The night before Peter was to be placed on trial, he was asleep, fastened with two chains between two soldiers. Others stood guard at the prison gate. Suddenly, there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” And the chains fell off his wrists. Then the angel told him, “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me,” the angel ordered. So Peter left the cell, following the angel. But all the time he thought it was a vision. He didn’t realize it was actually happening. They passed the first and second guard posts and came to the iron gate leading to the city, and this opened for them all by itself. So they passed through and started walking down the street, and then the angel suddenly left him.
Peter finally came to his senses. “It’s really true!” he said. “The Lord has sent His angel and saved me from Herod and from what the Jewish leaders had planned to do to me!” When he realized this, he went to the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, where many were gathered for prayer. He knocked at the door in the gate, and a servant girl named Rhoda came to open it. When she recognized Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the door, she ran back inside and told everyone, “Peter is standing at the door!” “You’re out of your mind!” they said. When she insisted, they decided, “It must be his angel.” Meanwhile, Peter continued knocking. When they finally opened the door and saw him, they were amazed. He motioned for them to quiet down and told them how the Lord had led him out of prison. “Tell James and the other brothers what happened,” he said. And then he went to another place.
At dawn there was a great commotion among the soldiers about what had happened to Peter. Herod Agrippa ordered a thorough search for him. When he couldn’t be found, Herod interrogated the guards and sentenced them to death. Afterward Herod left Judea to stay in Caesarea for a while.]Acts 12:6-19
Once again we will work our way through this account piece by piece, but for now read the whole account of what happened a number of times. It is an amazing story on a number of levels. Did you spot the humour in the story? Read it again if you didn’t. It would make a wonderful movie. Given all that Luke has told us so far, it is critical that Peter get out of the prison this night, in the light of what is awaiting him in the morning. He is in an impossible situation chained between two guards, with two others outside the door, and other guards all around. Four guards were specifically chosen to ensure Peter didn’t escape.
What time do you think Peter’s escape happened that night? Remember the changes of shift for the guards happened at midnight and 3.00 am. If you were choosing, when would you plan your escape? Would you arrange your prison break at the beginning of the shift, just after the guards have changed and when they are at their sharpest and most alert? So just after midnight? An hour after midnight? Would you plan it for the middle of the shift around 1.30 am or close to the end of the shift when they are at their sleepiest, just before the guard change at 3.00 am. Perhaps 2.30 am? Or would you go for the 3.00 am to 6.00 am watch? Again what would your choice of timing during this shift be? Would you go soon after 3.00 am to give longer before they discovered you escaped with the shift change at 6.00 am? Would you go in the middle of that shift around 4.30 am or would you go closer the change of shift at 6.00 am. But that wouldn’t give you much time to make your escape before it was discovered you were gone with the next shift change at 6.00 am.
It is not until you think through the planning of how you would do it that you begin to realise the difficulty. The shifts were short in duration. Because you are chained to two guards, you have to pick the moment when both of them are likely to be slumbering or at least less alert. Remember that they will be on high alert because their lives depend on it. Look to the end of Luke’s account to verse 19 and you see the end result of Peter’s escape. “When he couldn’t be found, Herod interrogated the guards and sentenced them to death. Afterward Herod left Judea to stay in Caesarea for a while.” What do you think happened between Herod sentencing the guards to death and his leaving for Caesarea? I think the guards were executed. There were high stakes involved here. It was a life and death situation. Peter’s death or the guards’ death – all four of those who were specifically assigned to guard Peter. Now do you see how important it was to plan when you would make your escape? You have to get the timing perfect. So you wait until the two guards chained to you drift off to sleep, and then you make your escape. But how? A three hour watch does not give you an optimum time to escape. To expect all four guards to fall asleep in a three hour period is wishful thinking at best. There is much debate among the commentators over the timing of Peter’s escape. Most of it hinged on the alertness of the guards and the time Peter had after his escape before it was discovered he had gone. Take in all these factors and keep thinking about when you would have done it.
Suddenly . . . there was a bright light in the cell, and an angel of the Lord stood before Peter. Can you imagine Peter asking the angel to turn the light out, “you’ll wake the guards.”? The angel struck him on the side to awaken him and said, “Quick! Get up!” The suddenness of what happened at the time of Peter’s escape caught everyone by surprise, including Peter. Remember Peter was dead to the world asleep. He was not lying awake planning his escape and picking the best moment. The angel had to hit him or strike him in order to wake him up. [patasso’] This verb can mean to knock gently or strike with a weapon fatally. This action was probably a more intense and more prolonged action than paio’ which is the primary verb to hit. [paio’] is probably a single blow and less violent. The use of this verb seems to indicate that Peter was sleeping soundly and needed to be hit in a significant way to wake him up. You can imagine I am sure how the suddenness of him being awakened would have left him a little disoriented to say the less. No wonder in verse 9 we are told that Peter didn’t realize it was actually happening. He thought he was having a vision or dreaming.
The question now is how compos mentis Peter was. Compos mentis is Latin and used as a legal term for the degree to which you are able to think clearly and be in control of and responsible for your actions. How much you are in your right mind and know clearly what is happening to you? Are you indeed in a state which enables you to think clearly and be responsible for decisions you make? That term was used in Oscar Pretorius’ court case.
Let’s explore the two instructions the angel gave Peter before we move on. Namely: “Get dressed and put on your sandals.” And he did. “Now put on your coat and follow me.”
During the night the long flowing undergarment was loosened for ease of movement. But during the day it was girded with a belt so as not to impede movement. It is this which Peter was told to gird. Then Peter was told to put on his sandals and after that to put on his loose flowing outer robe. It would have been much easier to run in the undergarments after they were fastened up than to then put the robe on the outside. It was this which made it harder to run. He would have had to have hitched up his robe and held it up away from his feet and legs in order to be able to run fast. I think I may have suggested to the angel that I would rather just run away in my fastened undergarment than to put on the long flowing outer robe. That way at least my hands would be free to defend myself or strike the guard if I needed to. But maybe Peter was in no fit state to be thinking that far ahead. After all he was still clearing his head at this point. Still thinking that he was imagining all of this.
Then Peter is told to put his sandals on. The [sandalion] was likely as not the poor man’s sandal which had a wooden base tied on with thongs of leather around the foot. It was clunky but more to the point it was noisy. For that reason I think I would have said to the angel, “Angel, with all due respect, I think I would rather just run away in my girded undergarment and carry my shoes and perhaps my outer garment with me. That way I think I could run faster and it would certainly be a whole lot quieter.” That of course is assuming that Peter was thinking it through. There is no indication in this text that these thoughts even occurred to Peter. It was all happening too quickly. I think I would have wanted to tip toe out of there and certainly not put my sandals on and wake up the guards.
- Do you notice what is not mentioned in this account?
- Are you compos mentis? Sufficiently in charge of your faculties and ready to take responsibility for your actions?
- Are you prepared to allow God (or an angel) to make decisions for you or would you question their competency?
- Are you prepared to follow Him unreservedly, regardless of the consequences?
Remember delayed obedience is disobedience.Anon
Learn to trust God’s timing and move when He tells you to move.Ian Vail
Now whenever the cloud lifted from the Tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out on their journey, following it. But if the cloud did not rise, they remained where they were until it lifted.Exodus 40:36-37