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An Exposition Of The Acts Of The Apostles


The cruel persecution raised by Herod (1–2). The incarceration of Peter, who was closely guarded (3–6). His liberation by the hand of an Angel (7–11). The confusion consequent thereon, and the death of the guards who were on duty (18). The fearful judgment exercised on Herod, who was eaten up by worms (20–23).


1. “And at the same time.” While Paul and Barnabas were ministering at Antioch. The narrative relative to their charitable ministrations is interrupted here by the intervening events recorded as far as v. 24 of this chapter, and is resumed at v. 25. These intervening events are: Peter is liberated; Herod dies a shocking death, these two Apostles had reached Jerusalem.

“Herod the king.” Agrippa, the son of Aristobulus, and grandson of Herod the Great, the murderer of the Holy Innocents. Agrippa obtained from Caligula and Claudius territories co-extensive with those of his grandfather, Herod the Great.

“Stretched forth his hand” indicates the violent exercise of power.

“To afflict some”—the leading members—“of the Church,” as is stated immediately after.

2. “With a sword.” By being beheaded or pierced through. This is said by some to be among the most ignominious kinds of capital punishment among the Jews. It seems King Agrippa had the power of life and death. In the time of the Roman government, only the Roman Procurator had it. The Jews had not. “James,” the Greater, in contradistinction to James, the son of Alpheus, called “the lesser,” or “the brother of John,” both sons of Zebedee, in whom were fulfilled the predictions of our Lord (Matthew 20:22). “You shall drink of my cup,” &c.

3. “Seeing it pleased the Jews,” &c. Agrippa’s besetting sin was an inordinate excessive love of popularity. It was from this feeling he meant to put Peter to death. Likely, too, he wished to conciliate the Jews, to whom his dynasty was odious; and thus prevent them from preferring accusations against him with the Roman Emperors, whose creature he was.

“Peter also.” One of the most conspicuous men in the Church, who had, moreover, made himself obnoxious by his pungent discourses, and success in effecting conversions.

“Now, it was in the days of the Azymes,” that is, within the seven days succeeding the Passover, during which they were not allowed to partake of leavened bread (Exod. 12:15–18; Deut. 16:3).

Herod may have apprehended Peter at this particular time to show his attachment to Judaism, and his determination to crush out every other form of religion.

4. “Apprehended.” Arrested him. “Cast him into prison.” During the Paschal solemnity no trials of criminals took place, in order that the people might exclusively devote themselves to their religious duties and the ceremonies of the Festival.

“Four files,” &c. The Greek is “four quaternions of soldiers,” each quaternion was made up of four, so he had sixteen soldiers to guard him. Each quaternion, or four, were to relieve one another on guard during the watches of the night. Two of them were to remain in the prison with Peter (v. 6) who was chained to these two, and the other two were to keep guard at the door of the prison for three hours—the term of night watch—until they were relieved. Agrippa, who was educated at Rome, adhered to the Roman system of having four night watches, of three hours each, during the night. No precaution for securing Peter was omitted.

“To bring him forth,” &c. Evidently with the view of having him publicly put to death in presence of the people.

5. “Without ceasing,” fervent, persevering prayer. Humanly speaking, there was no hope of his deliverance. God was the only resource who did not fail to respond to the prayers of His Church.

6. “Brought him forth,” to be publicly put to death.

“Same night,” immediately preceding the day intended for his execution.

“Bound with two chains.” His right hand chained to the left of one soldier, and his left to the right hand of the other, which is said to be usual with the Romans for securing their prisoners.

“The keepers,” &c. Besides the two soldiers to whom Peter was bound in prison, two others watched before the door. It was death for a Roman soldier to be caught sleeping at his post. The four on guard were relieved, after three hours, by four others in succession.

7. “An angel of the Lord,” no particular angel mentioned, “stood by him,” suddenly and unexpectedly.

“A light shone,” &c. Such light, reflected from the glorious body assumed by the angel, generally accompanies angels when they appear on earth (Matthew 28:5; Luke 2:9; 24:4), &c. Possibly, Peter only saw it; or, if it filled the prison, the guards sunk in deep sleep did not see it.

8. “Gird thyself” with thy inner vest. “Garment,” the outer garment, laid aside when he lay down to sleep. Dress thyself as usual when preparing for a journey.

9. “True”—a reality—“a vision,” such as presented itself to him before (10:11, 12).

10. “First and second ward.” Passed by the soldiers that guarded each ward. They were Providentially sunk in heavy sleep.

“Iron gate.” The outer gate, secured for greater strength with iron bars. It opened on the town.

“The angel departed.” Left him, as he was beyond the reach of danger.

11. “Came to himself.” Recovering from the amazement he felt at the entire scene and became capable of reflexion.

“Expectation,” &c. The Jews were anxiously expecting to witness his execution.

12. “Considering” what he should do in the circumstances.

“House of Mary,” &c. Probably, the nearest Christian dwelling for affording refuge and protection. The faithful were assembled, and among other objects of petition, jointly praying for Peter’s deliverance.

13. “Gate,” the vestibule or outer portion of the house.

“To hearken.” To hear on enquiry who was there.

14. Overwhelmed with joy, before opening, she ran into the interior of the house to communicate the good news.

15. So unhoped for was his liberation, as happens persons who are anxious about an event, they seem incredulous about it, lest it might not be true. “She affirmed.” In Greek, strongly affirmed.

“His angel,” not messenger, as some affirm. Peter could have no special messenger. Besides, the girl recognised “the voice of Peter.” Most likely, they meant his tutelary or Guardian Angel. The common traditional belief among the Jews was, that each one had a Guardian Angel assigned by God to guard and protect him through life. In the Catholic Church, it is held, not as a defined point of faith, but as a truth of Christian Doctrine, so that it could not be denied by any sound Catholic that every just man, every man in the state of grace has an Angel Guardian specially appointed by God to guard him during life. It seems the more probable opinion, that every human being, not excluding infidels, has such a protector assigned him (See Matthew 18:10, Commentary on).

17. “To hold their peace.” Any commotion or excitement might expose them to the fury of their enemies.

“James,” the “lesser,” Bishop of Jerusalem, son of Alpheus. “Brethren,” especially the Apostles, that they might render thanks to God, for having heard their joint prayer.

“Another place.” Some safer retreat, till the danger was over. Some say, Cæsarea; others, Antioch; others, Rome.

18. Owing to apprehension of the result, and destined punishment of death in store for their supposed neglect of duty.

19. “Examined the keepers.” Probably, the Quaternion on guard at the time of Peter’s escape, and receiving no satisfactory explanation—any miraculous interposition he would scorn.

“Put to death,” in Greek, led forth for execution.

“Going down,” &c. Full of shame and disappointment at not being able to gratify the Jews and promote his own popularity in putting to death the chief of the religion they detested, quitting Jerusalem, “he went down to Cæsarea,” the second capital of his dominions.

20. “Angry.” In Greek, harbouring feelings of hostility in his mind. “Tyrians and Sidonians.” They may have angered him on account of commercial speculations of some sort, and on account of the admirable port formed by Herod at Cæsarea, which they might fancy to be injurious to their commerce. Tyre and Sidon, situated to the North of Cæsarea, were under the power of the Romans, and in alliance with them. They might have given Herod offence relative to his commercial speculations.

“One accord” in a joint deputation composed of Tyrians and Sidonians.

“Gained Blastus,” a Roman name. They prevailed on him to assist them, in their overtures for reconciliation and peace.

“Chamberlain,” had charge of Herod’s bed chamber, and enjoyed great influence with him. Likely, he was a Roman, and treasurer to the King, who, it is thought, kept his treasures for greater security locked in his bedchamber and secret closets.

“They desired peace.” By the re-establishment of friendly relations, they wished to ward off any menaced hostilities that might result from the anger of Herod.

“Their countries were nourished by him.” Their chief wealth was gained from commerce, which they did not wish to interrupt with Palestine; and they neglected agriculture. Moreover, the small strip of land, belonging to them, on the coast of the Mediterranean, would not supply provisions for their population, not to speak of the irreparable loss resulting from the cessation of commercial speculations with Palestine. For this, they were, in a great measure, dependent on the adjoining territories of Herod.

21. “A day appointed” to receive the ambassadors of the Tyrians, &c. This was the second day of the games and sports which Herod celebrated in Cæsarea in honour of Claudius Cæsar. Josephus (Antiq. B. xix., c. viii.) gives a full and circumstantial account of it.

“Arrayed in kingly apparel.” Josephus (Ibidem) tells us “he put on a garment made altogether of silver, of wonderful contexture; and having come into the theatre of Cæsarea (the place of the games) the reflection of the early sun’s rays on his silver garment produced a wonderful effect on the spectators.”

“Sat in the Judgment Seat.” Not a throne properly so-called, but an elevated seat or platform, from which he could see all the games and shows and conveniently deliver his oration publicly, in presence of the people, to the ambassadors of the Tyrians and Sidonians.

“And made an oration to them.” Clearly, the Tyrian and Sidonian Ambassadors.

22. “Made acclamation,” cheered, uttered a loud shout of applause when they heard him speak. Josephus says it was occasioned by their seeing his splendid apparel. But, most likely, it was caused by his oration. For, they said, “it was the voice of a god.”

“It is the voice of a god,” &c. “The people,” viz., the Idolaters, heathen section of the population, urged on by Herod’s courtiers. Not likely that the Jews joined in it. Josephus says the Jews were incensed with Agrippa for receiving such impious adulation. Josephus (Lib. Antiq., xix., viii.) says of him, “he neither rebuked the people, nor rejected their impious flattery.” From the sequel and the prompt judgment from heaven on his impiety, in consequence of arrogating to himself the honour due to God, it would seem he was pleased and acquiesced in it.

23. “And forthwith, an Angel,” &c. This shows it was a Divine judgment on his impiety.

“Because he had not given,” &c. By tacitly assenting to, and not rejecting their impious adulation, he impiously arrogated to himself the honour due to God alone. “I am the Lord and my glory I shall not give to another” (Isaias 42). Herod’s guilt was the greater, because, brought up in the Jewish religion, he knew, or ought to have known, how jealous God is in regard to His glory.

“And being eaten up by worms.” Similar was the judgment on Antiochus Epiphanes in punishment of his impiety (2 Machab, 9:5). Agrippa’s grandfather, Herod the Great, died of the same disease. (Josephus, Antiq., c. xvii. 8). So did Maximin, the persecutor of the Christians (Eusebius, viii., 16) and others.

Josephus, out of motives of delicacy, does not state precisely the loathsome disease of which Herod died. He says it was Dysentery. But that too, might be caused by worms in the intestines. So, there is no contradiction. St. Luke, himself a physician, is very precise in describing it.

24. “The word of the Lord.” The Church founded on God’s word “increased” in the multitudes that joined it. The death, by Divine judgment, of the chief persecutor, Herod, gave the preachers of the Gospel breathing time, of which they availed themselves. The liberation of Peter had a wonderful effect.

25. “After having deposited the alms in the hands of those to whom they were to distribute them, they returned from Jerusalem to Antioch.

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