неделя, 16 октомври 2011 г.


The story of the apostle Peter’s rescue by an angel in the Acts of the
Apostles is exceptionally useful for understanding how angels were
understood in the early Christian community. This tale originates in
the persecution of the early church in Palestine. Herod the king
(grandson of Herod the Great), appointed to his position by Rome,
vigorously persecuted the church as part of an effort to please the religious
establishment. He executed James, the brother of John, and
imprisoned Peter with the intent of executing him as soon as the Feast
of Unleavened Bread had passed. Aware of his impending fate, the
community prayed for his deliverance:
Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made
to God by the church. The very night when Herod was about
to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers,
bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were
guarding the prison; and behold an angel of the Lord appeared,
and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side
and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” (Acts 12:5–7)
From this passage it is evident that the Christian God is a god
who responds to prayer. This is consistent with the traditional Hebrew
understanding of a regal divinity who sends angel “courtiers” out from
the court of heaven to deliver his messages to his people and to otherwise
carry out his will. Also consistent with tradition, the angel who
appeared to Peter is a being of light, indicating the celestial, solar origin
of such beings.The angel directs Peter to dress and follow him out of prison.
Peter, half asleep, thinks he is in a dream:
Peter and the angel leave the cell, and when they had passed
the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the
city. It opened to them of its own accord, and they went out
and passed on through one street; and immediately the angel
left him. (12:9)
The theme of God intervening in human affairs to rescue a captive
is consistent with Judeo-Christian tradition, an echo of God’s rescue
of his people Israel from their captivity in Egypt, not to mention
Babylon. It is also significant that the angel appears rather abruptly,
accomplishes the task at hand, and then leaves as soon as the mission
is complete. This mode of action tends to deemphasize the importance
of the angel and gives the glory to God. In this instance, when later
relating the story of his rescue to other believers, Peter described to
them “how the Lord had brought him out of the prison” (12:17), thus
focusing attention—and particularly the praise—on God rather than
his agent. Although the angel directs Peter at each stage in the rescue,
the angel does not force Peter to obey. On the whole, angels respect
one’s free will, directing but not compelling human actions.
After escaping, Peter found his way to the house of Mary, the
mother of John, where the local Christian community was gathered:
And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a maid
named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter’s voice, in
her joy she did not open the gate but ran in and told that
Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, “You are
mad.” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his
angel!” But Peter continued knocking; and when they
opened, they saw him and were amazed. (12:13–16)
The gathered believers apparently thought that Peter had been
put to death and that the maid had seen his angel or spirit. The
extreme surprise of the people indicates that God and his angels do
not intervene in human affairs every time they are requested. Why
God should manifest on some occasions and not others is a mystery.
Immediately following the story of Peter, in the same chapter of
Acts, we read of another instance of an angel’s direct intervention in
human affairs:
On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his
seat upon the throne, and made an oration to them. And the
people shouted, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!”
Immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he did
not give God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and died.
The contrast between Peter’s rescue and Herod’s death is instructive:
Peter is rescued by an angel, but gives God the glory. Herod, on
the other hand, is acclaimed a god, takes the glory for himself, and is
slain by an angel as a result. What the author of Acts means by
“immediately an angel of the Lord smote him” is unclear. According
to an independent account, Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews, an owl
appeared during Herod’s speech, which was taken as a bad omen.
Stricken in the abdomen with severe pain, Herod died within three
days of the event. The assertion that an angel struck him imputes
unseen spiritual action, that God must have taken vengeance against
a persecutor of the church.

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