By Dr. Mark Scott
Rescue is at the heart of the gospel. Germane to the meaning of the word salvation is deliverance or rescue. The Bible often uses salvation in its most spiritual sense—redemption, forgiveness, and the promise of eternal life (Colossians 1:13). But since salvation also includes the healing of all creation, salvation has a physical dimension as well (2 Timothy 3:10, 11; 4:18). That physical dimension is the one being emphasized here.
When we left Peter last, he was defending his actions to the Jerusalem church about taking the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 11:1-18). Now he will need some defending of his own—as well as some help from on high.
Peter’s Rescue—Different than James’s
Acts 12:1, 2
The rescue of Peter was different than that of James. In a sense, both apostles were rescued. Herod Agrippa I
arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. “Some” could refer to more than just James and Peter, but our text focuses on just these two apostles.
James was put to death with the sword. This could refer to being run through with the sword (like the prophet Isaiah) or it could refer to a beheading. Jesus predicted that suffering like this would happen (John 15:18-20). James, the brother of John and son of Zebedee, was the first apostle to die a martyr’s death. However what Herod intended as evil became James’s path to eternal life. There is a rescue that goes beyond anything we know here on earth.
Peter’s Rescue—Bathed in Prayer
Paranoid Herod showed his true political stripes when he saw how the Jews approved killing James. Wanting to ride the waves of popularity he proceeded to seize Peter and intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. Two providential things hindered Herod’s plans for Peter:
• First, it was Passover time. Religious festivals sometimes gave rise to political unrest. To ensure that nothing went wrong, Herod had Peter guarded with four squads of soldiers. Herod did not want to take any risk. After all, incarcerating Peter did not always work well (Acts 5:19).
• Second, the church prayed. Here was the human dilemma—So Peter was kept in prison. Here was the divine alternative—but the church was earnestly praying to God for him. God could have rescued Peter without the church’s prayers. But when Heaven and earth collide, the result is miracle. Some have suggested that the church did not really believe in their prayer in light of their surprise when Peter was released (Acts 12:12-17). But the text did not say that they prayed for his release. Peter had caved in previously (Mark 14:66-72). Perhaps the church prayed for him to stand strong in the prospect of his upcoming death. Nonetheless, prayer made a difference.
Peter’s Release—Provided by Angels
Angels are God’s messengers assigned to glorify him (Revelation 5:11, 12) and serve as ministering spirits (Hebrews 1:14). The Passover was over and Herod planned to bring him to trial the next day. God is rarely early but never late.
The account is miraculous and humorous. Peter was guarded carefully (with guards chained to him and guards at the door) while sleeping soundly. After all, you don’t want to go to your trial and execution being exhausted. Peter’s ability to sleep says something about his faith (Psalm 121:3, 4; see also Mark 4:35-41 for how Jesus slept through a storm). Peter was sleeping so soundly that the angel had to slap him awake.
Peter remained almost subconscious as the angel rescued him from prison. In fact, Peter thought he was seeing a vision. He had good reason to think this (Acts 10:9-16). Peter and the angel made their exit like ninjas. The guards were clueless and the iron gate . . . opened for them by itself. When Peter was safe, the angel left.
Peter’s Release—Acknowledged by Peter
Peter came to himself. A very similar Greek phrase occurs in Luke 15:17 about the prodigal son. Some refer to it as an “Aha” moment. Peter had several of these in Acts (10:28, 34; 15:7-11). God rescued Peter. The word means “to take out.” God took Peter out of prison so that his ministry could be preserved for another 20 years.
What irony. The one to be tried was miraculously delivered from jail. The one in power was overthrown and eaten by worms (Acts 12:19b-23). The church that prayed was overjoyed (vv. 12-17) and continued to increase and grow (v. 24).
Dr. Mark Scott teaches Preaching and New Testament at Ozark Christian College and has held preaching ministries in Missouri, Illinois, and Colorado.
Based on International Sunday School Lesson, © 2012, by the Lesson Committee. Scripture quotations are from the New International Version ©2011, unless otherwise indicated.