Verse one begins with “About that time Herod the king laid violent hands on some who belonged to the church.” The words “about that time” obviously refer to a time period in which the events of the end of chapter 11 occurred. Secular history accurately dates the death of this Herod (Herod Agrippa I – grandson of “Herod the Great”) in 44 A.D. Verse 2 continues in the KJV with:
“And he killed James the brother of John with the sword…”
Burton Coffman wrote concerning this verse: “Only seven words in the Greek, translated by eleven in English, recount the martyrdom of the first apostle; and such restraint by the sacred historian shows how different are the words of inspiration from those of ordinary writers.“
Indeed. If one was simply writing a story rather than the word of God, one would certainly have more to say about the death of one of Jesus’ “inner circle,” James the son of Zebedee, than these few words. The rest of the verse states that “…when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.” The Jewish religious leaders – certainly much of the Sanhedrin – would have been pleased to have gotten rid of one the twelve men who were so instrumental in proclaiming that Jesus was the risen Lord. This was during the Feast of Unleavened Bread; and Herod intended to bring Peter out after Passover and undoubtedly do the same with him as he had done with John’s brother.
But on the night before Herod was to bring him out, an angel of the Lord came to Peter as he slept between two soldiers, made the chains fall off of him, led him past two guards and compelled the iron gate to open on its own, as they walked through. And with that, the angel left. Up to this point, Peter had been thinking that he was having another vision. But in verse 11, he realizes that the Lord had sent his angel to rescue him “from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”
Peter heads to the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark (verse 12). The consensus of scholars is that this may be because of the personal attachment Peter had for John Mark, who would write the gospel of Mark (of which writing there are convincing arguments that Peter stood behind). At any rate, many of the church are gathered there. At first, none of them believed the servant girl that it was Peter at the gate. When they opened it, he cautioned them to be silent, then told them how he had been freed from prison. As he left, he told them to tell James (this James would be the Lord’s brother) and the brothers what had happened.
When it was discovered that Peter was gone, Herod had the sentries executed. The he went to Caesarea, where verses 20-23 describe the events of his death, relating that an angel of the Lord struck him down and in the end “he was eaten by worms.” Some suggest that both he and his grandfather died of Fournier’s gangrene, but the Scripture gives no other information that would verify this. His vanity and acceptance of the praise proclaiming him to be a god led to his death. Another purpose was served though, as he had already proved to be a dangerous enemy to the apostles.
Side note: In this article by Todd Bolen of BiblePlaces.com, the author makes some very convincing arguments for the actual location of Herod Agrippa, when he was struck down, to have been at the city amphitheater, rather than the theater itself (where the historian Josephus wrote that it occurred). He also makes some interesting observations about the ruler and his predecessor’s and the practice of the emperor being honored as a god. Very interesting reading.
some images © V. Gilbert & Arlisle F. Beers
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