God’s Word for You
Acts 12:8-10 Automatically!
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, April 28, 2020
8 Then the angel said to him, “Put on your clothes and lace up your sandals,” and Peter did so. Then he said, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 Peter went, following the angel out of the prison, but he had no idea that what the angel was doing was real. He thought he was seeing a vision. 10 They passed the first and second sentries and came to the iron gate that leads into the city. It opened for them all by itself. They went through it and along one street, when suddenly the angel left him.
The angel gives Peter five commands in all. After “Get up,” he instructed Peter to get dressed, put on his sandals, wrap his cloak around himself, and follow him. The details might have been a hint that this was no dream, but the angel knew that a foggy-headed, just-awakened fisherman would need warmth in the spring night air, and the instructions were not hints at all but genuine commands out of concern for Peter’s well-being. He wouldn’t be going back to the cell to get his things.
Three doorways had to be traversed; the inner two had sentries, but they were sleeping. The third door, the one that led out into the city, opened “all by itself.” Here we have the marvelously modern word automati(c) (αὐτομάτη), “automatically.” We avoid this loaded word in translation since a modern reader would likely assume that “automatic” means “under its own power,” that is to say, that the door was electrified in some way or activated by counterweights when a release was pulled. In context, the door opened “by itself” because God willed it to open so that his apostle could go through it (the angels are not bound by material laws nor are they hindered by doors or locks).
Verse 10 shows that the inspired writer had either first-hand knowledge of the prison or that he got the account from one who did. Luke therefore had access either to Peter or to Mark (who, we think, reported Peter’s preaching in the form of his Gospel). The memory of the three gates, the two sentries posted, and of the big outer gate opening “automatically” all show us the vivid recollection of the man who saw it all happen. In addition, there is a variation on this text that has come down from both Gaul and Egypt. In these witnesses, after Peter and the angel went through the last gate, they also “went down the seven steps.” This, too, shows a knowledge of the way the city looked before its destruction in 70 AD.
Peter was free by the grace of God. This was from a physical prison with locked doors, chains, and sentries with weapons. Does God’s grace end in ancient history? Not at all. We are set from something far more binding than stone walls, iron weapons, and human guards. We are set free by the grace of Jesus Christ from the prison of death, the weapons of the devil, the chains of sin that bind us and our fallen human nature. It might seem, in this lifetime, as if this freedom is nothing but a vision or a dream, but God’s servants have instructed us to get dressed with the robe of Jesus’ righteousness, and it’s no dream. We are free, now, today, to serve God with all holiness and righteousness, all through the blood of our Savior.
Pastor Timothy Smith