Today’s reading: Acts 12
The chapter opens with martyrdom of James at the hands of king Herod. Based on the information in Acts it appears that James was the second person (and the first Apostle) to be martyred. A little historical reminder here is helpful. Herod is the king of the Jewish people. Although he is little more than a figurehead for the true power resides in Rome, he does have some power and influence. However, that power is tied to his authority over the Jewish people, particularly those living in and around Jerusalem. Up until now we have been reading about the growth of the early Church. However, our modern ears are used to hearing facts and figures, which for the most part are absent from the text. As a result I think that we tend to under estimate how many and how fast people were converting.
We are told that on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached for the first time that 3,000 people were converted. We know that Peter was working miracles and continued preaching. We can assume that he was continuing to have success. We know that the Church was growing fast enough that deacons were appointed. Notice that they did not just need one or two, but seven deacons (Acts 6). We are told that in Antioch a “great number” turned to the Lord. Thus, it seems likely that Herod’s authority was being severely undermined by mass conversions to Christianity.
So, like many rulers of his time, Herod seeks to solve the problem with violence. He arrests and kills James. This “pleased” his Jewish subjects and therefore proceeded to arrest Peter. It is clear what Peter’s fate would have been. Peter clearly would have been killed by Herod, hoping to make himself look strong and hoping to frighten potential new converts and getting previous ones to return.
God however, has other plans. God frees Peter from captivity. Peter’s escape has similarities to the Jewish exodus. This happens at the time of Passover. Peter is bound in chains representing the bondage of slavery (in Egypt and to sin). It is an Angel of the Lord that appears. It is at night, the same time when the Angel of Death brought the tenth plague, the guards meet their demise after the angel passes.
Ultimately, Peter’s escape from captivity shows us how much we must trust the Lord. Facing certain death and armed only with prayer Peter is assisted making a miraculous escape. Note, that the text says that “earnest prayer” was made for Peter by the whole Church. Thus, we see that prayer for others is effectual.