Acts 12



1 "Now about that time Herod the king stretched forth his hands to vex certain

of the church." Put for stretched, Authorized Version; afflict for vex, Authorized

Version. The phrase, About that time, as in ch.19:23, points to what had just before

been related. The interposition of the narrative in this chapter between ch.11:20 and

v. 25 of this chapter, evidently implies that the bulk or rather the chief of the

events narrated happened in the interval. Which of the events was the chief

in the mind of the narrator with reference to his general narrative, and what

are the coincidences which he wished to note, it is not easy to say with

certainty. The narrative in this chapter doubtless overlaps at both ends the

embassy of Paul and Barnabas, but perhaps the object was to show the

harassed state of the Church from famine and persecution at the time that

Paul and Barnabas were at Jerusalem. Herod the king here mentioned is

Herod Agrippa I., grandson of Herod the Great, and son of Aristobulus

and Bernice. During the reign of Tiberius he resided at Rome, in alternate

favor and disgrace, sometimes banished, sometimes a prisoner, sometimes

a guest at the imperial court. He was a great friend of Caius Caesar

Caligula, and, on his succeeding to the empire on the death of Tiberius,

was promoted by him to the tetrarchy of Herod Philip, with the title of

king. He was further advanced three years afterwards to the tetrarchy of

Herod Antipas; and, on the accession of Claudius to the throne, Judaea and

Samaria were added to his dominions, which now comprised the whole

kingdom of his grandfather, Herod the Great. Agrippa, in spite of his close

intimacy with Drusus, Caligula, Claudius, and other Roman magnates, was

“exactly careful in the observance of the laws of his country, not allowing a

day to pass without its appointed sacrifice;” and he had given proof of his

strong Jewish feeling by interposing his whole influence with Caligula to

prevent his statue being placed in the holy of holies. This spirit accounts for

his enmity against the Church. He was a man of very expensive and

luxurious habits, but not without some great qualities.


2 "And he killed James the brother of John with the sword."

James, the son of Zebedee, or James the Elder, to whom, with

his brother John, our Lord gave the surname of Boanerges (which is a

corruption of בְנֵי דֶגֶשׁ), sons of thunder. Nothing is recorded of him in the

Acts but his presence in the upper room at Jerusalem after the Ascension

(ch. 1:13), and this his martyrdom, which was the fulfillment of our

Lord’s prediction in Matthew 20:23. His being singled out by Herod

for death in company with Peter is rather an indication of his zeal and

activity in the Lord’s service, though we know nothing of his work.

Eusebius relates an anecdote of his martyrdom, extracted from the lost

work of Clement of Alexandria, called the Ὑποτυτώσεις - Hupotutoseis

 (or in Latin Adumbrationes), which Clement professed to have received by

tradition from his predecessors, to the effect that the informer who accused

James was so struck with his constancy in confessing Christ before the judge,

that he came forward and confessed himself a Christian too. The two were then

led off to execution together; and on the way the informer asked James’s

forgiveness. After a moment’s hesitation, James said to him, “Peace be

unto thee,” and kissed him. They were then both beheaded (‘Eccl. Hist.,’ 2.

9.). As Clement flourished about A.D. 190, the tradition need not have

passed through more than three persons. It has been thought strange that

Luke relates the death of a chief apostle with such brevity. But it did not

bear on the main object of his work.


3 "And because he saw it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to

take Peter also. (Then were the days of unleavened bread.)"

When for because, Authorized Version; that it pleased for it pleased,

Authorized Version; proceeded for proceeded further, Authorized Version;

seize for take, Authorized Version; and those for then, Authorized Version.

He proceeded to seize (προσέθετο συλλαβεῖν - prosetheto sullabein - he

proceeded to be apprehending) is a Hebraism. This trait of his pleasing the

Jews is in exact accordance with Josephus’s description of him, as τῷ βιοῦν

ἐν αὐφημίᾳ χαίρων - to bioun en auphaemia chairon - , loving

popularity, and as being very kind and sympathizing with the Jewish

people, and liking to live much at Jerusalem (‘Ant. Jud.’19. 7:3). The days

of unleavened bread; i.e. as expressed by Luke 22:1, “The Feast of

Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover.” It lasted seven days

(Exodus 12:15-20), from the 14th to the 21st of Nisan, or Abib; Leviticus

23:5-6; Deuteronomy 16:1-4), the Passover being eaten on the night of the 14th.


4 "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." Taken for apprehended,

Authorized Version; guard for keep, Authorized Version; the Passover for

Easter, Authorized Version. Four quaternions; i.e. four bands of four

soldiers each, which were on guard in succession through the four watches

of the night — one quaternion for each watch. The Passover. This is a

decided improvement, as the use of the word “Easter” implies that the

Christian feast is here meant. But perhaps "Feast of the Passover” would

have been better, as showing that the whole seven days are intended. This

is, perhaps, the meaning of τὸ πάσχα - to pascha - the Passover - in John 18:28,

and certainly is its meaning here. We have another characteristic trait of the

religion of Agrippa, and of his sympathy with the feelings of the Jews about

the Law, that he would not allow a trial on a capital charge, or an execution,

to take place during the Feast of Unleavened Bread (compare John 18:8). To

bring him forth to the people. Still the same desire uppermost, to

propitiate the people by gifts or shows, or by blood; ἀναγαγεῖν - anagagein -

to be leading up - means exactly “to bring up” (ch. 9:39; Romans 10:7, etc.),

either on to a stage or on some high ground, where all the people could see him

condemned, which would be as good to them as an auto da (act of faith) to a

Spanish mob, or a gladiatorial slaughter to a Roman audience (see v. 11).


5 "Peter therefore was kept in prison: but prayer was made without

ceasing of the church unto God for him." The prison for prison, Authorized

Version; earnestly for without ceasing, Authorized Version.  (ἐκτενὴς - ektenaes -

earnest;  or as in the Received Text ἐκτενῶς - ektenos - has the sense of intensity 

rather than duration; see Luke 22:14, Textus Receptus; I Peter 1:22; 4:8). As the

last of the days of unleavened bread approached, the prayers of the Church would

be more and more intense in their earnestness. We have but to read the preceding

chapters to judge how precious to the Church the life of Peter must have been.



The Church in Prayer (v. 5)


The primitive Church is here found, amid circumstances so full of interest

that they even tempt attention, in prayer for an acknowledged leader, a

prized teacher and pastor and an undoubted apostle. The Church now is

praying to God for one thing, in submission to His will — that Peter may be

spared to it and spared to the world. The essentials of effectual prayer in

the Church cannot differ intrinsically from those in the individual; but they

are strikingly presented to the mind here. Under the one word “prayer,” a

variety of spiritual exercise, as is well known, is continually included, viz.

the outpourings of adoration of the one great Object of prayer, the

according of grateful praise and thanks to Him, the penitential confession of

our sin, and self-humiliation on account of it. But there are very many who

will join in all this, and from the heart believe in it, who yield either no

assent or a heartless assent to what is after all the chief thing in prayer, its

chief wonder and chief privilege, namely, petition. Without studying the

theory, let us notice one striking instance of the practice of prayer. True

theory is never overthrown by fact, but facts often put to rout theory

falsely so called, and expose its weak points. We may observe, then:





Ø      It was most distinct in its object. The safety of Peter is the one desire of

the heart of all who joined to pray. Individual prayer and private prayer are

very likely to become vague, vague and multifarious, vague and

indiscriminating, vague and inevitably indifferent. Perhaps the tendencies of

public and united prayer are yet more exposed to this snare, for the

obvious reasons:


o        that the thoughts of many hearts must be considered for; and

o        that intercession, which must be the memory of many in want, will

generally form a large portion of that prayer.


It is well when heart and mind and devotion follow each of these with

intelligent distinctness.


Ø      Sincerity of faith marked the Church’s prayer at this crisis. He who

cometh to God in prayer must believe:


o        that He is (Hebrews 11:6); but

o        none the less that He lends a willing, gracious ear to prayer; in order

o        that He may duly, in His own wise time and wise way, answer it, and

do nothing less than answer it.


Prayer with the mock humility of a timid fear that it is presumptuous to pray, never brought a blessing. The heart’s glory in prayer is, if (with George

Herbert) it “gasp out,” Et vult et potest, of God as the Object and the

Hearer of prayer.


Ø      Great earnestness in petition was displayed by the Church. The heart’s

desire and prayer to God on the part of those composing it was for the

saving of Peter’s life. Herod is known to be full of cruelty. He has just

“killed with the sword James the brother of John.” And he is known to be

goaded on by that worst sting, the sting of “desiring to please” certain

fellow-creatures. There is only One with whom we are safe, and always

safe, in wishing and aiming to please Him. Far enough off from Herod’s

eye and thought was that One. He was torn, and therefore in turn cruelly

and guiltily tore others, by a vain, weak, contemptible desire for a moment

to “please the Jews.” The Church did not cower but did pray accordingly,

prayed with earnestness.


Ø      Patience marked this great instance of prayer. It was, nevertheless, not

the patience of silence, but of speech; it was not the patience of sitting

down with folded hands, but of kneeling down with clasped hands; it was

the patience of importunity, that very characteristic to which Jesus Himself

in the days of His flesh gave such prominence and such conspicuous honor

(Luke 18:1-8).





Ø      However conspicuously God does the work, and the Word of Christ is

strong, and the Holy Spirit’s energy is essential and must be conferral,

nothing is diminished of the act of prayer (if we may for a moment so call

it) in all this history. Men pray, pray constantly, pray even before miracle,

and prayer is an actual deed honored of Heaven. It has been truly said that

a correct alias for the Acts of the Apostles would be “The Acts of the

Holy Ghost,” and this is most true. Another not altogether inapt style of

the book might be “The Acts of Prayer.” For here they abound and in the

most significant situation, from those of the first chapter (1:14, 24) to that

of the last (28:8).


Ø      The distinctness and promptness of reply to prayer, which miracles

wrought made occasionally very evident, even had the tendency to increase

faith in prayer. Men would not lie by and do nothing when they

remembered how only yesterday God graciously and marvelously

interposed undeniably for even eye of sense. Yet the lesson that the

temporary dispensation of miracle should have taught the Church for

evermore, when miracle of sense was gone is, alas! often lost now. Need

the thing signified be lost and wastefully sacrificed because the mere

outside sign is gone? It is all our own fault if we do not oftener see for

ourselves the fulfillment of the word of Jesus, “Ye shall see greater things

than these.” (John 1:50) It is undeniable that one spiritual miracle, e.g., that

of the conversion of Saul, counted for more, counts still for more, will ever

count for more, than all the miracles wrought upon the body, that ever were.

Let the Church’s prayer today oftener challenge some spiritual miracle, and

who will doubt the issue?


  • In conclusion, two things might be well observed, as justly to be

gathered from this subject.


Ø      That the very heart of prayer lies in petition. Petition may be considered

as the crucial question which prayer involves, and the crowning privilege

of it. The petition of the sinner for:


o        mercy,

o        pardon, and

o        salvation,


being ever to be ranked as the typical petition.


Ø      That it may be placed among the moral defenses of prayer, that the

qualities which make it real, which make it strong, which make it a

convincing and mighty power, are just the same with those which make

work real, strong, and full of fruit. Distinctness of object, sincerity of faith

in your practical object, earnestness in the pursuit of it, and patient,

persevering determination are the qualities that win the day. And they do

so by the verdict of the world. It is an indication that prayer and work have

known one another this long time, and, so far from disclaiming a family

relationship, persistently assert it. They are the union of the Divine and

the human.



The Power of United Prayer (v. 5)


This subject is not here to be treated in its more general bearings, only so

far as it finds illustration in the circumstances connected with the text, and

in the sentence, “Prayer was made earnestly of the Church unto God for

him;” i.e. for imprisoned Peter. The persecution of the early Christians

arose from distinctly different causes; and the narrative associated with this

text introduces a distinctly new kind of persecution. Previously the

Sanhedrin, as the central authority among the Jews in all matters of

religious doctrine and discipline, had endeavored to crush the young, and

to their view mischievous, sect. Now Herod, as the representative of the

state, endeavored to destroy the party by aiming directly at its leaders; and

this he did for what we may cite “diplomatic” reasons. It may be well to

notice that the Herod introduced here was Herod Agrippa I., son of

Aristobulus, and grandson of Herod the Great; and that the events

occurred about A.D. 41. According to Josephus, Agrippa desired to be

thought a devout Jew, and so would easily be excited to persecute the

Christian party, when he found that this would ensure for him the

confidence of the leading Jews. With Herod’s scheme for striking down the

chief teachers, compare Diocletian’s subsequent scheme for finding and

burning the Christian books. Neither scheme was allowed to succeed.

Another point of importance in introducing the subject is the recognized

position of leadership which Peter had evidently gained. James, as

one of the three specially favored disciples, may have been equally

prominent. Of John we learn very little during the first period of the

early Church history. James’s sudden removal left Peter the

recognized head of the Christian sect. It appears that only the intervention

of the feast-time (humanly speaking), preserved Peter from the sudden

fate which overtook James. The delay, during which Peter was in

prison, gave opportunity for human intercessions and Divine intervention.

Some may serve God in a yielded life, others by being made the subjects of

Divine rescuing and deliverances. The first thing to be noticed in the

narrative is:



thoroughly overborne by the suddenness, activity, and vigor of this new

persecution. They could do nothing. James was gone; Peter was in

prison. They did not know where the next blow would fall. They could not

open the prison doors. They were paralyzed. And so it often is with us in

life. We incline to say like Jacob, “All these things are against me.”

(Genesis 42:36)  Our way seems to be blocked in all directions, as truly

as was the way of the fleeing Israelites when the Red Sea rolled before

them, the mountains hemmed them in, and a raging foe pressed on their rear.

At times in our lives we are compelled to feel that we can do nothing; and the experience is a great testing of patience, faith, and feeling. Compare David, convinced that circumstances were hopelessly against him, and despairingly saying, “I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul.”  (I Samuel 27:1)



to us. It is our last possibility, and it is our best.


Ø      It is important that we realize fully that our God can control all

circumstances. Nothing is too hard for Him.  (Jeremiah 32:17) He may not always show His mastery by miracle, but He can always prove His mastery by His providences. It is our belief that over all laws, relations, and orderings of

events our living God presides, never loosing His hands or failing to guide

all so as to fit into and, either quickly or slowly, work out His gracious



Ø      We must realize that to know the power of our God may not suffice; we

must personally inquire of Him, commend our case to His care, and submit

ourselves to His leadings. For all the arrangements of our circumstances, as

well as for all supplies of grace, He will be inquired of by the house of

Israel to do it for them.”  (Ezekiel 36:37)  The Divine foreknowledge and omniscience may never be so presented as to lift off men the claim of prayer. Whatsoever may be our trouble or our need:


o        we may pray;

o        we must pray,


God would have us “cast our care on Him.” (I Peter 5:7)  So the disciples

were doing the best thing possible, altogether the most hopeful thing, when

they prayed earnestly” for the imprisoned Peter.



CIRCUMSTANCES. It has pleased God to give special assurances to

those who unite in prayer. God responds to the faith and fervor of the

individual seeker; but in all matters of general interest, in everything

bearing, upon the well-being and progress of His Church, God wants us to

blend together in our supplications. “If two of you shall agree on earth as

touching anything that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my

Father.”  (Matthew 18:19) By this requirement God:


Ø      Checks the tendency to isolation and to distinction of interests among

His people, binding them ever closer together in the expression of their

common wants.

Ø      Assures earnestness and fervor of feeling, as one devout soul inspires


Ø      Prepares the way for His answer by ensuring a state of mind fitted to

receive the answer, and make it a blessing indeed.

Ø      Is enabled to respond by ordering the circumstances of His providence so

as to secure the general good of many rather than the particular desires of

one. It may be shown, in conclusion, how a common point of interest or a

common trouble may serve to bring many souls together in a blessed



6 "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."  Was about to bring for would have brought, Authorized

Version; guards for the keepers, Authorized Version. What a picture we have here!

The dungeon; the double chain fastening the prisoner to two soldiers; the other

two soldiers of the quaternion keeping watch at the first and second ward, or station;

the iron gate securely fastened; the population of the great city expecting with the

morning light to be gratified with the blood of the victim of their bigotry;

the king having made his arrangements for the imposing spectacle which

was to ingratiate him with his people and obtain the applause he so dearly

loved; and then the servant of Jesus Christ sleeping calmly under the

shadow of God’s wings; and, a little way off, the Church keeping her

solemn watch and pouring forth her intensest prayers through the silence of

the night! And the issue, the triumph of the few and the weak over all the

power of the many and the strong.


7 "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."

An angel for the angel, Authorized Version (see note on ch. 5:19); stood

by him for came upon him, Authorized Version (compare Luke 2:9); cell for

prison, Authorized Version; awoke him for raised him up, Authorized Version

(ἤγειρεν αὐτὸν - aegeiren auton - he rouses); rise for arise, Authorized Version.

Cell. The word οἴκημα - oikaema - room - a dwelling, was used by the Athenians

as an euphemism for a prison. It only occurs here in the New Testament, though

it is a common Greek word. His chains fell off from his hands, showing

that each hand had been chained to a soldier. The loosening of the chains

would enable him to rise without necessarily awakening the soldiers to

whom he was fastened, and who would feel no difference in the chain

which was attached to them.


8 "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."  He did so for so he did, Authorized Version. Thy garment

(ἱμάτιον - himation - cloak); especially the outer garment, which was worn over

the χιτὼν - chiton - tunic (see Matthew 9:20-21; 14:36; 23:5, etc.). The girding,

therefore, applied to the inner garments, and περιβαλοῦ - periblou - be you

throwing about -   to the cloak which went over them.


9 "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."

Followed for followed him, Authorized Version and Textus Receptus;

he wist for wist, Authorized Version.


10 "When they were past the first and the second 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." And when for when, Authorized

Version; into for unto, Authorized Version; its for his, Authorized Version;

straightway for forthwith, Authorized Version. The first and the second ward.

The φυλακή - phulakae - jail -  here rendered “ward,” may mean either the station

where the guard was posted or the guard itself. One street; ῤυμήν - rumaen - street,

as in ch. 9:11, note. Departed; ἀπέστη - apestae - withdrew -  in contrast to ἐπέστη -

epestae - rendered “stood by” in v. 7.



Miraculous Deliverances (vs. 7-10)


The series of miracles wrought by our Lord during His ministry, and the

miracles associated with the history and work of His apostles, require to be

very carefully compared.  Sometimes miracles were wrought by the apostles

as agents, and sometimes for them as teachers whose ministry it was

important to preserve. And yet, when God would secure the deliverance of

His imperiled servants, He did not always employ miraculous agencies. Paul

and Silas were imprisoned at Philippi, but they were rescued by natural

means; an earthquake proved effective to the loosening of their bonds, and

the jolting open of the prison doors. There must have been some special

reasons for the miraculous form in which Peter’s deliverance was

effected. Two things require attention, as introductory to this subject.


1. The nature of New Testament miracles, and their particular mission to

the age in which they were wrought.


2. The ideas of angelic ministry which had passed over to the apostles from

Judaic associations. The intervention of angels had occurred again and

again in the earlier history, and such an event as Peter’s rescue would

not start doubts in a Jewish mind. God’s revelations to men, in sundry

ways and in divers manners” (Hebrews 1:1), were better apprehended by

Jews then than by Christians now. From this incident we may be led to consider:


  • THE EMPLOYMENT OF THE MIRACULOUS. Here should be given

an historical review of Divine interventions, with some classification of

their character and of the circumstances under which the miracles were

wrought. It will be found that there are cases in which:


Ø      natural agencies sufficed, under the ordering of Divine providence, to

remove the difficulty;

Ø      miraculous intervention did not come when we might reasonably have expected;

Ø      miraculous agencies were used when we did not expect them. These

points may be illustrated to show that the employment of the miraculous



o       a matter of Divine sovereignty, and never offered in response to any compulsion of man or of circumstances; and

o       that it is therefore still a Divine reserve, and we dare not affirm that the age of miracles is past, because the employment of them is to be regarded as entirely dependent on the Divine judgment and will; and as that will acts upon considerations of the higher and spiritual well-being of man, it may quite conceivably be that in some of man’s moral states the miraculous may be the most efficient moral force.


It is true that miracles may not be wisely employed in a characteristically scientific age such as ours may be called; but the scientific is only a passing feature, and from it there may conceivably come a rebound to a characteristically imaginative, or as some might call it superstitious, age, to which miracle might again make efficient appeal.


The incident of St. Peter’s release is a peculiar case of employment of the

miraculous — peculiar in that:


(1) it differs materially from all the other apostolic miracles; and

(2) in that it carries the style of Old Testament miracles over into the New,

and is to be classed with the deliverance of the three Hebrew youths from

the furnace, and of Daniel from the lions.



striking than the uses. In the case of our Lord’s miracles the general

principle of the limitation is indicated. Miracles He never wrought for the

supply of His own needs, only for the exertion of a gracious moral influence

on others. These two limitations may be illustrated.


Ø      A miracle is never wrought unless it can be made the enforcement or

illustration of some moral truth.

Ø      A miracle is never wrought unless those in whose behalf it is wrought

are in a duly receptive state of mind and feeling, and so can be benefited by

the miracle. It does not affect this principle of limitation that some of those

who are related to a miracle may be rather hardened by it than taught and

blessed. Peter was not miraculously delivered for his own sake, but for

the sake of the confidence which the praying Church might gain from such





Ø      To the particular occasion.

Ø      To the tone and sentiment of the age.

Ø      To the Divine dispensation, with which it has to be in harmony.

Ø      To the precise underlying purpose for the sake of which it is wrought.


On these principles we may even discern miraculous workings in these our

times, though they take forms of adaptation to our thought anD

associations, and are not after the precise Old Testament or New

Testament patterns. We look for direct Divine agencies in the moral and

spiritual rather than in the physical and material world.



can be used as evidence or proof needs to be carefully considered. Wiser

men only use miracles as auxiliary evidence of the truth of Christianity.

And for this use the character of the miracle rather than the power in the

miracle are of chief importance. In connection with our text we find one

result on which it may be profitable to dwell in conclusion. The Divine

rescue of Peter brought to the praying and persecuted Church a sense

of GOD’S PROTECTIVE PRESENCE!  So suddenly had persecution burst upon them, so over-whelming did it seem, that they were for the moment

paralyzed with fear — just as the servant of Elisha was when the Syrian

army surrounded the house (II Kings 6) and nothing could so immediately

and efficiently recall them to calmness and trust as this wonderful rescue of

Peter, convincing them, as it did, how tenderly near to them was their

living and almighty Lord. Such a moral result will in every age suffice to

explain a Divine miraculous revelation or intervention.


11 "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."

Truth for surety, Authorized Version; sent forth for sent, Authorized Version;

delivered for hath delivered, Authorized Version. Peter’s recognition of the Lord’s

hand in sending His angel is exactly echoed in the Collect for Michaelmas Day,

“Grant that as thy holy angels always do thee service in heaven, so by thy

appointment they may succor and defend us on earth.”


12 "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."  And were praying for praying, Authorized

Version. When he had considered; better, when he perceived it, viz. the

truth of his deliverance. Mary the mother of John was aunt to Barnabas

(Colossians 4:10). If Paul and Barnabas were not in her house at the

time (which there is no evidence that they were), it is likely that all the

particulars of Peter’s escape may have been communicated to Paul by John

Mark, and by him repeated to Luke. That they went to the house of Mary

before their return seems certain from their taking Mark with them to

Antioch (v. 25), possibly to deliver him from the danger Christians were

in at Jerusalem at this time.


13 "And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a damsel came to

hearken, named Rhoda."  When he for as Peter, Authorized Version and

Textus Receptus; maid for damsel, Authorized Version; to answer for to

hearken, Authorized Version (ὑπακοῦσαι - hupakousai - to obey). The door of

the gate (see ch. 10:17, note). To hearken or listen seems the best rendering. It is

the phrase proper to a doorkeeper, whoso business it is to go to the door

and listen when any one knocks, and find out what their business is before

opening the door. This is the primary sense of the word; that of answering

after listening is a secondary sense. At a time of such alarm to Christians a

knock at the door in the dead of the night would carry terror with it, and

careful listening to ascertain whether there was more than one person, and

then to ask who was there and what was his business, was the natural course.


14 "And when she knew Peter’s voice, she opened not the gate for

gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate."

Joy for gladness, Authorized Version; that for how, Authorized Version.

When she knew Peter’s voice. This evidence of Peter’s intimacy with the

family of Mary is in remarkable agreement with I Peter 5:13, “Greet Marcus

my son.”


15 "And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed

that it was even so. Then said they, It is his angel." Confidently for constantly,

Authorized Version (for the same use of διι'σχυρίζομαι  - diischurizomai - she

stoutly insisted -  see Luke 22:59); and they said for then said they,

Authorized Version. It is his angel; meaning probably his guardian angel

(Matthew 18:10). But the expression is obscure, and we do not know exactly the

nature of the belief on which it was grounded. They must have thought that

perhaps Peter had been put to death in prison that very night, and that his

angel, speaking with his voice, was sent to announce it to the Church. The

narrative is a striking instance how “slow of heart to believe” are even the

most devout. They were praying very earnestly for Peter’s life; their prayer

was granted; and yet the announcement of it only draws out the answer,

“Thou art mad!” and then, as an alternative, the explanation, “It is his angel!”



Testimony Versus Reasoning (v. 15)


The subject is suggested by the persistence of Rhoda and the incredulity of

the disciples. Upon the evidence of her senses Rhoda constantly affirmed

that it was Peter who stood at the gate. The disciples vigorously argued

that it could not be he, and tried to reason away her testimony, Peter

was in prison, and it was simply impossible that he could be knocking at

the gate. So much is made in our time of the demand for facts and evidence

and verification of all statements, and it is so often assumed that reasoning

can destroy testimony, or that testimony, as we have it on the Christian

theme, is insufficient to support our elaborate reasoning, that the

trustworthiness of each, and the relations in which each stands to the other,

may be profitably considered.


  • THE IMPORTANCE OF TESTIMONY. Our senses are the appointed

media for our communication with the outer world, and they are both the

first and constant sources of our knowledge. We learn to trust them. We

readily receive the testimony of others as to what they have seen and heard,

and, with limitations, as to what they have felt. There is, then:


Ø      knowledge received directly upon the testimony of our own senses; and

Ø      knowledge received indirectly upon the testimony of others who tell us

what they know through the senses. And as the sphere directly open to

each one of us is very limited, we are very largely dependent for our

knowledge on the testimony of others, upon such witness of personal

knowledge as Rhoda gave. In the matters of the Christian religion we are

wholly dependent on this indirect witness of the senses. What the apostles

themselves saw, and tasted, and handled, and felt of the Word of life, that

they declare unto us.  (I John 1:1)  The four Gospels come to us as the

testimony of the senses of men who looked on Christ, lived with Him,

listened to Him, and knew Him in the intimacy of a close and dear friendship. We cannot too constantly or too earnestly urge that Christianity rests upon a

basis of sensible facts, and that of them we have the testimony directly from

the very persons who witnessed them. Therefore, though all the world may

please to declare that we are mad, as the disciples said that Rhoda was, we

too shall constantly affirm that it is even so as we have testified. No facts

of human history can be received by us save on principles which compel us

also to receive the facts of our Redeemer’s life and death.



should be fully admitted. It is uncertain, because:


Ø      our senses may be untrained and so unfit to receive impressions; or

Ø      diseased, and so likely to receive distorted impressions; or

Ø      the subjects with which they are concerned may be altogether new to

us, and we may thus be unprepared duly to correct impression. Still, so far

as the bare facts are concerned, the uncertainty is not such as to prove a

practical disability. In the range of fact men are found generally to agree.



the case of the disciples who reasoned against Rhoda. The uncertainty

comes out of:


Ø      Prejudice and bias (see the idola of Bacon).

Ø      Insufficient facts; some of the worst reasoning is explained by

incomplete knowledge of the facts on which the reasoning is based.

Ø      False methods (see the fallacies explained in books on logic).



SUFFICIENT TESTIMONY. To receive testimony alone may be mere

credulity. To receive upon argument alone may be to yield to mere human

force, to the power of superior intellect. But with due inquiry into basisf acts,

and careful reasoning upon the facts, we may arrive at satisfying

apprehensions of the truth. Apply to the acceptance of Christianity, with its

difficulty of the miraculous. The four Gospels are a fourfold testimony to

the great Christian facts. We must build our reasoning on the facts; just as

those disciples should have received Rhoda’s fact, and followed it up with

their reasoning, and not made their reasoning oppose the facts.


16 "But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened the door,

and saw him, they were astonished."  Opened for opened the door, Authorized

Version; theyand for andthey, Authorized Version; amazed for astonished,

Authorized Version (see ch. 8:9, note).


17 "But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to hold their peace,

declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the

prison. And he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the

brethren. And he departed, and went into another place."

Brought him forth for brought him, Authorized Version; tell for go show,

Authorized Version; to for into, Authorized Version. Beckoning, etc.;

κατασείσας ……τῇ χειρὶ -  kataseisas tae cheiri - gesturing…with the hand

(see ch. 13:16; 19:33; 21:40). It is the action of one having something to

say and bespeaking silence while he says it. Unto James. This, of course,

is the same James as is mentioned in Galatians 1:19 as “the Lord’s

brother,” and who, in ibid. ch. 2:9, 12, and ch.15:13 and 21:18,

as well as here, appears as occupying a peculiar place in the Church at

Jerusalem, viz. as all antiquity testifies, as Bishop of Jerusalem. So

Hegesippus, quoted by Eusebius (‘Eccl. Hist.,2:23), “James the Lord’s

brother, called by universal consent the Just, received the government of

the Church together with the apostles;” and in ch. 2:1 he quotes

Clement of Alexandria as saying that, after the Ascension, Peter, James,

and John selected James the Just, the Lord’s brother, to be the first Bishop

of Jerusalem. And Eusebius gives it as the general testimony of antiquity

that James the Just, the Lord’s brother, was the first who sat on the

episcopal throne of Jerusalem. But who he was exactly is a point much

controverted. The three hypotheses are:


1. That he was the son of Alphaeus or Clopas and Mary, sister to the

blessed Virgin, and therefore our Lord’s first-cousin, and called his

brother by a common Hebrew idiom. According to this theory he was one

of the twelve (Luke 6:15), as he appears to be in Galatians 1:19,

though this is not certain.


2. That he was the son of Joseph by his first wife, and so stepbrother to the

Lord, which is Eusebius’s explanation (‘Eccl. Hist.,’ 2:1).


3. That he was in the full sense the Lord’s brother, being the son of Joseph

and Mary. This is the opinion of Alford (in lee.), fully argued in the

Proleg. to the Epistle of James,’ and of Meyer, Credner, and many

German commentators. According to these two last hypotheses, he was

not one of the twelve. “The apostolic constitutions distinguish between

James the son of Alphaeus, the apostle, and James the brother of the Lord,

ἐπίσκοπος  - ho episkopos - bishop; overseer ” (Meyer). It may be added that

ch. 1:14 separates the brethren of the Lord from the apostles, who are enumerated

in the preceding verses. The hypothesis which identifies James the Lord’s brother

with James the son of Alphaeus or Clopas and Mary is well argued in

Smith’s ‘Dictionary of the Bible,’ art. “James” (see also the able

Introduction to the Epistle of James in the ‘Speaker’s Commentary’). It

seems impossible to come to a certain conclusion. The weakest point in the

hypothesis which identifies James the Lord’s brother with the son of

Alphaeus is that it fails to account for the distinction clearly made between

the Lord’s brothers and the apostles in such passages as ch. 1:13; John 2:12;

7:3, 5, 10; Matthew 12:46, 49; I Corinthians 9:5. For the effect of these passages

is scarcely neutralized by Galatians 1:19. But then, on the other hand, the

hypothesis that the Lord’s brethren, including James and Joses, were the children

of Joseph and Mary, seems to be flatly contradicted by the mention of Mary the

wife of Clopas as being “the mother of James and John” (Mark 15:40; John 19:25).

He went to another place. Whether Luke was not informed what the place was, or

whether there was some reason why he did not mention it, we cannot tell.

The Venerable Bode (‘Prolog. in Expos. in Act. Apost.’), Baronius, and

other authorities of the Church of Rome, say he went to Rome, and

commenced his episcopate of Rome at this time Dr Lightfoot thinks it

more probable that he went to Antioch (Comm. on Acts, in vol. 8. pp. 273,

289). Some guess Caesarea; but there is no clue really.



One Instance of the Manner of Divine Working (vs. 6-17)


When we read the “mighty works” of Jesus or of those commissioned by

Him, whether apostles or angels, it is an easy thing to permit our attention

to be diverted from anything else contained in them, under the influence of

the fascination of the power which they display. For this very thing is often

done, and the moral quality: the moral beauty, and even the moral

imitableness of what we call the miracle, is ignored. The loss is as

gratuitous as it is wasteful, nor is it free from an element of perverseness,

when it exhibits us stricken by the wonder of the power we cannot,

negligent of the grace we might, learn, Meantime the various character and

aspect of the miracles recorded in Scripture are neither less astonishing nor

less pleasing than the various color and hue and fragrance of the flowers of

the garden. The impression may be described as a whole as the charm

latent, or sometimes less latent than evident, in the Divine working. To

contemplate this must ever add to our sense of Divine gracefulness, may in

some degree improve our own approach to it and growth in it. Let us in

this sense consider the Divine interposition here recorded. For whatever

reason, it is mercifully resolved on. Prayer unceasing has brought help. The

Divine wisdom has determined the trenchant and decisive character of the

help. And in humbled yet grateful and joyous feeling nevertheless, we may

note the contrasts suggested by the Divine work and too much of our own.




DIVINE WORK. (V. 7.) “Clouds and darkness are round about” God

Himself, His incomprehensible character, His hidden purposes, His sovereign

will. This is very true. But when He comes to work distinctly for men and

among them, His footsteps are not in the stealthy dark. The angel comes in

light, and the prison is lighted up, whoever is awake to see and whoever

has eyes to see.



angel brings all necessary instruction; does all that could be needful, or

helpful; condescends to the meanest instructions. He strikes Peter so as to

awake him; he gives him a hand; he tells him to be quiet; he snaps the

chains off his hands; he bids him dress and put on his shoes, and throw his

garment about him, and follow whither he would lead. All the work is

known and facile, and orderly and swift, without grating or a jar, and to

such a degree that the very subject of it can think it is a vision and dream of

an unbroken sleep.



murmuringly and impatiently may chide what seems its lingering, halting

step, when it comes how grateful its advent! how true to exact need and to

the nick of occasion! How simple in its helpfulness and real in its

usefulness! There is so little sound of profession about it, but all is deed.



HUMAN WORKING. The interposition that is most marked for its

superhuman element does not hold itself in lofty and haughty isolation, but

begins from some human suggestion, and leaves just as though it put the

rest trustingly into man’s hand again. The angel did all that was needful to

get Peter outside the prison, and passed with him safely the first ward and

the second ward, and through the iron gate that knew the step of its master

and opened of its own accord, and “through one street,” and then

departed. And Peter sees after that for himself, and understands and carries

on the work, showing himself to many praying friends (v. 12), sending

express word to “James and the brethren” (v. 17), and putting himself

beyond present danger, as one more mindful of Divine protection and

goodness than rashly courting danger and notoriety.



the rescued Peter himself to the delighted damsel Rhoda, to the party of the

pious praying at the house of her of the auspicious name, Mary, to the

fellow-apostle James and to the brethren, the tones of gladsome surprise

die down, only to wake and revive again and again. The echoes of human

sorrows, sighs, wails, are not, after all, the only echoes heard in this world.

These others ring through the circles of the earth’s air and the heaven’s

with lighter, merrier bound, and fail not to give some forewarning of the

endless echoes of “gladness and joy and singing” that shall be ere long.



HUMAN OPPOSITION. Many an earthly conflict, settled with all the

wisdom and devotion that human mind and heart can bring to hear, seems

still left an unsettled conflict. The wound is not certainly healed up; the

difference is not absolutely removed; the victory is not really satisfactory.

But how is it when God interposes? How is it when Jesus speaks, whether

to wind and sea or to saint or sinner? How is it when the Spirit comes upon

the scene into the heart? And this was well illustrated now. Where now are

the prison, and the chains, and the soldiers, and the keepers? And where is

the guilty temporizer himself, Herod? They none of them can bear the light

of that next morning. They cannot “abide the day of His coming.” (Malachi

3:2)  After no “small stir,” the soldiers lose rank, the keepers lose life, Herod abundantly loses dignity, and “goes down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abides,” probably sorry he ever went up or began to care “to please the Jews.” And past the storm, the song of the servant of Christ is heard, repeating itself

and confirmed, “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.” Who so safe, who so blessed as

those “delivered” by the Lord from their foes and His, and kept thenceforth

in His sure place and the secret hiding-place of His pavilion? (Psalm 27:5)


"18 Now as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers,

what was become of Peter.   19 And when Herod had sought for him, and

found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should

be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there

abode."  Guards for keepers, Authorized Version; tarried there for there abode,

Authorized Version.



Herodian Persecution of the Church (vs. 1-19)


There is a connection of events showing the working of Divine providence. After

Stephen’s murder, Caligula persecuted the Jews; hence the diversion of

their enmity coincident with conversion of Saul.  On the accession of Claudius,

there was a time of comparative peace.  The appointment of Herod Agrippa

renewed the Jews hopes; hence their attempt to crush the Church. The contrast

between the Jews and the Christians is seen at this point. They put

themselves in the hands of Agrippa, appointed successor to Herod Philip,

with the whole Syrian province under him, by their persecutor Caligula,

and lately under Claudius, receiving Judaea and Samaria; so that he was

equal in power to his grandfather, Herod the Great. He was a shameless

blasphemer, and feared neither God nor man. Yet the Jewish rulers, in their

exasperation, incited him against the Christians. The simplicity of the

narrative testifies to the simplicity and sincerity of the disciples. The second

martyrdom (James) has only a single line given to it. But how eloquent the silence!

The position of Peter was a more prominent one. Herod’s wickedness

became bolder. He aimed a blow at the very leader of the Church. Contrast

the two histories of James and John — one so early cut off, the other

surviving to the end of the century. The narrative illustrates:












Ø      The ease of Divine victory.

Ø      The peaceful brotherhood over against the cruel tyranny of Herod.

Ø      The manifestation of the Spirit contrasted with the vain show of power

and display of authority. The withdrawal of Herod to Caesarea was

a sign of defeat.


20 "And Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon: but

they came with one accord to him, and, having made Blastus the

king’s chamberlain their friend, desired peace; because their country

was nourished by the king’s country." Now he for and Herod, Authorized

Version and Textus Receptus; and for but, Authorized Version; they

asked for for desired, Authorized Version; fed from for nourished by,

Authorized Version. Highly displeased (θυμομαχῶν - thumomachon -

in fighting fury); only here in the New Testament, but used by

Polybius, as well as the kindred word ψυχομαχεῖν - psuchomachein -

in the sense of having a hostile spirit against any one, maintaining a strong

resentment. It describes a state of feeling which may exist before war,

during war, and after war when only a hollow peace has been made.

Tyre and Sidon at this time were semi-independent cities under the Roman

supremacy. The occasion of Herod’s displeasure is not known. Chamberlain;

literally, the officer over his bedchamber — his chief groom of the chambers —

an office which would give him easy access to the king’s private ear. Was

fed. This commerce, by which Palestine supplied Tyre and Sidon with

wheat in return for timber, was as old as the time of Solomon at least

(I Kings 5:9, 11); see too Ezekiel 27:17, and the decree of Caligula, in

which he speaks of the large exportation of corn to Sidon from

the Jewish harbor of Joppa (‘Ant. Jud.,’ 14. 10:6).


21 "And upon a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his

throne, and made an oration unto them." Arrayed himself for arrayed,

Authorized Version; and sat for sat, Authorized Version and

Textus Receptus; on the throne for upon his throne, Authorized Version.

On the throne. βήματος - baematos - throne; platform -= does not mean

“the king’s throne,” and is nowhere so rendered in the Authorized Version but

here. It means any raised stage or platform upon which a judge, or an

orator, or any one wishing to address an assembly, stands. Here it means a

high platform in the theatre at Caesarea, from whence the king, raised

above the rest of the audience, could both see the games and make his

speech to the people.


22 "And the people gave a shout, saying, It is the voice of a God, and

not of a man."  Shouted for gave a shout, Authorized Version; the voice

for it is the voice, Authorized Version.


23 "And immediately the angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave

not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost."

 An angel for the angel, Authorized Version. (ch. 5:19, note).



Human Pride and Divine Retribution (vs. 20-23)


The main lesson which this incident conveys is the folly of human presumption.

But there are side truths which the narrative suggests:


1. The interdependence of one nation on another: “Their country was

nourished by the king’s country” (v. 20). One land has metals in

abundance; another has corn; another, cotton; another, timber, etc. It was

clearly the intention of the Father of all that all peoples should live in close

friendship and constant interaction with one another. Yet the heathen idea

was that the natural relation between neighboring nations was war. The

motto of Christianity is “Peace;” its spirit is that of brotherhood; its counsel

and fruit are active interchange of services and resources.


2. The evil of autocracy: “Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre

and Sidon (v. 20). It may have been some slight affront he had received,

and which he was determined to avenge. All responsibility rested with him,

and the caprice or resentment of one single soul would have been sufficient

to plunge the thousands of Tyre and Sidon — men, women, and children

— into terror and distress. We may unite to thank God that the sword is

being taken out of the hand of the autocrat.


3. The drawbacks to human greatness. Herod Agrippa was a man in a very

fine position, and he was no doubt envied by thousands of his subjects;

doubtless he often congratulated himself on the success of his subtlety. Yet

he was:


  1. much at the mercy of venal counselors, — probably rich presents had

found their way into the treasury of Blastus before that chamberlain spoke

honeyed words of peace in Herod’s ear (v. 20);

  1. the dupe of base flatterers (v. 22), — he must either have been

constantly engaged in weighing words and distinguishing the false from the

sincere, or else he must have been continually deceived. But to read the

lesson of the text we turn to:



The scene which is briefly sketched in v. 21.   It may seem incredible to those who move in humble spheres that a mortal man could ever be so inflated with a sense of his own greatness as to accept Divine honors when they were offered. History, however, fully proves that arrogance may rise even as high as this;


Ø      The spirit of self-exaggeration,”

Ø      “the insolent exaltation of himself,”


with which Channing charges Napoleon Bonaparte, is a spirit which has been exemplified in every age and nation in greater or less degree. The acquisition of honor does not satisfy but only inflames ambition, and from height to height it rises until, leaving far behind it merely unwarrantable hope, it reaches shameful

arrogance and even, as here, a horrible impiety.



Sometimes, as here, in terrible torture. It is noticeable that some of the

worst persecutors of their race have come to a frightful end at death:

witness, Herod the Great; this man, his grandson; Antiochus Epiphanes;

Philip II of Spain, etc. But where this is not the case, the end is DISHONOR!

God “will not give His glory to another.” (Isaiah 42:8)  Pride must perish, and great must be its fall. From its high pedestal it topples down. No angel-hand is needed to secure the overthrow; its foundations are certain to be undermined,

and the god who was at the summit lies, a broken and shattered idol, at the base.


  • THE SIGNIFICANCE OF HEROD’S DEATH. It says to those who

wonder at the delays of providence and speak of:


“Truth forever on the scaffold,

Wrong for ever on the throne,”


Wait! God will reveal Himself in righteousness.


Ø      Go into the sanctuary (Psalm 73:17);

Ø      look back on the page of history, and

Ø      understand their end; and

Ø      see what “the end of the Lord” He is:

o       “very pitiful,” and

o       “of tender mercy!”  (James 5:11)


Wait a while, and the enthroned king, enrobed in tissued silver, receiving the acclamations of the people, accepting their ascriptions of deity — behold:


Ø      he lies writhing in awful agony;

Ø      he passes away;

Ø      he is dust of the ground.


And that despised sect, smitten, suffering, degraded — behold:


Ø      it rises to honor,

Ø      to power,

Ø      to influence;

Ø      it will be enthroned on the intelligence and conscience of



Herod Agrippa gave up the ghost, “but the Word of God grew

and multiplied” (v. 24).



Hollow Grandeur Exposed (vs. 21-23)


There is no doubt that the time of our Savior and the apostles was a time

which witnessed some of the worst, the lowest, and the most malign forms

of bodily disease. Similarly the time owned to some of the most monstrous

types of moral deformity. The same chapter that tells us of the kindly, pitiful,

“very present help in time of trouble” that the innocent and God-fearing

Peter found, records, as if for telling contrast’s sake, the judgment

that was divinely aimed at Herod, “suddenly and without remedy” visited

on one who now had filled up the measure of his iniquities. A triple type of:


o       cruelty,

o       vain-glory, and

o       irreligion


is here before us. It is, however, more particularly the crowning and at the

same time killing point of a godless career WHICH NOW DEMANDS

ATTENTION!   Notice:




Ø      It is a reception given by Herod. He wields great power; he is conscious

of it. It is no moral power. It is the result of no intellectual force; of no

lofty character; of no social attractiveness; of no love to be kind,

courteous, helpful in smoothing the ruggedness and softening the hardness

of daily life and work. He is on no sort of level whatsoever with those whom

he is pleased to allow to swell his vanity and feed the bad fires of his heart.


Ø      It is a reception given to a large number of those who were for the

moment in the position, not of mere subjects, but of abject dependents on

Herod. They had already felt his “high displeasure.” Because of it they

feared for their very bread. More ignorant than he, and driven by the

supreme motives of desire of livelihood and business, they have already

succumbed, bribing probably Herod’s chamberlain, and crouching in their

approach to make representations to himself. Yes; they were driven by

motive the pinch of which be had never been likely to know.


Ø      It was a reception which was to be a token of reconciliation; but a

reconciliation founded on the entire yielding of the one part and the

undisputed victory of the other. That victory was certainly the victory of

might, and with every probability the victory of might over right. There

had been no genuine compromise, no giving and taking, no kindly

considerateness for aggrieved feeling and “wounded spirit.” Therefore the

grand reception was all to the honor and glory of one called Herod

Agrippa the First.


  • A GRAND SPEECH. Not one word of this speech is saved on the

page of history. And that loss we may without hesitation count gain. It

spares pain to others, and spares something of distinctness of outline to the

shame and disgrace attaching to Herod. The circumstances, however, suit

nothing else than what shall profess and purport to be a grand speech. The

day is fixed; there is nothing of an impromptu character about the

occasion. The “royal apparel” is brought into requisition; the eyes of many

beholders shall flash in the reflection of gold and color, to learn a vulgar

wonder and to improve in the commonest covetousness. And the throne

is set and mounted. None can doubt of what sort the “oration” that

followed. It is magniloquence. It is condescendingness. It is self-glorification.

It is (on approaching the subject which brought the embassy)

sham magnanimity. And under cover of this is a manifesto of take all or the

utmost possible, give nothing or the least conceivable. The grandeur of the

oration was the grandeur of hollow brass. How much grand speech differs



Ø      simple, truthful speech;

Ø      speech the unmixed object of which is usefulness;

Ø      kindly and sympathetic speech;

Ø      speech of unaffected gracefulness and beauty!


  • A GRAND SHOUT. That shout entered into the ears of Herod like

the very ministry of satisfaction itself — satisfaction in its most exigent

degree, self-satisfaction. Supreme vanity must love a shout rather than

articulate language for obvious reasons. The vague looms larger, goes

further, amplifies to the gift of the excited imagination, and cannot be held

bound afterwards to justify itself. But this shout found words as well, and

grand words they were indeed, if true. “The gods are come down to us in

the likeness of men” (ch. 14:11) was a testimony, if mistaken in its

form, yet true to some extent in its spirit. And if the present testimony have

any such substance of truth and of honesty in it, it shall be accepted

according to that which it hath, and not condemned for that which it hath

not. The words, too, of this shouting are grandly chosen; they are

sententious; they are in a sense antithetic; they speak the perfection of

commendation for human tongue, which the psalmist would tell us is “the

glory” of man’s frame. It is the voice of a god, and not of a man!” Herod

had taken his seat, and “not angels’ voices” could for his ears “have yielded

sweeter music” than that shout and the recitative that rose out of it. The

supreme point of a delicious intoxication of the conscience’s very worst

opiate had that moment arrived.




Ø      Herod is proclaimed before men and angels and before, all time, as

much as though all time were there and then present, as a typical instance

of the man who knows not that his chief end is to glorify God.” Either he

knows it not, or he forgets it at an awful moment, or he defies it at the

turning moment of his existence. Long proving-time has been his — the

decisive crucial moment has come. And this — this, alas! — is its



Ø      Herod’s “grand speech,” of which not one word remains to us (and

possibly enough few of its words were heard intelligently by a people who

were wrought up and highly excited), is proclaimed to be one that has had

for its sole object to lead up to this profane glorification of self, and has

been guilty of forgetfulness to glorify God or even of denying glory to



Ø      The very shout of the people and the voice that gave subsequent

articulateness to the shout are proclaimed to be really less their shout and

their voice than those of Herod himself. Their throats and lips made the

sound, but he found the breath for it, and all else, as, e.g. the place,

occasion, motive, or inducement. A finale of this kind had been

premeditated, if not prearranged and actually organized and got up.


o        The people had a thousand pressing inducements or temptations to do

as they did, and to lend their voices for a moment to a cry which their

hearts very probably abhorred; their temptations were as numerous as all

the reasons for which they loved the “nourishment” of “their country.”

And they shall be undoubtedly judged for what they did, and judged with

righteous judgment, when their time too is ripe. But they had not the

opportunity of knowledge and the sovereign ease and self-disposition

which were at the command of Herod.


o        Herod is tenfold guilty; he is wrong himself without anything to

account for it but the worst cancerous craving of a wicked heart, and

he leads a number of innocent “sheep” (II Samuel 24:17) into temptation, sin, danger. It is evident — nay, ‘tis the one revelation involved in the expose’ of this memorable moment — that the

all-seeing eye, the all-just judgment, the casting vote of Heaven, the verdict that puts an end to all dispute, credits the major responsibility,

the overwhelmingly preponderant responsibility for what had taken

place — to the account of Herod.


Ø      Position, power, splendor, wealth, an earthly throne, arbitrary

governing, and all the rest of it, are proclaimed here at their true worth.

They are shown up as the flimsy covering only of the real in a man, let that

real be what it may. They don’t keep the weather out; they don’t keep

disease out; they don’t keep malignant and loathsome disease out; they

don’t shield conscience, heart, or body; they don’t keep God out, no, not

for a moment. But they do avail to do one thing — they suffice to throw

out into amazing prominence the contrast between TRUTH and

FALSEHOOD, (I contend this is what is happening as I type this, in

the public and private affairs of the United States of America – CY – 2016)

when God enters into judgment, and casts down those whom He never

uplifted, and “removes the diadem and takes off the crown” (Ezekiel

21:26-27), and rends in twain the gorgeous royal raiment, none of which His

hand had bestowed. Then even on earth is seen the manifest beginning of

the “everlasting shame and contempt.”


Ø      Last of all, it is here emphatically proclaimed that to omit to take right

action and to omit to utter right speech may sometimes justly be exposed

to bear all the same blame as to do and to speak the wrong. (Thus the sin

of omission – CY – 2016)  The apostles once and again, when offered Divine honors, exerted themselves with the utmost energy to refuse it, and gave their abhorrence of the idolatrous offering to be abundantly plain. (After the example of Jesus when Satan tempted Christ – “the devil taketh Him up into an

exceeding high mountain, and sheweth Him all the kingdoms of the world,

and the glory of them; And saith unto Him, All these things will I give

thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.”  Jesus resisted saying,

“Get thee hence Satan:  for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord

thy God, and Him only shall thou serve!”  Matthew 4:8-10 – CY – 2016)

This was the least that Herod should have done, and what he surely would

have done if he had not already willingly “regarded iniquity in his heart.”

So, when the people gave a great shout and said, “It is the voice of a god, and not of a man!” and Herod never protested a word, it is the same as if he had done all the preparation, pulled the wires, and spoken the impious words

himself. For God searcheth and trieth and knoweth “the thoughts and

intents of the heart.” (Hebrews 4:12)  And He will not be robbed of

                        HIS OWN!



The Sin of Accepting Divine Honors (vs. 22-23)


The explanation of this incident is given in the exegetical portion of this

Commentary. Several points of interest come out upon comparison of the

Scripture narrative with that given by Josephus. The Jewish historian is

fuller on the adulation offered to Herod than is Luke. He notices the

remarkable silver garment which Herod wore on the occasion, and the

effect it produced on the people, adding that “presently his flatterers cried

out, one from one place and another from another, though not for his

good, that he was 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. Upon this the king did

neither rebuke them nor reject their impious flattery. St. Luke distinctly

makes the same charge, stating that he was smitten because he gave not

God the glory. He permitted himself to listen to and accept the flattery, and

failed to see that in so doing he openly and publicly insulted the Divine

majesty. This God never will permit. He is jealous — in the high sense of

that term — of His sole and sovereign rights, and immediately punishes all

who dare to claim the honor, which is due alone to Him. Flattery of the

creature may never rise to this height. Man can commit no sin so heinous

as that of assuming Divine honors and rights. The most striking illustration

is that of Nebuchadnezzar, whose pride swelled to a claim of Divine power

and honor, and was, immediately upon his boastful utterance, smitten of

God with a most humiliating disease. (Daniel 4)  It is said that Antiochus the

Great, because he sinned in a similar high-handed way, was brought low by a

disease like that which afflicted Herod. We may consider some of the

reasons why there is such jealousy of the Divine rights, and why Jehovah’s

honor He will never give to another.  (Isaiah 42:8; However, all history is

sprinkled with human beings reflecting His glory, which is permitted and

desired by Jehovah! – You and I, like the dark moon with no light reflects the

light of the sun, can reflect God’s glory by our proximity to Him!   CY – 2016) 



RELATIONS WITH HIM. We are required to love God with all our

heart, and mind, and soul, and strength. We cannot unless He be indeed the

one and only God. We are to recognize our relations with Him as Greater,

and to admit the claims which this relationship brings. But we cannot

conceive of two Creators; He hath made us, and HE ALONE!  Life is to be

under His present gracious lead; in all our ways we are to acknowledge

Him, and to feel that He directs our paths; but only confusion can come into

our thought and life if our daily allegiance is to be in any sense DIVIDED!

Sin only gains its heinousness in our sight when it is thought of as committed

against the one supreme will, and redemption has no point if it be not our

recovery to the harmony of that one will. Illustrations may be taken from

the confusion created by dualistic and polytheistic systems. Men never

could be quite sure that they had propitiated the right god, and a constant

anxiety wore away the hearts of even the sincerely pious.



The connection between the two tables of the Law needs to be carefully

considered. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” is an injunction

without force save as it follows on the great command to “love God with

all our heart.” The life of morality is love to the one living God. The spirit

of sonship is the inspiration of brotherhood. If a man truly loves God HE

WILL LOVE HIS BROTHER ALSO!  Illustrate from the uncertainty of all

moral systems associated with polytheism. Some of the gods became even

the patrons of impurity and immorality. Our one God being the “ideal of

goodness,” His service must be wholly pure.



UTMOST DEGRADATION. The claim has been made again and again,

but only by men utterly abandoned, mastered by pride and self-conceit, and

only after the crushing down of all reverence. Self-will may go great

lengths and keep within human limits; it becomes Satanic when it dares to

rival God and claim for itself Divine rights. When such heart-baseness is

declared, the man must come under the immediate and awful judgments

of God, even as Herod did.


24 "But the word of God grew and multiplied."

The word of God grew and multiplied in Jerusalem and the

neighborhood, in spite of Agrippa’s persecution. The blood of the martyr

James was the seed of the Church, and the speedy vengeance taken by God

upon the persecuter doubtless gave fresh courage to his people to confess

the Name of Jesus Christ. As regards the preceding account of Herod

Agrippa’s death, it is corroborated in the most remarkable manner by the

narrative in Josephus (‘Ant. Jud.,’ 19. 8:2). He there tells that when he had

been three years King of all Judaea (see v. 1, note) he went to Caesarea.

And that on occasion of a festival celebrated “for the safety of Caesar”

(some think to celebrate his return from Britain, while others, as Wieseler,

think that they were the ordinary Quinquennalia, celebrated in the

provinces), he exhibited games and spectacles in honor of Claudius. On the

second day of these games, when a vast number of people were assembled

in the theatre, Agrippa came in, clothed in a garment wholly made of silver,

which reflected the rays of the morning sun with a most dazzling and awful

brilliancy. Whereupon his flatterers cried out that he was a god, and

offered prayer to him. The king, he adds, did not rebuke them nor reject

their impious flattery, he was presently seized with a violent pain in his

bowels, which soon became so intense that he was carried out of the

theatre to his palace, and expired after five days of excruciating pain. It is

curious that in the above account Josephus says that Agrippa saw an owl

sitting over his head, which he recognized as a messenger (ἄγγελον -

aggelon - messenger) of evil to him. Eusebius, quoting Josephus Eccl. Hist.,’

2. 10.), leaves out the owl, and says that Agrippa saw an angel sitting over

his head, whom he recognized as the cause of his sufferings. Whiston, in a

note, seeks to exonerate Eusebius from unfairness in the quotation by

suggesting that the manuscript of Eusebius is in this place corrupt; but

Bede quotes Josephus just as Eusebius does, unless perchance he is quoting

him at second hand from Eusebius.



Sin in High Places (vs. 1-19, 24)


Sin has many aspects, and it is not only curious but instructive to see how

it shows itself under different conditions. Here we have it manifesting its

evil spirit in “high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)  Herod’s action at this juncture

reminds us of:


  • ITS CONTEMPTUOUSNESS. “Herod… stretched forth his hands to

vex certain of the Church” (v. 1). He did not stay to inquire whether

these men were in the right or not. They had with them the most

convincing credentials — strong evidence, miraculous power, a TRUTH

which met the necessities of the human heart and life; but all this went for

nothing. From his place of power he looked down superciliously on this

new “way,” and with a light heart he determined to vex its adherents. How

often does a high place beget an unseemly, unwholesome, injurious

arrogance which, smiting others, inflicts a DEATHBLOW on itself.


  • ITS BRUTALITY. “And he killed James... with the sword” (v. 2).

What was the life of an enthusiast to him? “He commanded that the

keepers should be put to death” (v. 19). What signified it to him that a

few soldiers were executed? It would not spoil his meal nor disturb his

slumber that, at his bidding, a few of his fellow-men had their lives cut

short and that their families and friends were mourning. This was THE

SPIRIT OF THE AGE,  an unchristian age: it was especially the spirit

of human tyranny. The ruler on his throne, too often attained by violence and cunning, was indifferent to:


Ø      the blood he shed,

Ø      the rights he violated,

Ø      the sorrows he caused.


Such has been the history of sin in high places from the beginning

until now, from one end of the earth to the other.


  • ITS MEANNESS. “Because he saw it pleased the Jews,” he

proceeded further (v. 3) in the same course. What a miserable reason for

imprisonment and execution of subjects! Not because any crime had been

committed, or any folly wrought, or any danger incurred; but because it

pleased the Jews, more violence was to be done, more wrong inflicted,

more grief and lamentation called forth. To such shameful depth will sin in

high places stoop, “justice” prostituting its high vocation (I Peter 2:14)

to win a mean and despicable popularity at the expense of innocence and





Ø      How vain are bolts and bars to shut in a man whom God intends to be

His agent among men (vs. 4-10; see ch. 5:19; 16:26)!


Ø      How vain are swords to slay and prison doors to confine the living truth

of God! A James may be killed and a Peter imprisoned, but the chapter

which narrates these incidents of human tyranny does not close without

recording that “the Word of God grew and multiplied.” We may learn

these two lessons.


o        We may well be contented with our humbler lot. Obscurity and

comparative powerlessness are far less attractive to an ordinary eye

than eminence and power. But who of us can say that a “high place” might not prove to be a “slippery place” (Psalm 73:18-20) wherein virtue and purity would fall, never to rise again; or on which some

of the finer graces would be dulled and dimmed, even if some of the sadder sins were not nourished and practiced?


o        We may well rejoice to be on the side of the Lord our Savior. His cause

will meet with such checks as this chapter records; there will be times when His disciples will mourn the loss of one champion and be alarmed for the safety of another; but unhoped-for deliverance will come, God will appear for us in ways we dare not expect, and the end will be the growth and multiplying of His living and life-giving Word.



Sanctified Affliction (v. 24)


“But the Word of God grew and multiplied.”




Ø      Drawing the believers together.

Ø      Revealing the weakness of enemies.

Ø      Calling out faith and prayerfulness.

Ø      Occasioning new manifestations of Divine power on behalf of the




INDEPENDENT OF HUMAN AGENCY.  It was a time of famine and

persecution and mourning, but still a time of increase. The earthly rulers were

against the Word, but still it grows. The Church is afflicted, but still speaks

to the world, and its speech all the more powerful that it comes forth from

the troubled depths of suffering hearts.  When we are weak then are we

strong. (II Corinthians 12:10)  “Not by might, nor by power, but by

my Spirit, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Zechariah 4:6)



The Growing of the Word (v. 24)


The terms used here indicate a continuous expansion.Grew and

multiplied” is a blending of figures, and does not easily fit into the term,

“Word of God.” Probably Luke associated the word with our Lord’s

parable of the sower;” and thought of it as seed, growing up and bringing

forth its hundredfold. Two things are suggested by the sentence taken as a text.


1. Luke notices, as a remarkable thing, that, in spite of all the

persecutions and hindrances of those evil times, the Word of God grew.


2. And that a sudden revival of zeal, earnestness, and success followed on

the dreadful judgment and sudden removal of the Church’s great persecutor.

It is to the first of these two points that we now direct attention.



history of Madagascar Christianity provides most effective

illustration; or instances may be found in the histories of Lollards,

Waldenses, etc. Persecuting times seem to be ruinous; their influence is

directed to:


Ø      the removal of the Christian leaders;

Ø      the silencing of Christian teachers and writers;

Ø      the stoppage of Christian worship;

Ø      the destruction of Christian books, and especially of the Divine



But it has never been found that physical violence has been more than

apparent hindrance. The nearest approach ever made to success is

probably the crushing of French Protestantism by the Massacre of St.

Bartholomew. We are learning well the lesson that intellectual evils must

be met by intellectual resistances and corrections, and that moral evils must

be removed by moral agencies. “The weapons of our Christian warfare are

not carnal, but spiritual”  (II Corinthians 10:4), and it is vain work for any to oppose us with mere shield and sword and spear. Illustrate from the martyrdom

of John Brown, the advocate of freedom for the slave. Persecution seemed to

succeed, and:


“John Brown’s body lies a-moldering in the grave,

But his soul is marching on” —


marching on to triumph in the vast hinds of America, and marching on to

another glorious victory in the newly found highlands of mighty Africa.

Persecution cannot stop the onward progress of man’s thought or man’s




is that the seed actually grows and multiplies in such times. We think the

rainstorms hopelessly beat down the young and tender blades. Nay, they

really nourish the roots, and prepare for a vigorous springing up and richer

fruitage. Moral harvests wave where martyrs’ blood was shed. We may

recognize the helpfulness of troublous times if we notice:


Ø      How they tend to bind men together. Differences of opinion and

judgment are for a time forgotten. The common ground is fully recognized.

Suffering throws each one upon the loving interest and care of the others,

and lessons of the Christian brotherhood are then learned as they can be

under no other circumstances. Prosperity and times of peace tend to bring

prominently forward men’s diversities, and in such times sects are

multiplied. Troublous times make men forget their peculiarities in facing a

common foe and in sharing a common woe.


Ø      How they increase enthusiasm and develop energy.  Nothing calls forth

the latent powers of men like resistance to liberty of opinion. Let a

scientific truth be opposed, and the whole energy of the discoverer is called

forth for its maintenance, and to him that truth grows tenfold more

important and more precious. So with the Christian verities, we “earnestly

contend for the faith once delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3) only when that faith is being contended against.


3. How they bring men more fully to lean on the Divine power. They bring

that sense of personal helplessness which makes us cling to the assurance,

Greater is He who is with us than all who can be against us.” (I John 4:4)

We feel we may walk alone if it is all light about us. We must lean hard on

God if it is night-time and stormy all about us.


Ø      How they draw public attention to the Christian workers. There is no

advertising agent comparable for a moment in efficiency with persecution.

Age after age Christ’s enemies have done Christ’s work, and witnessed

among all lands for Him, as they have martyred His servants and persecuted

His Church. Suffering has a sacred power on human hearts everywhere, and

Christ’s suffering Church wins men for Christ.   (For instance, Saul’s

conversion after the martyrdom of Stephen – chapters 7 and 9)


25 "And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem, when they had

fulfilled their ministry, and took with them John, whose surname

was Mark." Ministration for ministry, Authorized Version; talking for and

took, Authorized Version. The fact here stated of their taking John Mark

with them, is very interesting in connection with v. 12. Whether or no Saul and

Barnabas were in the house of Mary at the time of Peter’s deliverance from

prison, they evidently went there shortly before or shortly after. As regards the

sequence of events related in this chapter, it is by no means necessary to

suppose that Barnabas and Saul did not leave Jerusalem till after the death

of Agrippa. Luke, connecting the death of Agrippa with his murder of

James and his intended murder of Peter, as Eusebius and Chrysostom and

others rightly say, would naturally follow up the narrative of the

persecution by the narrative of the persecutor’s awful death; and then go

on to relate the return of the two apostles to Antioch in continuation of

ch. 11:30. We have no means of deciding whether, in point of fact,

they returned before or after Agrippa’s death. It seems most probable that

they returned before, as, under the circumstances, they would not tarry at

Jerusalem longer than was necessary for the fulfillment of their ministration.



The Character of John Mark (v. 25)


This man is not introduced to us for the first time in this verse, but this may

be regarded as his formal introduction. For the sketch of his life, which

should prepare for our study of his character, our readers are referred to

our Commentary on St. Mark’s Gospel. We only recall to mind a few

prominent points:


1. He was evidently at this time a comparatively young man.

2. He was directly associated with the early disciples, as they seem to have

met at his mother’s house.

3. It is more than probable that he had personally known the Lord Jesus Christ.

4. He was closely related to Barnabas, being his sister’s son.

5. He was, very probably, a rich young man, and devoted his wealth to the

missionary work of the Church.

6. His office, as minister or attendant on Barnabas and Paul, was one

necessitated by the difficulties and perils of traveling in those times.

7. In spirit and character John Mark should be carefully compared with

Timothy. We note that he always occupies a subordinate position, but that

there was a precise sphere which he could occupy, and a useful work given

him to do. His failure from missionary work may be regarded as an

indication that he had not, at that time, found his proper sphere. The man

who was to prepare a written Gospel had not the kind of boldness and

energy that was necessary for dangerous traveling. As suggestive and

opening the way for a full study of his character, we notice that he was:


a.      sincere,

b.      studious,

c.       timid,

d.      impulsive, and

e.       patient.


·        SINCERE. His failure was in no way a sign of unfaithfulness to Christ.

He left Barnabas and Saul, but he did not cease to minister to Christ. Years

after he is spoken of for his profitableness, and he was evidently a sincere

Christian. It may be shown how sincerity is the leading Christian virtue,

and how it will abide and sanctify all varieties of disposition, character,

talent, and adaptations for service. We can all be sincere.


  • STUDIOUS. Of a meditative and thoughtful habit, finding his right

place when collecting the records of our Lord’s words and deeds, and

possibly doing so under Peter’s supervision. God needs studious men,

but they are seldom fitted for any other than their own particular work.

They are hardly ever prepared for the public conflicts of life, and they have

even some characteristic moral frailties. Paul knew the weakness of the

studious Timothy, and bids him “endure hardness as a good soldier of

Jesus Christ.”  (II Timothy 2:3)


  • TIMID. This was the secret of his unwillingness to venture on the

perilous journey into Asia Minor. Shrinking from danger, and even from

exertion and enterprise. Such men never can be leaders. They had better

stay at home. They seldom can be men of great faith. Their mental history

matches their material history — they are timid about the truth, seldom

quite sure of their own hold of it, and ever ready to join the foolish cry,

“The Church is in danger.” We get no heroic champions from the class to

which John Mark belonged.


  • IMPULSIVE. Some have thought that the young man who was nearly

arrested with Christ was John Mark, and that he had heard the noise, and

impulsively rushed out of his house to see what was going on, and had

forgotten his outer robe. (Mark 14:48-53)  The same impulsiveness is seen

in his refusing to go on with the missionaries. But notice how it differs from

the impulsiveness of Peter or of Paul. It was a kind of negative impulsiveness,

not urging him to do, but keeping him from doing. It is a dangerous spirit to cherish into strength.


  • PATIENT. This we may see illustrated in his Gospel, remembering that

he had not the personal experiences of Matthew or John, and had to

collect and collate his materials. From John Mark we may learn these things:


Ø      A man has his own particular work for which he is divinely fitted.

Ø      If a man makes the mistake of trying to do somebody else’s work, it is a

blessed thing that God’s providence stops him, and turns him into the path

where he may work efficiently and successfully.



The Strength and Weakness of Christian Discipleship (vs. 1-19, 25)


These verses bring out very strikingly the fact that there is both power and

weakness in us who are the followers of Christ. We see it:


  • IN APOSTOLIC FUNCTIONS. The apostles of our Lord were invested

by their Divine Master with unusual powers. The Holy Ghost descended

upon them and conferred great gifts on them (see ch. 5:15-16; 9:31-41).

Peter was the chief channel through which this Divine efficacy flowed.

But while he was charged to do such great things for others, he was not

permitted to do anything for himself; his function of working miracles

stopped when he was personally concerned; he was not at liberty to open a

bolted prison door that he himself might escape. We may find a certain

illustration of this strength and weakness in the case of those who have

such strength to arouse the souls and stir the activities of others, but who

are painfully and pitifully weak in controlling their own spirit.



One short verse (v. 2) disposes of the fate of the Apostle James. We have

no graphic account, as in Stephen’s case, of his martyrdom. But it is

enough that we know the event. We naturally place it beside the predictive

words of the Lord (Mark 10:38-39). And we see here how weak and

yet how strong Christian discipleship can be. Weak enough:


Ø      to cherish a mistaken ambition (Mark 10:37);

Ø      to under-estimate altogether the sufferings of its Lord — they said, We can;

Ø      to under-estimate the severity of its own martyr-witness, for James and

John had little thought at that time of the future that was in store for them.


Strong enough to accept with cheerfulness the trying lot when called upon

to endure it. We may take it, though we are not told it, that James drank

without a moment’s hesitation the bitter cup of sudden and violent death

when Herod’s sword was drawn to slay him. How frequently do we find

the same thing with us now! At one hour, the weakness of serious

misconception of Christian truth or of Christian life, or, it may be, serious

failure to attain the spirit or illustrate the principle of Christ; at another

hour, beautiful resignation to the will, or admirable exemplification of the

truth, or noble devotedness to the work, of the Lord.


Ø      We should not judge hastily; the error or shortcoming of one period may

be more than redeemed by the excellency or even heroism of another.

Ø      We need not be exceedingly depressed by our own failure; we should be

truly penitent when really at fault, but we may hope that, further on, our

Master will give us an opportunity of drinking of His cup, of having

fellowship with His sufferings.  (Philippians 3:10) 


  • IN THE MATTER OF DEVOTION. “Prayer was made without

ceasing of the Church unto God for Peter” (v. 5). It may be confidently

concluded that the “many” who were gathered together praying at Mary s

house (v. 12) were asking for his deliverance. His escape, then, should

have been the very thing they were expecting. If their strength had not been

exercised in weakness, they would have anticipated the knock at the door,

which they refused to believe was from the hand of Peter. We know how

great was their astonishment that their prayers were heard and answered

(vs. 15-16). Prayer is the strength of the Christian man, of the Christian

Church; but when in the very act and exercise of this our privilege and

power, how great is our weakness! for how unspiritual is, too often, our

word! how languid our strain! how slight our hope! how faint and feeble

our expectation!



and Saul returned from their ministry in Jerusalem, carrying with them the

blessings of the poor whom they had relieved. But they also carried with

them one, John Mark, who was to be the occasion of a bitter quarrel and a

lifelong separation. While they were rejoicing in their hearts that the ties

between the brethren of Antioch and Jerusalem were so happily,

strengthened there stood by their side a man whose action was to cut in

twain the bond which bound them in loving and active brotherhood. As

fellow-members of the Church, we feel and do many things which bring out

into bold relief our most Godlike affections and aspirations; but as those

who worship and work side by side, we often do things which give

displeasure to our Lord and should give pain to ourselves.



The Persecution at Jerusalem (vs. 1-25)



PETER. The narrative of the former event is short and dry. But, whatever

the reason of this may be, it is certain that the Holy Spirit, by whose

inspiration this history was given, manifested a peculiar wisdom in this

very brevity. The holy silence is a sign to us that that which is highest and

most pleasing to God is not precisely that of which men love to know and

speak. “Our life is hid with Christ in God.” (Colossians 3:3)  The peculiar life

in life, and the holy dying in death, these are HIDDEN WITH CHRIST IN

GOD, not merely from the world, but from the children of God; precious,

nevertheless, before God, a work following the soul into eternity. The

frivolous persecutor, who has been an enemy of the Jews, now, to please

them, sacrifices the Christians. (This seems to me to be the pattern of

the Executive Branch of the United States Government, in this case,

instead of the Jews, Christians are to be sacrificed to the Muslims – CY –

2016)    The cruelty and frivolity of tyrants has been permitted to work

much evil and cause much bloodshed. Our only consolation in

meditating on such facts is to reflect that Christianity is an ideal system,

and has compensations not of this world.




Ø      His imprisonment fell in the days of unleavened bread — the time of the Passover; doubtless reminding him, not only of the passion and resurrection of

the Savior, but of his own frailty and denial of Him. Now was the prophecy

of Jesus fulfilled: “Hereafter thou shalt follow me.” (John 13;36)  All in the scene, the memories, the immediate prospects before Peter’s mind disposed

him to sad and serious thought.


Ø      The strong guard placed over him seems to bear witness to the respect

felt for his person, the fear of his influence. The parts of the prisoner and

that of the tyrant are often really reversed; he is at peace, they tremble

when they have him most in their power. Behind the scene a purpose was

working mightier than all human force. The persecutors intended to bring

him after the Passover feast; but God intends to save him. Herod plots

Peter’s death, while God wills the preservation of Peter and the death of

the murderer. Another view of spiritual force working to counteract

physical force is given in the statement of the unceasing prayer of the

Church on Peter’s behalf. “God can refuse nothing to a praying Church.”

One true prayer can strike down the whole power of hell; why not Herod

with his sixteen soldiers?” “By the blood and prayers of Christians Herod’s

arm was maimed, his scepter broken, and the Roman empire brought to

ruins.” Peter in the prison may remind us to pray, “That it may please thee

to show pity upon all prisoners and captives!” Meanwhile Peter sleeps; as a

child flung into the strong arms of a father, so in the extremity of his

distress he has flung himself ON GOD, and rests. And over him Divine

love watches with all the tenderness of the parent’s eye and heart.


Ø      The delivering angel. The angels are ministers of God to the bodies and

souls of the “heirs of salvation.” Whether we speak of angels, or of

instruments, or providential means, the truth at bottom is the same. All

agents and instruments may be considered Divine which are set in motion

by the Divine power and love, and providentially meet the need of the

hour. So too the shining effulgence which accompanies the angel’s visit.

We do not expect such phenomena now; but the light in the heart, the joy

which comes of having surrendered the soul to God and of being conscious

of His presence, is not less real than ever. “To the upright there ariseth light

in the darkness.” We may if we please allegorize what follows to our own

account. “Arise quickly!” and the chains fell from his hands. For the word

of the Lord no iron is too hard, no stone nor bolt too strong. There are

worse prisons than those of stone.


“Stone walls do not a prison make,

Nor iron bars a cage.”


It is our own fettered thoughts which cramp and. oppress the soul Again,

with the Divine command, “Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals,” the

power to obey comes. And so again when he is bidden to cast around him

his garment and to follow. A reason, attentive to the smallest details, is

discovered in every call to duty and freedom. And all this passes as in a

dream, so often when swift help and wondrous deliverances come by the

Divine hand. “When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we wore

as them that dreamed.” (Psalm 126:1)  So doubtless in the last conflict, the escape from life and all its troubles will appear as a dream to the departing

soul. So swiftly on, through the first and second guard, to the iron gate leading into the city, which opens of its own accord; the street is reached, and the

angel departs. The extraordinary and the marvelous lasts no longer than it is

needed. We are governed and guided by constant law, which is the

expression of loving and constant will. We are taught by experience to

build on the constancy of law; but lest we should adore law instead of God,

He appears from time to time from behind law, as will, personality, love.

The knowledge left behind on Peter’s mind is that God has interfered for

his deliverance from the hands of his enemies. That is the lesson for us,

whenever by a change of circumstances, not to be foreseen and not to be

commanded by human forethought, God’s ways with us give rise in

retrospect and reflection to thankfulness. We see not the good hand that is

leading us, the wisdom that causes all things to work together for good,

before we have reached the goal and end of His purpose.




Ø      Notice the coincidences of events. For his refreshment, Peter is led from

the cold prison and the rough society of soldiers into that of praying

brethren. And they who had been in the depth of trouble because of his

supposed loss, behold the beloved brother in the midst of them — for the

strengthening of their faith.


Ø      The struggle of faith with unbelief. Here, though they had been praying,

and praying doubtless for Peter’s release, when the answer comes, they

find it difficult to accept and believe. How true is this to the human heart!

People are not conscious that they are not quite sincere in their prayers

until some event like this brings them face to face with their own thought.

When Rhoda tells the simple news of joy, they reply, “Thou art mad!”

Faith in the heart says, “God can work wonders if He will;” an opposite

feeling says, “It is not likely that He will work them.” A man may argue,

“My faith in the goodness of God is shadowy, but my faith in the constancy

of His laws in nature is absolute: it is the contrast of one faith with

another.” We cannot find a solution to this contradiction; but it does seem

in the course of events as if it were solved for us by a higher light and



Ø      The result. Peter continues knocking, till those within open, see him, and

are astounded. After grasping their hands in friendship, he tells the story of

his deliverance, bids them repeat it to James and the brethren, then departs

to another place. So had the Lord commanded (Matthew 10:13). The

protection of Providence does not supersede the exercise of caution and

prudence; it should rather encourage us to observe these. By removing

Peter, the main pillar of the community, the Church was taught that no one

man was indispensable to its existence and welfare. They were to learn to

stand without him. The break of day brought a great disturbance among

the soldiers. “What had become of Peter?” Herod takes prompt measures

for his arrest, and betakes himself to Caesarea. So ends an episode of

apostolic history. We may extract from it the following lessons:


o        The time of trial is the time of Divine education. Faith in the trial of fire

is proved more precious than the gold which perisheth. (I Peter 1)

“Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations.”  (James 1:2)


o        Brotherly love in affliction, in watching and waiting power of soul in

rest and endurance; Divine power in healing and saving; — these are the fruits and energies which spring up in the soil of persecution: these the “precious pearls for which men dive in sorrow’s sacred stream.”


o        The arms and defenses of the Church against its foes are:

§         unflinching courage in witness,

§         calm patience in suffering,

§         unwearied urgency in prayer.



The Death of Herod (vs. 20-25)


  • THE CIRCUMSTANCES. In the height of his power and haughtiness

he is suddenly cast down. While raising himself arrogantly against the

Majesty on high, by that Majesty he is brought low and put to shame. Also

it is while he is being sought by petitioners, and hailed by the flattering

voice of the multitude as a god. These features have all the elements of the

most solemn tragedy. The messenger of Divine judgment smites him

straightway, and he perishes miserably,




Ø      “Because he gave not the glory to God” is the reason of the judgment.

To God alone belongs honor. He is the Fountain of power, the Foundation

of all stability. He who forsakes God ruins himself and causes destruction

to others. God “resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James



Ø      The moral is seen also in contrast. Those who honor God, as Barnabas

and Saul, receive honor from God. The persecutor is cast down, while the

persecuted flourish and the work goes on. The blood of the martyr waters

the field of the Church, and the tyrant fertilizes it with his bones.




The World and the Church (vs. 1-25)


There is, perhaps, no passage in Holy Scripture which contrasts more

sharply the principles of the world and of the Church respectively, and the

practice flowing from those principles, than the chapter before us. The

results of each stand out no less sharply defined.



or justice, but self-seeking policy:


Ø      to gain some selfish end without regard to the will of God or the

welfare of man;

Ø      the unscrupulous use of any means by which the wished-for end

can be attained;

Ø      the employment of craft or violence, according to circumstances;

Ø      utter contempt for the rights and feelings of others;

Ø      utter disregard for the happiness of individuals or communities

which stand in the way;

Ø      taking everything into a man’s own hands; — in a word:

o       self-will and

o       self-seeking,


as the beginning and ending of human action.




Ø      To do the will of God irrespective of self-will;

Ø      to love all men, “specially those that are of

the household of faith,” and consequently,

Ø      to work ill to no man, however great the apparent gain may be;

Ø      to suffer, rather than do wrong;

Ø      to endure evil meekly and patiently;

Ø      to help and comfort others in their time of need

at his own cost; and





Ø      The worldly policy ends in failure. The well-laid schemes end in

disappointment; momentary successes slide into defeat anal discomfiture;

expected glory turns into lasting shame.


Ø      The Christian practice, on the contrary, though its beginnings may be

in clouds and dark  ness, ends in sunshine and in light. Right has a vital

principle in it. It bursts out into success at last. Being linked to the will of

God, it partakes of THE POWER OF GOD! Momentary shame turns into

lasting glory. The cross becomes the crown. See all this exemplified in the

history before us. Agrippa was the perfect type of a successful man of the

world. The friend of emperors and kings; himself a prosperous king of fair

character for the times, of pleasing manners, and considerable power of

kingcraft, he stood high among his equals and contemporaries. His

liberality and magnificence secured him a fair share of admiration and

popularity among his subjects. His zeal for religious observances, his

scrupulous performance of the rites and ceremonies of the Jewish Law,

brought him a fair amount of respect from the priests and Pharisees of his

day. And this popularity was as the breath of his nostrils. To be applauded;

to be well spoken of; to be admired; to make a sensation wherever he

appeared; to be on terms of friendship with Tiberius, with Drusus, with

Caligula, with Claudius; to be a great man among the petty dependent

kings of the neighboring countries; and to be an authority with the priests

and people of the Jews; — all this was his ambition, was what he lived for.

As to the means of obtaining it he was not scrupulous. By flatteries, by

mean compliances, by large expenditure of money, and even by shedding

innocent blood, this end of self-idolatry was to be compassed. The murder

of a saint like James, the imprisonment and intended execution of an

apostle like Peter, were in his eyes on a par with splendid games or

magnificent largesses, as means of purchasing or retaining the good

pleasure of the Jews, perhaps with the further design of strengthening his

influence with Claudius by showing how he could keep a turbulent

province in quiet subjection to imperial Rome. And so at last he seemed to

have attained the highest pinnacle of the coveted glory when, all glittering

with the silver robe, which reflected the rays of the morning sun, and

seated on the bema to make his oration to the people, he was greeted with

acclamations which told him he was no longer a mere mortal in their eyes,

and that he spoke, not with the voice of a man, but with the voice of God.

Five days of agony, and he lay amidst all his splendor a lifeless corpse.


Now let us turn to the Church. We have four pictures presented to us of

Church life.


1. The love of the Church of Antioch for their unseen brethren of the

Church of Jerusalem. They were poor themselves, it is likely; they had

dangers, and difficulties, and wants, and necessities: no doubt, at home.

But no sooner do they hear of the approaching famine in Judaea than they

make collections, every man according to his ability, for the relief of their

fellow-Christians, and send two of their most trusted members to carry the

gift from Antioch to Jerusalem. Surely a beautiful sight, that loving-cup

passed from Gentile to Jew, a pledge of their unity in Jesus Christ.


2. The defense of the Church of Jerusalem against the tyranny of the

world. The strong hand of unscrupulous power has slain one of their most

valiant leaders. Another greater still is shut up in a dungeon, expecting

immediate death. The whole Church is in danger of destruction. It must

defend itself against its terrible foe; it must sharpen its sword; it must put

on its Armour; it must prepare for the fight.  How does it do this? Our

second picture shows us. It is night. The great city is hushed in sleep; its

hum has ceased. The weary are at rest. The prisoner’s eyes are closed in

forgetfulness, and all things are shrouded in darkness. But in one house in

the city sleep has no place. Under its roof are gathered together many of

the soldiers of Jesus Christ. And in that dead hour of the night they are

watching unto prayer. From one and another the voice of prayer and

supplication is going up to Heaven — prayer for Peter’s safety; prayer for

the preservation of the Church; prayer for the mighty help of the Holy

Ghost; prayer for holy patience; prayer for holy courage; prayer for

wisdom how to act and for strength to act; prayer for the weak in faith;

prayer for the tempted and irresolute; prayer for their enemies, persecutors,

and slanderers; — in short, every variety of the cry, “Lead us not into

temptation, but deliver us from evil!” is breaking the stillness of the night,

and is the Church’s preparation for battle and for victory.


3.  We have in these the portraiture of two individual members of

God’s Church. The first, James, we see only in his death — the blessed

death of a martyr of Jesus Christ; a death which tells of the life which went

before, and also of the life that shall follow after and have no end. He was a

son of thunder in his assaults upon the strongholds of Satan; a witness for

Jesus Christ and his cross and his salvation, before the hard materialism of

Roman power and the withered formalism of Jewish bigotry and hypocrisy.

As we think of him, as of his saintly brother John, we think of the

unworldly faith with which, leaving his father and all that he had in this

world, he was obedient without delay to the calling of Jesus Christ; we

think of the indignant zeal which flashed out when the Master whom he

loved was rejected by the Samaritans; we think of him as persevering

steadily, through ten years of opposition and contradiction from elders, and

priests, and Pharisees, and Sadducees, in the one great purpose for which

he lived, at the end of which, as he had long since been warned by the

Lord, there was a cup of suffering to be drunk, and a baptism of blood to

be baptized with. But he shrank not nor drew back. To him to live was

Christ, and to die was gain. And so his end came — the end of his toil. But

surely he is among those whom his brother John saw in vision half a

century afterwards: “I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the

witness of Jesus, and for the Word of God,… and they lived and reigned

with Christ s thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4)  Blessed in his death and glorious in his resurrection, he will shine forth with a brighter glory in the kingdom of his Father than Agrippa his murderer did in his silver robe of marvelous texture in the theatre of Caesarea.


4.  Our last portrait is that of Simon Peter, the Galilaean fisherman, called by Jesus Christ to be fisher of men. What a life was his! — gathering three

thousand souls into his net at the very first haul; laying the foundations of that building which during twenty centuries has gone on growing towards those

vast proportions which will at last fill the whole earth and mingle with the

skies in its length, and breadth, and depth, and height; unlocking the gates

of the kingdom of heaven with his keys of office for myriads and millions

to enter in. What a life of toil and danger! — journeying, preaching, healing, teaching, like his Divine Master before him, with his life ever in his hand; now escaping, now returning to the scene of persecution, but always intent upon the work of Christ. Ah! surely he has fallen at last; the hand of the tyrant has found him out. He is fast in prison. He is fastened with two chains to his jailors. He is

sleeping his last sleep on earth. To-morrows sun will rise upon him for the

last time, and before it is noon he will have joined his brother James in the

land where all things are forgotten.


a.       So thought man.

b.      So thought the Jews.

c.   So thought Agrippa.

d.   So thought Peter himself when he closed his eyes in

sleep under the protection of God s wings.


But this had God not ordained! The night watches had advanced. The great city lay in stillness and darkness.  The sons of toil and of pleasure had all left the

busy thoroughfares, and the streets were deserted.  But lo! the iron gate of the prison opens noiselessly upon its hinges, and two men issue forth into the open way. They walk rapidly along, and then one vanishes and only one is left. He stops for a moment’s thought, and then goes to the house of Mary. Yet another

moment, and he is in the midst of a praying Church, which he never

thought to have seen again in the flesh; and the brethren are all around their

great primate, whom they thought to have seen no more forever. It was a

great surprise. But how great the joy to know THAT IT WAS GOD'S DOING!

Now they knew that their dangers, their sorrows, their fears, and their

prayers, were all known of God. Now they knew that their lives were

precious in God’s sight, and that He that was for them was stronger than he

that was against them. Peter’s hour was not yet come; his work was not

yet finished, and till it was, all the power of Herod and all the expectation

of the people of the Jews would be baffled and disappointed, not a hair of

his head should perish; and instead of the Church being wasted and


It is growing and multiplying still. Peter’s work is not yet finished. What he began IS STILL GOING ON!  The overseers are still feeding the flock of

Christ; and they with him, when the chief Shepherd shall appear, shall

 receive a crown of glory THAT FADETH NOT AWAY!




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