This passage depicts two different powers at work. In chapter 11, when Christians at Antioch preached Christ to Greeks, the “hand” of the Lord was with them and a great number believed and turned to the Lord. The “hand” of the Lord refers to his power.

In Acts 12:1, we see that Herod laid violent “hands” on Christians, including the apostle James, using his power to put them to death. Peter was subsequently arrested, put under maximum security, and slated to be executed after the Passover. But the Lord sent an angel to rescue Peter.

Thus the Lord shows the ultimate futility of man’s power against his sovereignty. He will build his church and ultimately destroy all his and the church’s enemies. His people can have peace even under oppression knowing this.  Peter is chained between two soldiers when the angel came into his cell and yet, amazingly, he is sound asleep. The angel had to poke him in the side to wake him.

Peter had been arrested and put in prison before. He had been rescued by an angel before. He had been threatened and beaten for preaching Christ before. Peter was able to sleep the night before his execution because he was confident the Lord Jesus was sovereign over the situation. 

After Peter escaped, he made his way to a house where fellow Christians were praying for him. He knocked on the gate and the servant girl Rhoda goes back to report it, but the people praying for Peter think she has lost her mind. They were so distraught they didn’t believe it.

When they finally see Peter, he motions them to be quiet and then gives them the details of his escape. And the Scripture gives us details of it for a reason. The church at this time was beset with trouble. They were shaken by Herod’s power and the death of Christians, including James the apostle. And now Peter, the lead apostle, was facing execution.

Peter would have told them that he did nothing to contribute to his escape. It was not contested. The angel simply lit up the room, the chains fell off, he got dressed, he was led out past the sentinels, the huge city gate opened on its own, he walked out, the angel left, and he made his way to the house. In other words, it was very easy. 

Peter said, “Tell these things to James and the brothers.” James was the half-brother of the Lord Jesus and a leader of the Jerusalem church. The Christians there needed encouragement. These were very troubling circumstances. The report would bring to mind the Lord’s sovereign will and power.

In any circumstance, a Christian can say, “My Lord is sovereign over it. I am in his hands.” He knows what he is doing and loves his people. His purpose for James the apostle was good. James served Christ for a time, and when he was killed he went immediately into the presence of the Lord. 

The Lord is sovereign over the lives of his people. He conquered death. He holds the keys of death and hades; they are forever in his hands. When our situation suddenly turns to tribulation and tragedy, we remember we have peace with God through Christ and we will forever be with the Lord.

We are also told what happens to the enemies of Christ’s people. After Peter escaped and ruined his plan to receive accolades from the Jews in Jerusalem, Herod left for Caesarea and his wrath was directed toward the cities of Tyre and Sidon. He made them grovel since they depended on his country for food. He accepted worship from them, and in doing so provoked the anger of the Lord. An angel is dispatched from the Lord for Herod (verse 23). But in his case it is an avenging angel to strike him down. Herod dies a gruesome death because “he did not give God the glory.”

Herod was full of vanity and that is the root of all sin. It blinds the mind, puts reason and judgment to sleep. It is a touchy sin; it can’t stand reproof. It proceeds from self-conceit and/or ambition. We see it magnified in Herod. Proverbs 16:5 says, “The Lord detests the proud in heart. Be sure of this, they will not go unpunished.”

The Lord rescued Peter: the Lord struck down Herod. Blessed be the name of the Lord. And then we read “the word of God increased and multiplied” (verse 24). Men may rage, they may mock for a time, but they are like the grass of the field soon to fade away. Christ’s flock will endure forever.

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