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James Killed and Peter Seized By Herod
Sometime near the time Barnabas and Saul were taking the gift from Antioch to Jerusalem, Herod Agrippa decided to inflict pain on certain members of the church. Particularly, it seems, he had in mind the apostles. He first had James, John's brother, taken captive and killed with the sword. James' death must have occurred somewhere near 44 A. D., since that is the year Herod Agrippa the First died.
Once Herod saw the political impact of that action, he immediately had Peter imprisoned, intending to put him to death as well. He had Peter arrested about the time of the celebration of the Passover feast, which lasted for some eight days. While he waited for the conclusion of Passover, Herod had sixteen soldiers, divided into four groups of four, to watch the apostle in the prison. He planned to publicly execute Peter on the conclusion of the feast. It seems likely Peter thought of another Passover and the death of his Lord while he waited in prison ( Act_12:1-4 ).
The Danger of Prayer
While Herod waited for the end of Passover, the church waited in prayer. They asked God to be with Peter, whether in simply requesting that God help sustain his faith or have him released, cannot be said with assurance. The Greek words used by Luke suggest there was a prayer being offered up around the clock. The night before Herod intended to call for Peter, the apostle lay chained to two soldiers with two more outside the door. One of the Lord's angelic messengers awakened him and caused the chains to fall off his hands. Then, he told him to dress and led him out of the prison. Peter did not think any of this was real, but thought he was dreaming. The apostle followed the angel past the first and second guard posts, through the gate, which seemed to open automatically, and out into the street.
Once he was in the street, Peter finally realized he was free! The awestruck apostle now saw that the Lord had sent his messenger to deliver him out of the murderous hands of Herod. After thinking for a moment, Peter went to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark, to tell the church of his miraculous release. A girl named Rhoda recognized the voice of the apostle at the gate. In her excitement, she did not let him in but went to inform the others in the house that Peter was outside. At first, they thought she was crazy. Then, they thought she had heard Peter's angel.
Finally, the apostle's insistent knocking caused them to go see for themselves. They were amazed at what they saw, despite the fact that they had been praying to God in Peter's behalf for days. Herein lies the danger of prayer, God may give you that for which you have been asking! Peter related the story of his deliverance by the Lord. Then, he told them to inform James and the brethren and he departed ( Act_12:5-17 ).
God Deals With Herod
The next morning, as one might imagine, the prison was in turmoil. No one knew what had happened to Peter. When Herod could not find him, he had the guards executed. Roman law required that a guard face the punishment which was intended for any prisoner who escaped under their watch (compare Act_16:27 ; Act_27:42-44 ). Not long after, Herod left Jerusalem and went to Caesarea, his other capital.
Bruce says the cities of "Tyre and Sidon, depended on Galilee for their food supply, as they had done in the days of Hiram and Solomon (cf. 1Ki_5:9 ff.)." Once they realized they had offended Herod, they set out to make things right. They somehow got close to Herod's personal aide, Blastus, and through him asked for peace. Josephus says Herod set aside some days to honor Caesar, perhaps on his birthday which was May 1. On the second day, Herod went into a theatre where a large group of people were assembled. The early morning sun reflected brightly off his garment, which Josephus says was totally made of silver.
When Herod was seated on the throne, the people began to praise him as a god. Herod did not stop the proceedings and the Lord caused his angel to strike him because he did not give glory to God. It would be good to note that others were careful to turn aside worship which rightfully only belongs to God ( Act_10:25-26 ; Act_14:8-18 ; Rev_19:10 ). Josephus said Herod suffered severe stomach pains and a horrible, lingering death which took five days. Luke reports that he was eaten by worms. Interestingly, despite all the attacks of men and failure to give God the glory which belongs to him, God's word still grew and multiplied ( Act_12:18-24 ).
Barnabas' and Saul's Special Work
Once Barnabas and Saul had completed their task of delivering the gift for the needy saints in Jerusalem, they returned to Antioch. Barnabas' cousin, John Mark, also went with them ( Col_4:10 ). It will be remembered that Mark's mother was Mary. Luke had just reported that the church met in her house for prayers while Peter was in prison. It is even possible her house was used as a resting place during Barnabas' Saul's stay in Jerusalem.
The church in Antioch was blessed with inspired men who delivered God's word, or prophets, and teachers. Among that number were: Barnabas, the son of consolation, Simeon, whose nickname was "black," Lucius, who was somehow closely associated with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. As these men were carrying out their various ministries for the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit called for Barnabas and Saul to be set apart for their specially chosen work. Apparently the whole church fasted and prayed as they sent them on their way. The laying on of hands did not impart any special gift but was a sign of the agreement they had with the good work to be done. With these acts, the church sent them on their way ( Act_12:25 ; Act_13:1-3 ).
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Hampton, Gary. "Commentary on Acts 12". "Gary Hampton Commentary on Selected Books". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25