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.

28 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?

    • 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.

      • 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!

  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.

  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.

  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).

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

    • 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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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.

  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….

  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.

  15. As everyone else has mentioned, this is such a unique look at what was happening in Mary’s house while Peter was in jail. While I am sure those who were gathered did not truly wish for Peter’s actual death, the idea that the result of their prayers may be the result just seems so opposite of how we think today. However, I wonder how much of that is due to our modern, fairly “easy” Christian life? It is hard for me to remember just how much truly was at stake for these early believers. They did not have the luxury that we do today, where Christianity is known (if not always believed) to almost everyone in the world. Instead, this relatively small group was tasked with spreading the gospel to a world that had not yet heard it. In that sense, it is understandable how important Peter’s faithful witness truly was. As stated in the blog, a denial of Jesus at this pivotal moment would have been disastrous for the church and spread of the gospel. However, I also wonder if part of the prayers were not just for the impact Peter’s witness might have, but for Peter’s mental strength as well? If those gathered were aware of his previous denial of Jesus, would they have been praying for Peter to remain strong so as not to experience that failure again? I can only imagine what Peter felt when he did deny Jesus at His arrest and crucifixion. Perhaps the believers were praying that Peter would not have to endure the guilt associated with such a denial a second time.

  16. When thinking about martyrs in biblical times, I often try to place myself in their shoes, but in a modern-day scenario. My mind most often thinks of the book, She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall that describes what a young girl went through during the Columbine High School massacre in 1999. She was asked by the shooter if she believed in God and upon replying yes, she was shot and killed. Peter was asked a similar question in Luke 22:54-62 when he was asked if he knew Jesus, but Peter denied Him three times. After the resurrection, Peter dramatically changed and was placed in several situations where he defended his faith in Jesus (Long, pp. 7). In Acts 12, Peter is placed in Jail and sentenced to death by Herod Agrippa. While Peter was in Jail (or being freed by an angel of the Lord), vs. 5 says “the church was earnestly praying to God for him.” What they were praying for exactly is unknown, but we can assume by their surprised reaction to see Peter, they were not praying for his release. Rhoda was so surprised that she forgot to invite Peter into the house after opening the door. The others seemed just as astonished since they did not believe Rhoda, told her she was out of her mind, and assumed she had seen his angel. Due to this reaction, Long (pp. 6) suggests they could have been praying for Peter not to deny Christ, and instead, die a martyr as a faithful witness of Christ. If this was the case, their prayers were ultimately answered as Peter continues to be a faithful witness up until the point of death. My prayer for Christians today is similar. I pray that we seek to live out lives that honor and glorify God while being fearless when faced with persecution. This persecution can come in many forms such as humiliation, discrimination, hatred, and even death. No matter what kind of persecution we face, let us learn from and strive to be like those who went ahead of us; remaining as faithful witnesses like Jesus, Peter, and even Cassie Bernall.

  17. I find it interesting that many times people assume the people were praying for Peter, when in reality their reactions do not match up. This shows us that biblical context is very important before we make assumptions or read between the lines. I am not sure I agree with the idea that they were praying for Peter to die for Christ, but I also recognize that Paul literally says, “to live is Christ, to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Not that they desire to die, but they desire to stand with Christ until the very last moment on Earth, whether that means being persecuted for their faith, or passing away in the Lord’s timing.
    Peter’s boldness does stick out to me because the persecuted church has the same boldness dwelling within them. They really do have to choose if the gospel is worth dying for. They cannot believe one day, and then not believe the next day, because they are held accountable by their persecutors despite what they say. When people believe in an eternity set in Christ, they no longer have to even fear the men of this world, because they know One who is greater. They recognize their life’s mission is to do everything they can for the sake of the gospel, so maybe the people of Peter’s day didn’t pray for a release because they knew he would be safe no matter what. It makes us check what our hope is in, with circumstances that are out of our control.

  18. Long writes, “This story demonstrates that faithful witness may be required not simply to love for Christ, but also to die for him.” Being martyred for faith in Christ must take a tremendous unwavering bold courage. I’d like to think my faith is strong, but how would I respond if forced to choose between denying Christ to live, or dying for Him, or even worse….allowing one of my family members to die. (I cringe at the thought!) She Said Yes: The Unlikely Martyrdom of Cassie Bernall, written by her mother, recounts the story about how Cassie responded “yes” when asked by the Columbine shooter Eric Harris if she believed in God. She was willing to die rather than to deny God. Wow!

    Long suggests in this post that those gathered in John Mark’s mother’s house for prayer were praying for Peter to stay true to his faith rather than deny Christ again. At first, readers might assume they were praying for Peter’s release from prison. Long writes, “It must have been well known by this point that Peter and the twelve all once denied Christ.” Peter had already denied Christ three times and “a denial of this sort would be a disaster for the Jewish Church in Jerusalem.” The evidence presented by Long makes a solid case that their prayers were for the greater good in spreading the Gospel if Peter died for his faith.

    I was at my home church in New York back in 2000. I had invited a few family members to join me because I was an excited new believer and wanted to share my faith. The pastor mentioned that if we were in a situation where a gun was pointed at a family member and we had to deny Christ for that family member to survive, we must be willing to choose Christ over our family member. Although true, this was a bit too harsh for my uncle as a seeking, non-believer. He said he could not return to a church that required him to let a family member die for his faith. This is difficult teaching for strong believers, and extremely difficult for those new or seeking faith in Jesus Christ without the context of biblical teaching. How many of us, if forced to make a choice, would be courageous enough to choose death for Christ rather than denying Him to live.

  19. Even in today’s day in age, there are some countries that are persecuting Christians. We are lucky to live in a place where we can openly serve God. While there are some who are against the church, our lives as believers in Christ are not on the line in the same way that the lives of the early church were. It is easy to take advantage of the fact that we can go to church in a public place and have bumper stickers with Bible verses on them. A lot of people probably haven’t even thought about if they would lay down their life for Christ-like He did for us. Or others might say yes absolutely while thinking that is not going to happen to them. This story in Acts “demonstrates that faithful witness may be required not simply to live for Christ, but also to die for Him” (Long). This is a good reminder for current believers to really look at themselves and their faith and ask, “Am I truly a witness for Christ?” We should expect an answer to prayer, and we shouldn’t be praying for a good life. We should be praying for strength to live and to die for Christ.

  20. As I read through this text, I can almost feel the tension that is in the air when thinking about Peter in prison. I never really thought about it like the way P. Long explains it above. That these men and women were praying for Peter, and also were even worried about whether or not he denied Jesus. The intensity of that. With James the Apostle recently executed, and now Peter in prison, one can only imagine the intense pressure or even stress on these people when they were thinking about how Peter was handling the situation. I loved how it was worded where they would’ve almost been more likely to be praying that Peter would die supporting Jesus, than return home because he denied Him once more. Especially after everything Peter has done in the Lord’s power post Pentecost (which was a lot of powerful things), I can only imagine what these people were feeling when they were hoping that Peter would stand for His faith. Imagine if he didn’t. The repercussions that would have on the church would be crazy. They would have a “witness” that the resurrection was a fake (which obviously it wasn’t), but if you can somehow make one of these apostles confess to something that wasn’t true, you can almost shut down (or so Christians were probably afraid of) an entire movement that people were dying for! This movement was stirring up lots of “trouble” with the romans, so this would be one of their greatest advantages. But praise God that Peter didn’t back down.

  21. Acts 12 is perhaps one of the most underrated and overlooked chapters in Acts. In the midst of Paul leading the church and having prison sentences of his own, it’s easy to forget a story of Peter’s great faith. Herod is doing everything he can to antagonize Christians- He kills followers of Christ- kills James the brother of John, and then he arrests Peter, and plans to kill him eventually too. But the church has Peter’s back, they pray for him. In a scene which for some random reason reminds me of A Christmas Carol, Peter is miraculously led out of prison by an angel of the Lord and because of Peter’s great faith, he is saved from the prison. In the end, Herod got what was coming to him, he never once gave God credit for anything, and apparently, God had enough of his tomfoolery, and he was killed because of it. Peter was willing to die for Christ’s cause, which was noted in the blog. What I may find the most interesting is while Peter was willing and ready to die for the cause, God decided to spare his life, He decided that Peter’s ministry was not done yet. I believe we can parallel this in our own lives. We must always be ready to defend our faith, and Christ may choose to give us a long life or our may be shorter- whatever His will is, we can always trust in Him.

  22. Though we do not and cannot know exactly what the group at Mary’s house was praying for, it can still be used as a preachable point, beyond the typical, “God answers prayer,” lesson usually taught with this passage. If they indeed were praying for Peter’s release, then they certainly were a bad example of how to pray (Long, 2019)! However, if that was indeed what they were praying for, then the lesson to be learned in this passage is certainly relevant. How often does a person pray for something half-heartedly (perhaps only because they were reminded that they should be praying), only to forget to give the credit to God when their prayer is answered! If, for example, a family member was gravely ill, one may pray for them when the situation is looking dire, but then never give thanks to God following the sick individual’s miraculous recovery. If the group at Mary’s home-Church was really praying for Peter’s release from prison, then modern Christians should take the passage as a lesson to really believe in the power of prayer and to give God thanks when prayers are answered.

    Another point regarding the passage… how far the Church has come since these days! To the earliest Christians, martyrdom was a welcomed, honorable fate… and a common one at that (Long, 2019). Cries of Christian persecution are increasingly common in 2021, and while lesser forms of persecution are legitimate persecution nonetheless, American Christians do not have to worry about being made martyrs by their own government. The important points of this passage are the power of God to do supernatural miracles and the “importance of a faithful witness” (Long, 2019). Even without the ever-present threat of death, Christians today should be prepared to die for the Lord at any second, or else their rejection of God will be mirrored by Christ in the Last Days.

  23. When first reading this passage, I assumed when they were praying that they were praying for Peter’s release. It seemed like the logical thing to pray for when someone you know was seized and put in prison. However, the response from those who were at Mary’s house praying says otherwise. If they were praying for Peter to be released, you would think they would have more faith in their prayer being answered and would run to the door to see if it were him. “If they were praying for escape, they seem rather surprised by it” (Long 2019). I did not think about the idea that they were most likely praying for Peter to “take up his cross” and die for his faith. We remember from earlier that Peter has the reputation of denying Jesus. It would make sense that the people would be concerned this habit would return during Peter’s trial. It is more of a default for us to think that the people should be praying for his release. However, praying that Peter would die for his faith conveys more of the message that Jesus was trying to teach his disciples and those who believed in him. We often pray to be taken out of challenging situations, but how often are we truly willing to “take up our cross” for Jesus? I think Long sums it up well by concluding with, “This story demonstrates that faithful witness may be required not simply to live for Christ, but also to die for him” (Long 2019).

Leave a Reply