Peter Delivered from Prison
HEROD was professedly a proselyte to the
Jewish faith, and apparently very zealous in perpetuating the ceremonies of the law. The
government of Judea was in his hands, subject to Claudius, the Roman emperor; he also held
the position of tetrarch of Galilee. Herod was anxious to obtain the favor of the Jews,
hoping thus to make secure his offices and honors. He therefore proceeded to carry out the
desires of the Jews in persecuting the church of Christ. He began his work by spoiling the
houses and goods of the believers; he then began to imprison the leading ones. He seized
upon James and cast him into prison, and there sent an executioner to kill him with a
sword, as another Herod had caused the prophet John to be beheaded. He then became bolder,
seeing that the Jews were well pleased with his acts, and imprisoned Peter. These
cruelties were performed during the sacred occasion of the Passover.
The people applauded the act
of Herod in causing the death of James, though some of them complained of the private
manner in which it was accomplished, maintaining that a public execution would have had
the effect to more thoroughly intimidate all believers and sympathizers. Herod therefore
held Peter in custody for the purpose of gratifying the Jews by the
public spectacle of
his death. But it was suggested to the ruler that it would not be safe to bring the
veteran apostle out for execution before all the people who were assembled in Jerusalem
for the Passover. It was feared that his venerable appearance might excite their pity and
respect; they also dreaded lest he should make one of those powerful appeals which had
frequently roused the people to investigate the life and character of Jesus Christ, and
which they, with all their artifice, were totally unable to controvert. In such case, the
Jews apprehended that his release would be demanded at the hands of the king.
While the execution of Peter
was being delayed, upon various pretexts, until after the Passover, the church of Christ
had time for deep searching of heart and earnest prayer. Strong petitions, tears, and
fasting were mingled together. They prayed without ceasing for Peter; they felt that he
could not be spared from the Christian work; and they felt that they had arrived at a
point where, without the special help of God, the church of Christ would become extinct.
The day of Peter's execution
was at last appointed; but still the prayers of the believers ascended to Heaven. And
while all their energies and sympathies were called out in fervent appeals, angels of God
were guarding the imprisoned apostle. Man's extremity is God's opportunity. Peter was
placed between two soldiers, and was bound by two chains, each chain being fastened to the
wrist of one of his guards. He was therefore unable to move without their knowledge. The
prison doors were securely fastened, and a strong guard was placed before them. All chance
of rescue or escape, by human means, was thus cut off.
The apostle was not
intimidated by his situation. Since his reinstatement after his denial of Christ, he
unflinchingly braved danger and manifested a noble courage and boldness in preaching a
crucified, risen, and ascended Saviour. He believed the time had now come when he was to
yield up his life for Christ's sake.
The night before his
appointed execution, Peter, bound with chains, slept between the two soldiers, as usual.
Herod, remembering the escape of Peter and John from prison, where they had been confined
because of their faith, took double precautions on this occasion. The soldiers on guard,
in order to secure their extra vigilance, were made answerable for the safekeeping of the
prisoner. He was bound, as has been described, in a cell of massive rock, the doors of
which were bolted and barred. Sixteen men were detailed to guard this cell, relieving each
other at regular intervals. Four comprised the watch at one time. But the bolts and bars
and Roman guard, which effectually cut off from the prisoner a possibility of human aid,
were only to result in making the triumph of God more complete in Peter's deliverance from
prison. Herod was lifting his hand against Omnipotence, and he was to be utterly
humiliated and defeated in his attempt upon the life of the servant of God.
by an Angel
On this last night before the
execution a mighty angel, commissioned from heaven, descended to rescue him. The strong
gates which shut in the saint of God open without the aid of human hands; the angel of the
Most High enters, and they close again noiselessly behind him. He enters the cell, hewn
from the solid rock, and there lies Peter, sleeping the blessed, peaceful sleep of
innocence and perfect trust in God, while chained to a powerful guard on either side of
light which envelopes the angel illuminates the prison, but does not waken the
sleeping apostle. His is the sound repose that invigorates and renews and that comes of a
Peter is not awakened until
he feels the stroke of the angel's hand and hears his voice saying, "Arise up
quickly." He sees his cell, which had never been blessed by a ray of sunshine,
illuminated by the light of heaven, and an angel of great glory standing before him. He
mechanically obeys the voice of the angel; and in rising lifts his hands, and finds that
the chains have been broken from his wrists. Again the voice of the angel is heard:
"Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals."
Again Peter mechanically
obeys, keeping his wondering gaze riveted upon his heavenly visitant, and believing
himself to be dreaming, or in a vision. The armed soldiers are passive as if chiseled from
marble, as the angel again commands, "Cast thy garment about thee, and follow
me." Thereupon the heavenly being moves toward the door, and the usually talkative
Peter follows, dumb from amazement. They step over the motionless guard and reach the
heavily bolted and barred door, which swings open of its own accord and closes again
immediately; while the guard within and outside the door are motionless at their posts.
The second gate, which is
also guarded within and without, is reached; it opens as did the first, with no creaking
of hinges or rattling of iron bolts; they pass without, and it closes again as
noiselessly. They pass through the third gateway in the same manner, and at last find
themselves in the open street. No word is spoken; there is no sound of footstep; the angel
glides on before, encircled by a light of dazzling brightness, and Peter follows his
deliverer, bewildered, and believing himself to be in a dream. Street after street is
threaded thus, and then, the mission of the angel being completed, he suddenly disappears.
As the heavenly light faded
away, Peter felt himself to be in profound darkness; but gradually the darkness seemed to
decrease, as he became accustomed to it, and he found himself alone in the silent street,
with the cool night air upon his brow. He now realized that it was no dream or vision that
had visited him. He was free, in a familiar part of the city; he recognized the place as
one which he had often frequented, and had expected to pass for the last time on the
morrow, when on the way to the scene of his prospective death. He tried to recall the
events of the last few moments. He remembered falling asleep, bound between the two
soldiers, with his sandals and outer garment removed. He examined his person and found
himself fully dressed, and girded.
His wrists, swollen from
wearing the cruel irons, were now free from the manacles, and he realized that his freedom
was no delusion, but a blessed reality. On the morrow he was to have been led forth to
die; but lo, an angel had delivered him from prison and from death. "And when Peter
was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent His angel,
and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the people
of the Jews."
Answer to Prayer
The apostle made his way
direct to the house where his brethren were assembled together for prayer; he found them
engaged in earnest prayer for him at that moment. "And as Peter knocked at the door
of the gate, a damsel came to hearken, named Rhoda. And when she knew Peter's voice, she
opened not the gate
for gladness, but ran in, and told how Peter stood before the gate.
And they said unto her, Thou art mad. But she constantly affirmed that it was even so.
Then said they, It is his angel. But Peter continued knocking: and when they had opened
the door, and saw him, they were astonished. But he, beckoning unto them with the hand to
hold their peace, declared unto them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And
he said, Go shew these things unto James, and to the brethren. And he departed, and went
into another place."
Joy and praise filled the
hearts of the fasting, praying believers, that God had heard and answered their prayers,
and delivered Peter from the hand of Herod. In the morning the people gathered together to
witness the execution of the apostle. Herod sent officers to bring Peter from prison with
great display of arms and guard, in order to ensure against his escape, to intimidate all
sympathizers, and to exhibit his own power. There was the guard at the door of the prison,
the bolts and bars of the door still fast and strong, the guard inside, the chains
attached to the wrists of the two soldiers; but the prisoner was gone.
When the report of these
things was brought to Herod, he was exasperated, and charged the keepers of the prison
with unfaithfulness. They were accordingly put to death for the alleged crime of sleeping
at their post. At the same time Herod knew that no human power had rescued Peter. But he
was determined not to acknowledge that a divine power had been at work to thwart his base
designs. He would not humiliate himself thus, but set himself boldly in defiance of God.
Herod, not long after Peter's
deliverance from prison, went down from Judea to Caesarea and there abode. He there made a
grand festival, designed to excite the admiration and applause of the people. Pleasure
lovers from all quarters were assembled together, and there was much feasting and wine
drinking. Herod made a most gorgeous appearance before the people. He was clad in a robe,
sparkling with silver and gold, that caught the rays of the sun in its glittering folds,
and dazzled the eyes of the beholders. With great pomp and ceremony he stood before the
multitude, and addressed them in an eloquent oration.
The majesty of his appearance
and the power of his well-chosen language swayed the assembly with a mighty influence.
Their senses were already perverted by feasting and wine; they were dazzled by his
glittering decorations and charmed by his grand deportment and eloquent words; and, wild
with enthusiasm, they showered upon him adulation, and proclaimed him a god, declaring
that mortal man could not present such an appearance or command such startling eloquence
of language. They further declared that they had ever respected him as a ruler, but from
henceforth they should worship him as a god.
Herod knew that he deserved
none of this praise and homage; yet he did not rebuke the idolatry of the people, but
accepted it as his due. The glow of gratified pride was on his countenance as he heard the
shout ascend: "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man." The same voices
which now glorified a vile sinner had, but a few years before, raised the frenzied cry of,
Away with Jesus! Crucify Him! crucify Him! Herod received this flattery and homage with
great pleasure, and his heart bounded with triumph; but suddenly a swift and terrible
change came over him. His countenance
became pallid as death and distorted with agony;
great drops of sweat started from his pores. He stood a moment as if transfixed with pain
and terror; then, turning his blanched and livid face to his horror-stricken friends, he
cried in hollow, despairing tones, He whom you have exalted as a god is struck with death!
He was borne in a state of
the most excruciating anguish from the scene of wicked revelry, the mirth, and pomp, and
display of which he now loathed in his soul. A moment before, he had been the proud
recipient of the praise and worship of that vast throng--now he felt himself in the hands
of a Ruler mightier than himself. Remorse seized him; he remembered his cruel command to
slay the innocent James; he remembered his relentless persecution of the followers of
Christ, and his design to put to death the apostle Peter, whom God had delivered out of
his hand; he remembered how, in his mortification and disappointed rage, he had wreaked
his unreasoning revenge upon the keepers of the prisoner and executed them without mercy.
He felt that God, who had rescued the apostle from death, was now dealing with him, the
relentless persecutor. He found no relief from pain of body or anguish of mind, and he
expected none. Herod was acquainted with the law of God, which says, "Thou shalt have
no other gods before Me," and he knew that in accepting the worship of the people he
had filled up the measure of his iniquity and had brought upon himself the just wrath of
The same angel who had left
the royal courts of heaven to rescue Peter from the power of his persecutor, had been the
messenger of wrath and judgment to Herod. The angel smote Peter to arouse him from
slumber; but it was with a different stroke that he
smote the wicked king, bringing mortal
disease upon him. God poured contempt upon Herod's pride, and his person, which he had
exhibited decked in shining apparel before the admiring gaze of the people, was eaten by
worms, and putrefied while yet alive. Herod died in great agony of mind and body, under
the retributive justice of God.
This demonstration of divine
judgment had a mighty influence upon the people. While the apostle of Christ had been
miraculously delivered from prison and death, his persecutor had been stricken down by the
curse of God. The news was borne to all lands, and was the means of bringing many to
believe on Christ.
Copyright © 1974
The Ellen G. White Estate, Inc.
All Rights Reserved