My mother, as she aged, would be speaking of one of her sons and mistakenly called him the other son or one of the grandsons. No one corrected her, she just rattled off the names until she got the right one. It was quite funny, yet when we come to Bible names it is important that we get them right from the start or we might misunderstand the passage we’re reading. As an example, which flows from the next passage in Acts, we find persons called James mentioned twice. The one is executed by King Herod—
Ac 12:2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword
—and the other is the then leader of the Church, most likely the half-brother of the Lord Jesus who was used by the Holy Spirit to pen the Book of James in the New Testament.
Ac 12:17 “Tell James and the brothers about this,” [Peter] said.
Perhaps another matter to remember is that when reading the Bible we need to take note of what we are reading to prevent confusion and misunderstanding.
Ac 12:1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. 2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword. 3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread. 4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
We move away from Barnabas and Saul, returning to Jerusalem and the Mother Church where the apostles were.
1) Another persecution.
Ac 12:1 It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them.
This king Herod was Herod Agrippa, grandson of Herod the Great and son of Aristobulus and Bernice. He held a dual identity. He was firmly committed to Rome yet was a proud Jew and very popular amongst the Jews of Judea. Strangely he was in and out of favor with Tiberius Julius Caesar Augustus. The relationship changed from favor to disgrace, yet after his death Herod Agrippa was promoted to the tetrarchy of Philip and given the title king, by Emperor Claudius. He maintained proving daily sacrifices, refused to have his statue placed in the Holy of Holies, had some good qualities, yet lived with expensive and luxurious habits. Being a Jew, yet maintaining a relationship with Rome and Judaism for their support because the Jews hated Rome, he was totally opposed to the Christian Church. This is the reason for him having some Christians arrested with intentions of harm to score favor with the Jews.
2) Executing a high profiled Church Leader.
Ac 12:2 He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.
James was the son of Zebedee and the brother of John, who wrote the Gospel of John, the Letters of John and the Revelation. He was an apostle. He was one of Jesus three closet disciples. He and his younger brother were give the name Boanerges:
Mk 3:17 James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder).
John was much younger than James yet it is possible that Jesus gave them this name because of them being fiery preachers. This passage in Acts informs us that not only was James martyred, Peter was arrested. Two of the main and most influential Church Leaders were persecuted because they were extremely vocal amongst the Jews. James’ execution was gruesome, however the sword was used to kill.
3) Playing to the gallery.
Ac 12:3 When he saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also. This happened during the Feast of Unleavened Bread.
To understand the thrust of what Herod had done to James and was doing with Peter needs to be seen in the context of the Passover Festival.
Lev 23:4 ‘These are the LORD’S appointed feasts, the sacred assemblies you are to proclaim at their appointed times: 5 The LORD’S Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month. 6 On the fifteenth day of that month the LORD’S Feast of Unleavened Bread begins; for seven days you must eat bread made without yeast.’
These two festivals, Passover and Unleavened Bread were actually one festival celebrating Israel’s deliverance from Egypt lasting for seven days. James is executed and Peter arrested. This pleased the Jews to no end because a few years ago at this time, their Lord, Jesus Christ was Crucified and they claimed He rose from the dead. Herod was playing to the Jewish gallery to garner support and maintain popularity.
4) Collecting public support.
Ac 12:4 After arresting him, he put him in prison, handing him over to be guarded by four squads of four soldiers each. Herod intended to bring him out for public trial after the Passover.
Peter’s arrest was strategic! Remember he was the leader of the Church at this stage. It was not just to remove him from preaching Christ fearlessly. Herod wanted more, he wanted a public trial for Peter, similar to that of Jesus! This evil man wanted his fame carved into the history books as the one who gave Christianity the death blow! Interestingly he made certain Peter would not be forced out of jail by his supporters by having him guarded, in rotation by four squads of four soldiers each. If this was not so evil it would be quite humorous!
5) The more powerful weapon.
Ac 12:5 So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.
Now this is amusing! Peter is jailed by the power of Roman Soldiers at the same time the Church of God is exercising her great weapon, prayer! The word “earnestly” means fervent … they were using all their effort and energy pleading with God to come to their and Peter’s aid. There are two parting thoughts to consider for us as Christians today.
(1) What is the Church’s prayer life like? Years ago we used to speak of the Prayer Meeting as the Church’s Powerhouse. With the greatest respect to all Churches and their members … the strength of any Church is the strength of their prayer meeting.
(2) The Jews celebrated the Feast of Unleavened Bread and Herod capitalized on this festival to stop the Church’s progress. What He did not grasp was:
Jn 6:48 “I am the bread of life. 49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.”
Thank You Jesus for true life. Amen.