The Book of Acts (Chapter 12:1-24) (Part 22)
At one time during his ministry the Apostle Paul wanted to make a return visit to the fellowship at Thessalonica which was suffering persecution but he was hindered by Satan. He wrote; “For we wanted to come to you–indeed I, Paul, tried again and again–but Satan obstructed (hindered) us” (1 Thessalonians 2:18). Whenever God is at work you will find Satan trying to obstruct and hinder what God is doing. Satan will always try to stop a good thing happening in the Kingdom of God.
Satan the Seducer
In the Bible when we see Satan depicted as the serpent we see Satan the spiritual seducer and when we see him depicted as the dragon we see Satan the persecutor. If he cannot succeed with spiritual seduction his only recourse is physical persecution. He had already persecuted the Body of Messiah and had succeeded in killing Stephen through Saul his protégé but now Saul had changed sides and had given his allegiance to the Lord Jesus and Satan undoubtedly was very angry. He had been outwitted again. He could not spiritually seduce the believers in Jerusalem, especially with the Apostles still around to counteract any false teaching, signs, miracles and wonders.
In the character of Antichrist
Satan had also tried his hand with Simon the magician and had been defeated as well. So this time he unleashed more persecution against the believers in Jerusalem. His hunting dog was King Herod. As we look at this aspect of King Herod’s activities we also see a future picture of the Antichrist of whom Herod is a type. What we see Herod doing is a pattern of what the Antichrist will do at the end of this age. Remember Acts is not only past history but future history.
(Vs.1-3) “Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them. And he had James the brother of John put to death with a sword. When he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. Now it was during the days of Unleavened Bread.”
One of the consistent things we see with the religious leaders at Jerusalem is the way they compromised and worked in league with the pagan secular government. We see this time and time again in the Old Testament but more so in the New Testament especially in the time of the Lord Jesus and the Apostles. In this case they were in league with Herod the “puppet king” of Rome. He was also an apostate Jew. He had put John the Baptist to death and under Satan’s power and influence had some of the believers in Jerusalem rounded up and had killed James the Apostle, the first among equals among the Apostles. James, and not Peter, was the first Bishop or overseer on Jerusalem. Of course this pleased the Jewish religious hierarchy and bolstered Herod’s image in their eyes.
If ever there was an apostate it was King Herod. He knew the truth and had previously been confronted by John the Baptist concerning the adulterous marriage with his brother’s wife. When he saw that killing James pleased the religious Jews he also had Peter arrested and there is no doubt he planned to murder Peter as well. During the Days of Unleavened Bread the crowds of Hellenistic and other Jews who were gathered to keep the feast at Jerusalem naturally made this a favourable opportunity for courting the favour of the people. A tradition recorded by St. Jerome states that St. James was beheaded on the 15th of Nisan, i.e., on the same day as that of the Crucifixion. Peter was arrested probably at the same time; but the trial and execution were deferred till the seven days of the feast were over.
In the time of Great Tribulation Antichrist will persecute faithful believers who live within the domain of his empire. We read about this in the prophet Daniel and in the book of Revelation (Daniel 7:21, 25) (Daniel 8:12, 24b) (Daniel 12:7) (Revelation 13:7). Already we see the Islamic Beast Empire of Antichrist slaughtering thousands upon thousands of Christians in the Middle East today. Satan knows that his time is short and had escalated his persecution against the Church. In the time of Great Tribulation Antichrist will go for the leaders first. In a time of war it is always the leaders that are targeted first. The Beast Empire of Antichrist for a time will work hand in hand with a corrupt religious system until it gets what it wants and then illuminate the whore. Ecumenism is the harbinger of this apostate Church.
Added to this will be the religious component of Islam. This religious system will work hand in hand with secular government to eradicate faithful Bible believing Christians. Many professing to be believers will betray the genuine ones to the secular authorities. In the time of the Maccabees this happened. Many infiltrated the ranks of the faithful believers and betrayed them to Antiochus Epiphanes’ henchmen (Daniel 11:33-35).
The Lord Jesus Himself said this kind of betrayal by supposed brethren would happen. It has happened in the past, it is happening now, and will intensify during the brief reign of Antichrist. Many leaders will be arrested and eliminated and many will just disappear never to be seen or heard from again. Already this is happening in countries like North Korea and Iran and in all Muslim countries where fundamentalist Islam with Sharia Law is perpetrated.
However, the blessed Holy Spirit will raise up leaders among faithful believers who will continue equipping the saints for the work of ministry. These leaders will be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers but will not be theological graduates or ordained ministers but ordinary believers from every walk of life gifted and empowered by the Holy Spirit. As for the ordained ministers and theologians most of them will be imprisoned or killed (probably most of them will have been beheaded). What Herod did to the faithful Bible believers, the Antichrist will do also. However, some will escape the sword as not all are destined to the sword.
As John the apostle writes; “If anyone is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if anyone is to be slain with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints” (Revelation 13:10). During this time the saints will need the endurance of faith and they will get it from the Lord Jesus directly (Luke 21:12-19) (1 Peter 4:12-14).
Some leaders will survive and even be supernaturally delivered from their prisons. This is what happened to Peter. It was not God’s time for him to be martyred. God still had a lot of work for him to do. Always keep in mind that for those who love the LORD and follow His word and obey his will nothing will happen to them until they have successfully completed God’s will for their lives on this earth. And so we read that Peter was also arrested.
(Vs.4-5) “When he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out before the people.” So Peter was kept in the prison, but prayer for him was being made fervently by the church to God.”
In his insecurity Herod had four squads of soldiers to guard Peter. Humanly speaking there was no way he could escape. Previously Herod had been reluctant to murder John the Baptist but had done it at the behest of saving face with his court officials. He had grown bolder in murdering James and this had pleased the religious hierarchy who not only had the ears of Herod but also the ears of Rome and Herod knew this. It looked like Peter was finished but the believers in Jerusalem prayed fervently and consistently to the LORD that He might somehow supernaturally deliver Peter. Their prayers were not answered straight away and he remained in prison during the Passover Feast but the Church kept on praying. They did not give up. They were all agreed on what they wanted God to do. They were one is mind and heart.
In fact the Lord Jesus had said; “Again, I tell you truly that if two of you on the earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. For where two or three gather together in My name, there am I with them” (Matthew 18:19-20). In the Greek text the word used for “agree” means “to harmonize” much like in an orchestra when all of the instruments are tuned to play in harmony. This kind of agreement in prayer will always bring results.
Remember the account the Lord Jesus gave of the widow who kept constantly coming back to the unjust judge to have him deal with her adversary and in her persistence she got what she asked for because she did not give up. The Lord Jesus went on to say “how much more will God avenge his elect who cry out to him day and night, He will avenge them speedily!”
The adversary of course applied to Satan who attacks believers and can only be driven off by persistent believing prayer. Of course when prayer is offered in line with God’s will it will always be answered. The Apostle John wrote; “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him” (1 John 5:14-15). Whenever we pray we must always leave room for God’s will. If what we are praying for is promised in God’s word then He will answer it in His way and in His time but He will answer!
(Vs.6) “On the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison.”
Peter was kept in prison right up to the last moment. It was night time and Herod was about to bring Peter out for sentencing the next morning. There was no way humanly possible that Peter could escape. However, God still had work for Peter to do. It looked like Peter was a dead man but God was about to snatch him away from the prison and out of Herod’s clutches. Herod was about to be robbed!
Also notice that Peter was asleep. Apparently he was not particularly perturbed at his situation but had trusted his soul to His faithful creator and accepted that this imprisonment was God’s will for him at this time. In the time of Great Tribulation the faithful Church will still be operating but not in the way it is now. It will be in a very real sense in a prisoner in the night of Great Tribulation and very hard to do the work.
The Lord Jesus spoke prophetically about this time that would descend upon His faithful Body the Church in the last Days when He said; “We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). “The night” in its prophetic context is speaking about the time of Great tribulation that will come at the end of the age. Peter went into the prison. He went into the darkness and was at a point where he could not deliver himself from the clutches of Herod. And so we read…
(Vs.7-10) “And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and woke him up, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” And he went out and continued to follow, and he did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.”
In both Testaments we see the activity of angels. We are told in the Bible “Are not the angels ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). It was an angel that got Peter out of there supernaturally. The first thing that happened was that Peter’s chains fell off supernaturally. He was no longer physically bound and incapacitated. Secondly, he was told to gird up himself with his garment and to put on his sandals and to wrap his cloak around himself and to follow the angel. Peter thought it was a vision but very soon realise that it was real.
In the Last Days just prior to the return of the Lord Jesus it will look like the faithful Church is finished. It will be imprisoned and persecuted and in dire straits however, at the last moment during the time of Great Tribulation when the spiritual darkness is at its peak, they will be suddenly snatched away to meet the Lord in the air at His Second Coming. Antichrist will be robbed of his victory! King Herod thought he had things under control just as the Antichrist will think but realise he has been robbed! Unexpectedly like a thief the Lord Jesus will have sent His angels to rescue His elect who have been crying out to Him day and night (Matthew 24:31).
When we see Peter girding up his garment, putting his sandals on and wrapping himself around with his cloak in figure we see the faithful bride of Jesus ready to meet him. The cloak speaks of the garments of salvation without which no one can be admitted to the wedding feast of the Lamb. As Isaiah the prophet wrote; “I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).
Unless we have the garments of salvation namely the robe of Jesus’ righteousness given to us through faith in Him we will never make it out of here. This is the righteousness of the Lord Jesus that comes from God and is received by faith in Him. As Paul writes; “But now, apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been revealed, as attested by the Law and the Prophets. And this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:21-22). In the Last Days this kind of supernatural deliverances will be common place but it will be at the time when the faithful Church is most persecuted.
(Vs.11-12) “When Peter came to himself, he said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” And when he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who was also called Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying.
As believers in the Lord Jesus one of the things we always need to remember is that when we are being persecuted the LORD says to Satan; “this far and no more!” He did this with Satan in the case of Job. Even though Job was sorely afflicted in every way Satan was not permitted to take his life. In this world we are told we will have much tribulation and that through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God. Today we have the faith prosperity money preachers denying this aspect of Christian living. This pernicious evil doctrine of covetousness is being used by Satan to weaken the power of Christians to resist his onslaught when it comes.
Many will fall away we are told. In Revelation we are told that the dragon (Satan) sweeps a third of the starts out of heaven and flings them to earth (Revelation 12:4a). Stars in the Bible are symbolic of believers in both Testaments (Genesis 26:4) (Philippians 2:15). Over the centuries we have seen apostasy and today we see the great apostasy looming on the horizon and soon to be upon us. So then when we see Peter supernaturally delivered from prison at night by the angel and being snatched away from Herod’s clutches, right under his nose as it were, we have a picture of the rapture and resurrection of the faithful Church from the clutches of Antichrist during the time of Great Tribulation. And so Peter was free and went to the house where his fellow believers were praying.
(Vs.13-14) “When he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate.”
Sometimes God answers prayer unexpectedly. The believers had been fervently praying to the LORD for Peter’s release but it would seem that some of the more seasoned ‘veterans’ did not really believe that God would free Peter. We cannot be sure but the text would lead us to believe that this was so. When Peter knocked at the door a simple servant girl, most probably a very young believer, answered the door and immediately recognized Peter’s voice. She was overjoyed at answered prayer and her faith was increased to the point where she leaped for joy. Such is the fervour of those who are newly saved and believe God can do anything!
Rhoda was one of those young believers and a servant. She was obviously no theologian and maybe did not know as much as the others gathered in the house but she had her first love and that is what counts! She was bubbling over with enthusiasm and joy because God had answered her prayers. Well what happened next?
(Vs.15-16) “They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she kept insisting that it was so. They kept saying, “It is his angel.” But Peter continued knocking; and when they had opened the door, they saw him and were amazed.”
Their first reaction was that Rhoda was “out to lunch!” How could this young girl have such confidence after all they were the prayer warriors were they not? They were the stalwarts of faith and the ones “storming the battlements of heaven!” Seasoned warriors one and all! They tried to shut Rhoda down, after all she was just a servant girl and what did she really know about faith? And they tried to talk her down but she persisted. Then they started to change their thinking and some ‘bright spark’ then suggested that it was Peter’s angel and they all concurred. However, Peter just kept knocking and eventually they opened the door and when they saw him standing there were amazed to say the least! All the spiritual big shots had egg on their face! Never the less they were all amazed at answered prayer. Had they expected God to answer?
One thing they had now learnt was not to give up praying even when it looked like nothing had changed in the natural. What could have happened if they gave up and sat around drinking coffee? Everyone was excited of course and God had rewarded their persistence despite their seeming unbelief. It is one thing to pray that God will change things and something different to believe that He can not only do it but He will do it! When prayer gets to that point, it is only a matter of time before the answer comes.
Did not the Lord Jesus say; “Have faith in God. Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him. Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you” (Mark 11:22-24).
(Vs.17) “But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had led him out of the prison. And he said, “Report these things to James and the brethren.” Then he left and went to another place.”
There is nothing like a personal testimony to the faithfulness of God to encourage other brothers and sisters in Jesus especially when the fellowship is facing very difficult circumstances. Peter’s presence greatly encouraged the brethren to continue to not only believe in God but to believe God. He also asked them to report to James (not the one martyred) and the brethren. After this we read he left and went to another place. This also teaches us another truth about the rapture and resurrection in that when the faithful Church is removed they go to another place where Satan can no longer touch them. They go to meet the Lord Jesus in the air. Satan gets robbed! Look what happened next…
(Vs.18-19) “Now when day came, there was no small disturbance among the soldiers as to what could have become of Peter. When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there.”
When the Lord Jesus removes the Church to meet Him in the air there will be shock waves around the world. In the twinkling of an eye millions will be suddenly gone. Cars will crash, trains will be derailed. Planes will fall from the sky because their drivers will have been snatched away. Prisons will be suddenly emptied. Empty chains will be lying on the floor, millions imprisoned will have vanished, and pandemonium will be occurring.
Like Herod Antichrist, indwelt by Satan, will not know what has happened. He will see very quickly that he has been robbed by the master thief the Lord Jesus Christ! Expectantly and without warning, the robbery occurred. As the Church goes up the wrath comes down. As Paul wrote; “For you are fully aware that the day of the LORD will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “Peace and security,” destruction will come upon them suddenly, like labour pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you, brothers, are not in the darkness so that this day should overtake you like a thief” (1 Thessalonians 5:2-4). Here the emphasis is not on a secret coming but on a surprise coming like a thief when he enters a house unexpectedly. The Lord Jesus will come back in an hour when He is least expected (Matthew 24:43-44).
Furthermore, the thief usually comes in the night. The Lord Jesus will come back at the end of the night of Great Tribulation also called The Time of Jacob’s Trouble. The kingdom of Antichrist will be suddenly plunged into its worst chaotic nightmare imaginable as the inhabitants of the earth experience the bowls of God’s wrath. Then they will see the sign of the Son of man in heaven and see the sky rolled back as a scroll revealing the coming of Jesus with great power and glory accompanied by the armies of heaven and the glorified saints. What a day that will be for His elect and for Israel!
(Vs.20-22) “Now he was very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and with one accord they came to him, and having won over Blastus the king’s chamberlain, they were asking for peace, because their country was fed by the king’s country. On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and began delivering an address to them. The people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!”
At the height of his power and fame King Herod was suddenly struck down. The people had been proclaiming him as a god. The Antichrist will do the same thing when, “the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction, who opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, displaying himself as being God” (2 Thessalonians 2:4). This was exactly what Herod was doing. The text says the people were crying out “The voice of a god and not of a man!”
(Vs.23-25) “And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died. “But the word of the Lord continued to grow and to be multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, taking along with them John, who was also called Mark.””
At the peak of his power and pride Herod was struck down by the hand of God. Likewise the Antichrist will be destroyed at the Second Coming of Jesus. Paul also wrote; “Then that lawless one will be revealed whom the Lord will slay with the breath of His mouth and bring to an end by the appearance of His coming; that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:8-10).
King Herod went to hell to join all of the other ungodly potentates down through history who had dared to defy the living God (Isaiah 14:4-23). In these days of spiritual deception by the evil one it is imperative that we receive the love of the truth. God’s word was not chained and can never be chained but continued to spread as God continued His work!