First, Peter was imprisoned. His imprisonment prohibited his freedom. Likewise, the Bible teaches that apart from Christ, a person is imprisoned — unable to experience true freedom in life because of the rule of someone
more powerful in their lives who is intent on their destruction. The Bible calls this person Satan who comes to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. (John 10.10) Like Israel in Egypt under Pharaoh, (Ex. 1) they are under the control of an authority that keeps them subject to his own harsh and hardened environment.
But not only was Peter imprisoned, he was also bound — bound by chains that held him fast. Many are also bound by “chains” — those things that maintain a grip on a person’s heart and mind. For some, it may be drugs and alcohol, partying, marital infidelity or illicit or immoral activity. — to the point that it reaches an all-consuming (and often destructive) conclusion. For others however, being bound takes other forms. It may take a more “respectable” path but underneath there may be an intense craving to get ahead or to climb the corporate ladder or to accummulate goods and possessions in the chase after the “good life”. All these can be ways in which a person is bound.
But guards posted both inside and outside also kept Peter his cell. This is also a picture of the internal and external forces at work in this world that keep an unbeliever imprisoned in their helpless condition. Fears, and worries, family, and “friends” are all examples of elements in this world at work to exert a pressure both inwardly and outwardly to keep a person coming to Christ. Further, the fact that Peter was asleep and seemingly indifferent to his plight only strengthens the picture of the person a sleep in their sin and unconscious of their true condition.
Then, Peter was struck on the side. After the Word begins to work in and on a person, they are “struck”— struck in their conscience by their sin and it’s guilt; by a timely witness of a faithful believer; by a chain of events or circumstances that remind that individual of their need for the Lord. Then Peter was told by this divine messenger to “arise”. Raising him up, Peter’s chains fell off. Charles Wesley, a great hymn writer from the 18th - century captured this biblical account in verse in his beloved hymn, “And Can It Be”:
“Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray,
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
Church history is filled with the testimonies of multitudes who can attest to the life-liberating power of the Gospel and can see the outline of their own testimony vividly portrayed in this dramatic episode in Peter’s life. But the story does not end here! The angel said to Peter to gird himself and tie on his sandals put on his garment and to follow him. All these are representative of what occurs in a spiritual sense to a new person in Christ — they are “clothed” in the righteousness of Christ just as the prodigal son (Luke 15) was given new clothes after he “had come to himself”. The fact that Peter followed the angel outside the prison walls only further confirmed he was truly free. Now on his own, Peter steps took him immediately to a group of Christians, symbolic of the reality of a changed life. Strange that after it was reported to this group that Peter was outside, that they did not even believe it — and that after praying for his release! (v. 15) How disappointing that believers have such a problem with unbelief! But Peter continued knocking. Any true Christian will continue to “knock” despite the doubts even of those who know the Lord who might question the Lord’s mighty working on their behalf. Their persistence in their stand for the Lord serves to validate their faith. Peter’s persistence gave way to his verbal testimony as to how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. Not only will a new Christian prove his faith by his actions but also by his words. “Let the redeemed of the LORD say so.” (Ps 107.2)