Acts 12:12-17 – Praying for Peter

Peter PrisonPeter’s rescue from prison is one of several miraculous escape stories in Acts. Dunn points out that this sort of story is almost a distinct genre in ancient literature (Beginning from Jerusalem, 408). There are several of these sorts of stories in Acts.  Luke tells the story with intentional humor (Peter has to be roused by the angel, Rhoda plays the dizzy serving girl, etc.) But there is more going on in the story than an amusing anecdote about Peter escaping prison and execution at the hand of Herod Agrippa.

While Peter is in prison, people were gathered at Mary’s home praying. Mary is the mother of John Mark, and her home appears to be the location of a house church. Her husband is not mentioned so she may be another wealthy widow who supports a local church (like Tabitha, for example). John Mark may have some role as a leader in the church along with Peter. The evening that Peter is rescued, this community is gathered to pray.

What Luke does not tell us is what were they praying for. It is possible that this is simply a meeting of a house church for a prayer time. It is the Passover, so it is possible that these Jewish believers gathered at Mary’s house to share a Passover meal and then spend time in prayer after the meal. But given the context it is reasonable to assume that they were praying for Peter.

However, if they were praying for his release, then their response to Peter’s escape from prison is unusual. When Peter knocks at the door the servant Rhoda is so overjoyed that Peter is at the door she forgets to let him in to the house! When she reports that Peter is at the door the people gathered to pray think that she is “out of her mind” (μαίνομαι, literally, “you’re crazy”). They even suggest that she has seen “Peter’s angel.” Neither response sounds like they expected God to answer a prayer to rescue Peter.

No. Not Her.

No. Not Her.

John Polhill thinks that this might be a reference to the Jewish belief in guardian angels, or perhaps spirits of the recent dead who lurk for a time after death. Polhill cites Tobit 5:4-16, although this is not exactly the same sort of situation (Acts, 282) . Even when Peter finally gets into the house, the whole group is amazed by this escape. If they were praying for escape, they seem rather surprised by it.

It is more likely that the gathered church was praying that Peter would actually die for his faith and not deny Christ. It must have been well known by this point that Peter and the twelve all once denied Christ. Peter’s denial was most spectacular, denying his association with Jesus three times soon after he declared his loyalty to Jesus.  With the apostle James dead, perhaps this group is worried that Peter will not be able to withstand the pressure and he will deny that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead. A denial of this sort would be a disaster for the Jewish Church in Jerusalem.

This story underscores the importance of fa faithful witness in Acts. The gathered believers want Peter to be that faithful witness, willing to continue to declare his faith even if he pays with his life. Peter is a changed man after the resurrection and he has already stood up to the Sanhedrin on several occasions.

This story demonstrates that faithful witness may be required not simply to live for Christ, but also to die for him.

18 thoughts on “Acts 12:12-17 – Praying for Peter

  1. I have never heard anyone pray that a person imprisoned for Christ would die and not be released. In fact it sounds so strange and even wrong. But is that because we are just too comfortable?

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    • I think that the average pastor uses this passage as a model for prayer (not Luke’s point at all). You have to pray and believe that God will answer your prayer, and Mary’s household becomes a bad example! I really do think that the early apostolic community expected to die for their faith, mostly because Jesus told them that they would suffer just like he did.

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      • Indeed the Apostolic Church! WE are so far from this community, “in spirit”! The FIRE of the Gospel, i.e. the Kerygma message, must renew us in the historical church! As Paul wrote to Timothy, “For which cause I remind you to rekindle the gift of God which is in you… for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but of power and of love and of self-discipline!” (2 Tim. 1: 6-7) But only the Gospel and Good-News of Christ can light this fire!

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  2. It is amazing that the people in Mary’s house church were praying for Peter to be faithful to the cause of Christ. They had no idea what was going to happen to Peter or to them in the future. They were praying for Peter, but probably for themselves also that they might remain faithful to the name of Christ. They were not expecting God to do a miracle with Peter. They assumed that they would never see Peter again. Then, when God performed a miracle by rescuing Peter from prison, they were astonished. They did not believe Rhoda when she told them that Peter was at the door (Acts 12:15). They thought that it was his angel (Acts 12:15). It is very interesting that they thought that they person at the door was Peter’s angel. That seemed like no big deal that Peter’s angel was at the door. If I would have been there, I would have been a little startled to think that it was Peter’s angel, and much more thankful to see that it was really Peter. Once they heard more knocking they opened the door, and Peter came in and told them how he was released from prison. This experience strengthened the faith of this house church. It was only by the power and work of God. God was not done with Peter yet.

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  3. It is a unique story of Peter and the church’s reaction to his escape from prison (Acts 12:12-17). I always assumed that the people gathered at Mary’s home were praying for Peter, but that may have not been the case. It is definitely interesting that people were all amazed at Peter’s escape. I think it is important to remember that we must read the Bible within the cultural context, and I enjoyed reading about the Jewish belief in guardian angels. I did not think that people would know about Peter previously denying Christ three times. It brings about a whole other perspective of being open and honest with people whom you share the same belief with and letting others know your flaws so that they may pray for you. I think today in churches we our ashamed of our flaws and want people to think we have it all together, but I think we must learn from example. Peter, clearly respected and a witness of Jesus, had denied him in the past and it is probable that the church was praying for him in his time of need.

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  4. Wow! This is such a unique idea in the book on Acts. We today, hardly ever pray for someone to not deny Christ to a point where their life could be at risk. If I put myself in the shoes of those in Mary’s house, I would have been deeply saddened by the fact that I would probably never see my good friend Peter again. It’s defiantly an interesting concept especially when they said to Rhoda “you are out of your mind” (Acts 12:15). This shows that the group was almost sure of Peter being dead because of his boldness in standing up for his faith. At the end of the day, this event had to have strengthened the faith of all who had been in that room praying for Peter as God still has a plan for them. Put from Peter’s perspective I don’t believe the story is suppose to end here. Yes, Peter’s life was spared by an angel but the mission of standing firm and obedient even to a point of death is how God calls us to live. I can imagine Peter with much excitement when he “described to the, how the Lord brought him out of prison. (Acts 12:17).

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  5. I find it interesting that Luke did not mention why the people gathered at Mary’s house were praying for Peter. When I first read the passage saying, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him” (Acts 12:5), I assumed that the group was praying for him to escape prison. I didn’t really think to take into account their disbelief when Peter actually arrived at the door (Acts 12:15-16). You mentioned that they may have been praying that he wouldn’t deny Christ. If this were the case, Peter did deny Christ three times BEFORE the resurrection, but post-resurrection he proved himself to be quite faithful. In fact, he even spoke before the Sanhedrin and declared his faith in Jesus, the Messiah. He knew very well that he could have been executed right then and there, but he chose to remain faithful and profess his beliefs, no matter what the cost. Now, he has obeyed the Lord by going to Cornelius, a Gentile. He obeyed the voice telling him to disregard differences and dietary laws. He showed the Gentiles hospitality, he ate and drank with them, and he baptized them after the Holy Spirit came upon them. I think he has proven that he will do whatever it takes to remain faithful and obedient to God and share the gospel. You would think the people gathered at Mary’s help would pray for his safety, but in their faith in Jesus Christ, they may have been praying the Peter to have that same strength in his faith, to risk his life for what he believes.

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  6. Luke and God definitely have humor while writing this. When I was reading in Acts 12:7, it talks about how the angel of the Lord and struck the side of him. I know this is not correct theology, but the angel just standing there and slap him across the face. Kind of like when your mom had to wake you up for school and she came in for the third time and you’re going to be late. The angel then leads him out, and they escape prison together.
    While this is taking place and sometime prior, there was a community of people praying for Peter. Although the Bible does not tell us specifically what it is for, I like how Professor Long showed us a few possibilities like just a prayer time, sharing a Passover meal, or praying for Peter. Specifically praying not that he would not die, but that he would hold firm in his faith. If Peter would have given in it would have been a disaster. He had a lot of people that looked up to him, and Peter denying once again would have shaken a lot of people in this time.
    Then we go to Rhoda, who honestly reminds me of a teenage girl who sees someone famous or a boy she likes at the gate because she goes back and freaks out. Which makes a bit of sense, but still all those people were gathered praying for Peter. Did they not have hope or think God could release Peter? I feel like they did, but having the knowledge and taking heart in it is two different things, that they have to practice. Overall, Peter is a faithful man, he did not deny Jesus and stood firm in his faith. This was a growing point for Peter along with other things he has been through. We see that Peter firmly believes in Christ and is willing to die for this belief.

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  7. Your last statement really made me think. You stated, “This story demonstrates that faithful witness may be required not simply to live for Christ, but also to die for him.” I think that this is something that, as Christians, we need to realize. Yes, we are to live daily for Christ. This may mean that we die for Him. He has done more for us than we could ever do for him. As Christians, we are to live in a way that is pleasing to God. We all sin and fall short, but thankfully we are all saved by God’s grace.
    Many people can be an example of this, but I will Peter, because he is who the main character is in this post. Peter was a godly man, but like all people he sins.

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  8. When reading about the people in Mary’s house were praying for Peter I originally thought that they were praying for Peter to escape. After reflecting on the situation, I thought that maybe they were praying for Peter to remain faithful and trust God. The people in Mary’s house thought they may never see Peter again or know what happens to him, but they prayed for him anyway. God once again used Peter to strength his kingdom by releasing him from prison. Peter arrived at Mary’s house where they were praying, and Rhonda answers the door and is amazed that she believed it was his angel (Acts 12:15.) Once they realized it was really Peter, he came in and told them about how he was released from prison. Peter’s testimony would only grow their faith in what miracles the Lord can perform and how he can use anyone to show people who he really is.

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    • This goes to show and encourage the power of prayer. We see so many times in life when we hit a brick wall or our life is behind bars and we don’t know what else to do. It is in these moments of weakness where we strive to have others praying at the same time we are and see what God’s plan is during this situation. Peter being in prison shows that no matter what we are dealing with in life God will always help us find a way out if we stay true to him. Great observation and let it be an encouragement that God’s got the answers for everything, even if we don’t see the way out. God always will open doors when we least expect it.

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  9. Besides Saul’s escape from the people in Damascus Peter escaping prison is huge. The use of prayer in this passage is also huge! Mary is in her house praying. Which her house is considered a “house church” so assuming. Peter is there are other people there as well. We don’t really know what their prayer is for, we just kind of assume it is for Peter. However, when he escapes, he shows up at the door. The door opens and Rhoda opens it, with shock she is realizing that it is peter. I like how the article writes and uses the word “overjoyed” because she is so overjoyed that she forgets to let peter in, quite humorous. The power of prayer portrayed here is quite powerful in fact because the people (and us today) are wanting to show us that we should be faithful in serving God. It is a miraculous story of faith as well. Being in prison with the chance of having to face death for your faith is quite scary. The fact that Peter was faithful throughout is something we need too be doing ourselves.

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  10. I thought that this post was very interesting for a couple reasons. The first thing I noticed is that if the people were praying for Peters release, they had hardly any faith that it was even an option that he might be released. Based on their surprise of him showing up at the door, they were praying but they didn’t really have faith that God would make it happen. This is a good reminder that prayer is powerful and anything can happen through prayer if it is God’s will
    The second thing I thought about was if they were praying that Peter remain a faithful witness. They knew that standing up for Jesus would be very life threatening but it would be worth it to them to keep a faithful witness for the Jewish church in Jerusalem.

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  11. In the past, whether because of hearing sermons or just my own thoughts, I always associated the prayer with Peter’s release from prison. This is a refreshing perspective. Reading your post about how it was more likely to be a prayer about Peter persevering with his faith. We have all read that Peter is a little flaky about that in the gospels, and I agree it would be really devastating to have one of the key early members renounce his faith.

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  12. When we were learning about this subject in class one of the biggest things that was challenging my brain was why the people didn’t pray for Peter’s release? I was really thinking about the different societies and culture and the practices of believers back then compared to now. If Peter got locked in a jail today, I would think a lot of believers would pray for his release not for him to be killed as a martyr. The next big thing that really made me think was the reaction that the people praying for Peter had. It almost seemed hard for them to believe that God could release Peter, they thought that he was a ghost and had died. I am not saying that the people limited the power of God, I am just highly surprised by their reaction especially if they truly knew the power of God.

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  13. While we were learning about this specific topic in class there were couple subjects that actually really challenged my mind. The first being why didn’t the people pray for the release of Peter. To me it showed the different culture and society back then compared to now. If Peter were to be in jail right now I personally would have prayed for the release of Peter. But instead the people prayed that Peter would not deny God like he had done in the past and would instead be killed as a martyr. Also the people’s reaction to Peter being at the door really blew my mind. For them to think that it was the ghost or spirit of Peter really took me aback. It almost seems that the people kind of question the power of God in a way. It turns out though that the human population still struggles with this thought….

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  14. wow, this is a great story that I feel that we can learn a lot from, one thing that I would like to point out is the fact that the apostles were praying that Peter would not lose his faith. This just reminds me that I do not say if I am ever in Peters position, but now, I need to say that I want to pray that I never lose my faith, under such harsh times. I pray that I never lose my fear for the Lord.

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