Acts 12:1 Herod the king
The Herod of Acts 12 was Herod Agrippa I. He was the grandson of the Herod the Great who was king at the time of the Messiah's birth; and he was the nephew of the Herod who killed John the Baptist (Lu 9:9). See Bible Dictionary-Herod. This chapter reveals that Herod Agrippa's wickedness was not unlike his predecessors.
Acts 12:2 he killed James the brother of John with the sword
"This event occurred probably as early as 44 A. D. James therefore has the distinction of being the first Apostolic martyr. It is unfortunate that so notable an event should receive such brief treatment at the hands of the historian. Tradition, however, has attempted to fill in the details. It is asserted that the officer who had the distinguished martyr in charge, was so impressed with his dignified fortitude that he was converted to Christianity, and was beheaded at the same time as James. The legend is related by Clement of Alexandria, and preserved by Eusebius in these words: 'The accuser of the Apostle, beholding his confession and moved thereby, confessed that he too was a Christian. So they were both led away to execution together, and on the road the accuser asked James for forgiveness. Gazing on him for a little while, he said, 'Peace be with thee,' and kissed him. And then they were both beheaded together.'
"This martyrdom of James is one of the strongest testimonies to his prominence and importance among the Apostles, and does much to correct the impression naturally formed by the lack of prominent mention of him by the evangelists. Surely, since Herod undertook this persecution for the sake of gaining the favor of the Jews, and since, no doubt, he could choose the victim, he would surely select one of the most influential and prominent of the Apostles. His selection of James, therefore, is a high tribute to the Apostle's worth and dignity." (Willard Done, "Lives of the Apostles", Improvement Era, 1899, Vol. ii. February, 1899. No. 4. .)
Acts 12:4 Easter
"The term Easter as used here by King James translators is an anachronism, for there was no Easter celebration as such for many, many years following the Savior's death and resurrection. The Greek word pascha, equivalent to the Hebrew Payach, translates itself as Passover. Early Christians changed the Hebrew custom of celebrating Passover into their own commemoration of the resurrection of Jesus, whom they regarded as the true Paschal lamb of God and the first fruits of the resurrection." (Institute Manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus & his Apostles, 2nd ed., p. 253)
The Bible Dictionary states:
"The word Easter is from Eastre, a Norse goddess whose pagan festival was observed at the spring equinox. The association of this pagan goddess with the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ was only by adaptation and synthesis. There is no real connection. Jesus being the Lamb of God, was crucified at the Passover time and is the true Passover (see 1 Cor. 5:7)."
Acts 12:5 prayer was made without ceasing...for him
James teaches us that the effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16). The only thing more powerful than the fervent prayer of a righteous man is the fervent prayer of a group of righteous men or women. Their cumulative faith brings cumulative blessings that cannot be obtained individually. Joseph Smith said, "The greatest temporal and spiritual blessings...always come from faithfulness and concerted effort, [not from] individual exertion or enterprise." (Teachings, p. 183) The power of united prayer of the entire church is a power unequalled in the world. The Lord will not be slow to answer the prayers of his saints unless they have been disobedient (see Mosiah 11:23-24). Yet, we often underestimate this great power because we underestimate the Lord's willingness to bless us according to our desires.
James E. Talmage
"...We are apt in our weakness to pray with our lips and scarcely expect in our hearts that our petitions will be granted. I often think that we are not unlike the Saints of olden times who were gathered in prayer at the time of Peter's imprisonment. Read Acts 12:1-18; [Elder Talmage recounts the surprise of the saints upon hearing of Peter's miraculous release]. Yet we today feel surprised when the Lord manifests His power to us in any strong or otherwise remarkable manner; our greatest cause for wonderment would seem to lie in the contemplation of His mercy, that He will interpose in behalf of such weak and sinful mortals as many of us are. He is as willing today as ever in the past to assist His servants, and that too, by what we call miraculous means should it be necessary." (Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], 3: June 25, 1893.)
Acts 12:6 Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains
James E. Talmage
"The fisherman apostle lay in the dungeon, the last night before he was to be brought before the people, and probably to be put to death. He was sleeping peacefully; why should he not rest when his conscience was void of offense? What was death to him? it meant an escape from the cruel persecutions of his enemies, and a reunion with the Master who had died so bravely on the cross, and whom he had learned to love so well. He was chained to two soldiers, one lying on either side of him as he slept; he could not move without disturbing his guards. The door of the prison was fastened, and before it other guards were stationed, and beyond these again was the great gate that divided the prison grounds from the city. The guards were vigilant, for it was in accordance with Roman law, that if a soldier ever allowed a prisoner to escape from his custody, the soldier should be subject to the extreme penalty that the prisoner would have received." (Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], 3: June 25, 1893.)
Acts 12:11 the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod
John A. Widstoe
"The scriptures are replete with evidence, that these heavenly visitors are ministering angels for the righteous. Thus an angel brought courage to Hagar (Gen. 16:7) food to Elijah (1 Kgs. 19:5-8) protected Daniel against the lions (Dan. 6:22) and secured the release of Peter from prison. (Acts 12:17)
"Undoubtedly angels often guard us from accidents and harm, from temptation and sin. They may properly be spoken of as guardian angels. Many people have borne and may bear testimony to the guidance and protection that they have received from sources beyond their natural vision. Without the help that we receive from the constant presence of the Holy Spirit, and from possible holy angels, the difficulties of life would be greatly multiplied." (Evidences and Reconciliations, p. 402.)
Acts 12:12 John, whose surname was Mark
"John Mark, commonly known as Mark, is the author of the Gospel of that name. He was the son of one of the leading women in the early church in Jerusalem. Believers assembled at her home, and Peter returned there after being freed from prison (Acts 12:12-17). John Mark was chosen as a companion of Paul and Barnabas as they left on the first missionary journey (Acts 12:25,13:5) but for an unnamed reason he left the two brethren about half way into the journey (Acts 13:13). This later became a point of contention between Paul and Barnabas when departing on the second journey. Barnabas wanted to take Mark again but Paul refused; so they split company and went their separate ways (Acts 15:37-41). Evidently Paul was later reconciled to Mark, for he speaks of him with commendation in his epistles. (See, for example, Col 4:10; Phil 1:24) Peter speaks of Mark as his son and as being with him in Babylon-probably Rome (1 Pet 5:13). An ancient tradition states that Mark wrote his gospel in Rome, taking his material directly from Peter." (Institute Manual, The Life and Teachings of Jesus & his Apostles, 2nd ed., p. 253)
Acts 12:16 when they had opened the door, and saw him, they were astonished
"Don't you love what this story shows about human nature? Sometimes our most sincere prayers are answered by totally miraculous means...think of the position of the Saints in Mary's house. It was the middle of the night and they had obviously been praying for hours that Peter would be spared. But when it happened, they didn't believe it. They denied that it had happened. They tried to explain it away. To actually accept the miracle by looking at it was the last thing they did, and then they were so overwhelmed with their own reactions that they couldn't even welcome Peter properly. Their prayer of faith brought the miracle to their doorstep, but for a long, suspenseful moment they lacked the final ounce of faith to open the door and let the miracle enter." (Chieko Okazaki, Sanctuary, 34.)
James E. Talmage
"Peter kept knocking, and at last they opened the door, and were astonished to find him safe. Why should they be so surprised, when they had been praying for that very blessing? One might think that their hearts would be so full of thanksgiving that there would be no room for astonishment.
"Yet we to-day feel surprised when the Lord manifests His power to us in any strong or otherwise remarkable manner; our greatest cause for wonderment would seem to lie in the contemplation of His mercy, that He will interpose in behalf of such weak and sinful mortals as many of us are. He is as willing to-day as ever in the past to assist His servants, and that too, by what we call miraculous means should it be necessary." (Brian H. Stuy, ed., Collected Discourses, 5 vols. [Burbank, Calif., and Woodland Hills, Ut.: B.H.S. Publishing, 1987-1992], 3: June 25, 1893.)
Acts 12:17 Go shew these things unto James
The James spoken of is the half-brother of Jesus. His prominence in the early church is evident in the prominent role he played in the church council of Acts 15. He is also presumed to be the author of the book of James.
Acts 12:21-23 The death of Herod Agrippa
David O. McKay
"The Roman Emperor Claudius had obtained great victories in Great Britain. On his return to Rome there was great rejoicing. Herod thought he would gain great favor with the emperor by a grand festival in his honor in Caesarea, to which he hastened from Jerusalem. On the morning of the second day the theatre was filled with a mass of human beings to witness the inhuman exhibition of gladiators who fought one another for public amusement. Herod appeared in a magnificent robe, sparkling with silver. As the rays of the early morning sun fell upon him, the eyes of the beholders were dazzled by the brilliant robe. Flattered by their foolish cries of admiration he made an oration to the people who gave a shout, crying, 'It is the voice of a God and not of a man.' He was willing to be so called, though this was blasphemy, giving to a man what belongs to God alone. 'Immediately the angel of the Lord smote him because he gave not God the glory.' This was very different from the experience of Peter in prison when the angel of the Lord came upon him, and smote him upon the side; and led him from death.
"The smiting of Herod by the angel was with a dreadful disease such as had caused the death of his grandfather. He was carried from the theatre to his palace where he, lingered five days in agony until death closed his life in the fifty-fourth year of his age. It was the fourth year of his reign over the region where had ruled his grandfather, whose wicked example he had followed to a like inglorious end.
"When in the theatre the scene was suddenly changed from the gladiatorial and other wicked amusements to the judgment on the king, the multitude fled, rending their clothes according to the custom in horror." (Ancient Apostles, 158-9.)