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Acts 12


James Killed and Peter Imprisoned Herod's Violence to the Church Herod Agrippa's Persecution More Persecution Peter's Arrest and Miraculous Deliverance
12:1-5 12:1-5 12:1-5 12:1-5 12:1-5
Peter Delivered from Prison Peter Freed from Prison   Peter is Set Free from Prison  
12:6-17 12:6-19 12:6-11 12:6-10 12:6-11
    12:12-17 12:12-15 12:12-17
12:18-19   12:18-19 12:18-19a 12:18-19
The Death of Herod Herod's Violent Death Death of Herod Agrippa The Death of Herod The Death of the Persecutor
12:20-23 12:20-24 12:20-23 12:20 12:20-23
  Barnabas and Saul Appointed Barnabas and Saul in Cyprus


  Barnabas and Saul Return to Antioch
12:24-25   12:24-25 12:24 12:24
  12:25-13:3   12:25 12:25

READING CYCLE THREE (from "A Guide to Good Bible Reading")


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five modern translations. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one main subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.



The lineage of Herod the Great (for more information consult the index of Flavius Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews).


I. Herod the Great

A. King of Judea (37-4 b.c.)

B. Matt. 2:1-19; Luke 1:5

II. His Sons

A. Herod Philip (son of Marianne of Simon)

1. Husband of Herodias

2. Tetrarch of Iturea (4 b.c. - a.d. 34)

3. Matt. 14:3; Mark 6:17

B. Herod Philip (son of Cleopatra)

1. Tetrarch of area north and west of the Sea of Galilee (4 b.c. - a.d. 34)

2. Luke 3:1

C. Herod Antipas

1. Tetrarch of Galilee and Perea (4 b.c.- a.d. 39)

2. Executed John the Baptist

3. Matt. 14:1-12; Mark 6:14,29; Luke 3:19; 9:7-9; 13:31; 23:6-12,15; Acts 4:27; 13:1

D. Archelaus, Herod the Ethnarch

1. Ruler of Judea, Samaria and Idumea (4 b.c. - a.d. 6)

2. Matt. 2:22

E. Aristobulus (son of Mariamne)

1. his only son was Herod Agrippa I

2. Ruled all of Palestine (a.d. 41-44)

3. Killed James and had Peter imprisoned

4. Acts 12:1-24; 23:35

(a) his son was Herod Agrippa II, Tetrarch of northern territory (a.d. 50-70)

(b) his daughter was Bernice

(1) consort of her brother

(2) Acts 25:13-26:32

(c) his daughter was Drusilla

(1) wife of Felix

(2) Acts 24:24



 1Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. 2And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. 3When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. 4When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people. 5So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.

12:1 "Herod" This refers to Herod Agrippa I. He reigned over different areas of Palestine from a.d. 37-44. He was raised in Rome and became friends with Gaius, who followed Emperor Tiberius and who later became the Emperor Caligula. The Jews readily accepted Herod as a leader because his grandmother (Mariamne) was a Hasmonean/Maccabean (i.e., Jewish patriot) princess. He was a strict follower of Judaism (but possibly for political reasons). For a full discussion of this Herod, see Josephus' Antiq. 19.7.3; 19.8.2.

▣ "church" See Special Topic at 5:11.

▣ "in order to mistreat them" Herod did this to gain support and approval from the Jewish leadership (cf. vv. 3,11). Roman leaders did the same thing (cf. 24:27; 25:9).

Luke uses this term several times (cf. 7:6,19; 12:1; 14:2; 18:10). It was a common term in the Septuagint for ill-treatment. Luke's vocabulary is greatly influenced by the Septuagint.

12:2 "James, the brother of John, put to death with a sword" This refers to the Apostle James, who was the brother of John (cf. Luke 5:10; 6:14; 8:51; 9:28,54). He was a member of the inner circle of disciples (cf. Matt. 17:1; 26:37; Mark 5:37; 9:2; 14:33; Luke 9:28). Why James should die and Peter be spared is a mystery of God. Beheading with a sword was the normal method of capital punishment for Roman citizens, but it apparently was odious to Jews.

It is interesting that at this time the early church did not sense the need to replace James as they had Judas (cf. 1:15-20). The reasons are unclear, but possibly it was Judas' treachery, not death, that caused the replacement (cf. 1:15-26).

Some may assert that Paul calling James, the half brother of Jesus and leader of the Jerusalem church, an apostle (cf. Gal. 1:19) constitutes a replacement. The question relates to the official position of the original Twelve versus the ongoing gift of apostleship (cf. Eph. 4:11).

Reading James D. G. Dunn, Unity and Diversity in the New Testament has caused me to think about the possible different authority structure in the first century church.

1. the Jerusalem Apostles

2. the inner circle (Peter, James, John) of the Apostles

3. James the Lord's half-brother, who led the Jerusalem church

4. the Seven (Acts 6) who were leaders of the Greek-speaking Jews

5. later Paul and Barnabas and their sending to the church in Antioch of Syria

To this could be added the sects related to Christianity, Judaizers, Gnostics, Ebionites. Each of these also had their own leadership. The unity that Luke often refers to among Christians was difficult to maintain. The preaching of Jesus and the Scriptures were ambiguous enough to allow multiple interpretations. This is the reason that the "rule of faith" developed in the first centuries. There had to be a standard to evaluate a group's theology. The dynamic Spirit-led emphasis of the NT turned into the organized structure of the eastern and western church centers. Orthodoxy is a significant issue for those generations removed from the Founder and eyewitnesses.

12:3 "arrest Peter" This is Peter's third arrest (cf. 4:3; 5:18). Christians are not spared from persecution.

▣ "during the days of Unleavened Bread" This refers to the Passover Feast (cf. v. 4), combined with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which lasted eight days (cf. Exod. 12:18; 23:15; Luke 22:1). Both celebrated Israel's deliverance from Egyptian bondage. It was celebrated on Nissan 14-21, which would be our March or April, depending on the Jewish lunar calendar.

12:4 "four squads of soldiers" This would mean four squads of soldiers four times a day, or sixteen men. The number shows Herod's concern over Peter's possible escape (cf. 5:19).

12:5 "prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God" The church is praying (cf. v. 12), but will be surprised when God answers! "Fervently" is a very intense adverb (cf. Luke 22:44). It is used only three times in the NT (cf. I Pet. 1:22).


 6On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. 7And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter's side and woke him up, saying, "Get up quickly." And his chains fell off his hands. 8And the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and put on your sandals." And he did so. And he said to him, "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me." 9And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 11When Peter came to himself, he said, "Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting." 12And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. 15They said to her, "You are out of your mind!" But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, "It is his angel." 16 But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. 17But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, "Report these things to James and the brethren." Then he left and went to another place.

12:6 "On the very night" Luke's writings are characterized by time indicators (cf. vv. 3,4,5,6,7,8,10,18). But be careful of interpreting this as western, sequential, chronological history. Luke has a theological evangelistic purpose.

▣ "between two soldiers" This verse shows the impossibility of Peter's escape. It is almost as if they expected an attempt to release him (cf. 5:19).

12:7 "an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared" It is unusual that the supernatural interventions of the angel of the Lord (cf. 5:19; 7:30,35,38,53; 8:26; 10:3,7,22) and the Holy Spirit (cf. 8:29,39; 10:19) are interchanged throughout the book of Acts. Apparently the Spirit speaks intuitively, but the angel is an outward physical manifestation. It is interesting to see the combination of the natural and the supernatural in this account (similar to the plagues of the Exodus).

▣ "Get up quickly" This is an aorist active imperative which denotes urgency. Why is the angel in a hurry? Is he not in control of events?

12:8 "Gird yourself and put on your sandals" These are both aorist middle imperatives.

▣ "Wrap your cloak around you and follow me" This is an aorist middle imperative followed by a present active imperative. The angel was really in a hurry to perform this task! This was one nervous angel!

12:9 Peter was uncertain whether this was a vision, dream, or reality (cf. v. 11-12; 10:17,19; 11:5).

12:11 "When Peter came to himself" Luke uses a similar phrase in describing the Prodigal Son (cf. Luke 15:17). Suddenly the reality of the experience and its implications dawned on him (cf. v. 12).

12:12 "the house of Mary" Mary was a very common name. There are several Marys mentioned in the Gospels.

1. the mother of Jesus (cf. Luke 1:27)

2. Mary of Magdala, a disciple from Galilee (cf. Luke 8:2; 24:10)

3. mother of James and John (cf. Luke 24:10)

4. sister of Martha and Lazarus (cf. Luke 10:39,42)

5. wife of Cleophas (cf. John 19:25)

6. mother of John Mark (here)


▣ "the mother of John" This refers to John Mark's mother. The early church met in this family's house in Jerusalem (cf. Acts 12:12). It was also the site of the Lord's three post resurrection appearances and the coming of the Spirit at Pentecost.

John Mark accompanied Paul and his cousin Barnabas (cf. Col. 4:10) on the first missionary journey (cf. Acts 12:25-13:13). For some reason he deserted the team and returned home (cf. Acts 15:38). Barnabas wanted to include him on the second missionary journey, but Paul refused (cf. Acts 15:36-41). This resulted in Paul and Barnabas separating. Barnabas took John Mark to Cyprus (cf. Acts 15:39). Later, while Paul was in prison, he mentions John Mark in a positive way (cf. Col. 4:10) and still later in Paul's second imprisonment at Rome, just before his death, he mentions John Mark again (cf. II Tim. 4:11).

Apparently John Mark became part of Peter's missionary team (cf. I Pet. 5:13). Eusebius' Eccl. His. 3.39.12 gives us an interesting account of John Mark's relation to Peter.

"In his own book Papias gives us accounts of the Lord's sayings obtained from Aristion or learnt direct from the presbyter John. Having brought these to the attention of scholars, I must now follow up the statements already quoted from him with a piece of information which he sets out regarding Mark, the writer of the gospel:

This, too, the presbyter used to say. ‘Mark, who had been Peter's interpreter, wrote down carefully, but not in order, all that he remembered of the Lord's sayings and doings. For he had not heard the Lord or been one of His followers, but later, as I said, one of Peter's. Peter used to adapt his teaching to the occasion, without making a systematic arrangement of the Lord's sayings, so that Mark was quite justified in writing down some things just as he remembered them. For he had one purpose only—to leave out nothing that he had heard, and to make no misstatement about it'" (p. 152).

In this quote Papias refers to "John the elder." Irenaeus says "and these things are borne witness to in writing by Papias, the hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp." This implies Papias heard it from John the Apostle.

▣ "many were gathered together and were praying" The grammatical forms of these words reveal that the church had gathered and intended to remain in prayer (perfect passive participle followed by a present middle [deponent] participle).

12:13 "door of the gate" This was a small door on the street. There was a larger door upstairs.

▣ "Rhoda" Her name means "rose." It is uncertain whether she worked for the homeowners or was a member of the prayer meeting.

12:15 "You are out of your mind" The church was praying for God to act, but they were extremely surprised (cf. v. 16) when He did.

▣ "They kept saying" There are two imperfect active indicatives in this context, which implies that Rhoda's affirmation and that of those in the prayer meeting in the upper room's response happened more than once.

▣ "It is his angel" Angels play a prominent role in Luke's writings. Apparently the Jews believed that one's guardian angel could take their physical shape (for a good discussion of Jewish sources and beliefs about guardian angels, see Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 2, p. 963). There is no scriptural basis for this belief. This development of angeology may have come from the concept of fravashi in Zoroastrianism. Much of rabbinical angelology can be traced to this Persian influence. There is some scriptural evidence for guardian angels for new believers (cf. Matt. 18:10). Angels are servants of the redeemed (cf. Heb. 1:14).

12:17 "motioning to them with his hand to be silent" This is obviously an eyewitness detail (cf. 13:16). Luke records this gesture several times (cf. 13:16; 19:33; 21:40).

▣ "Report these things to James and the brethren" This shows that James, the half-brother of Jesus, was already the leader of the Jerusalem church (cf. 15:13-21).


▣ "went to another place" No one knows where Peter went, but apparently he did not go to Rome as some supposed because he is present at the Jerusalem Council recorded in Acts 15.

Even though God supernaturally delivered Peter, this did not imply that he could be reckless or expect this miraculous intervention every time. Remember James had been killed! Peter also sends word to the church to expect more physical persecution because of his deliverance.

 18Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. 19When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there.

12:18 "there was no small disturbance" It is interesting that Luke states things in the negative, often by understatement (cf. 12:18; 15:2; 19:11,23,24; 20:12; 26:19,26; 27:30; 28:2, see footnote #8, p. 134, of G. B. Caird, The Language and Imagery of the Bible). This literary feature is unknown in Hebrew literature, but is used often in Greek literature. Luke was a highly educated Greek!

12:19 "he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution" This is the implication of the text (cf. NKJV, NRSV, TEV), but it is not stated explicitly (cf. NJB). Some translations use italics to identify words that are not in the Greek text. If a guard lost his prisoner, he had to bear the prisoner's punishment (cf. 16:27; 27:42, Code of Justinian 9.4.4).

 20Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king's chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king's country. 21On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. 22The people kept crying out, "The voice of a god and not of a man!" 23And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.

12:20 "Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon" Herod was very angry and continued to be so (periphrastic imperfect). The particular historic incident and person are not known in history, but the region of Tyre and Sidon depended on the agricultural produce from the area of Galilee (cf. I Kgs. 5:11; Ezra 3:7; and possibly Ezek. 27:17).

12:21 "On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel" This occurred in a.d. 44. For a more complete account of this event see Josephus' Antiq. 19.8.2 (translated by William Whiston, Kregal).

"At which festival, a great multitude was gotten together of the principal persons, and such as were of dignity through his province. On the second day of which shows he put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a contexture truly wonderful, and came into the theatre early in the morning; at which time the silver of his garment being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays upon it, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so resplendent as to spread a horror over those that looked intently upon him: and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good,) that he was a god: and they added,—‘Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature.' Upon this the king did neither rebuke them, nor reject their impious flattery. But, as he presently afterwards looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner. He therefore looked upon his friends, and said,—‘I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death'" (p. 412).

Herod's temper and the physical condition which accompanied it are also described in gruesome detail in Antiq. 17:6:5.

The Jerome Biblical Commentary (vol. 2, p. 191) informs us that these gruesome details of a person's death was ancient writer's way of showing what happens to those who offend God.

1. Antiochus IV Epiphanes – II Macc. 9:5-18

2. Herod the Great – Josephus, Antiq. 17.6.5


12:23 "the angel of the Lord" This refers to the Death Angel (cf. Exod. 12:23; II Sam. 24:16; II Kgs. 19:35). Death is in the hands of God, not Satan. This is an example of temporal judgment.

 24But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied.

12:24 This is a characteristic Lukan summary statement (cf. 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20; 28:31).

 25And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.

12:25 This begins the account of Paul's missionary journeys. There is a textual variant in this verse relating to whether they returned "to" Jerusalem (cf. eis, MSS א and B) or "from" Jerusalem (cf. apo, MS D or ek, MSS P74, A). Chapter 13 begins with Barnabas and Saul in Antioch ("from Jerusalem to Antioch," cf. MS E and Old Latin, Syrian, and Coptic versions).

▣ "Mark" See note at "Persons Mentioned," Acts 16 Introduction.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did God spare Peter and not James?

2. Was the assembled church surprised when their prayers were answered? Explain the implication.

3. Do believers need angels if they have the indwelling Holy Spirit?