Acts 12:1-11 New King James Version (NKJV)
1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. 2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. 4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.
5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. 6 And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. 7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” 9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.
11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”
About 5 years previous1 Peter had his famous vision from the LORD about all things being clean now, ( Acts 11 ) and his first preaching to the gentiles. The Gospel had started to spread like a wildfire now, Saul was now Paul, ( Acts 9) and spent a year at Antioch with Barnabas ( Acts 11:22 ) where the disciples were first called Christians. ( Acts 11:26) That is where we got our name.
The first thing we see is something of sadness, James the brother of John is killed by Herod Antipas. The same Herod who sent Jesus back to Pilate because he didn’t have the power of capital punishment. About 10 years previous, Herod had angered the territories of Perea and Nabatea by divorcing his first wife, who was the daughter of King Aretas IV of Nabatea, causing a border war he had to deal with. John the Baptist was killed because he condemned this divorce. ( Matthew 14 ) In 36 AD, Herod lost this war.
You can see his frustration, stuck in Judea, a province the Romans called the “Royal Armpit of the Empire” declared the King of Judea, but having to pay tribute to Roman governors who were usually sent there as a punishment. The area was a hotbed of insurrection and strife. He was constantly trying to appease both the Romans and the Jews. The Jews hated the Romans for ruling them, because they were the Chosen People of God, and shouldn’t be ruled, and were often mad at Herod for bowing to Roman rule. The Romans just cared about taxes and the laws of Caesar.
So we come to about 42 AD, where Herod is still ruling, and is uncontested, but he is still dealing with the aftermath of all these things. The Christians are growing, and he is still angry.
One Killed, One Saved
The scripture is very succinct about how Herod kills James the brother of John, “with the sword.” There isn’t much to go on with this, which means it was probably very quick. He is traditionally considered the first of the Apostles to be martyred. This doesn’t mean he was the first Christian to be martyred, but the first of the Apostles.
So, when Herod sees that it pleased the Jews, he has Peter arrested. Now, he knows that during the Passover, one criminal is set free by the Romans, so he plans on offering Peter to the Jews only after the Passover feast. So, it’s during this time that Peter is in jail, waiting to be executed, that he is saved by an angel of the LORD.
It’s interesting that Peter thought it was a vision. He had learned to trust these visions from the LORD. He didn’t think he was being saved just yet, but trusted anyway. He trusted in the angel, and went with it. This Faith was his deliverance.
The Church Prayed
Now, as Peter was in prison, it says prayers were constantly offered by the Church. This is the main point today. The power of prayer. This prayer was offered up to God and God heard it. He saved Peter. Would God have saved Peter if they didn’t pray? Probably, it was part of His plan. But that they did pray is a mark to them, of their faith in Him.
The Bible tells us to “pray without ceasing”. ( 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 ) That is what the Church did. The prayers were constantly offered. We should strive for that state of prayer. This doesn’t mean we should literally be praying with our eyes closed and heads bowed and hands folded, obviously. But to be constantly focused on the One Who Provides. This focus is what draws us to Him and His will. The Holy Spirit leads us and convicts us. It is through prayer that we speak to Him, and we can hear Him through Jesus, who is The Word.
Take time for Prayer. Ask God to set your mind and heart on Him, so you may pray without ceasing. In all things you do today, do it as if for the LORD, and keep in communication with Him. The Church is the Bride of Christ, well the best thing for a marriage is communication. That’s why we are supposed to never stop praying, never stop talking to God.