Part 10 Peter
This is the tenth in a series that examines references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible. In this article we look at Peter, the most prominent apostle during the time of the Lord’s earthly ministry and afterwards, during the period in which God was offering the Kingdom of Heaven to Israel after the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost. We can read of Peter’s experiences in and out of prison in Acts 2-12.
Much has been said about Peter and his impulsive personality. Before the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2 we see Peter as a person that could one minute declare that he was willing to follow the Lord Jesus Christ to his death and the next deny he ever knew him. After the arrival and subsequent baptism with the Holy Spirit we see Peter endowed with a new boldness that enabled him to fearlessly preach to the Jews congregated in Jerusalem about their Messiah, whom they had rejected and had crucified. Because of his and John’s courageous preaching the enraged leaders of Israel had them arrested. Because they had healed a lame man in front a crowd of people the Jewish leaders could not keep the two Apostle’s locked up for long. When the Sadducees questioned them and found out that they had committed no crime they had to be released. Yet the Jewish leadership tried the keep Peter and John quiet and forbade them from preaching about Jesus. However, Peter and John responded that they could not be silent and had to testify of the things they had seen and heard. As the Apostles continued to perform signs and wonders and their notoriety grew throughout Jerusalem, the leaders of Israel were again filled with jealousy and had Peter and John arrested. This time they were able to walk out of jail, not because they had been released by the guards but because an angel came along and opened the door for them and led them to freedom, giving them instructions to preach in the temple court. When the leaders of the Sanhedrin realized that the two Apostles were gone, they once again had them arrested. This time, they were wisely advised by Gamaliel, Saul of Tarsus’ mentor, that if this movement were of God there was nothing that the Sanhedrin or anyone could do to stop it. After being beaten, the apostles returned to the streets where they continued to boldly preach about the risen Jesus and his power to save Israel from her sin. Peter and John rejoiced and praised God that they had been considered worthy to suffer on behalf of the gospel and for the cause of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Several years later Herod Agrippa started a persecution against the Christian believers in his realm which included Judea, and much of the rest of Palestine. When he saw how he had pleased the Jews by having James the Apostle, the brother of John, executed he proceeded to have Peter arrested with the likely intention of doing the same to him. However, while Peter was sleeping in the prison an angel appeared to him, woke him and led him out to the street. When Peter realized what was going on he knew that God had preserved his life in order that he could continue to do His work.
Nearly 20 years later, when Peter wrote his first epistle he was able to speak from experience when he said, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4:15-16). Peter willingly accepted persecution and suffering for the glory of God.
Peter’s epistles, written primarily for Jewish believers (1 Peter 1:1), will have direct application during the tribulation that will follow the rapture of the Body of Christ, a time in which many believers will be imprisoned for their faith and trust in Jesus as Messiah. Even today, while such persecution is not universal, there are thousands of believers that are in prison around the world because they have a bold and courageous testimony for the Lord. Peter provides us with an example of someone that with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit was able to be transformed from an impulsive and often insecure disciple to a fearless messenger of the hope and joy that comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.