The church first experienced persecution from the Jewish religious establishment, and then it was persecuted by the government. Herod governed by maintaining peace with the majority (v. 3) rather than governing by truth and righteousness (Rom 13:4). The four squads of soldiers guarding Peter (16 in total, v. 4) served in shifts of four, not all at once. Two were chained to Peter and two stood by on guard.
The church responded by praying (v. 5), God miraculously delivered Peter from prison (vv. 6-11), and he then went to the church while they prayed (vv. 12-17). Their expression of amazement (“it is his angel!” v. 15) reflected traditional Jewish belief about guardian angels that is not taught in Scripture.
Herod responded by executing the guards (vv. 18-19). Escaped prisoners would be executed; Herod concluded that Peter escape by an inside job.
This chapter closes by contrasting Herod’s pride and demise (vv. 20-23) with the gospel’s power and progress (v. 24). Citizens of Tyre and Sidon offended Herod and gave false praise to regain favor (vv. 20-22). The Lord immediately judged Herod by inflicting him with intestinal roundworms that caused great pain and death (v. 23). In contrast to Herod’s limited power, “the word of God grew and multiplied,” (v. 24).
Truths to Nail Down and Meditate On
- Government that encourages and promotes evil while persecuting righteousness can seem to be successful while churches and the gospel are not. This views and assesses things only from an external standpoint, and that is always wrong to do!
- The righteous will be persecuted. Christians live in a godless world under Satan’s rule: it hates Christ. They rejected Christ, they will reject you (John 15:18, 20)! Sometimes God delivers from persecution (Peter); other times he delivers them to persecution (James). Be faithful now and until death!
- The prayers of the gathered church are powerful and effective because of Who is prayed to and what is prayed for. Despite bloodthirsty hatred the church kept gathering and prayed all the more. How would you respond in such times? Would you scatter, or pray?
- Herod lived for the world and died and is now in hell. Sin, sensuality, greed, and striving after worldly glory never bring lasting satisfaction but always eternal damnation. James and Peter lived for Christ and died, but now are in heaven. What are you living for?