Posted by: BibleScienceGuy | May 22, 2013

32. Hike the Bible – Peter of Capernaum 6 – Escape from Prison

Liberation of St. Peter by Sebastiano Ricci (1659–1734)

Liberation of St. Peter
by Sebastiano Ricci (1659–1734)

Heavy chains, an iron gate, and
16 guards secure a prisoner. Yet he escapes the night before his scheduled execution! How is this possible? Read on to find out.

Our virtual hike through Galilee has reached the ruins of Capernaum, the home base for Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 4:13).

The Gospels mention Capernaum
16 times, and Matthew calls Capernaum Jesus’ “own city” (Matthew 9:1; Mark 2:1). It was the site for much of His teaching and many of His miracles.

This is the sixth of a series of blog posts on Capernaum’s most famous homeowner, the Apostle Peter (Mark 1:21,29), leader of the disciples. The first post of the series introduced Peter and surveyed the miracles of Jesus that involved Peter personally. The second one used Peter’s own words and works from the Gospels to illustrate his exemplary character and the impact of his choices on others.

The third, fourth, and fifth posts looked at Peter’s courageous leadership and bold witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus based on Peter’s words and works recorded in Acts. This post discusses Peter’s escape from prison recorded in Acts 12:1-19.

The ruler who imprisoned Peter was Herod Agrippa I (10 BC – 44 AD), whose family tree was littered with cruel tyrants. Agrippa’s grandfather was Herod the Great who ruled Judea at Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2). Agrippa’s uncle, Herod Archelaus, was the one who ruled Judea following the death of his father Herod the Great; it was for fear of Archelaus that Joseph took his family to Nazareth upon returning from Egypt (Matthew 2:19-23). Another uncle, Herod Antipas, was the one who beheaded John the Baptist and who was tetrarch of Galilee when Jesus was crucified. Agrippa’s son, Herod Agrippa II, later tried Paul (Acts 25:13–26:32).

Herod Agrippa imprisoned Peter in order to curry favor with the Jews, after he saw that his beheading of the Apostle James, the brother of John, had pleased them. This was Peter’s third arrest (Acts 4:3; 5:18). Herod intended to execute the leader of the new sect that the Jewish leaders so despised.

This was to be a straight-forward governmental murder resembling the James pattern. In no record is there even a hint of either James or Peter being guilty of a crime worthy of death.

The arrest of Peter occurred during Barnabas’ and Saul’s visit to Jerusalem to deliver relief funds for the famine (A.D. 44-48) during the reign of the Roman emperor Claudius (A.D. 41-54). (Acts 11:27-31; 12:1, 25) It must have occurred in 44 AD during the Feast of Unleavened Bread following the Passover, because the famine started in 44 AD and Herod Agrippa died in 44 AD shortly after Peter’s release. This arrest was about 10-15 years after the Crucifixion.

Four squads (lit. quaternions) of soldiers guarded Peter. A Roman quaternion was 4 soldiers, so 16 soldiers guarded Peter. Two chains tethered him to two soldiers. Outside the cell but still within the prison were two more sets of guards. Finally, guards were outside the locked iron door of the prison. Herod had no doubt heard of the miracles Jesus and His disciples had performed, and he wanted to ensure that Peter was securely held. Surely, Herod thought, these measures would be sufficient to keep a simple fisherman.

Deliverance of Peter - Raphael

Deliverance of Saint Peter
Center panel depicts angel rousing Peter. Right panel shows angel leading Peter past sleeping guards. Left panel depicts consternation of guards waking to find Peter gone.
1514 overdoor fresco by Raphael (1483–1520) in the Apostolic Palace, Vatican City.

But Herod did not take into account the fervent prayers of the church for Peter. Just as Yahweh rescued the young child Jesus from Herod’s grandfather Herod the Great almost 50 years earlier, so would Yahweh also rescue Peter from Herod Agrippa, regardless of Herod’s strictures.

It’s amazing that the night before the scheduled execution, Peter was sound asleep. He was so deep in sleep that the angel had to hit him to wake him up.

And on the very night when Herod was about to bring him forward, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains; and guards in front of the door were watching over the prison. And behold, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter’s side and roused him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And his chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me… And when they had passed the first and second guard, they came to the iron gate that leads into the city, which opened for them by itself; and they went out and went along one street; and immediately the angel departed from him.” (Acts 12:7-8,10)

This account reports several miracles. An angel of the Lord appeared to rescue Peter. His chains fell off and the iron gate opened by itself. The guards remained asleep throughout so that none awakened to impede Peter’s escape. Since the guards at Jesus’ tomb “became like dead men” when the angel appeared (Matthew 28:2-4), if one of Peter’s guards had waked, I’m sure the angel could have handled him.

Peter was so sleepy throughout this escape that he thought he was dreaming as the angel led him out of the prison past two sets of guards and through the iron gate of the prison.

But when Peter came to himself, he realized what had happened and said, “Now I know for sure that the Lord has sent forth His angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.” (Act 12:11)

The angel was the key to Peter’s escape, as Peter himself recognized. Scripture teaches that angels are sent to render service to Yahweh’s people. There are numerous examples throughout Scripture of angelic activity on behalf of men. (see for example, Psalm 34:7; Psalm 91:11; Daniel 6:22; Matthew 18:10; Luke 1:19,26; Hebrews 1:14). Although the phrase “guardian angel” is not found in Scripture, it is certainly a Biblical concept.

Rhoda finally opens the door for Peter

Peter at Mary’s door

Peter’s friends were praying fervently for him. Yet nobody believed it when he turned up safe, sound, and free at the home of Mary, John Mark’s mother. The servant-girl Rhoda answered Peter’s knock, but she was so excited that she ran back inside to spill the news without even letting him in.

Did Peter’s friends leap up, punching fists in the air and shouting, “YES! I knew it!”? Did they shout praises to Yahweh for the deliverance they had expected and awaited? Not even close!!!

Peter’s friends flatly contradicted Rhoda, insisting it wasn’t him at all. They refused to believe her and even ridiculed her announcement, saying, “You are out of your mind!

The friends’ response is reminiscent of the apostles’ refusal to believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. When the women brought that news, the apostles thought their words were nonsense (Luke 24:11).

Those gathered in Mary’s house simply couldn’t believe their prayers for Peter had been answered. They were amazed to see him. After relating what happened, Peter left Jerusalem. Undoubtedly this was to prevent Herod from recapturing him.

You can imagine the consternation the next morning when the guards woke up to find Peter gone! Herod responded by executing the guards. Just as Jesus’ childhood rescue was followed by the death of baby boys in Bethlehem, so Peter’s rescue resulted in the deaths of 16 guards.

Shortly thereafter, an angel of the Lord struck Herod with worms for his refusal to give God the glory for his talents, and he died. (Acts 12:19-23) Thus Peter was able to return and resume an active leadership role in the Jerusalem church.

Saul (Paul) and Barnabas probably witnessed Peter’s account of his rescue which he narrated at Mary’s house, although Luke does not mention that they were present. They were in Jerusalem to deliver relief funds for the famine, and they left shortly thereafter with John Mark. (Acts 11:27-31; 12:1,25) Barnabas and John Mark were related—some translations say John Mark was Barnabas’ nephew, others his cousin (Colossians 4:10). Thus it’s very likely they were staying with him at his mother Mary’s house. Mary and Barnabas may even have been siblings.

Questions to Ponder:
(Share your thoughts on these questions in the comments below.)

  1. Why did Yahweh rescue Peter but not James?
    Could it be that the church’s fervent prayer for Peter was the difference?
  2. Why was the angel in a hurry, telling Peter, “Get up quickly.”
  3. Can you think of an example from your life where a “guardian angel” (possibly unseen) rescued you?
  4. Does the disciples’ surprise and initial refusal to believe Peter’s rescue add credence to this account?
  5. Have you ever prayed fervently for something, yet still been floored by a positive answer?

Read the prequels in this sub-series on the life and work of Simon Peter of Capernaum:
27. Hike the Bible – Peter of Capernaum 1
28. Hike the Bible – Peter of Capernaum 2
29. Hike the Bible – Peter of Capernaum 3 – Heals lame man (with videos)
30. Hike the Bible – Peter of Capernaum 4 – Ananias & Sapphira (with videos)
31. Hike the Bible – Peter of Capernaum 5 – Dorcas & Cornelius

Read the sequel:
33. Hike the Bible – Peter of Capernaum 7 – Jerusalem Council

Soli Deo Gloria.

The Hike the Bible series is currently covering points of interest along two hiking trails through Galilee, the 40-mile Jesus Trail and the 39-mile Gospel Trail. These two trails re-create possible routes Jesus likely traversed during His sojourns in Galilee.

This is the thirty-second installment in the Hike the Bible series reviewing major hiking trails in the Lands of the Bible and commenting on Biblical sites, events, and personages along the way.
Read the prequels:
1. Hike the Bible – Jesus Trail (with video)
2. Hike the Bible – Gospel Trail (with video)
3. Hike the Bible – Jesus Trail vs. Gospel Trail
4. Hike the Bible – Nazareth
5. Hike the Bible – Zippori
6. Hike the Bible – Mash’had
7. Hike the Bible – Cana (with video)
8. Hike the Bible – Roman Road
9. Hike the Bible – Via Maris
10. Hike the Bible – Horns of Hattin
11. Hike the Bible – Sermon on the Mount
12. Hike the Bible – Arbel Cliffs
13. Hike the Bible – Magdala (with video)
14. Hike the Bible – Mary Magdalene
15. Hike the Bible – Mary Magdalene, Lady or Tramp?
16. Hike the Bible – Mary Magdalene & the Resurrection
17. Hike the Bible – Sea of Galilee
18. Hike the Bible – Jesus at the Sea of Galilee
19. Hike the Bible – Jesus at the Sea of Galilee 2
20. Hike the Bible – Jesus at the Sea of Galilee 3
21. Hike the Bible – Jesus Boat
Palestine Park
22. Hike the Bible – Why Capernaum?
23. Hike the Bible – Capernaum Archaeology
24. Hike the Bible – Miracles at Capernaum
25. Hike the Bible – Miracles at Capernaum 2
26. Hike the Bible – Miracles at Capernaum 3
27. Hike the Bible – Peter of Capernaum 1
28. Hike the Bible – Peter of Capernaum 2
29. Hike the Bible – Peter of Capernaum 3 – Heals lame man (with videos)
30. Hike the Bible – Peter of Capernaum 4 – Ananias & Sapphira (with videos)
31. Hike the Bible – Peter of Capernaum 5 – Dorcas & Cornelius

Read the sequel:
33. Hike the Bible – Peter of Capernaum 7 – Jerusalem Council

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©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith”
“destroying speculations against the knowledge of God”

(Jude 1:3; 2 Cor 10:4)
Wednesday May 22, 2013 A.D.

Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:23)


  1. Praying for you. It is awesome to see how God is using you! Great questions you are asking. Puts people right in touch where they ought to be.
    Be blessed!


    • Thank you for your encouraging words. And thank you for your prayers. I appreciate both!


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