The twelfth chapter of the book of Acts relates how the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem were being persecuted by Herod Agrippa (king of Judea, 41 – 44 CE). Among those who were imprisoned was the apostle Peter.
The painting is a symbolic depiction of the scene when Peter’s chains fell off and he was set free from prison. In this instance, the painting shows the bars of the prison shattering (rather than the chains falling off) as Peter, who appears helpless, looks out between those bars.
The account is a proclamation of the power of God in the life of an apostle, but it is more than just a record of an event that took place many centuries ago – it is a message of reassurance for all of us today.
The story is saying to us that no matter how much we may feel caught in a psychological, emotional, or circumstantial "imprisonment," when we embrace the reality of God's eternal and universal love as a part of who we truly are, our minds can begin to be set free from any prison, physical or any other kind.
It is important to notice that in the story, Peter did not exert any effort. He did not try to break his chains; they simply fell off. Likewise, sometimes all it takes is a change in our mental perspective for the "chains" that bind us to fall off.
When our minds are free to think calmly and clearly, we are often able to see the truth about a situation and find ways to remedy the difficulty. As an example, we might come to recognize that we are being manipulated and controlled by others, and, once we see the situation clearly for exactly what it is, its power over us is at least diminished if not totally shattered.
John 8:32 reminds us, “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”
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