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Sunday, 20 November 2022
So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover. Acts 12:4
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So far in the ongoing narrative, Peter has been seized by Herod during the Days of Unleavened Bread. With that noted, it now says, “So when he had arrested him.” The words here more appropriately should be translated, “So having arrested him.” There is motion in the words of Luke, one thought building upon the next. Herod had arrested Peter. With that action complete, it next says that “he put him in prison.”
The reason for this is coming in the next clause. All it said of James is that he was killed with the sword. Regardless of the events surrounding the killing of James, only his death by the sword is recorded. However, the fate of Peter is explained in greater detail. Luke masterfully builds up a sense of excitement with his words to lead the reader to each subsequent thought. Peter is now put in prison, and then it next says that Herod “delivered him to four squads of soldiers.”
Like the first clause, these words are from an aorist participle and more rightly should be translated, “having delivered him to four squads of soldiers.” Luke continues to carefully align his words to bring the reader right into the narrative. As for the large number of soldiers, this certainly seems like total overkill, but Luke is undoubtedly recording it for a particular purpose. To understand it, one must go back to Acts 5 –
“Then the high priest rose up, and all those who were with him (which is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with indignation, 18 and laid their hands on the apostles and put them in the common prison. 19 But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 ‘Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life.’
21 And when they heard that, they entered the temple early in the morning and taught. But the high priest and those with him came and called the council together, with all the elders of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
22 But when the officers came and did not find them in the prison, they returned and reported, 23 saying, ‘Indeed we found the prison shut securely, and the guards standing outside before the doors; but when we opened them, we found no one inside!’ 24 Now when the high priest, the captain of the temple, and the chief priests heard these things, they wondered what the outcome would be. 25 So one came and told them, saying, ‘Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!’” Acts 5:17-25
This certainly supports the theory that the leaders of Israel personally asked Herod to seize Peter and do away with him as he had done with James. Peter had been arrested and yet was freed from his incarceration. They may have accepted it was an angel who released the men, or they may have reasoned that they were somehow broken out at night.
Regardless of how they had escaped, they did. Because of that, when Herod seized Peter, the Jews probably said, “Be careful to guard this guy well. He is a slippery fellow and has escaped from our own dungeon.” This is all conjecture, but Luke’s careful attention to this detail supports the theory. Hence, Herod had a large contingent set aside “to keep him.”
Four squads, or four quaternions, of soldiers would be sixteen men. Hence, if the shifts were divided into four, there would always be four soldiers monitoring him. It is readily apparent that Peter was considered a particularly important prisoner to be watched because he was known to have escaped in the past.
Were this not so, Luke would have simply overlooked any mention of it at all. A prison is a place of incarceration that generally holds lots of people. It is also normally well-guarded. To assign four quaternions of soldiers to guard him, and for Luke to especially note this, is certainly exceptional. As for the reason for not dispatching Peter off to the next world immediately, it next says that Herod was “intending to bring him before the people.”
The words “to bring him before” are more precisely rendered, “to lead him up.” The idea is that he would be brought out of prison and “up” to the elevated place where a tribunal would be held and where the death sentence would occur in the presence of the people. And this was to occur “after Passover.”
These words also give a very good indication that the Jews were involved in the seizing of Peter. They had seized Jesus and they delivered Him up to Pilate for sentencing, probably thinking that he would wait and have a trial at some later point. This is based on the words of Matthew 26 –
“Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas, 4 and plotted to take Jesus by trickery and kill Him. 5 But they said, ‘Not during the feast, lest there be an uproar among the people.’” Matthew 26:3-5
Pilate set about to have an immediate trial, even as the Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread was getting started. And exactly what they said might occur came about. These leaders had to actively call out for Jesus’ crucifixion to stir the crowds against Him. This led to ten years of one problem after another as His followers kept claiming He was the fulfillment of all the symbolism of the feasts and thus the Messiah.
With this thought in mind, one can see that the leaders were almost certainly in cahoots with Herod, giving their recommendations on what to do with Peter. They did not want another problem to arise like that which had occurred with the killing of Jesus.
Life application: Luke is a careful chronicler of all that is taking place. But it must be remembered that God is the One who inspired the narrative to be recorded as it is. The careful attention to detail, all the way through Acts, is a testament to Israel’s rejection of Jesus as their Messiah. His rejection then explains the destruction of the nation along with their two thousand years of justly deserved exile.
However, the fact that they have been under the curses and punishment of the law, instead of God just destroying them and being done with them forever, gives clear and reasonable proof that He is not done with them as a people. The regathering of them into the land from which they were exiled is an openly visible proof that the Lord is set to do all that His prophetic words concerning Israel are said to be coming.
The idea of “replacement theology” is so utterly ridiculous when looked at from how things are in the world. God spoke, His word promises, and He will fulfill. There is absolutely no reason to think that the church has replaced Israel. Rather, there is every reason to be certain that it has not. And more, as this is so, and because Israel is once again restored as a people and a nation, it is a sure sign that the other prophecies concerning the coming of the end times must also be ready to find their fulfillment.
Let us live out our lives with this in mind. Let us not hold too tightly to this world. Some wonderful day, and it may be soon, the call will be made, and the church will be removed from the hour of trial that is set to come upon the whole world. Let us anticipate that moment more and more with each moment that passes!
Heavenly Father, we look to the coming of our Lord Jesus and our being gathered to Him. May that day be soon. And Lord, until that day, may we be about the business that You have set before Your people. May we be willing to share the good news with all that come into our lives. Help us in this, O God. Amen.