12 Back in Jerusalem, hard times came to the disciples. King Herod violently seized some who belonged to the church with the intention of mistreating them. 2 He ordered James (brother of John) to be executed by the sword, the first of those appointed as emissaries to be martyred. 3 This move pleased Jewish public opinion, so he decided to arrest Peter also. During the holy festival of Unleavened Bread, 4 he caught Peter and imprisoned him, assigning four squads of soldiers to guard him. He planned to bring him to trial publicly after the Passover holiday.
5 During Peter’s imprisonment, the church prayed constantly and intensely to God for his safety. 6 Their prayers were not answered, until the night before Peter’s execution.
Picture this event: Peter is sound asleep between two soldiers, double-chained, with still more guards outside the prison door watching for external intruders. 7 Suddenly the cell fills with light: it is a messenger of the Lord manifesting himself. He taps Peter on the side, awakening him.
Messenger of the Lord: Get up, quickly.
The chains fall off Peter’s wrists.
Messenger of the Lord: 8 Come on! Put on your belt. Put on your sandals.
Peter puts them on and just stands there.
Messenger of the Lord: Pull your cloak over your shoulders. Come on! Follow me!
9 Peter does so, but he is completely dazed. He doesn’t think this is really happening—he assumes he is dreaming or having a vision. 10 They pass the first guard. They pass the second guard. They come to the iron gate that opens to the city. The gate swings open for them on its own, and they walk into a lane. Suddenly the messenger disappears.
11 Peter finally realized all that had really happened.
Peter: Amazing! The Lord has sent His messenger to rescue me from Herod and the public spectacle of my execution which the Jews fully expected.
12 Peter immediately rushed over to the home of a woman named Mary. (Mary’s son, John Mark, would eventually become an important associate of the apostles.) A large group had gathered there to pray for Peter and his safety. 13 He knocked at the outer gate; and a maid, Rhoda, answered. 14 She recognized Peter’s voice, but she was so overcome with excitement that she left him standing on the street and ran inside to tell everyone.
Rhoda: Our prayers were answered! Peter is at the front gate!
Praying Believers: 15 Rhoda, you’re crazy!
Rhoda: No! Peter’s out there! I’m sure of it!
Praying Believers: Well, maybe it’s his guardian angel or something.
16 All this time, Peter was still out in the street, knocking on the gate. Finally they came and let him in. Of course, the disciples were stunned, and everyone was talking at once. 17 Peter motioned for them to quiet down and then told them the amazing story of how the Lord engineered his escape.
On the night before his execution, Peter sleeps like a baby. Here he is, chained in a room full of soldiers while James’s blood is still moist on the ground. Although he can only assume this is his one last night before his own torturous death, he is not afraid. So peacefully does he rest, in fact, that the heavenly messenger has to prod him to wake up; and while he is walking, he questions if he is dreaming. Does the thought that believers are on their knees all day appealing to God for him give him peace? Maybe. But certainly Peter trusts that God is in control. A church that started with a few people is now over 8,000, and God is redeeming the rest of the world through these people.
Peter: Could you please get word to James, our Lord’s brother, and the other believers that I’m all right?
Then he left to find a safer place to stay.
18 But when morning came and Peter was gone, there was a huge uproar among the soldiers. 19 Herod sent troops to find Peter, but he was missing. Herod interrogated the guards and ordered their executions. Peter headed down toward the coast to Caesarea, and he remained there.
20 At this time there was major political upheaval. Herod was at odds with the populace of neighboring Tyre and Sidon, so the two cities sent a large group of representatives to meet with him. They won over one of Herod’s closest associates, Blastus, the director of the treasury; then they pressured Herod to drop his grudge. Cooperation was important to the two cities because they were all major trading partners and depended on Herod’s territory for food. 21 They struck a deal, and Herod came over to ratify it. Dressed in all his royal finery and seated high above them on a platform, he made a speech; 22 and the people of Tyre and Sidon interrupted with cheers to flatter him.
The People: This is the voice of a god! This is no mere mortal!
23 Herod should have given glory to the true God; but since he vainly accepted their flattery, that very day a messenger of the Lord struck him with an illness. It was an ugly disease, involving putrefaction and worms eating his flesh. Eventually he died.
24 Through all this upheaval, God’s message spread to new frontiers and attracted more and more people. 25 Meanwhile, the time Barnabas and Saul spent in Jerusalem came to an end, and they reported back to Antioch, bringing along John, who was also called Mark.