Herod’s Persecution of the Christians.* 1About that time King Herod laid hands upon some members of the church to harm them. 2He had James, the brother of John,* killed by the sword, 3* and when he saw that this was pleasing to the Jews he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (It was [the] feast of Unleavened Bread.) 4He had him taken into custody and put in prison under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. He intended to bring him before the people after Passover. 5Peter thus was being kept in prison, but prayer by the church was fervently being made to God on his behalf.a
6On the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter, secured by double chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while outside the door guards kept watch on the prison. 7Suddenly the angel of the Lord stood by him and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and awakened him, saying, “Get up quickly.” The chains fell from his wrists. 8The angel said to him, “Put on your belt and your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Put on your cloak and follow me.” 9So he followed him out, not realizing that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10They passed the first guard, then the second, and came to the iron gate leading out to the city, which opened for them by itself. They emerged and made their way down an alley, and suddenly the angel left him. 11Then Peter recovered his senses and said, “Now I know for certain that [the] Lord sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people had been expecting.” 12When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John who is called Mark, where there were many people gathered in prayer.b 13When he knocked on the gateway door, a maid named Rhoda came to answer it. 14She was so overjoyed when she recognized Peter’s voice that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15They told her, “You are out of your mind,” but she insisted that it was so. But they kept saying, “It is his angel.” 16But Peter continued to knock, and when they opened it, they saw him and were astounded. 17He motioned to them with his hand to be quiet and explained [to them] how the Lord had led him out of the prison, and said, “Report this to James* and the brothers.” Then he left and went to another place. 18At daybreak there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter.c 19Herod, after instituting a search but not finding him, ordered the guards tried and executed. Then he left Judea to spend some time in Caesarea.
Herod’s Death. 20* He had long been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, who now came to him in a body. After winning over Blastus, the king’s chamberlain, they sued for peace because their country was supplied with food from the king’s territory. 21On an appointed day, Herod, attired in royal robes, [and] seated on the rostrum, addressed them publicly. 22The assembled crowd cried out, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.” 23At once the angel of the Lord struck him down because he did not ascribe the honor to God, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. 24But the word of God continued to spread and grow.d
* [12:1–19] Herod Agrippa ruled Judea A.D. 41–44. While Luke does not assign a motive for his execution of James and his intended execution of Peter, the broad background lies in Herod’s support of Pharisaic Judaism. The Jewish Christians had lost the popularity they had had in Jerusalem (Acts 2:47), perhaps because of suspicions against them traceable to the teaching of Stephen.
* [12:2] James, the brother of John: this James, the son of Zebedee, was beheaded by Herod Agrippa ca. A.D. 44.
* [12:17] To James: this James is not the son of Zebedee mentioned in Acts 12:2, but is James, the “brother of the Lord” (Gal 1:19), who in Acts 15; 21 is presented as leader of the Jerusalem Christian community. He left and went to another place: the conjecture that Peter left for Rome at this time has nothing to recommend it. His chief responsibility was still the leadership of the Jewish Christian community in Palestine (see Gal 2:7). The concept of the great missionary effort of the church was yet to come (see Acts 13:1–3).
* [12:20–23] Josephus gives a similar account of Herod’s death that occurred in A.D. 44. Early Christian tradition considered the manner of it to be a divine punishment upon his evil life. See 2 Kgs 19:35 for the figure of the angel of the Lord in such a context.
* [12:25] They returned to Jerusalem: many manuscripts read “from Jerusalem,” since Acts 11:30 implies that Paul and Barnabas are already in Jerusalem. This present verse could refer to a return visit or subsequent relief mission.