Acts 12:19

ESV And after Herod searched for him and did not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and spent time there.
NIV After Herod had a thorough search made for him and did not find him, he cross-examined the guards and ordered that they be executed. Then Herod went from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.
NASB When Herod had searched for him and had not found him, he examined the guards and ordered that they be led away to execution. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and was spending time there.
CSB After Herod had searched and did not find him, he interrogated the guards and ordered their execution. Then Herod went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.
NLT Herod Agrippa ordered a thorough search for him. When he couldn’t be found, Herod interrogated the guards and sentenced them to death. Afterward Herod left Judea to stay in Caesarea for a while.
KJV And when Herod had sought for him, and found him not, he examined the keepers, and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judaea to Caesarea, and there abode.

What does Acts 12:19 mean?

An angel has rescued Peter from prison and execution, and the guards will pay for it. Herod Agrippa I had planned on executing Peter to build on his already strong relationship with the Jewish religious leadership. The angel arrived the evening before, removed Peter's shackles, and walked him out past at least four soldiers. Peter is gone, and the guards have no idea why (Acts 12:1–11).

The question arises, "How is it fair that the soldiers are punished for something God did?" It's not. It is not fair for the soldiers to lose their lives because God sent an angel to free a prisoner. That doesn't mean God is responsible for the guards' deaths. It is Agrippa who chose to arrest and execute Peter for the sole purpose of winning favor with the Sanhedrin. And it is Agrippa who chooses to execute the guards. Under Roman law, a guard who lets a prisoner escape can receive the same punishment the prisoner is scheduled for. That doesn't mean Agrippa has to sentence them.

We will see this law played out in a different way in Acts 16:25–34. Paul and Silas will be in jail in Philippi when an earthquake opens the doors and releases the chains of all the prisoners there. The jailor will come, see the open doors, and prepare to kill himself when Paul reassures him that all the prisoners are there. The stunned man will bind Paul and Silas' wounds, and they will lead him and his family to Christ.

The soldiers who guarded Jesus' tomb seemed to be in no threat of harm. Pilate told the Sanhedrin to take them to guard Jesus' tomb for their own peace of mind; Pilate didn't seem to care. Three days later, an angel appeared, Jesus rose, and the guards became catatonic. The Sanhedrin bribed the soldiers to say they had fallen asleep and the disciples stole the body. Under normal circumstances, if a prisoner escaped a Roman soldier would be vulnerable to the punishment the prisoner was to have. But they were working for the Jews, not the Romans, plus the chief priests said they would ensure that if the governor heard of it they would keep the guards out of trouble, so it appears the guards lived (Matthew 27:62–66; 28:11–15).

After Peter's escape Agrippa left Jerusalem and went to Caesarea Maritima. Caesarea is the capital of the Roman government in the region, but Agrippa made his home in Jerusalem, near the Jewish leadership. He probably should have stayed in Jerusalem. Soon, according to ancient historians, he will hold games in honor of Caesar. The second day of the games, he will stand before the audience in a robe woven with silver thread. The morning sun will catch the silver and he will appear to glow. The people will cry out, "The voice of a god, and not of a man!" (Acts 12:22). The Roman king who showed a modicum of respect for the God of the Jews will foolishly take in the praise. Five painful days later, he will die as worms eat his bowels (Acts 12:20–23).
What is the Gospel?
Download the app: