The Saints in Prison

Only twelve biblical saints endured physical imprisonment, if one does not count the generic term “apostles” in Acts 5 (v. 17-18). And only two died in prison, Samson (Judges 16:30) and John the Baptist (Matthew 14:10-12). The Bible does not record the crucifixions of Peter and Paul. Everyone else escaped from prison alive, sometimes more than once. How did these ten men escape? Did they break out of jail, bribe a guard, switch places with another prisoner, or plead with the government? No. The ten saints worshipped, prayed, and trusted in God instead.

peter angel prisonJoseph told a fellow jailbird to mention his name to Pharaoh, but his plan didn’t work (Genesis 40:14, 23). Two years later, in God’s timing, he was released from prison in order to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams (41:14-15, 39-43). The prophet Jeremiah was released from prison only after Nebuchadnezzar had sacked Jerusalem (Jeremiah 40:1-5). In their first imprisonment, the apostles Peter and John were released at the Sanhedrin’s word (Acts 4:21). John didn’t die on the isle of Patmos, so Rome must have released him eventually (Revelation 1:9).

Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel were delivered supernaturally. First, God walked in a fiery furnace; then he stopped the mouths of lions (Daniel 3:25, 6:22-23). Paul and Silas were also delivered supernaturally. After “praying and singing hymns to God,” the two men were freed by an earthquake that opened prison doors and loosened chains (Acts 16:25-26).[1] They still didn’t walk away. Paul and Silas waited for city magistrates to let them go (16:35-39). Meanwhile, an angel delivered Peter at least twice (5:19, 12:7-10).

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
And blest would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them should die for thee.
— Frederick Faber (1814-1863)

jail prison bibleA criminal wouldn’t understand this paradox, only a born-again Christian. So why isn’t the church listening? Instead of trusting in Jesus Christ, countless believers look to various governments to set them free and a Laodicean church helps them. Sometimes they’re successful, sometimes not. Prison is not a pleasant experience, but it purifies the soul. Still, why do these saints fear people who can kill only bodies, instead of trusting their bodies and souls to Jesus? Why do they look to human governments in petitions instead of to God in prayer? If more saints asked for miracles, they just might see angels and earthquakes opening prison doors. These people might see government officials willingly letting them go too. The mighty hand of God opening a prison door will produce greater glory for him than any government petition.

“Remember the prisoners as if chained with them – those who are mistreated – since you yourselves are in the body also” (Hebrews 13:3).

Every day we must pray for saints in prison, for their bodies and their souls. We must also pray for God’s will to be done as the saints build up their faith in Christ. Truly, “to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21).


[1] All Scripture verses are NKJV, unless otherwise noted.


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