Acts 12
Pulpit Commentary
Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church.
Verse 1. - Put for stretched, A.V.; afflict for vex, A.V. The phrase, About that time, as in Acts 19:23, points to what had just before been related (Meyer). The interposition of the narrative in this chapter between Acts 11:20 and Acts 12:25 evidently implies that the bulk or rather the chief of the events narrated happened in the interval. Which of the events was the chief in the mind of the narrator with reference to his general narrative, and what are the coincidences which he wished to note, it is not easy to say with certainty. The narrative in this chapter doubtless overlaps at both ends the embassy of Paul and Barnabas, but perhaps the object was to show the harassed state of the Church from famine and persecution at the time that Paul and Barnabas were at Jerusalem. Herod the king here mentioned is Herod Agrippa I., grandson of Herod the Great, and son of Aristobulus and Bernice. During the reign of Tiberius he resided at Rome, in alternate favor and disgrace, sometimes banished, sometimes a prisoner, sometimes a guest at the imperial court. He was a great friend of Caius Caesar Caligula, and, on his succeeding to the empire on the death of Tiberius, was promoted by him to the tetrarchy of Herod Philip, with the title of king. He was further advanced three years afterwards to the tetrarchy of Herod Antipas; and, on the accession of Claudius to the throne, Judaea and Samaria were added to his dominions, which now comprised the whole kingdom of his grandfather, Herod the Great. Agrippa, in spite of his close intimacy with Drusus, Caligula, Claudius, and other Roman magnates, was "exactly careful in the observance of the laws of his country, not allowing a day to pass without its appointed sacrifice;" and he had given proof of his strong Jewish feeling by interposing his whole influence with Caligula to prevent his statue being placed in the holy of holies. This spirit accounts for his enmity against the Church. He was a man of very expensive and luxurious habits, but not without some great qualities.
And he killed James the brother of John with the sword.
Verse 2. - James, the son of Zebedee, or James the Elder, to whom, with his brother John, our Lord gave the surname of Boanerges (which is a corruption of בְנֵי דֶגֶשׁ), sons of thunder. Nothing is recorded of him in the Acts but his presence in the upper room at Jerusalem after the Ascension (Acts 1:13), and this his martyrdom, which was the fulfillment of our Lord's prediction in Matthew 20:23. His being singled out by Herod for death in company with Peter is rather an indication of his zeal and activity in the Lord's service, though we know nothing of his work. Eusebius relates an anecdote of his martyrdom, extracted from the lost work of Clement of Alexandria, called the Ὑποτυτώσεις (or in Latin Adumbrationes), which Clement professed to have received by tradition from his predecessors, to the effect that the informer who accused James was so struck with his constancy in confessing Christ before the judge, that he came forward and confessed himself a Christian too. The two were then led off to execution together; and on the way the informer asked James's forgiveness. After a moment's hesitation, James said to him, "Peace be unto thee," and kissed him. They were then both beheaded ('Eccl. Hist.,' 2. 9.). As Clement flourished about A.D. , the tradition need not have passed through more than three persons. It has been thought strange that Luke relates the death of a chief apostle with such brevity. But it did not bear on the main object of his work. Lightfoot ('Works,' vol. 8. p. 282, etc.) mentions a fanciful story related by Rabauus Maurus, that about this time the apostles composed the Apostles' Creed, each contributing one clause, and that the clause contributed by James the brother of John was, "And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord."
And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)
Verse 3. - When for because, A.V.; that it pleased for it pleased, A.V.; proceeded for proceeded further, A.V.; seize for take, A.V. ; and those for then, A.V. He proceeded to seize (προσέθετο συλλαβεῖν) is a Hebraism. This trait of his pleasing the Jews is in exact accordance with Josephus's description of him, as τῷ βιοῦν ἐν αὐφημίᾳ χαίρων, loving popularity, and as being very kind and sympathizing with the Jewish people, and liking to live much at Jerusalem ('Ant. Jud.' 19.7.3). The days of unleavened bread; i.e. as expressed by Luke 22:1, "The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover." It lasted seven days (Exodus 12:15-18), from the 14th to the 21st of Nisan, or Abib (Exodus 12:18-20; Leviticus 23:5, 6; Deuteronomy 16:1-4), the Passover being eaten on the night of the 14th.
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.
Verse 4. - Taken for apprehended, A.V.; guard for keep, A.V.; the Passover for Easter, A.V. Four quaternions; i.e. four bands of four soldiers each, which were on guard in succession through the four watches of the night - one quaternion for each watch. The Passover. This is a decided improve-merit, as the use of the word "Easter" implies that the Christian feast is here meant. But perhaps" Feast of the Passover" would have been better, as showing that the whole seven days are intended. This is, perhaps, the meaning of τὸ πάσχα in John 18:28, and certainly is its meaning here. We have another characteristic trait of the religion of Agrippa, and of his sympathy with the feelings of the Jews about the Law, that he would not allow a trial on a capital charge, or an execution, to take place during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (comp. John 18:8). To bring him forth to the people. Still the same desire uppermost, to propitiate the people by gifts or shows, or by blood; ἀναγαγεῖν means exactly "to bring up" (Acts 9:39; Romans 10:7, etc.), either on to a stage or on some high ground, where all the people could see him condemned, which would be as good to them as an auto da fé to a Spanish mob, or a gladiatorial slaughter to a Roman audience (see ver. 11).
Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him.
Verse 5. - The prison for prison, A.V.; earnestly for without ceasing, A.V. (ἐκτενὴς, or as in the R.T. ἐκτενῶς, has the sense of intensity rather than duration; see Luke 22:14, T.R.; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 Peter 4:8). As the last of the days of unleavened bread approached, the prayers of the Church would be more and more intense in their earnestness. We have but to read the preceding chapters to judge how precious to the Church the life of Peter must have been.
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.
Verse 6. - Was about to bring for would have brought, A.V.; guards for the keepers, A.V. What a picture we have here! The dungeon; the double chain fastening the prisoner to two soldiers; the other two soldiers of the quaternion keeping watch at the first and second ward, or station; the iron gate securely fastened; the population of the great city expecting with the morning light to be gratified with the blood of the victim of their bigotry; the king having made his arrangements for the imposing spectacle which was to ingratiate him with his people and obtain the applause he so dearly loved; and then the servant of Jesus Christ sleeping calmly under the shadow of God's wings; and, a little way off, the Church keeping her solemn watch and pouring forth her intensest prayers through the silence of the night! And the issue, the triumph of the few and the weak over all the power of the many and the strong.
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.
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.
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.
Verse 8. - He did so for so he did, A.V. Thy garment (ἱμάτιον); especially the outer garment, which was worn over the χιτὼν, or tunic (see Matthew 9:20, 21; Matthew 14:36; Matthew 23:5, etc.). The girding, therefore, applied to the inner garments, and περιβαλοῦ το the cloak which went over them.
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.
Verse 9. - Followed for followed him, A.V. and T.R.; he wist for wist, A.V.
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.
Verse 10. - And when for when, A.V.; into for unto, A.V. ; its for his, A.V.; straightway for forthwith, A.V. The first and the second ward. The φυλακή, here rendered "ward," may mean either the station where the guard was posted or the guard itself. One street; ῤυμή, as in Acts 9:11, note. Departed; ἀπέστη, in contrast to ἐπέστη, rendered "stood by" in ver. 7.
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.
Verse 11. - Truth for surety, A.V.; sent forth for sent, A.V.; delivered for hath delivered, A.V. Peter's recognition of the Lord's hand in sending his angel is exactly echoed in the Collect for Michaelmas Day, "Grant that as thy holy angels always do thee service in heaven, so by thy appointment they may succor and defend us on earth."
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.
Verse 12. - And were praying for praying, A.V. When he had considered; better, with Meyer and Alford, when he perceived it, viz. the truth of his deliverance. Mary the mother of John was aunt to Barnabas (Colossians 4:10). If Paul and Barnabas were not in her house at the time (which there is no evidence that they were), it is likely that all the particulars of Peter's escape may have been communicated to Paul by John Mark, and by him repeated to Luke. That they went to the house of Mary before their return seems certain from their taking Mark with them to Antioch (ver. 25), possibly to deliver him from the danger Christians were in at Jerusalem at this time.
And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.
Verse 13. - When he for as Peter, A.V. and T.R.; maid for damsel, A.V.; to answer for to hearken, A.V. (ὑπακοῦσαι). The door of the gate (see Acts 10:17, note). To hearken or listen seems the best rendering. It is the phrase proper to a doorkeeper, whoso business it is to go to the door and listen when any one knocks, and find out what their business is before opening the door. This is the primary sense of the word; that of answering after listening is a secondary sense. At a time of such alarm to Christians a knock at the door in the dead of the night would carry terror with it, and careful listening to ascertain whether there was more than one person, and then to ask who was there and what was his business, was the natural course.
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.
Verse 14. - Joy for gladness, A.V.; that for how, A.V. When she knew Peter's voice. This evidence of Peter's intimacy with the family of Mary is in remarkable agreement with 1 Peter 5:13, "Greet Marcus my son."
And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel.
Verse 15. - Confidently for constantly, A.V. (for the same use of διι'σχυρίζομαι, see Luke 22:59); and they said for then said they, A.V. It is his angel; meaning probably his guardian angel (Matthew 18:10). But the expression is obscure, and we do not know exactly the nature of the belief on which it was grounded. They must have thought that perhaps Peter had been put to death in prison that very night, and that his angel, speaking with his voice, was sent to announce it to the Church. The narrative is a striking instance how "slow of heart to believe" are even the most devout. They were praying very earnestly for Peter's life; their prayer was granted; and yet the announcement of it only draws out the answer, "Thou art mad!" and then, as an alternative, the explanation, "It is his angel!"
But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished.
Verse 16. - Opened for opened the door, A.V.; they... and for and... they, A.V.; amazed for astonished, A.V. (see Acts 8:9, note).
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.
Verse 17. - Brought him forth for brought him, A.V.; tell for go show, A.V.; to for into, A.V. Beckoning, etc.; κατασείσασ τῇ χειρὶ (see Acts 13:16; Acts 19:33; Acts 21:40). It is the action of one having something to say and bespeaking silence while he says it. Unto James. This, of course, is the same James as is mentioned in Galatians 1:19 as "the Lord's brother," and who, in Galatians 2:9, 12, and Acts 15:12 and Acts 21:18, as well as here, appears as occupying a peculiar place in the Church at Jerusalem, viz. as all antiquity testifies, as Bishop of Jerusalem. So Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius ('Eccl. Hist.,' 2:23), "James the Lord's brother, called by universal consent the Just, received the government of the Church together with the apostles;" and in Acts 2:1 he quotes Clement of Alexandria as saying that, after the Ascension, Peter, James, and John selected James the Just, the Lord's brother, to be the first Bishop of Jerusalem. And Eusebius gives it as the general testimony of antiquity that James the Just, the Lord's brother, was the first who sat on the episcopal throne of Jerusalem. But who he was exactly is a point much controverted. The three hypotheses are:

1. That he was the son of Alphaeus or Clopas and Mary, sister to the blessed Virgin, and therefore our Lord's cousin german, and called his brother by a common Hebrew idiom. According to this theory he was one of the twelve (Luke 6:15), as he appears to be in Galatians 1:19, though this is not certain (see Bishop Lightfoot, in loc.).

2. That he was the son of Joseph by his first wife, and so stepbrother to the Lord, which is Eusebius's explanation ('Eccl. Hist.,' 2:1).

3. That he was in the full sense the Lord's brother, being the son of Joseph and Mary. This is the opinion of Alford (in lee.), fully argued in the 'Proleg. to the Epistle of James,' and of Meyer, Credner, and many German commentators. According to these two last hypotheses, he was not one of the twelve. "The apostolic constitutions distinguish between James the son of Alphaeus, the apostle, and James the brother of the Lord, ὁ ἐπίσκοπος (Meyer). It may be added that Acts 1:14 separates the brethren of the Lord from the apostles, who are enumerated in the preceding verses. The hypothesis which identifies James the Lord's brother with James the son of Alphaeus or Clopas and Mary is well argued in Smith's 'Dictionary of the Bible,' art. "James" (see also the able Introduction to the Epistle of James in the 'Speaker's Commentary'). It seems impossible to come to a certain conclusion. The weakest point in the hypothesis which identifies James the Lord's brother with the son of Alphaeus is that it fails to account for the distinction clearly made between the Lord's brothers and the apostles in such passages as John 2:12; John 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:13; Matthew 12:46, 49; 1 Corinthians 9:5. For the effect of these passages is scarcely neutralized by Galatians 1:19. But then, on the other hand, the hypothesis that the Lord's brethren, including James and Joses, were the children of Joseph and Mary, seems to be flatly contradicted by the mention of Mary the wife of Clopas as being "the mother of James and Jests" (Mark 15:40; John 19:25). He went to another place. Whether Luke was not informed what the place was, or whether there was some reason why he did not mention it, we cannot tell. The Venerable Bode ('Prolog. in Expos. in Act. Apost.'), Baronius, and other authorities of the Church of Rome, say he went to Rome, and commenced his episcopate of Rome at this time Dr Lightfoot thinks it more probable that he went to Antioch (Comm. on Acts, in vol. 8. pp. 273, 289). Some guess Caesarea; but there is no clue really.
Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers, what was become of Peter.
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.
Verse 19. - Guards for keepers, A.V.; tarried there for there abode, A.V.
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.
Verse 20. - Now he for and Herod, A.V. and T.R.; and for but, A.V. ; they asked for for desired, A.V.; fed from for nourished by, A.V. Highly displeased (θυμομαχῶν); only here in the New Testament, but used by Polybius, as well as the kindred word ψυχομαχεῖν, in the sense of having a hostile spirit against any one, maintaining a strong resentment. It describes a state of feeling which may exist before war, during war, and after war when only a hollow peace has been made. Tyro and Sidon at this time were semi-independent cities under the Roman supremacy. The occasion of Herod's displeasure is not known. Chamberlain; literally, the officer over his bedchamber - his chief groom of the chambers - an office which would give him easy access to the king's private ear. Was fed. This commerce, by which Palestine supplied Tyro and Sidon with wheat in return for timber, was as old as the time of Solomon at least (1 Kings 5:9, 11); see too Ezekiel 27:17, and the decree of Caligula, in which he speaks of the large exportation of corn to Sidon from the Jewish harbor of Joppa ('Ant. Jud.,' 14. 10:6).
And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them.
Verse 21. - Arrayed himself for arrayed, A.V.; and sat for sat, A.V. and T.R.; on the throne for upon his throne, A.V. On the throne. Βῆμα does not mean "the king's throne," and is nowhere so rendered in the A.V. but here. It means any raised stage or platform upon which a judge, or an orator, or any one wishing to address an assembly, stands. Here it means a high platform in the theatre at Caesarea, from whence the king, raised above the rest of the audience, could both see the games and make his speech to the people.
And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man.
Verse 22. - Shouted for gave a shout, A.V.; the voice for it is the voice, A.V.
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.
Verse 23. - An angel for the angel, A.V. (Acts 5:19, note).
But the word of God grew and multiplied.
Verse 24. - The word of God grew and multiplied in Jerusalem and the neighborhood, in spite of Agrippa's persecution. The blood of the martyr James was the seed of the Church, and the speedy vengeance taken by God upon the persecuter doubtless gave fresh courage to his people to confess the Name of Jesus Christ. As regards the preceding account of Herod Agrippa's death, it is corroborated in the most remarkable manner by the narrative in Josephus ('Ant. Jud.,' 19. 8:2). He there tells that when he had been three years King of all Judaea (see ver. 1, note) he went to Caesarea. And that on occasion of a festival celebrated "for the safety of Caesar" (some think to celebrate his return from Britain, while others, as Wieseler, think that they were the ordinary Quinquennalia, celebrated in the provinces), he exhibited games and spectacles in honor of Claudius. On the second day of these games, when a vast number of people were assembled in the theatre, Agrippa can? m, clothed in a garment wholly made of silver, which reflected the rays of the morning sun with a most dazzling and awful brilliancy. Whereupon his flatterers cried out that he was a god, and offered prayer to him. The king, he adds, did not rebuke them nor reject their impious flattery, he was presently seized with a violent pain in his bowels, which soon became so intense that he was carried out of the theatre to his palace, and expired after five days of excruciating pain. It is curious that in the above account Josephus says that Agrippa saw an owl sitting over his head, which he recognized as a messenger (ἄγγελον) of evil to him. Eusebius, quoting Josephus Eccl. Hist.,' 2. 10.), leaves out the owl, and says that Agrippa saw an angel sitting over his head, whom he recognized as the cause of his sufferings. Whiston, in a note, seeks to exonerate Eusebius from unfairness in the quotation by suggesting that the manuscript of Eusebius is in this place corrupt; but Bede quotes Josephus just as Eusebius does, unless perchance he is quoting him at second hand from Eusebius.
And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname was Mark.
Verse 25. - Ministration for ministry, A.V.; talking for and took, A.V. The fact here stated of their taking John Mark with them, is very interesting in connection with ver. 12. Whether or no Saul and Barnabas were in the house of Mary at the time of Peter's deliverance from prison, they evidently went there shortly before or shortly after. As regards the sequence of events related in this chapter, it is by no means necessary to suppose that Barnabas and Saul did not leave Jerusalem till after the death of Agrippa. Luke, connecting the death of Agrippa with his murder of James and his intended murder of Peter, as Eusebius and Chrysostom and others rightly say, would naturally follow up the narrative of the persecution by the narrative of the persecutor's awful death; and then go on to relate the return of the two apostles to Antioch in continuation of Acts 11:30. We have no means of deciding whether, in point of fact, they returned before or after Agrippa's death. It seems most probable that they returned before, as, under the circumstances, they would not tarry at Jerusalem longer than was necessary for the fulfillment of their ministration.

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