Acts: Chapter 12

Themes:

  • Sovereignty and Prayer: In Acts 12 we move from a time of famine to a time of feast and celebration. During the post-Passover celebration called the Days of Unleavened Bread, Herod saw the Jews of Jerusalem were angry at the Jerusalem Church (Christians). So, Herod imprisoned then killed the Apostle James by beheading. Herod Agrippa is a Pharaoh-like character, a ruler or statesman who oppressed those who loved God. It is this Herod who killed Christians for popularity with the Jewish people. Then we transition to Peter’s story line. Peter is arrested by Herod Agrippa as well and put in prison to await death. But, unlike James, God sovereignty chooses to rescue Peter and answer the prayers of the Jerusalem church. But, this begs us to ask the question, why didn’t God hear the prayers of the church for James? While the passage doesn’t mention it, it is not wrong to infer that the church prayed for James’ rescue similar to that of Peter’s. So, why did James die and Peter live? The answer is we do not know, but we do understand that God is sovereign. Sometimes good men receive evil outcomes, and sometimes evil men receive evil outcomes. But, we cannot control outcomes, because we are not sovereign. But, God does give us prayer and prayer is effective. But,  prayer is not like a vending machine asking God for something and him giving it to us. Rather we pray for God as a Father to hear us, and above all to do his will. The story of Acts 12 shows us two outcomes but each glorifies God. We must remember that James, when he died, met Jesus and receive a crown of glory. Praise be to God! And, we must remember that God did rescue Peter in his sovereignty, and that was his will, Praise be to God! Prayer matters, so pray! But, remember that God is sovereign and will do his will in your life. So praise him and seek him in all things!

People:

  • Herod Agrippa: “Herod Agrippa I, original name Marcus Julius Agrippa, (born c. 10 BCE—died 44 CE), king of Judaea(41–44 CE), a clever diplomat who through his friendship with the Roman imperial family obtained the kingdom of his grandfather, Herod I the Great. He displayed great acumen in conciliating the Romans and Jews.

    After Agrippa’s father, Aristobulus IV, was executed by his own father, the suspicious Herod, Agrippa was sent to Rome for education and safety. There he grew up in company with the emperor Tiberius’s son Drusus. After his mother’s death, he quickly spent his family’s wealth and acquired serious debts. When Drusus died in 23 CE, Agrippa left Rome, settling near Beersheba, in Palestine. An appeal to his uncle Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee, won him a minor official post, but he soon vacated.

    In 36, having raised a sizable loan in Alexandria, Agrippa returned to Rome, where the emperor Tiberius received him but refused to allow him to stay at the court until his debt was paid. A new loan covered the obligation, and he secured a post as a tutor to Tiberius’s grandson. Agrippa also became a friend of Caligula, Tiberius’s heir. An intemperate remark about Tiberius, overheard by a servant, landed Agrippa in prison, but Caligula remained his friend. Within a year Tiberius was dead, and Agrippa’s fortunes were reversed.

    In 37 Caligula made him king of the former realm of his uncle Philip the Tetrarch and of an adjoining region. Antipas attempted to stop his rise by denouncing him to Caligula; Agrippa made counteraccusations. The confrontation before Caligula ended with Antipas’s banishment, and Agrippa acquired his territory as well. About 41 CE Agrippa, on the advice of the governor of Syria, dissuaded Caligula from introducing emperor worship at Jerusalem. Later Caligula decided to restore Agrippa to his grandfather’s throne but was assassinated in 41 before he could affect that plan. In the delicate question of the imperial succession, Agrippa supported Claudius, who emerged successful and added Judaea and Samaria to Agrippa’s kingdom.

    In Judaea, Agrippa zealously pursued orthodox Jewish policies, earning the friendship of the Jews and vigorously repressing the Jewish Christians. According to the New Testament of the Bible (Acts of the Apostles, where he is called Herod), he imprisoned Peter the Apostle and executed James, son of Zebedee. Nonetheless, mindful of maintaining Roman friendship, he contributed public buildings to Beirut in Lebanon, struck coins in emulation of Rome, and in the spring of 44 was host at a spectacular series of games at Caesarea to honor Claudius. There he died, prematurely terminating the compromise he had striven to achieve between Roman authority and Jewish autonomy. Because his son was only 17 years old, Judaea once more returned to provincial status.”

Culture:

Cultural Background

  • Buying Jewish Love with Murder and False Piety: “The “days of Unleavened Bread”, the seven days before the Passover meal, were considered holy and not to be desecrated by an execution. Herod did not attack the leader of the apostles (Peter) first; he waited to see what the reaction would be to the execution of James. When he found that reaction favorable, he arrested Peter. It would not be fitting to put him to death during the week-long festival of Unleavened Bread, which was then in progress. (This festival followed on immediately from Passover Eve. Compare Leviticus 23:5-8.) The Romans preferred public executions to take place at festival seasons (like the execution of Jesus at Passover Tide) to gain the maximum publicity, but Herod had regard to religious propriety.”

    Upon this, the king did neither rebuke them nor reject their impious flattery. But as he presently afterward looked up, he saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and he fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain also arose in his belly and began in a most violent manner. He, therefore, looked upon his friends, and said, 'I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept of what Providence allots, as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner.'

    A severe pain also arose in his belly and began in a most violent manner. He, therefore, looked upon his friends, and said, 'I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept of what Providence allots, as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner.'

    After he said this, his pain became violent...All the places were full of mourning and lamentation. Now the king rested in a high chamber...and when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age, and in the seventh year of his reign."

Contemplating God:

  • Voice of the Past: A Prayer of St. Clement “We ask you, Master, be our helper and defender. Rescue those of our number in distress; raise up the fallen; assist the needy; heal the sick; turn back those of your people who stray; feed the hungry; release our captives; revive the weak; encourage those who lose heart. Let all the nations realize that you are the only God, that Jesus Christ is your Child, and that we are your people and the sheep of your pasture.”

Peter Elliott