Meditations on Acts 12

Acts 12  •  7 min. read  •  grade level: 7
Acts 12.
The Spirit now takes us back to Jerusalem. He was willing to forget neither it nor the testimony of God found there. The Spirit here records an event which sets forth the care that God, in His providence, had of His own (and especially, by means of the angels, for Peter), working in them by His Spirit. He permits that James, the brother of John, should succumb to the malice of Herod, the enemy of the gospel. That this was pleasing to the Jews gave the king a further pretext for continuing in the path of his opposition. Little mattered the death of a few Christians, if their death gave him popularity with the Jews. He therefore seized Peter and put him in prison, purposing after the feast of the passover to give him up to the people.
But the thoughts of God were otherwise. The night before he was to be led out to the people, Peter slept in perfect peace under the protection of God, although, so that the hand of God might be shown in his liberation, he was strongly guarded by men. He slept between two soldiers, bound with two chains. Sentinels before the door guarded the prison likewise. But we are more secure in the hands of God than when exposed to the violence of men, even though they may seem to have us firmly enough in their grasp.
The angel awakens Peter, and at the sound of his voice the chains fall from his hands. Every detail is minutely recorded. At the word of the angel Peter binds on his sandals and girds himself. The care of the angel is most minute. And when, after having passed the two guards, they reached the outer gate, it opens to them of itself. The angel accompanies Peter through one street, and then disappears. Peter, who till this moment imagined he saw a vision, now becomes conscious that God has delivered him from the hands of Herod and from the expectation of the Jews. Observe here how visions resembled the reality, since Peter believed the reality to be a vision. Thus, considering the things, he comes to the house of Mary, the mother of Mark, a place probably often the scene of the meetings of the Christians. It was the home of the sister of Barnabas. Mark had gone with Barnabas on his separation from Paul, but Mark is again found in Colossians, and in 2 Timothy 4:1111Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry. (2 Timothy 4:11) his service is recognized as profitable for the ministry. Sweet it is to see how grace, shut out for a while by failure, hastens to recognize the brother brought back to the path of devotedness, and to renewed usefulness in the work of the Lord.
Peter does not remain there, but, telling them to make known to James what has occurred, departs and goes to another place. But here we shall do well to remark a few particulars. The refuge of the faithful is in prayer. They had come together to ask God for the preservation of Peter, and God had heard their prayer. They did not know how, but they had put trust in God. It seemed to be the natural resource of the hearts of these believers; and the feeling was a common one. In the difficulty which had occurred, the danger of the beloved apostle, they meet together to look to God. Prayer Was given to their hearts by the Holy Spirit as a refuge in adversity; and though they might not know how God would respond, yet they were always answered according to His own counsels. Peter is set free according to their desire; but we see how little the heart, though by grace it may have confidence in God and turns to Him in its need, believes that its supplications will be granted. Here their need had been expressed to God, but when the answer came, they could not believe it was possible.
Peter is set free by the intervention of the angel, and Herod is struck by the judgment of God when he sets himself up against Him. Can we expect similar intervention now? I do not believe that miracles are performed today; angels no longer appear; it was not a gift that could continue. In Ephesians 4 no miraculous gifts are to be found. But I fully believe, according to the Lord’s promise, that prayer is heard, and that the angels work in favor of the children of God as much now as in those early times. As to prayer, the word of God is clear. The condition is made, however, that what we ask be according to the will of God, and that prayer be made in faith; and we are told that, if the words of Christ abide in us, we shall ask what we will.
The Lord and the apostles exhort us to prayer without ceasing, in confidence, never letting our faith fail. We do well if we make known our requests to God in every case; but it does not follow that we shall always receive what we ask—as, for example, it happened to Paul with regard to the thorn in his flesh. For him it would not have been good for God to have answered him. But the result of our prayers is that the peace of God which passes knowledge shall keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus (Phil. 4). His throne is not disturbed, neither is His heart burdened by our solicitations; and the peace in which He dwells continually shall, when we have placed these requests on His throne, work effectually in our hearts. The outward manifestation of the power of God, the testimony rendered at the beginning to the word of God, does not repeat itself; but God’s care, His answers to prayer, and the blessed service of angels, still remain to the children of God. (For the angels, see Heb. 1:1414Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? (Hebrews 1:14).)
Here we find then God’s care for the assembly at Jerusalem; but we shall not again see any activity on the part of Peter. That such was to be the case is demonstrated by the fact of this intervention. We know that he went to Antioch, probably for the work of the Lord, but this is not stated. There he was unfaithful to the Lord, and is reproved by Paul. He wrote to the Jews in the provinces of Asia Minor, but it is not known whether he went there. It is possible that he lived in Babylon, but it is uncertain; many Jews lived there. In his epistle he salutes on the part of the saints there; but we possess no account of any of his doings. He was the first to introduce the Gentiles to the public Christian assembly, in order to preserve unity.
At this period ordinary Christians, in their dispersion, disseminated the truth among the Gentiles. Unity was still preserved; and the wisdom of God declared, by means of the assembly at Jerusalem, that the Gentiles were not under the subjection of the law. But as for Peter no more is heard regarding his activity; for the divine work was now to leave Jerusalem. He is fully recognized here by the care of the angels, but the power of the Holy Spirit is only found in Paul and in his companions. Antioch is the starting-point, and not Jerusalem; as for Rome, it is the last place where the church is established, and it was not founded there by the apostles. Before the arrival of Paul Christians, who, like many others, had gone to the capital of the world, met together there; and Paul wrote to them before going. What became of Peter is not recorded, and, save in Acts 15, where what he had previously done is mentioned, he now entirely disappears from the narrative. Paul, sent from Antioch by the Holy Spirit, is the instrument of God for the preaching of the gospel among the Gentiles, and to teach what the church was, the mystery which had been hid from ages and generations. See Colossians 1:23-2723If ye continue in the faith grounded and settled, and be not moved away from the hope of the gospel, which ye have heard, and which was preached to every creature which is under heaven; whereof I Paul am made a minister; 24Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church: 25Whereof I am made a minister, according to the dispensation of God which is given to me for you, to fulfil the word of God; 26Even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to his saints: 27To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: (Colossians 1:23‑27). It is his history which follows in Acts 13.