About that time King Herod Agrippa began to persecute some believers in the church. He had the apostle James (John’s brother) killed with a sword. When Herod saw how much this pleased the Jewish people, he also arrested Peter. (This took place during the Passover celebration.) Then he imprisoned him, placing him under the guard of four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring Peter out for public trial after the Passover. But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him. 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.Acts 12:1-6
Every country prides itself in the SECURITY of their maximum security prison. The idea of a maximum security prison is that the prisoner is secure and will not escape. They have been put in prison to stay in prison. So everything about a maximum security prison is geared to ensure the prisoner stays imprisoned. That is by mere definition of the words used. MAXIMUM SECURITY PRISON. Remember I told you in the previous few gem the history of Peter; and Peter and John; Peter, John and the other disciples what it comes to prisons. This is Peter’s third time in prison and on the two previous occasions he got out. The very tone of Luke’s account in this case is emphasising two things:
- the security and inescapable plight that Peter was in
- the fact that church was praying – REALLY PRAYING!
While Peter was in prison, that very night waiting his doom the next day at the hands of Herod, the church was VERY EARNESTLY PRAYING. Here is where the irresistible force meets the immovable object. Now let’s see what is going to happen.
Do you think Herod knows about Peter’s track record? You must give an undoubted “YES” to that answer. Does Herod know what happened when the Temple guard arrested him and John? YES of course. Herod was no fool; he was an extremely canny foe. Herod the King has at his disposal the soldiers of Rome. Furthermore he is hellbent on carrying out his murderous plan because he has perceived that he can curry favour with the Jewish leaders and/or the people if he handles this right. Luke appears to be telling us (see what I told you in Gem 1594) that Herod’s intention was to put Peter to death on the very next day, before the Days of Unleavened Bread began. Peter’s situation was critical. On this very night the church is earnestly praying for him. The hellish plan of Herod is set in opposition to Peter’s plight and God’s plans for Peter and the Church’s prayers.
Notice how much time Luke gives to describing to us the nature of the guard over Peter in prison. Luke tells us that Peter was under the guard of four squads of soldiers to take watch through the night each consisting of four soldiers making up the squad. We are told clearly that two of these soldiers were chained to Peter, one chained to each arm. Peter was chained between two soldiers, one on each side, throughout the night. The normal watch of the quaternion of soldiers was for two soldiers to be in the cell chained to the prisoner, the other two stood guard outside the door of the cell. This was the immediate detail assigned to ensure Peter was secure. It was more than their life was worth for these soldiers to lose their prisoner. If that happened they would forfeit their own life. These four men had a vested interest in keeping Peter under guard. I am sure they were no doubt told about the fact that Peter had escaped twice before. You can bet these men were on high alert. Furthermore, we have been told clearly by Luke that there were four squads of four soldiers each. These squads were for the changing of the guard over four watches through the night. This would provide cover for four watches of three hours each. Normally from 6.00pm to 9.00 pm, 9.00 pm till midnight, midnight to 3.00 am and 3.00 am to 6.00 am. This ensured that the guards did not go to sleep. Peter was there to stay. Not only that but added to these squads of personal guards were the other guards how stood watch over the prisoners generally. Other guards stood at the gate and around the prison to ensure all prisoners were secure and unable to escape. These four squads of four soldiers were assigned personally for Peter. Herod was taking no chances.
How would you feel in this situation? Would there be a degree of anxiety about you? I would imagine for any normal person this would make for one long sleepless night. Firstly the mere fact of your overall predicament and the fact that you are likely to lose your head in the morning would influence your sleep or lack of it. Secondly the fact that you are chained between two men who are awake and not too favourably disposed toward you. Especially when they know your escape means their death. Think how hard it is to sleep in a bed next to two people on either side of you in normal circumstances. Now that’s hard enough at the best of times. Imagine if they are chained to you. Now imagine if you are CHAINED to two wide awake and alert guards who are intent on ensuring you don’t escape. I imagine they would poke, prod and provoke Peter from time to time. But what is Peter doing? He was asleep. Given all the factors involved and the predicament he was in, I wouldn’t have thought Peter would have got any sleep, but he was ASLEEP. Luke tells us emphatically ON THAT NIGHT he was sound asleep. He was κοιμώμενος – solidly and on-goingly sleeping. From koimaō – to put to sleep, that is, (passively or reflexively) to slumber; figuratively to decease: – (be asleep, fall asleep, fall on sleep, be dead. Peter was dead to the world asleep. Amazing.
But in the same breath, something else was going on THAT NIGHT. “But while Peter was in prison, the church prayed very earnestly for him.” Notice the adversative “but”. Notice too the words “while Peter was in prison”. For the duration of the time Peter was in that prison the church were praying for him. Oh this was not an ordinary church Friday night prayer meeting. This was a pray-for-Peter-while-he’s-in-prison-and-facing-death-in-the-morning prayer meeting. The church was praying unrelenting, enduring, fervent prayer for the duration of the time he was in prison.
I am satisfied now that I have set the scene in the way Luke intends it. Now we will sit back and wait until the next Gem to see what happens.
A maximum security prison; fervent, unrelenting prayer and a sleeping, seemingly carefree Peter – what a combination!Ian Vail
When God fills your heart nothing disturbs your peace.Ian Vail
When humans forbid the bidding of God, then you are set for a power encounter where the impossible becomes reality in an instant.Ian Vail
If you want to change the world, put your hand in the hand of the One who made the world in the first place.Ian Vail
Courage is fear that has said its prayers.Anon
Want to worry less? Then pray more. Rather than look forward in fear, look upward in faith.Max Lucado