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Story of the Bible by  Jesse Lyman Hurlbut
Table of Contents


 

 

HOW THE IRON GATE WAS OPENED

Acts xii: 1 to 24.

[700]

Y OU remember that in the years while Jesus was teaching, Jerusalem and the part of the land near it was ruled by a Roman governor, whose name was Pilate; and that he was the ruler who sent Jesus Christ to the cross. After some years, the emperor at Rome, who ruled all the lands around the Great Sea, gave all the country of the Jews to a man named Herod Agrippa, and made him King of Judea. He was the nephew of the Herod who killed John the Baptist, as was told in Story 127, and the grandson of the other Herod who killed all the little children of Bethlehem, in trying to kill the little child Jesus, as we read in Story 112. Herod Agrippa was the King of Judea when Peter saw the vision on the housetop, and preached to the Gentiles, as we read in the last Story.

Herod wished to please the Jews in Jerusalem; and he seized one of the apostles, James, the brother of John, one of the three disciples who had been nearest to Jesus. He caused his guards to kill James with the sword, just as John the Baptist had been killed by his uncle, Herod Antipas. When he saw how greatly this act pleased the chief priests and rulers, he laid hands on Simon Peter also, and put him in prison, intending at the next feast of the Passover to lead him forth, and to put him to death.

Peter, therefore, was kept in the prison, with sixteen soldiers around the prison to guard him, four soldiers watching him all the time; but all the church prayed very earnestly to God for him. On the night before the day when Peter was to be brought out to die, he was sleeping in the prison, bound with two chains, while guards before the door were watching. Suddenly a bright light shone in Peter's cell and an angel from the Lord stood by him. The angel struck him on the side, and awoke him, and said, "Rise up quickly."


[Illustration]

AN ANGEL ENTERS THE PRISON CELL

[701] And as Peter awaked and stood up, his chains fell from his hands. And the angel said to him:

"Tie your girdle about your waist, and bind your sandals on your feet."

And Peter did as he was told, scarcely knowing what he was doing. Then the angel said:

"Wrap your cloak around you, and follow me."

And Peter followed the angel, thinking that he was dreaming. They passed the first guard of the soldiers, and the second; but no one stirred to hinder them. Then they came to the great iron gate on the outside of the prison; and this opened to them, as if unseen hands were turning it. They went out of the prison into the city, and passed through one street. Then the angel left Peter as suddenly as he had come to him. By this time Peter was fully awake and he said:

"Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and has set me free from the power of King Herod."

[702] Peter thought of what he should do, and where he should go; and he turned toward the house of a woman named Mary, who was near of kin to Barnabas; and who had a son named John Mark, then a young man, the same who many years afterward wrote "the Gospel according to Mark." At Mary's house many were met together, and they were praying for Peter.

Peter came to the house and knocked on the outside door, and called to those who were within. A young woman named Rhoda came to the door. She listened, and at once knew the voice of Peter. So glad was she, that she did not think to open the door, but ran into the house, and told them all that Peter was standing at the door. They said to her, "You are crazed!"

But she said that she was sure that Peter was there, for she knew his voice. And then they said:

"It must be an angel who has taken Peter's form!"

But Peter kept on knocking; and when at last they opened the door, and saw him, they were filled with wonder. With his hand he beckoned to them to listen; and he told them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And Peter said to them:

"Tell these things to James and to the other apostles."

And then he went away to a place where Herod and his men could not find him. The morning came, and there was a great stir among the soldiers, as to what had become of Peter. Herod the king sought for Peter, but could not find him; and in his anger he ordered that the guards in the prison should be put to death. And not long after this Herod himself died so suddenly that many believed his death came from the wrath of God upon him. So Herod perished; but Peter, whom he sought to kill, lived many years, working for Christ.

The James of whom Peter spoke, when he said, "Tell these things to James," was not James the apostle, the brother of John, for already that James had been put to death by Herod. He spoke of another James, a son of Joseph and Mary, a younger brother of Jesus, one who was always called "the Lord's brother." This James was a very holy man; and a leader of the church in Jerusalem, where he lived many years. Some time after this James wrote the book of the New Testament called "The Epistle of James."


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