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James Put to Death
Acts 12:1-24 of this chapter are an intermediate section. From Acts 12:25 onwards the thread with Barnabas and Saul is taken up again, about whom we have read in the last verse of the previous chapter (Acts 11:30). In this intermediate section, Luke records the death of James by Herod, the arrest of Peter by and his deliverance from the hand of Herod, and the death of Herod.
The deeper meaning of this intermediate section seems to lie in the typological sphere. We have seen in Acts 10-11 the work of God’s Spirit He began among the nations. This means that the connection with Judaism is weakening. The emphasis will lie on Christendom among the nations.
Before this shift to the nations is taken further, we see in this section how, once the dispensation of the nations is over, God takes up the thread with Israel again. That is why we are taken back to Jerusalem for a moment and then leave it forever – except for a single incident. There we find Herod, who is a type or picture of the antichrist who persecutes the faithful remnant in Jerusalem.
We have a type or picture of the faithful remnant in both James and Peter. Just as we see with these two apostles, we also see with the remnant that during the great tribulation a part is killed and a part is spared.
The Herod who plays a leading role in this part is the third Herod mentioned in the New Testament. The first wanted to kill the Lord Jesus, the second had John the baptist beheaded and the third is responsible for the death of James. James was killed in the same way as many Old Testament martyrs (Heb 11:37).
There is another aspect we can mention of Herod that is in connection with the gospel. We see in Herod the political obstacle to the proclamation of the gospel, which is overcome by prayer. In Peter’s case, laws of purity were a hindrance to the gospel, a religious hindrance, but also that hindrance has been overcome by God. Both religious and political authorities have always been instruments in the hand of Satan to stop the course of the gospel, but always in vain.
It seems that Herod has been successful in his campaign against the Christians. He lays hands on some of the church to do them harm. If he gets his hands on James, he has caught one of the leaders of the new movement. He has put to death James with a sword, which is tantamount to having him beheaded. It is about the James who is further referred to as “the brother of John”. This happens so as not to confuse him with James the brother of the Lord.
He and John and Peter have been with the Lord in His transfiguration on the mountain and they have been eyewitnesses of the glory of the Lord (Lk 9:28; 32). The experience on the mountain was the confirmation of the Old Testament prophecies about the coming of Christ in glory. As three witnesses they have seen that. Herod begins to kill these witnesses. He has killed James, he wants to kill Peter and who will say if not also John was on his list. The devil always wants to eliminate witnesses.
James is the first of the apostles to die of martyrdom. He is not replaced as an apostle, as Judas was at the time (Acts 1:20-26).
In the following verses, Luke draws attention once more to Peter before he disappears from the stage in Acts except for one more performance in Acts 15. The Jews have not yet lost any of their hatred of Christians. They have rejoiced at the death of James. When Herod notices this, he wants to take political advantage of it. In order to be even more favorable to the Jews, he continues his campaign of purification. He then arrests Peter, which is the third time he is arrested.
Just like Pilate, Herod also acts with the favor of the people in mind. Common feelings of hatred bring Herod and the Jews together. The hatred of the Jews concerns the worship of the Lord Jesus as God. According to them, this is apostasy from God, because to them He is only a human being and the worship of a human being is punishable by death.
Because of the feast, the execution does not take place immediately. The reference to the days of the Unleavened Bread means that the Passover was celebrated. It was a reminder of the time when the people were under foreign domination, but from which God liberated His people. Here the Christian people of God are oppressed by political power, as will be the case in the end times with the faithful remnant. But just as God liberated His people at the time so that they might serve Him, so He is delivering His own now and in the future. In all times political powers have tried to prevent the serving of God.
In this case of Peter, Herod leaves nothing to chance. He will certainly have heard of the previous imprisonments of Peter and how he has been delivered from them twice. That will not happen to him. So he will keep those weak Christians with his security measures from liberation plans. Only, the question is not what Herod is doing. What matters is what God can do.
Herod’s security measures are firm. Peter is guarded by four squads of soldiers. That means that he is guarded by four men every three hours, to the four periods of three hours in which the night is divided. Two soldiers of each squad are chained to Peter and two soldiers are on guard at the door. With the guards it’s all right.
But there is a battle going on in another terrain that nullifies all security measures of any kind. That is the battle of prayer. This is what the church is involved in. The church has come into being in an atmosphere of prayer (Acts 1:14; Acts 2:42) and persists in this attitude. The postponement of the execution of Peter is used by the church to pray for him.
That is a prayer meeting! The imprisonment of Peter, with the terrifying death of James still fresh in memory, drives the church to fervent prayer. The power of prayer is greater than the power of Herod, yes, than the power of hell. Several days are spent in prayer with only one subject: Peter. It is a fervent communal prayer, it is addressed to God and it is a concrete prayer: for Peter (Heb 13:3; Rev 5:8).
A first elaboration of the prayer can be seen in the peace that Peter reflects. While he knows what Herod intends to do with him, he is not restless, but asleep. This sleep is a victory of faith. He sleeps the sleep of the righteous. On the one hand he knows what happened to his good friend James. On the other hand he has the experience that the Lord has freed him from prison before. He has put everything in the hand of the Lord. What He decides is good and that gives him the rest to sleep. He has slept at times where he had to stay awake, such as at the transfiguration of the Lord on the mountain (Lk 9:32) and at the Lord’s prayer in Gethsemane (Mt 26:40), but now he sleeps in peace (Psa 4:8; Psa 3:5-6).
While Luke, in Acts 12:6, has once again drawn attention to how firm the guarding of Peter is, we now see how the Lord is mocking it. He sends one of His angels to the prison cell in which Peter is sleeping. With the angel He brings heavenly light there. Peter doesn’t wake up because of it, so the angel has to strike him (cf. 1Kgs 19:5).
Then he gets the command to get up “quickly”. The fact of the supernatural liberation doesn’t mean that Peter doesn’t have to do the necessary things himself and also do it quickly. God has set aside a certain time for liberation and within that time it must happen. God’s intervention and what man has to do coincide here again.
To make the quick rise possible the chains fall off his hands. The chains are not a problem for God, just like closed doors or graves. The falling off of the chains will be accompanied by the necessary noise. We can assume that the guards have been put into a deep sleep by God. Just as the guard who had to guard the tomb of the Lord Jesus was put aside, so this guard is put aside by God. There, at the appearance of an angel, the guards “became like dead men” (Mt 28:4). Here, they notice nothing about it. God treats them as if they were not there. They do not wake up from the light or the noise.
The angel then gives Peter practical directions for his flee. The angel has unfastened the chains, but he has to put on his clothes and shoes himself. To put on his shoes he has to bend down and after that he can walk. Wouldn’t Peter, every time he put on his shoes afterwards, often be reminded of this extraordinary liberation? Wouldn’t his trust in the Lord be encouraged by it?
Peter does what the angel says and follows him outside. That is all he has to do at that moment. He experiences it as if he is dreaming. This is a reminder of the experience the faithful remnant will also have when they are freed by the Lord from the greatest need in the last days (Psa 126:1).
On his way to freedom, following the angel, they pass two guards without them sounding the alarm. The iron gate that forms a final hindrance to freedom opens by itself, that is, God’s mighty arm opens the way to freedom. When they have passed through it, they are in the city. The angel goes on one more street and then his service is over. He disappears without saying anything else and returns to heaven to stand before the Lord, ready to be sent out for the next service.
So now Peter stands there alone. Then he comes to himself. He realizes that he is free and that nothing of Herod’s expectations or those of the people of the Jews will come to pass (cf. Rom 15:30-31). We see that Peter is also aware of the close connection between these enemies of Christendom. As said, this close connection between Herod and the people of the Jews is a type of the connection between the antichrist and the apostate mass of the Jewish people in the end times. His liberation does not make him careless. He knows he has to leave that place.
Now that we have before us the death of James and the liberation of Peter, the question arises: Why is James killed and why is Peter liberated from prison? These questions arise, but cannot be answered by us. These are God’s ways of government that we cannot fathom. Here it suits us and we do well to trust God completely that He is not mistaken.
Peter Goes to the Church
Now that he is free, he knows where to go. He knows that the believers come together in the house of Mary, who is further referred to as the mother of John who was also called Mark. Of this John Mark we will hear more. Regarding the meeting that was held there, we see that “many were gathered together”. No one will have been missing due to lack of interest. The pressure from outside drives the believers towards each other and together they seek the face of God.
The fact that there are many does not mean that the whole church is there. After all, we read further on that Peter sends the message of his deliverance to James and the brothers (Acts 12:17). Apparently they are not there.
When Peter arrives at the house of Mary, he must as usual knock on the door. That door does not open automatically for him like the door of the prison. On his knocking a servant-girl comes forward. Luke mentions her name. Her name is Rhoda. He says nothing about her age, but it is clear that this girl has an important task in the church. She is expected to know those who want to enter and to warn if someone presents himself of whom she suspects he comes with impure motives. She is a real servant of the church.
Peter has apparently not only knocked, but also called softly, because she recognizes his voice. This also indicates her great interest in the things of the Lord. She will have heard him speak often. Earlier Peter was also recognized by a maidservant, but on that occasion he did not want to be recognized and denied his Lord (Lk 22:56).
In her enthusiasm for the apparition of Peter, she ran inside to tell that Peter was standing in the front of the gate, forgetting to open it. This forgetfulness gives rise to the revelation of the unbelief of the church. Although Peter has been rescued by divine intervention before (Acts 5:19), they do not believe that what Rhoda says is true.
We do not have to blame them, because how many times do we doubt, while the answer is already at the door. At the same time, their reaction makes it clear that miraculous liberations and miracles at that time are generally not everyday events. The life of the believer is not a sequence of all kinds of miraculous events that liberate him from difficult situations or from annoying diseases.
In their reaction they first say that Rhoda is out of her mind. But Rhoda is not brought into doubt. She assures the believers that it is really Peter who is in front of the gate, but the believers don’t want to believe it. Then, they say, it must be his angel. By this they do not mean his guardian angel, but that his spirit has shown itself to her, that is to say that she has heard a supernatural being representing Peter. From the Old Testament they are familiar with the idea that angels can appear to people. Angels have a protective, guarding and serving function (Psa 91:11-12; Heb 1:14).
While all this takes place inside, Peter continues to knock. When they have all come to the gate and opened it, they see him. They seem to be unable to believe their eyes yet and are amazed. They have probably been more impressed by the power of Herod than by the power of God. They will have fired their questions at him.
Peter calms them by motioning to them with his hand to be silent, apparently without raising his voice. His liberation does not make him careless. He exhorts them to silence. The noise they make carries far in the silence of the night and could betray where he is. He tells them how his liberation happened. Not an angel gets the honor of his liberation, but the Lord.
He asks them to report his liberation to James and the brothers who will surely have prayed as well and will be curious about the outcome. He calls James especially, probably because together with him he is responsible for the church in Jerusalem. This James is the brother of the Lord (Mk 6:3) of whom we read further on that he is a leader in the church in Jerusalem (Acts 15:13; Acts 21:18). Through Paul, James, together with Peter and John, is seen as one of the three pillars of the church (Gal 2:9).
After his deliverance, Peter does not go back into the city as in Acts 5 (Acts 5:20), but he goes to another place. Luke does not tell which place that is. With that, the history of Peter is almost over. In Acts 15 he comes back in this bible book for a while. We read nothing more about where and how he worked. The roman-catholic church says that he went to Rome to start a forty-five year reign as pope. Of course that is nothing more than a foolish thought. The departure of Peter takes place around the year 44. He writes his letters in the half of the 60’s.
With the disappearance of Peter from the scene, the history of his disappearance is not yet finished. Luke informs us of Herod’s reaction to this and then tells us the end of Herod. That seems to indicate, as already mentioned, that it is about the typological meaning of this whole history. After the liberation of Peter as a type of the remnant, we get the judgment about Herod as a type of the antichrist. That judgment comes upon him because he allows himself to be honored as God, which is also what the antichrist will do.
As for the disappearance of Peter, it is understandable that there is great consternation among the soldiers. They were present at the disappearance, did not participate in it, but they did not notice anything about it and therefore could not stop it. It is the confusion of people who think they have everything under control, while things are taking place that are happening completely outside of their control and in which they are nevertheless closely involved. This is the blindness that is characteristic of people who do not take God into account. This also applies to Herod.
He first searched for Peter for some time, but he did not find him (cf. Jer 36:26). Then he examines the guards. Of course, they cannot give a satisfactory explanation for Peter’s escape. Then he orders the guards to be led away, that is to be executed. They must pay for Peter’s escape with their own lives, for they are responsible for this escape (cf. 1Kgs 20:39). It is not Peter who dies that day, but a number of soldiers die in his place (Pro 11:8).
The Death of Herod
Luke also describes the death of Herod. The events giving rise to his death are related to his relationship with the Tyrians and Sidonians. For unknown reasons, Herod was outraged by the Tyrians and Sidonians, the inhabitants of two trading towns on the Mediterranean Sea. These cities depend on Israel for their food supply. This food supply has been shut down by the wrath of Herod. To try and get it going again, they try to flatter Herod.
To re-establish diplomatic relations, they contacted one of Herod’s closest servants, his chamberlain Blastus. They managed to get him to mediate for them with Herod, possibly through bribes. By asking for peace, they ask Herod to reconcile himself with them. Herod accepted the request and appointed a day when he would address the embassy and the people of Caesarea. According to the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, this was the second day of a feast organized by Herod to celebrate a victory of Emperor Claudius.
Josephus also speaks about the royal apparel that Herod put on. He says that it is an apparel woven entirely of silver. Herod thus emphatically acts as king, drawing all attention to himself. In that capacity, and with that display of overwhelming brilliance, he takes a seat on the rostrum to deliver his address. Herod begins by presenting himself as king, a position which he assumes. But that is not all – as he speaks, he grows into a god in that position.
He hears with great pleasure how the people shout at him – no matter how hypocritically because they want to get him back on their side – that his voice is that of God and not that of a human being. They bring him divine honor which he receives gracefully. This adds another aspect to the idea that we find in him a type of the antichrist, because that wicked one too will allow himself to be worshiped as God (2Thes 2:4).
This tribute that he receives from people brings him the wrath of God that he must receive immediately after this tribute. What is common among the Gentiles and is by no means always immediately judged by God, God judges with Herod without delay. Herod knew better and should not have accepted this.
God shows here that He is the Ruler of the world, however great man’s pride may be. Because Herod allows himself to be honored, God beats him by means of an angel (cf. Dan 4:30-31; Job 40:6-7). Here God also gives a testimony that He is the true Ruler and not the man who persecutes Christians.
This concludes the intermediate section in this chapter. We have had the acts of Peter as well as the seven speeches he gave. After this the acts of Paul begin. We will hear seven speeches from him as well.
Transition to Paul’s Service
Rulers may come and go; the Word of God increases and multiplies. The death of James and the departure of Peter do not prevent the increase of the Word and the multiplication of the church. The increase and multiplication of the Word of God lies in the conversion of every soul to God. In the life of every converted man, the Word of God has gained another piece of ground in the world. The Word multiplies His presence on earth in every believer who submits to the dominion of the Word.
At the beginning of this chapter, Herod threatened to destroy the church. The conclusion of this chapter shows that Herod himself has been destroyed and the church is growing. At the same time, it is the transition to the new section in this book containing the service of Paul. Barnabas and Saul – from Acts 13:9 Luke will use the name of Paul for him – return to Antioch after they have completed the service in Jerusalem that was dedicated to them in Acts 11:30. Mark is with them. He is mentioned because he is present when Paul begins his first missionary journey.
Kingcomments on the Whole Bible © 2021 Author: G. de Koning. All rights reserved. Used with the permission of the author
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de Koning, Ger. Commentaar op Acts 12". "Kingcomments on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13