Acts chapter 12       Next chapter            Back to Bible Studies   

The events in v 1-4 reminds us of the request made by James and John in Mark 10: 35-40: "35 Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36 “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37 They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38 “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39 “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40 but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.” James being 'put to the sword' literally means that he was beheaded, reminding us of Jesus' words in the passage above.

Herod clearly had a political motive in that he wanted to gain favour with the Jews and when he saw that James' death pleased them, he imprisoned Peter too. Because it was during the feast of unleavened bread, he observed the Jewish Law and waited until after the passover to bring Peter to trial. We can only assume that he intended to have him executed. Peter is handed over to four squads of four soldiers each (16 soldiers in all). This was because there were four watches of six hours each in a 24 hour period with two soldiers in the cell with Peter and two at the prison gate at any given time. Of course, Peter was well aqainted with prison (Acts 4:3 and Acts 5:18). It is also interesting to note Peter's frame of mind while he is in prison awaiting his trial and probable death - he is sleeping! We detect no anxiousness or fear. How different  this is to the Peter who denies his Lord three times in Matthew 26...Peter was certainly filled with the Holy Spirit through and through. We also looked at Psalm 127:2 "In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat - for he grants sleep to those he loves".

We are clearly told in verse 5 that the church was earnestly praying for Peter. The word translated 'earnestly' is the Greek word 'Ektenos' which means 'to be stretched out to the limit'. This gives us a picture of these believers stretching their hands out to God or perhaps even literally stretching themselves out on the floor before God in prayer. There are a number of other instances in Scripture where this word and image is used: Exodus 9:27-29, 2 Samuel 12:16, 1 Kings 17:21, Psalm 68:31, Psalm 143:1-6, and the most striking reference - Matthew 26: 36 - 39: "Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.” 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”  39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  and in Luke 22:41-44: "He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” 43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

This issue of praying earnestly, of praying 'stretched out fully before God', could perhaps be seen as a 'recipe' for prayer and that God will answer these prayers because we are stretching ourselves out before Him and earnestly calling on Him. However, we need to look at what accompanies the idea of stretching onesself out before the Lord. We see that both David in 2 Samuel 12 and Jesus in Matthew 26 are expressing their submission to God at the same time. This is especially visible in Jesus' prayer "..yet not my will but Yours be done". In addition, we see that neither David nor Jesus have their prayer answered in the way they desired. In David's case, God does not raise the child to life, but blesses him with another (Solomon) and Jesus does not have the cup removed, but "...an angel came and strengthened Him". Similarly in the passage before us, after Peter is miraculously freed from prison by the Angel and eventually knocks on the door of the house where the believers are praying, the response is indicative of the believers' prayer being answered in a way that they were not expecting at all. Hence we find them saying to Rhoda "You are out of your mind" when she announces that Peter is at the door, and that it must be his angel (meaning he is already dead) and then finally expressing their astonishment at seeing Peter. We can only speculate on the content of their fervent prayers earlier, but what we can say with certainty based on their response that they were not expecting their prayers to be answered in such a way. The same goes for us in our prayers. Are we: 1. Stretching ourselves out before God, having come to the very end of our human resources and 2. Are we so submitted to Him that we leave the outcome to Him and do not try to twist His arm...Furthermore, we need to carefully consider how many of our prayers God has indeed answered, unbeknown to us, simply because we have been/are expecting them to be answered in a particular way. Open our eyes dear Lord...

Peter subsequently leaves the area and the poor guards are executed by Herod for allowing the prisoner to escape. Herod then journeys to Caesarea and the historian Josephus gives a very interesting account of what happened to Herod there: "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... A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner... when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life".

In v 24 we read 'But the Word of God continued to increase and spread'. This calls to mind those magnificent words of Jesus regarding His Church in Matthew 16: 16-19: "16 Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” 17 Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it."

© 2011 Werner Schreiber

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