Spiritual prisons are those that Satan uses to cage us, and those we keep ourselves in. With a powerful example from Peter’s life, God’s Word shows us how to be freed from these prisons.
In Acts 12, Peter was imprisoned by King Herod. Thousands in Jerusalem were getting saved through the mighty works of God and Herod felt threatened. Of course, whenever God moves supernaturally through His people, it enrages the enemy.
Now Herod leveled his sights on Peter. “When [Herod] saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread (Passover)” (Acts 12:3, ESV). Herod was going to make a point: By executing the boldest believer at Easter, the church’s most sacred observance, he would frighten Christians into silence.
Herod sent squads of soldiers to capture and guard Peter. “And when he had seized him, he put him in prison . . . intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people” (12:4). The meaning of “bring him out” reveals that Herod was going to martyr Peter in a public display.
The word “seized” in this passage does not just mean “grabbed.” Rather, it signifies a power far beyond our own. Peter wasn’t just under the arrest of a governmental principality, he was locked down by a spiritual power that was manipulating a powerful man for demonic ends. Are you familiar with this kind of spiritual prison? Maybe you are in one now. You think, “Lord, I’ve prayed a thousand times, but nothing ever changes. How will I ever get free?”
What we read next changes everything. “So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church” (Acts 12:5). That one little word—“but”—transforms the whole picture. It says, “The enemy is on this scene, roaring like a lion, but the Lion of Judah is also on the move. He’s about to reveal Himself and change everything.”
I love the image of “earnest prayer” in this verse. A small band of humble men and women were holding a prayer meeting. Like many Christians, they probably had little influence in their world, yet the thickest prison walls didn’t stand a chance against their prayers.
“Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, 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 stood next to him” (12:6-7).
As Peter looked around, he saw that his chains had fallen off but that the guards were blinded to it. “He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision” (12:9).
What happened next is the heart of this message: “When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out” (12:10).