Reflecting on Acts for the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul

From Acts of the Apostles, by William S. Kurz, SJ, commenting on Acts 2:1-11

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The miraculous nature of Peter’s rescue is heightened by the timing of the rescue—on the very night before Herod was to bring him to trial—by the double chains with which the prisoner was secured, by the fact that he was sleeping between two soldiers, and by the presence of the door guards who kept watch on the prison.

Despite these apparently insurmountable obstacles, suddenly the angel of the Lord appeared by him, and a light shone in the cell. The angel awakened Peter by tapping him and ordered, “Get up quickly.” Immediately the chains fell from his wrists. The angel instructed Peter to get dressed and follow him, which Peter did.

In this dramatic scene, Luke adds a touch of humor, which will continue through the account of Peter’s meeting with the church: even as he was being rescued, Peter did not realize that what was happening through the angel was real; he thought he was seeing a vision or dream.

Luke narrates the scene of Peter’s rescue with strong echoes of both God’s deliverance of his people from slavery in Egypt and Jesus’ death and resurrection. The community prays “fervently” (ektenōs) for Peter’s release (Acts 12:5), as Jesus had prayed “so fervently” (ektenesteron) as he was suffering in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:44). Peter is awakened, literally, “raised,” from sleep (a common biblical metaphor for death) and commanded to “get up,” literally, “arise,” by an angel appearing in light, which recalls the dazzling clothes of the angels at Jesus’ tomb (Luke 24:4). Peter’s liberation anticipates our own resurrection, our rescue from death on the last day.

© 2013 William S. Kurz, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.