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
I left you with this question at the end of the last Gems. Do you notice what is not mentioned in this account?
Now I have deliberately come up with a creative title for this Gems; one that can be read a number of ways.
In all that action Luke describes in his account of Peter’s sojourn in prison there is no mention of the guards. They simply no longer feature. Yet in the way Luke has written the story he makes much of the guards. He describes very clearly the impossibility of Peter’s chances of escaping, taking great pains to tell us the number of Roman guards assigned to guard Peter, including the fact that Peter is chained between two of them. We are left with the impression of Peter’s plight, his imminent execution the next day and the sheer impossibility of him being rescued. Then when Luke tells us the aftermath, he simply leaves the factor of the guards out of his story.
Before we address the issue of the guards, let’s ponder the nature of the relationship between Luke and Peter. We know already that Luke is a details man and a good, methodical researcher who left no stone unturned in his quest for information. We know too that he followed up all leads to gain the background to the events, any hint of information concerning the guard of any sort. Luke just plainly and simply leaves the guards out. Hence me coming up with the title I did. In the movies such a scene would be handled by the comment, “You and you take the guards out, while we concentrate on getting Peter out of the building and making good his escape.” But Luke after making much of the number of guards and the manner in which they guarded Peter simply makes no more mention of them. That is so interesting.
I have had a number of you write to me and comment on the answer to the question I posed to you. Some have thought of other aspects of the story relating to what was not mentioned. But the simple fact staring us in the face is that there is no more mention of the guards. I imagine there was no point in Luke asking Peter. He didn’t know. He simply woke from a deep sleep, was told to put fastened his undergarment, put on his sandals and put on his overcoat and follow the angel. There was no time for questioning things. I imagine had Luke asked he would have got the answer, “Well, Luke I have not thought about that since. But now that you come to mention it I just frankly didn’t notice them. I can’t remember if the two I was chained to were lying there or not. I didn’t see any outside the door, but then I didn’t look for them. I just concentrated on following the angel. We certainly didn’t encounter any guards anywhere along the way. They were just simply not to be seen.”
All of which leaves us to posit suggestions as to what happened:
- Were the guards blinded by the brightness of the angel?
- Did they fall asleep, either naturally or an angel-induced sleep?
- Did the guards run in fear at the sight of the angel?
- Were the guards themselves negligent and perhaps supremely confident that nothing would happen and so were gambling in some other part of the prison?
- When asked by Herod did they not tell what they saw for fear of what Herod may do to them in his rage?
Whatever happened we assume the two guards were still chained to Peter, all we are told is that the chains fell off Peter’s wrists. I conclude that the guards were found later still with a chain attached to one of their wrists but no Peter on the end of either chain. He had just simply disappeared. In Luke’s last account of a prison escape he covers the aftermath related to the guards.
. . . When the high priest and his officials arrived, they convened the high council—the full assembly of the elders of Israel. Then they sent for the apostles to be brought from the jail for trial. But when the Temple guards went to the jail, the men were gone. So they returned to the council and reported, “The jail was securely locked, with the guards standing outside, but when we opened the gates, no one was there!” When the captain of the Temple guard and the leading priests heard this, they were perplexed, wondering where it would all end. Then someone arrived with startling news: “The men you put in jail are standing in the Temple, teaching the people!” The captain went with his Temple guards and arrested the apostles, but without violence, for they were afraid the people would stone them. Then they brought the apostles before the high council, where the high priest confronted them. “Didn’t we tell you never again to teach in this man’s name?” he demanded. “Instead, you have filled all Jerusalem with your teaching about Him, and you want to make us responsible for His death!” But Peter and the apostles replied, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead after you killed Him by hanging Him on a cross. Then God put Him in the place of honour at his right hand as Prince and Savior. He did this so the people of Israel would repent of their sins and be forgiven. We are witnesses of these things and so is the Holy Spirit, who is given by God to those who obey Him.” When they heard this, the high council was furious but / and decided to kill them.Acts 5:21-33
This is time there is no mention at all about the investigation into the escape. No record of any questions Herod Agrippa may have asked. Neither were there any questions directed toward the guards as to what happened. I am sure the Sanhedrin didn’t ask because they didn’t want to know the answer. I am sure the same is true in this case. When you are left with two guards still chained but no prisoner between them, there is only one conclusion possible. God. And if you are one of the authorities it’s best not to ask any more questions. Just leave “sleeping guards” lie. When God is involved and He wants to secure your release or free you from your bondage it will happen. No matter how impossible your situation may seem. God will just take the guards out of the equation. If Peter had asked, what about the guards, either these ones I can see or the ones outside the door, I am sure the angel would have said, don’t worry about them.
A couple of you challenged my comment about Peter wanting to run out in his bare feet and not make a noise. You rightly said, Ian there is no hint of any need to rush or run out. And of course you are right. I was merely playing with the situation and drawing your attention to certain features of the story. Playing with you as it were. That is the other feature of this story. There is not a hint of fuss or worry or hurriedness about the escape. This is no typical escape from prison story. If it was ever filmed and turned into a movie there should be none of the classic escape features: sneaking past doorways, hiding around corners, knocking over guards or knocking them out. It was just simply them passing through the prison and finding themselves on the street and suddenly Peter was alone, the angel had disappeared. Notice Luke doesn’t tell us that they passed guards along the way. Rather he writes “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.” At least that is how it is translated in the NLT.
[Φυλακην] could be translated “guard” or it could be translated “guard post”, I.e. The place where the guards should be. The translations are split in terms of whether it is translated “guard” or “guard post”.
The AMP, ASV, BBE, CEV, ERV, ESV, ISV, JUB, MKJV, MSG, NASB, TLV and WEB translate [Φυλακην] as guard. While the EMTV, GNB, GW, IBIS, TB, most derivatives of the KJV, LEB, LITV, Murdock, NLT, RV, Webster, YLT all translate the word as “guard post“, “guard station” or “guard ward”.
I favour the latter group of translations which allow for the possibility that there were no guards there or they were there but were incapacitated in some way. Whatever the case, the simple fact is that Peter did not have to worry about the guards, as formidable as they may have appeared the night before, the guards had been taken out of the equation.
Most often you find you don’t have to be concerned about the thing you fear the most; God will take care of it. Simply trust Him to act on your behalf.Ian Vail
When you are stuck in your worst possible moment, pray and then stand back and watch what God will do.Ian Vail
Or better yet sleep and see what God has done when you wake up.Ian Vail
Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.William James
After calming the sea he said, “Why are you afraid?” Not because Christians never drown. But they are safe in drowning.John Piper