Acts, Chapter 12, Part 1
An opportunity for a fun sidetrack has caused us to space this chapter out just a little.
King Herod Aggripa 1 (nephew of the Herod that tried Jesus and put John the Baptist to death) began persecuting Christians at this point. He was part Jewish himself, and seems to have been doing this to gain favor with the Jewish people he ruled over.
Capturing Peter, he held off on a public trial until the Passover Week (also called the Feast Of Unleavened Bread) was finished. This would mean that more Jews would be able to witness the trial, since they would be finished with their religious festival.
Peter was locked in chains and watched by four squads, made up of four soldiers each. A large group of soldiers that took their responsibilities VERY seriously. They probably knew and feared the consequences for failing in their task. (See verse 19)
But God still had work left for Peter. The night before his scheduled trial, an angel came and freed Peter from his chains. Together, Peter and the angel walked right past the guards and watched the gate to the city open for them by itself. It wasn't until the angel vanished and Peter was in the city, that he realized he hadn't been seeing things. He was really free!
Peter wasn't the only one who had trouble believing in what had happened. When he came to the place where his friends were praying for him, they didn't believe the servant girl who said Peter was at the door!
Let's take a little time here and talk about "Angels". There are several different ways that historians and scholars interpret verse 15:
"You're out of your mind," they told her. When she kept insisting that it was so, they said, "It must be his angel."
Craig S. Keener, in The IVP Bible Background Commentary, says, "In some popular Jewish traditions, the righteous would become like angels after death." Matthew Henry also acknowledges that the disciples here may have been superstitious and believed this person at the door to be a supernatural omen of Peter's death.
Another theory is that Peter was believed to be a human messenger representing Peter. Since the Greek word "aggelos" is used interchangeably for human messengers in the New Testament (Luke 7:24, 9:52), it's possible the disciples thought the servant girl only heard someone say Peter's name at the door.
Finally, some believe that this verse and Matthew 18:10 suggest the idea of "Guardian Angels" who are closely bonded to the individual humans they serve, thereby taking on traits (like Peter's voice in this case) of those they protect.
The first two options seem the most credible to us. Although the word "aggelos" doesn't seem to lend itself to mean "ghost" or something similar in the Greek lexicons we've examined, we think it would be very possible for the disciples, through lack of understanding and superstition, to believe dead people can potentially become like angels in some way. (We've certainly seen this unbiblical concept in dozens of classic cartoons.)
Although some form of "Guardian Angels" may exist, we want to be careful not to come to the conclusions described above based on so few verses with so little detail.
Whatever the case may be, it was an unbelievable night where God displayed his power in an astonishing way!
Next Week: Pride and Politics
Coffee House Question:What thoughts or images come to mind when you think of the word, "Angel"?