Matthew Poole's Commentary
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.Acts 12:1-19 King Herod persecutes the Christians, kills James,
and imprisons Peter, who, upon the prayers of the
church, is delivered by an angel.
Acts 12:20-23 Herod, in his pride assuming the glory due to God,
is smitten by an angel, and dieth miserably.
Acts 12:24 After his death the word of God prospers.
Acts 12:25 Barnabas and Saul return to Antioch.
There were several Herods mentioned in Scripture, being all of the family of Herod the Great, (by whose name they were called), as Herod that killed the children in Bethlehem, called Hecolonita; another that beheaded St. John, and derided our Saviour, this Herod was surnamed Antipas: the Herod here spoken of was called Agrippa; the son, or, as others think, the nephew, of Aristobulus, and was the father of that Agrippa we read of, Acts 25:26, being viceroy, or king, under the Roman emperor. This Herod did not only kill some, but punished others with banishment and blows; and especially the governors of the church, knowing how much all suffer in them.
And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.Who had especially the care of the church at Jerusalem: one eminent amongst the apostles, and one of the sons of thunder, (or Boanerges), for his zealous and earnest preaching, and therefore the more hated by Herod: so that which our Saviour had foretold him came now to pass, Matthew 20:23, that he drank of the cup our Savionr did drink of. There was another James, who wrote the Epistle known by his name, and was called James the Less; because, as some think, he was brought to the knowledge of Christ after the other, of whom we read, Mark 15:40.
And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)All the posterity of Herod the Great, by his example, studied chiefly to please the Roman emperors, and to gratify the Jews, whether by right or wrong.
The days of unleavened bread; or the passover, which festival solemnity lasted eight days; and God overruled the hypocrisy of Herod (for he did not out of piety observe this time) for the preservation of Peter; and Herod might fear some tumult of the people, in so great a concourse, upon Peter’s death, for which he did defer it: however, the perverseness of the Jews is very remarkable, who were mad with rage against Christ and his apostles, at such times in which they pretended to serve the God of love and peace.
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.Four quaternions of soldiers: there were sixteen soldiers appointed to keep Peter; the Romans using four soldiers at a time to keep sentry, and the Jews dividing their nights into four watches, there were enough to relieve the other, and to set a new watch as often as was required for every night; of which four at a time, two were with the prisoner, and perhaps, for the greater security, bound with the same chain, and two did always stand at the door or gate; and this they might the rather do, out of great caution, having heard what miracles Peter did, and that he had been delivered by an angel out of prison, Acts 5:19.
After Easter; that day in which the paschal lamb was ate, on which the Jews would put none to death, that they might not eclipse the joy of that day.
Bring him forth to the people; to do with him what they would, leaving him to their mercy, or rather cruelty.
Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.Peter therefore was kept in prison, till a fit time to offer him up as a sacrifice unto the people: so basely do wicked men stoop for their ends.
But prayer was made: the only help or hope poor Christians had, was from prayer (preces et lachrymae); there are no quaternions of soldiers can keep the passage shut that is towards heaven.
Without ceasing; continued, long prayers, without intermission; but also fervent and earnest prayers, oloqucwv, with all the might of their souls; remembering the apostle now in bonds, as bound with him, Hebrews 13:3.
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.Brought him forth, to be put to death.
The same night: this is a night to be remembered, as that in which God delivered his Israel out of Egypt: when both were come to the utmost extremity, and at the pit’s brink, then so God does his marvellous work of deliverance, that it ought to be had in remembrance, Psalm 105:5.
Peter was sleeping: innocency hath this advantage, and a good conscience acquiesces in the providence of God; it hath God to its friend; and if he be for us, who can be against us?
Bound with two chains: see Acts 12:4: to which may be added, that with one chain St. Peter’s right hand was bound to the soldier’s left; with the other chain his left hand to the other soldier’s right; for so was their manner for their greater security, that they might not let the prisoner escape: thus persecutors are skilful to destroy; but no device can avail against any whom God will save.
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.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 the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me.Gird thyself; the custom being to wear long garments, they were not so fit to go about any business until they had girt their garments to them; hence Jeremiah is commanded to get a girdle about him, Jeremiah 13:1, when he was to be sent on God’s errand. The sandals were little other than sole leathers, bound or fastened with thongs.
Thy garment; the uppermost vest, answerable to a cloak amongst us. God furnishes his people thus with necessaries, and he will have them use them, so far as they are able to serve them, even then when he is working of miracles for their deliverances.
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.The greatnesss and suddenness of the deliverance was such, as it amazed him, it seemed incredible unto him: not that he questioned God’s power or godliness; but knowing that he was to suffer for Christ’s name’s sake, he might the rather not look for such a deliverance, and when it came, be as one that dreams, as Psalm 126:1: God therefore bringing his people to such extremities, that his salvation might be the more astonishing.
When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him.The first and the second ward; guard or sentinels.
The iron gate that leadeth unto the city; the outermost gate that led out of the prison into the city, not that the prison itself was out of the city.
Which opened to them of his own accord: God worketh a series of miracles in their fit place and time; he could have done them all together, and have opened his iron gate beforehand, when he conducted Peter through the first, then through the second watch; but it is good for Peter, and us, to be convinced that we stand every moment in need of God’s conduct and deliverance.
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.When Peter was come to himself, out of that amazement which so many wonderful things had wrought in him, that he could compose himself to effect upon what he had heard and seen, he knew his deliverance was real and effectual.
Delivered me; from Herod, who had resolved to have killed him, as he had done James, Acts 12:2; and from the people’s expectation, who had heard the report of Herod’s resolution, and longed for the fulfilling of it.
And when he had considered the thing, he came to the house of Mary the mother of John, whose surname was Mark; where many were gathered together praying.Peter, being delivered, meditates upon the greatness of the danger that he had been in, and the goodness of God that had delivered him, and this whilst walking in the street, and going along: no place can exclude good thoughts and holy meditations.
The mother of John; the mother is here described by the son, as the more known person; here the parent gains reputation, and to be remembered in this Scripture, for her son’s sake. Thus a wise son made a glad mother, as Proverbs 10:1.
Mark; some think this was he that wrote the Gospel called by his name.
Many were gathered together: in this time of persecution the Christians met secretly, and in small numbers, as they could; these here mentioned are thought to be private Christians, because it appears by the Acts 12:17, that James, &c. were not there.
And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.The door of the gate; this was the outermost door to the porch, or court before the house.
A damsel came to hearken; being in great fear of a suprisal, they ordered one to observe, and give an answer unto any that should come to the house; which was the more heedfully done, because it was at an unseasonable time of the night; yet these holy men broke their rest, and exposed themselves to many fears and dangers, rather than not to assemble to serve God, when they could not serve him otherwise.
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.She opened not the gate for gladness; as one from herself, not knowing what to do for gladness. Great and sudden passions have caused strange ecstasies, and death itself sometimes; the spirits in grief flowing too fast unto the heart to fortify it, and in joy leaving the heart as fast, to meet the object that causeth it.
And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.Thou art mad; thou speakest thou knowest not what; thinking her, out of fear, to have been discomposed in her mind.
It is his angel: some have thought, that by Peter’s angel no other was meant than some messenger from Peter, which they might expect from him in such a case as he was in; now though aggelov (the word here) signifies a messenger or an angel, indifferently, yet how could Rhoda then know it to have been Peter’s voice? A messenger’s voice being no more like his that sent him than another man’s. They did, probably mean some angel that had assumed Peter’s shape, and imitated his voice: and the Jews having had a constant opinion, that at least every good man hath a guardian angel which God appoints to him for a means of his preservation, might be apt to imagine that this was that angel whose charge St. Peter was, Matthew 18:10. Though that angel spoken of, Genesis 48:16, most probably was the angel of the new covenant, and not a created angel, being Jacob blesseth in his name; yet the opinion of tutelar angels, though not certain or needful, is to this day thought probable.
But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.Peter continued knocking; Peter might be unwilling to have his entrance into the house deferred,
1. Out of fear of being taken again, and his life concerned upon it.
2. Out of an earnest desire to see the brethren, whom he might hope to meet with there.
3. Out of zeal to declare the mercy of God towards him; this fire was kindled in him, and he sought vent for it.
But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went into another place.Beckoning; it was usual by the motion of the hand both to desire silence and to crave audience.
How the Lord had brought him out; Peter gives God the glory, though an angel had been the means of his delivery.
James; this James was the son of Alpheus, Matthew 10:3 Mark 3:18, and succeeded the other James, (the brother of John, of whom, Acts 12:2), in governing the church at Jerusalem.
Went into another place; Peter could not but know he should be sought after, and therefore durst not abide in one place, lest he should ruin himself, and endanger his friends that should harbour him. Thus the great apostle, as David formerly, was hunted, as one hunteth a partridge in the mountains, 1 Samuel 26:20.
Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.The soldiers, who were bound with Peter in the same chains, could not but miss him as soon as they did awake, and with admiration find the chains still holding them, thought loosened from Peter. What strange imaginations they might have, is not to be expressed, though some guess at it.
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.He examined the keepers; that is, judicially; proceeding against them for the escape of St. Peter.
Commanded that they should be put to death; they were sentenced to be led away, and it is most probably thought, unto the place of execution. The instruments in persecution God many times meets with in this world, and sometimes by the persecutors themselves.
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.Tyre and Sidon; these were two coast towns in Phoenicia, famous, especially the former, for their great trading; and being rich, might be insolent, or possibly might tempt Herod to a war against them, whose conquest would pay the charge of it.
The king’s chamberlain, or chief of his bed chamber.
Desired peace, or begged pardon; there being no war yet begun.
Their country was nourished by the king’s country; these cities lying upon the sea, had little land belonging to them, and of old were forced to have their provision from other places, especially from Judea; thus Solomon gave Hiram, king of Tyre, twenty thousand measures of wheat for his household, and twenty measures of pure oil yearly, 1 Kings 5:9,11; and long after that, they of Judah and Israel are said to have traded with their wheat in Tyre, Ezekiel 27:17.
And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.Upon a set day; this was (says Josephius, cap. 19. lib. 7) the second day of the sports or games, which Herod had instituted in honour of the emperor Claudius; or, it may he, such a day as Herod had appointed to determine the diffrence between him and the Tyrians.
Royal apparel; such, saith Josephus, as were made of silver, woven with extraordinary art, and did reflect strangely the beams of the sun shining upon it.
Sat upon his throne; an elevated place, from whence he might the better be seen and heard.
And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.These impious flatterers destroy whom they exalt; for God will pull down his rivals.
And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost.An angel had delivered Peter, and here an angel destroys Herod: all that heavenly host fullfil God’s will for the deliverance of his church, and the destruction of his enemies.
He gave not God the glory; priding himself in the acclamation the people had made, and not attributing his eloquence and glory to God, as the giver of them; or rather, not repressing or punishing their blasphemy; whereas Peter durst not accept of undue honour from Cornelius, Acts 10:26, nor the angel from St. John, Revelation 19:10 22:9.
He was eaten of worms; either breeding in his bowels, or in his flesh, after a more unusual manner; as it is recorded of Herod the Great, that he was eaten up of lice. No creature so little or contemptible, but it can execute God’s judgments on whom he please.
But the word of God grew and multiplied.Grew; the word of God is compared here to seed, as in our Saviour’s parable, Matthew 13:19.
Multiplied; the number of believers multiplied through the word, which was sown, as seed is scattered abroad. So true it is, that persecutors, by their pulling down of the church, do but build it up.
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.From Jerusalem; they returned unto Antioch, from whence they were sent, Acts 11:26,30, to carry the benevolence of the church of Antioch to that of Judea.
Their ministry; this was the ministry or service they were appointed to do.
John; of whom before, Acts 12:12.