From the time it was first established, Christianity has been the target of violence. The early believers risked their lives when they accepted Christ for salvation. The risks they were willing to take in order to embrace truth drew them together in a way that most of us cannot understand today. They shared meals together and supported each other emotionally and financially. When one of them was martyred, they all felt the hurt. The men whom Christ had chosen to establish the Christian faith laid their lives on the line daily, and one by one they were martyred.
“Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword” (Acts 12:1-2).
Herod was an evil man, and killing was a way of life with him. When Herod saw that the Jewish leaders were pleased that James had been killed, he decided to keep the murders going. Peter was the next one to be arrested and scheduled to be martyred.
“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” (Acts 12:4).
This is one of those verses that the King James translation uses a wrong word. Peter was arrested during the Jewish celebration of Passover, not the pagan holiday of Easter. According to Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, “quaternion” is a set of four men occupied in the work of a guard, two soldiers being chained to the prisoner and two keeping watch; alternatively one of the four watched while the other three slept. The night was divided into four watches of three hours each; there would be one quaternion for each watch by day and by night. In Herod’s mind, Peter was as secure as possible.
It’s interesting how Peter reacted to his situation. We read many accounts of Peter’s rash personality, but it seems he had learned a lot over the years. It was Peter who saw Jesus walking on water and asked Jesus to bid him to come. Jesus complied, and Peter jumped out of the boat and walked on the water… until he took his eyes off Jesus. It was Peter who proclaimed “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” but then tried to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem and certain death.
This death was the reason Jesus had entered His creation. His shed blood was the only way to redeem us from our sin. Peter also swore he would defend Jesus against anyone who would arrest Him, but then hid in fear when Jesus was arrested, illegally tried, and crucified. In fact, that trial had also taken place during the time of Passover. Now Peter was facing death.
“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” (Acts 12:6).
Perhaps Peter had learned from Jesus how to face trials in life. Maybe Peter was ready to accept his own death because he knew that by leaving his mortal body he would enter into eternal life. Whatever his feelings that night, he slept peacefully.
Even though Peter seems at peace with his circumstances, there were others who were hoping he would be set free. “Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him” (Acts 12:5).
Prayer was all they could do. They couldn’t pay a fine to have Peter released, nor was there any legal channels they could follow to stop this murder. Had this group prayed for James? Scripture doesn’t say one way or the other, but it could be that James’ death was a wakeup call for them.
Too often we ignore prayer until things get so bad that we decide to ask God for help. Prayer should be a daily activity in the life of a Christian. We have the privilege of going before God in the name of Jesus Christ and presenting our petitions to Him. Faith allows us to ask for healing, for salvation of a loved one, or any other desire of our heart. When our life reflects Jesus, then our desire is a godly desire and not a carnal lust. Prayer is our way to communicate with God, and faith opens the way. Faith also teaches us to present our petitions to God, but to accept His answer even when His will isn’t ours.
When you pray that a loved one be healed, it hurts if God chooses to take them Home. Remember that what we see as death is just the beginning of true life for a Christian. We know that all things can be used for God’s glory if we have the faith to accept it. In this case, James’ martyrdom may have served as the means by which the Christians in Jerusalem understood the need to pray.
The prayers of that group of believers were answered in the way that they had asked. “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” (Acts 12:7).
Peter had enough experience in supernatural happenings that he didn’t stop to question. He had been there at the Transfiguration when Jesus shone with a bright light as Moses and Elijah talked with Him. Peter bumbled his way through that one by wanting to build tabernacles for them. Peter had seen Jesus after the resurrection and had been admonished to feed His sheep. That experience was probably the one that drew Peter into an unshakable faith and love for the Lord that was so strong that he was able to find peace on the night he faced death. Now, here was an angel telling him to get up, get dressed, and get going. Peter didn’t think twice, but followed directions.
“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” (Acts 12:9).
Off they went past the guards, through the prison, and out into the street. When they were a safe distance away the angel departed. “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” (Acts 12:11).
Peter realized that he wasn’t dreaming and he was a free man. Here’s something most Christians need to learn. You have also been delivered from certain death. It may not be Herod who is out to kill you, but Satan seeks souls to destroy. When you’ve been freed from the bondage of sin and death, leave it behind. If you’ve accepted Christ for salvation, then you need to start obeying God’s directions and turn away from the world. Surround yourself with fellow believers and pray for each other.
Now that he was free, Peter knew where to go. He went to his Christian friends. Oddly, these people had been praying, but their reaction to their prayers being answered is interesting. “And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. 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” (Acts 12:13-14).
This is the only place Rhoda is named. She was most likely a young servant, but she will forever be remembered for not letting Peter in. Even more amazing is the reaction of the group who had been praying for Peter. “And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel” (Acts 12:15).
Where was their faith? Were these people just mouthing words with no expectation of God answering their prayer? Many Christians today, and indeed many congregations, pray with no expectation of God answering prayer. Many times we feel as if our prayers “don’t go beyond the ceiling.” Is it that or are we just mouthing words with no faith?
“But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished” (Acts 12:16).
They had every reason to be astonished. Their prayers were answered in spite of their expectations.
It’s important to stay in contact with God through prayer. We thank Him for His blessings and we present Him with our wants, but we’re also to pray for people, even if they are our enemies. “Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you” (Luke 6:28).
That’s not easy, but it’s an admonition from Jesus. If we pray for someone who comes against us, that prayer may not change them but it will soften your own heart, and an enemy may end up becoming a friend. When we sin, we need to repent and pray for forgiveness. “Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity” (Acts 8:22-23).
Peter spoke those words to a man who supposedly had accepted Christ and wanted to buy the power of the Holy Spirit for his own personal gain.
There are times when you just don’t have the words to express your need, but Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and He will intercede. “Likewise the Spirit also helpeth our infirmities: for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8:26).
When health fails or troubles come along, pray. “Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms. Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:13-14).
Talk with fellow Christians about your weaknesses and temptations. Then, pray with each other for strength to overcome. “Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much” (James 5:16).
There are many more Scriptures which encourage prayer, and I urge you to study them. You can find many books written about prayer, but Scripture is God’s view; and that’s where your study should begin and end.
When you pray, have faith that God hears. When He answers, don’t be astonished, but be thankful no matter what His answer is.
“Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
God bless you all,
Ron and Nathele Graham’s previous commentaries archived at https://www.raptureready.com/featured/graham/graham.html
All original scripture is “theopneustos,” God breathed.
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