Lesson 27: The Apostle James Killed/ Peter Released From Prison By An Angel of the Lord
This is Acts lesson #27. We are ready for Acts 12. Blood and persecution are the headlines. The scenes shifts back to Jerusalem in chapter 12. This time the persecution was led by a new source. Let's read v. 1-2, "Now abut that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain of the church. And he killed James the brother of John with the sword." That words "about that time" in v.l imply this happened while Barnabas and Saul were in Judea. Herod was the king of Judea, Samaria and Galilee. He was placed there under the Roman authority. This Herod had grown up in Rome but was of the line of Herods that had ruled in Judea. His name was Agrippa Herod 1, and if I understand correctly his father was Aristobulus Herod. The one mentioned here in v. 1 was a grandson of Herod the Great who killed the babies in and around Bethlehem of Judea in an attempt to kill Jesus according to Matt. 2. It was this king's uncle who had beheaded John the Baptist. So, this family had a bloody history already well known. It would be interesting to know, if the Pharisees were working behind the scenes in motivating Herod to this action or whether this was brought about by a more direct confrontation between Herod and the church. We are told nothing with respect to the cause of this persecution. The wording at the end of v.l would suggest that Herod had decided to make an all-out attempt to destroy the church, at least that segment within his domain. His method of destruction was to kill the leaders and disperse the followers. V.2 is all we know about the death of the apostle James. One. sentence of eleven words. This James was thebrother of John, the sons of Zebedee, who along with their father had been fishermen on the Sea of Galilee. James was older than John, James was the first apostle to die and it is ironic that John was the last of the apostles to die. Jam, no doubt, died by a sword in the hand of a Roman soldier. Let's read v.3-4-5, "And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.) 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. Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without ceasing of the church unto God for him." How much time elapsed between the death of James and the imprisonment of" Peter we are not told. Can you imagine v.3? The Jews were PLEASED that James was killed. Spurred on by political zeal Herod knew no bounds. He had Peter arrested also. The message in v.4 is that Herod saw the Jews were pleased because James had met his fate at Herod's command, Herod saw here an opportunity to kill a church leader and at the same time gain political clout. He must have sensed that me Sadtfucees and the Pharisees would like to have Peter killed. The Sadducees were infuriated because the apostles taught a resurrection from the dead and the Pharisees were especially bitter because the apostles taught the Gentiles were now equal with the Jews. Herod was showing great religious respect, over the feast days, to NOT put a prisoner to death THEN. That was too sacred a time for murder, but not politics of course. He intended after the feast days to bring Peter out and let the Jews participate in having him killed. Sixteen soldiers were assigned to keeping Peter secure. As a side-light here, I would like for you to notice the word "Easter" hi v.4. This is the ONLY time that word occurs in the Bible. The word here is used synonomously with "days of unleavened bread in the parenthesis at the end of v.3, meaning the Passover feast The R.S.V, translates the word "Passover" instead of "Easter" and that is
obviously a better translation. This is the same annual feast that was being observed by the Jews, when they politicked Pilate, into killing Jesus something like ten years before. Thus, Easter as mentioned here, was a Jewish festival where Christ was killed and Christians were persecuted There is no command or even a suggestion in the N.T. that this holiday or any holiday should be kept in the church age, except the first day of the week, of course. Yet those big denominational organizations in our world today, Catholic and Protestant alike, observe Easter as the most holy of all times. Many people attend church service only once each year. And, you know that day is Easter. They miss the Lord's supper every Sunday and break the command in He. 10:25, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." They break this command 51 times a year and then attend ONCE to observe a pagan holiday. Some people are shocked to learn this. Re-read v.3-4. Decide for yourself the scriptural meaning of the word "Easter.": I suggest also you read Gal. 4:10-11, where Paul said, "Ye observe days, months, and times, and years. I am afraid of you, lest I have bestowed upon you labor in vain." Again the same writer said to another people In Col 2:16, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of a holy day, or of the new moon, or of the Sabbath days: which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ." Peter was kept in prison over this Jewish holiday, chained to two soldiers. Notice in v.5 that, "prayer was made without ceasing." The disciples in Jerusalem and Judea must have met in small groups and prayed endlessly for that servant in prison who had walked and talked with Jesus. That servant who had preached on Pentecost along with James and the other apostles. They were baptized with the H.S. And 3000 Jews were admitted to the kingdom on that first day. Peter's thoughts mush have drifted back to those former day: Pentecost, the household of Cornelius, that fishing trip he had taken with James and John and others as I recorded in John 21. How Peter and John had been put into the common prison at the temple by the Sadducees, how an angel had opened the prison doors and released all twelve apostles to teach in the temple early one morning. This story had undoubtedly been spread around; how the captain of the temple and his guards had been unable to keep these 12 men in prison. If this had come to the ears of Herod, he must have prided himself as AN EXAMPLE to the Jews; when he assigned 16 soldiers to Peter, to keep him secure. He must have thought, I'll show them: Roman soldiers don't let prisoners escape. Peter had see Ananias and Saphira fall dead at his feet. He had traveled widely to confirm the brethren. He had befriended and lodged Saul of Tarsus when he came to Jerusalem. This is the apostle who had raised Dorcas from the dead and who first preached faith and remission of sins to the Gentiles. If Saul and Barnabas were in Jerusalem or Judea during this festival they must have been in one of those prayer groups who were praying for Peter. What were the disciples praying for? Surely they understood THAT if James did not escape miraculously, they wouldn't expect that Peter's case would be treated differently. Thus, ft is NOT likely they were praying for Peter's release. Being as realistic as they were, fliey must have asked in their prayers that Peter would not become hysterical. That Peter would not falter under pressure as he had done a decade earlier at the trial of Jesus. They must have prayed for Herod. They must have prayed for the Pharisees and the Sadducees, They must have prayed for the other apostles and themselves. They must have prayed for strength and courage to carry on. They must have prayed that this persecution would not bing on a wave of dropout disciples in the brotherhood. Especially as die feast days came to and end AND all those thousands of foreign Jews began to leave the city. They must have prayed the more fervently; knowing that Peter would be brought forth shortly to face Herod and a trial about like Jesus and Stephen had faced. Prayer was the weapon of these saints, in contrast to a king, his soldiers, a prison and its chains. Clearly a case of the spiritual -vs- the powers of this old world. The persecution of that first decade against the church had been by religious leaders ONLY and any physical power they exercised was riot power. The second decade was beginning with persecution from civil powers. Corrupt civil powers! Herod's first concern was popularity NOT honest government. In the face of such corrupt powers there is a great temptation to lose faith and fight fire with fire. In the midst of our frustrations, it is hard for us to reconcile that God has said, "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa. 55:8-9). It is hard for us to see the wisdom in obeying civil powers as is commanded in the Bible, "Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordnance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, bu to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the powers? Do that which is good, and thou shall have praise of the same." (Rom. 13:2-3). Now, I'm SURE you remember the apostles followed the principle in Acts: 5:29, "We ought to obey God rather than men." It is clear we must put God first; therefore it is the sum total of such commands hi their proper perspective that should control our actions in any one instance. When Jesus was faced by conflicting principles he replied, "man does not live by bread aloe, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." Matt. 4:4. It is easy for men to obey and emphasize the passages they consider to be in their favor and to OMIT and FORGET those that require submission and responsibility. But, that is not facing reality, TRUTH is reality. Jesus said to the Heavenly Father: "thy word is truth." (John 17:17). It might have been possible for the disciples to use the talents of such men as Saul and Cornelius and to form a resistance movement that would take Peter by force. I ask you: would that have corrected the evil that had been done? Would it NOT have ultimately resulted in far more blood shed? These disciples recognized THAT, (in spite of their deep personal sorrows for Herod to decapitate Peter as he had done with James) it would merely remove Peter's spirit from this old proving ground we call the planet earth and transport that spirit into a more desirable realm. Man cannot improve upon God's system, for one simple reason: man is the creature and God is the creator. It is only when we depart from God's system that we must pay the total price. Let's read, v.6-10, "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. 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. 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. 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. When they wee past the first andsecond 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." This is the second time an angel released Peter from prison and Herod found those Roman prisons were no more angel-proof than the guardhouse at the temple. It was during that last night, BEFORE it was anticipated Herod would deal with Peter the next day. Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, he was secured by two chains. Soldiers stood before the door and all was secure. Did you notice, "Peter was sleeping?" I THINK that I might have had a little trouble. As you might guess, it is not likely Peter had a sleeping pill, he was at peace with God. Darkness prevailed in the prison. A light shined into the prison. To most of us that would have been enough to peel both eyeballs to a full circle, but NOT peter. The angel had to tap him on the side and lift him up to get his attention. When the angel said, "Arise up quickly" and Peter saw those chains disconnected from his arms; he must have thought, I sure like this dream! He must have thought; it reminds me of the angel that released us from the common prison of the temple, seven or eight years ago. This was a very real dream. Then the angel said: "Gird thy self, and bind on they sandals." This gives us a little side-light as to how they dressed hi those day, if you are interested. Undoubtedly, his shoes were wooden soles held in place by straps of raw-hide. To "gird" means to fasten with a belt or girdle. The last statement in v.8 "Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me." must have had reference to an outer garment. This may indicate the temperature was below room temperature outside. This would have been March or April AND an outer garment was perhaps needed, especially at night. This outer garment was probably being used as a quilt (or cover) while he was sleeping. Those last two words of the angel must have been most pleasant to Peter's ear but a very unnecessary command: "follow me." I LIKE that short sentence of four words in the middle of v.8, "And so he did." In V. 9 Peter just couldn't believe it, it had to be a dream. When they came to the iron gate THAT gave entrance to the city and it opened of it own accord; that must have confirmed to Peter he was he was dreaming. As you are well aware, that was long before the days of the photoelectric cell. The angel went WITH PETER for one block and the angel separated himself from Peter. How?, we do not know. How did the angel (and Peter) avoid waking the guards? Well, that's an intriguing question! But, if I can believe in ANGELS, I have no difficulty in accepting the manner in which an angel does his job. There were undoubtedly four guards on duty with Peter. Likely others were close by, who were responsible for other prisoners. Herod had assigned four quaternion of soldiers to Peter. That is 16 soldiers. But they were likely split into four shifts such that only four were on duty at one time. So, can you visualize that? Peter out hi the street, half awake, hi the middle of the chilly night as those two chained guards SLEEP ON and the other two soldiers watch the door. O.K. let's read, v. 11-12, "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. 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." When that fresh air hit Peter in the face and he came to the realization his dream was not a dream BUT indeed a reality, he at first didn't know what to do. The gates in the city walls were likely closed or guarded, so he could not leave the city at that hour in the night. "When he had considered the thing." He must have done the most practical thing. He headed for the closest place where he could find disciples. Those streets did not have street lights. But, considering the fact that the Jews ate the Passover at a tune of a full moon and this incident was at the end of the week after the feast of unleavened bread the moon was less than one week past full moon. Thus, there should have been adequate liglht for Peter to find his way unless some overcast condition prevailed. The place that he decided upon was the house of Mary. This was the mother of John Mark who ultimately was the writer of the second book hi the N.T. that bears his name Mary was either the sister or the aunt of Barnabas, depending on which translation you use to read Co. 4:10. Many were gathered at Mary's house to pray for Peter. She likely was a lady or widow of some means to have a house adequate to accommodate that may disciples. If she was a sister of Barnabas, (taking the KJV,) then she was from Cyprus according to Acts 4:36. She was of the tribe of Levi and whereas Barnabas had sold land and contributed the money to the Jerusalem church she was supporting the cause by using her home as a meeting place for the saints. This was just ONE house of many in Jerusalem and Judea that night were prayer was being made on Peter' ;s behalf. It just happened to be one of the closer ones to the prison. Well, I wish we had time to go hi and visit Mary but this old tape recorder is about out of thread. We'll make that visit in lesson #28. I'll meet you there.