Acts 12:7
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.
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(7) The angel of the Lord came upon him.—The phrase is identical with that of Luke 2:9. The absence of the article in the Greek leaves it open to render it either as “the angel” or “an angel.” The “light” in this instance corresponds to the “glory of the Lord” in that.

In the prison.—Literally, in the dwelling, or chamber. The term appears to be used as an euphemism for “prison.”



Acts 12:7
, Acts 12:23.

The same heavenly agent performs the same action on Peter and on Herod. To the one, his touch brings freedom and the dropping off of his chains; to the other it brings gnawing agonies and a horrible death. These twofold effects of one cause open out wide and solemn thoughts, on which it is well to look.

I. The one touch has a twofold effect.

So it is always when God’s angels come, or God Himself lays His hand on men. Every manifestation of the divine power, every revelation of the divine presence, all our lives’ experiences, are charged with the solemn possibility of bringing us one or other of two directly opposite results. They all offer us an alternative, a solemn ‘either -or.’

The Gospel too comes charged with that double possibility, and is the intensest and most fateful example of the dual effect of all God’s messages and dealings. Just as the ark maimed Dagon and decimated the Philistine cities and slew Uzzah, but brought blessing and prosperity to the house of Obed-edom, just as the same pillar was light to Israel all the night long, but cloud and darkness to the Egyptians, so is Christ set ‘for the fall of’ some and ‘for the rising of’ others amidst the ‘many in Israel,’ and His Gospel is either ‘the savour of life unto life or of death unto death,’ but in both cases is in itself ‘unto God,’ one and the same ‘sweet savour in Christ.’

II. These twofold effects are parts of one plan and purpose.

Peter’s liberation and Herod’s death tended in the same direction-to strengthen and conserve the infant Church, and thus to prepare the way for the conquering march of the Gospel. And so it is in all God’s self-revelations and manifested energies, whatever may be their effects. They come from one source and one motive, they are fundamentally the operations of one changeless Agent, and, as they are one in origin and character, so they are one in purpose. We are not to separate them into distinct classes and ascribe them to different elements in the divine nature, setting down this as the work of Love and that as the outcome of Wrath, or regarding the acts of deliverance as due to one part of that great whole and the acts of destruction as due to another part of it. The angel was the same, and his celestial fingers were moved by the same calm, celestial will when he smote Peter into liberty and life, and Herod to death.

God changes His ways, but not His heart. He changes His acts, but not His purposes. Opposite methods conduce to one end, as winter storms and June sunshine equally tend to the yellowed harvest.

III. The character of the effects depends on the men who are touched.

As is the man, so is the effect of the angel’s touch. It could only bring blessing to the one who was the friend of the angel’s Lord, and it could bring only death to the other, who was His enemy. It could do nothing to the Apostle but cause his chains to drop from his wrists, nor anything to the vainglorious king but bring loathsome death.

This, too, is a universal truth. It is we ourselves who settle what God’s words and acts will be to us. The trite proverb, ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison,’ is true in the highest regions. It is eminently, blessedly or tragically true in our relation to the Gospel, wherein all God’s self-revelation reaches its climax, wherein ‘the arm of the Lord’ is put forth in its most blessed energy, wherein is laid on each of us the touch, tender and more charged with blessing than that of the angel who smote the calmly sleeping Apostle. That Gospel may either be to us the means of freeing us from our chains, and leading us out of our prison-house into sunshine and security, or be the fatal occasion of condemnation and death. Which it shall be depends on ourselves. Which shall I make it for myself?

Acts 12:7-10. And behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him — Greek, επεστη, stood over him; and a light shined in the prison Εν τω οικηματι, in the house, the whole house in which he was confined; and he smote — Greek, παταξας, having smote, Peter on the side — He awoke him; saying, Arise up quickly. And, in that moment, his chains — With which his right arm was bound to one of the soldiers, and his left to the other, fell off — The soldiers, in the mean time, being by a miraculous power kept so fast asleep, that they were not at all alarmed by the noise of their fall. And the angel said, Gird thyself, &c. — Probably Peter had put off his girdle, sandals, and upper garment before he lay down to sleep. And he went out — Of the prison, as he was guided by the angel, meeting with no opposition in his way; and wist not — That what appeared to him to be done was real, but supposed that he was in a dream, or saw a vision. When they were past the first and second ward — At each of which, doubtless, was a guard of soldiers, who, however, were all asleep; they came unto the iron gate leading into the city — Which, though a heavy gate, and very strongly fastened, yet was no hinderance in their way; but opened of its own accord — Without Peter or the angel touching it. And they passed on through one street — That Peter might know which way to go. And forthwith the angel — Having done all that was requisite for his deliverance, and set him at full liberty; departed from him — Peter being himself sufficient for what remained to be done.

12:6-11 A peaceful conscience, a lively hope, and the consolations of the Holy Spirit, can keep men calm in the full prospect of death; even those very persons who have been most distracted with terrors on that account. God's time to help, is when things are brought to the last extremity. Peter was assured that the Lord would cause this trial to end in the way that should be most for his glory. Those who are delivered out of spiritual imprisonment must follow their Deliverer, like the Israelites when they went out of the house of bondage. They knew not whither they went, but knew whom they followed. When God will work salvation for his people, all difficulties in their way will be overcome, even gates of iron are made to open of their own accord. This deliverance of Peter represents our redemption by Christ, which not only proclaims liberty to the captives, but brings them out of the prison-house. Peter, when he recollected himself, perceived what great things God had done for him. Thus souls delivered out of spiritual bondage, are not at first aware what God has wrought in them; many have the truth of grace, that want evidence of it. But when the Comforter comes, whom the Father will send, sooner or later, he will let them know what a blessed change is wrought.And, behold, the angel of the Lord - See the notes on Acts 5:19.

Came upon him - Greek: was present with him; stood near him ἐπέστη epestē.

And a light shined in the prison - Many have supposed that this was lightning. But light, and splendor, and shining apparel are commonly represented as the accompaniments of the heavenly beings when they visit the earth, Luke 2:9; Luke 24:4; compare Mark 9:3. It is highly probable that this light was discerned only by Peter; and it would be to him an undoubted proof of the divine interposition in his behalf.

And he smote Peter on the side - This was, doubtless, a gentle blow or stroke to arouse him from sleep.

And his chains ... - This could have been only by divine power. No natural means were used, or could have been used without arousing the guard. It is a sublime expression of the ease with which God can deliver from danger, and rescue his friends. Compare Acts 16:26.

7-11. the angel of the Lord—rather, "an angel."

came upon him—so in Lu 2:9, expressive of the unexpected nature of the visit.

smote Peter on the side … Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off … Gird thyself … And so he did … Cast thy garment—tunic, which he had thrown off for the night.

The angel of the Lord, whose office it is to minister for the heirs of salvation, Hebrews 1:14, and who willingly fulfil this will of the Lord.

Came upon him, as Luke 2:9, suddenly and unexpectedly.

A light shined in the prison; whether this light was from the bright body the angel assumed, or from some other cause, we are not told, and therefore it is not necessary for us to know; but it was a light only to Peter, but darkness to his keepers; as the pillar of fire enlightened only the Israelites; which made them both the more strange and miraculous.

The angel smote Peter (as one jogs, or gently strikes another) to awaken him; thus God was waking, though Peter slept; and by his providence watches over all his people for their preservation.

His chains fell off from his hands; chains could not hold any whom God will have free; every thing loses its force when God suspends or withdraws his concurrence.

And behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him,.... Suddenly and at once, and stood by him; this was one of the ministering spirits sent forth by Christ, to minister to a servant of his:

and a light shined in the prison; the Syriac version renders it, "in the whole house"; and the word that is used does signify an habitation, or a dwelling house properly, but is used also by the Greek writers (f) for a prison: this was an uncommon light produced by the angel, partly as an emblem of the presence, majesty, and power of God, who was present, to work a great deliverance; and partly for the use of Peter, that when being awaked he might see to rise and walk by:

and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up; he touched him on that side which lay uppermost, or punched him on it, in order to awake him, and raise him out of his sleep:

saying arise up quickly; without delay, make haste:

and his chains fell off from his hands; from both his hands, and were left with the soldiers, between whom he slept; which must be ascribed to an almighty power, which caused them to drop off.

(f) Vid Harpocratian Lex. p. 212.

And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the {c} prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands.

(c) Literally, habitation; (Ed.).

Acts 12:7-11. The narrative of this deliverance falls to be judged of in the same way as the similar event recorded in Acts 5:19-20. From the mixture of what is legendary with pure history, which, marks Luke’s report of the occurrence, the purely historical state of the miraculous fact in its individual details cannot be surely ascertained, and, in particular, whether the angelic appearance, which suddenly took place (ἐπέστη, see on Luke 2:9), is to be referred to the internal vision of the apostle,—a view to which Acts 12:9 may give a certain support.[272] But as the narrative lies before us, every attempt to constitute it a natural occurrence must be excluded. See Storr, Opusc. III. p. 183 ff. This holds good not only of the odd view of Hezel, that a flash of lightning had undone the chains, but also of the opinion of Eichhorn and Heinrichs, “that the jailor himself, or others with his knowledge, had effected the deliverance, without Peter himself being aware of the exact circumstances;” as also, in fine, of the hypothesis of Baur, that the king himself had let the apostle free, because he had become convinced in the interval (? Acts 12:3) how little the execution of James had met with popular approval. According to Ewald,[273] Peter was delivered in such a surprising manner, that his first word after his arrival among his friends was, that he thought he was rescued by an angel of God; and our narrative is an amplified presentation of this thought.

Acts 12:7. φῶς] whether emanating from the angel (Matthew 28:3), or as a separate phenomenon, cannot be determined.

οἴκημα] generally denoting single apartments of the house (Valck. ad Ammon. iii. 4; Dorvill. ad Charit. p. 587), is, in the special sense: place of custody of prisoners, i.e. prison, a more delicate designation for the δεσμωτήριον, frequent particularly among Attic writers. Dem. 789, 2. 890, 13. 1284, 2; Thuc. iv. 47. 2, 48. 1; Kypke, II. p. 57. Comp. Valck. ad Herod., vii. 119.

And the chains fell from his hands, round which, namely, they were entwined.

Acts 12:9. He was so overpowered by the wonderful course of his deliverance and confused in his consciousness, that what had been done by the angel was not apprehended by him as something actual (ἀληθές), as a real fact, but that he fancied himself to have seen a vision (comp. Acts 16:9).

Acts 12:10. τὴν φέρουσαν εἰς τὴν πόλιν] Nothing can be determined from this as to the situation of the prison (Fessel holds that it was situated in the court of Herod’s castle; Walch and Kuinoel, that Peter was imprisoned in a tower of the inner wall of the city, and that the πύλη was the door of this tower). If the prison-house was in the city, which is to be assumed from καὶ ἐξελθόντες κ.τ.λ., its iron gate still in fact led from the house εἰς τὴν πόλιν.

Examples of αὐτόματος, used not only of persons, but of things, may be seen in Wetstein in loc, and on Mark 4:28. Comp. Hom. Il. v. 749; Eur. Bacch. 447: αὐτόματα δεσμὰ διελύθη. Apollon. Rhod. iv. 41: αὐτόματοι θυρέων ὑπόειξαν ὀχῆες. Ovid. Met. iii. 699.

ῥύμην μίαν] not several.

Acts 12:11. γενόμενος ἐν ἑαυτῷ] when he had become (present) in himself, i.e. had come to himself (Luke 15:17; Xen. Anab. i. 5. 17; Soph. Phil. 938), “cum animo ex stupore ob rem inopinatam iterum collecto satis sibi conscius esset.” Kypke, comp. Wetstein and Dorville, ad Charit. p. 81; Herm. ad Vig. p. 749.

καὶ πάσμς τῆς προσδοκ. τοῦ λαοῦ τ. ʼΙονδ.] For he had now ceased to be the person, in whose execution the people were to see their whole expectation hostile to Christianity gratified.

[272] Lange, apostol. Zeitalt. II. p. 150, supposes that the help had befallen the apostle in the condition of “second consciousness, in an extraordinary healthy disengagement of the higher life” [Geniusleben], and that the angel was a “reflected image of the glorified Christ:” that the latter Himself, in an angelic form, came within the sphere of Peter’s vision; that Christ Himself thus undertook the responsibility; and that the action of the apostle transcended the condition of responsible consciousness. There is nothing of all this in the passage. And Christ in an angelic form is without analogy in the N. T.; is, indeed, at variance with the N. T. conception of the δόξα of the glorified Lord.

[273] Who (p. 202) regards our narrative as more historical than the similar narratives in chap. 5. and 16.

Acts 12:7. ἐπέστη: often as here with the notion of coming suddenly, in classical Greek it is often used of dreams, as in Homer; or of the coming of heavenly visitors, very frequent in Luke, and with the same force as here, Friedrich, pp. 7 and 87, and almost always in second aorist, see also Plummer on Luke 2:9.—οἰκήματι: only here in N.T., used in Wis 13:15 (and perhaps in Tob 2:4), but not in same sense. Dem. and Thuc. use it for a prison: R.V. “the cell,” lit[249], the chamber.—πατάξας δὲ τὴν πλευρὰν: to rouse him, an indication of the sound and quiet sleep which, the prisoner slept in spite of the fateful morrow (so Weiss); cf. Acts 7:24, and Acts 7:33).

[249] literal, literally.

7. And behold, the [an] angel of the Lord came upon him] The verb is the same which is used (Luke 2:9) of the angel appearing to the shepherds. The idea conveyed is that the heavenly visitor appeared over those to whom he was sent. The passage just quoted continues “and the glory of the Lord shone round about them,” words which are strikingly parallel with this description of St Peter’s release, “and a light shined in the prison.”

in the prison] The word is not the same as in the last verse. To make the distinction clear read here “cell” or “chamber.” The light was due to the presence of the angel who came with the glory of the Lord.

and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up] Rather, roused him up. The verb indicates that he awoke him from his sleep, but not that he helped him to arise.

Acts 12:7. Φῶς, a light) miraculous.—οἰκήματι, in the dwelling) A general term for the special one, prison.

Verse 7. - An angel for the angel, A.V. (see note on Acts 5:19); stood by him for came upon him, A.V. (comp. Luke 2:9); cell for prison, A.V.; awoke him for raised him up, A.V. (ἤγειρεν αὐτὸν); rise for arise, A.V. Cell. The word οἴκημα, a dwelling, was used by the Athenians as an euphemism for a prison. It only occurs here in the New Testament, though it is a common Greek word. His chains fell off from his hands, showing that each hand bad been chained to a soldier. The loosening of the chains would enable him to rise without necessarily awakening the soldiers to whom he was fastened, and who would feel no difference in the chain which was attached to them. Acts 12:7Came upon (ἐπέστη)

Better, as Rev., stood by. See on Acts 4:1; and compare Luke 2:9.

Prison (οἰκήματι)

Not the prison, but the cell where Peter was confined. So, rightly, Rev.

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