12:1 It was about this time that King Herod [Herod Agrippa I (grandson of Herod the Great); ruled AD 37–34; first Roman authority to persecute Christians; Acts 12:20-23 re: his death] arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them.
12:2 He had James [the first of the twelve to be martyred; a “pillar” of the Jerusalem church (cf. Gal. 2:9)], the brother of John, put to death with the sword [possibly beheaded or run through with the sword].
Note: What is the difference between the persecution of believers and discrimination against believers?
12:3 When he saw that this pleased [suggests politically motivated persecution] the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread [two holy-days celebrated in sequence: Passover (one-day annual celebration of deliverance from Egypt) and Feast of Unleavened Bread (week-long event)].
12:4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each [total of 16 soldiers working in shifts]. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
12:5 So Peter was kept in prison [within Fortress of Antonia near the temple area; Peter’s third arrest/imprisonment (Acts 4,5); against Jewish law to have a trial or execution during the Feast of Unleavened Bread], but [conjunction marks a turning point] the church [cf. Matt. 18:19; “God works when churches pray, and Satan still trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees” (Wiersbe)] was earnestly [“to stretch out, to extend”: could refer either to extension in time (unceasingly) or to extension in intensity (earnestly); cf. Lk. 22:44] praying [fighting a battle with the weapon of prayer; cf. 2 Cor. 10:4; Jas. 5:16] to God [appealed to throne of heaven rather than throne of Herod; pray according to what God can do] for him [specific prayer is most effective].
Note: “If we put so little heart into our prayers, we cannot expect God to put much heart into answering them.”
“God works when churches pray, and Satan still trembles when he sees the weakest saint upon his knees” (Wiersbe)
12:6 The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping [cf. Ps. 3:5; 4:8] between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance.
12:7 Suddenly [at just the right moment] an angel of the Lord appeared [at the darkest hour] and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side [poked him in the ribs] and woke him up. “Quick, get up [words convey urgency]!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists.
Note: “An impossible situation can turn into an opportunity for God to show His power.” (Swindoll)
12:8 Then the angel said to him [like a parent talking to a child awakened from sound sleep], “Put on your clothes and sandals.” And Peter did so. “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me,” the angel told him.
12:9 Peter followed him out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was really happening [Peter was still groggy, not yet fully alert]; he thought [to suppose] he was seeing a vision.
12:10 They passed the first and second guards and came to the iron gate leading to the city. It opened for them by itself, and they went through it. When they had walked the length of one street, suddenly the angel left him.
12:11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt [fully convinced] that [Peter recognized and gave God the credit for His work] the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”
12:12 When this had dawned on him [having realized or having perceived what had happened to him], he went [because his life was still in danger] to the house of Mary [some believe the church met there regularly; others believe this was the location of the Last Supper and where the disciples gathered on Day of Pentecost] the mother of John, also called Mark [first mention of Mark in Acts; would later write the Gospel of Mark], where many [considerable] people had gathered and were praying [apparently had been praying all night].
12:13 Peter knocked at the outer entrance [likely a courtyard separated outer entrance from house], and a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer the door.
12:14 When she recognized Peter’s voice [may be indication that Mary’s house was a regular meeting place for Christians], she was so overjoyed she ran back without opening it and exclaimed, “Peter is at the door!”
Note: Why are we so often surprised when God answers our prayers?
12:15 “You’re out of your mind [mad, crazy],” they told her [failed to realize that God had answered their prayers]. When she kept insisting [vigorous and confident assertion] that it was so, they said, “It must be his angel [or his ghost].”
Note: Jews believed that each person had a guardian angel, a sort of spiritual counterpart, that often appeared immediately after the person’s death.
12:16 But Peter kept on knocking, and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished [to be beside one’s self; response points to lack of faith].
12:17 Peter motioned with his hand for them to be quiet [lest their loud voices alert Herod’s soldiers to his presence] and described [to relate, narrate, report; we can encourage others by sharing how God has helped us] how the Lord [Peter emphasized what God had done] had brought him out of prison. “Tell James [became leader of the Jerusalem church; author of the Epistle of James] and the brothers [either the Jerusalem church elders, other members of the church, or the other half-brothers of Jesus] about this,” he said, and then he left for another place [went into hiding].
Note: “…God often gives us more than we expect and always more than we deserve.” (Curtis Vaughan)