“Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread. When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people. So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God. On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he *said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.” But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, “Report these things to James and the brethren.” Then he left and went to another place. Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there. Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king’s country. On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. The people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.”
At this time, in order to please the Jews, Herod Agrippa began to persecute the church. Mistreat is a weak translation from the Greek. The Greek word for mistreat is “kakoo,” which means evil, to treat badly, to hurt, to do harm. Agrippa wanted to do much more than simply “mistreat” the Christians who were hated by the Jewish religious hierarchy. He wanted to do great harm to the point of death as we see with James. James was the son of Zebedee and the older brother of John and was the first apostle to be martyred (around 44 A.D.).
Agrippa, because it pleased the Jews, then seized Peter and put him in prison intending on killing him. The Jews however had a law that there were to be no executions during a feast day, so Peter was not immediately executed. So see these feasts from the Mosaic Law being continued by the Jews as part of their religion. But they were meaningless, Christ had already risen and the Law had been set aside. These Jews had not accepted Christ as Savior so they were following the principle of legalism in religion. They were observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread without the proper understanding of what it depicted so they were practicing ritual without reality, which is meaningless. They expected God to bless them because of what they were doing. They were now hindered from executing Peter because they were observing the seven-day Feast of Unleavened Bread. They were now down to the last night of the feast and Peter was still in prison awaiting execution.
There were sixteen Roman soldiers sent to guard Peter. The first four guarded for eight hours and then the next squad would go on for eight hours; they would shift every eight hours. There were two Roman soldiers in the cell with Peter and they were chained to him. There were two more just outside the cell, and there was another station where there are two more, and a further station, followed by an iron gate. It was Agrippa’s intent to bring Peter before the Jews which would mean certain death immediately after the feast days, the Passover being the first day of unleavened bread and the days which followed being all holy days. The situation seemed hopeless and Peter seemed as good as dead.
So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God means not just that night, but the church prayed about this during the entire Feast of Unleavened Bread. The Church was awake and offering prevailing prayer on behalf of Peter. They were utilizing “a weapon of grace,” something that could not bring glory to themselves but only to God. God always answers the prayers of believers when those prayers are offered properly within the will of God. Such was the case in this story of Peter.
Peter was asleep because the problem was in the Lord’s hands - he had a relaxed mental attitude toward the circumstances that surrounded him. His life was in the Lord’s hands and how long he lived was strictly up to the Lord. He was oriented to the plan of God by now. The Church was awake and praying and Peter was sound asleep. And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” Gird yourself is Greek for put on your clothes. God takes care of the things beyond our power but He does not interfere with natural function. The angel knocked the chains off Peter but Peter had to get up and get dressed.
And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. As believers have been delivered hundreds of times and we didn’t even know what was going on. In verse 10 we see the mechanics of Peter’s deliverance. When the angel departed Peter decided to go where members of the church in Jerusalem met. The prayer meeting is continuing. When he arrives and knocks we see the threefold reaction of the church. Remember they have been praying for a week!
When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” Their first conclusion when they got an announcement that their prayer has been answered was that the one who brought it is mad. Peter was knocking on the door and the young girl was saying that it was Peter out there.
But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.” The second conclusion they came up with was that it was an angel knocking. Was it easier to believe Peter was out there or that it was an angel banging on the door? Why would an angel bang on the door? What they were saying was if there is something that cannot be explained it must be an angel. They had an answer to prayer and they didn’t believe it!
But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed. The third conclusion was amazement. This was the answer to this week of prayer meetings: the deliverance of Peter. Many of the believers were not there and so he said, “Report these things to James and the brethren.” James was the Lord’s step brother who was now the leader of the Jerusalem church. There is tremendous power in prayer. It is the privilege of every believer to have a part of another person’s life or ministry through prayer. We all need the prayer of others. That being said, we also need to believe and acknowledge when our prayers are answered whether positive or negative. These believers should have had more faith and realized their prayers had been answered on the first knock.
Then he left and went to another place. He went to Antioch which is the new headquarters, the place where the great missionary movement of the early church would be launched. Jerusalem had lost its power and its impact as a church because it was no longer under the grace concept. Jerusalem church was going from grace to legalism. Herod was angry and frustrated and had to have a judgment. It was his policy to appease the Jews in every way possible and he realized that the killing of Peter would be just the thing. Now he was upset because his plan had failed. He wanted to persecute the Christians but his persecution of the Christians was suddenly frustrated.
Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there. On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. The people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died. So he left town and went to Caesarea. And while this was going on the man who gave the speech, Herod Agrippa, collapsed. He had persistently rejected Jesus Christ as his Savior. He had rejected Christ on numerous occasions even though the Gospel had been clearly presented to him. And he thought himself a god. Jewish historian Josephus tells us that Herod Agrippa was smitten right after his speech and that he lingered for five days, and that during those five days his flesh rotted with worms.
But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied. Another result of that prayer was the dissemination of the Word of God by Peter and others (the gospel to unbelievers, and doctrine to those who were believers). Missionary activity is always to be based on doctrine, not on emotion. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.” These three men would form the first missionary team to go out from the Antioch.
So we have four results of the prevailing prayer: the deliverance of Peter, the death of the persecutor, the dissemination of the Word of God, and the basis of the world-wide missionary movement. This chapter emphasizes the grace of God. James is slain; Peter is spared. Prison doors that cannot be opened are opened without hands. A door of a house that could be opened is not opened. A prayer is answered in a remarkable way but those who prayed the prayer doubt it. It is a demonstration that prevailing prayer is the resource and the power of the local church and of the individual believer.