doors of the prison, and the guards were changed according to a set schedule. Can you imagine the surprise, amazement, and fear of the guards, who had been chained to the prisoner, who would discover as soon as they awoke, that he had escaped from between them, and they would know that their lives would probably answer for the life of Peter. The soldiers probably created a great tumult as they frantically searched for Peter everywhere inside and outside the prison.

What was become of Peter

This clause expresses the agitation of the soldiers who were bound to Peter by chains. There was no way they would not discover that he was gone as soon as they awoke, for they would have found the chains still holding them, but the other end lying on the floor, and Peter nowhere in sight. What strange thoughts and imaginings must have entered their minds—whether he was in any other part of the prison, by what means he could escape, and where had he gone—and what great fear, since they knew perfectly well that the penalty for losing a prisoner was death. All they knew was that he was gone, and nobody knew how or which way, for the guards, awaking out of their sound sleep, could not give any account of what had happened, and were ready to suspect or accuse each other of negligence or treachery, by giving the prisoner an opportunity to make his escape.

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.

And when Herod had sought for him

Herod probably ordered a thorough search of anyplace he might be, thinking he was in hiding.

And found him not

Peter could not be found in the prison or in any part of the city.

He examined the keepers

The word "examine" here means "to inquire diligently, to make an investigation." “Keepers” are those who were entrusted with his custody. But he probably questioned only those who were guarding him on the night when he escaped. He subjected them to a rigid examination to ascertain the manner of Peter’s escape; for it is evident that Herod did not intend to admit the possibility of a miraculous intervention in behalf of a man he had determined to put to death. All that could be determined from the investigation was that Peter disappeared while they slept.

And commanded that they should be put to death

Herod “commanded that they should be put to death,” because he believed, or pretended to believe that the escape of Peter was due to the negligence of the keepers. The execution of the guards was customary; in that day, if a guard’s prisoner escaped, the guard was given the penalty due to the prisoner—in this case, death. He probably insisted on the death penalty for another reason also, namely, to prevent the suspicion among the people of a miraculous deliverance. The miraculous had been suspected on an earlier occasion when all the apostles left the prison with the help of an angel: “But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth” (Acts 5:19). Herod knew that Christianity would gain additional strength, if the general belief was that Peter was released by the power of God. Be this as it may, this episode undoubtedly contributed greatly to the churches further progress; and, it seems that this along with the death of Herod, which took place soon after, put a speedy end to the persecution.

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