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Persecutions in Judea
Summary —The First Apostolic Martyr. Peter Seized by Herod. The Prayers of the Church. Peter's Prison Opened by an Angel. His Appearance to the Praying Disciples. Herod Pronounced a God. His Pitiful Death.
1. About that time. While Saul and Barnabas were at Antioch. Herod the king. Herod Agrippa, the grandson of Herod the Great. See notes on Matt. 2:1. In the year 41, the Emperor Claudius had added Judea and Samaria to his former dominions, so that, at this time, Herod ruled over all Palestine. While voluptuous, and exhibiting in life none of the restraints of religion, he was a strict observer of the Jewish ceremonies, and hostile to Christianity, because it was subversive to Judaism. To vex certain of the church. Some of its leaders.
2. He killed James the brother of John. One of the three apostles most intimate with the Savior. The first apostle to suffer martyrdom. He is the only apostle whose death is recorded in the New Testament, save Judas the betrayer. With the sword. He beheaded James. This James, the apostle, is to be distinguished from James, the brother of the Lord (Gal. 1:19), whose name appears after this in Acts, and who wrote the Epistle of James. 467
3, 4. He saw it pleased the Jews. He would rather please men than God. Hence, he seized Peter. The days of unleavened bread. The Passover week. See Exod. 12:15, 16. Called Easter in verse 4. To four quaternions of soldiers. Sixteen soldiers divided into four watches, so that four would be on watch all the time, two in the prison and two at the door.
6. When Herod would have brought him forth. To execution, probably on the day after the passover week ended. The Jews thought that executions during this week were a desecration. Peter was sleeping … bound with two chains. The Roman method was adopted. He was chained to the soldiers who slept on each side of him, while the other two soldiers of the watch stood before the prison door. These precautions were taken for fear of a rescue.
7, 8. The angel of the Lord. Coming in answer to prayer. Smote Peter. To arouse him. Gird thyself. In other words, Dress thyself. His girdle was unfastened while sleeping, and his sandals laid off. The garment to be cast about him was a cloak. There was no haste.
9–11. Thought he saw a vision. All seemed so strange that, just aroused from sleep, he was uncertain whether it was real. The first and second ward. Watches. The soldiers on watch seem to have been stationed apart, one near Peter's door, the other near the gate. The iron gate. The outer gate of the prison. It was after it was passed, and the angel had left him in the street, that Peter was first sure that it was no vision, but that the Lord had delivered him. 468
12. Came to the house of Mary. This Mary was the mother of Mark, called in Acts both John and Mark. See 13:5, 13 and 15:39. She was related to Barnabas (Col. 4:10). Many were gathered together praying. For Peter's deliverance.
13–17. A damsel came to hearken. It was in the night, and they were Christians. The knocker might be an enemy or a friend. The damsel, a maid-servant, had charge of the door. When she knew Peter's voice. In answer to her question who might be at the door. Instead of opening, in her gladness, she flew to tell the good news, a touch of nature. It is his angel. The Jews held that every one had his guardian angel, and they thought his angel had assumed Peter's voice. A mistake, and Luke does not say whether the idea on which it was based is true or not. They were astonished. They could hardly believe their own eyes. Beckoning … hold their peace. Their joy was so tumultuous that he could not be heard. Go shew these things to James. Not the apostle, but the brother of the Lord, so conspicuous after this as the pastor of the church at Jerusalem. Peter's message seems to recognize the fact that he was a leading man. Perhaps the apostles had retired from the city for fear of Herod. For notices of James, see Acts 15:13; 21:18; Gal. 1:19 and 2:9, 12.
18, 19. As soon as it was day. The sleeping soldiers did not discover that the prisoner was gone until morning. They were answerable for him. Examined the keepers. Tried them for neglect of duty. Commanded. That those on guard, the four, should be executed. Went down from Judaea to Cæsarea. In this city by the sea, the Roman capital of Palestine, he made his abode a part of the time, though Jerusalem was his usual residence. Josephus says that he went now to Cæsarea to conduct games in honor of the Emperor Claudius. 469
20. Herod was highly displeased with them of Tyre and Sidon. The reason of this displeasure is not known. These cities were on the sea-coast, but Herod's dominions occupied the country behind them. Having made Blastus, the king's chamberlain, their friend. Probably by a bribe. The chamberlain guarded his bed-chamber and would be a trusted friend and adviser.
21. On a set day Herod. Josephus (Antiq. 19: 8, 2) confirms Luke's account. He states why Herod was at Cæsarea, speaks of the assembly, the royal robe, the oration, the impious shout of the people, the sudden death of Herod, and pronounces it a judgment.
22. The people gave a shout. The people of Cæsarea were, many of them at least, heathen. As we learn from Josephus, on the second day of the games, Herod, clad in robes of silver cloth, entered the theater, and standing in the sunshine, his robes reflected his splendor. Then he made an oration, and the people raised their shout: It is the voice of a god. It is thought that his speech was an announcement of his decision in the matter of difficulty with Tyre and Sidon, and that the embassadors were present.
23. The angel of the Lord smote him. Josephus says he lingered five days in great agony. This harmonizes with Luke's account. He was eaten of worms. Josephus says he was taken with abdominal pains; Luke explains the cause. The disease is by no means unknown. Many cases of death from the same cause are on record. Among others the Emperor Galerius, the predecessor of Constantine the Great, so died.
25. Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem. This verse is introductory to the next chapter, which introduces the era of Gentile missions. Acts 11:29, 30 explains why they had gone to Jerusalem. See note. Took with them John, whose surname was Mark. He was a relative of Barnabas (Col. 4:10). In the next chapter (13:5) he appears as an associate in their missionary labors. 469
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