Herod's Violence to the Church
1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. 2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword. 3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. 4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.
[Before we have learned of the death of Stephen at the hands of religious zealots, but now Herod the King, the civil authority had killed one of the Apostles, James the brother of John. This is a shocking development for the church. The year is 44 AD, James was Part of Jesus' inner circle (Peter, James, and John), James saw the glorified Jesus on the mount of transfiguration. James was with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he saw the resurrected Lord. We see these apostles as more than men, with power and knowledge that exceeds our own, but James was still a man, and Herod had him beheaded with a sword.
Herod's popularity with the Jews shot up, so he decided to go after Peter too. The term "pleased the Jews" speaks of a long lasting satisfaction, so Herod's political stock got a permanent boost. It was during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, so Peter was jailed to be "delivered" to the people, meaning Herod would also kill Peter as a favor to the Jews, after the Holy days were completed. Perhaps hearing what happened before when the Apostles were jailed in Jerusalem (an angel released them), Herod uses 4 squads, at least 16 soldiers to keep him secure.]
Peter Freed from Prison
5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. 6 And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison. 7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, "Arise quickly!" And his chains fell off his hands. 8 Then the angel said to him, "Gird yourself and tie on your sandals"; and so he did. And he said to him, "Put on your garment and follow me." 9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.
11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, "Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people."
[So at the end of the feast, Herod is about to bring Peter out to the Jews, but Peter, knowing Herod would kill him also, was asleep! What kind of peace allows you to sleep even when chained between two soldiers, with a death sentence waiting for the dawn? Only the peace of God: John 14:
27 Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.
As Peter slept the church prayed. We never know the full reason behind a loss like James, but we know it gave the saints urgency in their prayers. If we never go through trials we are not strengthened (recall the trees of the Biosphere).
Peter is sound asleep, and an angel strikes him and says get up, get dressed. Peter is thinking this is a dream, that he is still asleep. He sees the chains fall off, but it's still a dream. He gets dressed, but it's still a dream. They pass each guard post, but it's still a dream. Finally when they come to an iron gate that opens on its own, that the angels leaves, then Peter wakes up enough to realize this is no dream! Peter is free of the jail, the soldiers, Herod, and his certain execution.]
12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying. 13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. 15 But they said to her, "You are beside yourself!" Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, "It is his angel."
16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished.
[Apparently Mary's house was a common meeting place for the saints. When Peter arrives the church is praying for him. A girl named Rhoda answers when Peter knocked, and she was so stunned to see Peter that she ran to tell the others without opening the gate! Imagine the scene as Rhoda interrupts the prayers to say "Peter is at the Gate", and they totally dismiss her saying "you are beside yourself". Others thought she had seen an angel. How ironic that the People praying for Peter are surprised that their prayer has been so quickly answered (not now God can't you see we are praying). Have you ever experienced an answer to prayer while you are still praying? It should happen all the time if we "pray without ceasing" as we are commanded (I Thessalonians 5:17).
All this time Peter is still outside the gate knocking. When they finally open the gate, they are astonished to see Peter has been set free]
17 But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, "Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren." And he departed and went to another place.
18 Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. 19 But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death.
And he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there.
[After Peter recalls the story for them, he sends word to the other apostles especially "James the son of Alphaeus" the other apostle James, the one who is still alive. Only after daylight there is a commotion among the soldiers, Peter is gone and none of them know how he got out of jail. Herod questions the guards hoping to get answers, but none of them know what happened. For soldiers watching an important prisoner this is a death sentence. If you lose a death-row inmate as a Roman soldier, you take his place at the execution. So it seems 16 soldiers were executed for failing to secure 1 apostle.]
Herod's Violent Death
20 Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king's personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king's country.
[Some sort of dispute existed between Herod and the port cities of Tyre and Sidon, and they feared a trade embargo would be enforced against them, so they asked a common friend to help calm the dispute, and they invite Herod for a visit.]
21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. 22 And the people kept shouting, "The voice of a god and not of a man!" 23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.
24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.
[Herod's visit to the coast was like an official state visit, they set up the grand stand, probably had all the local dignitaries there to welcome him. Herod wore his best King clothes, and they put on a big celebration for Herod Agrippa I King of Judea. The history of Joseph says that they held games, like local Olympics in Herod's honor. When Herod gives is make nice speech, then crowd begins to chant "The voice of a god and not of a man", they were saying Herod you are a god to us. Herod just smiles and waves, drinking in all the adoration, probably thinking to himself "I am like a god". Then an angel of the Lord struck him with a terrible pestilence, because of his pride! The verse says that he was eaten by worms and died. The secular history of Josephus, doesn't know about the angel, he just says that Agrippa I died suddenly. The King that murdered one apostle, tried to hold another in jail, and thought himself to be god-like was struck by an angel, consumed by worms and died. Pride is a dangerous thing, and God does not share his glory with anyone. The bottom line was "the word of God grew and multiplied. It wasn't about James, Peter or even Herod; it was about fulfilling God's purpose and spreading the message of redemption to those who will repent. The humble are blessed, the prideful are struck down, and God is still glorified.]