We last saw Peter sleeping in the garden. In today’s reading, he is asleep again—but this time the circumstances are vastly different. Peter had been arrested by Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great. The apostle James, the brother of John, had already been put to death. Peter was arrested when Herod saw that the execution of James increased his political popularity.
Peter was not executed immediately, probably because of the approaching Passover holiday. The fate of James and the situation’s similarity to the event surrounding Jesus’ death could not have been lost on Peter. Death must have seemed virtually certain. The church thought so, and they called for an urgent prayer meeting at the home of John Mark’s mother.
Scripture includes a note of humor in this account. Peter was sleeping so soundly that the angel had to poke him in the side to wake him. Even then, Peter thought he was having a vision of some kind. The angel had to talk him through putting on his sandals and his cloak step by step.
Once Peter realized the angel had set him free, he went to where the church was earnestly praying—only to be left standing at the door! The believers refused to believe Rhoda, the servant who reported that Peter had returned. While he continued to knock, they debated about what she might have seen. Finally they opened the door and rejoiced to see Peter himself standing there, living proof that their prayers were answered.
Peter’s sleep in prison was used by God to highlight His miraculous power in rescuing His servant. Peter did nothing to instigate his own escape; it was entirely the work of God. His deep sleep also revealed his peace in the face of death. Such a rest is ultimately a gift from God.