God’s Perspective Part 1


(Starting with this issue we will include this short column to help our readers gain a better understanding of how God views prisons and prisoners.)


For most of us prisons are a part of the reality of life that we are happy to ignore.  Most people’s attitude is… “they deserve what they get, lock them up and throw away the key.”  We are happy to pay our tax dollars in order to be assured that these undesirable elements of society are kept far away from us.  However, we must ask ourselves, “is this how God wants us to respond?”


The King James Version of the Bible refers to prisons and prisoners 115 times.  Passages such as Psalm 69:33 tell us that God has not forsaken those that are in prison.


For the LORD heareth the poor, and despiseth not his prisoners.


Matthew 25:34-46 indicates that the attention given to prisoners will be a criterion by which those people that pass through the seven years of tribulation on earth will be judged worthy to enter the Millennial Kingdom.


35  For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:

 36  Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.


Paul commends his friend Onesiphorus for not being ashamed of him when he was in prison.


2 Timothy 1:16  The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain:


These passages clearly show us that God has regard for those in prison.  He does not ignore them and we can do no less.  It is God’s will that we give attention to those for whom Christ died that are locked behind bars.  We may want to forget about them, but God will never allow us to do so.


In future issues we will look at some specific examples of how God has worked in prisons and through prisoners.


Part 2 Joseph


This is the second in a series that examines references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible.  This time we will look at the story of Joseph who was unjustly imprisoned in Egypt.


19 ¶ And it came to pass, when his master heard the words of his wife, which she spake unto him, saying, After this manner did thy servant to me; that his wrath was kindled.

 20  And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.

 21  But the LORD was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.

 22  And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it.

23    The keeper of the prison looked not to any thing that was under his hand; because the LORD was with him, and that which he did, the LORD made it to prosper.


In this familiar story Joseph had been sold by his brothers to slave traders that took him to Egypt.  Eventually he ended up in the home of  Potipher, “the captain of the guard” and “an officer of Pharaoh.”  Clearly he was an important and influential man in Egypt.   Joseph proved to be a loyal and trustworthy servant and was promoted to the position of manager of all the affairs of Potipher’s household.  Potipher’s wife was attracted to Joseph, but Joseph repeatedly refused her advances.  One day when she was trying to seduce Joseph he ran out of the room, leaving behind his coat which she was clinging to.  Potipher’s wife used the coat as evidence that Joseph was the in fact the one trying to seduce her.  Enraged by the accusations and making no attempt to discover the truth Potipher threw Joseph into a prison that was designed to hold political prisoners that threatened Pharaoh.  This is the first time prisons are mentioned in the Bible.


The most significant part of the above quoted passage is verse 21 which says, “the Lord was with Joseph.”  This is a clear and graphic reminder that God is alive and active in every circumstance.  There is no dungeon so dark and bleak that God’s presence is not there to give strength and encouragement to the person that trusts in Him.


This story illustrates the influence of a faithful witness for the Lord.  Despite the tremendous injustice which happened to Joseph he did not allow anger and bitterness to control him.  Rather he chose to exemplify integrity and dedication always keeping in mind that his actions were a reflection on the God of Israel whom he loved and served. 


Because of Joseph’s faithfulness he became a trustee of the jailer in the prison and was responsible for the care of the other prisoners.  One day as he making his rounds he noticed that two of the prisoners, Pharaoh’s cupbearer (butler) and baker , seemed especially sad.  This is a striking statement since one would expect that all the prisoners would be sad.  The fact that Joseph was able to notice that these two men were particularly gloomy indicates that he was a man that really paid attention to others.

We do not know how long Joseph was in prison except that it was between 2 and 12 years.  Yet throughout that entire period Joseph maintained a faultless testimony and through an exemplary life was able to give honor and glory to God.  Likewise we can see that despite such bitter conditions God does not forsake His beloved servants and continues to use them for His honor and glory.  These principles are just as true today.  There are thousands of inmates in jails and prisons around the world, most deserving to be there and some not, that have committed their lives to Christ and are a part of God’s work of reaching the lost with the gospel.



Part 3 Samson


This is the third in a series that examines references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible.  This time we will look at Samson whose life we can read about in Judges 13-16.


Samson is a tragic figure in the scriptures.  His birth was the result of a special promise from God to his previously childless parents, Manoah and his wife.  They were told before Samson’s birth that he would be a unique individual, set apart for God to be an instrument to deliver His people, Israel, from the oppression of the Philistines.  Likewise his life was to be characterized by certain restrictions, identifying him as a very exceptional person.  This information was made known to the child’s parents directly from the angel of the Lord, a pre-incarnate appearance of the Son of God.


And the angel of the LORD appeared unto the woman, and said unto her, Behold now, thou art barren, and bearest not: but thou shalt conceive, and bear a son.

 Now therefore beware, I pray thee, and drink not wine nor strong drink, and eat not any unclean thing:

  For, lo, thou shalt conceive, and bear a son; and no razor shall come on his head: for the child shall be a Nazarite unto God from the womb: and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. Judges 13:3-5


Manoah and his wife took these instructions very seriously and both were filled with awe at the thought of the tremendous responsibility that had been given to them.  There is no indication in the scriptures that Samson’s parents were delinquent in the way in which they raised him.  Despite having God-fearing parents, being favored by the Lord and being gifted with super human strength Samson still managed to mess up his life through poor choices, being controlled by his passions and simple stupidity.  It is a story that is sadly often repeated today.  So many of the souls trapped in the jails and prisons of our country are there because they simply made dumb decisions in life that led them in the wrong direction.


Despite so many unwise actions the Lord continued to use Samson as a tool to accomplish His purpose of bringing judgment on the Philistines, Israel’s mortal enemies.  Even his self-destructive attraction to Philistine women turned out to fit into the Lord’s greater purpose.


And Samson went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines.

 And he came up, and told his father and his mother, and said, I have seen a woman in Timnath of the daughters of the Philistines: now therefore get her for me to wife.

 Then his father and his mother said unto him, Is there never a woman among the daughters of thy brethren, or among all my people, that thou goest to take a wife of the uncircumcised Philistines? And Samson said unto his father, Get her for me; for she pleaseth me well.

 But his father and his mother knew not that it was of the LORD, that he sought an occasion against the Philistines: for at that time the Philistines had dominion over Israel.

Judges 14:1-4.


Ultimately, Samson’s misadventures landed him in a Philistine prison.  It was here that God finally accomplished the ultimate fulfillment of the promise given to Samson’s parents before his birth.  After having his eyes gouged out he was put on display as a freak show for his captor nation’s rulers and dignitaries.  With the most influential people among the Philistines present Samson brought down the temple of the pagan god, killing himself and three thousand of Israel’s oppressors.


Had Samson had better judgment he would have probably died at an old age as an honored and respected warrior that conquered the Philistines on the field of battle.  Instead he died a violent and ignoble death as a humiliated prisoner and side show entertainer for the enemy.  Samson could not escape the consequences of his poor behavior.  Nonetheless, Samson’s inability to make wise choices could not thwart God’s intention to use him as a means to accomplish His greater purpose for Israel.  It is a lesson for all of us that God can take even our foolishness and use it for His glory.



Part 4 Saul


This is the fourth in a series that examines references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible.  This time we will look at Saul, King of Israel whose life we can read about in 1 Samuel 8-31


Saul is an unusual character to choose for an article such as this since there is no record that he was ever physically imprisoned.  Saul’s story is appropriate, however, because it describes how he lived in a type of emotional prison for much of his life, one that is shared by a very high number of inmates in our country and around the world.  That is the bondage of mental illness.


The introduction we have to Saul in the Scriptures is very positive.  He was chosen by God to be Israel’s first king.  We learn that Saul was a very handsome, well built man.  The prophet Samuel recognized God’s blessing upon him and anointed him as king.    Saul demonstrated himself as a man of both great courage and compassion, when he refused to have his critics executed after winning a decisive battle against the Ammonites.  We can read in 1 Samuel 13:1 that Saul was thirty years old when he became king and that he ruled Israel for forty years.


Saul’s situation changed dramatically, however, after an incident in which he disobeyed God by offering sacrifices prior a battle against the Philistines rather than waiting for the prophet Samuel to arrive as was agreed upon.  Because of that event Samuel declared that Saul’s descendants would not rule over Israel.  From that point on things in Saul’s life went from bad to worse.  Eventually in 1 Samuel 16:14 we read, But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the LORD troubled him. (Note:  It is likely that the Lord permitted the evil spirit to torment Saul, rather than that He directly sent the spirit to him.)  This “evil spirit” tormented Saul for the rest of his life.


Many commentators have noted that Saul demonstrated the symptoms of a number of common mental health disorders, including manic/depression, paranoia and schizophrenia.  Modern medicine and psychology have tried to tell us in recent years that severe mental health problems are entirely associated with chemical imbalances in the brain.  We can see that at least in Saul’s case, the cause of his troubles came from a spiritual source.  While there is no question that mind altering drugs can ease the most severe symptoms of many of these severe psychological problems, the patients themselves will openly admit that the root causes are often a complex combination of emotional, psychological and spiritual factors.


According to U.S. Department of Justice statistics nearly 15% of all inmates in the United States are being actively treated in correctional institutions for mental health disorders, most of them receiving some type of pshycotropic drugs to alter their behavior.  Such quick fix remedies as prescribing pills to the mentally ill may pacify and temporarily calm an individual but it does not treat the root cause of the disorder.  We read in the Scriptures that the only thing that could give Saul peace was when David would play his harp for him.  David probably sang as well while he played and it is likely the words of his songs were the very ones that eventually were recorded in the book of Psalms.  So it was the Word of God, set to music that had the effect of calming Israel’s king when he was troubled by the evil spirit that tortured his mind and soul.


I am not implying that the example of Saul’s situation explains every case , or even most cases of mental illness today.  It does however, give us insight to show that we are engaged in a spiritual battle against “spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12).  The relationship between the physical nature of the brain and the soul and spirit is deep and complex.  Emotional and psychological problems should be viewed from a holistic perspective that takes in every aspect of the human nature.



Part 5  Manasseh


This is the fifth in a series that examines references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible. This time we will look at Manasseh, King of Judah whose life we can read about in 2 Kings 21:1-18 and 2 Chronicles 33:1-20.


Manasseh was the son of Hezekiah, one of the few righteous kings to rule Judah after the nation was divided.  Manasseh did not follow in his father’s footsteps in the first years that he ruled over God’s people.  We are told that he did evil in the sight of the Lord and he engaged in detestable practices, including idolatry, witchcraft and child sacrifice among many other evil activities.  We are told that Manasseh led the people of Judah and Jerusalem astray.  What’s more, God tried to get Manasseh to change his ways but he refused.  2 Chronicles 33:10 says,  And the LORD spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken.”


This passage goes on to describe what happened to Manasseh:


Wherefore the LORD brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon.

And when he was in affliction, he besought the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers,

 And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD he was God.                                                                      2 Chronicles 33:11-13


It took the personal tragedy of being captured, taken away from his home and becoming a prisoner to get him to look to God.  This is not uncommon today as many people live their lives in reckless and ungodly ways, all the time ignoring the call of God.  Perhaps they have heard the gospel from people the Lord has brought their way but, like Manasseh, they would not listen.  However, when a person’s foolish and selfish behavior ends them up in a prison cell they find themselves calling on God and giving attention to Him in a way that they never had in the past.


We can read later in 2 Chronicles 33 that although Manasseh tried very hard to get the people of Judah to return to the proper worship of God they refused and continued offering sacrifices to foreign gods from the altars built on the high places.  So although Manasseh, the king, had turned to the true and living God, the wrong influence he had on the people of the kingdom could not be reversed.  Thus we see that if Manasseh had obeyed God from the very beginning, as the Lord had willed, it may have protected the nation from sinking to the low levels depravity they reached.  Therefore we see that it is far better for an individual to turn to the Lord sooner than later.  While God is always willing to accept any one back to His arms, the impact one might have on others to cause them to stray away from the truth of God might not be able to be undone.


Part 6  Daniel


This is the sixth in a series that examines references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible. This time we will consider the testimonies of Daniel and the three Hebrew men, captives in Babylon and Persia whose stories are recorded in the book of Daniel.  We can read these inspirational accounts in chapters three and six of Daniel.


In 605 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, invaded Judah and took the best and brightest of the Jewish young men as exiles.  Among these prisoners were four exceptional individuals named Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  They all became influential in the Babylonian royal court.  Later in 539 B.C. the Medes and Persians conquered the Babylonian empire and we are told that Daniel continued to have a prominent role in the political life of that empire.


In Daniel chapter three we learn how Nebuchadnezzar had a golden image erected in Babylon and required everyone to bow down to it.  The story of how the three young Hebrew men refused to worship the image and were thrown into the fiery furnace, only to be rescued from the flames by the power of God is familiar to anyone that has attended Sunday School as a child.


A similar story can be found in the sixth chapter of how several years later, and under another ruler, all the people of the empire were forbidden from praying to any god other than the king.  Daniel, however, refused to obey the commandment and prayed to the Lord.  As a result he was thrown into a den of lions, but the Lord shut the animals’ mouths and Daniel was not harmed.


Each of these accounts emphasize the importance of standing firm for our convictions even in the face of strong opposition.  The temptation to cave in and take the road of expediency can often be strong, yet the only way we can truly glorify God in our lives is by being firm and immovable in our commitment to Him.


The comments of the three young men before being thrown into the furnace are both inspiring and humbling.  When faced with the threat of being executed in the flames they responded boldly to the king by saying…


If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand, O king.  But if not, be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.


We must ask ourselves if we would have that kind of courage under similar circumstances.  Were we forced to choose between our testimony for Christ and certain death, how would we respond?

Part 7  Jeremiah


This is the seventh in a series that examines references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible. This time we will look at the Prophet Jeremiah and find out how his commitment to preaching the Words of the Lord landed him in prison on more than one occasion.


Jeremiah’s ministry lasted over 40 years, beginning in 626 B.C. during the reign of king Josiah and ending some time after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 B.C.  During much of that time Jeremiah was in captivity because he insisted on preaching the words of God rather than what men wanted him to say.


During the time of Josiah, Jeremiah was a trusted confidant and advisor to the king.  That changed dramatically however, after Josiah’s death.  During the reigns of the next four kings of Judah (Jehoiahaz, Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah)  Jeremiah was either in prison or in danger of being put in prison.  That was not the case because Jeremiah was such a wrongdoer but rather because he chose to say those things that needed to be said.  He boldly proclaimed, as a prophet of God, that Judah had allowed herself to drift away from the laws of God and that they would be punished through the invasion of the Babylonians and the destruction of Jerusalem.


The leaders of Judah did not want to hear Jeremiah’s message.  They wanted to hear that God was going to give them victory and deliverance from their enemies.  Rather than heeding the warnings of the prophet they chose to disregard them and persecute the messenger because of the message.  Consequently, Jeremiah was either imprisoned or restricted at least eight times during his ministry.


Jeremiah’s plight teaches us that often those that choose to obey God and to say what needs to be said in the face of opposition often suffer as a result.  It is in direct contradiction to those that would say that when people put their faith in Christ they should no longer suffer or experience problems.  The Apostle Paul reminds us that “all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (2 Timothy 3:12.)  God’s message is often in direct contradiction to what the world wants to hear.


Peter, the primary Apostle to the Jewish Christians, explains that being beaten or imprisoned for the sake of Christ is a blessing (1 Peter 3:16-17).  Peter’s epistle is primarily directed to believers that will endure the great tribulation on earth that will take place after the rapture of the church, the Body of Christ.  It is a time when all those who are willing to identify themselves as Christians and stand up for him in opposition to the authorities of this world will be persecuted in a way never before experienced.


To some extent we can all expect some type of opposition as we stand for the truth of God.  Most likely we will not be persecuted to the extent that Jeremiah was or  as the tribulation believers will be.  We may be mocked and ridiculed, perhaps ostracized and ignored.  We must be willing to accept this type of “low level” persecution with the same resolve that Jeremiah had when he stood face to face with those that would do him great harm.


Jeremiah is often called the “weeping prophet” because he had to deliver such a horrible message of destruction and judgment on Judah.  However, he was not just a messenger of gloom and doom.  Jeremiah was able to look beyond the death and destruction and see the day of hope and restoration for the nation of Israel.  Many of Jeremiah’s prophecies picture a glorious restoration of Israel as the Messiah returns to establish his reign of justice and righteousness upon the earth.  We, as members of the Body of Christ, also have a “blessed hope” that allows us to see beyond the evil and degradation of the world around us and fix our eyes upon the glories of our savior that will soon appear in the clouds to call us to be with him.



Part 8  John the Baptist


This is the eighth in a series that examines references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible. This time we will look at John the Baptist and how he never wavered from his commitment to proclaim righteousness despite dire consequences.   The story of John the Baptist can be found throughout the gospel records, but the clearest description of his imprisonment and execution is in Mark 6:14-29.

            The life of John reinforces a theme that is repeated throughout the scriptures: how the godly are often persecuted and mistreated for taking a stand for what is right. 

            John was the fiery preacher who was called by God to “prepare the way of the Lord.”  He preached throughout Judea and Galilee for Israel to repent, turn to God and be baptized.  At the time of John’s ministry Herod Antipas was the “king” of the region of Galilee.  This Herod was the son of Herod the Great who ruled at the time of the birth of the Lord Jesus.  Herod the Great had another son, Philip, who was married to the beautiful Herodias.  At some point Herod Antipas decided that he would like Herodias as his wife, something forbidden by the Mosaic law (Leviticus 18:6).  Since Herod was at least trying to give the appearance of being a Jew (he went to Jerusalem for the Passover at the time of the crucifixion of the Lord) it was to be expected that he would be rebuked by a prophet such as John.

            Herod was angry that John was openly preaching against his immoral behavior and so he had him thrown into prison.  He did not want to execute John because he was revered as a prophet by the Jews in Palestine.  This is a good example of how prisons were used in the ancient world.  Unlike today in which incarceration is used as a form of punishment, jails were commonly used by kings and rulers to keep political troublemakers from stirring up the people to rebellion without creating martyrs.

            While in prison John was allowed visitors. We read in Matthew 11:2 that he sent some of his disciples to inquire whether or not Jesus was the awaited Messiah.

            The king was not the only one offended by John’s bold and forceful denunciation of his sin.  His illegitimate wife, Herodias, was so infuriated that she wanted to see John dead.  Her chance came when Herod threw himself a lavish birthday party and had his stepdaughter perform a seductive dance for himself and his guests.  He was so carried away by lust and drink that he promised the young girl that she could have anything she wanted, up to half his kingdom, just for the asking.  After consulting with her embittered mother she returned to the king and requested to have the head of John the Baptist delivered on a platter.  Herod was forced to honor his promise since he made the statement publicly in front of his many guests.

            Like so many heroes in the scriptures such as Joseph, Daniel, the three young Hebrews, Jeremiah and others, John the Baptist would not allow the threat of persecution, imprisonment or even death deter him from serving God with bold conviction.  What is more, we can see that John never lost his zeal for the Lord even while he was in prison.  Even in chains he wanted to know more about the Lord Jesus and his ministry.  So much so that he sent his disciples to find Jesus in order to get more information about his identity and the significance of his ministry.  We see that John did not spend his time moping about his circumstances and feeling sorry for himself.  Even in the dark, cold prison cell he wanted to know more about the one that would be his King and savior.  Such should be our attitude so that we can say with the Apostle Paul that we long only to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.


Part 9  The Lord Jesus Christ


This is the ninth in a series that examines references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible.  In this article we will reflect on the brief but important period during which the Lord Jesus Christ was a prisoner at the hands of the Roman Empire.  We can read about the Lord’s time as a prisoner in the last chapters of the four Gospel records.

            More than any other person in history the Lord Jesus was unjustly accused, arrested, incarcerated and executed.  He was willing to endure all those injustices which were committed against him in order to fulfill the will of God.

            First, Jesus’ arrest and imprisonment was the result of betrayal by one that seemed to be a friend.  Such a situation is not uncommon as many prisoners today are incarcerated because their friends were willing to testify against them in exchange for a lesser sentence.  In the case of Judas, it seems he was just looking for money (Matthew 16:15).

            His arrest would have gone peacefully since Jesus was already waiting and expecting the men sent from the high priest to come and get him.  However, an overzealous Peter reacted to the situation attacking one of the guards that came to arrest Jesus, grabbed a sword and cut off the guard’s ear.  Despite all that was happening to him, Jesus turned his attention to the injured guard, the same one that was coming to commit a tremendous injustice against him, and he reattached the ear.  This demonstration of compassion showed how the Lord was able to look beyond his personal circumstances and see the needs of others, even those meant to do him harm.

            At his trial the Lord, although entirely innocent, did not fight or protest his conviction.  Not to imply that an innocent person should allow himself to be railroaded by a corrupt system, but rather it shows that our Savior had a bigger picture in view than his own personal circumstances.  He was willing to allow such terrible injustice to be inflicted on him because he knew that his obedience was part of a much greater plan that the Father had for him and mankind.  This “bigger than the moment” perspective is described for us in Hebrews 12:2, “Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

            Jesus actually spent very little time as a prisoner, less than 24 hours.  Yet during that time he received more abuse and humiliation than many inmates that have spent years incarcerated.  Much of what happened to him during that time was in order to fulfill direct prophecies about him.  The short time that Jesus was in prison was in keeping with the traditional use of jails in the ancient world.  Jails were not used for punishment per se, but rather as simply a place to hold an accused individual until he could be tried and punished in a way commensurate with his crime which was either to pay restitution or to be executed.

            In the end we see the Lord Jesus Christ as a shining example of how one can endure difficulty and hardship in order to bring glory and honor to God.  Jesus was tempted “in every way,” yet he never wavered in his commitment to do his Father’s will.



Part 10  Peter



This is the tenth in a series that examines references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible.  In this article we look at Peter, the most prominent apostle during the time of the Lord’s earthly ministry and afterwards, during the period in which God was offering the Kingdom of Heaven to Israel after the Holy Spirit’s descent at Pentecost.  We can read of Peter’s experiences in and out of prison in Acts 2-12.

            Much has been said about Peter and his impulsive personality.  Before the coming of the Spirit in Acts 2 we see Peter as a person that could one minute declare that he was willing to follow the Lord Jesus Christ to his death and the next deny he ever knew him. After the arrival and subsequent baptism with the Holy Spirit we see Peter endowed with a new boldness that enabled him to fearlessly preach to the Jews congregated in Jerusalem about their Messiah, whom they had rejected and had crucified.  Because of his and John’s courageous preaching the enraged leaders of Israel had them arrested.  Because they had healed a lame man in front a crowd of people the Jewish leaders could not keep the two Apostle’s locked up for long.  When the Sadducees questioned them and found out that they had committed no crime they had to be released.  Yet the Jewish leadership tried the keep Peter and John quiet and forbade them from preaching about Jesus.  However, Peter and John responded that they could not be silent and had to testify of the things they had seen and heard.  As the Apostles continued to perform signs and wonders and their notoriety grew throughout Jerusalem, the leaders of Israel were again filled with jealousy and had Peter and John arrested.  This time they were able to walk out of jail, not because they had been released by the guards but because an angel came along and opened the door for them and led them to freedom, giving them instructions to preach in the temple court.  When the leaders of the Sanhedrin realized that the two Apostles were gone, they once again had them arrested.  This time, they were wisely advised by Gamaliel, Saul of Tarsus’ mentor, that if this movement were of God there was nothing that the Sanhedrin or anyone could do to stop it.  After being beaten, the apostles returned to the streets where they continued to boldly preach about the risen Jesus and his power to save Israel from her sin. Peter and John rejoiced and praised God that they had been considered worthy to suffer on behalf of the gospel and for the cause of their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

            Several years later Herod Agrippa started a persecution against the Christian believers in his realm which included Judea, and much of the rest of Palestine.  When he saw how he had pleased the Jews by having James the Apostle, the brother of John, executed he proceeded to have Peter arrested with the likely intention of doing the same to him.  However, while Peter was sleeping in the prison an angel appeared to him, woke him and led him out to the street.  When Peter realized what was going on he knew that God had preserved his life in order that he could continue to do His work.

            Nearly 20 years later, when Peter wrote his first epistle he was able to speak from experience when he said, “But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men's matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf” (1 Peter 4:15-16).  Peter willingly accepted persecution and suffering for the glory of God.

            Peter’s epistles, written primarily for Jewish believers (1 Peter 1:1), will have direct application during the tribulation that will follow the rapture of the Body of Christ, a time in which many believers will be imprisoned for their faith and trust in Jesus as Messiah.  Even today, while such persecution is not universal, there are thousands of believers that are in prison around the world because they have a bold and courageous testimony for the Lord.  Peter provides us with an example of someone that with the empowerment of the Holy Spirit was able to be transformed from an impulsive and often insecure disciple to a fearless messenger of the hope and joy that comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.


Part 11  Paul (1)



This is the eleventh in a series that examines the references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible.  In this article we will look at Paul the Apostle, probably the best known prisoner in the scriptures.  Paul, as we shall see was imprisoned many times and yet considered such suffering to be a privilege that was to be expected of a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Because prison played such a prominent role in the ministry of the Apostle Paul it will require two articles to discuss this theme.  In this first installment we will consider some of the historical records of Paul’s imprisonments in the book of Acts.


Prison first played into Paul’s life not as him being a prisoner but as him being responsible for others to be in prison.  We read in Acts 8:3 and again when he gives his testimony in Acts 22:4 and 26:10 that he broke into the homes of the Jewish believers and carried them off to prison.  However, after Paul’s conversion the believers at first did not believe that the person that had persecuted them could now be their ally, but once they were convinced they praised God because of it.  There are few stories of conversion more dramatic than that of Saul of Tarsus.  He was a man that hated all that had to do with name of Jesus Christ.  He believed sincerely that he was doing the will of God by destroying the Church among the Jews.  He was a devout Jew that would have believed the Gentiles to be dogs and hopelessly separated from the life of God.  Despite that, God in His grace, touched that man and through His power made him into the greatest preacher and spokesman for the gospel of salvation and the cause of Christ.


After Saul was saved and his name changed to Paul God sent him out to be the primary spokesman of the special truth that had been revealed to Him.  Specifically that truth is that God had set aside the Jewish nation and was calling people to salvation from all nations and peoples completely by His grace, apart from the nation of Israel, it’s law and rituals.  This message did not sit well with the Jews that believed they alone were the chosen people of God and that He would never make his grace available to the Gentiles.  As a result Paul often found himself persecuted by the Jews and the one that had had believers thrown into prison was now finding himself a prisoner.


One of the most famous stories in the Bible, found in Acts 16:16-40, tells of how Paul and Silas were imprisoned in Philippi.  Paul had cast out a demon from a young slave girl.  The girl’s owners used her to tell fortunes and they earned money from her tragic circumstances.  Once the demon left her and she was unable to divine the future and she could no longer be a source of income for the owners they became enraged and devised fraudulent charges that were used to have Paul and Silas beaten and thrown into the innermost part of a prison.


Instead of being overcome by their circumstances Paul and Silas used the time in prison as an opportunity to give praise and glory to God.  We are told that at midnight, while they were praying and singing, an earthquake hit the area and their chains fell off and the doors of the prison flew open.  At that moment all the prisoners could have escaped, but none of them had.  The jailer was terrified since under Roman law if the jailer was responsible if any of the prisoners in his charge escaped.  In terror for his life the jailer cried out to Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved?”  It seems he was probably asking about physical deliverance, since he knew his very life was in jeopardy.  Paul on the other hand used that moment of personals crisis to introduce the Philippian jailer to the hope of eternal life and responded that he must “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” and he would be saved along with all in his household that would do the same.



Part 12 Paul (2)



This is the twelfth in a series that examines the references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible.  This will be the second article focusing on Paul the Apostle.  Much of Paul’s ministry took place while he was imprisoned and as we shall see, he viewed his incarcerations not as great hindrances to his work, but rather as opportunities to proclaim the gospel in an environment that would not have been accessible to him had he not been in that situation.

            In our previous article we looked at how Paul had been transformed from a persecutor of the gospel who had Christians thrown in prison, to the strongest proclaimer of the message of Christ so that he himself was imprisoned because of his testimony of faith.  The last article also looked at how God had been glorified through Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi when He caused an earthquake to open the doors of the prison, but none of the inmates escaped.  As a result of the miracle, the jailer and his family became Christians and new members of the Body of Christ were welcomed into the hope of eternal life in Christ Jesus.

            We know from the record of the book of Acts that Paul was arrested in Rome and was imprisoned for two years in Caesarea, before beginning a journey to Rome that took almost a year.  He spent at least two more years under house arrest in the city of Rome.  The period from Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem until the end of his two-year imprisonment in Rome was at least 5 years.  It was during this time that Paul wrote at least three of his most important letters; Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians, in which he describes in the fullest detail the nature of the Church of this dispensation, the Body of Christ.  In these epistles Paul provides us with the complete teaching about the truth revealed to him that had been kept a secret in God’s mind since before the world began, specifically that Gentiles could be saved and be in relationship with God through faith alone by grace, regardless of the nation of Israel’s lack of faith in Jesus the Messiah.

            There is a great deal that we learn about the apostle’s character, and the nature of God’s will and work during this current Dispensation of Grace through the story of Paul’s Roman imprisonment and the events that led up to it.  The story, as it is related to us, begins in Acts 19:21 where we are told that Paul, while in Ephesus during his third missionary journey, had determined that he wanted to visit Rome after first going to Jerusalem.  Some time later, while in Corinth collecting funds for the impoverished believers in the Judean churches, he penned the Epistle to the Romans, where he tells the believers in the Imperial City that he hoped to visit them and he asks for their prayers so that this desire of his would be realized.


 Now I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ's sake, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me; That I may be delivered from them that do not believe in Judaea; and that my service which I have for Jerusalem may be accepted of the saints; That I may come unto you with joy by the will of God, and may with you be refreshed. Romans 15:30-32.

            As the story continues we find that when Paul was traveling to Jerusalem to deliver the money he had collected for the churches he was warned by the prophet Agabus when he reached Caesarea that he would be taken prisoner by the Jews and turned over to the Gentiles.  Paul responded by saying, “for I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13b).  The book of Acts then tells of how Paul is arrested in Jerusalem, taken to Ceasarea, shipwrecked on the way to Rome and then kept under house arrest for two more years.

            This narrative illustrates the intensity of Paul’s commitment to preaching the gospel of Christ.  Even though he knew what was in store for him, and despite the pleas of his closest companions not to continue to Jerusalem, he was willing to go there in order to complete the ministry the Lord had given to him. 

Furthermore, we learn a great deal from the account of Paul’s journey to Rome and the words in his epistle to the believers there about what we should expect in terms of God’s intervention and the question of unanswered prayer in the dispensation of Grace.  In the passage in Romans 15 we find Paul asking the Romans to pray that he would be delivered from the unbelieving Jews and that he would be able to travel freely to Rome in order to preach to them and help them better understand the grace of God that they had experienced personally through faith in Jesus Christ.  This was a perfectly fine request.  Paul clearly believed that God would intervene to make such an appeal take place.  There is no reason to believe that Paul thought it inappropriate to ask for such intervention.  In fact, in an earlier letter Paul made it clear that he had been delivered from a similar peril in Asia because of the prayers of the Corinthian believers on his behalf (2 Corinthians 1:8-11).  Likewise, Paul wrote in a later epistle, probably during the Acts 28 imprisonment, that because of the prayers of Philemon he would be released and be able to visit his dear friend from Colosse (Philemon 1:22).  Paul clearly believed that God had the power to intervene, and that he could expect such intervention in response to the earnest prayers of devout believers.  We see, however, that God is not bound by our personal wishes and desires to grant us everything we ask.  This legitimate prayer request of a man who was probably the most spiritual Christian of all time was not answered according to his wishes.  There was nothing wrong in the petition itself.  If Paul did not know how to make a prayer request, who would?  But God, in His divine sovereignty, saw fit to overrule Paul’s personal wishes and plans and even the sincere prayers of the Roman believers in order to fulfill a much greater purpose that He had in his own mind.

Paul came to understand that God’s will for him was perfect, and that the Lord was able to bring greater glory to Himself if Paul was willing to submit to what God wanted for him.  Paul was not delivered from the unbelievers in Jerusalem and though he did travel to Rome it was in no way how he imagined it would be when he asked the Roman churches to pray for him.

As we read more in the prison epistles we find how God’s perfect will, while not exactly what Paul expected, was still the best option. 


But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.  Philippians 1:12-14


            Paul recognized that his imprisonment gave him an opportunity to testify about Christ in a way that he would never have been able to had he not been in that position.  The good news of Christ even reached the guards in the court of Caesar.  In fact, in Philippians 4:22 we find out that even some of the emperor’s own household had embraced Christianity.  The message of the cross had reached levels that would not have been possible had Paul traveled to Rome as a free man, rather than as a prisoner.  Paul understood that even if his body was locked away the message would still be free to circulate throughout the world.  He understood that the power of God was not him as a person, but the message he proclaimed.  As he says in Romans 1:16, the gospel is the “power of God unto salvation to everyone that believes.”  Again in 2 Timothy 2:9 Paul says that although he was chained like a criminal, the Word of God is not bound.  Paul understood and accepted that God had the authority to accomplish His will in ways He chose, that Paul was simply a vessel to glorify the Lord.


Part 13  John the Apostle


This is the thirteenth in a series that examines the references to prisons and prisoners in the Bible.  In this article we will consider the Apostle John, who spent some of his last years as a prisoner on the island of Patmos and from there wrote the book of Revelation.

Most of what we know about John the Apostle comes from the information recorded about him in the gospels, the book of Acts and the history and traditions of the early church.  We know that John’s father was named Zebedee, that his brother was James the Apostle, they were fisherman and that he followed Jesus when he was called while fishing (Matthew 4:21-22).  By putting together the facts related in several passages about those present at the crucifixion it is possible to conclude that John was the cousin of  Jesus (Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25) which might explain why the Lord requested him to care for Mary (who would have been John’s aunt) in her old age.

John was one of the closest disciples of Jesus and was present at some of the most important events in his ministry, such as the raising of Jairus’ daughter, the transfiguration and the garden of Gethsemane.  He is most likely the one referred to in the gospel of John as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”  In his first Epistle John describes himself as an eyewitness to the events of Jesus life (1 John 1:1-3).  Clearly John had a very close and intimate relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ while he was on Earth, and the impact that had on the rest of John’s life was profound.  If John had not believed with all his heart that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead there is no rational explanation for why he did not simply return to fishing after the crucifixion and fade into obscurity like others that followed the various messianic figures that were common in first century Palestine (Acts 5:36-37).

We know that John, like the other Apostles, was willing to suffer all kinds of hardship rather than renounce his faith in Jesus Christ as the savior and king of Israel.  We read of his first encounter with imprisonment in Acts 4, when he and Peter were put in jail by the Jewish leaders because they healed a lame beggar in front of the temple gates and then proclaimed the truth about Jesus Christ to the Jewish people assembled there.  After that John and the other believers experienced intense persecution for many years because of the Jews opposition to the message of Christ.  John continued to faithfully proclaim the gospel of the Kingdom of God in Jerusalem and was described by Paul as one of the “pillars” of the Jewish church (Galatians 2:9).

In Revelation 1:9 John says that he was on the island of Patmos when he received the visions which were recorded in the book of prophecy.  Early church history tells us that John had been exiled to this tiny island in the Aegean Sea which was probably a Roman penal colony at the time during a period of persecution of Christians under the emperor Domitian who ruled Rome from 81-96 AD.  God chose to reveal the final words of scripture to a man that was sitting in a Roman prison.

Prison and bondage is a scriptural metaphor for man’s condition outside of Christ in which everyone is enslaved to sin and the flesh.  When the gospel is preached and people believe the message of salvation, suddenly the chains fall off and the prison doors are thrown open and for the first time a person can experience true freedom.  For that reason it is appropriate that the portion of the Bible that describes the ultimate triumph of God’s good over evil was revealed to a person that was himself in prison.  Given those conditions, it is likely that the message of Revelation was that much more powerful to John.  John’s final vision for the world is one in which perfect fellowship between God and creation is restored, sin and death have been destroyed and God will wipe away every tear from the eyes of His people.  Being a prisoner, as John was, would only make the reality of God’s triumph that more glorious and awe inspiring.