12 When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. 13 And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a servant girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 Recognizing Peter’s voice, in her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and reported that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind.” But she kept insisting that it was so, and they kept saying, “It is his angel!” 16 But Peter continued knocking, and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Tell these things to James and to the brothers.” Then he departed and went to another place.
18 Now when day came, there was no little disturbance among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.
20 Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king’s country for food. 21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.
25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had completed their service, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark. – Acts 12:12-25 ESV
After his miraculous release from prison by God and from Herod’s intentions to put him to death, Peter made his way to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark. John Mark was the cousin of Barnabas, the man who enlisted Saul’s help in Antioch. We are not told why Peter chose Mary’s house as his destination, but it could have been that it was the one place closest to the prison where he could seek refuge. Luke tells us that there were many believers who had gathered at Mary’s home in order to pray for Peter. When he arrived, a young servant girl named Rhoda, was the one who responded to his knocks at the gate. But when she heard his voice, she was so surprised that she left him standing there and ran to inform the rest that Peter was standing outside. Her news was met with incredulity and skepticism. Whatever it was that they had been praying for, it evidently had not been for Peter’s release. They refused to accept Rhoda’s word that Peter was standing outside the gate. They even went so far as to claim that it must have been his angel. The Greek word, aggelos, was typically used to refer to a divine being or messenger from God. We cannot be sure exactly what those inside Mary’s house meant when they used this word under these circumstances. They could have simply been saying that Peter had sent them a human messenger with news of his condition. That would have been a legitimate use of the word. But they could have also believed that it was an actual angel, sent from God with news about Peter. Finally, they might have been using the word in the sense of a guardian angel, sent by God to rescue Peter. Whatever they meant, it seems that they were reticent to believe that it was actually Peter standing outside the gate. After all, they had just recently heard the devastating news that James, the brother of John, had been executed by Herod. So, even since Peter’s arrest, they had been anticipating similar news. There is no indication in this passage that they had been praying for or expecting God to free Peter. They certainly could have been, but it seems odd that they were so dumbfounded and disbelieving when Peter showed up outside the place where they had been praying.
In fact, Peter was left to stand outside, knocking on the gate, hoping to gain entrance. He had found it was easier to get out of Herod’s prison than it was to get into Mary’s home. But eventually, they opened the gate and found Peter standing there, just as Rhoda had said, and they were amazed. The Greek word that Luke uses to refer to their reaction has a much more robust meaning than just amazement. It refers to a sense of astonishment or bewilderment. It was even used to refer to someone being out of their mind or insane. They were legitimately shocked to see Peter standing there. They had been expecting the worst. And they must have been shouting, crying, laughing and jumping up and down in excitement, because Luke indicates that Peter had to get them to quiet down long enough for him to tell them what had happened. And we can only imagine that they stood by in rapt silence as he related the details of his escape: The angel, the helpless prison guards, the chains falling away, and the self-opening prison gate. It was an incredible story and it must have left them awed and amazed at the power of their God.
When Peter had finished, he told them to take this news to James (the half-brother of Jesus) and the rest of the original apostles. This James, who had been in the upper room with the rest of his brothers on the day of Pentecost, had become a leading figure in the Jerusalem church and would later write the book that bears his name. Peter wanted these men to know what had happened to him, so that they might be encouraged by the news. Then, Luke tells us Peter departed. We are not told where he went or what he did. But it is likely that he left Jerusalem for a time in order to lessen the risk any of the other followers of Christ might face for harboring him as a fugitive. We know that Herod, upon discovering that Peter had somehow escaped, ordered a search for Peter, but he was never found. And, as a result, Herod had all the guards, whom he deemed responsible for Peter’s escape, executed. Then, Herod himself left Jerusalem and traveled to Caesarea, where he had a palace. He got out of town. We don’t know whether his departure was to save face or because he couldn’t stand hearing the news circulating through the streets of Jerusalem that Peter had been miraculously rescued by God. This powerful man had failed in his attempt to put an end to the spread of Christianity. Even with his impressive resources and backed by the power of Rome, he was no match for the cause of Christ. In fact, Luke reveals that Herod’s days were numbered.
Some dignitaries from Tyre and Sidon came to visit Herod at his royal palace. They were dependent upon Herod and his government for food, so even though they were at odds with the king, they found themselves having to grovel before him on behalf of their people. Luke goes out of his way to describe Herod in his royal robes, sitting on his royal throne and giving a royal speech before these men and all those in attendance. And these men, in spite of their dislike for Herod, were forced to listen, then to shower him with flattering accolades, shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” (Acts 12:22 ESV). And Herod basked in the glory of their words, thoroughly enjoying the experience of being compared to a god. But his pride and pleasure at being deified would not last long. Luke records, “Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last” (Acts 12:23 ESV). Herod was struck down by God. The angel who struck Peter’s side in order to wake him up and set him free, struck Herod with a debilitating and devastating disease. According to the Jewish historian, Josephus, Herod would suffer for five days and then die. Peter was alive and well, doing the will and the work of God. Herod was dead, for having tried to oppose to the will of God and eliminate the messengers of God.
And Luke matter-of-factly states that “the word of God increased and multiplied” (Acts 12:24 ESV). The gospel didn’t skip a beat. The kingdom of God continued to spread. And the chapter ends with the announcement that Barnabas and Saul left Jerusalem and returned to Antioch, accompanied by John Mark. It was business as usual. There was work to be done. The death of James had not diminished the zeal and enthusiasm of the disciples. They mourned, but they went on with the work Jesus had assigned to them. Peter’s arrest had shaken them, but God had proven to them that He was in charge. He was not done with Peter and they were not done with their job of taking the gospel to the nations.
The work of spreading the gospel is not without its risks. There will always be enemies and opposition. We will always face difficulties and trials as a result of our faithful obedience to fulfill the commission given to us by Jesus. But like Peter and the other disciples, we have work to do. We must remain faithful and diligent to do what we have been called to do. As we will see, Peter didn’t give up. He didn’t quit or run in fear, viewing his work on behalf of Jesus as too dangerous or risky. He knew he could end up in jail again. He was well aware that his life could end in violent death, just like James. But as long as God gave him breath and kept setting him free from imprisonment, he would keep telling the good news of Jesus Christ to anyone who would listen.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.