Acts 12


Herod persecutes the Christians, 1.

Kills James, 2.

And casts Peter into prison, 3, 4.

The Church makes incessant prayer for his deliverance, 5.

An angel of God opens the prison doors and leads him out, 6-10.

Peter rejoices, and comes to the house of Mary, where many were

praying, and declares how he was delivered, 11-17.

The soldiers who kept the prison are examined by Herod, and he

commands them to be put to death, 18, 19.

Herod is enraged against the people of Tyre, but is appeased by

their submission, 20.

He makes an oration to the people, receives idolatrous praises,

and an angel of the Lord unites him, and he dies a miserable

death, 21-23.

The word of God increases, 24.

Barnabas and Saul, having fulfilled their ministry, return from

Jerusalem accompanied by John Mark, 25.


Verse 1. Herod the king] This was Herod Agrippa, the son of

Aristobulus, and grandson of Herod the Great; he was nephew to

Herod Antipas, who beheaded John they Baptist, and brother to

Herodias. He was made king by the Emperor Caligula, and was put

in possession of all the territories formerly held by his uncle

Philip and by Lysanias; viz. Iturea, Trachonitis, Abilene, with

Gaulonitis, Batanaea, and Penias. To these the Emperor Claudius

afterwards added Judea and Samaria; which were nearly all the

dominions possessed by his grandfather, Herod the Great. See

Lu 3:1; see also an account of the Herod family,

see in Clarke's note on "Mt 2:1".

To vex certain of the Church.] That is, to destroy its chief

ornaments and supports.

Verse 2. He killed James the brother of John with the sword.]

This was James the greater, son of Zebedee, and must be

distinguished from James the less, son of Alpheus. This latter was

put to death by Ananias the high priest, during the reign of Nero.

This James with his brother John were those who requested to sit

on the right and left hand of our Lord, see Mt 20:23; and our

Lord's prediction was now fulfilled in one of them, who by his

martyrdom drank of our Lord's cup, and was baptized with his

baptism. By the death of James, the number of the apostles was

reduced to eleven; and we do not find that ever it was filled up.

The apostles never had any successors: God has continued their

doctrine, but not their order.

By killing with the sword we are to understand beheading. Among

the Jews there were four kinds of deaths: 1. Stoning; 2. burning;

3. killing with the sword, or beheading; and, 4. strangling. The

third was a Roman as well as a Jewish mode of punishment. Killing

with the sword was the punishment which, according to the Talmud,

was inflicted on those who drew away the people to any strange

worship, Sanhedr. fol. iii. James was probably accused of this,

and hence the punishment mentioned in the text.

Verse 3. He proceeded-to take Peter also.] He supposed that

these two were pillars on which the infant cause rested; and that,

if these were removed, the building must necessarily come down.

The days of unleavened bread.] About the latter end of March or

beginning of April; but whether in the third or fourth year of the

Emperor Claudius, or earlier or later, cannot be determined.

Verse 4. Four quaternions of soldiers] That is, sixteen, or four

companies of four men each, who had the care of the prison, each

company taking in turn one of the four watches of the night.

Intending after Easter to bring him forth] μετατοτασχα, After

the passover. Perhaps there never was a more unhappy, not to say

absurd, translation than that in our text. But, before I come to

explain the word, it is necessary to observe that our term called

Easter is not exactly the same with the Jewish passover. This

festival is always held on the fourteenth day of the first vernal

full moon; but the Easter of the Christians, never till the next

Sabbath after said full moon; and, to avoid all conformity with

the Jews in this matter, if the fourteenth day of the first vernal

full moon happen on a Sabbath, then the festival of Easter is

deferred till the Sabbath following. The first vernal moon is that

whose fourteenth day is either on the day of the vernal equinox,

or the next fourteenth day after it. The vernal equinox, according

to a decree of the council of Nice, is fixed to the 21st day of

March; and therefore the first vernal moon is that whose

fourteenth day falls upon the 21st of March, or the first

fourteenth day after. Hence it appears that the next Sabbath after

the fourteenth day of the vernal moon, which is called the Paschal

term, is always Easter day. And, therefore, the earliest Paschal

term being the 21st of March, the 22d of March is the earliest

Easter possible; and the 18th of April being the latest Paschal

term, the seventh day after, that is the 25th of April, is the

latest Easter possible.

The term Easter, inserted here by our translators, they borrowed

from the ancient Anglo-Saxon service-books, or from the version of

the Gospels, which always translates the τοπασχα of the Greek by

this term; e.g. Mt 26:2:

Ye know that after two days is the feast of the passover.

[Anglo-Saxon] Wite ye that aefter twam dagum beoth Eastro.

Mt 16:19:

And they made ready the passover. [Anglo-Saxon] And hig

gegearwodon hym Easter thenunga (i.e. the paschal supper.)

Prefixed to Mt 28:1, are these words: [Anglo-Saxon]

This part to be read on Easter even. And, before Mt 28:8, these

words: [Anglo-Saxon] Mr 14:12:

And the first day of unleavened bread when they killed the

passover. [Anglo-Saxon] And tham forman daegeazimorum, tha hi

Eastron offrodon. Other examples occur in this version. Wiclif

used the word paske, i.e. passover; but Tindal, Coverdale, Becke,

and Cardmarden, following the old Saxon mode of translation,

insert Easter: the Geneva Bible very properly renders it the

passover. The Saxon [Anglo-Saxon] are different modes of

spelling the name of the goddess Easter, whose festival was

celebrated by our pagan forefathers on the month of April; hence

that month, in the Saxon calendar, is called [Anglo-Saxon] Easter

month. Every view we can take of this subject shows the gross

impropriety of retaining a name every way exceptionable, and

palpably absurd.

Verse 5. Prayer was made without ceasing] The Greek word εκτενης

signifies both fervour and earnestness, as well as perseverance.

These prayers of the Church produced that miraculous interference

mentioned below, and without which Peter could not have thus

escaped from the hands of this ruthless king.

Verse 6. Sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains]

Two soldiers guarded his person; his right hand being bound to the

left hand of one, and his left hand bound to the right hand of the

other. This was the Roman method of guarding their prisoners, and

appears to be what is intimated in the text.

Verse 7. Smote Peter on the side] He struck him in such a way as

was just sufficient to awake him from his sleep.

His chains fell off from his hands.] The chains mentioned above,

by which he was bound to the two soldiers.

Verse 8. Gird thyself] It seems Peter had put off the principal

part of his clothes, that he might sleep with more comfort. His

resuming all that he had thrown off was a proof that every thing

had been done leisurely. There was no evidence of any hurry; nor

of any design to elude justice, or even to avoid meeting his

accusers in any legal way. It appears that the two soldiers were

overwhelmed by a deep sleep, which fell upon them from God.

Verse 9. He-wist not] He knew not; from the Anglo-Saxon, [A.S.],

to know. He supposed himself to be in a dream.

Verse 10. The first and-second ward] It is supposed that ancient

Jerusalem was surrounded by three walls: if so, then passing

through the gates of these three walls successively is possibly

what is meant by the expression in the text. The prison in which

he was confined might have been that which was at the outer wall.

Iron gate] This was in the innermost wall of the three, and was

strongly plated over with iron, for the greater security. In the

east, the gates are often thus secured to the present day. Pitts

says so of the gates of Algiers; and Pocock, of some near Antioch.

Perhaps this is all that is meant by the iron gate. One of the

quaternions of soldiers was placed at each gate.

Which opened-of his own accord] Influenced by the unseen power

of the angel.

The angel departed from him.] Having brought him into a place in

which he no longer needed his assistance. What is proper to God he

always does: what is proper to man he requires him to perform.

Verse 11. When Peter was come to himself] Every thing he saw

astonished him; he could scarcely credit his eyes; he was in a

sort of ecstasy; and it was only when the angel left him that he

was fully convinced that all was real.

Now I know-that the Lord hath sent his angel] The poor German

divine is worthy of pity, who endeavoured to persuade himself and

his countrymen that all this talk about the angel was mere

illusion; that Peter was delivered in a way which he could not

comprehend, and therefore was led to attribute to a particular

providence of God what probably was done by the prefect of the

prison, who favoured him! But it is the study of this writer to

banish from the word of God all supernatural influence; and to

reduce even the miracles of Christ to simple operations of nature,

or to the workings of imagination and the prejudices of a weak and

credulous people. Such men should at once cast off the mask which

so thinly covers their infidelity, and honestly avow themselves to

be, what they are, the enemies of revelation in general, and of

the Christian religion in particular. Peter could say, Now I know

of a certainty that the Lord hath sent his angel, and delivered

me, &c. No such thing, says Mr. E., Peter was deceived; it was

not the Lord, it was the prefect or some other person. Now we know

that Peter spoke by the Holy Ghost; but we have no much testimony

of Mr. E. nor of any of his associates.

And all the expectation of the-Jews.] It seems they had built

much on the prospect of having him sacrificed, as they already had


Verse 12. And when he had considered] When he had weighed every

thing, and was fully satisfied of the Divine interposition, he

went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, the author of

the Gospel, where it appears many were gathered together making

prayer and supplication, and probably for Peter's release.

Verse 13. As Peter knocked] The door was probably shut for fear

of the Jews; and, as most of the houses in the east have an area

before the door, it might have been at this outer gate that Peter

stood knocking.

A damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda.] She came to inquire who

was there. Rhoda signifies a rose; and it appears to have been

customary with he Jews, as Grotius and others remark, to give the

names of flowers and trees to their daughters: thus Susannah

signifies a lily, Hadassah, a myrtle, Tamar, a palm tree, &c.,


Verse 15. It is his angel.] It was a common opinion among the

Jews that every man has a guardian angel, and in the popish Church

it is an article of faith. The Jews also believed that angels

often assumed the likeness of particular persons. They have many

stories of the appearance of Elijah in the likeness of different

rabbins. As αγγελος signifies in general a messenger, whether

Divine or human, some have thought that the angel or messenger

here means a servant or person which the disciples supposed was

sent from Peter to announce something of importance to the

brethren: it was also an opinion among the Jews, even in the time

of the apostles, as appears from Philo, that the departed souls of

good men officiated as ministering angels; and it is possible that

the disciples at Mary's house might suppose that Peter had been

murdered in the prison; and that his spirit was now come to

announce this event, or give some particular warning to the


Verse 17. Declared-how the Lord had brought him out of the

prison.] He still persisted in the belief that his deliverance was

purely supernatural. It seems that some modern critics could have

informed him of his mistake. See Ac 12:11.

Show these things unto James, and to the brethren] That is, in

one word, show them to the Church, at the head of which James

undoubtedly was; as we may clearly understand by the part he took

in the famous council held at Jerusalem, relative to certain

differences between the believing Jews and Gentiles. See

Ac 15:13-21. There is still no

supremacy for Peter. He who was bishop or overseer of the Church

at Jerusalem was certainly at the head of the whole Church of God

at this time; but James was then bishop or inspector of the Church

at Jerusalem, and, consequently, was the only visible head then

upon earth.

He departed-into another place.] Some popish writers say that he

went to Rome, and founded a Christian Church there. Those who can

believe any thing may believe this. Where he went we know not; but

it is probable that he withdrew for the present into a place of

privacy, till the heat of the inquiry was over relative to his

escape from the prison; for he saw that Herod was intent on his


Verse 19. Commanded that they should be put to death.] He

believed, or pretended to believe, that the escape of Peter was

owing to the negligence of the keepers: jailers, watchmen, &c.,

ordinarily suffered the same kind of punishment which should have

been inflicted on the prisoner whose escape they were supposed to

have favoured.

He went down from Judea to Caesarea] How soon he went down, and

how long he stayed there, we know not.

Verse 20. Highly displeased with them of Tyre] On what account

Herod was thus displeased is not related by any historian, as far

as I have been able to ascertain. Josephus, who speaks of this

journey of Herod to Caesarea, says nothing of it; and it is

useless for us to conjecture.

Having made Blastus-their friend] Blastus was probably a eunuch,

and had considerable influence over his master Herod; and, to

reach the master, it is likely they bribed the chamberlain.

Desired peace] The Tyrians and Sidonians being equally subjects

of the Roman government with the inhabitants of Galilee, Herod

could not go to war with them; but, being irritated against them,

he might prevent their supplies: they therefore endeavoured to be

on peaceable, i.e. friendly, terms with him.

Their country was nourished by the king's country.] That is,

they had all their supplies from Galilee; for Tyre and Sidon,

being places of trade and commerce, with little territory, were

obliged to have all their provisions from the countries under

Herod's jurisdiction. This had been the case even from the days of

Solomon, as we learn from 1Ki 5:11; where it is said that

Solomon gave Hiram twenty thousand measures of wheat, for food

to his household; and twenty measures of pure oil: thus gave

Solomon to Hiram year by year. See also Eze 27:17.

Verse 21. Upon a set day, &c.] A day on which games, &c., were

exhibited in honour of the Roman emperor. What this refers to, we

learn from Josephus. "Herod, having reigned three years over ALL

Judea, (he had reigned over the tetrarchy of his brother Philip

four years before this,) went down to Caesarea, and there

exhibited shows and games in honour of Claudius, and made vows for

his health. On the second day of these shows, he put on a garment

made wholly of silver, and of a contexture most truly wonderful,

and came into the theatre early in the morning; at which time the

silver of his garment, being illuminated by the first reflection

of the sun's rays, shone out after a surprising manner, and was so

resplendent as to spread a horror over those who looked intently

upon him; and presently his flatterers cried out, one from one

place, and another from another, 'He is a god:' and they added,

'Be thou merciful to us, for although we have hitherto reverenced

thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior

to mortal nature.' Nor did the king rebuke them, nor reject their

impious flattery. But, looking up, he saw an owl on a certain rope

over his head, and immediately conceived that this bird was to him

a messenger of ill tidings; and he fell into the deepest sorrow; a

severe pain also arose in his bowels, and he died after five days'

severe illness." This is the sum of the account given by Josephus,

Ant. lib. xix. cap. 8, sect. 2. [See Whiston's edition.]

Notwithstanding the embellishments of the Jewish historian, it

agrees in the main surprisingly with the account given here by St.

Luke. Josephus, it is true, suppresses some circumstances which

would have been dishonourable to this impious king; and, according

to his manner, puts a speech in Herod's mouth, when he found

himself struck with death, expressive of much humility and

contrition. But this speech is of no authority. When Josephus

takes up and pursues the thread of mere historical narration, he

may be safely trusted; but whenever he begins to embellish, or put

speeches in the mouths of his actors, he is no longer to be

credited. He even here transforms an angel of the Lord into an

owl, and introduces it most improbably into his narration; as

if an owl, a bird of all others that can least bear the light,

should come and perch on the pavilion of the king, when the sun

was shining with the most resplendent rays!

Verse 23. The angel of the Lord smote him] His death was most

evidently a judgment from God.

Because he gave not God the glory] He did not rebuke his

flatterers, but permitted them to give him that honour that was

due to God alone. See Clarke on Ac 12:21.

And was eaten of worms] Whether this was the morbus pedicularis,

or whether a violent inflammation of his bowels, terminating in

putrefaction, did not actually produce worms, which, for several

days, swarmed in his infected entrails, we cannot tell. It is most

likely that this latter was the case; and this is at once more

agreeable to the letter of the text, and to the circumstances of

the case as related by Josephus.

And gave up the ghost.] That is, he died of the disorder by

which he was then seized, after having lingered, in excruciating

torments, for five days, as Josephus has stated. Antiochus

Epiphanes and Herod the Great died of the same kind of disease.

See the observations at the end of Ac 1:26 relative to the death

of Judas.

Verse 24. But the word of God] The Christian doctrine preached

by the apostles grew and multiplied-became more evident, and had

daily accessions; for the spirit of revelation rested on those

men, and God was daily adding to that word as circumstances

required, in order to complete that testimony of his which we now

find contained in the New Testament. As there is in the original

an allusion to the vegetation of grain, (ηυξανε, it grew, as

corn grows, the stalk and the ear; καιεπληθυνετο, it was

multiplied, as the corn is in the full ear,) there is probably a

reference to the parable of the SOWER and his seed; for the seed

is the word of God, and the doctrine of the kingdom. It was

liberally sown; it grew vigorously, and became greatly

multiplied. And why? Because it was the word, the doctrine of

God-there was no corruption in it; and because God watered it

with the dew of heaven from on high.

Verse 25. Returned from Jerusalem] That is, to Antioch, after

the death of Herod.

When they had fulfilled their ministry] When they had carried

the alms of the Christians at Antioch to the poor saints at

Jerusalem, according to what is mentioned, Ac 11:29, 30, to

support them in the time of the coming famine.

And took with them John, whose surname was Mark.] This was the

son of Mary, mentioned Ac 12:12. He accompanied the apostles to

Cyprus, and afterwards in several of their voyages, till they came

to Perga in Pamphylia. Finding them about to take a more extensive

voyage, he departed from them. See the case, Ac 13:13; 15:37-40.

1. WHEN the nature, spirit, and tendency of Christianity are

considered, we may well be astonished that it should ever find a

persecutor among the souls it was designed to instruct and save!

Devils can have no part in it, and therefore we may naturally

expect them, through envy and malice, to oppose it; but that men,

for whose use and salvation the wisdom and mercy of God made it,

should reject its offers of mercy, and persecute to death those

who proclaimed it, is the most unaccountable thing that can be

conceived. What a proof is this of mere maliciousness, where the

persecutor not only serves no self-interest by it, but destroys,

as far as he can, all that could promote his own present and

eternal happiness! This argues such blindness of understanding,

hardness of heart, and derangement of mind, as can be accounted

for only on the supposition of a nature totally fallen from God,

righteousness, and truth. The Jews crucify Christ, and martyr

Stephen; and Herod murders James; and both join together to

persecute the followers of Christ and destroy his cause. Reader,

consider the consequences: this bad people were permitted to

remain till they had filled up the measure of their iniquity, and

were then cut of by a most terrible judgment; and Herod was

visited for his transgressions in such a most awful way as

strongly marked the displeasure of God against persecutors. If a

man contend with a man, the contest is in a certain way

equal-the potsherds strive with the potsherds of the earth;

but when a man enters the lists against his Maker, as every

persecutor does, wo unto that man!-he must be torn in pieces,

when there is none to deliver.

2. How true is the saying, there is neither counsel nor might

against the Lord! In the midst of all troubles and afflictions,

that kingdom of heaven which is like a grain of mustard seed grew

and increased, and became a mighty tree which is now filling the

whole earth, and fowl of every wing are flying to lodge in its

branches. Ride on, and be thou prosperous, O Christ! We wish thee

good luck with thine honour.

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