Acts 12 – Peter Goes to Jail III: Go to Jail with a Vengeance

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Today’s PassageActs 12

In today’s chapter, Peter lands himself in jail again. And while the first two times he was simply imprisoned, this time around it looks likelier than ever that he’ll end up executed.

When the Council at Jerusalem imprisoned him, at least they had Gamaliel to talk them out of slaying him. But now Peter is in the custody of one of the Herods, and when a Herod has a problem, that problem tends to die. When John the Baptist got on Herod Antipas’s case for marrying the former wife of his half-brother Philip, his wife conspired to have her husband kill John the Baptist. Later, Herod Antipas played a largely passive role in Jesus’ trial; Jesus was under his jurisdiction as a Galilean, and he could have exonerated him and set him free, but instead he passed the buck to Pilate (Luke 23:6-11), which indirectly resulted in Jesus’ crucifixion. And now this other Herod, Herod Agrippa I, has captured Peter and a pile of other Christians, and he’s executed John’s brother James (Acts 12:1). Can Peter be far behind?

Yep. Peter, it turns out, is quite far behind indeed; he won’t die for decades. That night, an angel shows up, frees Peter from his chains, opens his cell, walks him out of the prison without the guards stopping them or apparently even noticing, and makes the prison’s outer iron gate straight-up open on its own. It’s so unexpected that as he finds himself outside the prison in the middle of the night, he basically asks himself, Vision-of-Escaflowne-style, “Was it all just a dream? Or maybe a vision? No: it was real!” (9, 11, Contemporary Jackson Ferrell Anime Quotation Paraphrase Version). Peter evidently wasn’t expecting to get out of this one unscathed.

And he wasn’t the only one with low expectations. His brethren are staying up late praying for him, but they seem to be similarly pessimistic. The servant-girl who finds him at the gate is so surprised to find him there that she leaves him at the gate to tell everyone else he’s there (14). Those praying inside are similarly incredulous, telling the servant-girl, “You are out of your mind!” and “It is his angel” (15). They may mean it’s his guardian angel, which for various reasons might be expected to look or sound like Peter, or they might mean that it’s his spirit, as the dead “are like the angels” (Luke 20:36). In either case, though, their primary meaning is clear: it’s not Peter. It’s anything but Peter.

It’s ironic that when they get the very thing they’ve been praying for, they can’t believe their prayers have actually been answered. I’m reminded of the words that James–the surviving James, the brother of Jesus, not the James that Herod killed–would later pen: “For [whoever prays without faith] ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:7-8). If that’s so, then the only reason the dubious yet fervently-praying brethren get their man Peter back is out of God’s goodness. Which is, of course, the only reason any of us get anything we pray for, but doubly so when we pray while doubting. Sometimes what God wants to give us is so good that he’s not about to withhold it just because we seriously think he’s not going to give it to us.

Also ironic: the one who ends up dead after this scenario is not Herod’s captive, but Herod (10-23). If people start declaring you to be a god, it is wise to correct them promptly, lest you–by allowing them to persist in their delusion–incur God’s wrath and end up as worm food. Of course, disregard this advice if you are Jesus Christ, for in such a case you actually are God. But I expect that a very low percentage of those who read this post will be Jesus Christ.

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