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Why was Peter Imprisoned on Passover?

Why was Peter Imprisoned on Passover? by Dr. Nicholas J. Schaser

At the beginning of Acts 12, Herod arrests Peter and puts him in jail during the Passover festival (12:3-4). Just as the first Passover in Egypt led to Israel’s liberation from slavery,

God replicates that initial Passover night when an angel releases Peter from prison. The disciple’s individual Passover and exodus underscore the continued presence of the God of Israel with the first Jewish followers of Jesus.

While Peter sleeps in prison, an angel of the Lord appears during the night, and tells him, “Gird yourself (ζῶσαι; zosai) and bind on (ὑπόδησαι; hupódesai) your sandals” (Acts 12:8). The angel’s directions to Peter on this night echo God’s words to the Hebrews on the night they eat the Passover lamb: “Thus you shall eat it with your belt girded around (περιεζωσμέναι; periezosménai), and your sandals (or “bindings,” ὑποδήματα; hupodémata) on your feet” (Exodus 12:11 LXX).

These similar instructions to Israel and Peter both precede a miraculous release from bondage. More, when Peter and the angel come to the boundary of the prison grounds, a gate of “iron” (σιδηροῦς; siderous) opens for them and they escape into the city (Acts 12:10). Luke’s attention to gate’s metal recalls Israel’s liberation from Egypt, the “furnace of iron (σιδήρεος; sidéreos)” (cf. Deut 4:20; Jer 11:4 LXX).

Alongside these similarities, there is also a striking difference between the two Passovers. In order to liberate the Hebrews from slavery, God slays the firstborn:

“I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike (πατάσσω; patásso) all the firstborn of Egypt” (Exodus 12:12 LXX).

In Acts, instead of striking Peter’s captors, God’s messenger strikes Peter to enact his exodus: “The angel of the Lord… struck (πατάσσω; patásso) Peter on the side and woke him, saying, ‘Get up quickly!’ And the chains fell off his hands” (Acts 12:7).


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