Acts 12:17 – Where Does Peter Go?

After he is miraculously released from prison, Peter goes to the home of Mary and her son John Mark. This seems to have been a larger home where people have gather to pray for him. While Peter had no problems getting out of the prison, he has some (humorous) trouble getting into the house where Christians are praying for him! (For this story as Greco-Roman Comedy, see J. Albert Harrill, “The Dramatic Function Of The Running Slave Rhoda (Acts 12.13-16) : A Piece Of Greco-Roman Comedy.” New Testament Studies 46.1 (2000): 150-157.)

No, not this one.

No, not this one.

Peter reports to this group what has happened (12:16-17). The scene inside the house is of chaos. Everyone is asking the same question: How did Peter get out of prison? Did he deny the Lord (again)?  He explains to the group how the Lord rescued him. Peter tells the group to report to James what had happened. This request is unexpected at this point in Acts. The reader is not aware that James, the Lord’s brother is a believer. James will, however, become one of the major leaders of the Jerusalem church by Acts 15.

Jesus’ brothers did not believe he was the messiah during his ministry, but after the resurrection at least James and Jude come to understand what Jesus was. Paul reports a tradition 1 Cor 15:3-5 that Jesus appeared his brother James at some point.  This may be a kind of commissioning to ministry since the other two named people on this list (Peter and Paul) are commissioned to a particular ministry. In church history, James has a reputation for being an extremely zealous Jewish believer and a leader among the Pharisees and priests who accepted Jesus (cf. Acts 21:18-25).

After asking for the group to inform James, Peter goes “to another place” (v. 17). This is rather non-specific way to conclude a series of stories about Peter, almost like “riding off into the sunset” at the end of an old movie. There are several possibilities for understanding the phase. First, it might mean Peter simply went to another location in Jerusalem. If he remained in Mary’s home, she could have been in danger for harboring a fugitive. Second, Peter may have left the region, out of Herod Agrippa’s jurisdiction, Keener suggests out of Palestine (2:1952). Third, a traditional view is Peter began travelling as a missionary like Paul will in the next chapter. This might take him as far as Corinth (1 Cor 9:5), Asia Minor (1 Peter 1:1) and possibly Rome. This tradition comes from Eusebius (H.E. 2.14.5). But since he is in Jerusalem in Acts 15, he does not seem to have gone far. Perhaps he only returned to the coastal plain and Caesarea, within easy travel of Jerusalem and later made Pauline-like missionary tours.

Fourth, some scholars see this as an indication of a shift in leadership in the Jerusalem community from Peter to James. Luke does have a tendency to briefly introduce characters who will be important later in the story, so there may be simply literary device like foreshadowing. It is fascinating to observe Peter’s absence from the book of Acts after this point, in contrast to James’ importance in chapters 15 and 21. James is not an apostle, but he does seem to be the leader of the Jerusalem community from this point forward.

It is also significant there is no effort to replace James the son of Zebedee after he is killed.  On the one hand, it is at least 13 years after the resurrection, so the pool of individuals who could be witnesses from John the Baptist through the resurrection is diminishing. Even James the brother of Jesus does not qualify as a witness under those requirements!

All this seems to point toward a dramatic shift in the Luke’s story. He is concluding the first major movement of the book and preparing for Paul’s mission to the Gentiles in chapter 13.


19 thoughts on “Acts 12:17 – Where Does Peter Go?

  1. Where did Peter go… I can’t find him! In Acts 12:17, it talks about Peter going off, this to an unknown location. There are several reasons for this idea coming into play. The first, if Peter would have stayed, the guards would have found him, this would be a good place to start looking. Leaving Mary in a difficult situation, because she was holding onto a criminal. Also, she had a ministry going in her house, I feel like in some way this could hurt the ministry in the future as well if he were to stay. Peter was also a smart dude, and he could have known that it was out of Herod’s jurisdiction, so he got out of there fast.
    Also, I think it was just plain sweet that he stopped by the house first. He could have kept going and yet, he chooses to visit them first. Part of this was so they could hear and see the power of God, instead of a letter written later of how he got out. Also, these people held a deep love for each other and had been through a lot. I think about my church body and the love and support they show to me. If I were a crisis, like Peter, I would go back to them. Even if it was just for a second to tell them I was okay.
    Lastly, this shift of leadership from Peter to James. When working in the church I have come to understand the idea of training, guiding and then release. As someone new is coming in and the other is leaving, you have to step away for the other people to cling on and give respect to the new person. Otherwise, the people would still look to the old figure for leadership and guidance. The point made here is that the switch of Peter and James is to let James take the point now.

  2. I do find it rather peculiar that we do not know where Peter went. However, to expand your point, I don’t know if it necessarily matters in the grand scheme of the book of Acts other than for narrative closure. The logical explanation to me would be that it would be a deliverance from God for Peter to almost “ride off into the sunset” after all of the preaching and good works that he did, and that now it was time for the next phase of the growth of the church and for Paul to go out and do what he did. However, it is something to be said about how interesting it really is, as if it’s like reading a book and the main character that you have been reading about for almost the first half of the book just randomly goes away without any explanation. I definitely believe it is to signify the change in leadership, and also I think it is to help us shift our focus on the next to come who help build up the early church and to see the change and evolution of ministry that we see throughout the book of Acts.

  3. Acts 12 is a very interesting story to me. It shows how amazing God really is. Peter was arrested and was in chains. His cell was guarded and yet an angel still rescued him. I really wanted to address the part where you talked about the shift in leadership. As you mentioned, this does shift from Peter to James. I completely agree that it is because of the relevance that James has in the Jewish community. People get different leaders from time to time and that’s fine. It all just depends on how it is received.

  4. 2/27

    Upon reading Acts 12 I am blown away by God’s faithfulness in every situation we face. He is always present and will be with us no matter the adversaries we will endure in this life. Peter is an excellent example of a man who was following God’s leading others to His saving grace. Peter is thrown into prison and despite this he still keeps his faith and God rewards him for this. In Acts 12:8 we see an angel sent by God to help Peter escape. He was able to get out of his chains, away from the guards, through the prison gates and down the streets undetected. This shows God’s power and plan that there is nothing too difficult that He cannot do. God is at work in Peters life and I love how after this takes place Peter states the following: “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord has sent his angle…everything that the Jewish people were hopping for happened.” (Acts 12:11) I believe that we can get caught up in details of what happened to Peter after this happened and how his ministry continued (which I think without a doubt that after this he was more on fire for God than he had ever been) or we can focus on God’s magnificent power and His miraculous work in an individual’s life. I love how in verse 11 it talks about everything happening that the Jewish people were hopping. Prayer is a powerful thing and when people come together to pray the Lord works. I have seen this displayed in my own life where people who had a little chance of surviving something are miraculously winning the fight. God is great, He is so powerful and prayer truly moves mountains!

  5. Great topic!!! This is an incredibly important question.

    I’m one of those convinced he went to Rome. John Wenham’s 1972 article, “Did Peter go to Rome in 42 A.D.” deserves careful attention as does George Edmundson’s 1913, “Christianity in Rome in the 1st Century.” Not to mention Wenham’s “Redating Matthew, Mark and Luke: A Fresh assault on the Synoptic Problem.”

    IMO, the political climate of the time, the fact that there was a large population of jews in Rome waiting to be evangelized, and many more reasons convince me that Peter was there, even speaking with Philo as many traditions hold. I wrote about this some time ago, and I’ll share the link. (I’ve changed my mind on some of the dates included).
    “Protecting Peter”
    “Did Peter go to Rome in 42 A.D.”

    • Thanks for the link to the Wenham article.

      I have just read a new book by James Papandrea, one of those “week in the life” novels by scholars IVP has been putting out. In this case, it a “Week in the Life of Rome.” He has Peter there early, along with Mary and John Mark (she move the whole household there), and of course John Mark is taking notes from Peter for a book he is writing. Papandrea is reflecting his kind of tradition in novelistic account of early Roman Christianity.

      • This is worth noting: the issue of whether Peter made it to Rome as early as 42 is typically viewed along denominational lines: Catholic scholars say 42 and Protestant saying later. I’m not Catholic, but neither am i beholden professionally to any doctrinal statement at all. That said, I’m convinced Peter went there “on the heels of Simon Magus” during the reign of Claudius, as Clement of Alexandria says according to Eusebius.

      • I thought of that, catholic tradition has a vested interest in getting him there as early as possible. The relationship of the evens of Acts 12 and the death of Herod Agrippa I is part of the problem, he died in AD 44, if Peter’s arrest is closed to the time of his death than his arrival, then the date of 42 is difficult. The “other place” could very well be Rome in 42, but then he must leave again to visit Corinth and the areas he addresses in 1 Peter. (Of course, 1 Corinthians may not mean Peter was physically in Corinth, nor does the address of 1 Peter mean Peter physically evangelized the regions listed.)

      • When one considers the number of places Paul visited and how quickly travel took place in the empire—except for the winter months—there becomes no difficulty. They were all over the place. Acts describes only a fraction of the total picture of evangelization by all of Jesus’ followers. During Paul’s three year stay in Ephesus he probably had a round trip back to Corinth. The lack of peters whereabouts is an act of “protective anonymity”. He was a fugitive of Agrippa, *and* he had cut off the ear of Malchus— but the Gospels don’t reveal this and nobody except the disciples knew who it was—until after Peters death—revealed in John’s gospel.

        My two cents. Thanks for responding!

      • Peters arrest would have been Passover of 42. Herod Agrippa took the reigns of Judaea, fairly soon after Caligula’s assassination, January of 41. He was a savvy politician, and had the favor of Claudius. I think he even had a hand in making sure that Claudius became emperor. He was, I believe a favorite of Claudius’ mother. Agrippa was fast friends with Caligula, but wisely backed away when his excesses became apparent. Even so, he still held quite a bit of influence, brilliantly getting Caligula to agree, at least in public, to cancel his plans to put his statue into Temple in Jerusalem, c. 40 AD. The only dates that work out for Peter and Mark to have gone to Rome would be from 42 to 46: the famine relief visit. Once Herod Agrippa was dead, he would have been free to return to Judaea.

        Caligula released Agrippa from prison in 37 after Tiberius died.

        Long story. I’m rambling off the top of my head. Peace.

  6. It is truly amazing to know the way that Peter got out of the prison cell: being led by an angel of the Lord. However, it never crossed my mind what the others would be thinking about him when he showed up pat the front door. They had been praying that he stays strong and be able to be a witness before the officials, but they were not necessarily praying for his release; so, it would have been quite a shock to hear that he was outside their door. We get to see the full story all at once, but they were unaware that a miracle had just taken place. It would not be a stretch to think that they were questioning what had happened, and why he was out. Peter had already denied Christ before, so he very well could have done it again. This would not be good for the believers that had gathered because this could mean that they were in danger if Peter gave up where they were staying. They were also concerned that if Peter had denied Christ again it would have been in front of officials and leaders and that would reflect poorly on them as well. Who would believe them if one of Jesus’ closest followers was denying him now. As for where Peter goes after this, the Bible does not say. I am not a big fan of “what if” questions because there is no way to get a real answer from them. I believe that God gave us all the information that we need to know. If we are not told where he went after this point, then we simply do not need to know this bit of information because God decided that we did not need to know, and therefore did not include it.

  7. Acts 12 is so much more than just another book of the Bible it’s a story of God’s continued faithfulness. It shows that God can and will meet up in any situation as long as we stay faithful to him and his truth! Also, it shows the power of community and prayer among a body of believers.
    When Peter leaves for “another place”, the standings in the church change. The authority Peter had kind of shifted to James and he now has the job of making sure the church does not look like a threat to the Jewish authorities. Now where Peter went is the big question. There is little evidence in Paul’s letters in 1 Corinthians that Peter may have also gone to Corinth and is recognized in the Jewish-Gentile church there.
    Peter leaves out the guards in hot water. They searched high and low for their escaped prisoner and even Herod ordered searches. This causes a ‘great sir’ among the guards (1:18). The guards’ lives are now on the line because Peter has escaped, even though Herod is not aware that this is not the guard’s fault. Part of me wonders if Herod suspects a divine intervention because he has seen and heard the things Peter is teaching about. He sees that the guards are frantic with no explanation. I feel like his gut may have been telling him something greater may have happened that he simply cannot understand. Maybe God used this instance as a way to speak to Herod as well as a way to lead Peter to safety.

  8. During the time that this story takes place Jerusalem is not a safe place for Peter. The text doesn’t give us any clear indication of where Peter went, but it seems reasonable to assume that he was probably laying low after his prison escape. Apparently some, have suggested that Peter went to Antioch or Rome according to the ESV Study Bible, but it if it isn’t in scripture we cannot really know, and we probably don’t need to (Polhill p.2108). It can also be inferred that Peter has also fallen behind James as leader of the church in Jerusalem by the time of Acts 15, and maybe even earlier as he asks that news of himself is reported to James in Acts 12. As an apostle it is unlikely that Peter simply stopped preaching and teach, but I tend to agree with the thought shared in your post titled, “What Happened to Peter after Acts 15?” where it is suggested that Peter took up the role of a traveling teacher who ministered to existing churches (Long, Ultimately we cannot know what happened to Peter during his absence from the narrative of the book of Acts, and we do not need to know, but it is fun to speculate.

  9. I think that we often overlook the siblings of Jesus, but it’s really an interesting thing to think about and look at in deeper thought. Jesus Christ’s earthly brothers James and Jude (mentioned in this post) along with his other siblings must have had a really hard time wrapping their heads around their own brother being their messiah, sent from God himself. I just can not even imagine what His siblings were thinking throughout His ministry up to His resurrection and ascension. At what point did they come to realize that their brother was sent from God? Did they think He was crazy? What was their relationship like? What was going through their minds during all of these events of the Bible?

    We see some glimpses of these answers throughout the Bible even in stories like the one discussed throughout this post where Peter is set free from prison and comes a house where he tells those there to tell James and the brothers. James here is the brother of Jesus and at some point he does start living for Christ and becomes an apostle among other things (Polhill, p. 2108). I think that the story of Jesus Christ’s sibling(s) are some of the strongest most powerful stories because the sibling(s) were there through it all making them witnesses to literally His whole life. These stories, testimonies, and witness give great additive information to the information given in Acts, things that I never knew before and would like to learn even more about. Marginal information can be so important to the whole story, and it’s interesting to think more about like I mentioned.

  10. After Peter got saved from prison from the Angel of the Lord, I found it interesting that he went to where he did. I, personally, would have not put myself in that situation because I would have been afraid of getting caught by the guards of the prison or Herod himself. Peter doesn’t stay at the house because of that reason, but just going to the house in general was dangerous. As far as why that part got implemented in the story, I do have to agree with what P. Long said in his article. I see foreshadowing in the terms of bringing an importance of James into the situation. Another reason I see this as a shift in leadership or foreshadowing is because there isn’t a lot of details on where Peter went when he left the home of Mary. It leaves the story kind of wondering where he went, but it also alludes to the fact that the leadership might be put on James now.

    Before reading this article, I wouldn’t have thought about how it could have been a foreshadow because I do not have a lot of knowledge on James. I think my primary thought was confusion on where Peter went and what importance does James have in this story.

  11. It does seem strange that Luke would abruptly end Peter’s story at this point but as Luke is a companion of Paul, he may just be using the first part of the book to provide context for the rest. If Acts just started with Paul’s conversion it would still need to have a flashback to explain context for the outpouring of the Holy spirit and how there were other believers already at the time of Paul’s conversion experience. Luke does appear again in Acts 15 for a conference, and no longer appears to be the leader in Jerusalem as James, the brother of Jesus, steps in (Polhill 2108). Perhaps this part of the story is Luke attempting to tell a version of Peter’s redemption from his denial of Christ as his reinstatement is not mentioned in the Gospel of Luke. If his Gospel and Acts are truly meant to be read side by side perhaps look uses this conclusion to close the narrative tension left over from both Peter and Jesus in his gospel account. Luke contains many little details in both his accounts of both his gospel and Acts, so it is strange that he doesn’t round out Peter’s story at some point in Acts as Peter does die before Paul if I am correct.

  12. s post was an interesting one to dive into as we get ready to unpack the “disappearance of Peter” after he was arrested. Long states that Peter goes to the home of Mary and her son John Mark. Something that I found interesting was the fact that he didn’t have a difficult time getting out of prison yet he struggled with getting into the house. The house was where people gathered to pray for him so why was he not let in? When he was finally let in people began to question him. One question that came up was did he deny the Lord again!? From what I was reading the people didn’t really stop questioning him. He explains to them that the Lord came and set him free. I find it fascinating that he was led by the Lord out of the prison. Peter then goes to another location but from what Long states it sounds like there wasn’t a specific place. So he gave different options of where he could have gone including another place in Jerusalem, maybe in Mary’s home, or he may have left the region. I didn’t know that Mary could have been in danger because she harbored a fugitive. The last assumption is that Peter began traveling as a missionary. I agree with the scholars that this was a shift in the Jerusalem community.

  13. I find it really interesting that one of the first things that the people gathered at the home of Mary asked Peter was if he denied Jesus again, and this just backs up the theory that they were praying for him to stay true to Jesus and his faith rather than what did eventually happen, which was his escape from prison. It makes sense why they would be praying for this affirming of Peters faith, as if one of and if not Jesus closest and trusted follower was denying him three times publicly, then was there any real strength and conviction in their own faith and Christianity as a whole religion? As for where Peter went after leaving Mary’s house, I believe it makes sense that he would have wanted to go somewhere to lay low for a little while, possibly even leaving Jerusalem, as he had obviously just been arrested and Herod had planned to execute him like he did to James.

  14. The book of Acts is a transition book from Peter’s national message (identical to that of John the Baptist and Jesus in His Earthly ministry)—-Namely, the Gospel of the Kingdom to the Jew only (Matt 10:5-6)——to the individual, secret Gospel of the Grace of God, given to Paul to communicate to Jew and Gentile alike while national Israel is in temporary blindness. (Romans 11). That’s why the fading of Peter as the focus moves to Paul.

    1) No one during early Acts, not even Peter, yet knew the secret PURPOSE of the cross. Think about that: No one knows the VERY BASIS/foundation of our Good News—-i.e.justification, substitutionary, propitiatory function of the work of the cross. Paul’s first revelations regarding those secrets are yet 15 years plus future at this point in time.

    2) Peter is still preaching John’s “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins” KINGDOM MESSAGE (Acts 2:38).

    3) Peter clearly says IF they repent JESUS WILL RETURN and they WILL GET (future tense—-on Israel’s Day of Atonement) their sins blotted out. Is this what you would tell an unsaved friend today, asking how to be saved? Would they (do we) have to wait for forgiveness of sins?

    4) Do you tell an unsaved friend today if they repent, convert and are water baptized, Jesus will return? Of course not! God is still in Acts 1-6 completely dealing with Israel AS A NATION! Acts 3:20 CLEARLY states the result of their belief is the RETURN OF JESUS BEFORE PREACHED UNTO YOU. He was always and before preached unto them as King Jesus awaiting His earthly throne. That Prophetic role of Jesus is who/what Peter identifies in 2:25–36. Those verses clearly teach the ONLY significance of the resurrection of Jesus to the audience that day—-Namely, that He is risen and waiting at the right hand of the Father for the “until” of verse 2:35. Do you witness to people today by telling them to “save themselves from a wicked generation”? (2:40) IF they repent THEN the tribulation (Joel prophecy) will commence, they will have to endure it as Jesus warned (Matt 24:13), but will escape the fate of apostate Israel. THEN Times of Refreshing. Again, is this the only way you would describe the significance of the resurrection when witnessing to a friend today? Where’s the mention of the first fruits of His resurrection as the hope of our resurrection? Where’s the mention of the power of the cross to salvation, the blood, the glory of the cross? NOT ONE WORD!

    If this is the birthday of the Church the Body of Christ, then the message given that day had to be sufficient to understand and believe on to become members of the One Body. Peter is not preaching Eph 2:8-9. He’s not preaching Galatians 2:20. His hearers, those who believed what Peter preached, believed on the identity of Jesus as it pertained to Old Testament prophecy, nothing more, and leave his sermon believing they will soon, if they endure (go through) the Tribulation, refusing to worship Antichrist, see Jesus return to set up His kingdom, but have NO idea “God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing, their trespasses unto them . . .while they were yet sinners, Christ died for them. . .and now being now justified by his blood will be saved from wrath (the tribulation) through him. But that last—-2 Cor 5:19—is that not what YOU had to understand and believe to be saved and enter the One Body?

    Acts 2-3 is NOT the Gospel of the Grace of God. It’s NOT the good news Paul describes as “my Gospel.” Yet knowing that Gospel is the foundation laid by Paul by which we become members of the church which is His Body!

    I challenge any pastor to attempt an evangelical message using only Peter’s sermon. I challenge anyone to publish a Gospel Tract using only Peter’s sermons in Acts 2-3.

    The Day of Pentecost was 100% prophecy being fulfilled, not Mystery. In fact, the next year, covered up to Acts 7 and the stoning of Stephen, was exactly the extra year God the Father promised the Son during which national Israel could still be granted the Kingdom, as illustrated in Luke 13:6-9!!! All Jewish, all Kingdom stuff. The transition of “Jew first” to Gentile/Jew no difference starts in Acts 9 forward and is just that—-a transition. Lots going on to illustrate that transition in the book of Acts!

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